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Peter Thiel Becomes a Trump Delegate

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Peter Thiel

One of our hair­craft is miss­ing . . .

COMMENT: Guess which Sil­i­con Val­ley bil­lion­aire just end­ed up on the list released by California’s sec­re­tary of state of the Trump campaign’s list of select­ed GOP con­ven­tion del­e­gates. Hint:  He real­ly, real­ly likes Ted Cruz.  And called Trump “symp­to­matic of every­thing that is wrong with New York City,” back in 2014.  But is appar­ently total­ly fine with Trump now.

“. . . . Peter Thiel, the bil­lion­aire Pay­Pal co-founder, hedge-fund man­ager, and L.G.B.T.-rights advo­cate, is list­ed on the Cal­i­for­nia bal­lot as a del­e­gate for Trump at the upcom­ing Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, accord­ing to a list of del­e­gates sub­mit­ted to California’s sec­re­tary of state by the front-runner’s cam­paign. He is list­ed as one of three rep­re­sen­ta­tives from California’s 12th con­gres­sional dis­trict. State elec­tion law dic­tates that del­e­gates are select­ed by the can­di­dates them­selves, not the par­ty, and the Trump cam­paign has been vet­ting poten­tial del­e­gates for sev­eral weeks. . . . ”

Yes, the guy who once penned a piece for Cato Unbound explain­ing why democ­racy and cap­i­tal­ism are incom­pat­i­ble now that women can vote is now a Trump del­e­gate.

Recall that Thiel is the prin­ci­pal stock­hold­er in both Face­book and Palan­tir (which, their dis­claimers to the con­trary notwith­stand­ing, makes the PRISM soft­ware at the core of Snow­den’s “rev­e­la­tions”)

He also fund­ed most of Ron Paul’s 2012 Pres­i­den­tial super PAC.

“Which Bil­lion­aire Sil­i­con Val­ley V.C. Is a Don­ald Trump Del­e­gate?” by Tina Nguyen; Van­ity Fair; 5/10/2016.

The Face­book board mem­ber is break­ing ranks with the tech world by pub­licly back­ing the pre­sump­tive G.O.P. nom­i­nee.

Most of Sil­i­con Valley’s Repub­li­can elite may hate Don­ald Trump, but at least one major tech-indus­try ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist is throw­ing his sup­port behind the G.O.P.’s pre­sump­tive pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

Peter Thiel, the bil­lion­aire Pay­Pal co-founder, hedge-fund man­ager, and L.G.B.T.-rights advo­cate, is list­ed on the Cal­i­for­nia bal­lot as a del­e­gate for Trump at the upcom­ing Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, accord­ing to a list of del­e­gatessub­mit­ted to California’s sec­re­tary of state by the front-runner’s cam­paign. He is list­ed as one of three rep­re­sen­ta­tives from California’s 12th con­gres­sional dis­trict. State elec­tion law dic­tatesthat del­e­gates are select­ed by the can­di­dates them­selves, not the par­ty, and the Trump cam­paign has been vet­ting poten­tial del­e­gates for sev­eral weeks.

Thiel’s pol­i­tics are com­pli­cated. The Sil­i­con Val­ley power­bro­ker donat­ed heav­ily to both Ted Cruz and his lat­er run­ning mate, for­mer H.P. exec Car­ly Fio­r­ina, despite both can­di­dates not sup­port­ing gay mar­riage. (Thiel’s name did not appear on a list of Cruz del­e­gates the Texas sen­a­tor sub­mit­ted before drop­ping out last week.) The out­spo­ken lib­er­tar­ian has also been a close ally and advis­er to Ken­tucky sen­a­tor and for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Rand Paul, and pre­vi­ously donat­ed mil­lions to his father, for­mer con­gress­man Ron Paul, who ran for pres­i­dent in 2012. Thiel may be more close­ly aligned with Trump on the social-issues front: Thiel, who is gay, is an ardent sup­porter of L.G.B.T. caus­es (Trump, while echo­ing some social con­ser­v­a­tive rhetoric, recent­ly opposed North Carolina’s anti-trans­gen­der “bath­room bill,” say­ing some­one like Cait­lyn Jen­ner could use what­ever restroom she saw fit). More impor­tantly, how­ever, he is an avowed anti-elit­ist, despite his per­sonal wealth, telling the New York­er in 2011that the world­view of America’s elites was “skewed in an opti­mistic direc­tion” due to luck and priv­i­lege. “[Their] sto­ry has been one of incred­i­ble, unre­lent­ing progress for 61 years,” he said at the time. “Most peo­ple who are 61 years old in the U.S.? Not their sto­ry at all.” Thiel is well-known for the fel­low­ship he set up in 2010 to encour­age entre­pre­neur­ial teenagers to drop out of col­lege to start their own com­pa­nies instead of pur­su­ing a tra­di­tional edu­ca­tion.

...

 

Discussion

18 comments for “Peter Thiel Becomes a Trump Delegate”

  1. PRISM soft­ware??? That goes all the way back to Dan­ny Caso­laro! Oh wow...

    Posted by D.K. Wilson | May 14, 2016, 9:33 am
  2. @D.K. Wil­son–

    The soft­ware that over­lapped the Caso­laro inves­ti­ga­tion was PROMIS, not PRISM.

    Both begin with a “P” and both were devel­oped by NSA, but they are dis­tinct.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | May 15, 2016, 12:23 pm
  3. Hulk Hogan was also giv­en 10mil for his attor­ney fees (against gawk­er) by the gen­er­ous Theil!!

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BzQlbhR1UUE

    Posted by jen.x | May 27, 2016, 11:38 am
  4. So that’s where Thiel is going to be speak­ing this Sep­tem­ber. And Hoppe is report­ed­ly going to be speak­ing there too. Sounds like a great con­fer­ence for the anar­cho-monar­chist com­mu­ni­ty:

    South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter
    Hate­watch

    Pay­Pal Co-Founder Peter Thiel to Address White Nation­al­ist-Friend­ly “Prop­er­ty and Free­dom Soci­ety” Con­fer­ence in Sep­tem­ber

    Pay­Pal co-founder Peter Thiel, in the news recent­ly for his role financ­ing the Hulk Hogan law­suit against Gawk­er, is sched­uled to trav­el to Bodrum, Turkey, in Sep­tem­ber to address the annu­al meet­ing of the ultra-lib­er­tar­i­an Prop­er­ty and Free­dom Soci­ety.

    Steven Pig­got
    June 09, 2016

    Found­ed in 2006 by lib­er­tar­i­an aca­d­e­m­ic Hans-Her­mann Hoppe, the Prop­er­ty and Free­dom Soci­ety is ded­i­cat­ed to what it calls “uncom­pro­mis­ing intel­lec­tu­al rad­i­cal­ism: for just­ly acquired pri­vate prop­er­ty, free­dom of con­tract, free­dom of association—which log­i­cal­ly implies the right to not asso­ciate with, or to dis­crim­i­nate against—anyone in one’s per­son­al and busi­ness relations—and uncon­di­tion­al free trade,” accord­ing to its web­site.

    But beyond the lib­er­tar­i­an aca­d­e­mics, econ­o­mists, and busi­ness lead­ers from across Europe and the U.S. who attend and speak at its con­fer­ences, the Prop­er­ty and Free­dom Soci­ety has wel­comed white nation­al­ists, includ­ing sev­er­al of the most promi­nent white nation­al­ists in Amer­i­ca.

    The Society’s inau­gur­al meet­ing fea­tured Paul Got­tfried, the Amer­i­can white nation­al­ist who found­ed the H.L. Menck­en Club, along with Tom Sunic, anoth­er white nation­al­ist and an ex-Croa­t­ian diplo­mat who spends his time speak­ing at racist gath­er­ings on both sides of the Atlantic. Sunic also serves as a direc­tor with the Amer­i­can Free­dom Par­ty, the most vis­i­ble Amer­i­can white nation­al­ist polit­i­cal par­ty.

    In 2013, the Soci­ety invit­ed Jared Tay­lor, head of the New Cen­tu­ry Foun­da­tion, which hosts the annu­al white nation­al­ist Amer­i­can Renais­sance con­fer­ence, tra­di­tion­al­ly the largest annu­al racist gath­er­ing in the U.S. Tay­lor once wrote, “Blacks and whites are dif­fer­ent. When blacks are left entire­ly to their own devices, West­ern civ­i­liza­tion — any kind of civ­i­liza­tion — dis­ap­pears.” In 2010, Richard Spencer, head of the white nation­al­ist think tank Nation­al Pol­i­cy Insti­tute (NPI) spoke on the “Alter­na­tive Right in Amer­i­ca,” long before the Alt-Right became the racist inter­net phe­nom­e­non it is today.

    Join­ing Thiel in Turkey in Sep­tem­ber will be Hoppe, and in Hoppe one can see the con­nec­tion between the ultra-Lib­er­tar­i­ans and white nation­al­ists. Hoppe has called immi­gra­tion to the U.S. and Europe “forced inte­gra­tion” and once wrote, “if only towns and vil­lages could and would do what they did as a mat­ter of course until well into the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry in Europe and the Unit­ed States: to post signs regard­ing entrance require­ments to the town, and once in town for enter­ing spe­cif­ic pieces of prop­er­ty (no beg­gars or bums or home­less, but also no Moslems, Hin­dus, Jews, Catholics, etc.); to kick out those who do not ful­fill these require­ments as tres­passers…”

    ...

    Thiel’s sched­uled appear­ance is trou­bling if not sur­pris­ing. The Econ­o­mist recent­ly pro­filed his polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion from an anti-mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism cam­pus activist, whose tac­tics James O’Keefe (who Thiel once fund­ed) could appre­ci­ate, to the hero­ic lib­er­tar­i­an tech icon, to where he is now, declar­ing that he no longer believes that “free­dom and democ­ra­cy are com­pat­i­ble.” The Econ­o­mist con­clud­ed: “He is now not so much a lib­er­tar­i­an as a cor­po­rate Niet­zschean, who believes in the pow­er of gift­ed entre­pre­neurs to change the world through the sheer force of will and intel­lect.”

    The Alt-Right con­nec­tion to Thiel is also worth not­ing. Many white nation­al­ists who con­sid­er them­selves part of the Alt-Right are big fans of Thiel and his attack on Gawk­er, which white nation­al­ists see as part of the “cucked” main­stream media. On May 31, Milo Yiannopou­los, an edi­tor for Bre­it­bart News, which in the past year has func­tioned as the media arm of the Alt-Right move­ment, praised Thiel call­ing him “the hero Sil­i­con Val­ley need­ed.”

    “Thiel’s sched­uled appear­ance is trou­bling if not sur­pris­ing. The Econ­o­mist recent­ly pro­filed his polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion from an anti-mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism cam­pus activist, whose tac­tics James O’Keefe (who Thiel once fund­ed) could appre­ci­ate, to the hero­ic lib­er­tar­i­an tech icon, to where he is now, declar­ing that he no longer believes that “free­dom and democ­ra­cy are com­pat­i­ble.” The Econ­o­mist con­clud­ed: “He is now not so much a lib­er­tar­i­an as a cor­po­rate Niet­zschean, who believes in the pow­er of gift­ed entre­pre­neurs to change the world through the sheer force of will and intel­lect.””

    Yes, it is rather trou­bling con­fer­ence for the founder of Palan­tir, the CIA-fund­ed intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty’s Big Data ser­vice provider, to not just attend a con­fer­ence start­ed by Hoppe but actu­al­ly speak at. Con­sid­er­ing his exten­sive past financ­ing of Ron Paul, Ted Cruz, and now his sta­tus as a Cal­i­for­nia Trump del­e­gate, it seems like a poten­tial­ly big media sto­ry. Espe­cial­ly after he recent­ly suc­cess­ful­ly man­aged to sue Gawk­er Media into obliv­ion in an act of revenge.

    So it will be inter­est­ing to see much expo­sure this sto­ry about a promi­nent Sil­i­con Val­ley Bil­lion­aire and Trump del­e­gate speak­ing at Her­man Hoppe’s “ultra-lib­er­tar­i­an” con­fer­ence gets across the media. Very inter­est­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 10, 2016, 2:42 pm
  5. Peter Thiel has a mes­sage to share about Don­ald Trump: “What Trump rep­re­sents isn’t crazy and it’s not going away.” And since Trump’s crazy sup­port­ers like Thiel obvi­ous­ly aren’t going any­where if he los­es, Thiel is at least half right:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    ‘What Trump rep­re­sents isn’t crazy and it’s not going away.’ Peter Thiel defends sup­port for Don­ald Trump.

    By Steven Over­ly
    Octo­ber 31, 2016

    Bil­lion­aire tech investor Peter Thiel reit­er­at­ed his sup­port for Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump Mon­day morn­ing, telling a room of jour­nal­ists that a Wash­ing­ton out­sider in the White House would recal­i­brate law­mak­ers who have lost touch with the strug­gles of most Amer­i­cans.

    Thiel said it was “both insane and some­how inevitable” that polit­i­cal lead­ers would expect this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to be a con­test between “polit­i­cal dynas­ties” that have shep­herd­ed the coun­try into two major finan­cial crises: the tech bub­ble burst in the ear­ly 2000s, and the hous­ing cri­sis and eco­nom­ic reces­sion lat­er that decade.

    The sup­port Trump has enjoyed is direct­ly tied to the frus­tra­tion many across the coun­try feel toward Wash­ing­ton and its entrenched lead­ers, and they shouldn’t expect that sen­ti­ment to dis­si­pate regard­less of whether Trump or Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Hillary Clin­ton wins at the bal­lot box on Nov. 8, he said.

    “What Trump rep­re­sents isn’t crazy and it’s not going away,” he said.

    Thiel was clear Mon­day, as he has said in the past, that he does not sup­port all of Trump’s actions and words. In par­tic­u­lar, he called the “Access Hol­ly­wood” tape in which Trump made remarks about unwant­ed sex­u­al advances on women “clear­ly offen­sive and inap­pro­pri­ate.” He said he didn’t sup­port Trump’s words about Mus­lims “in every inci­dence.”

    But Thiel also crit­i­cized the media’s cov­er­age of Trump’s bom­bas­tic remarks. He said that while the media takes Trump’s remarks “lit­er­al­ly” but not “seri­ous­ly,” he believes Trump sup­port­ers take them seri­ous­ly but not lit­er­al­ly. In short, Trump isn’t actu­al­ly going to impose reli­gious tests on immi­grants or build a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der, as he has repeat­ed­ly said, but will sim­ply pur­sue “san­er, more sen­si­ble” immi­gra­tion poli­cies.

    “His larg­er-than-life per­sona attracts a lot of atten­tion. Nobody would sug­gest that Don­ald Trump is a hum­ble man. But the big things he’s right about amount to a much need­ed dose of humil­i­ty in our pol­i­tics,” Thiel said.

    While the Sil­i­con Val­ley tech cor­ri­dor and sub­urbs around Wash­ing­ton have thrived in the last decade or more, many oth­er parts of the coun­try have been gut­ted by eco­nom­ic and trade poli­cies that closed man­u­fac­tur­ing plants and shipped jobs over­seas, Thiel said, reit­er­at­ing a pre­vi­ous talk­ing point.

    “Most Amer­i­cans don’t live by the Belt­way or the San Fran­cis­co Bay. Most Amer­i­cans haven’t been part of that pros­per­i­ty,” Thiel said Mon­day. “It shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing to see peo­ple vote for Bernie Sanders or for Don­ald Trump, who is the only out­sider left in the race.”

    Thiel lat­er said he had hoped the pres­i­den­tial race might come down to Sanders and Trump, two out­siders with dis­tinct views on the root cause of the nation’s eco­nom­ic malaise and the best course of action to fix it. “That would have been a very dif­fer­ent sort of debate,” he said.

    Thiel’s pre­pared remarks seemed more of an admon­ish­ment of the state of the coun­try today than a ring­ing endorse­ment of Trump’s per­sona and poli­cies. He decried high med­ical costs and the lack of sav­ings baby boomers have on hand. He said mil­len­ni­als are bur­dened by soar­ing tuition costs and a poor out­look on the future. Mean­while, he said, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has wast­ed tril­lions of dol­lars fight­ing wars in Africa and the Mid­dle East that have yet to be won.

    Trump is the only can­di­date who shares his view that the country’s prob­lems are sub­stan­tial and need dras­tic change to be repaired, Thiel said. Clin­ton, on the oth­er hand, does not see a need for a hard reset on some of the country’s poli­cies and would like­ly lead the U.S. into addi­tion­al cost­ly con­flicts abroad, he said.

    A self-described lib­er­tar­i­an, Thiel amassed his for­tune as the co-founder of dig­i­tal pay­ment com­pa­ny Pay­Pal and data ana­lyt­ics firm Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies. He has con­tin­ued to add to that wealth through ven­ture cap­i­tal invest­ments in com­pa­nies that include Face­book, Airbnb, Lyft and Spo­ti­fy, among many oth­ers.

    Thiel offered a full-throat­ed endorse­ment of Trump at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion in July. Dur­ing a six-minute prime-time speech, Thiel told mil­lions of tele­vi­sion view­ers to dis­re­gard social issues that “dis­tract” from the flag­ging U.S. econ­o­my and government’s lack of inno­va­tion, which he described as more press­ing con­cerns. “[Trump] is a builder, and it is time to rebuild Amer­i­ca,” Thiel said at the time.

    He backed up that sup­port ear­li­er this month with a $1.25 mil­lion dona­tion to polit­i­cal groups sup­port­ing Trump, putting Thiel among the largest sin­gle donors to the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee. In August 2015, Thiel gave $2 mil­lion to then-Repub­li­ca­tion can­di­date and fel­low tech exec­u­tive Car­ly Fio­r­i­na.

    ...

    Thiel’s remarks took place at the Nation­al Press Club in Wash­ing­ton, per­haps an odd choice of venue for a busi­ness­man whose rela­tion­ship with the media is some­what ten­u­ous. The bil­lion­aire secret­ly bankrolled wrestler Hulk Hogan’s inva­sion of pri­va­cy law­suit against Gawk­er Media, which Thiel called a “socio­path­ic bul­ly” dur­ing Monday’s talk.

    The law­suit and result­ing judge­ment helped push the com­pa­ny to bank­rupt­cy ear­li­er this year as ret­ri­bu­tion for a 2007 blog post that pub­licly out­ed Thiel as gay. The case caused much con­ster­na­tion in jour­nal­ism cir­cles about the abil­i­ty of a wealthy man with a vendet­ta to take down a news out­let. Thiel said the cir­cum­stances of the Gawk­er case — a sex tape pub­lished with­out Hogan’s con­sent — are unique and that he doesn’t expect oth­er wealthy indi­vid­u­als to fol­low his lead.

    “Wealthy peo­ple shouldn’t do that. I think if they tried they won’t suc­ceed,” Thiel said.

    “But Thiel also crit­i­cized the media’s cov­er­age of Trump’s bom­bas­tic remarks. He said that while the media takes Trump’s remarks “lit­er­al­ly” but not “seri­ous­ly,” he believes Trump sup­port­ers take them seri­ous­ly but not lit­er­al­ly. In short, Trump isn’t actu­al­ly going to impose reli­gious tests on immi­grants or build a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der, as he has repeat­ed­ly said, but will sim­ply pur­sue “san­er, more sen­si­ble” immi­gra­tion poli­cies.”

    So Thiel’s big crit­i­cism of the medi­a’s cov­er­age of Trump is that they take Trump at his word? Huh. Well, when you con­sid­er that Poli­ti­fact study that found only 9 per­cent of what Trump says to be true or most­ly true, per­haps Thiel does have a bit of a point. It’s not the kind of point that should make one more inclined to vote for Trump, but it’s still valid. Per­haps this per­spec­tive explains why Thiel felt com­fort­able sug­gest­ing that his law­suit against Gawk­er are unique that he does­n’t expect oth­er wealthy indi­vid­u­als to fol­low his lead. Maybe Thiel is assum­ing that when Trump pledges to reform libel laws to make it eas­i­er for pow­er­ful peo­ple to sue media orga­ni­za­tions he’s just being bom­bas­tic.

    It’s also worth not­ing that Thiel and oth­ers are cor­rect that a lot of Trump’s sup­port­ers — specif­i­cal­ly those in his work­ing class work­ers who are rail­ing against and eco­nom­ic par­a­digm that pulled the rug out from under them and cru­el­ly rel­e­gat­ed them to a life of stress and pover­ty (and aren’t sim­ply vot­ing for Trump out of Deplorable Sol­i­dar­i­ty) — real­ly do have valid rea­sons to be upset with long-stand­ing US poli­cies and a polit­i­cal sys­tem that’s large­ly left them behind. But it’s also impor­tant to point out that hav­ing valid rea­sons for being upset isn’t actu­al­ly a val­i­da­tion of one’s response to your valid anger and frus­tra­tion. Espe­cial­ly if that response is to vote for Repub­li­cans. After all, if you’re real­ly upset about how the econ­o­my has changed and left you behind with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion, you prob­a­bly don’t want to vote for the par­ty that has led the way in pre­vent­ing any­thing from being done to help you. And if its a par­ty ded­i­cat­ed to pleas­ing Big Busi­ness, bil­lion­aires, and views any gov­ern­ment help for chron­i­cal­ly strug­gling indi­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties as un-Amer­i­can and a dis­in­cen­tive to work and real­ly don’t want to sup­port that par­ty’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. That would just be crazy. Unless you hap­pen to believe that Trump is some­how going to com­plete­ly rewrite and rede­fine the GOP’s core prin­ci­ples of trick­le-down eco­nom­ics, gut­ting the safe­ty-net, and bil­lion­aire feal­ty. Which would, of course, also be crazy.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 2, 2016, 2:42 pm
  6. Did Don­ald Trump win the 2016 elec­tion due to Face­book? Well, there were sure­ly a num­ber of oth­er fac­tors involved, like a mael­strom of lies and dis­in­for­ma­tion and a media estab­lish­ment inca­pable of mak­ing sense of it. Still, with Face­book board mem­ber Peter Thiel now on the Trump tran­si­tion team, and giv­en that Face­book is one of the most effec­tive medi­ums in the mod­ern age for spread­ing lies and dis­in­for­ma­tion, it’s hard to avoid the con­clu­sion that Face­book real­ly, real­ly, helped Don­ald Trump and it’s impor­tant to under­stand how and why that hap­pened:

    New York Mag­a­zine

    Don­ald Trump Won Because of Face­book

    By Max Read
    Novem­ber 9, 2016 2:37 p.m.

    A close and — to pun­dits, jour­nal­ists, and Democ­rats — unex­pect­ed vic­to­ry like Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump’s is always overde­ter­mined, and no one par­tic­u­lar thing pushed Trump over the edge on Tues­day night. His cho­sen party’s late­ly increas­ing open­ness to explic­it white nation­al­ism, the still-recent glob­al-scale fail­ure of the lib­er­al eco­nom­ic con­sen­sus, the appar­ent­ly deep-seat­ed misog­y­ny and racism of the Amer­i­can elec­torate, Hillary Clinton’s mul­ti­ple short­com­ings as a can­di­date, or even the last-minute inter­ven­tion of FBI direc­tor James Comey might each have been, on its own, suf­fi­cient to hand the elec­tion to a man who is, by any reck­on­ing, a dan­ger­ous and unpre­dictable big­ot.

    Still, it can be clar­i­fy­ing to iden­ti­fy the con­di­tions that allowed access to the high­est lev­els of the polit­i­cal syste a man so far out­side what was, until recent­ly, the polit­i­cal main­stream that not a sin­gle for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date from his own par­ty would endorse him. In this case, the con­di­tion was: Face­book.

    To some extent I’m using “Face­book” here as a stand-in for the half-dozen large and influ­en­tial mes­sage boards and social-media plat­forms where Amer­i­cans now con­gre­gate to dis­cuss pol­i­tics, but Facebook’s size, reach, wealth, and pow­er make it effec­tive­ly the only one that mat­ters. And, boy, does it mat­ter. At the risk of being hyper­bol­ic, I think there are few events over the last decade more sig­nif­i­cant than the social network’s whole­sale acqui­si­tion of the tra­di­tion­al func­tions of news media (not to men­tion the polit­i­cal-par­ty appa­ra­tus). Trump’s ascen­dan­cy is far from the first mate­r­i­al con­se­quence of Facebook’s con­quer­ing inva­sion of our social, cul­tur­al, and polit­i­cal lives, but it’s still a brac­ing reminder of the extent to which the social net­work is able to upend exist­ing struc­ture and trans­form soci­ety — and often not for the bet­ter.

    The most obvi­ous way in which Face­book enabled a Trump vic­to­ry has been its inabil­i­ty (or refusal) to address the prob­lem of hoax or fake news. Fake news is not a prob­lem unique to Face­book, but Facebook’s enor­mous audi­ence, and the mech­a­nisms of dis­tri­b­u­tion on which the site relies — i.e., the emo­tion­al­ly charged activ­i­ty of shar­ing, and the show-me-more-like-this feed­back loop of the news feed algo­rithm — makes it the only site to sup­port a gen­uine­ly lucra­tive mar­ket in which shady pub­lish­ers arbi­trage traf­fic by entic­ing peo­ple off of Face­book and onto ad-fes­tooned web­sites, using sto­ries that are alter­nate­ly made up, incor­rect, exag­ger­at­ed beyond all rela­tion­ship to truth, or all three. (To real­ly ham­mer home the cyberdystopia aspect of this: A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the sites are run by Mace­don­ian teenagers look­ing to make some scratch.)

    All through­out the elec­tion, these fake sto­ries, some­times papered over with flim­sy “par­o­dy site” dis­clo­sures some­where in small type, cir­cu­lat­ed through­out Face­book: The Pope endors­es Trump. Hillary Clin­ton bought $137 mil­lion in ille­gal arms. The Clin­tons bought a $200 mil­lion house in the Mal­dives. Many got hun­dreds of thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of shares, likes, and com­ments; enough peo­ple clicked through to the posts to gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant prof­its for their cre­ators. The valiant efforts of Snopes and oth­er debunk­ing orga­ni­za­tions were insuf­fi­cient; Facebook’s labyrinthine shar­ing and pri­va­cy set­tings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuf­fle. Often, no one would even need to click on and read the sto­ry for the head­line itself to become a wide­ly dis­trib­uted talk­ing point, repeat­ed else­where online, or, some­times, in real life. (Here’s an in-the-wild sight­ing of a man telling a woman that Clin­ton and her long­time aide Huma Abe­din are lovers, based on “mate­r­i­al that appeared to have been print­ed off the inter­net.”)

    Prof­it motive, on the part of Mace­do­nians or Amer­i­cans, was not the only rea­son to share fake news, of course — there was an obvi­ous ide­o­log­i­cal moti­va­tion to lie to or mis­lead poten­tial vot­ers — but the fake-news industry’s com­mit­ment to “engage­ment” above any par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal pro­gram has giv­en it a ter­ri­fy­ing­ly nihilis­tic sheen that old-fash­ioned pro­pa­gan­dists nev­er dis­played. (Say what you will about rat­fuc king, dude, at least it’s an ethos.) And at the heart of the prob­lem, any­way, is not the moti­va­tions of the hoax­ers but the struc­ture of social media itself. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, invig­o­rat­ed by insur­gent out­sider can­di­dates and anger at per­ceived polit­i­cal ene­mies, were served up or shared emo­tion­al­ly charged news sto­ries about the can­di­dates, because Facebook’s sort­ing algo­rithm under­stood from expe­ri­ence that they were seek­ing such sto­ries. Many of those sto­ries were lies, or “par­o­dies,” but their appear­ance and place­ment in a news feed were no dif­fer­ent from those of any pub­lish­er with a com­mit­ment to, you know, not lying. As those peo­ple and their fol­low­ers clicked on, shared, or oth­er­wise engaged with those sto­ries — which they did, because Trump dri­ves engage­ment extreme­ly bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engage­ment-dri­ving feed­back loop reached the heights of Face­book itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occa­sion after fir­ing the small team of edi­to­r­i­al employ­ees tasked with pass­ing news judg­ment. Flush with Trump’s unique­ly pas­sion­ate sup­port­er base, Facebook’s vast, per­son­al­ized sew­er sys­tem has become clogged with tox­ic fat­bergs.

    And it is, tru­ly, vast: Some­thing like 170 mil­lion peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca use Face­book every day, a num­ber that’s not only sev­er­al orders of mag­ni­tude larg­er than even the most opti­mistic cir­cu­la­tion reck­on­ings of major news out­lets but also about one-and-a-half times as many peo­ple as vot­ed on Tues­day. Forty-four per­cent of all adults in the Unit­ed States say they get news from Face­book, and access to to an audi­ence of that size would seem to demand some kind of civic respon­si­bil­i­ty — an oblig­a­tion to ensure that a group of peo­ple more siz­able than the Amer­i­can elec­torate is not being mis­led. But whether through a fail­ure of resources, of ide­ol­o­gy, or of imag­i­na­tion, Face­book has seemed both unin­ter­est­ed in and inca­pable of even acknowl­edg­ing that it has become the most effi­cient dis­trib­u­tor of mis­in­for­ma­tion in human his­to­ry.

    ...

    Face­book con­nect­ed those sup­port­ers to each oth­er and to the can­di­date, gave them plat­forms far beyond what even the largest Estab­lish­ment media orga­ni­za­tions might have imag­ined, and allowed them to effec­tive­ly self-orga­nize out­side the par­ty struc­ture. Who needs a GOTV data­base when you have mil­lions of vot­ers worked into a fren­zy by nine months of shar­ing impas­sioned lies on Face­book, encour­ag­ing each oth­er to par­tic­i­pate?

    Even bet­ter, Face­book allowed Trump to direct­ly com­bat the huge­ly neg­a­tive media cov­er­age direct­ed at him, sim­ply by giv­ing his cam­paign and its sup­port­ers anoth­er host of chan­nels to dis­trib­ute coun­ter­pro­gram­ming. This, pre­cise­ly, is why more good jour­nal­ism would have been unlike­ly to change anyone’s mind: The Post and the Times no longer have a monop­oly on infor­ma­tion about a can­di­date. End­less reports of cor­rup­tion, venal­i­ty, misog­y­ny, and incom­pe­tence mere­ly set­tle in a Face­book feed next to a hun­dred oth­er arti­cles from pro-Trump sources (if they set­tle into a Trump supporter’s feed at all) dis­put­ing or ignor­ing the deeply report­ed claims, or, as is often the case, just mak­ing up new and dif­fer­ent sto­ries.

    None of this is, in par­tic­u­lar, new; the struc­tures of polit­i­cal pow­er have been chal­lenged fre­quent­ly in the past cen­tu­ry, most­ly by the arrival of new media — radio, tele­vi­sion, cable — that changed the scale of the audi­ence, and, con­se­quent­ly, the polit­i­cal and social cul­ture of the coun­try. Every time a new medi­um expands the pos­si­ble audi­ence of mass media, and opens up new spaces for new voic­es to be heard, it upsets the del­i­cate bal­ances of pow­er that rest­ed upon the pre­vi­ous media struc­ture. You know: If you thought radio changed pol­i­tics, just wait till tele­vi­sion. And if you thought tele­vi­sion changed pol­i­tics, just wait until Face­book real­ly hits its stride. Or. Well. I guess it just did.

    “Prof­it motive, on the part of Mace­do­nians or Amer­i­cans, was not the only rea­son to share fake news, of course — there was an obvi­ous ide­o­log­i­cal moti­va­tion to lie to or mis­lead poten­tial vot­ers — but the fake-news industry’s com­mit­ment to “engage­ment” above any par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal pro­gram has giv­en it a ter­ri­fy­ing­ly nihilis­tic sheen that old-fash­ioned pro­pa­gan­dists nev­er dis­played. (Say what you will about rat­fuc king, dude, at least it’s an ethos.) And at the heart of the prob­lem, any­way, is not the moti­va­tions of the hoax­ers but the struc­ture of social media itself. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, invig­o­rat­ed by insur­gent out­sider can­di­dates and anger at per­ceived polit­i­cal ene­mies, were served up or shared emo­tion­al­ly charged news sto­ries about the can­di­dates, because Facebook’s sort­ing algo­rithm under­stood from expe­ri­ence that they were seek­ing such sto­ries. Many of those sto­ries were lies, or “par­o­dies,” but their appear­ance and place­ment in a news feed were no dif­fer­ent from those of any pub­lish­er with a com­mit­ment to, you know, not lying. As those peo­ple and their fol­low­ers clicked on, shared, or oth­er­wise engaged with those sto­ries — which they did, because Trump dri­ves engage­ment extreme­ly bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engage­ment-dri­ving feed­back loop reached the heights of Face­book itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occa­sion after fir­ing the small team of edi­to­r­i­al employ­ees tasked with pass­ing news judg­ment. Flush with Trump’s unique­ly pas­sion­ate sup­port­er base, Facebook’s vast, per­son­al­ized sew­er sys­tem has become clogged with tox­ic fat­bergs.”

    The big­ger the BS fac­tor in the hoax arti­cle, the more peo­ple click on it, and the more it spreads. Face­book’s algo­rithm actu­al­ly appears to oper­ate as a BS avalanche.

    And what is Face­book’s response to these charges that it helped swing the elec­tion for Trump by poi­son­ing the pub­lic’s knowl­edge base? Some BS about how there’s almost no fake con­tent and ...blah, blah, blah...it’s not real­ly Face­book’s respon­si­bil­i­ty because it’s not a media com­pa­ny and there­fore not respon­si­ble:

    Ars Tech­ni­ca

    Zucker­berg claims just 1% of Face­book posts car­ry fake news
    Face­book boss on defen­sive about mis­in­for­ma­tion in the wake of Trump’s elec­tion.

    Kel­ly Fiveash (UK) — 11/14/2016, 8:03 AM

    Face­book chief Mark Zucker­berg has claimed that only one per­cent of posts on the free con­tent ad net­work car­ry fake news reports.

    Crit­ics have said that Face­book influ­enced the out­come of the US election—in which vot­ers pro­pelled Don­ald Trump to the White House—by allow­ing bogus news sto­ries to be shared on the site.

    Late on Sat­ur­day, Zucker­berg con­tin­ued his efforts to damp­en Face­book’s influ­ence on the huge­ly divi­sive elec­tion cam­paigns. He said:

    After the elec­tion, many peo­ple are ask­ing whether fake news con­tributed to the result, and what our respon­si­bil­i­ty is to pre­vent fake news from spread­ing. These are very impor­tant ques­tions and I care deeply about get­ting them right. I want to do my best to explain what we know here.

    Of all the con­tent on Face­book, more than 99 per­cent of what peo­ple see is authen­tic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoax­es. The hoax­es that do exist are not lim­it­ed to one par­ti­san view, or even to pol­i­tics. Over­all, this makes it extreme­ly unlike­ly hoax­es changed the out­come of this elec­tion in one direc­tion or the oth­er.

    Zucker­berg’s care­ful­ly-word­ed post, how­ev­er, fails to address a key rea­son behind Face­book’s hands-off approach: it does­n’t want to be seen as a pub­lish­er, because doing so opens the com­pa­ny up to a raft of legal headaches, such as libel claims. Which is why it relies so heav­i­ly on users to report fake news, or links to videos of behead­ings, or indeed mis­placed out­rage over an icon­ic pho­to.

    The Face­book chief not­ed in his post that the 1.79 bil­lion-strong com­mu­ni­ty of users now have the tools to police “hoax­es and fake news” on the service—which to your cor­re­spon­dent sounds like an impos­si­ble task.

    “Iden­ti­fy­ing the ‘truth’ is com­pli­cat­ed,” Zucker­berg added. “While some hoax­es can be com­plete­ly debunked, a greater amount of con­tent, includ­ing from main­stream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omit­ted.

    ...

    It’s worth not­ing, though, that while Zucker­berg stands by his claim that Face­book did­n’t have undue sway over the out­come of the US elec­tion, he is quick to big up its influ­ence over users’ lives to advertisers—its real cus­tomers.

    “Zucker­berg’s care­ful­ly-word­ed post, how­ev­er, fails to address a key rea­son behind Face­book’s hands-off approach: it does­n’t want to be seen as a pub­lish­er, because doing so opens the com­pa­ny up to a raft of legal headaches, such as libel claims. Which is why it relies so heav­i­ly on users to report fake news, or links to videos of behead­ings, or indeed mis­placed out­rage over an icon­ic pho­to.”

    That’s right, Fakebook...err, Face­books wants to avoid doing much of any­thing about its fake news con­tent in part because acknowled­ing a respon­si­bil­i­ty for allow­ing fake news onto its “news feed” might cre­ate a legal headache. So the cost of Face­book get­ting to avoid a legal headache is post-fact world where peo­ple like Don­ald Trump can hoax their way into high­er office. Oh, and media out­lets like Breitbart.com that gen­er­ate the most out­ra­geous con­tent get to ride the BS avalanche to a surge in read­er­ship:

    Yahoo Finance

    Stud­ies con­tra­dict what Mark Zucker­berg is say­ing about Face­book

    Daniel Roberts
    Novem­ber 14, 2016

    In the wake of Don­ald Trump’s vic­to­ry in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Face­book has become a major focus—for all the wrong rea­sons.

    Through­out the cam­paign cycle, fake news head­lines appeared on Face­book, espe­cial­ly after the com­pa­ny fired its Trend­ing Top­ics team in August; head­lines like “Pope Fran­cis endors­es Don­ald Trump,” to name one exam­ple. (To be sure, fake news is not only a prob­lem on Face­book; at the moment, Google’s top elec­tion sto­ry says Don­ald Trump won the pop­u­lar vote, , which is not true.)

    Now media out­lets from the New York Times to the MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review are won­der­ing just how much those fake head­lines influ­enced the elec­tion. New York Mag­a­zine put it more blunt­ly than most, with the head­line “Don­ald Trump won because of Face­book.”

    It’s hard to prove that defin­i­tive­ly. But the noise got loud enough quick­ly enough that Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg felt com­pelled to post a long state­ment about it (on Face­book, obvi­ous­ly) on Sat­ur­day.

    “After the elec­tion, many peo­ple are ask­ing whether fake news con­tributed to the result, and what our respon­si­bil­i­ty is to pre­vent fake news from spread­ing,” Zucker­berg wrote. “Of all the con­tent on Face­book, more than 99% of what peo­ple see is authen­tic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoax­es. The hoax­es that do exist are not lim­it­ed to one par­ti­san view, or even to pol­i­tics. Over­all, this makes it extreme­ly unlike­ly hoax­es changed the out­come of this elec­tion in one direc­tion or the oth­er.”

    So, Zucker­berg is sug­gest­ing that less than 1% of con­tent on Face­book is fake (if his term “authen­tic” does in fact mean fac­tu­al­ly cor­rect); that it doesn’t come from one polit­i­cal side more than the oth­er; and that it is “extreme­ly unlike­ly” it had an impact on vot­ers.

    But a num­ber of dif­fer­ent stud­ies call Zuckerberg’s stance into ques­tion.

    Sources of mis­lead­ing news: right-wing or left-wing

    Before the elec­tion, a Nov. 1 report from social ana­lyt­ics firm EzyIn­sights showed that Trump’s cam­paign uti­lized Face­book much more suc­cess­ful­ly than Clinton’s. Trump post­ed live video and native video to Face­book more fre­quent­ly (and, inter­est­ing­ly, more errat­i­cal­ly, which worked), and saw high­er engage­ment on those videos. After Trump’s win, it’s hard to argue his use of Face­book didn’t help.

    Now EzyIn­sights has shared new data with Yahoo Finance on the fre­quen­cy of Face­book posts from cer­tain media out­lets. The data shows a “dra­mat­ic rise,” as the elec­tion neared, in the fre­quen­cy and pop­u­lar­i­ty of posts from Fox News, Bre­it­bart, Con­ser­v­a­tive Tri­bune, and oth­er overt­ly right-wing out­lets. There was not as much of an upswing in con­tent from left-wing pub­lish­ers, though Steve El-Sharawy of EzyIn­sights cau­tions, “There aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the equiv­a­lent num­ber of staunch left-wing pub­li­ca­tions that we’re aware of or per­haps even exist.”

    EzyIn­sights also dis­cov­ered that Bre­it­bart was the No. 3 biggest gain­er dur­ing the elec­tion cycle in Face­book engage­ment. USA Today grew the most, fol­lowed by Yahoo News. The only pub­lish­er to lose engage­ment dur­ing this time was CNN. “Face­book ampli­fies the more extreme news sites on both ends of the spec­trum,” notes El-Sharawy. “We are see­ing those pub­lish­ers fur­ther to the left and right of main­stream get­ting the larg­er gains.”

    It’s also not unre­lat­ed that an Anti-Defama­tion League report on the rise of anti-Semit­ic abuse on Twit­ter con­clud­ed that “a dis­pro­por­tion­ate vol­ume” of the abuse came from Trump sup­port­ers.

    ...

    Yes, social media users are influ­enced by social media posts

    Two days after the elec­tion, on Thurs­day (before he even­tu­al­ly post­ed the longer state­ment on Sat­ur­day), Zucker­berg said at a Q&A that the idea Face­book could influ­ence vot­ers is “pret­ty crazy.”

    But in a Nov. 7 Pew Research report, 20% of adults said that a post on social media has changed their view on a cer­tain issue. Of those, 17% said social media has changed their view of a spe­cif­ic can­di­date.

    What that shows is that a seg­ment of Face­book users who look to the social media giant for news can indeed be influ­enced polit­i­cal­ly by the news sto­ries they see, whether those sto­ries are false or true.

    FB + Twit­ter can­not take cred­it for chang­ing the world dur­ing events like the Egypt­ian Upris­ing, then down­play their influ­ence on elec­tions— this is not nor­mal. (@karenkho) Novem­ber 13, 2016

    As data sci­en­tist Patrick Mar­t­inchek writes on Medi­um, “Most head­lines are browsed, not clicked… Because of this, the head­lines frame our posi­tions on top­ics with­out even hav­ing to read the con­tent… with respect to pol­i­tics, this news feed brows­ing behav­ior cre­ates an elec­torate that can become dan­ger­ous­ly unin­formed.”

    And many, many peo­ple get their news on Face­book.

    44% of adults get news on Face­book

    Anoth­er recent Pew Research report from May 26 showed that 62% of US adults get their news from social media—maybe not all of their news, but at least some por­tion of it. With­in that group, 66% of Face­book users get news from Face­book, and 59% of Twit­ter users get news from Twit­ter.

    With Facebook’s user base hav­ing bal­looned to 1.8 bil­lion month­ly active users, that 66% trans­lates to 44% of all US adults, a stag­ger­ing fig­ure.

    So: 44% of all adults look to Face­book for news; 20% of them say social media posts are capa­ble of chang­ing their views on a polit­i­cal issue; and more of the sto­ries post­ed on Face­book this cycle, real and fake, came from right-wing out­lets.

    Tak­en togeth­er, it all sug­gests Face­book had a much larg­er role in the elec­tion than Mark Zucker­berg would like to admit.

    And it also under­scores that Face­book has become a media com­pa­ny; the fact that Face­book is not the cre­ator of the con­tent it dis­trib­utes doesn’t negate that.

    Last month, speak­ing at a con­fer­ence, COO Sheryl Sand­berg was asked “if Face­book is acknowl­edg­ing that it is a media com­pa­ny, and not just a tech­nol­o­gy plat­form.” Sand­berg avoid­ed, say­ing, “Facebook’s a plat­form for all ideas and it’s real­ly core to our mis­sion that peo­ple can share what they care about on Face­book.”

    Dur­ing the elec­tion cycle, it was also a plat­form for some fake ideas, unfor­tu­nate­ly. And even if the fake sto­ries were only 1% of all sto­ries (a fig­ure many peo­ple doubt), 1% of all sto­ries on Face­book rep­re­sents quite a lot of sto­ries.

    Poyn­ter writes that it’s impos­si­ble for Zucker­berg to know how much of the con­tent on Face­book is real or fake any­way. “The claim that 99 per­cent of con­tent on Face­book is authen­tic is itself a fake,” Wal­ter Quat­tro­cioc­chi, a pro­fes­sor at the IMT School for Advanced Stud­ies in Italy, told Poyn­ter.

    Zucker­berg, in his Face­book post, appeared to say Face­book will do more to cut down on fake news, but the promise was non­com­mit­tal: “We have already launched work enabling our com­mu­ni­ty to flag hoax­es and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will con­tin­ue to work on this to improve fur­ther… We hope to have more to share soon, although this work often takes longer than we’d like in order to con­firm changes we make won’t intro­duce unin­tend­ed side effects or bias into the sys­tem.”

    On Mon­day, cit­ing anony­mous sources, Giz­mo­do report­ed that Face­book has the abil­i­ty to cut down on fake news, but hes­i­tat­ed to enact it because it did not want to upset con­ser­v­a­tives and look polit­i­cal­ly par­ti­san. Face­book exec­u­tives, Giz­mo­do says, “were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have iden­ti­fied fake or hoax news sto­ries, but dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed right-wing news sites by down­grad­ing or remov­ing that con­tent from people’s feeds. Accord­ing to the source, the update was shelved and nev­er released to the pub­lic.”

    If that is true, Face­book must make that update imme­di­ate­ly.

    “As data sci­en­tist Patrick Mar­t­inchek writes on Medi­um, “Most head­lines are browsed, not clicked… Because of this, the head­lines frame our posi­tions on top­ics with­out even hav­ing to read the con­tent… with respect to pol­i­tics, this news feed brows­ing behav­ior cre­ates an elec­torate that can become dan­ger­ous­ly unin­formed.”

    Yeah, dan­ger­ous­ly unin­formed elec­torates seem like a pret­ty obvi­ous out­come of allow­ing a media that 44 per­cent of adults use to get their news to get filled with hoax­es. But, hey, at least Face­book did­n’t upset con­ser­v­a­tives!

    ...
    On Mon­day, cit­ing anony­mous sources, Giz­mo­do report­ed that Face­book has the abil­i­ty to cut down on fake news, but hes­i­tat­ed to enact it because it did not want to upset con­ser­v­a­tives and look polit­i­cal­ly par­ti­san. Face­book exec­u­tives, Giz­mo­do says, “were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have iden­ti­fied fake or hoax news sto­ries, but dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed right-wing news sites by down­grad­ing or remov­ing that con­tent from people’s feeds. Accord­ing to the source, the update was shelved and nev­er released to the pub­lic.”
    ...

    Yes, if that Giz­mo­do report is true, Face­book had a method for cut­ting down on the fake news but con­clud­ed that the imple­men­ta­tion of this fix would enrage the right-wing. And yet Mark Zucker­berg is con­fi­dent that only 1 per­cent of Face­book sto­ries were fake and it all had a min­i­mal impact. Uh huh....suuure:

    ...
    Poyn­ter writes that it’s impos­si­ble for Zucker­berg to know how much of the con­tent on Face­book is real or fake any­way. “The claim that 99 per­cent of con­tent on Face­book is authen­tic is itself a fake,” Wal­ter Quat­tro­cioc­chi, a pro­fes­sor at the IMT School for Advanced Stud­ies in Italy, told Poyn­ter.
    ...

    So we have Face­book deny­ing there’s a prob­lem while issu­ing vague non-bind­ing promis­es to do some­thing about it, which means it’s prob­lem a good time to remind our­selves that if Face­book actu­al­ly pro­vid­ed some trans­paren­cy on how its news feed algo­rithm worked we could all study how dis­in­for­ma­tion spreads and how to coun­ter­act it:

    CBC News

    Only Face­book knows how it spreads fake elec­tion newsOnly Face­book knows how it spreads fake elec­tion news
    Secret algo­rithms make it hard to judge how too-good-to-be-true sto­ries influ­ence vot­ers

    By Matthew Bra­ga, CBC News Post­ed: Nov 11, 2016 5:00 AM ET Last Updat­ed: Nov 11, 2016 5:38 AM ET

    If Face­book is to be believed, Hillary Clin­ton has deep ties to satan­ic rit­u­als and the occult.

    The post in ques­tion has near­ly 3,000 shares, and links to a sto­ry on a con­spir­a­cy-laden polit­i­cal site. It is most def­i­nite­ly fake. But like many of the sto­ries that were post­ed to Face­book in this U.S. elec­tion cycle, it was writ­ten specif­i­cal­ly for those with a right-lean­ing par­ti­san bias in mind. For this par­tic­u­lar group of vot­ers, it just begged to be shared.

    And share they did. In an elec­tion dom­i­nat­ed by the sex­ist, racist, and gen­er­al­ly out­ra­geous invec­tive of Amer­i­ca’s pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, Face­book proved the per­fect social plat­form for the shar­ing of fake, too-good-to-be-true style news.

    At the end of August, The New York Times’ John Her­rman report­ed on the sub­tle shift in Face­book feeds across Amer­i­ca, many of which were increas­ing­ly filled with ques­tion­able news sources and fake sto­ries specif­i­cal­ly designed to be shared. More recent­ly, Buz­zFeed’s Craig Sil­ver­man took on the daunt­ing task of debunk­ing fake news sto­ries in near-real time.

    Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans alike clicked and shared on what they hoped to be true, whether or not there was any under­ly­ing truth.

    In both the run-up to the elec­tion and its imme­di­ate after­math, there have been argu­ments that Face­book helped make a Trump pres­i­den­cy pos­si­ble — that, by design, Face­book helps breed mis­in­for­ma­tion and encour­age the spread of fake news, and that it can shape vot­er opin­ion based on the sto­ries it choos­es to show.

    Whether or not this is true is prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to say because of how lit­tle insight we have into how Face­book’s myr­i­ad algo­rithms work.

    “I think that if we were to learn how, for exam­ple, net­works of dis­in­for­ma­tion form, that would give peo­ple a lot more infor­ma­tion of how to cre­ate net­works of infor­ma­tion,” said Frank Pasquale, a law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, and author of The Black Box Soci­ety, a book on algo­rithms. “But because the algo­rithms are a black box, there’s no way to study them.”

    Face­book is noto­ri­ous­ly tight-lipped about how its algo­rithms are designed and main­tained, and has grant­ed only a hand­ful of care­ful­ly con­trolled inter­views with jour­nal­ists. We know that sig­nals such as likes, com­ments, and shares all fac­tor heav­i­ly into what Face­book shows its users, but not which sig­nals con­tribute to a par­tic­u­lar post’s appear­ance in a user’s feed, nor how those sig­nals are weight­ed.

    “Any­thing that gets clicks, any­thing that gets more engage­ment and more poten­tial ad rev­enue is effec­tive­ly accel­er­at­ed by the plat­form, with very rare excep­tions,” Pasquale said.

    Algo­rith­mic trans­paren­cy

    Inevitably, posts that hewed to par­ti­san beliefs proved espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar, whether or not they were true. And how much of an impact these voic­es had on the vot­ing pub­lic, only Face­book knows.

    For us to have any insight would require a lev­el of algo­rith­mic trans­paren­cy, or algo­rith­mic account­abil­i­ty into sys­tems that few under­stand, though they increas­ing­ly shape the way we think.

    “Elec­tion infor­ma­tion is one of those domains where there’s a pret­ty clear con­nec­tion between infor­ma­tion that peo­ple are being giv­en access to and their abil­i­ty to make a well informed deci­sion,” says Nicholas Diakopou­los, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land’s jour­nal­ism school.

    He says algo­rith­mic trans­paren­cy is “one method to increase the lev­el of account­abil­i­ty we have over these plat­forms.”

    Both Diakopou­los and Pasquale believe that Face­book is actu­al­ly a media com­pa­ny — despite its repeat­ed claims oth­er­wise — and as such needs to take more respon­si­bil­i­ty for the qual­i­ty of news that appears on its site.

    One con­cern is that Face­book has so much pow­er and influ­ence over the con­tent its near­ly 1.2 bil­lion dai­ly users see that it could con­ceiv­ably influ­ence the out­come of an elec­tion. In fact, Face­book actu­al­ly did some­thing to this effect in 2012, assist­ing aca­d­e­m­ic researchers with a “ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­al of polit­i­cal mobi­liza­tion mes­sages deliv­ered to 61 mil­lion Face­book users dur­ing the 2010 U.S. con­gres­sion­al elec­tions.”

    The study’s authors con­clud­ed that, both direct­ly and indi­rect­ly, the Face­book mes­sages increased vot­er turnout by 340,000 votes. With­out more insight into how Face­book places news sto­ries in its users’ feeds, no one would ever know if a viral polit­i­cal hoax site was respon­si­ble for doing the same.

    ...

    ““I think that if we were to learn how, for exam­ple, net­works of dis­in­for­ma­tion form, that would give peo­ple a lot more infor­ma­tion of how to cre­ate net­works of infor­ma­tion,” said Frank Pasquale, a law pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, and author of The Black Box Soci­ety, a book on algo­rithms. “But because the algo­rithms are a black box, there’s no way to study them.””

    This is some­thing impor­tant to keep in mind: because Face­book is the only enti­ty with the infor­ma­tion about how its algo­rithm works, any algo­rith­mic solu­tions are entire­ly up to Face­book to devel­op and imple­ment. Not only that but any insights into how dis­in­for­ma­tion forms on Face­book’s net­works (and social net­works in gen­er­al) are also going to be insights poten­tial­ly held exclu­sive­ly by Face­book. So not only has Face­book become a lead­ing prop­a­ga­tor of fake news, it’s also inevitably going to be a lead­ing researcher in the prop­a­ga­tion of fake news with key insights that few oth­er enti­ties will be able to pos­sess. And how Face­book uses that knowl­edge will be up to Face­book.

    In oth­er news, Alex Jones is report­ing that Don­ald Trump called and thanked him and the Infowars read­ers for all the help. The report is based sole­ly on Jones’s account so we have no idea of its true. But it’s not unbe­liev­able. Should we believe it? Who knows? This is where we are.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 15, 2016, 8:25 pm
  7. Here’s a quick reminder that the Trump admin­is­tra­tions unprece­dent­ed and jaw drop­ping con­flicts of inter­est aren’t lim­it­ed to the Trump clan:

    Politi­co

    Thiel could gain from Trump tran­si­tion

    The Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist has backed com­pa­nies that could ben­e­fit at least indi­rect­ly from his role.

    By Tony Romm

    12/06/16 05:09 AM EST

    Updat­ed 12/06/16 12:30 PM EST

    NEW YORK — Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Peter Thiel has poured mon­ey into efforts to boost the dig­i­tal cur­ren­cy bit­coin, fund­ed star­tups that aid insur­ance enroll­ment under Oba­macare and invest­ed in big-data tech­nol­o­gy that pow­ers new sur­veil­lance tools at agen­cies like the CIA.

    Now many of the com­pa­nies he’s sup­port­ed over the years stand to ben­e­fit, at least indi­rect­ly, as Thiel works to shape Don­ald Trump’s emerg­ing Cab­i­net as a mem­ber of the president-elect’s tran­si­tion exec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

    Since he arrived here at Trump Tow­er last month, Thiel has worked behind the scenes along­side his close, long­time aides to iden­ti­fy poten­tial can­di­dates for key tech-fac­ing jobs in Trump’s new gov­ern­ment. That’s a boon to Sil­i­con Val­ley, where many tech giants hope to spare them­selves from new reg­u­la­tion in Wash­ing­ton. But it’s an even big­ger coup for Thiel, 49, whose vast cor­po­rate web touch­es com­pa­nies like Pay­Pal and Palan­tir, both of which he co-found­ed, and Face­book, where he sits on the board of direc­tors.

    As a result, experts say Thiel’s unique role rais­es seri­ous eth­i­cal red flags, a conun­drum not unlike the con­flicts of inter­est that the pres­i­dent-elect him­self faces.

    Thiel should “dis­qual­i­fy him­self from any tran­si­tion mat­ter, [and] one would assume that would include appoint­ments ... which may direct­ly con­flict with his finan­cial inter­ests,” said Norm Eisen, for­mer ethics czar for the Oba­ma White House. “For me, it rais­es some very sub­stan­tial con­cerns.”

    Thiel offi­cial­ly joined the tran­si­tion team Nov. 11 as a mem­ber of Trump’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. Five days lat­er, the pres­i­dent-elect unveiled an ethics agree­ment that required any­one join­ing the tran­si­tion or admin­is­tra­tion to refrain from lob­by­ing for five years after serv­ing. That restric­tion ulti­mate­ly led to an exo­dus — some by force, oth­ers by choice — of cur­rent and prospec­tive lob­by­ists from the transition’s ear­ly ranks through­out Novem­ber.

    But the con­tract also requires par­tic­i­pants to “dis­qual­i­fy myself from involve­ment in any par­tic­u­lar tran­si­tion mat­ter which to my knowl­edge may direct­ly con­flict with a finan­cial inter­est of mine, my spouse, minor child, part­ner, client or oth­er indi­vid­ual or orga­ni­za­tion with which I have a busi­ness or close per­son­al rela­tion­ship.” Thiel, despite his many invest­ments, has not revealed if he or one of his top aides on the tran­si­tion, Blake Mas­ters, has signed the agree­ment, which only has invit­ed fur­ther crit­i­cism.

    “I think this is going to be an admin­is­tra­tion rid­den by con­flicts of inter­est, start­ing with the president’s own,” Eisen said. “I think it’s fair to ask whether Mr. Thiel has signed the code, whether he’s fol­low­ing the code and how.”

    Thiel’s spokesman, Jere­mi­ah Hall, did not respond to mul­ti­ple ques­tions about whether Thiel and his aides have signed the ethics agree­ment. In a state­ment, Hall mere­ly said: “Peter’s team wants tal­ent­ed peo­ple to work in gov­ern­ment. Every­one on the team abides by the rules in pur­su­ing that goal.”

    Thiel vis­it­ed Trump Tow­er again Mon­day after­noon, after join­ing the pres­i­dent-elect at a VIP-stud­ded cos­tume par­ty last week­end in Long Island, dressed as Hulk Hogan, whose law­suit against Gawk­er Thiel had helped fund. Asked about his role in the tran­si­tion Mon­day, Trump senior advis­er Kellyanne Con­way said Thiel had “a num­ber of meet­ings,” before adding: “He’s got a bril­liant mind. He’s been a very valu­able sup­port­er of our efforts.”

    Thiel plans to join Trump’s senior aides — includ­ing Reince Priebus, the incom­ing president’s chief of staff, and Jared Kush­n­er, Trump’s advis­er and son in law — in a meet­ing next week with tech com­pa­ny lead­ers at Trump Tow­er, a source famil­iar with the effort told POLITICO on Tues­day.

    Palan­tir — which makes up about half of Thiel’s $2.9 bil­lion net worth, as cal­cu­lat­ed by Bloomberg — may pose the most sig­nif­i­cant eth­i­cal headache for Thiel and the tran­si­tion. The big-data giant was val­ued at more than $20 bil­lion as of Octo­ber and its cus­tomers include the Pen­ta­gon, CIA and oth­er nation­al secu­ri­ty agen­cies. The pri­vate­ly held com­pa­ny has aggres­sive­ly bid for new busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton, even suing the Army in a case over a $200 mil­lion con­tract that it won in Octo­ber.

    Thiel is Palan­tir’s chair­man, and his pri­ma­ry invest­ment firm, Founders Fund, is one of the ear­li­est, most promi­nent back­ers of the com­pa­ny, whose name is derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s lit­er­a­ture. Thiel remains close to Palan­tir’s co-founder, Joe Lons­dale, a promi­nent Repub­li­can fundrais­er for the likes of House Speak­er Paul Ryan and oth­ers, and the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist has con­sult­ed Lons­dale as part of his work on the tran­si­tion, mul­ti­ple sources told POLITICO.

    Adding to the over­lap, Trump’s tran­si­tion aides last week tapped Trae Stephens, anoth­er part­ner at Founders Fund who is focused on gov­ern­ment star­tups, to join the team that’s plot­ting out the future of the Defense Depart­ment under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. It’s also unclear if Stephens, who pre­vi­ous­ly worked at Palan­tir, has signed the ethics agree­ment pro­hibit­ing him from focus­ing on areas relat­ed to his invest­ments.

    A spokesman for Palan­tir — and aides for the oth­er Thiel invest­ments ref­er­enced in this sto­ry — did not respond to requests for com­ment. Founders Fund has 129 active invest­ments, accord­ing to data com­piled by Bloomberg, and recent­ly invest­ed in an immunother­a­py com­pa­ny and a logis­tics firm that coor­di­nates local deliv­er­ies on demand.

    ...

    For Thiel, his posi­tion on the tran­si­tion team is the cul­mi­na­tion of yet anoth­er high-stakes invest­ment bet. A long­time lib­er­tar­i­an who backed the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in the Sen­ate and Car­ly Fio­r­i­na in 2016 for pres­i­dent, Thiel switched his alle­giances last sum­mer to Trump. By July, Thiel had endorsed Trump on stage at the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, and he lat­er donat­ed more than $1 mil­lion toward efforts to help elect him.

    Thiel long has main­tained he does not want a role for him­self in gov­ern­ment. Asked at an event in Wash­ing­ton in Octo­ber if he might ever enter pol­i­tics, he said he would “occa­sion­al­ly get involved, but don’t want to make it a full-time thing.”

    Even in a part-time capac­i­ty now aid­ing Trump and his tran­si­tion, how­ev­er, Thiel has an unpar­al­leled oppor­tu­ni­ty to advance his most ambi­tious tech­nol­o­gy gam­bits.

    Take Thiel’s pri­ma­ry invest­ment arm, Founders Fund: It has led or par­tic­i­pat­ed in invest­ment rounds in SpaceX, led by a fel­low Pay­Pal founder, Elon Musk. In an indus­try val­ued glob­al­ly at more than $330 bil­lion, SpaceX com­petes aggres­sive­ly for key NASA con­tracts against long­time avi­a­tion giants, and it’s lob­bied for years for new oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­mer­cial space providers to per­form mis­sions that long have been fund­ed and com­plet­ed by gov­ern­ment. Demand for pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships in the space sec­tor is like­ly to increase in the next admin­is­tra­tion, and that would ben­e­fit SpaceX, said Eric Stallmer, pres­i­dent of the Com­mer­cial Space­flight Fed­er­a­tion, whose mem­ber com­pa­nies include SpaceX.<

    So too has Thiel’s fund been a play­er in finan­cial tech firms, like the mobile-pay­ments com­pa­ny Stripe and the stu­dent-lend­ing giant SoFi. Both com­pa­nies this year hired their first Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ists, accord­ing to gov­ern­ment ethics records, as agen­cies like the Con­sumer Finan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau and the Trea­sury Depart­ment under the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion have eyed new reg­u­la­tion of the nascent “fin­tech” indus­try.

    And Founders Fund is an orig­i­nal backer of shar­ing-econ­o­my giants, like Airbnb and Lyft, which for years — and in mul­ti­ple states, and even con­ti­nents — have been fight­ing for the per­mis­sion to oper­ate, while ward­ing off hous­ing, labor and safe­ty reg­u­la­tions that might raise their costs of busi­ness.

    In these and oth­er instances, experts say there is unavoid­able over­lap between Thiel’s work on the tran­si­tion and his vast invest­ments in com­pa­nies at the fore­front of some of the most dis­rup­tive ele­ments of the chang­ing U.S. econ­o­my.

    “Giv­en how unusu­al it is to have some­one from this sec­tor at this lev­el of par­tic­i­pa­tion right now, it will give him enor­mous influ­ence …. both to shape the pol­i­cy but per­son­al­ly to emerge as a polit­i­cal fig­ure in a way he hasn’t been,” said Julian Zeliz­er, a polit­i­cal ana­lyst and polit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty.

    ...

    “The idea that he’s not going to make any poli­cies that affect his finan­cial inter­ests [is] unbe­liev­able,” said Lisa Graves, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Media and Democ­ra­cy who served as a deputy assis­tant attor­ney gen­er­al at the Jus­tice Depart­ment dur­ing the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion. With Thiel, she explained, the ben­e­fit of his involve­ment — and his finan­cial inter­ests — also will “con­tin­ue beyond the tran­si­tion.”

    “The poten­tial for rewards for chang­ing poli­cies, to ben­e­fit Thiel, are enor­mous,” she said.

    ““The idea that he’s not going to make any poli­cies that affect his finan­cial inter­ests [is] unbe­liev­able,” said Lisa Graves, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Media and Democ­ra­cy who served as a deputy assis­tant attor­ney gen­er­al at the Jus­tice Depart­ment dur­ing the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion. With Thiel, she explained, the ben­e­fit of his involve­ment — and his finan­cial inter­ests — also will “con­tin­ue beyond the tran­si­tion.””

    Yeah, it does seem rather unbe­liev­able that Peter Thiel, the “democ­ra­cy and free­dom are incom­pat­i­ble” guy, isn’t uti­liz­ing his pow­er­ful role in shap­ing the Trump team for self-enrich­ment. Espe­cial­ly since, you know, this is the Trump tran­si­tion team we’re talk­ing about.

    So, like so much with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, we’ll see...mostly like­ly with a sense of shock and hor­ror when we see it. For exam­ple, Jim O’Neill, the man­ag­ing direc­tor at Thiel’s Mithril Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, is report­ed­ly under con­sid­er­a­tion for the head of the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion. And he’s basi­cal­ly an ide­o­log­i­cal clone of Thiel (includ­ing sit­ting on the board of the Seast­eading Insti­tute). Cue the shock and hor­ror:

    Bloomberg Pol­i­tics

    Trump Team Said to Con­sid­er Thiel Asso­ciate O’Neill for FDA

    Drew Arm­strong, Jen­nifer Jacobs, Robert Lan­greth
    Decem­ber 7, 2016 — 11:01 AM CST
    Updat­ed on Decem­ber 7, 2016 — 3:09 PM CST

    * Jim O’Neill is a man­ag­ing direc­tor at Thiel’s Mithril Cap­i­tal
    * In speech, said FDA could approve drugs with­out effi­ca­cy data

    Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s tran­si­tion team is con­sid­er­ing a Sil­i­con Val­ley investor close to bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel to head the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    Jim O’Neill, the Thiel asso­ciate, hasn’t been offi­cial­ly select­ed, accord­ing to the peo­ple, who asked to remain anony­mous because the deci­sion process is pri­vate, and the Trump team could still go in anoth­er direc­tion.

    O’Neill is a man­ag­ing direc­tor at Thiel’s Mithril Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, and last served in gov­ern­ment dur­ing the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion as prin­ci­pal asso­ciate deputy sec­re­tary at the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices. He’s also a board mem­ber of the Seast­eading Insti­tute, a Thiel-backed ven­ture to cre­ate new soci­eties at sea, away from exist­ing gov­ern­ments.

    Thiel’s spokesman Jere­mi­ah Hall said O’Neill is a good can­di­date. “Jim O’Neill has exten­sive expe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ment and in Sil­i­con Val­ley. He is a strong can­di­date for any of sev­er­al key posi­tions,” Hall said in an e‑mail. Sep­a­rate­ly, Politi­co and CNBC report­ed that O’Neill could be under con­sid­er­a­tion for var­i­ous posi­tions.

    Spokes­men for Trump didn’t respond to a request for com­ment. O’Neill also didn’t respond to requests for com­ment.

    He would be an uncon­ven­tion­al pick, since he doesn’t have a med­ical back­ground. The head of the FDA for the last five decades has either been a trained physi­cian or a promi­nent sci­en­tif­ic researcher.

    ‘Reform FDA’

    O’Neill also could push the agency in new direc­tions. In a 2014 speech, he said he sup­port­ed reform­ing FDA approval rules so that drugs could hit the mar­ket after they’ve been proven safe, but with­out any proof that they worked, some­thing he called “pro­gres­sive approval.”

    “We should reform FDA so there is approv­ing drugs after their spon­sors have demon­strat­ed safe­ty — and let peo­ple start using them, at their own risk, but not much risk of safe­ty,” O’Neill said in a speech at an August 2014 con­fer­ence called Reju­ve­na­tion Biotech­nol­o­gy. “Let’s prove effi­ca­cy after they’ve been legal­ized.”

    O’Neill has been a close asso­ciate of Thiel for near­ly a decade. He first served as a man­ag­ing direc­tor at Clar­i­um Cap­i­tal — Thiel’s hedge fund that made a mint by cor­rect­ly pre­dict­ing the hous­ing bub­ble and then crum­bled — and since 2012 has worked at Mithril Cap­i­tal, Thiel’s late-stage ven­ture firm, where he is a man­ag­ing direc­tor. He also helped launch the Thiel Fel­low­ship, which each year gives a small num­ber of stu­dents $100,000 each to drop out of school and pur­sue entre­pre­neur­ial ideas.

    Med­ical Tests

    In the same 2014 speech, O’Neill said that when he was in the HHS he had opposed the FDA reg­u­lat­ing some com­pa­nies, such as 23andMe Inc., that per­form com­plex lab­o­ra­to­ry-devel­oped tests using math­e­mat­i­cal algo­rithms.

    “In order to reg­u­late in this space, FDA had to argue that an algo­rithm, a series of num­bers that match up to things, is a med­ical device,” he said. “I found that real­ly aston­ish­ing — aston­ish­ing that some­one could say it with a straight face, and aston­ish­ing that some­one could claim the abil­i­ty to shut down com­pa­nies that were nev­er touch­ing a patient but only accu­rate­ly match­ing algo­rithms.”

    At the same con­fer­ence, he advo­cat­ed anti-aging med­i­cine, say­ing he believed it was sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble to devel­op treat­ments that would reverse aging, though the drug industry’s approach to the idea was “long over­due for inno­va­tion.”

    Broad Respon­si­bil­i­ties

    The FDA has some of the government’s broad­est reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty. Respon­si­ble for food, drugs, med­ical devices, dietary sup­ple­ments, cos­met­ics and tobac­co, it touch­es many aspects of what Amer­i­cans con­sume. It’s also a key part of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal industry’s research efforts, respon­si­ble for over­see­ing clin­i­cal tri­als. In recent years, changes at the agency have been made to speed approval of new ther­a­pies in every­thing from can­cer to hepati­tis C.

    In a talk at a 2009 con­fer­ence, O’Neill tout­ed the advan­tages of freer mar­kets for a wide vari­ety of health-care goods and ser­vices.

    “Basi­cal­ly, because there’s not a free mar­ket in health care, peo­ple are suf­fer­ing very sig­nif­i­cant health con­se­quences that in a free mar­ket they would not suf­fer,” he said in a talk at the 2009 Seast­eading Con­fer­ence. Among oth­er advan­tages, a free mar­ket in health care “would dri­ve prices much low­er and allow inno­va­tion in cheap­er deliv­ery of care, both in terms of drugs and devices and bet­ter forms of deliv­ery,” he said.

    Sep­a­rate­ly, Zen­e­fits, the human resources start­up, said its act­ing chief finan­cial offi­cer, Mark Wool­way, will join Trump’s tran­si­tion team. Wool­way used to work for Thiel’s Clar­i­um Cap­i­tal and is anoth­er exam­ple of Thiel’s spread­ing influ­ence.

    “Mark will con­tin­ue to serve as act­ing CFO at Zen­e­fits while he helps out on the tran­si­tion team,” said Jes­si­ca Hoff­man, a spokes­woman at Zen­e­fits.

    Trump’s Plans

    Trump him­self has offered few specifics on what he wants the FDA to do. His tran­si­tion web­site says the admin­is­tra­tion will “reform the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion, to put greater focus on the need of patients for new and inno­v­a­tive med­ical prod­ucts” and advance research and devel­op­ment efforts in health care.

    ...

    O’Neill did his under­grad­u­ate stud­ies at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty, where he was a mem­ber of the con­cert band and played the horn, and has a mas­ters degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, both in the human­i­ties. He joined the Health and Human Ser­vices Depart­ment under Bush in 2002, first as a speech­writer, ris­ing in the final years of the admin­is­tra­tion to head some pol­i­cy func­tions, accord­ing to his resume on LinkedIn.

    “O’Neill also could push the agency in new direc­tions. In a 2014 speech, he said he sup­port­ed reform­ing FDA approval rules so that drugs could hit the mar­ket after they’ve been proven safe, but with­out any proof that they worked, some­thing he called “pro­gres­sive approval.”

    FDA approval for drugs that don’t have to prove they actu­al­ly work. Well, that’s one way to bring down drug costs: flood with mar­ket with “com­pe­ti­tion” in the form of drugs that don’t actu­al­ly work. What a great “reform”.

    And that’s just one of the many grand ideas from Jim O’Neill over how to “reform” the FDA. You have to won­der how many oth­er ideas of this nature he has in mind. Pre­sum­ably quite a few giv­en that Peter Thiel stat­ed last year that the FDA would be the first gov­ern­ment agency he would “reform” if it was up to him:

    Forbes

    Peter Thiel has nev­er met a reg­u­la­tion he did­n’t hate

    by Ben Geier
    Feb­ru­ary 10, 2015, 8:50 PM EST

    At least that’s how it seemed as the Pay­Pal co-founder and investor went after phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal laws, dinged the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment over sur­veil­lance and attacked FDR’s record.

    Every­one in the tech indus­try knows that Pay­Pal cofounder and investor Peter Thiel is a lib­er­tar­i­an. His dis­dain for reg­u­la­tion and his desire for a lib­er­tar­i­an utopi­an city aboard a float­ing ship are infa­mous. At The Econ­o­mist’s But­ton­wood Gath­er­ing on Tues­day night, Thiel did noth­ing to change his rep­u­ta­tion.

    In an inter­view with The Econ­o­mist’s Glob­al­iza­tion Edi­tor Matthew Bish­op, Thiel list­ed a num­ber of indus­tries in which he sees too much reg­u­la­tion.

    First, he homed in on the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try, claim­ing that the reg­u­la­tion from the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion made it too dif­fi­cult for new drugs to be approved. “You would not be able to invent the polio vac­cine today,” Thiel said.

    He agreed that the safe­ty tests required by the gov­ern­ment are a good idea, in the­o­ry. But he argued that they are too strin­gent and that phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies should be able to sell drugs that are infe­ri­or to the best one on the mar­ket.

    For exam­ple, the most effec­tive drug for dis­ease X may cost $10 per pill. But con­sumers should have the option to buy a drug that is 90% as effec­tive for $1 per pill, he said. Peo­ple should be able to decide for them­selves whether they want to pay more for a slight­ly bet­ter prod­uct, just like in oth­er indus­tries.

    “You nev­er devel­op drugs that are slight­ly worse, but much cheap­er,” he said of the cur­rent envi­ron­ment.

    When asked about one major change he’d make to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, Thiel said it would be to reform of the FDA — though he did stop short of say­ing it should be com­plete­ly abol­ished.

    ...

    “He agreed that the safe­ty tests required by the gov­ern­ment are a good idea, in the­o­ry. But he argued that they are too strin­gent and that phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies should be able to sell drugs that are infe­ri­or to the best one on the mar­ket.”

    Yes, why not allow infe­ri­or drugs to com­pete with estab­lished drugs. How infe­ri­or, we’ll Thiel brings up an exam­ple of a drug that’s 90 per­cent as effec­tive at 10 per­cent the cost. But as we saw from Jim O’Neil­l’s com­ments, that could also be ?!?!? as effec­tive at ?!?!? per­cent the cost. Think of the com­pe­ti­tion this could cre­ate!

    And in case the poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est weren’t obvi­ous, don’t for­get: Thiel is an investor in a broad array of biotech com­pa­nies. And now all those FDA “reforms” Peter Thiel has been dream­ing about for years are poised to come to fruition.

    So with Don­ald Trump pled­ing to bring down drug prices, with­out giv­ing any hint of how he’s plan­ning on doing so, keep in mind that we’re already get­ting an idea of how he might go about it: appoint­ing Team-Thiel to head up the FDA and gut the FDA’s reg­u­la­to­ry pow­ers fol­lowed up with prayer to the free-mar­ket fairies that some­how a explo­sion of new drugs and com­pe­ti­tion will do the job. Com­pe­ti­tion like the approval of new drugs with no evi­dence of effi­ca­cy, because why not let “the con­sumer patient” become “the guinea pig” too?

    Plus, even if the drugs don’t do any­thing, it’s not like the place­bo effect isn’t real. Think of the sav­ings!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 7, 2016, 4:10 pm
  8. Giv­en the promi­nent role Peter Thiel is play­ing in the Trump tran­si­tion team and the influ­ence over posi­tions like the next head of the FDA, it’s prob­a­bly worth recall­ing Thiel’s debate in 2013 with tech­nol­o­gy investor Marc Andreessen where Thiel describes Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies like Cis­co, Dell, HP, Ora­cle, IBM, Microsoft, and Apple as part of a com­put­er “rust belt” that’s poised for down­siz­ing and lay­offs and the only hope for human­i­ty is mas­sive dereg­u­la­tion of tech­nol­o­gy indus­tries so peo­ple like Thiel can embrace high-risk/high-pay­off tech­no­log­i­cal gam­bits that will save us all. And we’re all doomed if we don’t fol­low this approach because soci­ety’s prob­lems are unsolv­able except with aggres­sive hyper-advances in tech­nol­o­gy (recall that Thiel does­n’t believe in democ­ra­cy so he’s prob­a­bly not a big fan of polit­i­cal solu­tions to human­i­ty’s chal­lenges). It was a pre­sen­ta­tion by Thiel that’s espe­cial­ly worth recall­ing these days in part because Thiel gave a sim­i­lar pre­sen­ta­tion dur­ing a defense of Trump short­ly before the elec­tion. But also because it does­n’t look like Thiel’s influ­ence over the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s health and sci­ence agen­da is going to be lim­it­ed to the FDA:

    STAT

    Peter Thiel said to be play­ing key role in fill­ing health, sci­ence posts under Trump

    By Sheila Kaplan and Dylan Scott

    Decem­ber 20, 2016

    WASHINGTON — Peter Thiel, the icon­o­clas­tic Sil­i­con Val­ley mogul who has been advis­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump on tech­nol­o­gy pol­i­cy, has become deeply involved in vet­ting can­di­dates for oth­er health and sci­ence posts in the admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to indi­vid­u­als famil­iar with his role.

    Thiel, who has already advanced a can­di­date to lead the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion, has been dis­cussing pos­si­bil­i­ties with oth­er prospec­tive appointees about a vari­ety of health and sci­ence jobs. Among oth­ers, he recent­ly spoke with Elias Zer­houni, a for­mer direc­tor of the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health and pres­i­dent of glob­al research and devel­op­ment for Sanofi, about a top White House sci­ence job.

    Thiel has also been speak­ing to orga­ni­za­tions push­ing pos­si­ble can­di­dates, among them a work­ing group that includes Faster­Cures, Research!America, and the Coali­tion for Life Sci­ences.

    “He’s got pret­ty broad influ­ence,” said one indi­vid­ual close to the tran­si­tion team, who, like oth­ers, spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty.

    The indi­vid­ual said Thiel was very focused in par­tic­u­lar on the FDA, NIH, Health and Human Ser­vices, and the Office of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy Pol­i­cy. He has tapped Jim O’Neill, a lib­er­tar­i­an mem­ber of his invest­ment staff, as a pos­si­ble can­di­date to be the FDA com­mis­sion­er.

    Nei­ther rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Thiel nor mem­bers of Trump’s tran­si­tion team respond­ed to request for com­ment. Zer­houni also did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    Thiel’s role has caused alarm among peo­ple who are con­cerned about his views on health and sci­ence, as well as poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est posed by his exten­sive invest­ment port­fo­lio in biotech­nol­o­gy busi­ness­es.

    Newt Gin­grich, the for­mer House speak­er who is also a close advis­er to Trump, played down the notion that Thiel had an out­sized role on the tran­si­tion team, say­ing that the pres­i­dent-elect “lis­tens to many and obeys none.” But he also acknowl­edged that Thiel’s role may not sit well with some peo­ple.

    Thiel is “one of the most bril­liant, pro-inno­va­tion per­son­al­i­ties I’ve ever met,” Gin­grich said.

    “That can be very uncom­fort­able for peo­ple who believe in bureau­crat­ic sci­ence, because his argu­ment for pro-sci­ence would be the over-aged sys­tem actu­al­ly dis­crim­i­nates against ris­ing younger tal­ent.”

    Thiel’s Founder’s Fund, a San Fran­cis­co-based ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, has poured mil­lions of dol­lars into com­pa­nies such as Stem­cen­trx, which works on can­cer treat­ment; Emer­ald Ther­a­peu­tics, focused on DNA research; Col­lec­tive Health, a health ben­e­fits firm; and Zoc­doc, a web­site direc­to­ry of doc­tors.

    One of Thiel’s biggest ven­tures is Palan­tir, the giant tech and soft­ware com­pa­ny that, in addi­tion to its fed­er­al con­tracts in defense and oth­er fields, sells soft­ware ser­vices to health care providers.

    “In this admin­is­tra­tion, con­flicts of inter­est are a fea­ture, not a bug,” said Hen­ry Greely, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Law and the Bio­sciences at Stan­ford Law School.

    What wor­ries Greely more, he said, are Thiel’s views on sci­ence, his focus on research to stop aging, and to achieve immor­tal­i­ty.

    “He seems to me a wor­ri­some out­lier in terms of his views about sci­ence and research,” Greely said. “He seems quite impa­tient with the nor­mal ways things get done. I wor­ry that he is inter­est­ed in shak­ing up the research estab­lish­ment and doing it in ways that lead to high­er risk activ­i­ties that have poten­tial­ly high­er rewards, but low­er prob­a­bil­i­ties of being suc­cess­ful. That can be cat­a­stroph­ic.”

    Thiel aides have helped con­vene meet­ings in San Fran­cis­co of experts in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy as recent­ly as last week, accord­ing to one source who received an invi­ta­tion.

    Aubrey de Grey, a sci­en­tist who stud­ies aging and who has received fund­ing from Thiel, sug­gest­ed that the Sil­i­con Val­ley investor will help the admin­is­tra­tion take more of a long-term approach on med­ical research.

    “Peter is a true vision­ary,” he said, “both in terms of how much bet­ter he sees that the future can be and in terms of cre­ative ways to get there.”

    De Grey also said he hoped that research projects ini­ti­at­ed by star­tups would receive back­ing from the new admin­is­tra­tion.

    “Star­tups and vision­ar­ies can take risks that gov­ern­ment and gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists often can’t, but at the same time if its pol­i­cy is guid­ed by the best long-term think­ing, gov­ern­ment can lubri­cate the pas­sage of such new ideas and ini­tia­tives.”

    ...

    “Thiel’s role has caused alarm among peo­ple who are con­cerned about his views on health and sci­ence, as well as poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est posed by his exten­sive invest­ment port­fo­lio in biotech­nol­o­gy busi­ness­es.

    Yeah, there’s going to be no short­age of Thiel-relat­ed con­flicts of inter­est in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy poli­cies. But note the oth­er big con­flict that could be far more dam­ag­ing: Thiel’s desire to see major tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs is cou­pled with a dis­dain for the val­ue of slow-and-steady basic sci­en­tif­ic research. And it’s the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that pro­vides the bulk of the fund­ing for that slow-and-steady invest­ment in basic research. So if Thiel’s views come to dom­i­nate the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s think­ing for fed­er­al poli­cies of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy fund­ing we should expect a lot more fed­er­al mon­ey going to pri­vate star­tups with a high-risk/high-reward mod­el, like the longevi­ty tech­nol­o­gy foun­da­tion run by Aubrey de Grey that Thiel has donat­ed heav­i­ly towards, at the cost of fed­er­al mon­ey going to basic research:

    ...
    “In this admin­is­tra­tion, con­flicts of inter­est are a fea­ture, not a bug,” said Hen­ry Greely, direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Law and the Bio­sciences at Stan­ford Law School.

    What wor­ries Greely more, he said, are Thiel’s views on sci­ence, his focus on research to stop aging, and to achieve immor­tal­i­ty.

    “He seems to me a wor­ri­some out­lier in terms of his views about sci­ence and research,” Greely said. “He seems quite impa­tient with the nor­mal ways things get done. I wor­ry that he is inter­est­ed in shak­ing up the research estab­lish­ment and doing it in ways that lead to high­er risk activ­i­ties that have poten­tial­ly high­er rewards, but low­er prob­a­bil­i­ties of being suc­cess­ful. That can be cat­a­stroph­ic.”

    Thiel aides have helped con­vene meet­ings in San Fran­cis­co of experts in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy as recent­ly as last week, accord­ing to one source who received an invi­ta­tion.

    Aubrey de Grey, a sci­en­tist who stud­ies aging and who has received fund­ing from Thiel, sug­gest­ed that the Sil­i­con Val­ley investor will help the admin­is­tra­tion take more of a long-term approach on med­ical research.

    ...

    De Grey also said he hoped that research projects ini­ti­at­ed by star­tups would receive back­ing from the new admin­is­tra­tion.

    “Star­tups and vision­ar­ies can take risks that gov­ern­ment and gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists often can’t, but at the same time if its pol­i­cy is guid­ed by the best long-term think­ing, gov­ern­ment can lubri­cate the pas­sage of such new ideas and ini­tia­tives.”
    ...

    ““He seems to me a wor­ri­some out­lier in terms of his views about sci­ence and research,” Greely said. “He seems quite impa­tient with the nor­mal ways things get done. I wor­ry that he is inter­est­ed in shak­ing up the research estab­lish­ment and doing it in ways that lead to high­er risk activ­i­ties that have poten­tial­ly high­er rewards, but low­er prob­a­bil­i­ties of being suc­cess­ful. That can be cat­a­stroph­ic.”

    It was pret­ty much guar­an­teed that a Trump admin­is­tra­tion, or any GOP admin­is­tra­tion for that mat­ter, would find a way to starve fed­er­al sci­ence research fund­ing. But with Thiel guid­ing Trump’s sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy think­ing, those inevitable cuts could end up being extra sav­age sim­ply because Thiel appears to have con­tempt for any research that isn’t some­how rev­o­lu­tion­ary and/or con­tribut­ing to his per­son­al desire to live for­ev­er on his own pri­vate sea colony. And when you con­sid­er how much Don­ald Trump’s psy­cho­log­i­cal need for self-aggran­dize­ment, it’s hard to see how Trump will resist Thiel’s calls for ditch­ing the basic research in favor of throw­ing a bunch of mon­ey at Peter Thiel’s pri­vate sec­tor com­pa­nies of choice that he promis­es will cre­ate “great” new tech­nolo­gies. With Thiel call­ing the shots, a Trump admin­is­tra­tion agen­da is prob­a­bly going to revolve around pulling the rug out from under the feet of Amer­i­ca’s pub­licly fund­ed sci­en­tists in the hopes of cre­at­ing a fly­ing car­pet. Great of that works out and we get those fly­ing car­pets but it’s prob­a­bly not worth the cost.

    If there’s one form of “inno­va­tion” the GOP has excelled at in recent decades, it’s inno­va­tions in new ways to under­cut the gov­ern­men­t’s abil­i­ty to actu­al­ly do all the use­ful things some­thing like a gov­ern­ment is per­fect for doing like pub­licly fund­ed basic research. That’s all part of why Amer­i­ca’s sci­ence and research prowess could take a major hit in the com­ing years. And, in turn, that’s part of why US indus­try will end up suf­fer­ing too under a Trump admin­is­tra­tion giv­en the wealth of pos­i­tive exter­nal­i­ties that have emerged from pub­licly fund­ed research and the incred­i­ble dam­age Trump and his team could do in just 4 to 8 years. Although even if Thiel was­n’t on board the Trump train it would still be look­ing pret­ty omi­nous for Amer­i­ca’s sci­en­tist.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 27, 2016, 2:35 pm
  9. Peter Thiel has a lit­tle helper in the Trump tran­si­tion vet­ting process­es. And, sur­prise sur­prise, that lit­tle helper hap­pens to be a noto­ri­ous “Alt-Right” neo-Nazi troll: Charles C. John­son:

    Forbes

    A Troll Out­side Trump Tow­er Is Help­ing To Pick Your Next Gov­ern­ment

    By Ryan Mac and Matt Drange
    Jan 9, 2017 @ 03:30 PM

    An inter­net troll, who was once called “the most hat­ed man on the inter­net” and is banned from Twit­ter, is rec­om­mend­ing can­di­dates to serve in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    Charles “Chuck” John­son, a con­tro­ver­sial blog­ger and con­ser­v­a­tive online per­son­al­i­ty, has been push­ing for var­i­ous polit­i­cal appointees to serve under Don­ald Trump, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources close to the President-elect’s tran­si­tion team. While John­son does not have a for­mal posi­tion, FORBES has learned that he is work­ing behind the scenes with mem­bers of the tran­si­tion team’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee, includ­ing bil­lion­aire Trump donor Peter Thiel, to rec­om­mend, vet and give some­thing of a seal of approval to poten­tial nom­i­nees from the so-called “alt-right.”

    The prox­im­i­ty to pow­er is some­thing new for John­son, a self-described “jour­nal­ist, author and debunker of frauds,” who has made a name for him­self by ped­dling false infor­ma­tion and right-wing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries online. In the months lead­ing up to the elec­tion, John­son, 28, used social media and his web­site GotNews.com to stump for the Pres­i­dent-elect while also pub­lish­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion on Trump’s detrac­tors. Now, John­son is help­ing to pick some of the lead­ers who may run the coun­try for the next four years.

    FORBES ver­i­fied Johnson’s involve­ment with mul­ti­ple peo­ple close to the tran­si­tion team who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they were not autho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly. When asked about his work with the tran­si­tion team, John­son said last month that he had “no for­mal role,” and was vague regard­ing his lev­el of influ­ence. John­son agreed to mul­ti­ple phone and email inter­views with FORBES in Decem­ber, but he declined to return repeat­ed fol­low-up requests for com­ment this month.

    “Whether I am lis­tened to or not remains to be seen,” John­son wrote in an email to FORBES in Decem­ber. “I am by and large pret­ty hap­py with the gov­ern­ment select­ed thus far, though I am sor­ry to say that a lot of the can­di­dates that I favor have not been select­ed.”

    Johnson’s state­ments came before his appear­ance on an online radio show with lib­er­tar­i­an blog­ger Ste­fan Molyneux on Dec. 22 dur­ing which John­son declared that he had been “doing a lot of vet­ting for the admin­is­tra­tion and the Trump tran­si­tion.”

    The dis­clo­sure of Johnson’s involve­ment comes at a time of intense scruti­ny for Trump’s tran­si­tion team, whose cab­i­net picks will begin Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings this week. Those hear­ings are mov­ing for­ward despite the fact that, as of this week­end, the Office of Gov­ern­ment Ethics had not com­plet­ed its review of mul­ti­ple appointees. It is unprece­dent­ed for the Sen­ate to hold con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings for a President-elect’s nom­i­nees before for­mal back­ground checks are com­plet­ed.

    Trump spokes­woman Hope Hicks did not return a request for com­ment. Jere­mi­ah Hall, a spokesman for Thiel, declined to com­ment.

    While Twit­ter banned John­son in May 2015 after threat­en­ing a Black Lives Mat­ters activist, he made a name for him­self as an inter­net troll, or an online per­son­al­i­ty who antag­o­nizes oth­ers by post­ing inflam­ma­to­ry or mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion. Among his exploits, John­son has pub­lished the home address­es of New York Times reporters, wrong­ly iden­ti­fied a woman he thought was the source of Rolling Stone’s now-retract­ed sto­ry of an alleged rape at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia and claimed that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma is gay.

    “On Twit­ter, like, I have a cer­tain kind of per­son­al­i­ty, a pugna­cious­ness, like an alter ego,” he said in 2014 to Moth­er Jones. “You know, like when Spi­der-Man puts on the cos­tume, for instance, he’s no longer a mild-man­nered pho­tog­ra­ph­er. He has an atti­tude. I do that because I want my con­tent to real­ly go viral.”

    John­son por­trays Got­News as an alter­na­tive to the “lying main­stream media.” He said it receives 2.5 mil­lion page views per month. (Quant­cast esti­mat­ed in the last 30 days that about 246,000 peo­ple have vis­it­ed the site.) Recent sto­ries include a piece on Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz’s sup­pos­ed­ly immi­nent Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion and anoth­er on Trump’s “biggest regret” in sup­port­ing John McCain’s 2016 Sen­ate re-elec­tion run.

    Despite his dis­re­gard for facts and reck­less approach to pub­lish­ing, John­son, who was recent­ly pho­tographed at a din­ner attend­ed by white suprema­cists in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., built a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing among many who self-iden­ti­fied as being a part of the “alt-right.” Trump drew sig­nif­i­cant sup­port from those same fol­low­ers dur­ing the elec­tion.

    Mike Cer­novich, anoth­er pro-Trump troll who is friends with John­son, said that John­son often has a hand in behind-the-scenes pol­i­tics. “The media real­ly likes to hate on [John­son],” Cer­novich said. “But if they knew how influ­en­tial he has been–in ways they didn’t know–it would be kind of mind blow­ing.”

    John­son, who bold­ly pre­dict­ed against con­ven­tion­al wis­dom and polls that Trump would win, and who was spot­ted in the VIP sec­tion at Trump’s elec­tion night par­ty, began work­ing with the tran­si­tion team short­ly after Nov. 8. Among his con­tacts with­in Manhattan’s Trump Tow­er, where the Pres­i­dent-elect has set up camp, is Thiel, a mem­ber of the transition’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. A Pay­Pal cofounder and Face­book board mem­ber whose vast net­work of Sil­i­con Val­ley con­nec­tions has made him invalu­able to the Pres­i­dent-elect, Thiel has over­seen many of the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy appoint­ments for the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion.

    John­son has helped in that effort, push­ing for at least a dozen poten­tial can­di­dates to Thiel, includ­ing Ajit Pai, a com­mis­sion­er at the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, whom John­son hopes will lead the orga­ni­za­tion under Trump. Pai declined to com­ment for this sto­ry. As a Repub­li­can mem­ber of the FCC, Pai is a nat­ur­al can­di­date to be con­sid­ered for the chair­man­ship of the agency, and John­son’s rec­om­men­da­tion sug­gests he’s also favored by a seg­ment of the self-described “alt-right.”

    Beyond rec­om­mend­ing can­di­dates, John­son has also helped set up meet­ings between poten­tial appointees and tran­si­tion team mem­bers. He has worked with Jim O’Neill, who is being con­sid­ered to head the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion and is cur­rent­ly employed by Thiel at San Fran­cis­co-based invest­ment firm Mithril Cap­i­tal. John­son has tried to arrange for O’Neill to meet with con­ser­v­a­tive influ­encers and polit­i­cal groups in an effort to build sup­port for his poten­tial FDA nom­i­na­tion. O’Neill declined to com­ment.

    John­son also helped cre­ate a data­base where poten­tial polit­i­cal appointees could send in their resumes to be con­sid­ered for gov­ern­ment posi­tions. He has access to the web­site ThePlumlist.com, and though the recent­ly cre­at­ed web­site remains dor­mant, can­di­dates have been told to send their infor­ma­tion to an email account asso­ci­at­ed with that domain. In Novem­ber, The Dai­ly Mail report­ed that Thiel main­tains a data­base called the “Plum List” to track poten­tial hires and qual­i­fied appli­cants. Sources famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion described the list as an intake sys­tem for the team, and said it was sep­a­rate from the ver­sion that Thiel and his clos­est asso­ciates use to track final selec­tions that are for­ward­ed to Trump.

    John­son denied work­ing with Thiel, and said the two had “only a pass­ing famil­iar­i­ty.” John­son added that he and Thiel “share some of the same ene­mies,” a ref­er­ence to the now defunct news orga­ni­za­tion, Gawk­er Media. Thiel secret­ly bankrolled for­mer pro­fes­sion­al wrestler Hulk Hogan’s land­mark inva­sion of pri­va­cy law­suit against the New York media orga­ni­za­tion, which ulti­mate­ly led to the company’s bank­rupt­cy. Sep­a­rate­ly, John­son sued Gawk­er in a Cal­i­for­nia court for defama­tion after the web­site pub­lished a series of crit­i­cal and abra­sive sto­ries about him.

    FORBES pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed that John­son, while explor­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion for his case, had a phone dis­cus­sion with lawyers at Hard­er Mirell & Abrams, the law firm that Thiel paid to rep­re­sent Hogan, and that Johnson’s case had been pitched to oth­er Los Ange­les law firms as part of a wider legal strat­e­gy against Gawk­er. Johnson’s law­suit remains on hold, pend­ing a hear­ing lat­er this month in fed­er­al bank­rupt­cy court to deter­mine the fate of Gawk­er Media’s remain­ing assets.

    If Gawk­er is John­son and Thiel’s shared ene­my, then Trump advi­sor and chief strate­gist Stephen Ban­non is their most promi­nent mutu­al ally. John­son worked for Ban­non at Bre­it­bart News, where Ban­non served as exec­u­tive chair­man before join­ing Trump’s cam­paign last year. “I liked [Ban­non], and was close to him,” John­son said in a Decem­ber phone inter­view.

    Last fall, John­son and Ban­non led an effort pri­or to the sec­ond pres­i­den­tial debate in Octo­ber to stage a press con­fer­ence with Trump and four women who have accused Bill Clin­ton of rape, sex­u­al assault or sex­u­al harass­ment and Hillary Clin­ton of pro­tect­ing an alleged sex­u­al crim­i­nal. John­son claimed to have helped raise more than $10,000 for one of those women, Kath­leen Shelton–who alleged that she was raped in 1975 by a man who Hillary Clin­ton lat­er rep­re­sent­ed as a pub­lic defender–to attend the event.

    While John­son denied his recent work with Thiel, he freely dis­cussed his efforts to influ­ence the tran­si­tion team through his old boss, Ban­non. Still, John­son insist­ed that while Ban­non takes his opin­ion into con­sid­er­a­tion, his rec­om­men­da­tions are some­times ignored. “Imag­ine you had an ex-boss who became the con­sigliere to the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,” John­son told FORBES last month. “You can’t be like, ‘Dude, you’re f***ing up.’”

    Alexan­dra Preate, a spokesper­son for Ban­non, did not respond to mul­ti­ple requests for com­ment.

    The full extent of Johnson’s involve­ment in the tran­si­tion is not clear, though sev­er­al of his asso­ciates have also inter­faced with the team in recent weeks. FORBES has learned that Cer­novich and Jeff Giesea, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based entre­pre­neur who worked for Thiel in the past, have also been in con­tact with tran­si­tion team mem­bers, accord­ing to sources. Giesea declined to com­ment, while Cer­novich dis­cussed the tran­si­tion team’s agen­da but remained vague when pressed for details of his own work.

    “I want to be free to say what­ev­er I want to say. And in a way that lim­its what I can do offi­cial­ly,” Cer­novich said, deny­ing that he has had any direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Thiel or oth­er mem­bers of the tran­si­tion team. “I don’t want any­one to get jammed up, vis-à-vis any asso­ci­a­tion with me.”

    Cer­novich and Giesea have also orga­nized a par­ty for Trump sup­port­ers in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. lat­er this month dubbed the “Deplora­Ball.” Cer­novich said that 1,000 tick­ets have been sold for the event, which is billed as “the biggest meme ever” and will take place at the Nation­al Press Club on the eve of Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion. John­son said the event was about giv­ing voice to a group of peo­ple who, until Trump’s land­mark vic­to­ry in Novem­ber, were often ignored by the polit­i­cal estab­lish­ment. When asked if he felt that he had got­ten cred­it for his recent work, John­son said, “Not as much as I deserve.”

    John­son attrib­uted much of the work that he and oth­ers have done in sup­port of Trump to being able to tap into vot­ers’ emo­tions through memes, such as the Pepe the Frog car­toon that became an infor­mal mas­cot for Trump sup­port­ers. John­son said that memes rep­re­sent a new way for peo­ple to dis­cuss nation­al pol­i­tics, which he said is dom­i­nat­ed by a “white paper” mind­set pred­i­cat­ed on debat­ing pol­i­cy mer­its based on fact rather than emo­tion. To hear John­son tell it, the suc­cess of this approach is evi­denced by the vis­cer­al reac­tion to memes that gen­er­at­ed wide­spread atten­tion and influ­enced pub­lic per­cep­tion dur­ing Trump’s rise to pow­er, despite hav­ing lit­tle or no basis in fact.

    ...

    “Despite his dis­re­gard for facts and reck­less approach to pub­lish­ing, John­son, who was recent­ly pho­tographed at a din­ner attend­ed by white suprema­cists in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., built a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing among many who self-iden­ti­fied as being a part of the “alt-right.” Trump drew sig­nif­i­cant sup­port from those same fol­low­ers dur­ing the elec­tion.”

    Yes, Charles C. John­son is now appar­ent­ly secret­ly help­ing the Trump team staff the Exec­u­tive Branch despite being an open white suprema­cist neo-Nazi troll. Or per­haps because of that. Either way, if this report is accu­rate he’s not just pass­ing along a few sug­ges­tions to Peter Thiel. He helped cre­ate a data­base of poten­tial appointees:

    ...
    John­son also helped cre­ate a data­base where poten­tial polit­i­cal appointees could send in their resumes to be con­sid­ered for gov­ern­ment posi­tions. He has access to the web­site ThePlumlist.com, and though the recent­ly cre­at­ed web­site remains dor­mant, can­di­dates have been told to send their infor­ma­tion to an email account asso­ci­at­ed with that domain. In Novem­ber, The Dai­ly Mail report­ed that Thiel main­tains a data­base called the “Plum List” to track poten­tial hires and qual­i­fied appli­cants. Sources famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion described the list as an intake sys­tem for the team, and said it was sep­a­rate from the ver­sion that Thiel and his clos­est asso­ciates use to track final selec­tions that are for­ward­ed to Trump.
    ...

    While Charles C. John­son may not tech­ni­cal­ly be the Helene von Damm of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion (the Direc­tor of Pres­i­den­tial Per­son­nel is John DeSte­fano), it sounds like he’s play­ing a sim­i­lar role. And note that John DeStanfo was only named the Direc­tor of Pres­i­den­tial Per­son­nel about a week ago, sug­gest­ing that the Trump team has prob­a­bly been a lot more depen­dent on the rec­om­men­da­tions of folks like Thiel and John­son for the first cou­ple months of the tran­si­tion peri­od than they want to admit.

    So if you were won­der­ing if Trump real­ly was going to be fill­ing his admin­is­tra­tion with “Alt-Right” neo-Nazis, the answer appears to be that he already is and those neo-Nazis are help­ing him pick the rest of his staff.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 10, 2017, 7:27 pm
  10. Guess which major world leader is report­ed­ly tak­ing the advice of Cur­tis Yarvin, a.k.a. Men­cius Mold­bug, the pro-monar­chy, pro-eugen­ics founder of the con­tem­po­rary “Dark Enlight­en­ment”. Here’s a hint: it’s not Kim Jong Un. That’s the only hint you should need:

    Politi­co

    What Steve Ban­non Wants You to Read

    Pres­i­dent Trump’s strate­gic advis­er is ele­vat­ing a once-obscure net­work of polit­i­cal thinkers.

    By Eliana John­son and Eli Stokols

    Feb­ru­ary 07, 2017

    The first weeks of the Trump pres­i­den­cy have brought as much focus on the White House’s chief strate­gist, Steve Ban­non, as on the new pres­i­dent him­self. But if Ban­non has been the dri­ving force behind the fren­zy of activ­i­ty in the White House, less atten­tion has been paid to the net­work of polit­i­cal philoso­phers who have shaped his think­ing and who now enjoy a direct line to the White House.

    They are not main­stream thinkers, but their writ­ings help to explain the com­mo­tion that has defined the Trump administration’s ear­ly days. They include a Lebanese-Amer­i­can author known for his the­o­ries about hard-to-pre­dict events; an obscure Sil­i­con Val­ley com­put­er sci­en­tist whose online polit­i­cal tracts her­ald a “Dark Enlight­en­ment”; and a for­mer Wall Street exec­u­tive who urged Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion in anony­mous man­i­festos by liken­ing the tra­jec­to­ry of the coun­try to that of a hijacked airplane—and who now works for the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil.

    Ban­non, described by one asso­ciate as “the most well-read per­son in Wash­ing­ton,” is known for rec­om­mend­ing books to col­leagues and friends, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple who have worked along­side him. He is a vora­cious read­er who devours works of his­to­ry and polit­i­cal the­o­ry “in like an hour,” said a for­mer asso­ciate whom Ban­non urged to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “He’s like the Rain Man of nation­al­ism.”

    But, said the source, who request­ed anonymi­ty to speak can­did­ly about Ban­non, “There are some things he’s only going to share with peo­ple who he’s tight with and who he trusts.”

    Bannon’s read­ings tend to have one thing in com­mon: the view that tech­nocrats have put West­ern civ­i­liza­tion on a down­ward tra­jec­to­ry and that only a shock to the sys­tem can reverse its decline. And they tend to have a dark, apoc­a­lyp­tic tone that at times echoes Bannon’s own pub­lic remarks over the years—a sense that human­i­ty is at a hinge point in his­to­ry. His ascen­dant pres­ence in the West Wing is giv­ing once-obscure intel­lec­tu­als unex­pect­ed influ­ence over the high­est ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment.

    Bannon’s 2015 doc­u­men­tary, “Gen­er­a­tion Zero,” drew heav­i­ly on one of his favorite books, “The Fourth Turn­ing” by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book explains a the­o­ry of his­to­ry unfold­ing in 80- to 100-year cycles, or “turn­ings,” the fourth and final stage of which is marked by peri­ods of cat­a­clysmic change in which the old order is destroyed and replaced—a cur­rent peri­od that, in Bannon’s view, was sparked by the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis and has now been man­i­fest­ed in part by the rise of Trump.

    “The West is in trou­ble. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, and Trump’s elec­tion was a sign of health,” said a White House aide who was not autho­rized to speak pub­licly. “It was a revolt against man­age­ri­al­ism, a revolt against expert rule, a revolt against the admin­is­tra­tive state. It opens the door to pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

    All of these impuls­es are evi­dent in the White House, as the new administration—led by Ban­non and a cadre of like-mind­ed aides—has set about admin­is­ter­ing a sort of ide­o­log­i­cal shock ther­a­py in its first two weeks. A flur­ry of exec­u­tive orders slash­ing reg­u­la­tion and restrict­ing the influx of refugees bear the ide­o­log­i­cal mark­ings of obscure intel­lec­tu­als in both form and con­tent. The cir­cum­ven­tion of the bureau­cra­cy is a hall­mark of these thinkers, as is the neces­si­ty of restrict­ing immi­gra­tion.

    Their think­ing has a clear nation­al­ist strain, and Ban­non has con­sid­ered hir­ing a staffer respon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing nation­al­ist move­ments around the world, accord­ing to two sources famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion. French pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Marine Le Pen’s vis­it to Trump Tow­er in mid-Jan­u­ary was his hand­i­work. Le Pen has devot­ed her polit­i­cal career to soft­en­ing the image and broad­en­ing the appeal of the nation­al­ist move­ment in France by mar­gin­al­iz­ing its most extrem­ist mem­bers. Her views are typ­i­cal­ly nation­al­ist: She is hos­tile to the Euro­pean Union and free trade and oppos­es grant­i­ng for­eign­ers from out­side the EU the right to vote in local elec­tions. Bannon’s for­mer employ­er, Bre­it­bart News, has cov­ered Le Pen obses­sive­ly, cast­ing her as the French Trump.

    ***

    Many polit­i­cal onlook­ers described Trump’s elec­tion as a “black swan” event: unex­pect­ed but enor­mous­ly con­se­quen­tial. The term was pop­u­lar­ized by Nas­sim Taleb, the best-sell­ing author whose 2014 book Antifrag­ile—which has been read and cir­cu­lat­ed by Ban­non and his aides—reads like a user’s guide to the Trump insur­gency.

    It’s a broad­side against big gov­ern­ment, which Taleb faults for sup­press­ing the ran­dom­ness, volatil­i­ty and stress that keep insti­tu­tions and peo­ple healthy. “As with neu­rot­i­cal­ly over­pro­tec­tive par­ents, those who are try­ing to help us are hurt­ing us the most,” he writes. Taleb also offers a with­er­ing cri­tique of glob­al elites, whom he describes as a cor­rupt class of risk-averse insid­ers immune to the con­se­quences of their actions: “We are wit­ness­ing the rise of a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureau­crats, bankers, Davos-attend­ing mem­bers of the I.A.N.D (Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Name Drop­pers), and aca­d­e­mics with too much pow­er and no real down­side and/or account­abil­i­ty. They game the sys­tem while cit­i­zens pay the price.”

    It might as well have been the mis­sion state­ment of the Trump cam­paign. Asked in a phone inter­view this week whether he’s had meet­ings with Ban­non or his asso­ciates, Taleb said he could not com­ment. “Any­thing about pri­vate meet­ings would need to come from them,” he said, though he not­ed cryp­ti­cal­ly he’s had “cof­fee with friends.” He has been sup­port­ive of Trump but does not define him­self as a sup­port­er per se, though he said he would “be on the first train” to Wash­ing­ton were he invit­ed to the White House.

    “They look like the incar­na­tion of ‘antifrag­ile’ peo­ple,” Taleb said of the new admin­is­tra­tion. “The def­i­n­i­tion of ‘antifrag­ile’ is hav­ing more upside than down­side. For exam­ple, Oba­ma had lit­tle upside because every­one thought he was bril­liant and would solve the world’s prob­lems, so when he didn’t it was dis­ap­point­ing. Trump has lit­tle down­side because he’s already been so heav­i­ly crit­i­cized. He’s heav­i­ly vac­ci­nat­ed because of his check­ered his­to­ry. Peo­ple have to under­stand: Trump did not run to be arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury.”

    Trump’s first two weeks in office have pro­duced a dizzy­ing blur of activ­i­ty. But the pres­i­dent has also need­less­ly sparked con­tro­ver­sy, argu­ing, for exam­ple, that his inau­gu­ra­tion crowd was the biggest ever and that mil­lions of peo­ple vot­ed ille­gal­ly in last November’s elec­tion, leav­ing even sea­soned polit­i­cal observers befud­dled.

    Before he emerged on the polit­i­cal scene, an obscure Sil­i­con Val­ley com­put­er pro­gram­mer with ties to Trump backer and Pay­Pal co-founder Peter Thiel was explain­ing his behav­ior. Cur­tis Yarvin, the self-pro­claimed “neo­re­ac­tionary” who blogs under the name “Men­cius Mold­bug,” attract­ed a fol­low­ing in 2008 when he pub­lished a wordy trea­tise assert­ing, among oth­er things, that “non­sense is a more effec­tive orga­niz­ing tool than the truth.” When the orga­niz­er of a com­put­er sci­ence con­fer­ence can­celed Yarvin’s appear­ance fol­low­ing an out­cry over his blog­ging under his nom de web, Ban­non took note: Bre­it­bart News decried the act of cen­sor­ship in an arti­cle about the programmer-blogger’s dis­missal.

    Moldbug’s dense, dis­cur­sive mus­ings on history—“What’s so bad about the Nazis?” he asks in one 2008 post that con­demns the Holo­caust but ques­tions the moral supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Allies—include a belief in the util­i­ty of spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion that now looks like a tem­plate for Trump’s approach to truth. “To believe in non­sense is an unforge­able [sic] demon­stra­tion of loy­al­ty. It serves as a polit­i­cal uni­form. And if you have a uni­form, you have an army,” he writes in a May 2008 post.

    In one Jan­u­ary 2008 post, titled “How I stopped believ­ing in democ­ra­cy,” he decries the “George­town­ist world­view” of elites like the late diplo­mat George Ken­nan. Moldbug’s writ­ings, com­ing amid the fail­ure of the U.S. state-build­ing project in Iraq, are hard to parse clear­ly and are open to mul­ti­ple inter­pre­ta­tions, but the author seems aware that his views are provoca­tive. “It’s been a while since I post­ed any­thing real­ly con­tro­ver­sial and offen­sive here,” he begins in a July 25, 2007, post explain­ing why he asso­ciates democ­ra­cy with “war, tyran­ny, destruc­tion and pover­ty.”

    Mold­bug, who does not do inter­views and could not be reached for this sto­ry, has report­ed­ly opened up a line to the White House, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ban­non and his aides through an inter­me­di­ary, accord­ing to a source. Yarvin said he has nev­er spo­ken with Ban­non. Dur­ing the tran­si­tion, he made clear his deep skep­ti­cism that the Rus­sians were behind the hack­ing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee, the source said—a mes­sage that Trump him­self reit­er­at­ed sev­er­al times.

    ***

    If Taleb and Yarvin laid some of the the­o­ret­i­cal ground­work for Trump­ism, the most mus­cu­lar and con­tro­ver­sial case for elect­ing him president—and the most unre­lent­ing attack on Trump’s con­ser­v­a­tive critics—came from Michael Anton, a one­time con­ser­v­a­tive intel­lec­tu­al writ­ing under the pseu­do­nym Pub­lius Decius Mus.

    Thanks to an entree from Thiel, Anton now sits on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil staff. Ini­tial reports indi­cat­ed he would serve as a spokesman, but Anton is set to take on a pol­i­cy role, accord­ing to a source with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion. A for­mer speech­writer for Rudy Giu­liani and George W. Bush’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, Anton most recent­ly worked as a man­ag­ing direc­tor for Black­Rock, the Wall Street invest­ment firm.

    ...

    “Moldbug’s dense, dis­cur­sive mus­ings on history—“What’s so bad about the Nazis?” he asks in one 2008 post that con­demns the Holo­caust but ques­tions the moral supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Allies—include a belief in the util­i­ty of spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion that now looks like a tem­plate for Trump’s approach to truth. “To believe in non­sense is an unforge­able [sic] demon­stra­tion of loy­al­ty. It serves as a polit­i­cal uni­form. And if you have a uni­form, you have an army,” he writes in a May 2008 post.”

    Dis­in­for­ma­tion as a trib­al gang sign/army uni­form. Yeah, you can see why the White House might be inter­est­ed in the thoughts of Men­cius Mold­bug. That, plus the whole Dark Enlightenment/We need a king thing, of course.

    You also have to won­der which indi­vid­ual is act­ing as the inter­me­di­ary between Mold­bug and Ban­non:

    ...
    Mold­bug, who does not do inter­views and could not be reached for this sto­ry, has report­ed­ly opened up a line to the White House, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ban­non and his aides through an inter­me­di­ary, accord­ing to a source. Yarvin said he has nev­er spo­ken with Ban­non. Dur­ing the tran­si­tion, he made clear his deep skep­ti­cism that the Rus­sians were behind the hack­ing of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee, the source said—a mes­sage that Trump him­self reit­er­at­ed sev­er­al times.”
    ...

    Hmmm....who could it be...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 7, 2017, 3:40 pm
  11. Sur­prise! It turns out Peter Thiel got cit­i­zen­ship in New Zealand. In 2011. After spend­ing just 12 days in the coun­try. And he kept it a secret and still won’t talk about it:

    NZ Her­ald

    Con­tro­ver­sial bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel made a Kiwi after two-week hol­i­day

    By: Matt Nip­pert
    29 Jun, 2017 3:00pm

    The Min­is­ter who signed off on Peter Thiel’s New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship, despite the con­tro­ver­sial bil­lion­aire hav­ing only spent 12 days in the coun­try, today defend­ed his deci­sion.

    Nathan Guy, the Min­is­ter of Inter­nal Affairs in 2011 who used an “excep­tion­al cir­cum­stances” clause to make Thiel a cit­i­zen., told reporters the sur­prise Kiwi was only news because of his recent back­ing of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

    “This sto­ry got legs because of his con­nec­tion to the Trump regime,” Guy told media at par­lia­ment this after­noon.

    “In 2011 I was unaware of that. I was pre­sent­ed with a file that was incred­i­bly com­pre­hen­sive. This indi­vid­ual was backed by Rod Drury, Sam Mor­gan, he’s made sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments,” he said

    “And, ulti­mate­ly, offi­cials came to me with a rec­om­men­da­tion that he should be grant­ed cit­i­zen­ship, and I agreed with that.”

    Guy said cit­i­zen Thiel was a “great ambas­sador and sales­per­son for New Zealand,” but was unable to explain why the cit­i­zen­ship was kept secret and only came to light six years after it was grant­ed, nor why the con­tro­ver­sial bil­lion­aire had sought it in the first place.

    “I don’t know indeed why he’s kept it secret .... I can’t answer that, that’s some­thing you’d need to get from Peter Thiel,” Guy said.

    Thiel has not com­ment­ed pub­licly on his New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship since the sto­ry broke in Jan­u­ary, and his rep­re­sen­ta­tives today again declined to respond to ques­tions asked by the Her­ald.

    The rev­e­la­tion — show­ing sur­prise cit­i­zen Thiel met less than one per­cent of the typ­i­cal res­i­den­cy require­ment of 1350 days — led Labour MP Iain Lees-Gal­loway to crit­i­cise the gov­ern­men­t’s use of an “excep­tion­al cir­cum­stances” clause to grant cit­i­zen­ship.

    “It’s aston­ish­ing that some­one who has only been in the coun­try for such a short peri­od of time should be offered cit­i­zen­ship. This goes beyond excep­tion­al, almost to the point of unbe­liev­able,” he said.

    The pre­cise brevi­ty of Thiel’s his­to­ry in New Zealand was released by the Depart­ment of Inter­nal Affairs today after a com­plaint by RNZ to the Ombuds­man over what were claimed to be inap­pro­pri­ate redac­tions to his cit­i­zen­ship file.

    The Ombuds­man agreed with RNZ, say­ing the pub­lic inter­est in the case out­weighed any pri­va­cy con­cerns.

    Then-Inter­nal Affairs Min­is­ter Nathan Guy invoked an excep­tion­al cir­cum­stances clause in 2011, enabling nor­mal require­ments for a prospec­tive cit­i­zen to have lived — and intend to live — in New Zealand to be waived.

    Guy ini­tial­ly said he was unable to recall the case — despite Thiel being the only adult in at least five years to be grant­ed cit­i­zen­ship despite not intend­ing to reside in New Zealand — but lat­er reviewed the file and said he made his deci­sion based on the bil­lion­aires’ local invest­ments and phil­an­thropic activ­i­ty.

    The dis­clo­sure of Thiel’s cit­i­zen­ship — bro­ken by the Her­ald as part of inquiries over his $13.5m pur­chase of a large farm­ing block bor­der­ing Lake Wana­ka — caused a domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al furore.

    The oppo­si­tion Labour Par­ty asked ques­tions in Par­lia­ment about whether the mat­ter meant New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship was for sale, with polit­i­cal crit­i­cisms inten­si­fy­ing after it was revealed Thiel’s local invest­ments had also been giv­en a gen­er­ous gov­ern­ment sub­sidy.

    A Her­ald inves­ti­ga­tion into Thiel’s local activ­i­ty dis­cov­ered his chief local invest­ment vehi­cle, Valar Ven­tures, had exer­cised a lit­tle-known buy­out clause in its part­ner­ship with the New Zealand Ven­ture Invest­ment Fund to reap mas­sive prof­its at the tax­pay­ers’ expense.

    The arrange­ment meant Thiel con­tributed $7m to the deal, but after its large stake in Xero sky­rock­et­ed in val­ue was able to claim all prof­its from the ven­ture. The move is under­stood to have led to prof­its of at least $23m for Thiel, while the NZVIF and tax­pay­ers were left bare­ly break­ing even.

    Reports obtained under the Offi­cial Infor­ma­tion Act showed the Gov­ern­ment was warned as far back as 2014 about the poten­tial for the Valar Ven­tures part­ner­ship to blow up in their faces.

    A con­sul­tant told the Min­istry of Busi­ness, Inno­va­tion and Employ­ment that the arrange­ment “cre­ates some dif­fi­cult optics where, in the Valar Ven­tures exam­ple, the tax­pay­er is offer­ing an Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire a loan at less-than-mar­ket rates”.

    The news of Thiel’s sur­prise Kiwi cit­i­zen­ship, and devel­op­ments over the fol­low­ing months, land­ed the sto­ry on the front page of the Finan­cial Times, as well as exten­sive cov­er­age in the New York Times and the Guardian.

    Thiel has become an enor­mous­ly influ­en­tial and con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in the Unit­ed States over the past decade.

    He found­ed online trans­ac­tion ser­vice Pay­pal, and used the pro­ceeds to make more than US$1 bil­lion from a 2004, US$500,000 invest­ment in a lit­tle-known inter­net start­up called Face­book. Thiel retains a seat on the board of the social media giant.

    His largest cur­rent busi­ness invest­ment is in Palan­tir, a secre­tive big data analy­sis firm he co-found­ed in 2003. The com­pa­ny, backed ear­ly by the CIA, works pri­mar­i­ly with intel­li­gence agen­cies to sift through and find pat­terns in large datasets.

    The New Zealand Defence Force, the Secu­ri­ty Intel­li­gence Ser­vice and the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Secu­ri­ty Bureau were revealed by the Her­ald in April to have long-stand­ing links with Palan­tir.

    The Her­ald has com­plained to the Ombuds­man over gov­ern­ment spy agen­cies’ refusal to con­firm they con­tract to use Palan­tir soft­ware, and exact­ly how lucra­tive and long-run­ning the con­tracts have been.

    The Ombuds­man has pro­vi­sion­al­ly indi­cat­ed the NZDF would reveal more infor­ma­tion about its ties to Palan­tir, but the SIS and GCSB were main­tain­ing their posi­tion that releas­ing such infor­ma­tion would prej­u­dice nation­al secu­ri­ty.

    Thiel has in more recent years branched out into pol­i­tics, pro­mot­ing lib­er­tar­i­an caus­es and being one of the first high-pro­file back­ers of then-Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry can­di­date Don­ald Trump.

    His sup­port for life-exten­sion tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of trans­fus­ing blood from young peo­ple, has also raised eye­brows. (His New Zealand prop­er­ty hold­ing vehi­cle, Sec­ond Star Ltd, appears to be derived from direc­tions giv­en in Peter Pan sto­ries about how to find Nev­er­land, a realm where chil­dren nev­er have to grow old.)

    ...

    ———-

    “Con­tro­ver­sial bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel made a Kiwi after two-week hol­i­day” by Matt Nip­pert; NZ Her­ald; 06/29/2017

    “Guy ini­tial­ly said he was unable to recall the case — despite Thiel being the only adult in at least five years to be grant­ed cit­i­zen­ship despite not intend­ing to reside in New Zealand — but lat­er reviewed the file and said he made his deci­sion based on the bil­lion­aires’ local invest­ments and phil­an­thropic activ­i­ty

    And what were those local invest­ments and phil­an­thropic activ­i­ties if Thiel that so impressed the then-Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter? Well, obvi­ous ‘activ­i­ty’ that the gov­ern­ment would be most inter­est­ed in is Palan­tir:

    ...
    His largest cur­rent busi­ness invest­ment is in Palan­tir, a secre­tive big data analy­sis firm he co-found­ed in 2003. The com­pa­ny, backed ear­ly by the CIA, works pri­mar­i­ly with intel­li­gence agen­cies to sift through and find pat­terns in large datasets.

    The New Zealand Defence Force, the Secu­ri­ty Intel­li­gence Ser­vice and the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Secu­ri­ty Bureau were revealed by the Her­ald in April to have long-stand­ing links with Palan­tir.

    The Her­ald has com­plained to the Ombuds­man over gov­ern­ment spy agen­cies’ refusal to con­firm they con­tract to use Palan­tir soft­ware, and exact­ly how lucra­tive and long-run­ning the con­tracts have been.

    The Ombuds­man has pro­vi­sion­al­ly indi­cat­ed the NZDF would reveal more infor­ma­tion about its ties to Palan­tir, but the SIS and GCSB were main­tain­ing their posi­tion that releas­ing such infor­ma­tion would prej­u­dice nation­al secu­ri­ty.
    ...

    Yeah, it’s a good bet Palan­tir was the the deal-mak­er in this sit­u­a­tion.

    And note how Thiel’s secret cit­i­zen­ship was actu­al­ly revealed by a ‘local invest­ment’ that appar­ent­ly involv­ing fleec­ing the local tax pay­ers:

    ...
    The dis­clo­sure of Thiel’s cit­i­zen­ship — bro­ken by the Her­ald as part of inquiries over his $13.5m pur­chase of a large farm­ing block bor­der­ing Lake Wana­ka — caused a domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al furore.

    The oppo­si­tion Labour Par­ty asked ques­tions in Par­lia­ment about whether the mat­ter meant New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship was for sale, with polit­i­cal crit­i­cisms inten­si­fy­ing after it was revealed Thiel’s local invest­ments had also been giv­en a gen­er­ous gov­ern­ment sub­sidy.

    A Her­ald inves­ti­ga­tion into Thiel’s local activ­i­ty dis­cov­ered his chief local invest­ment vehi­cle, Valar Ven­tures, had exer­cised a lit­tle-known buy­out clause in its part­ner­ship with the New Zealand Ven­ture Invest­ment Fund to reap mas­sive prof­its at the tax­pay­ers’ expense.

    The arrange­ment meant Thiel con­tributed $7m to the deal, but after its large stake in Xero sky­rock­et­ed in val­ue was able to claim all prof­its from the ven­ture. The move is under­stood to have led to prof­its of at least $23m for Thiel, while the NZVIF and tax­pay­ers were left bare­ly break­ing even.

    Reports obtained under the Offi­cial Infor­ma­tion Act showed the Gov­ern­ment was warned as far back as 2014 about the poten­tial for the Valar Ven­tures part­ner­ship to blow up in their faces.

    A con­sul­tant told the Min­istry of Busi­ness, Inno­va­tion and Employ­ment that the arrange­ment “cre­ates some dif­fi­cult optics where, in the Valar Ven­tures exam­ple, the tax­pay­er is offer­ing an Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire a loan at less-than-mar­ket rates”.
    ...

    “The arrange­ment meant Thiel con­tributed $7m to the deal, but after its large stake in Xero sky­rock­et­ed in val­ue was able to claim all prof­its from the ven­ture. The move is under­stood to have led to prof­its of at least $23m for Thiel, while the NZVIF and tax­pay­ers were left bare­ly break­ing even.”

    But here’s the real­ly scan­dalous part about that Lake Wana­ka deal that is very direct­ly relat­ed to Thiel’s secret cit­i­zen­ship: The prop­er­ty, which fits the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “sen­si­tive land” under the Over­seas Invest­ment Act requir­ing for­eign buy­ers to seek offi­cial per­mis­sion before buy­ing, did­n’t actu­al­ly require offi­cial approval. Why? Because Thiel was a cit­i­zen at the time:

    NZ Her­ald

    Face­book bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel a Kiwi cit­i­zen, owns Wana­ka estate

    25 Jan, 2017 7:09am

    Con­tro­ver­sial Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire, Trump donor and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Peter Thiel has tak­en New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship and qui­et­ly acquired a Wana­ka lake­front estate.

    Prop­er­ty records show that Thiel’s New Zealand-reg­is­tered com­pa­ny Sec­ond Star bought a 193ha Glend­hu Bay farm in 2015 described as a vacant lifestyle block.

    Thiel, who lists San Fran­cis­co as his res­i­dence in Com­pa­nies Office records, is Sec­ond Star’s sole share­hold­er. Forbes mag­a­zine assessed his net worth recent­ly at US$2.7 bil­lion.

    The sprawl­ing prop­er­ty adds to his local real estate port­fo­lio, fol­low­ing the ear­li­er pur­chase of a Queen­stown man­sion.

    The rev­e­la­tion comes as the New York­er mag­a­zine reports New Zealand has become the des­ti­na­tion of choice for rich Amer­i­cans seek­ing a bolt­hole to hedge against nat­ur­al or polit­i­cal dis­as­ter.

    The price paid for the Lake Wana­ka prop­er­ty was not dis­closed in doc­u­ments, but the prop­er­ty had a rate­able val­ue of $7.8 mil­lion. The most recent pre­vi­ous sale of the sec­tion, in 2002, was for $10.1m.

    The prop­er­ty appears to fit the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of “sen­si­tive land” under the Over­seas Invest­ment Act requir­ing for­eign buy­ers to seek offi­cial per­mis­sion before buy­ing. A spokes­woman for the Over­seas Invest­ment Office said the pur­chase did not need to fol­low this process.

    “Sec­ond Star and Mr Thiel did not need con­sent as he has New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship,” the spokes­woman said.

    The prop­er­ty, eight min­utes’ dri­ve from Wana­ka, is on the Glend­hu Bay-Mt Aspir­ing Rd, near the Glend­hu Bay Motor­camp.

    Southe­by’s Inter­na­tion­al Real­ty adver­tised the 193ha Damper Bay prop­er­ty as being a “spec­tac­u­lar 477-acre free­hold estate set on the west­ern shores of stun­ning Lake Wana­ka”.

    “A most beau­ti­ful and pic­turesque farm, the prop­er­ty offers a seclud­ed and peace­ful set­ting but is just eight min­utes’ dri­ve from the cen­tre of Wana­ka town cen­tre. With Mt Aspir­ing Nation­al Park, a World Her­itage Area set in the fore­ground, Damper Bay pro­vides an out­stand­ing vista from the con­sent­ed build­ing plat­form.”

    ...

    In Octo­ber last year, Auck­land-head­quar­tered real estate agent Gra­ham Wall told
    Moun­tain Scene he was doing a sig­nif­i­cant amount of busi­ness with wealthy Amer­i­cans buy­ing prop­er­ty in the Lakes Dis­trict.

    Wall sold a $4.7m man­sion on Belfast Ter­race on Queen­stown Hill to Thiel in 2011.

    Wall did not return calls this after­noon.

    Prop­er­ty records show the Glend­hu Bay prop­er­ty was classed as a “pas­toral-fat­ten­ing” prop­er­ty and “uneco­nom­ic”. It is now list­ed as a stock fin­ish­ing prop­er­ty.

    Thiel could not be reached for com­ment.

    ———-

    “Face­book bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel a Kiwi cit­i­zen, owns Wana­ka estate”; NZ Her­ald; 01/25/2017

    ““Sec­ond Star and Mr Thiel did not need con­sent as he has New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship,” the spokes­woman said.”

    Peter Thiel gets secret cit­i­zen­ship and then uses it to buy up “sen­si­tive” prop­er­ties at tax pay­er expense. What a mod­el cit­i­zen. Well done, New Zealand. Well done.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 29, 2017, 3:47 pm
  12. There was a recent report in Buz­zFeed about the appar­ent dis­ap­point­ment of Peter Thiel in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion thus far, going as far as call­ing the admin­is­tra­tion “incom­pe­tent” and pre­dict­ing at one point that there’s a 50/50 chance of it end­ing in dis­as­ter. So that’s prob­a­bly not going to do won­ders for the Trump/Thiel rela­tion­ship. But even if Trump does become miffed with Thiel after hear­ing about this that won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly spell the end of Thiel’s influ­ence on the admin­is­tra­tion. Why? Because as the arti­cle notes,
    while Thiel had his pick of cab­i­net posi­tions, Thiel decid­ed to pass that up and instead focus on adding his asso­ciates to posi­tions of pow­er:

    Buz­zFeed
    News

    Peter Thiel Has Been Hedg­ing His Bet On Don­ald Trump

    Peter Thiel has said pub­licly that Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion is “off to a ter­rif­ic start.” Pri­vate­ly, he’s told friends that there is a 50% chance the cur­rent pres­i­den­cy “ends in dis­as­ter.”

    Ryan Mac
    Buz­zFeed News Reporter
    Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on August 7, 2017, at 10:01 a.m.
    Updat­ed on August 7, 2017, at 11:07 a.m.

    Don­ald Trump’s most promi­nent Sil­i­con Val­ley sup­port­er has dis­tanced him­self from the pres­i­dent in mul­ti­ple pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions, describ­ing at dif­fer­ent points this year an “incom­pe­tent” admin­is­tra­tion, and one that may well end in “dis­as­ter.”

    Peter Thiel’s unguard­ed remarks have sur­prised asso­ciates, some of whom are still reel­ing from his full-throat­ed endorse­ment of Trump at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion. And while the investor stands by the pres­i­dent in pub­lic — “I sup­port Pres­i­dent Trump in his ongo­ing fight,” he said in a state­ment to Buz­zFeed News — his pri­vate doubts under­score the fragili­ty of the pres­i­den­t’s back­ing from even his most pub­lic allies. Thiel’s com­ments may sting in par­tic­u­lar in the White House as they come amid a series of hasty and embar­rassed depar­tures from the Trump train, as con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es from the Wall Street Journal’s edi­to­r­i­al page to the floor of the US Sen­ate have begun to dis­tance them­selves from the admin­is­tra­tion.

    Thiel’s views remain pri­vate — but var­i­ous dis­parag­ing com­ments were recount­ed to Buz­zFeed News by three sep­a­rate sources, and oth­ers who sub­se­quent­ly con­firmed those accounts. These peo­ple request­ed anonymi­ty for fear of dam­ag­ing per­son­al rela­tion­ships and pos­si­ble ret­ri­bu­tion.

    While Thiel told Trump that he is off to a “ter­rif­ic start” at a White House event in June, his pre­vi­ous state­ments to friends and asso­ciates did not reflect that sen­ti­ment. In half a dozen pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with friends that were described to Buz­zFeed News dat­ing from spring 2016 to as recent­ly as May, Thiel, who served on the Pres­i­den­tial Tran­si­tion Team Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, has crit­i­cized Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion and devel­oped increas­ing­ly pes­simistic feel­ings about the pres­i­dent.

    The sources who talked with Buz­zFeed News spent time with Thiel in pri­vate group set­tings before and after the elec­tion at his homes in Los Ange­les, San Fran­cis­co, and Hawaii, engag­ing in can­did dis­cus­sions on the Pay­Pal cofounder’s pol­i­tics and his back­ing of Trump. At one event with friends in Jan­u­ary 2017, Thiel said of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy that “there is a 50% chance this whole thing ends in dis­as­ter,” accord­ing to two peo­ple who were in atten­dance. In oth­er con­ver­sa­tions, he ques­tioned the president’s abil­i­ty to be reelect­ed.

    Thiel, through a spokesper­son, did not deny any of the quotes attrib­uted to him by his friends and asso­ciates when approached by Buz­zFeed News.

    “The night he won the elec­tion, I said Pres­i­dent Trump would face an awe­some­ly dif­fi­cult task,” Thiel said in a state­ment. “Today it’s clear that resis­tance to change in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. has been even fiercer than I antic­i­pat­ed. We still need change. I sup­port Pres­i­dent Trump in his ongo­ing fight to achieve it.”

    With­in the White House, Thiel has been one of the few out­siders to crack Trump’s inner cir­cle, which val­ues one char­ac­ter­is­tic above all else: loy­al­ty. The investor, whose book Zero to One report­ed­ly became essen­tial read­ing for Trump cam­paign staffers, gained that trust after a well-received Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion speech. Fol­low­ing Trump’s elec­tion to the pres­i­den­cy, Thiel helped select polit­i­cal appointees for the new admin­is­tra­tion and as of August, was still advis­ing the pres­i­dent on tech­nol­o­gy pol­i­cy mat­ters. Dur­ing a Decem­ber 2016 meet­ing of tech­nol­o­gy exec­u­tives in New York City, Trump wrung Thiel’s hand and called him “a very spe­cial guy.”

    “He got just about the biggest applause at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion,” Trump said as cam­eras snapped away in a room that includ­ed Apple CEO Tim Cook and Face­book Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg. “He’s ahead of the curve, and I want to thank him.”

    Thiel’s views on Trump began to evolve dur­ing spring 2016, accord­ing to peo­ple close to him. In one pri­vate event at his home in San Fran­cis­co, he was cau­tious not to ful­ly endorse Trump, but posi­tioned him as a bet­ter option than Bernie Sanders, who he con­sid­ered far too extreme, and Hillary Clin­ton, who he thought would be dis­as­trous for trade and tax pol­i­cy. When some­one asked about Trump, how­ev­er, Thiel, who had pre­vi­ous­ly giv­en $2 mil­lion to a Super PAC for then–GOP can­di­date Car­ly Fio­r­i­na, said that the bom­bas­tic Repub­li­can pop­ulist had a much bet­ter shot at win­ning the pres­i­den­cy than most pun­dits sug­gest­ed, accord­ing to one per­son in atten­dance.

    By May of that year, the bil­lion­aire investor was ready to tie him­self to Trump. He was named a Cal­i­for­nia del­e­gate for the RNC that month, and by July, he was announced as a speak­er at the event on the same day as the Repub­li­can can­di­date and his daugh­ter Ivan­ka Trump. The crowd cheered Thiel’s six-minute speech, in which he declared him­self proud to be gay and proud to be a Repub­li­can, gar­ner­ing plen­ty of applause from Trump’s sons Eric and Don­ald Jr.

    “He saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to help some­body, who was not a sure thing, and get in on the ground floor,” said a friend of Thiel’s on his deci­sion to speak at the RNC.

    The RNC would be the first time Thiel met with Trump and his fam­i­ly in per­son. In a pri­vate din­ner that sum­mer fol­low­ing the event, a per­son who attend­ed described Thiel as “gid­dy” and excit­ed about the crowd’s reac­tion to his speech. This per­son also told Buz­zFeed News that Thiel freely offered his first impres­sions of the Repub­li­can can­di­date, char­ac­ter­iz­ing him as hav­ing “nar­cis­sis­tic ten­den­cies.” He also sug­gest­ed, in a claim that would be reit­er­at­ed lat­er, that if Trump were to be elect­ed, there was a half prob­a­bil­i­ty that his pres­i­den­cy would end in fail­ure.

    The bil­lion­aire ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist remained rel­a­tive­ly qui­et through the sum­mer of 2016, avoid­ing inter­views about Trump and Gawk­er Media, after Forbes revealed in May that Thiel had been secret­ly foot­ing for­mer pro­fes­sion­al wrestler Hulk Hogan’s legal bills against the New York news orga­ni­za­tion. Gawk­er, which lost a land­mark inva­sion-of-pri­va­cy law­suit in a Flori­da court and was forced to pay $140 mil­lion in dam­ages to Hogan, filed for bank­rupt­cy and sold its assets to Uni­vi­sion Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in August. Thiel said lit­tle pub­licly about the case.

    He spent part of the sum­mer trav­el­ing, tak­ing advan­tage of his Amer­i­can, Ger­man, and New Zealand pass­ports, the last of which has gar­nered its own con­tro­ver­sy. Thiel’s Kiwi cit­i­zen­ship, which he’s held since 2011, was not revealed until the New Zealand Her­ald dis­cov­ered in Jan­u­ary that the gov­ern­ment had grant­ed him a pass­port under an “extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances” excep­tion after he had spent 12 days in the coun­try. “I am hap­py to say cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly that I have found no oth­er coun­try that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand,” Thiel wrote in his 2011 cit­i­zen­ship appli­ca­tion, which was lat­er released by the Kiwi gov­ern­ment ear­li­er this year after media pres­sure. Thiel’s US$3.5 mil­lion prop­er­ty in Queen­stown — referred to by locals as “the Plas­ma Screen” because of its expan­sive glass facade — was severe­ly dam­aged in a sus­pect­ed gas leak fire in August 2016, accord­ing to con­struc­tion doc­u­ments obtained by Buz­zFeed News.

    That Sep­tem­ber, Thiel penned an opin­ion piece for the Wash­ing­ton Post that high­light­ed Trump’s anti­estab­lish­ment nature and “hereti­cal denial of Repub­li­can dog­ma,” while large­ly ignor­ing the candidate’s pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives. That was fol­lowed up by a $1.25 mil­lion dona­tion — less than .05% of his $2.7 bil­lion net worth, as esti­mat­ed by Forbes — to Trump’s cam­paign in Octo­ber. In din­ners that fall in San Fran­cis­co and Los Ange­les, Thiel was described by some­one who attend­ed both as “excit­ed” and “pos­i­tive” about Trump, empha­siz­ing how good he would be for tax issues. Thiel’s boyfriend, Matt Danzeisen, also spoke about his sup­port of Trump dur­ing at least one of these din­ners, though was described as much more mod­er­ate, said that per­son.

    Thiel’s only mean­ing­ful speak­ing appear­ance out­side of the RNC came on Hal­loween day at Washington’s Nation­al Press Club, where he deliv­ered a speech on Trump’s promise as a polit­i­cal out­sider. “Trump’s agen­da is about mak­ing Amer­i­ca a nor­mal coun­try,” he said. Thiel also spent time address­ing the candidate’s flaws, fol­low­ing the release of an Access Hol­ly­wood tape where Trump dis­cussed sex­u­al­ly assault­ing a woman. He called the com­ments “clear­ly offen­sive and inap­pro­pri­ate” and lat­er not­ed in the same speech that “nobody would sug­gest that Don­ald Trump is a hum­ble man.”

    “No mat­ter what hap­pens in this elec­tion, what Trump rep­re­sents isn’t crazy and it’s not going away,” he said.

    At a gath­er­ing at his home in Los Ange­les the week­end before the elec­tion, a source in atten­dance said Thiel reit­er­at­ed that point. But in at least one pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, Thiel admit­ted he didn’t have much con­fi­dence in either can­di­date. Who­ev­er wins, he said, will like­ly be a one-term pres­i­dent, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the dis­cus­sion, with Thiel pre­dict­ing that there would be a major finan­cial cat­a­stro­phe in the next four years.

    *********

    Trump’s vic­to­ry was a mar­ket­ing coup for Thiel. With a rep­u­ta­tion as a rene­gade investor whose con­trar­i­an but pre­scient bets on com­pa­nies like Face­book and SpaceX had paid off hand­some­ly, Thiel — one of the few Sil­i­con Val­ley elite to open­ly sup­port Trump — now had a vic­to­ry in the polit­i­cal sphere. The news media laud­ed his win­ning bet, with some spec­u­lat­ing he might be named to the Supreme Court, a past dream of the Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty law degree hold­er.

    While Thiel quick­ly shot down rumors of a Supreme Court appoint­ment, he was named to Trump’s tran­si­tion team. There he worked with two acolytes — Blake Mas­ters, his Zero to One coau­thor, and Trae Stephens, a for­mer engi­neer at the Thiel-found­ed gov­ern­ment con­trac­tor Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies — to source and vet sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy appoint­ments.

    One Trump cam­paign insid­er told Buz­zFeed News that Thiel had his pick of cab­i­net posi­tions, but nev­er showed true inter­est in tak­ing a per­ma­nent gov­ern­ment job. Instead, he focused on adding his asso­ciates to posi­tions of pow­er. Thiel’s for­mer chief of staff Michael Krat­sios was named as deputy chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer, while anoth­er for­mer col­league, Kevin Har­ring­ton, joined the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil as deputy assis­tant to the pres­i­dent. Justin Miko­lay, an evan­ge­list for Palan­tir — the Thiel-found­ed data-analy­sis com­pa­ny — was giv­en a role in the Defense Depart­ment.

    Thiel and his asso­ciates man­aged to steer clear of much of the infight­ing that trou­bled the Trump tran­si­tion team in its ear­ly days. But they did­n’t escape unscathed. One source in a posi­tion to know told Buz­zFeed News that when oth­er tran­si­tion mem­bers dis­cov­ered that Stephens had not vot­ed for Trump, he was sum­mar­i­ly iso­lat­ed from the group, sour­ing some people’s per­spec­tives on progress with the weeks-old admin­is­tra­tion.

    A spokesper­son at Founders Fund, the Thiel-led ven­ture cap­i­tal out­fit where Stephens is now a part­ner, declined to com­ment.

    After orga­niz­ing a meet­ing with tech­nol­o­gy lead­ers at Manhattan’s Trump Tow­er in Decem­ber, where he was thanked pro­fuse­ly by the pres­i­dent-elect, Thiel spent the New Year’s hol­i­day in Maui with about a dozen friends. While he worked for some of the time, he engaged with his close friends at meals and events, debat­ing Trump’s mer­its with some of his more lib­er­al atten­dees. Accord­ing to two peo­ple in atten­dance, Thiel described the admin­is­tra­tion as a work in progress and dis­count­ed the sug­ges­tion that progress on social issues like gay mar­riage might be rolled back in the next four years. But these same peo­ple said Thiel tem­pered his enthu­si­asm with a caveat dur­ing one meal, remark­ing that “there is a 50% chance this whole thing ends in dis­as­ter.”

    After about a week of relax­ing in Maui, his guests, who includ­ed Y‑Combinator Pres­i­dent Sam Alt­man for part of the time, head­ed back to their jobs. Thiel read­ied him­self to go back to New York, and lat­er, the inau­gu­ra­tion.

    ...

    “I always have very low expec­ta­tions, so I’m rarely dis­ap­point­ed,” he said of his role in the admin­is­tra­tion.

    Even with his low expec­ta­tions and his views on pos­si­ble fail­ure, Thiel hasn’t com­plete­ly hid­den his dis­ap­point­ment. At an event in May in San Fran­cis­co, he was described by one guest who was in atten­dance as “annoyed” with the first months of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy. With lit­tle pol­i­cy being estab­lished by the White House, Thiel wor­ried that the the next four years would be defined by stag­na­tion and stressed the notion that he didn’t think Trump would be reelect­ed.

    In describ­ing the admin­is­tra­tion, Thiel used one defin­ing word in front of his guests: “incom­pe­tent.”

    ———-

    “Peter Thiel Has Been Hedg­ing His Bet On Don­ald Trump” by Ryan Mac; Buz­zFeed; 08/07/2017

    One Trump cam­paign insid­er told Buz­zFeed News that Thiel had his pick of cab­i­net posi­tions, but nev­er showed true inter­est in tak­ing a per­ma­nent gov­ern­ment job. Instead, he focused on adding his asso­ciates to posi­tions of pow­er. Thiel’s for­mer chief of staff Michael Krat­sios was named as deputy chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer, while anoth­er for­mer col­league, Kevin Har­ring­ton, joined the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil as deputy assis­tant to the pres­i­dent. Justin Miko­lay, an evan­ge­list for Palan­tir — the Thiel-found­ed data-analy­sis com­pa­ny — was giv­en a role in the Defense Depart­ment.”

    That’s a glimpse of the Thiel fac­tion with­in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. A fac­tion that’s prob­a­bly going to be feel­ing a bit of heat after this report about Thiel’s lack of faith in Trump’s awe­some­ness. And note that the Thiel fac­tion does­n’t include Jim O’Neill, the Thiel asso­ciate he was push­ing to become head of the FDA. Fol­low­ing push­back from the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try over O’Neil­l’s plans to basi­cal­ly allow drugs to go to mar­ket with­out any evi­dence of effi­ca­cy — the indus­try said this would­n’t allow com­pa­nies with real break­throughs to dis­tin­guish their prod­ucts from total shams — the top FDA job instead went to Scott Got­tlieb, a for­mer Bush admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial with close phar­ma indus­try ties.

    Also, David Gel­ern­ter, Thiel’s rec­om­men­da­tion for White House sci­ence advi­sor, nev­er got the job either. Although it’s still pos­si­ble Gel­ern­ter will even­tu­al­ly get the posi­tion because Trump still has­n’t cho­sen a sci­ence advi­sor, so we’ll see how that staffing deci­sion goes.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 8, 2017, 1:54 pm
  13. Van­i­ty Fair has a long new piece on the role Peter Thiel has played in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and, more impor­tant­ly, the role he might play in the future. Specif­i­cal­ly, it sounds like Thiel is very enthu­si­as­tic about ‘going to war with the Deep State’. And not sur­pris­ing­ly Trump just might put him in the kind of posi­tion where he real­ly can do exact­ly that: Trump is very strong­ly con­sid­er­ing mak­ing Thiel the chair of the President’s Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board (P.I.A.B.), a high-lev­el intel­li­gence post set up to inde­pen­dent­ly mon­i­tor the US spy agen­cies.

    Beyond that, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has anoth­er some­what sur­pris­ing agen­da item that Thiel also has quite a few thoughts on: rec­og­niz­ing the near monop­oly sta­tus of Google, Ama­zon, and Face­book and treat­ing them “pub­lic util­i­ties” and the data they have about all of us might need to be con­sid­ered a pub­lic good. It’s not the kind of thing one expects from the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. There real­ly is a case that could be made that these enti­ties real­ly are monop­o­lies that know far too much about almost every­one and use it monop­o­lis­ti­cal­ly for prof­it. Accord­ing to an admin­is­tra­tion source it’s real­ly Google and Face­book that they are pri­mar­i­ly focused on. Less so Ama­zon. And Thiel, a major Face­book investor and board mem­ber, is appar­ent­ly quite inter­est­ed in this pro­posed agen­da. Specif­i­cal­ly, he’s quite inter­est­ing in crack­ing down on Google and Amazon...not so much Face­book.

    So what kind of new reg­u­la­tions is Thiel con­sid­er­ing for the Google/Amazon pub­lic util­i­ty reg­u­la­tions: stop­ping them from cen­sor­ing con­tent. As one source describes his views on the mat­ter, “He feels they have become New Age glob­al fas­cists in terms of how they’re con­trol­ling the media, how they’re con­trol­ling infor­ma­tion flows to the pub­lic, even how they’re purg­ing peo­ple from think tanks. He’s con­cerned about the monop­o­lis­tic ten­den­cies of [all three] com­pa­nies and how they deny eco­nom­ic well-being to peo­ple they dis­agree with. Trans­la­tion: Thiel’s big con­cerns with the monop­oly sta­tus of Ama­zon and Google (not so much Face­book) is that they are mak­ing it too hard for the ‘Alt-Right’, neo-Nazis, and oth­er hate mon­gers to earn a prof­it.

    And in Thiel’s defense, it’s pos­si­ble he’s not inter­est­ed in crack­ing down on Face­book as much isn’t due to his clear con­flict of inter­est in this area. The recent sto­ries about Face­book mak­ing ads tar­get­ed at ‘Jew haters’ and neo-Nazi polit­i­cal par­ties and direct­ing Ger­man vot­ers to far-right polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions sug­gests that Face­book real­ly might not be a prob­lem in this area from Thiel’s ‘don’t hate on hate’ sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

    Still, it’s pret­ty obvi­ous that Thiel is going to have some mas­sive con­flicts of inter­est if he’s advis­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion on how to treat these data behe­moths as pub­lic util­i­ties who pos­sess data that’s a com­mon good, which is a shame because that’s a real­ly impor­tant nation­al debate and you almost can’t imag­ine a worse fig­ure to lead it than Peter Thiel.

    Just as you almost could­n’t come up with a worse per­son to lead an attack on ‘the Deep State’. The co-own­er of Palan­tir. The guy lead­ing thew ay on the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the ‘Deep State’ is appar­ent­ly going to go to war with it. Drain the Deep State Swamp by fill­ing it with the Sil­i­con Swamp. That’s clear­ly Thiel’s agen­da. And he’s about to become the chair of President’s Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board:

    Van­i­ty Fair

    Is Trump Mulling Peter Thiel for a Top Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Post?
    Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Peter Thiel has been qui­et­ly advis­ing the Trump admin­is­tra­tion for months. Now—as sources say he could be in line for a top intel­li­gence over­sight role—Steve Ban­non, White House offi­cials, friends, and foes gauge the billionaire’s moti­va­tions, and his Wash­ing­ton mojo.

    by Adam Ciral­sky
    Sep­tem­ber 20, 2017 11:30 am

    It was one of the worst days in the short life of Don­ald Trump’s administration—an admin­is­tra­tion that has not known many good days. But, as it turned out, the after­noon of July 12 was the time I’d sched­uled an appoint­ment with Steve Ban­non, the man who, a month lat­er, would leave his post as the president’s chief strate­gist. And as I walked through the West Wing, the sim­mer­ing dis­tress was unmis­tak­able.

    In an alcove, Nation­al-Secu­ri­ty Advis­er H. R. McMas­ter hud­dled with Reince Priebus, the soon-to-be-ex chief of staff. Jay Seku­low, the pub­lic face of Pres­i­dent Trump’s legal team, furi­ous­ly checked his cell phone. While aides con­ferred on an out­door patio, brows fur­rowed, a top White House advis­er took me aside and grave­ly con­fid­ed, “The sit­u­a­tion is even worse than you can imag­ine.” But I was not there to dis­cuss the lat­est bomb­shell: the rev­e­la­tion that Don­ald Trump Jr. had host­ed a pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed meet­ing with some shad­owy Rus­sians. No, every oth­er reporter in the nation’s cap­i­tal was already pur­su­ing that sto­ry.

    Instead, I had come to dis­cuss anoth­er sub­ject entire­ly. And Ban­non, see­ing me lin­ger­ing in a hall­way, popped out of a con­fer­ence room and shep­herd­ed me into his office—at the time a vir­tu­al com­mand cen­ter for the Trump Rev­o­lu­tion, just steps from the Oval. To some, Bannon—intense, brood­ing, and sardonic—was the intel­lec­tu­al archi­tect of a stun­ning elec­tion upset; to oth­ers, he was a per­sis­tent dog whis­tle who riled up Trump’s base and America’s basest instincts. But in the White House that week, few cast a longer shad­ow.

    “Can you believe this?!” he said, point­ing to a wall of TVs with break­ing-news alerts about the Russ­ian ren­dezvous. Anoth­er wall served as a sort of mood board, papered with star­tling pol­i­cy goals: “Begin remov­ing more than 2 mil­lion crim­i­nal ille­gal immi­grants,” “Can­cel [Obama’s] uncon­sti­tu­tion­al exec­u­tive action[s],” “Impose term lim­its on all mem­bers of Con­gress.” Ban­non, despite the pre­vail­ing angst of the day, was engaged, gre­gar­i­ous, and hap­py to speak on the record. The rea­son? I was inter­est­ed in a man who, in some ways, was his ide­o­log­i­cal soul­mate: Peter Thiel, the elu­sive tech bil­lion­aire, who, far from pub­lic view, has wield­ed out­size clout with­in the new admin­is­tra­tion.

    “I can­not over­state his impact on the tran­si­tion,” Ban­non began, describ­ing Thiel as a hid­den hand in shap­ing Team Trump. “You will see in the near term that Peter will be tak­ing on new respon­si­bil­i­ties, like intel­li­gence.” While Trump and his com­mu­ni­ca­tions squad may rail about Washington’s per­ma­nent bureau­cra­cy, espe­cial­ly those in nation­al-secu­ri­ty posi­tions, Ban­non talked about hav­ing been in the trench­es along­side Thiel as part of an offen­sive against the so-called Deep State (a term used in cer­tain quar­ters, recent­ly on the far right, to describe what they see as a force with­in the gov­ern­ment, includ­ing the intel­li­gence agen­cies, that con­sis­tent­ly asserts its pow­er in order to main­tain the sta­tus quo). Indeed, as Ban­non and oth­ers avowed, Thiel—a man most Amer­i­cans could not pick out of a lineup—was appar­ent­ly poised to assume some seri­ous, and seri­ous­ly con­tro­ver­sial, respon­si­bil­i­ties.

    Who, then, is Peter Thiel? What are his goals? And what has he been doing sub rosa for Don­ald J. Trump? In search of answers, I met with an array of Thiel con­fi­dants from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to New York, to San Fran­cis­co. And through­out, I kept com­ing back to a sin­gle scene that I had watched on TV last Decem­ber.
    Peter Thiel walk­ing out of an ele­va­tor.

    The Ear­ly Adopter

    The set­ting was a sun­lit con­fer­ence room in Trump Tow­er. The tim­ing was piv­otal: five weeks before Trump would assume the pres­i­den­cy. Around the table sat many of Sil­i­con Valley’s most pow­er­ful entre­pre­neurs, who had gath­ered for what the president-elect’s team had labeled a tech sum­mit. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Tim Cook were there. And Facebook’s Sheryl Sand­berg, Alphabet/Google’s Lar­ry Page and Eric Schmidt, Microsoft’s Satya Nadel­la, Intel’s Bri­an Krzanich, and Elon Musk, of Tes­la and SpaceX.

    Trump opened the ses­sion by pay­ing homage to Peter Thiel, who sat to his left, in a gray pin-striped suit. A tech-invest­ing savant, data-min­ing wiz­ard, and enthu­si­as­tic Trump sup­port­er, Thiel—thin, pale, and invari­ably serious—was cred­it­ed with coax­ing some of the heavy­weights, sev­er­al of whom had pub­licly endorsed Hillary Clin­ton, to make an appear­ance. “I want to start by thank­ing Peter,” Trump said, “because he saw some­thing very ear­ly, maybe before we saw it, and of course he’s known for that in a dif­fer­ent way. He’s ahead of the curve.” Then he warm­ly grabbed Thiel’s hand with two of his own, adding, “I want to thank you. You’re a very spe­cial guy.”

    Spe­cial indeed. For the pre­vi­ous year, Thiel had been see­ing a lot of things very ear­ly. In the spring of 2016, he became what his peers might call an ear­ly adopter when, after back­ing for­mer Hewlett-Packard C.E.O. Car­ly Fiorina’s pres­i­den­tial run, he switched his alle­giance to Trump. “[Peter] took a lot of flak for his sup­port,” Michael Anton told me over cof­fee in Wash­ing­ton. Anton, whom Thiel had lob­bied to place on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil (N.S.C.), had gained a mea­sure of noto­ri­ety for his wide­ly read and con­tentious essay com­par­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to Unit­ed 93—the hijacked 9/11 flight on which hero­ic pas­sen­gers stormed the cock­pit. (Trump, in Anton’s view, was the only can­di­date who could save an imper­iled nation.) “I think Peter took a brave stance in going against the grain. But that’s who he is.” Anoth­er senior White House offi­cial, who con­sid­ers Thiel a friend and men­tor, observed, “As a suc­cess­ful gay man, Peter thinks Don­ald Trump plays an impor­tant mod­er­at­ing influ­ence on the con­ser­v­a­tive wing of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, which is out of step with Peter’s lib­er­tar­i­an instincts and his lifestyle.” Thiel drove home the point, in this official’s view, when he was reward­ed with a prime speak­ing slot at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion in July 2016 and famous­ly assert­ed, “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Repub­li­can. But most of all I am proud to be an Amer­i­can.”

    Three months lat­er, Trump’s for­tunes appeared to dip when a video sur­faced in which he was heard mak­ing misog­y­nis­tic remarks to Access Hol­ly­wood’s Bil­ly Bush. But Thiel stood firm. With­in days, he donat­ed $1.25 mil­lion to the Trump cause, and Thiel’s bullishness—doubling down dur­ing one of Trump’s dark­est hours—gave the can­di­date a much-need­ed boost.

    The wager paid off. Trump defeat­ed Clin­ton in an Elec­toral Col­lege upset, and a few days lat­er Thiel was named to the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee of the president-elect’s tran­si­tion team (chaired by Mike Pence), along with sev­er­al insid­ers who would come to inher­it the West Wing. Thiel, work­ing with a close-knit group of Sil­i­con Val­ley imports at Trump Tow­er and his own pied-à-terre on Union Square, accord­ing to two admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials, advised the incom­ing senior staff on sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, secu­ri­ty, and intel­li­gence matters—and helped fill jobs in the Plum Book, which lists thou­sands of polit­i­cal­ly appoint­ed posi­tions with­in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. Ban­non dis­cussed that tran­si­tion peri­od wist­ful­ly, as though recall­ing sim­pler times: “After Jared [Kush­n­er], who looked after for­eign affairs, [ex–national-security advis­er Michael] Fly­nn, Reince [Priebus, the for­mer chief of staff], who made the trains run on time, and myself, Peter had the biggest impact.” More­over, Ban­non and two Thiel allies in the White House have claimed that Thiel, as recent­ly as Sep­tem­ber, has remained active­ly engaged in advis­ing the admin­is­tra­tion.

    A Con­trar­i­an Lib­er­tar­i­an

    By now, the ascen­sion of Peter Andreas Thiel, 50, is Sil­i­con Val­ley lore. Born in Frank­furt, Ger­many, he immi­grat­ed to the U.S. as a child, attend­ed col­lege and law school at Stan­ford, and worked at the white-shoe law firm Sul­li­van & Cromwell and at a unit of Cred­it Suisse as a deriv­a­tives trad­er. In 1998, he co-found­ed the com­pa­ny which would become Pay­Pal with some fel­low over-achiev­ers, among them Elon Musk, the elec­tric-car inno­va­tor. In time, Thiel and oth­er Pay­Pal alum­ni, includ­ing LinkedIn’s Reid Hoff­man and Yelp’s Rus­sel Sim­mons, became known as the Pay­Pal Mafia.

    By 2004, Thiel had entered the ranks of history’s shrewdest investors when he wagered a rel­a­tive­ly mod­est sum—$500,000—on a 10.2 per­cent stake in Face­book. Though he has since sold many of those shares for more than $1 bil­lion, he remains on Facebook’s board. With some of his Pay­Pal pals, he launched Founders Fund, a ven­ture-cap­i­tal oper­a­tion that pre­scient­ly invest­ed in a host of big-name start-ups, includ­ing Airbnb, Lyft, SpaceX, and Spo­ti­fy. Thiel’s net worth, over time, would grow to $2.7 bil­lion. (His port­fo­lio has also includ­ed Thrive Cap­i­tal and Oscar Health, two firms start­ed by Joshua Kush­n­er, Jared’s younger broth­er, and Cadre, a real-estate tech com­pa­ny, which Jared co-found­ed.)

    Thiel’s pow­ers of pre­dic­tion, how­ev­er, failed him for a time while he was run­ning Clar­i­um Cap­i­tal, a $7 bil­lion hedge fund that lost 90 per­cent of its val­ue in three years, fol­low­ing the glob­al eco­nom­ic implo­sion a decade ago. But he had also helped found and direct influ­en­tial ven­tures such as Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, the $20 bil­lion data-analy­sis out­fit. What’s more, his sci­ence incu­ba­tor, Break­out Labs, bankrolls biotech start-ups. He co-hosts exclu­sive con­fer­ences that bring togeth­er thought lead­ers with diver­gent views. His 2014 book, Zero to One—part man­i­festo, part how-to man­u­al for entrepreneurs—topped The New York Times best-sell­er list. His name has even been float­ed as a pos­si­ble can­di­date for gov­er­nor of California—and ambas­sador to Ger­many.

    Thiel’s purview is as vast as his ambi­tions. He has homes or prop­er­ties in San Fran­cis­co, the Hol­ly­wood Hills, New York, Hawaii, and New Zealand, where he acquired cit­i­zen­ship a few years back. (He is a keen fan of The Lord of the Rings, which was filmed there.) Accord­ing to one of his friends, “Thiel has said to me direct­ly and repeat­ed­ly that he want­ed to have his own country”—even plac­ing a dol­lar val­ue on “own­ing” a sov­er­eign state: $100 bil­lion.

    Through it all, Thiel, who guards his pri­va­cy, has become known for chal­leng­ing con­ven­tions, includ­ing those as seem­ing­ly immutable as death, taxes—and tuition. To wit: he takes dai­ly dos­es of human growth hor­mone to stave off the effects of aging. He has sup­port­ed the Seast­eading Insti­tute, which seeks to build float­ing cities beyond the reach of tra­di­tion­al gov­er­nance. And his Thiel Fel­low­ship hands out $100,000 grants to bud­ding entre­pre­neurs who agree not to go to col­lege. Such mav­er­ick ideas make Thiel “some­thing of a revered fig­ure for his suc­cess­es in thpe tech and ven­ture-cap­i­tal worlds,” claimed author and biotech jour­nal­ist David Ewing Dun­can. “And despite what many see as his con­tro­ver­sial back­ing of Trump, if you’re a young entre­pre­neur you don’t want to cross him because he has the pow­er to invest in your next big dream. There is a case to be made that rene­gades should be defend­ed.”

    It was Thiel, after all, who secret­ly fund­ed the inva­sion-of-pri­va­cy law­suit that pro wrestler Hulk Hogan brought against Gawk­er Media, result­ing in a $140 mil­lion ver­dict for Hogan (since nego­ti­at­ed down­ward) and bank­rupt­ing the gos­sip-and-news fran­chise, whose blog (Val­ley­wag) had ear­li­er “out­ed” Thiel. Regard­ed war­i­ly for his stealth, sin­gle-mind­ed­ness, and tenac­i­ty, he is, in a way, a Sil­i­con Val­ley Steve Ban­non.

    Still, Thiel stands out in an indus­try that seems to mint large lives. It is not hard to find peers—even those with diver­gent polit­i­cal beliefs—who speak of him glow­ing­ly. Eric Schmidt, exec­u­tive chair­man of Google’s par­ent com­pa­ny, Alpha­bet, told me, “Peo­ple say we don’t have enough heroes, enough coura­geous peo­ple. Well, here’s one. Here’s a guy who has had an impact.” Though Schmidt had been on the Hillary Clin­ton band­wag­on, he was quick to acknowl­edge that Thiel’s sup­port for, and now access to, Don­ald Trump gave the tech sec­tor a strong advo­cate in Washington—an impor­tant role now that some of the biggest social-media and search firms are under the micro­scope regard­ing their sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to for­eign manip­u­la­tion, over­seas col­lec­tion of pri­vate users’ data, secu­ri­ty safe­guards, pos­si­ble monop­o­lis­tic prac­tices, lack of reg­u­la­to­ry over­sight, and tol­er­ance of hate speech. “He took a con­tro­ver­sial posi­tion that no one else in the Val­ley did”—namely, back­ing Trump—“and he stuck to it,” insist­ed Schmidt, who con­ced­ed that had the elec­tion gone the oth­er way he might well have been occu­py­ing Thiel’s cat­bird seat as an unpaid but immense­ly pow­er­ful advis­er to the pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. (Buz­zFeed report­ed that Thiel, as recent­ly as May, had pri­vate­ly expressed reser­va­tions about Trump—at a time when three cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion sources told me Thiel was firm­ly in the president’s fold.)

    And yet a num­ber of peo­ple who describe them­selves as either Thiel’s friends or long­time asso­ciates would speak with me only on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, cit­ing a vari­ety of rea­sons: non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments they had signed with one or more of Thiel’s enti­ties, fear of ret­ri­bu­tion from Trump-admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials, or reluc­tance to alien­ate Thiel or the Pay­Pal Mafia. These individuals—including sev­er­al in his inner circle—would only arrange a meet­ing or a con­ver­sa­tion using trade­craft wor­thy of C.I.A. case offi­cers. They com­mu­ni­cat­ed via encrypt­ed apps (ones that do not reg­is­ter on a cell phone’s call log). Two of them, to check my bona fides before agree­ing to sit down with me, request­ed screen­shots of Google search­es about me—explaining that if they were to run the search­es them­selves, and some­one combed through their search his­to­ries, they might be iden­ti­fied as a source for this arti­cle.

    Some of these indi­vid­u­als insist­ed that there is a per­plex­ing dual­i­ty to the man. Said one friend and col­league who has known Thiel for near­ly 20 years, “He exempts him­self from the rules he applies to oth­ers. He’s a hard-core lib­er­tar­i­an who rails against state sur­veil­lance except when he’s prof­it­ing off of it. He’s a strong believ­er in per­son­al pri­va­cy but is hap­py to kick-start and sit on the board of Face­book, which mon­e­tizes every ounce of Amer­i­cans’ data.” He described three prime movers in Thiel’s life: achiev­ing immor­tal­i­ty, resist­ing state con­trol over his actions, and acquir­ing the mon­ey nec­es­sary to pull it off. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, he added, Thiel dis­trusts author­i­ty: “That’s [part­ly] what moti­vat­ed him years ago to run head­long into the intel­li­gence field. He under­stood that, in a tech­no­log­i­cal world, pow­er is wield­ed by the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. You can only trust that com­mu­ni­ty if you trust—or bet­ter yet, if you are—the per­son at the switch.”

    And as three senior White House sources con­firmed, he has already been invit­ed to be that per­son. Accord­ing to two of those offi­cials, Thiel has been in dis­cus­sions to become the chair of the lofty P.I.A.B.—the President’s Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board. This high-lev­el intel­li­gence post (pre­vi­ous­ly held by Estab­lish­ment fig­ures such as Brent Scow­croft, Les Aspin, and War­ren Rud­man) inde­pen­dent­ly mon­i­tors America’s spy agen­cies and was estab­lished in 1956 to coun­sel the pres­i­dent. These two sources recount­ed that Thiel and the admin­is­tra­tion had been in the process of firm­ing up the details of his role and staffing; then, in August, one of them texted me to say the offer to Thiel was now in lim­bo. Anoth­er White House source, how­ev­er, told me in Sep­tem­ber that Thiel remains the president’s choice to lead the P.I.A.B., and when asked why Thiel has not dis­tanced him­self from the admin­is­tra­tion as many busi­ness lead­ers have, the offi­cial replied, “Peter is not a fair-weath­er fan. . . . He’s on board.”

    If the posi­tion were ever to come through, how­ev­er, Peter Thiel, a man who is already well versed in intel­li­gence gath­er­ing for prof­it, might be “spy­ing” on the spies in the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Said one of those White House insid­ers, “[The] P.I.A.B. [job] is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant [advi­so­ry] posi­tions that any Amer­i­can can hold. . . . Pres­i­dent Trump wants a fresh set of eyes on this.” Anoth­er senior offi­cial had this to say: “What Peter has been offered”—the P.I.A.B. role—“is a huge­ly impor­tant posi­tion. It’s the only mean­ing­ful exec­u­tive-branch over­sight of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. This P.I.A.B. will have more author­i­ty than it did under Oba­ma. . . . [Peter] is not going to just sit back. As a lib­er­tar­i­an, he is inter­est­ed in the over­steps the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has made in the past. . . . Once”—or if—“he gets in there, he’s going to ensure that there isn’t inap­pro­pri­ate col­lec­tion of [data on] U.S. per­sons.” (Trump, to be sure, hasn’t masked his skep­ti­cism of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, some­times crit­i­ciz­ing the val­ue of its activ­i­ties and find­ings. He has fired the head of the F.B.I. He has pared back the President’s Dai­ly Brief. And he has con­sis­tent­ly down­played the spy agen­cies’ con­clu­sion that Russ­ian agents attempt­ed to inter­fere with the 2016 elec­tion to ben­e­fit Trump.)

    Dis­rup­tion, Wash­ing­ton-Style

    With his résumé and Rolodex, Peter Thiel was emi­nent­ly qual­i­fied to help Trump build out his lat­est large-scale acquisition—the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment. “Of all of the issues we were look­ing at in prepa­ra­tion for assum­ing pow­er, 25 to 30 per­cent were part of Peter’s port­fo­lio,” Ban­non explained. Thiel, accord­ing to three admin­is­tra­tion sources, has weighed in on, and sug­gest­ed can­di­dates to han­dle, among oth­er things, anti-trust pol­i­cy, the drug-approval process, cyber-secu­ri­ty, and intel­li­gence. Said one top Trump advis­er, “When we have con­ven­tion­al­ly-mind­ed peo­ple putting for­ward con­ven­tion­al approach­es, Peter will come up with some­thing rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent.” “Rad­i­cal” may be soft-ped­al­ing it. Accord­ing to Ban­non, “Peter’s whole man­date was to be dis­rup­tive and put for­ward peo­ple who could shake up the sys­tem.”

    Ear­ly on, a clus­ter of Thiel asso­ciates, includ­ing Anton, joined Team Trump—comprising a group that one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial referred to as “Peter’s embeds.” Some land­ed at the White House, includ­ing Michael Krat­sios, the for­mer chief of staff at Thiel Cap­i­tal, who was named deputy chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer, and Kevin Har­ring­ton, a vet­er­an of the Thiel Macro hedge fund, who came aboard the N.S.C. as deputy assis­tant to the pres­i­dent for strate­gic plan­ning. For the F.D.A., the name of Jim O’Neill, a man­ag­ing direc­tor of Thiel’s Mithril Cap­i­tal and co-founder of the Thiel Fel­low­ship, was float­ed as a can­di­date for com­mis­sion­er. Although that idea was nixed (O’Neill lacks a med­ical degree and, along with Thiel, has advo­cat­ed short­en­ing the drug-approval process), sources said he may still be named to a White House posi­tion, which could make him a Trump ambas­sador to Sil­i­con Val­ley. At the Pen­ta­gon, Justin Miko­lay, chief lob­by­ist for Thiel’s com­pa­ny Palan­tir, was named spe­cial assis­tant to Sec­re­tary of Defense James Mat­tis.

    “It’s not unheard of for an out­sider to be giv­en a port­fo­lio of jobs to fill or can­di­dates to present,” observed an expert to whom Thiel’s team turned for help because of his years advis­ing dif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tions on new hires. “In my con­ver­sa­tions, they made it clear that they want young, aggres­sive dis­rupters, not expe­ri­enced, gov­ern­ment-savvy peo­ple.” But this insid­er was baf­fled by how Thiel’s team was try­ing to fill vacan­cies. “They were not work­ing off a short list. They lit­er­al­ly had one name for each job. It was as if some­body had said to them, ‘Just give us some­body.’?”

    A senior White House offi­cial close to Thiel had a dif­fer­ent take: “Wash­ing­ton is afraid of Peter Thiel. He defies the rules. . . . He has put for­ward can­di­dates that have his inno­v­a­tive mind-set, and they’re either stuck in lim­bo [await­ing approval] or are los­ing out to peo­ple who are lob­by­ing types or are finan­cial­ly con­nect­ed. For a guy from Sil­i­con Val­ley, he expect­ed things to move faster. He expect­ed that we would beat back and drain the swamp, but the swamp is win­ning.” In fact, Steve Ban­non, a man who could hard­ly be char­ac­ter­ized as an ide­o­log­i­cal mil­que­toast, main­tained that some of Thiel’s can­di­dates “were per­haps too dis­rup­tive to the sys­tem,” and he recalled how dur­ing the tran­si­tion he and Thiel had a stand­ing Sat­ur­day lunch at the latter’s New York apart­ment, where, to hear Ban­non tell it, Ban­non was the mod­er­at­ing influ­ence. “I’ve been accused of being the inter­nal mas­ter­mind of dis­rup­tion, but at the end of the day I still [had] to make sure we balance[d] dis­rup­tion with run­ning the coun­try.”

    Even so, as Ban­non con­ced­ed, “there is no doubt that the trav­el ban was writ­ten [and first issued in Jan­u­ary] to dis­rupt and shake up the sys­tem so that peo­ple in gov­ern­ment under­stood that when Don­ald Trump talked about ‘extreme vet­ting,’ he meant it. . . . We were try­ing to break the admin­is­tra­tive state. The trav­el ban was done to dis­rupt a fail­ing sys­tem and to drain the swamp.”

    Sources in the admin­is­tra­tion con­tend that more dis­rup­tion is com­ing. For starters, accord­ing to one senior White House advis­er, there has been seri­ous thought giv­en to whether Ama­zon, Google, and Face­book are, in fact, “pub­lic util­i­ties.” Said this senior offi­cial, “Maybe not Ama­zon, but cer­tain­ly Face­book and Google. They’re vir­tu­al­ly monop­o­lis­tic. And ‘anti-trust’ ought to take a hard look at them. . . . Is [their] data a pub­lic trust? Is infor­ma­tion now a com­mon good? You are going to see a big drum­beat on this. I’m not say­ing anything’s going to hap­pen, but it’s cer­tain­ly going to be looked at. That will be an air­burst over Broth­er Zucker­berg.”

    And how does such talk sit with Thiel, who has long­stand­ing inter­ests in Face­book? Said anoth­er senior admin­is­tra­tion aide, “Peter has indi­cat­ed that if he takes the P.I.A.B. posi­tion he intends to take a com­pre­hen­sive look at the U.S. intel­li­gence community’s infor­ma­tion-tech­nol­o­gy archi­tec­ture. He is super-con­cerned about Ama­zon and Google”—and Face­book, less so. “He feels they have become New Age glob­al fas­cists in terms of how they’re con­trol­ling the media, how they’re con­trol­ling infor­ma­tion flows to the pub­lic, even how they’re purg­ing peo­ple from think tanks. He’s con­cerned about the monop­o­lis­tic ten­den­cies of [all three] com­pa­nies and how they deny eco­nom­ic well-being to peo­ple they dis­agree with.” When I asked this source how like­ly it is that Thiel will assume the post, he answered, “He’s heav­i­ly lean­ing toward it. He feels there’s a lot of good he can do and it’s worth putting up with all the bull­shit and scruti­ny that will accom­pa­ny his appoint­ment.”

    Pri­vate Eyes

    Thiel is invest­ed in a num­ber of com­pa­nies that oper­ate in the intel­li­gence are­na. But such con­nec­tions may raise poten­tial con­flict-of-inter­est con­cerns should Thiel ever assume a posi­tion over­see­ing the activ­i­ties of the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. One com­pa­ny is Palan­tir, the data-min­ing giant. Anoth­er is Space­flight Indus­tries, whose Black­Sky sub­sidiary pro­vides high-res­o­lu­tion images from a con­stel­la­tion of pri­vate low earth satel­lites. Both Palan­tir and Space­flight received key financ­ing from In-Q-Tel, which is often described as the C.I.A.’s invest­ment arm. Thiel has a siz­able stake in both enti­ties through Founders Fund and Mithril Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, a glob­al tech­nol­o­gy invest­ment firm which he launched with long­time busi­ness part­ner Ajay Roy­an in 2012 and for which they have raised $1.39 bil­lion. Accord­ing to a high-rank­ing intel­li­gence ana­lyst, Roy­an has described Mithril as “an intel­li­gence agency meets a think tank meets a high­ly dis­ci­plined under­writ­ing com­pa­ny.”

    ...

    On the face of it, Palan­tir seems like anoth­er Thiel suc­cess sto­ry. The 13-year-old com­pa­ny has a ros­ter of intel­li­gence and law-enforce­ment clients. (A year ago, for exam­ple, the firm won a $222 mil­lion con­tract from the Pentagon’s Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand.) Palantir’s secret sauce is col­lat­ing and ana­lyz­ing vast and unwieldy streams of data to pin­point pat­terns and anom­alies, a process that has been effec­tive in bat­tling every­thing from ter­ror­ism to Medicare fraud. The com­pa­ny is posi­tioned for a role in the Trump administration’s immi­gra­tion-relat­ed efforts too: under con­tracts with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, approved on Pres­i­dent Obama’s watch and togeth­er worth more than $76 mil­lion, accord­ing to the Inter­cept, Palan­tir enables Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment to tap into bio­met­ric and geo-spa­tial data and records held by gov­ern­ment agen­cies, to help iden­ti­fy and deport ille­gal aliens. (The New York Times has also report­ed that Thiel plans to invest in a start-up led by Ocu­lus VR co-founder Palmer Luck­ey that seeks to employ high-tech sen­sors as part of a “vir­tu­al bor­der wall” designed to detect ille­gal cross­ings along the Mex­i­can bor­der.)

    Palantir’s co-founder and C.E.O., Alex Karp, in fact, was among the elite group invit­ed to Trump’s tech summit—and to a sim­i­lar meet­ing at the White House in June, which I attend­ed as a mem­ber of the press pool. But despite Karp’s seat at the table, things might be bumpy back at the office in Palo Alto. Key clients have cut ties; some, like the N.Y.P.D., con­tentious­ly. Law-enforce­ment and intel­li­gence agen­cies have got­ten much bet­ter at doing what Palan­tir does. And con­cerns have been aired about a pri­vate com­pa­ny hav­ing access to so much sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion. (Palan­tir says it does not retain client data.) “Palan­tir oper­ates behind the veil,” in the opin­ion of Jay Stan­ley, a senior pol­i­cy ana­lyst for the A.C.L.U. “To what extent are they doing the government’s bid­ding? To what extent are they doing their own?” With the C.I.A. and the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency beset by leaks and hack­ers, he wor­ries that pri­vate com­pa­nies like Palan­tir could be “used as a way to laun­der activ­i­ties for which the gov­ern­ment wants to avoid pub­lic scruti­ny. At the end of the day, Palan­tir is a for-prof­it com­pa­ny, and there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty for abuse.” Stan­ley has not­ed that deploy­ing Palantir’s soft­ware could be “any­thing between a good, effi­cient use of gov­ern­ment resources and a true total­i­tar­i­an night­mare, mon­i­tor­ing the activ­i­ties of inno­cent Amer­i­cans on a mass scale.”

    A com­pa­ny spokesper­son respond­ed to this asser­tion direct­ly: “We rec­og­nize that there are real risks of abuse of most infor­ma­tion-tech­nol­o­gy plat­forms, includ­ing Palantir’s.” The com­pa­ny care­ful­ly eval­u­ates the assign­ments it will accept, she said, and “invest[s] heav­i­ly in mak­ing pri­va­cy and civ­il-lib­er­ties-enhanc­ing capa­bil­i­ties core fea­tures of our soft­ware archi­tec­tures.”

    Palan­tir, though, was caught red-hand­ed in 2011, seem­ing to con­spire with two oth­er defense con­trac­tors to offer their ser­vices in wag­ing a dubi­ous cyber-and-dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign to dis­cred­it Julian Assange’s Wik­iLeaks and pres­sure Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Glenn Green­wald. The scheme was exposed when a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion out­lin­ing its pro­posed tactics—and promi­nent­ly dis­play­ing the Palan­tir logo—came to light (iron­i­cal­ly, through a cyber-attack on the proposal’s main orga­niz­er). The plan boast­ed that Palantir’s clients could “lever­age the same all-source intel­li­gence plat­form used through­out the US nation­al secu­ri­ty and law enforce­ment com­mu­ni­ties.”

    When I asked Green­wald about the inci­dent, he said, “Palan­tir lit­er­al­ly took part in plan­ning how they could destroy my jour­nal­ism career by forc­ing me to make some [James] Bond–like choice between ongo­ing advo­ca­cy of Wik­iLeaks or hav­ing my career destroyed. . . . Imag­ine if the F.B.I. or C.I.A. had been caught doing this. It would have been a huge scan­dal. But because it fell into this gray zone of pri­vate com­pa­nies per­form­ing intel­li­gence functions—where there isn’t the kind of over­sight or account­abil­i­ty reserved for gov­ern­ment agencies—it was ignored.”

    When the slide pre­sen­ta­tion sur­faced, Palan­tir C.E.O. Alex Karp appeared gen­uine­ly mor­ti­fied and quick­ly apol­o­gized. “Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies does not build soft­ware that is designed to . . . engage in so-called ‘cyber attacks’ or take oth­er offen­sive mea­sures,” Karp said in a state­ment. “On behalf of the entire com­pa­ny, I want to pub­licly apol­o­gize to pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions in gen­er­al, and Mr. Green­wald in par­tic­u­lar, for any involve­ment that we may have had in these mat­ters.” After the con­tro­ver­sy, the com­pa­ny set up an advi­so­ry pan­el to help enforce its “core com­mit­ment” to “pro­tect­ing pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties.” Even so, Green­wald remains sus­pi­cious of Peter Thiel’s motives. “As some­one who was lit­er­al­ly tar­get­ed by his com­pa­ny for exer­cis­ing my civ­il lib­er­ties, I find it hard to think of a less trust­wor­thy per­son.”

    Greenwald’s report­ing on Edward Snowden—which helped The Guardian win a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for pub­lic service—remains polit­i­cal­ly prob­lem­at­ic to some, but Greenwald’s take on Palan­tir is shared even by peo­ple I spoke to who regard Snow­den as a trai­tor.

    Like oth­ers I can­vassed on the sub­ject, one well-placed Amer­i­can spook said of Palan­tir, “Peo­ple in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty resent the hell out of them because they don’t adhere to the same stan­dards of conduct”—they are not reined in by gov­ern­ment over­sight. “It’s a big prob­lem.” This source brought up a trou­bling ques­tion: what stops Palantir—or those hold­ing its purse strings—from train­ing its sights on indi­vid­ual Amer­i­cans, whether as part of an out­sourced intel­li­gence pro­gram or sim­ply to boost its bot­tom line, by vac­u­um­ing up data from Face­book (and its oth­er ser­vices, such as What­sApp), Twit­ter, Inter­net providers (which log users’ Web his­to­ries), insur­ance and cred­it-scor­ing com­pa­nies, health and loca­tion-based apps, or even infor­ma­tion from those long-sacro­sanct vot­er rolls, which the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has request­ed that the states hand over to the feds? (“Palan­tir is not in the data-col­lec­tion or sur­veil­lance busi­ness,” coun­ters the company’s spokesper­son. “We sup­port cus­tomers in inte­gra­tion and use of data assets to which they have legit­i­mate and law­ful access.”)

    Above and beyond Palan­tir, con­cerns have been raised about how data analy­sis could have fac­tored into Team Trump’s 2016 vic­to­ry. Two tech C.E.O.’s insist­ed that Thiel’s mas­tery of the dark arts of data, paired with his wealth and ide­ol­o­gy, could explain the president’s deep respect for a man who is in many ways his polar oppo­site (cere­bral, intro­vert­ed, press-averse). “The per­son who under­stands Face­book bet­ter than any­one [besides Mark Zucker­berg] is Peter,” said one. “He’s been on the board the entire time.” (Trump, admit­ted­ly, had help from the data firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, on whose board Steve Ban­non has sat. The com­pa­ny is bankrolled by Trump patron Robert Mer­cer, the hedge-fund mogul, and has been cred­it­ed with iden­ti­fy­ing poten­tial Trump vot­ers in sev­er­al swing states so the campaign’s social-media team could push pro-Trump or anti–Hillary Clin­ton sto­ries to their news­feeds.)

    Palan­tir, for its part, insist­ed the com­pa­ny played no role in the Trump campaign’s data-min­ing efforts. A Palan­tir rep­re­sen­ta­tive told me that Karp, in fact, had open­ly sup­port­ed Hillary Clin­ton. When I asked Ban­non about whether Thiel had some part in the data oper­a­tion lead­ing up to the elec­tion, he said, “When I joined the cam­paign, we were 16 points down and 85 days out. So I wasn’t work­ing close­ly with Peter at that point.” He paused for a moment and then added, “Jared was inter­fac­ing with him pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly.” On data?, I asked. “Data and oth­er things. Ask Jared.” A source close to Kush­n­er, how­ev­er, denied that Thiel “worked with Jared on the campaign’s data oper­a­tion.” The role that data played in Trump’s vic­to­ry appears to be of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to leg­is­la­tors and pros­e­cu­tors delv­ing into the campaign’s inter­ac­tions with Russ­ian asso­ciates. As has been wide­ly report­ed, sep­a­rate probes, in the words of the McClatchy news ser­vice, have been “exam­in­ing whether the Trump campaign’s dig­i­tal operation—overseen by Jared Kushner—helped guide Russia’s sophis­ti­cat­ed vot­er tar­get­ing and fake news attacks on Hillary Clin­ton in 2016.”

    The Peter Prin­ci­ple

    Thiel has declined repeat­ed requests to par­tic­i­pate in this arti­cle or to address ques­tions about Palan­tir or his role in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. But Bannon—in his White House office and in oth­er conversations—spoke in detail about Mr. Thiel’s Wash­ing­ton sojourn. At one point I inquired about mur­murs I’d heard regard­ing a pos­si­ble move by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to dis­card one of Pres­i­dent Obama’s orders, known as Pres­i­den­tial Pol­i­cy Direc­tive 28 (P.P.D.-28). Ban­non grabbed his Black­Ber­ry (yes, he’s a hold­out) and looked up the specifics of the edict, which was intend­ed to help safe­guard civ­il lib­er­ties with­out actu­al­ly rolling back the sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ties of the country’s intel­li­gence agen­cies. “Oh yes,” he said, smil­ing, “Peter is all over this. This is one of his babies.” And then, as if to rein­force the point, he con­tin­ued, “Peter has a work­ing group on this.”

    In sum, said a senior White House offi­cial, “Peter is going after the Deep State.” Peter Thiel, the con­trar­i­an, prog­nos­ti­ca­tor, and strate­gic thinker, plays to win. But what­ev­er his endgame is, his knack for forecasting—and disruption—has already proved to be one of the pow­er­ful, unseen forces shap­ing how Don­ald Trump gov­erns Amer­i­ca.

    ———-

    “Is Trump Mulling Peter Thiel for a Top Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Post?” by Adam Ciral­sky; Van­i­ty Fair; 09/20/2017

    In sum, said a senior White House offi­cial, “Peter is going after the Deep State.” Peter Thiel, the con­trar­i­an, prog­nos­ti­ca­tor, and strate­gic thinker, plays to win. But what­ev­er his endgame is, his knack for forecasting—and disruption—has already proved to be one of the pow­er­ful, unseen forces shap­ing how Don­ald Trump gov­erns Amer­i­ca.”

    “Peter is going after the Deep State.” That’s the meme they’re push­ing, appar­ent­ly as a PR push to make it more palat­able when the deci­sion to put him in charge of of the the President’s Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board.

    And, of course, as we just saw it’s prob­a­bly going to be an attempt to replace the Deep State with Thiel’s pri­va­tized intel­li­gence empire. A for-prof­it empire that we just have to trust Peter Thiel not to abuse for his own self-inter­ests.

    Per­haps most amus­ing­ly (dark­ly amus­ing­ly), this is being sold as Thiel, the man behind Palan­tir, spy­ing on Amer­i­ca’s spies to ensure there isn’t any improp­er col­lec­tion of data on US cit­i­zens. Peter Thiel is the per­son they’re going to sell as the guardian of pri­va­cy (pre­sum­ably by mov­ing more intel­li­gence func­tions to his pri­vate empire, which we can total­ly trust. That’s going to be line:

    ...
    Some of these indi­vid­u­als insist­ed that there is a per­plex­ing dual­i­ty to the man. Said one friend and col­league who has known Thiel for near­ly 20 years, “He exempts him­self from the rules he applies to oth­ers. He’s a hard-core lib­er­tar­i­an who rails against state sur­veil­lance except when he’s prof­it­ing off of it. He’s a strong believ­er in per­son­al pri­va­cy but is hap­py to kick-start and sit on the board of Face­book, which mon­e­tizes every ounce of Amer­i­cans’ data.” He described three prime movers in Thiel’s life: achiev­ing immor­tal­i­ty, resist­ing state con­trol over his actions, and acquir­ing the mon­ey nec­es­sary to pull it off. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, he added, Thiel dis­trusts author­i­ty: “That’s [part­ly] what moti­vat­ed him years ago to run head­long into the intel­li­gence field. He under­stood that, in a tech­no­log­i­cal world, pow­er is wield­ed by the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. You can only trust that com­mu­ni­ty if you trust—or bet­ter yet, if you are—the per­son at the switch.”

    And as three senior White House sources con­firmed, he has already been invit­ed to be that per­son. Accord­ing to two of those offi­cials, Thiel has been in dis­cus­sions to become the chair of the lofty P.I.A.B.—the President’s Intel­li­gence Advi­so­ry Board. This high-lev­el intel­li­gence post (pre­vi­ous­ly held by Estab­lish­ment fig­ures such as Brent Scow­croft, Les Aspin, and War­ren Rud­man) inde­pen­dent­ly mon­i­tors America’s spy agen­cies and was estab­lished in 1956 to coun­sel the pres­i­dent. These two sources recount­ed that Thiel and the admin­is­tra­tion had been in the process of firm­ing up the details of his role and staffing; then, in August, one of them texted me to say the offer to Thiel was now in lim­bo. Anoth­er White House source, how­ev­er, told me in Sep­tem­ber that Thiel remains the president’s choice to lead the P.I.A.B., and when asked why Thiel has not dis­tanced him­self from the admin­is­tra­tion as many busi­ness lead­ers have, the offi­cial replied, “Peter is not a fair-weath­er fan. . . . He’s on board.”

    If the posi­tion were ever to come through, how­ev­er, Peter Thiel, a man who is already well versed in intel­li­gence gath­er­ing for prof­it, might be “spy­ing” on the spies in the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Said one of those White House insid­ers, “[The] P.I.A.B. [job] is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant [advi­so­ry] posi­tions that any Amer­i­can can hold. . . . Pres­i­dent Trump wants a fresh set of eyes on this.” Anoth­er senior offi­cial had this to say: “What Peter has been offered”—the P.I.A.B. role—“is a huge­ly impor­tant posi­tion. It’s the only mean­ing­ful exec­u­tive-branch over­sight of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. This P.I.A.B. will have more author­i­ty than it did under Oba­ma. . . . [Peter] is not going to just sit back. As a lib­er­tar­i­an, he is inter­est­ed in the over­steps the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty has made in the past. . . . Once”—or if—“he gets in there, he’s going to ensure that there isn’t inap­pro­pri­ate col­lec­tion of [data on] U.S. per­sons.” (Trump, to be sure, hasn’t masked his skep­ti­cism of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, some­times crit­i­ciz­ing the val­ue of its activ­i­ties and find­ings. He has fired the head of the F.B.I. He has pared back the President’s Dai­ly Brief. And he has con­sis­tent­ly down­played the spy agen­cies’ con­clu­sion that Russ­ian agents attempt­ed to inter­fere with the 2016 elec­tion to ben­e­fit Trump.)
    ...

    “He described three prime movers in Thiel’s life: achiev­ing immor­tal­i­ty, resist­ing state con­trol over his actions, and acquir­ing the mon­ey nec­es­sary to pull it off. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, he added, Thiel dis­trusts author­i­ty: “That’s [part­ly] what moti­vat­ed him years ago to run head­long into the intel­li­gence field. He under­stood that, in a tech­no­log­i­cal world, pow­er is wield­ed by the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. You can only trust that com­mu­ni­ty if you trust—or bet­ter yet, if you are—the per­son at the switch.””

    That’s the guy about to be giv­en immense pow­er to shape the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty: a guy who wants to take it over so he can be beyond state author­i­ty and able to pur­sue his goal of achiev­ing immor­tal­i­ty. And own­ing his own nation:

    ...
    Thiel’s purview is as vast as his ambi­tions. He has homes or prop­er­ties in San Fran­cis­co, the Hol­ly­wood Hills, New York, Hawaii, and New Zealand, where he acquired cit­i­zen­ship a few years back. (He is a keen fan of The Lord of the Rings, which was filmed there.) Accord­ing to one of his friends, “Thiel has said to me direct­ly and repeat­ed­ly that he want­ed to have his own country”—even plac­ing a dol­lar val­ue on “own­ing” a sov­er­eign state: $100 bil­lion.
    ...

    That’s the guy we’re sup­posed to be excit­ed about going to war with the ‘Deep State’. And let’s not for­get that the ‘Deep State’ isn’t exact­ly homo­ge­neous. It’s more a descrip­tion of net­works, for­mal and infor­mal, that shape the pow­er struc­ture of our world. And the peo­ple com­pris­ing those net­works are going to have mix of ide­olo­gies and goals. Some might be gen­uine ‘good cop’-ish types try­ing to do the right thing with their immense pow­er while oth­ers are going to be straight up fas­cists, with most falling some­where in between. Gee, which side of the ‘Deep State’ is the crazy man who wants to own his own nation going to go to war with?

    So when we hear con­cerns from the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty about how Thiel’s pri­vate intel­li­gence empire does­n’t have the same kinds of over­sight that Thiel him­self is about to have over the rest of the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, keep in mind that those are con­cerns that are prob­a­bly being expressed by the non-fas­cist fac­tion of the ‘Deep State’. The fas­cist fac­tion is going to LOVE Thiel’s pri­vate intel­li­gence empire:

    ...
    Like oth­ers I can­vassed on the sub­ject, one well-placed Amer­i­can spook said of Palan­tir, “Peo­ple in the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty resent the hell out of them because they don’t adhere to the same stan­dards of conduct”—they are not reined in by gov­ern­ment over­sight. “It’s a big prob­lem.” This source brought up a trou­bling ques­tion: what stops Palantir—or those hold­ing its purse strings—from train­ing its sights on indi­vid­ual Amer­i­cans, whether as part of an out­sourced intel­li­gence pro­gram or sim­ply to boost its bot­tom line, by vac­u­um­ing up data from Face­book (and its oth­er ser­vices, such as What­sApp), Twit­ter, Inter­net providers (which log users’ Web his­to­ries), insur­ance and cred­it-scor­ing com­pa­nies, health and loca­tion-based apps, or even infor­ma­tion from those long-sacro­sanct vot­er rolls, which the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has request­ed that the states hand over to the feds? (“Palan­tir is not in the data-col­lec­tion or sur­veil­lance busi­ness,” coun­ters the company’s spokesper­son. “We sup­port cus­tomers in inte­gra­tion and use of data assets to which they have legit­i­mate and law­ful access.”)
    ...

    Don’t for­get, if Thiel man­ages to get more intel­li­gence func­tions under pri­vate con­trol that’s actu­al­ly going to mean less over­sight over the ‘Deep State’.

    But that does­n’t mean he won’t reduce some of the US’s spy agency activ­i­ties. Any spy­ing on the far-right fig­ures the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is fill­ing the gov­ern­ment with will undoubt­ed­ly be scaled back. Includ­ing all the far-right fig­ures Thiel him­self has per­son­al­ly cho­sen:

    ...
    Dis­rup­tion, Wash­ing­ton-Style

    With his résumé and Rolodex, Peter Thiel was emi­nent­ly qual­i­fied to help Trump build out his lat­est large-scale acquisition—the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment. “Of all of the issues we were look­ing at in prepa­ra­tion for assum­ing pow­er, 25 to 30 per­cent were part of Peter’s port­fo­lio,” Ban­non explained. Thiel, accord­ing to three admin­is­tra­tion sources, has weighed in on, and sug­gest­ed can­di­dates to han­dle, among oth­er things, anti-trust pol­i­cy, the drug-approval process, cyber-secu­ri­ty, and intel­li­gence. Said one top Trump advis­er, “When we have con­ven­tion­al­ly-mind­ed peo­ple putting for­ward con­ven­tion­al approach­es, Peter will come up with some­thing rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent.” “Rad­i­cal” may be soft-ped­al­ing it. Accord­ing to Ban­non, “Peter’s whole man­date was to be dis­rup­tive and put for­ward peo­ple who could shake up the sys­tem.”

    Ear­ly on, a clus­ter of Thiel asso­ciates, includ­ing Anton, joined Team Trump—comprising a group that one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial referred to as “Peter’s embeds.” Some land­ed at the White House, includ­ing Michael Krat­sios, the for­mer chief of staff at Thiel Cap­i­tal, who was named deputy chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer, and Kevin Har­ring­ton, a vet­er­an of the Thiel Macro hedge fund, who came aboard the N.S.C. as deputy assis­tant to the pres­i­dent for strate­gic plan­ning. For the F.D.A., the name of Jim O’Neill, a man­ag­ing direc­tor of Thiel’s Mithril Cap­i­tal and co-founder of the Thiel Fel­low­ship, was float­ed as a can­di­date for com­mis­sion­er. Although that idea was nixed (O’Neill lacks a med­ical degree and, along with Thiel, has advo­cat­ed short­en­ing the drug-approval process), sources said he may still be named to a White House posi­tion, which could make him a Trump ambas­sador to Sil­i­con Val­ley. At the Pen­ta­gon, Justin Miko­lay, chief lob­by­ist for Thiel’s com­pa­ny Palan­tir, was named spe­cial assis­tant to Sec­re­tary of Defense James Mat­tis.

    “It’s not unheard of for an out­sider to be giv­en a port­fo­lio of jobs to fill or can­di­dates to present,” observed an expert to whom Thiel’s team turned for help because of his years advis­ing dif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tions on new hires. “In my con­ver­sa­tions, they made it clear that they want young, aggres­sive dis­rupters, not expe­ri­enced, gov­ern­ment-savvy peo­ple.” But this insid­er was baf­fled by how Thiel’s team was try­ing to fill vacan­cies. “They were not work­ing off a short list. They lit­er­al­ly had one name for each job. It was as if some­body had said to them, ‘Just give us some­body.’?”
    ...

    “Ear­ly on, a clus­ter of Thiel asso­ciates, includ­ing Anton, joined Team Trump—comprising a group that one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial referred to as “Peter’s embeds.””

    And those “embeds” are embed­ding even more embeds, who will like­ly be the peo­ple mak­ing deci­sions about how Goolge, Ama­zon, and Face­book (not so much Face­book) should be pub­lic util­i­ties (made safe for the far-right to thrive and prof­it):

    ...
    Sources in the admin­is­tra­tion con­tend that more dis­rup­tion is com­ing. For starters, accord­ing to one senior White House advis­er, there has been seri­ous thought giv­en to whether Ama­zon, Google, and Face­book are, in fact, “pub­lic util­i­ties.” Said this senior offi­cial, “Maybe not Ama­zon, but cer­tain­ly Face­book and Google. They’re vir­tu­al­ly monop­o­lis­tic. And ‘anti-trust’ ought to take a hard look at them. . . . Is [their] data a pub­lic trust? Is infor­ma­tion now a com­mon good? You are going to see a big drum­beat on this. I’m not say­ing anything’s going to hap­pen, but it’s cer­tain­ly going to be looked at. That will be an air­burst over Broth­er Zucker­berg.”

    And how does such talk sit with Thiel, who has long­stand­ing inter­ests in Face­book? Said anoth­er senior admin­is­tra­tion aide, “Peter has indi­cat­ed that if he takes the P.I.A.B. posi­tion he intends to take a com­pre­hen­sive look at the U.S. intel­li­gence community’s infor­ma­tion-tech­nol­o­gy archi­tec­ture. He is super-con­cerned about Ama­zon and Google”—and Face­book, less so. “He feels they have become New Age glob­al fas­cists in terms of how they’re con­trol­ling the media, how they’re con­trol­ling infor­ma­tion flows to the pub­lic, even how they’re purg­ing peo­ple from think tanks. He’s con­cerned about the monop­o­lis­tic ten­den­cies of [all three] com­pa­nies and how they deny eco­nom­ic well-being to peo­ple they dis­agree with.” When I asked this source how like­ly it is that Thiel will assume the post, he answered, “He’s heav­i­ly lean­ing toward it. He feels there’s a lot of good he can do and it’s worth putting up with all the bull­shit and scruti­ny that will accom­pa­ny his appoint­ment.”
    ...

    “And how does such talk sit with Thiel, who has long­stand­ing inter­ests in Face­book? Said anoth­er senior admin­is­tra­tion aide, “Peter has indi­cat­ed that if he takes the P.I.A.B. posi­tion he intends to take a com­pre­hen­sive look at the U.S. intel­li­gence community’s infor­ma­tion-tech­nol­o­gy archi­tec­ture. He is super-con­cerned about Ama­zon and Google”—and Face­book, less so. “He feels they have become New Age glob­al fas­cists in terms of how they’re con­trol­ling the media, how they’re con­trol­ling infor­ma­tion flows to the pub­lic, even how they’re purg­ing peo­ple from think tanks. He’s con­cerned about the monop­o­lis­tic ten­den­cies of [all three] com­pa­nies and how they deny eco­nom­ic well-being to peo­ple they dis­agree with.” When I asked this source how like­ly it is that Thiel will assume the post, he answered, “He’s heav­i­ly lean­ing toward it. He feels there’s a lot of good he can do and it’s worth putting up with all the bull­shit and scruti­ny that will accom­pa­ny his appoint­ment.””

    “He’s con­cerned about the monop­o­lis­tic ten­den­cies of [all three] com­pa­nies and how they deny eco­nom­ic well-being to peo­ple they dis­agree with.” And that right there tells us what Thiel & Friends are actu­al­ly wor­ried about when it comes to the monop­oly sta­tus of these data behe­moths. And let’s not for­get the debate going on in the EU about whether or not the data held in Google and Face­book is a pub­lic good...a pub­lic good that needs to be made acces­si­ble to pri­vate com­pa­nies in order to lev­el the play­ing fields between “data rich” and “data poor” com­pa­nies in the per­son­al infor­ma­tion sec­tor of the econ­o­my. Might we be look­ing at a sim­i­lar approach from Team Thiel? While Face­book might not be super enthu­si­as­tic about such a plan, don’t for­get that get­ting access to as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble is a pret­ty impor­tant ele­ment of Palan­tir’s busi­ness mod­el. In oth­er words, even Thiel’s con­flicts of inter­est (his vast pri­vate invest­ments in Big Data com­pa­nies) have con­flicts of inter­est. Con­flicts of inter­est that will inevitably be resolved in the inter­est of one thing: Peter Thiel’s inter­est. That’s how it works when you put a guy who has the goal of liv­ing for­ev­er and run­ning his own nation in charge of things.

    That’s all part of Trump’s ongo­ing far­ci­cal war on the ‘Deep State’. A war clear­ly intend­ed to make the ‘Deep State’ safe (safer) for fas­cists like Peter Thiel. Anoth­er mas­sive ‘own goal’ for the Unit­ed States.

    But let’s not for­get that when you entrust some­one with Peter Thiel’s psy­chol­o­gy and ambi­tions with the kind of pow­er he has (J. Edgar Hoover merged with a Bond Vil­lain), you aren’t just imper­il­ing the Unit­ed States. This is poten­tial­ly an exis­ten­tial threat to human­i­ty. Sure, the odds of Thiel lead­ing to the destruc­tion of human­i­ty might some seem high, but since Thiel’s real world ambi­tions appear to be to make high fan­ta­sy sce­nar­ios (like becom­ing immor­tal, fus­ing his brain with a super com­put­er, and becom­ing an ever-liv­ing space-trav­el­ing cyborg that owns his own nations) a real­i­ty let’s indulge in some high fan­ta­sy spec­u­la­tion about the kinds of dan­gers human­i­ty has cre­at­ed for itself:
    Peter Thiel clear­ly wants to even­tu­al­ly fused with machines and become and ever-self-evolv­ing cyborg (or ghost in the machine) enti­ty that lives for­ev­er, fly­ing through the galaxy ter­ror­iz­ing aliens with Lib­er­tar­i­an­ism. As an investor in com­pa­nies that are work­ing on upload­ing human con­scious­ness it’s not like he’s not real­ly hid­ing these ambi­tions. And he’s increas­ing­ly in charge of the US mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex’s mil­i­tary grade super-AI research and com­mer­cial­iza­tion while he simul­ta­ne­ous­ly builds some sort of pri­va­tized mass spy­ing/­da­ta-min­ing com­mer­cial empire (from Face­book to the Founder’s Fund, Mithril Cap­i­tal, all the biotech com­pa­nies, and Palan­tir to process all . And that’s just some of his empire). And since Thiel is a major investor in AI tech­nolo­gies and crazy mil­i­tary defense projects, it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble that the super mil­i­tary AIs of tomor­row are going to be seed­ed with Peter Thiel’s hor­ri­ble mind. Or at least heav­i­ly influ­enced by it. A mind that exalts putting one­self above all oth­ers.

    Seri­ous­ly (sil­ly seri­ous­ly), just imag­ine super-AIs run for mil­i­taries and designed by Peter Thiel’s super-AI. A super-AI pow­ered by the vast knowl­edge Thiel’s pri­vate spy­ing empire pos­sess about almost all of us. Isn’t that a sce­nario that could cre­ate, like, a human seed­ed ver­sion of Skynet? Sure, this is high fan­ta­sy spec­u­la­tion, but since we appear to be poised to entrust a man with high fan­ta­sy ambi­tions to live for­ev­er as a cyborg (and no appar­ent regard to any­one but him­self) with vast, arguably unprece­dent­ed pow­ers and resources, should­n’t we be at least con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that the super mil­i­tary AI’s of the future are going to be seed­ed with Thiel’s obvi­ous nihilis­tic ‘I, and only I, mat­ter to me’ self­ish­ness?

    So don’t for­get that Skynet could be seed­ed with Peter Thiel’s uploaded per­son­al­i­ty. Like, that’s sort of possible...assuming a human can sort of be uploaded. And if any­one would want to wipe out human­i­ty in robot holo­caust it would be Peter Thiel uploaded into a supreme com­mand mil­i­tary AI. A killer robot exter­mi­na­tion event launched by Peter Thiel’s uploaded mind after it fool­ish­ly gets con­nect­ed to the US nuclear arse­nal or some­thing. We can’t real­ly entire­ly rule that out any­more. Don’t for­get his life goals: Live for­ev­er. Live under no gov­ern­ment. And col­lect the mon­ey and resources to do it. He’s a tran­shu­man­ist who clear­ly wants to fuse with a super-AI, expe­ri­ence the Sin­gu­lar­i­ty, and then launch him­self into space in a for­ev­er self-evolv­ing cyborg body that trav­els the stars and ter­ror­izes aliens with Lib­er­tar­i­an­ism (pre­sum­ably even­tu­al­ly become Uni­cron or some­thing). He may not put it quite that way but it’s pret­ty obvi­ous. The writ­ing is on the wall. And the dude that wants to do all that about to wage war on the ‘Deep State’ and replace that ‘Deep State’ with his own pri­vate intel­li­gence empire.

    Con­tin­u­ing with the high fan­ta­sy spec­u­la­tion, it’s also worth keep in mind it’s pos­si­ble that it won’t be Peter Thiel’s uploaded con­scious­ness that becomes Skynet but instead a copy of his con­scious­ness. Per­haps with an advanced ver­sion of the neur­al lace that Elon Musk is work­ing on. So it’s pos­si­ble that a Skynet AI seed­ed by a Peter Thiel clone con­scious­ness will end up being the one that launch­es the robot apoc­a­lypse and hunts down every­one, includ­ing Peter Thiel. Unless he’s already escaped into deep space in a self-evolv­ing age­less body to ter­ror­ize the galaxy with Lib­er­tar­i­an tran­shu­man­ist galac­tic fas­cist net­work of space colonies or what­ev­er Skynet Thiel comes up with. Who knows, maybe cyborg Thiel will be forced to do bat­tle with his cloned Skynet Thiel. A galac­tic bat­tle between cyborg Thiels. That’s a stu­pid pos­si­bil­i­ty now thanks in part to the stu­pid fact that a crazy man with galac­tic ambi­tions who clear­ly cares for no one oth­er than him­self is about to ‘go to war with the Deep State’ by pri­va­tiz­ing it for him­self. It’s def­i­nite­ly a human­i­ty ‘own goal’.

    So let’s hope Skynet Thiel does­n’t use time-trav­el­ing cyborg killer robots because that means dif­fer­ent time­lines are involved and it’ll be all con­fus­ing. Hyper­di­men­sion­al time-trav­el­ing Skynet Thiel is just bad news. Per­haps even bad news even hyper­di­men­sion­al time-trav­el­ing Skynet Thiel because it will prob­a­bly do bat­tle with itself. There can be only one!

    And yes, it’s stu­pid sil­ly to spec­u­late that Peter Thiel might turn into Skynet and destroy us all. But no less stu­pid sil­ly than the notion of mak­ing some­one like Peter Thiel the guy over­see­ing the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. Which appears to be on the cusp of becom­ing real­i­ty.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 23, 2017, 2:20 pm
  14. It looks like GOP Con­gress­man Dana Rohrabacher’s ongo­ing quest to arrange a deal with Pres­i­dent Trump that would grant Julian Assange a pre­emp­tive pres­i­den­tial par­don (he tech­ni­cal­ly has­n’t been charged by the US gov­ern­ment with any­thing) in exchange for Assange pro­vid­ing some sort of evi­dence over who pro­vid­ed Wik­ileaks with the hacked DNC doc­u­ments in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, has acquired a new taint. It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing taint, but it’s there. It’s the taint involv­ing any­thing asso­ci­at­ed with Charles C. John­son:

    For­ward

    Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Brought Holo­caust Denier To Capi­tol Meet­ing

    Octo­ber 12, 2017 By Nathan Guttman
    Updat­ed 4:10 p.m.

    Rep. Dana Rohrabach­er brought a Holo­caust denier to a meet­ing last week with Sen. Rand Paul to dis­cuss Wik­ileaks founder Julian Assange, the Dai­ly Caller report­ed.

    ...

    John­son, an inter­net troll and vocal “alt-right” defend­er, is well-known for false attacks against polit­i­cal rivals, both on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side and with­in the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

    He is also a Holo­caust denier. In a since-delet­ed Red­dit dis­cus­sion, John­son argued that the num­ber of Jews killed in the camps was around 250,000, not six mil­lion, and ques­tioned the exis­tence of gas cham­bers. And while stat­ing in the post that he is not a Holo­caust denier, he wrote: “I agree with David Cole about Auschwitz and the gas cham­bers not being real. Why were their swim­ming pools there if it was a death camp?”

    John­son reached out to the For­ward to reit­er­ate what he said in the post: that he is not a Holo­caust denier.

    The polit­i­cal blog Lit­tle Green Foot­balls won­dered aloud if Paul knew who he was host­ing. “It real­ly only takes a few min­utes to Google Chuck C. Johnson’s long his­to­ry of racism, sex­ism and the kind of bla­tant hate speech that got him per­ma­nent­ly banned from Twit­ter and sus­pend­ed mul­ti­ple times from Face­book.”

    ———-

    “Repub­li­can Con­gress­man Brought Holo­caust Denier To Capi­tol Meet­ing” by Nathan Guttman; For­ward; 10/12/2017

    “John­son reached out to the For­ward to reit­er­ate what he said in the post: that he is not a Holo­caust denier.”

    LOL, he’s no Holo­caust denier. Charles John­son mere­ly believes in some sort of Holo­caust-lite: there were no gas cham­bers and only 250,000 Jews were killed:

    ...
    He is also a Holo­caust denier. In a since-delet­ed Red­dit dis­cus­sion, John­son argued that the num­ber of Jews killed in the camps was around 250,000, not six mil­lion, and ques­tioned the exis­tence of gas cham­bers. And while stat­ing in the post that he is not a Holo­caust denier, he wrote: “I agree with David Cole about Auschwitz and the gas cham­bers not being real. Why were their swim­ming pools there if it was a death camp?
    ...

    Yep, he actu­al­ly denied the Holo­caust while deny­ing that he’s a Holo­caust denier. That’s almost impres­sive. And very Charles John­son-esque.

    It’s worth recall­ing Charles John­son was report­ed­ly work­ing with the team led by Repub­li­can financier/dirty-tricks fig­ure Peter Smith to the ‘Russ­ian hack­ers’ who they believed had pos­si­bly hacked Hillary Clin­ton’s pri­vate email serv­er (both John­son and “Guc­cifer 2.0” told Smith to con­tact neo-Nazi hack­er Andrew “the weev” Auern­heimer). Also, John­son told Smith he was work­ing with a sep­a­rate “hid­den oppo net­work” of right-lean­ing oppo­si­tion researchers also search­ing for those hacked doc­u­ments. So it does make a lot of sense that John­son would be poten­tial­ly in con­tact with Wik­ileaks and some­one who might team up with Rohrabach­er on this.

    It’s also worth not­ing that there’s still the mys­tery of who was act­ing as Roger Stone’s inter­me­di­ary with Wik­ileaks. All we know is that Stone claimed back in Novem­ber that this inter­me­di­ary was a lib­er­tar­i­an jour­nal­ist on the “opin­ion side” who is not asso­ci­at­ed with the Trump cam­paign. And while John­son was indeed report­ed­ly work­ing close­ly with Peter Thiel as part of Thiel’s work on the Trump tran­si­tion team, help­ing the Trump team choose the pool of peo­ple to staff the admin­is­tra­tion, John­son was­n’t offi­cial­ly part of the Trump cam­paign team.

    Might Charles C. John­son be Roger Stone’s mys­tery inter­me­di­ary? If so, that at least makes his involve­ment with with Rep. Rohrabacher’s par­don-for-Assange cru­sade some­what more appro­pri­ate. At least, as appro­pri­ate as any­thing involv­ing Charles C. John­son can be, which still obvi­ous­ly isn’t very appro­pri­ate.

    In relat­ed news, Charles John­son report­ed­ly donat­ed the max­i­mum annu­al amount to Rep. Rohrabach­er last month after set­ting up the meet­ing between Assange and Rohrabach­er. As John­son put it when asked about the dona­tion, “I’m rich now.” Yep, anoth­er rich Holo­caust denier. On the one hand, that’s pret­ty depress­ing. On anoth­er hand, it’s not like there’s a short­age of wealth Holo­caust deniers so hope­ful­ly adding Charles “I’m rich now” John­son to that list won’t make much of a dif­fer­ence. Which is a dif­fer­ent kind of depress­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 16, 2017, 8:31 pm
  15. That did­n’t take long. Fol­low­ing the nom­i­na­tion by Pres­i­dent Trump of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy on the Supreme Court, we are get­ting con­fir­ma­tion of what has long been sus­pect­ed: That Trump got Kennedy to resign by agree­ing to replace him with Kennedy’s for­mer clerk Kavanaugh:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    Livewire

    It Was Always Kavanaugh: After Meet­ing With Kennedy, Trump Was Set On His Pick

    By Nicole Lafond | July 10, 2018 7:28 am

    While the White House was suc­cess­ful for the most part in keep­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s SCOTUS pick under wraps for the past two weeks, Trump was essen­tial­ly decid­ed on his nom­i­nee after Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy told him he would retire in a meet­ing, Politi­co report­ed.

    Accord­ing to aides close to the White House who spoke to Politi­co, in that meet­ing Kennedy rec­om­mend­ed Trump pick Brett Kavanaugh, who had served as a for­mer law clerk to Kennedy. While Trump was report­ed­ly already inter­est­ed in Kavanaugh before that dis­cus­sion with Kennedy, the retir­ing jurist’s rec­om­men­da­tion helped seal the deal.

    Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials told Politi­co that Trump spent the most time with Kavanaugh out of the oth­er three can­di­dates — he was inter­viewed at least twice — and was impressed with Kavanaugh’s cre­den­tials and “fideli­ty to the Con­sti­tu­tion,” in Politico’s words. Trump was decid­ed on Kavanaugh by Fri­day, but wait­ed until Sun­day to inform the nom­i­nee.

    NBC News report­ed that the Trump team was in talks with Kennedy about his replace­ment for months and he only felt com­fort­able retir­ing after he “received assur­ance that it would be Kavanaugh,” per NBC reporter Geoff Ben­nett.

    Source famil­iar tells NBC that Jus­tice Kennedy had been in nego­ti­a­tions with the Trump team for months over Kennedy’s replace­ment. Once Kennedy received assur­ances that it would be Kavanaugh (his for­mer law clerk) Kennedy felt com­fort­able retir­ing — @LACaldwellDC & @frankthorp— Geoff Ben­nett (@GeoffRBennett) July 10, 2018

    In rare form, Trump report­ed­ly was so invest­ed in build­ing the sus­pense around the deci­sion that he didn’t tell aides or close asso­ciates about his deci­sion and the White House kept the cir­cle of peo­ple informed on the selec­tion process thin.

    Trump even kept his deci­sion from law­mak­ers until just before his 9 p.m. announce­ment Mon­day, inform­ing sen­a­tors of his deci­sion dur­ing a recep­tion in the State Din­ing Room before his prime time address.

    ...

    ———-

    “It Was Always Kavanaugh: After Meet­ing With Kennedy, Trump Was Set On His Pick” by Nicole Lafond; Talk­ing Points Memo; 07/10/2018

    “While the White House was suc­cess­ful for the most part in keep­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s SCOTUS pick under wraps for the past two weeks, Trump was essen­tial­ly decid­ed on his nom­i­nee after Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy told him he would retire in a meet­ing, Politi­co report­ed.

    So Politi­co is already report­ing that the meet­ing where Kennedy informs Trump of his retire­ment was the point when Trump basi­cal­ly that Kennedy’s old clerk would be his replace­ment:

    ...
    Accord­ing to aides close to the White House who spoke to Politi­co, in that meet­ing Kennedy rec­om­mend­ed Trump pick Brett Kavanaugh, who had served as a for­mer law clerk to Kennedy. While Trump was report­ed­ly already inter­est­ed in Kavanaugh before that dis­cus­sion with Kennedy, the retir­ing jurist’s rec­om­men­da­tion helped seal the deal.

    Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials told Politi­co that Trump spent the most time with Kavanaugh out of the oth­er three can­di­dates — he was inter­viewed at least twice — and was impressed with Kavanaugh’s cre­den­tials and “fideli­ty to the Con­sti­tu­tion,” in Politico’s words. Trump was decid­ed on Kavanaugh by Fri­day, but wait­ed until Sun­day to inform the nom­i­nee.
    ...

    And now NBC News is report­ing that it was the assur­ances that Kavanaught would replace him that made him feel com­fort­able retir­ing:

    ...
    NBC News report­ed that the Trump team was in talks with Kennedy about his replace­ment for months and he only felt com­fort­able retir­ing after he “received assur­ance that it would be Kavanaugh,” per NBC reporter Geoff Ben­nett.

    Source famil­iar tells NBC that Jus­tice Kennedy had been in nego­ti­a­tions with the Trump team for months over Kennedy’s replace­ment. Once Kennedy received assur­ances that it would be Kavanaugh (his for­mer law clerk) Kennedy felt com­fort­able retir­ing — @LACaldwellDC & @frankthorp— Geoff Ben­nett (@GeoffRBennett) July 10, 2018

    ...

    Behold the ‘art of the deal’. Trump found the ‘price’ Kennedy want­ed and met that price. A price that the US is going to be pay­ing for decades to come.

    Although giv­en the shady nature of this retire­ment it’s also a price to be paid by Kennedy because what­ev­er judi­cial lega­cy he thought he had is going to be sup­plant­ed by the con­se­quences of replac­ing him­self with Kavanaugh and ush­er­ing in decades of far right Supreme Court rul­ings. Kennedy may have just ush­ered in a new judi­cial Dark Age for Amer­i­ca in exchange for the per­son­al perk of get­ting replaced with a for­mer clerk. Only fans of the upcom­ing judi­cial Dark Age are going to thank him for that and it’s hard to imag­ine there’s going to be too many of those future fans once this plays out. There’s no short­age of legal hor­rors about to be unleashed.

    And how have to won­der what sort of price Pres­i­dent Trump might end up pay­ing. Because if Trump chose Kavanaugh specif­i­cal­ly to per­suade Kennedy to resign that rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not Kavanaugh real­ly was an opti­mal choice to Trump. After all, nom­i­nat­ing Kavanaugh comes with its own risks to Trump, like the fact that he was part of Ken Star­r’s legal team inves­ti­gat­ing Bill Clin­ton and used to hold views on impeach­ment that could be shock­ing­ly dan­ger­ous for pres­i­dent in Trump’s legal sit­u­a­tion (before Kavanaugh com­plete­ly flipped those views in 2008 and con­clud­ed that almost noth­ing can lead to impeach­ment). So the fact that Kavanaugh­’s pick puts the ques­tion of what kind of crimes a pres­i­dent can get away with will be some­thing to watch as the nom­i­na­tion process unfolds.

    The selec­tion of Kavanaugh is also inevitably going to high­light the exist­ing rela­tion­ship between the Trump and Kennedy fam­i­lies which also pos­es a poten­tial risk for Trump. We already know about Kennedy’s son, Justin, act­ing as Trump’s most trust­ed banker at Deutsche Bank and going on to bail out Jared Kush­n­er’s noto­ri­ous 666 5th Avenue prop­er­ty. And the fol­low­ing arti­cle — the Politi­co arti­cle that describes how Trump decid­ed on Kavanaugh dur­ing the meet­ing with Kennedy when he was informed of Kennedy’s retire­ment — also men­tions a new con­nec­tion between the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and Kennedy’s, albeit an indi­rect con­nec­tion via Trump’s close ties to Peter Thiel: it turns out Antho­ny Kennedy’s oth­er son, Gre­go­ry Kennedy, is quite close to Thiel. And that includes a busi­ness rela­tion­ship between Kennedy’s Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers and Thiel’s Palan­tir:

    Politi­co

    How a pri­vate meet­ing with Kennedy helped Trump get to ‘yes’ on Kavanaugh

    While he was eager to keep the sus­pense alive, the pres­i­dent was always lean­ing toward Kennedy’s for­mer clerk.

    By CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO, NANCY COOK and ANDREW RESTUCCIA

    07/09/2018 11:14 PM EDT

    Updat­ed 07/09/2018 11:59 PM EDT

    After Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy told Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump he would relin­quish his seat on the Supreme Court, the pres­i­dent emerged from his pri­vate meet­ing with the retir­ing jurist focused on one can­di­date to name as his suc­ces­sor: Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Kennedy’s for­mer law clerk.

    Trump, accord­ing to con­fi­dants and aides close to the White House, has become increas­ing­ly con­vinced that “the judges,” as he puts it, or his administration’s remak­ing of the fed­er­al judi­cia­ry in its con­ser­v­a­tive image, is cen­tral to his lega­cy as pres­i­dent. And he cred­its Kennedy, who spent more than a decade at the cen­ter of pow­er on the court, for help­ing give him the oppor­tu­ni­ty.

    So even as Trump dis­patched his top lawyers to comb though Kavanaugh’s rul­ings and quizzed allies about whether he was too close to the Bush fam­i­ly, poten­tial­ly a fatal flaw, the pres­i­dent was always lean­ing toward accept­ing Kennedy’s par­tial­i­ty for Kavanaugh while pre­serv­ing the secret until his for­mal announce­ment, sources with knowl­edge of his think­ing told POLITICO.

    Trump, who spent more time with Kavanaugh than the oth­er final­ists, was impressed with the judge’s cre­den­tials, long judi­cial record and fideli­ty to the Con­sti­tu­tion, accord­ing to admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. What was list­ed as a deal-break­er to some on the right — his long paper trail — was actu­al­ly the thing that drew Trump to Kavanaugh.

    Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials said Trump was tak­en with Kavanaugh even before his con­ver­sa­tion with Kennedy. But Kennedy, in leav­ing the impres­sion with Trump that Kavanaugh would be a great can­di­date for the job, helped the pres­i­dent make up his mind.

    Trump nonethe­less helped stoke antic­i­pa­tion by inter­view­ing a trio of oth­er con­tenders, Judges Ray­mond Keth­ledge; Amy Coney Bar­rett, a favorite among anti-abor­tion groups; and Thomas Hardi­man, the run­ner-up to Trump’s first pick for the high court, Neil Gor­such, anoth­er Kennedy clerk.

    Trump hit it off with Hardi­man, aides said, and he views Bar­rett as a sol­id con­tender should he get a third Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion. Kethledge’s bid was scut­tled by rul­ings that con­ser­v­a­tives viewed as too accom­mo­dat­ing to ille­gal immi­grants. By Fri­day, Trump had all but set­tled on Kavanaugh, a man with an Ivy League degree and con­ser­v­a­tive pedi­gree, accord­ing to two Repub­li­cans close to the White House. But he didn’t make his final deci­sion until Sun­day.

    Late Mon­day, Trump made it offi­cial by select­ing Kavanaugh for the high court. Stand­ing next to Kavanaugh, his wife and two daugh­ters, Trump made his remarks from the East Room of the White House, after thank­ing Kennedy for “a life­time of dis­tin­guished ser­vice.”

    “Judge Kavanaugh has impec­ca­ble cre­den­tials, unsur­passed qual­i­fi­ca­tions and a proven com­mit­ment to equal jus­tice under the law,” Trump said in his intro­duc­tion of the Yale Law School grad­u­ate, who he was care­ful to note teach­es at Har­vard, Yale and George­town.

    “Through­out legal cir­cles he is con­sid­ered a judge’s judge: A true thought leader among his peers, he is a bril­liant jurist with a clear and effec­tive writ­ing style, uni­ver­sal­ly regard­ed as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time,” Trump added. “And just like Jus­tice Gor­such, he excelled as a clerk for Jus­tice Kennedy.”

    Kavanaugh, in his own speech, was effu­sive in his praise of Kennedy, telling how the jurist ded­i­cat­ed his career to secur­ing lib­er­ty. “I am deeply hon­ored to be nom­i­nat­ed to fill his seat on the Supreme Court,” he told the room of fam­i­ly, friends and applaud­ing Repub­li­can sen­a­tors.

    The White House declined to com­ment on Trump’s selec­tion process, and a Supreme Court spokesper­son did not respond to a request for com­ment about Trump’s meet­ing with Kennedy.

    Those back­ing Kavanaugh viewed him as the safest choice, giv­en his 12-year record on the bench and his own per­son­al chem­istry with the pres­i­dent, while Trump allies see him as more con­ser­v­a­tive than his men­tor and the most con­firmable of the group, par­tic­u­lar­ly with Repub­li­can sen­a­tors. “I think he knows his record was more con­ser­v­a­tive than Kennedy’s,” one Trump ally said of the president’s deci­sion.

    Trump remained coy through­out the search, offer­ing lit­tle indi­ca­tion beyond pledg­ing to choose from a pre-vet­ted list of 25 con­tenders who were blessed by con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions and White House coun­sel Don McGahn, who also favored Kavanaugh. Trump inter­viewed Kavanaugh in the White House at least twice, with McGahn sit­ting in on the inter­views.

    Though many in Wash­ing­ton were unsur­prised by the pick, the pres­i­dent worked hard to keep it a secret, offer­ing few clues of his lean­ings in his many con­ver­sa­tions with aides and close asso­ciates. He want­ed to height­en the sus­pense of his big East Room reveal, which he mod­eled after his Jan­u­ary 2017 announce­ment of Gorsuch’s nom­i­na­tion. Many in the White House still mar­vel that the Gor­such news was large­ly kept under wraps until Trump made it pub­lic.

    ...

    The White House is prepar­ing to put pres­sure on red-state Democ­rats to sup­port Kavanaugh­’s nom­i­na­tion. Pence will par­tic­i­pate in a series of inter­views on Tues­day to pro­mote Kavanaugh with local tele­vi­sion and radio sta­tions in the home states of Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Don­nel­ly (Ind.) and Hei­di Heitkamp (N.D.), accord­ing to an admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial.

    Despite the well-pre­pared pro­mo­tion plan, many White House aides, as of 7 p.m., said they did not know the name of Trump’s pick, amid reports that Keth­ledge was at his house in Michi­gan and Bar­rett was spot­ted by reporters at her home in South Bend, Indi­ana. Out­side con­ser­v­a­tive groups, which knew Trump would pick Gor­such the night before that announce­ment, were still stand­ing by on this lat­est selec­tion.

    The White House planned to brief con­ser­v­a­tive groups, sur­ro­gates, and Hill staff on two sep­a­rate calls with McGahn lat­er Mon­day night, but as of the ear­ly evening, many remained in the dark as to Trump’s final selec­tion. Still, delight­ed by the oppor­tu­ni­ty to swing the court right, these groups stood by with ads ready to be rolled out, as Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents planned a TV blitz of their own.

    As the dra­ma built around the pick, Kavanaugh’s back­ers were telling reporters that they felt increas­ing­ly hope­ful he would get the nod, despite what some involved in the process cast as a drum­beat of neg­a­tive attacks against the ear­ly fron­trun­ner.

    Some con­ser­v­a­tive crit­ics, includ­ing those push­ing for oth­er pos­si­ble nom­i­nees, sought to draw atten­tion to a pho­to that ran last month in The Wash­ing­ton Post. It showed Kavanaugh being sworn in by Kennedy to the pres­ti­gious Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Cir­cuit, with a smil­ing Pres­i­dent George W. Bush stand­ing off to his right. Below, Bush strate­gist Karl Rove is shown in anoth­er pic­ture with his arm around a younger Kavanaugh.

    The goal was to paint him as too close to Bush, know­ing that Trump’s aver­sion to the fam­i­ly might side­track his ear­ly incli­na­tion to go with the lead­ing can­di­date. Kavanaugh also was scru­ti­nized about whether he was suf­fi­cient­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, with skep­tics ques­tion­ing his reli­a­bil­i­ty on hot-but­ton issues like abor­tion and Oba­macare.

    But it was his long paper trail from the Bush White House, and his time as a lawyer for White­wa­ter inde­pen­dent coun­sel Ken Starr, that even some of Kavanaugh’s sup­port­ers pri­vate­ly acknowl­edged helped stall his can­di­da­cy, forc­ing White House lawyers to scour hun­dreds of pages of records as the con­cerns of some Sen­ate Repub­li­cans, includ­ing McConnell, went pub­lic.

    One senior White House offi­cial, describ­ing the jock­ey­ing tak­ing place, said at times it felt like there were only two camps, instead of four: The peo­ple pulling for Kavanaugh, and the “anti-Kavanaugh folks.”

    As for the recent con­cerns relat­ing to the Starr probe, a per­son close to the process said the White House and out­side coun­sel con­clud­ed they could get through the doc­u­ments fair­ly quick­ly. Trump’s selec­tion marked a swift rise for Kavanaugh, who wasn’t on Trump’s ini­tial list of poten­tial Supreme Court jus­tices. Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, McGahn was intent on nom­i­nat­ing jus­tices who lived and worked out­side of the D.C. bub­ble, said two for­mer admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. Oth­ers men­tioned the Oba­macare issue.

    Kavanaugh wasn’t on Trump’s ini­tial list of poten­tial Supreme Court jus­tices. He and four oth­ers, includ­ing Bar­rett, were added late last year. Kavanaugh was kept off the first list because he was a judge on U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Cir­cuit, and the pres­i­dent and his aides want­ed the can­di­dates on the list to heav­i­ly rep­re­sent states that Trump car­ried in the 2016 elec­tion, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    But he was added at the urg­ing of his many back­ers in the con­ser­v­a­tive legal com­mu­ni­ty.

    Kavanaugh is “not a clear out­sider,” said one for­mer Repub­li­can senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial. “I don’t think he’d have stayed off the list giv­en his sup­port from the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety and Her­itage and most par­tic­u­lar­ly McGahn.”

    Observers said Trump, not one to back down when some­one he wants to hire or retain in his Cab­i­net comes under fire, let the lat­est vet­ting process play out while focus­ing on what he sees as the big­ger pic­ture. He has told peo­ple that the oppor­tu­ni­ty to have two Supreme Court nom­i­nees dur­ing his first 18-months in office is his­toric, giv­ing him the chance to reshape the direc­tion of the courts and ful­fill a major cam­paign promise.

    Already Repub­li­cans close to the White House are pre­dict­ing that Trump, if re-elect­ed in 2020, could have at least one addi­tion­al Supreme Court seat to fill if Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg retires giv­en her advanced age. These aides said Trump viewed Bar­rett as an obvi­ous choice for a third seat should it come up, even if this time around, he was quick to elim­i­nate her fol­low­ing their inter­view.

    Kennedy’s seat, mean­time, seemed des­tined to go to Kavanaugh, thanks in part to the glow­ing review of Kennedy, whose son, Justin, knows Don­ald Trump Jr. through New York real estate cir­cles, and whose oth­er adult child has con­nec­tions to Trump World via the president’s 2016 Sil­i­con Val­ley advis­er Peter Thiel, most recent­ly when the Kennedy firm Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers worked with Thiel’s Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies. Both Kennedy sons have been guests at the White House, and Trump had nice things to say about Justin in com­ments to Kennedy caught on a hot mic last year.

    For a White House that had been tak­ing the pulse of the court through the deep net­work of Kennedy law clerks, his retire­ment had long been on their wish list. And a year after Trump chose Gor­such to serve with his men­tor, he picked anoth­er ex-Kennedy aide to join him on the high court, a move that will shape how the pres­i­dent and the retired jus­tice are remem­bered.

    Trump “is very trans­ac­tion­al in a lot of ways — as long as it’s fair­ly imme­di­ate to the ben­e­fit for him,” a Repub­li­can close to the White House said. “The fact that Kennedy gave him that, he was flat­tered and thrilled by it.”

    ———-

    “How a pri­vate meet­ing with Kennedy helped Trump get to ‘yes’ on Kavanaugh” by CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO, NANCY COOK and ANDREW RESTUCCIA; Politi­co; 07/09/2018

    “After Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy told Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump he would relin­quish his seat on the Supreme Court, the pres­i­dent emerged from his pri­vate meet­ing with the retir­ing jurist focused on one can­di­date to name as his suc­ces­sor: Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Kennedy’s for­mer law clerk.”

    That sure sounds like a quid pro quo in action: Kennedy agrees to retire if Trump replaces him with Kennedy’s for­mer clerk.

    But that quid pro quo was clear­ly facil­i­tat­ing by an exist­ing rela­tion­ship between the Trumps and the Kennedys going back years. In par­tic­u­lar Justin Kennedy being Trump’s most trust­ed banker at Deutsche Bank and then going on to save Jared Kush­n­er.

    But now that Peter Thiel and Don­ald Trump are close polit­i­cal allies there’s a new tie between the Trump team and Kennedy fam­i­ly: Gre­go­ry Kennedy’s rela­tion­ship with Peter Thiel and Palan­tir via Kennedy’s firm Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers:

    ...
    Kennedy’s seat, mean­time, seemed des­tined to go to Kavanaugh, thanks in part to the glow­ing review of Kennedy, whose son, Justin, knows Don­ald Trump Jr. through New York real estate cir­cles, and whose oth­er adult child has con­nec­tions to Trump World via the president’s 2016 Sil­i­con Val­ley advis­er Peter Thiel, most recent­ly when the Kennedy firm Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers worked with Thiel’s Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies. Both Kennedy sons have been guests at the White House, and Trump had nice things to say about Justin in com­ments to Kennedy caught on a hot mic last year.
    ...

    Note that Kennedy only joined Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers in Octo­ber of 2016. But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle from last year about the Trump/Kennedy fam­i­ly ties notes, Gre­go­ry Kennedy and Peter Thiel are more than just busi­ness asso­ciates. They went to Stan­ford Law School togeth­er and served as pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety in back-to-back years:

    Politi­co

    Trump’s hid­den back chan­nel to Jus­tice Kennedy: Their kids

    As White House push­es to con­firm Neil Gor­such, Trump read­ies low­er court picks as they await the next high court vacan­cy.

    By SHANE GOLDMACHER

    04/06/2017 05:10 AM EDT
    Updat­ed 04/06/2017 01:12 PM EDT

    After Don­ald Trump wrapped up his first speech to Con­gress and worked his way through the crowd, he lin­gered on his hand­shake with Antho­ny Kennedy, the 80-year-old Supreme Court jus­tice.

    The boom mics picked up their seem­ing­ly pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion.

    “Say hel­lo to your boy,” Trump said, “Spe­cial guy.” “Your kids have been very nice to him,” Kennedy replied. “Well,” Trump said, “they love him, and they love him in New York.”

    While the White House is focused this week on shep­herd­ing Trump’s first Supreme Court nom­i­nee, Neil Gor­such, through the Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion process, the pres­i­dent and his team are obsessed with the next pos­si­ble vacan­cy.

    The like­li­est can­di­date is Kennedy, who has sat at the deci­sive ful­crum of the most impor­tant Supreme Court cas­es for more than a decade. Replac­ing him with a reli­able con­ser­v­a­tive would tip the court to the right, even if no oth­er seat comes open under Trump — whose team has tak­en to explor­ing every imag­in­able line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to keep tabs on the jus­tice and to make him com­fort­able as he pon­ders a poten­tial retire­ment.

    One back chan­nel is the fact that Kennedy’s son, Justin, knows Don­ald Trump Jr. through New York real estate cir­cles. Anoth­er is through Kennedy’s oth­er son, Gre­go­ry, and Trump’s Sil­i­con Val­ley advis­er Peter Thiel. They went to Stan­ford Law School togeth­er and served as pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety in back-to-back years, accord­ing to school records. More recent­ly, Kennedy’s firm, Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers, has worked with Thiel’s com­pa­ny Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies.

    In fact, dur­ing the ear­ly months of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, Gre­go­ry Kennedy has worked at NASA as a senior finan­cial advis­er as part of the so-called “beach­head” team. Both Kennedy boys were spot­ted at the White House last month for the administration’s St. Patrick’s Day cel­e­bra­tion (Jus­tice Kennedy is Irish Catholic). In Feb­ru­ary, Ivan­ka Trump attend­ed oral argu­ments of the Supreme Court with her daugh­ter. She was a guest of Jus­tice Kennedy.

    ...

    Trump offi­cials say the pres­i­dent does not feel con­strained to pick a sec­ond Supreme Court jus­tice from his cam­paign list, despite a Sep­tem­ber press release in which Trump said, “This list is defin­i­tive and I will choose only from it in pick­ing future Jus­tices of the Unit­ed States Supreme Court.”

    One new name per­co­lat­ing at the high­est lev­els of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is Brett Kavanaugh, a 52-year-old who has already served a decade on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

    That may not be an acci­dent. He, too, is a for­mer clerk of Jus­tice Kennedy.

    ———-

    “Trump’s hid­den back chan­nel to Jus­tice Kennedy: Their kids” by SHANE GOLDMACHER; Politi­co; 04/06/2017

    “One back chan­nel is the fact that Kennedy’s son, Justin, knows Don­ald Trump Jr. through New York real estate cir­cles. Anoth­er is through Kennedy’s oth­er son, Gre­go­ry, and Trump’s Sil­i­con Val­ley advis­er Peter Thiel. They went to Stan­ford Law School togeth­er and served as pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety in back-to-back years, accord­ing to school records. More recent­ly, Kennedy’s firm, Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers, has worked with Thiel’s com­pa­ny Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies.”

    That sure sounds like a close ongo­ing per­son­al and busi­ness rela­tion­ship between Gre­go­ry and Thiel, which could­n’t have hurt dur­ing the lob­by­ing effort by the trump team to get Kennedy to resign that’s appar­ent­ly been going on from the begin­ning of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, it more than just a per­son­al his­to­ry and exist­ing busi­ness rela­tion­ship between Gre­go­ry Kennedy and Peter Thiel. At least that’s how it appears based on a law­suit by Palan­tir investor KT4 Part­ners. Accord­ing to KT4, Palan­tir is ille­gal­ly block­ing investors from sell­ing shares in Palan­tir and Kennedy’s Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advi­sors (DTA) is a key part­ner and ben­e­fi­cia­ry of this strat­e­gy.

    KT4 claims that when it tried to sell its shares of Palan­tir to a third-par­ty, Palan­tir would have DTA con­tact the third-par­ty and con­vince them to have Palan­tir sells them the shared direct­ly instead, thwart­ing KT4’s abil­i­ty to sell. And DTA would col­lect a com­mis­sion. KT4 claims this hap­pened twice.

    Kennedy’s DTA has oth­er per­son­al con­nec­tions to Palan­tir. Alex Fish­man and Alex Davis, two oth­er DTA founders, “enjoyed a very close rela­tion­ship” with Palan­tir co-founder Alex Karp, accord­ing to the law­suit.

    So Gre­go­ry Kennedy’s DTA clear­ly has an unusu­al­ly close rela­tion­ship with Palan­tir, a com­pa­ny that now has an unusu­al­ly close rela­tion­ship with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. That could­n’t have hurt when it come to work­ing out this Supreme quid pro quo with Gre­go­ry’s dad:

    Buz­zFeed News

    A Sil­i­con Val­ley Giant Blocked Its Investors From Sell­ing Their Shares, Law­suit Claims
    The secre­tive Sil­i­con Val­ley firm would inter­fere with planned share sales and steer busi­ness to a favored bro­ker, an explo­sive new law­suit claims.

    William Alden
    Buz­zFeed News Reporter
    Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on March 17, 2017, at 6:05 a.m.
    Updat­ed on March 17, 2017, at 6:22 p.m.

    Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, one of the most valu­able star­tups in Sil­i­con Val­ley, has deprived investors of basic infor­ma­tion about its busi­ness and repeat­ed­ly hin­dered efforts by investors to sell their shares, accord­ing to a blis­ter­ing law­suit filed by a long­time investor.

    In addi­tion to keep­ing at least some share­hold­ers in the dark about its finan­cial per­for­mance, Palan­tir has “engaged in a pat­tern and prac­tice” of attempt­ing to thwart their attempts to sell stock, accord­ing to the law­suit, filed by invest­ment firm KT4 Part­ners. Instead of let­ting these investors sell shares, Palan­tir has steered their sale oppor­tu­ni­ties to itself or its exec­u­tives, while show­er­ing a favored bro­ker­age firm with com­mis­sions even when the firm does no work at all, the law­suit claims.

    KT4 Part­ners first bought Palan­tir shares over a decade ago and is seek­ing to com­pel Palan­tir to hand over finan­cial records, which it says are need­ed to under­stand the val­ue of its invest­ment. Fur­ther, KT4 claims it needs this infor­ma­tion to inves­ti­gate whether Palan­tir or its exec­u­tives have engaged in “improp­er and ille­gal con­duct” to harm minor­i­ty share­hold­ers. The law­suit was filed under seal last week in the Delaware Court of Chancery; a par­tial­ly redact­ed ver­sion was released on Mon­day and is report­ed here for the first time.

    Palan­tir, in an emailed state­ment, referred to an ear­li­er law­suit that it filed against Marc Abramowitz, the man­ag­ing mem­ber of KT4, claim­ing he stole Palantir’s intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty (a claim KT4 says is “mer­it­less”).

    “This law­suit is noth­ing more than a bla­tant attempt to dis­tract from Mr. Abramowitz’s unlaw­ful and egre­gious theft of our intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty,” Lisa Gor­don, a Palan­tir spokesper­son, said in the state­ment. “His alle­ga­tions are with­out mer­it and need­less to say, Palan­tir will con­tin­ue to aggres­sive­ly pur­sue its exist­ing legal action against him.”

    Co-found­ed in 2004 by the bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel, who is now advis­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Palan­tir ana­lyzes data for gov­ern­ment agen­cies and major cor­po­ra­tions. It has a $20 bil­lion val­u­a­tion, mak­ing it the third most high­ly val­ued start­up in Sil­i­con Val­ley, behind only Uber and Airbnb. Yet Palan­tir — whose stock changes hands only through pri­vate trades — goes to great lengths to keep any detailed infor­ma­tion about its busi­ness pri­vate. A report by Buz­zFeed News last year gave an unprece­dent­ed, though lim­it­ed, account of its com­mer­cial oper­a­tions.

    The law­suit, a high­ly unusu­al step for a start­up investor, fol­lows efforts by KT4 to obtain busi­ness infor­ma­tion through oth­er means. KT4 made a writ­ten demand last August to inspect Palan­tir’s books and records, the law­suit says. But then, accord­ing to the law­suit, Palan­tir retroac­tive­ly amend­ed its investors’ rights agree­ment “for the sole and express pur­pose” of avoid­ing dis­clo­sure oblig­a­tions.

    In Sep­tem­ber, Palan­tir filed its law­suit against Abramowitz — which, accord­ing to KT4, has the “true pur­pose” of pre­vent­ing dis­clo­sure of infor­ma­tion and intim­i­dat­ing the investor. Palan­tir, in the law­suit, described Abramowitz as a one­time con­fi­dant to Palan­tir exec­u­tives who betrayed their trust.

    Palan­tir is under increas­ing pres­sure from its share­hold­ers, a num­ber of whom have held its stock for a decade or more and are anx­ious­ly await­ing a pay­day. For­mer employ­ees, who received a major part of their pay in stock options, have strug­gled to cash out, despite lim­it­ed share pur­chase offers arranged by the com­pa­ny. Last fall, in a rever­sal of his long­time refusal to pur­sue an IPO, Palan­tir CEO Alex Karp said at a tech con­fer­ence, “We’re now posi­tion­ing the com­pa­ny so we could go pub­lic.”

    This state­ment by Karp has a pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed back­sto­ry, accord­ing to the law­suit: KT4 says it came after a for­mal request by the investor for infor­ma­tion on whether Palan­tir had con­sid­ered an IPO.

    KT4 says its stake in Palan­tir is worth over $60 mil­lion — a sig­nif­i­cant sum by many mea­sures, but small in the con­text of Palan­tir, which has raised more than $2 bil­lion from investors. When KT4 tried to sell por­tions of its stake, Palan­tir repeat­ed­ly inter­fered, the law­suit claims. Palan­tir, fol­low­ing a com­mon prac­tice in Sil­i­con Val­ley, requires that any sell­ers of its stock seek the com­pa­ny’s approval for the trans­ac­tion; com­pa­nies do this to lim­it and man­age own­er­ship of their shares.

    But remark­ably, KT4 claims that when Palan­tir receives infor­ma­tion from an investor about a planned sale, it uses that infor­ma­tion to con­tact the buy­er and per­suade them instead to buy shares direct­ly from the com­pa­ny or from cer­tain Palan­tir insid­ers. One par­tic­u­lar bro­ker, Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers, or DTA, repeat­ed­ly gets com­mis­sions from these sales, even when it “per­formed no legit­i­mate work,” KT4 claims.

    KT4 says it expe­ri­enced inter­fer­ence by Palan­tir when it tried to sell shares to High­bridge Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, a hedge fund that was owned by JPMor­gan Chase, in May 2015. After KT4 noti­fied Palan­tir of the planned sale, Palan­tir turned around and instruct­ed DTA to “take the oppor­tu­ni­ty, on Palan­tir’s behalf,” and arrange a sale from Palan­tir to High­bridge instead, accord­ing to the law­suit.

    But when Alex Fish­man, a founder of DTA, met with a senior man­ag­ing direc­tor at High­bridge, the hedge fund exec­u­tive said he would not break his deal with KT4, telling Fish­man to leave his office, accord­ing to the law­suit. The sit­u­a­tion esca­lat­ed when Karp, the Palan­tir CEO, learned of Highbridge’s affil­i­a­tion with JPMor­gan — a very impor­tant cus­tomer of Palan­tir’s — and that the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, “would be asked to con­tact Karp direct­ly to express dis­plea­sure” at these tac­tics, the law­suit says. Karp then alleged­ly let the sale by KT4 go through.

    Lat­er, in Decem­ber 2015, Palan­tir and DTA had more suc­cess in imped­ing a sale of shares by KT4 and oth­er investors to a Chi­nese invest­ment com­pa­ny, whose name is redact­ed in the doc­u­ment, the law­suit says. DTA, rep­re­sent­ing Palan­tir, con­tact­ed the buy­er and led it to believe that it was required to buy the shares direct­ly from Palan­tir, ulti­mate­ly lead­ing the buy­er to call off the deal with KT4 and the oth­ers.

    Until KT4 made its recent demand for finan­cial infor­ma­tion, Palan­tir refused to pro­vide finan­cial infor­ma­tion to buy­ers of its shares except through DTA — forc­ing buy­ers and sell­ers to do busi­ness with that firm or with Fish­man, the law­suit says.

    Even when DTA was not involved in a deal, it still could get paid, accord­ing to KT4. Last sum­mer, when UBS Secu­ri­ties was bro­ker­ing a sale of Palan­tir shares, Karp demand­ed that UBS pay 25 cents a share to Fish­man and DTA, even though DTA “had per­formed no work on the trans­ac­tion” — and UBS agreed to make the pay­ment, the law­suit says. (KT4 says it learned this from a UBS man­ag­ing direc­tor, but in an inter­view with Buz­zFeed News, a per­son close to UBS dis­put­ed that the bank par­tic­i­pat­ed in such a sale and denied that UBS agreed to pay DTA.)

    Fish­man and Alex Davis, the oth­er DTA founder, recent­ly “enjoyed a very close rela­tion­ship” with Karp, accord­ing to the law­suit. (Accord­ing to Fish­man’s LinkedIn pro­file, he sold his half of DTA to Davis last week and no longer works there.)

    ...

    Even as it blocks sales by small­er investors, Palan­tir has allowed Karp and Thiel to sell shares, accord­ing to the law­suit. KT4 claims that these sales fly in the face of rights it has as an investor to par­tic­i­pate in such trans­ac­tions.

    In addi­tion to busi­ness data, KT4 says it is seek­ing infor­ma­tion about the com­pen­sa­tion and equi­ty grants giv­en to Palan­tir brass, to deter­mine whether the com­pa­ny is spend­ing on “lav­ish expens­es” that serve no cor­po­rate pur­pose. KT4 says it has learned that Karp, the CEO, has “an unrea­son­ably large num­ber of exec­u­tive assis­tants,” known inside Palan­tir as “Team Karp.”

    In addi­tion, KT4 claims it has learned that Palan­tir pays for some­one or some­thing — this part is, tan­ta­liz­ing­ly, redact­ed — to accom­pa­ny Karp in the Unit­ed States.

    “There is no rea­son such [redact­ed]? would be nec­es­sary or serve a valid cor­po­rate pur­pose,” the law­suit says.

    ———-

    “A Sil­i­con Val­ley Giant Blocked Its Investors From Sell­ing Their Shares, Law­suit Claims” by William Alden; Buz­zFeed News; 03/17/2017

    “Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, one of the most valu­able star­tups in Sil­i­con Val­ley, has deprived investors of basic infor­ma­tion about its busi­ness and repeat­ed­ly hin­dered efforts by investors to sell their shares, accord­ing to a blis­ter­ing law­suit filed by a long­time investor.”

    As we can see from this law­suit, Palan­tir is so secre­tive its investors are feel­ing com­pelled to sue the com­pa­ny just to learn basic infor­ma­tion about its busi­ness. You have to won­der what’s hid­ing under that rock.

    And Gre­go­ry Kennedy’s Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advi­sors (DTA) is appar­ent­ly part of main­tain­ing that secre­cy. And also part of a scheme intend­ed to pre­vent Palan­tir’s pri­vate investors from sell­ing. When investors inform Palan­tir of their intent to sell, Palan­tir has DTA try to head them off by sell­ing shares direct­ly from Palan­tir to the buy­er instead, which sure sounds like Thiel and Karp sell­ing their shares instead. It’s all quite remark­able. And scam­my:

    ...
    In addi­tion to keep­ing at least some share­hold­ers in the dark about its finan­cial per­for­mance, Palan­tir has “engaged in a pat­tern and prac­tice” of attempt­ing to thwart their attempts to sell stock, accord­ing to the law­suit, filed by invest­ment firm KT4 Part­ners. Instead of let­ting these investors sell shares, Palan­tir has steered their sale oppor­tu­ni­ties to itself or its exec­u­tives, while show­er­ing a favored bro­ker­age firm with com­mis­sions even when the firm does no work at all, the law­suit claims.

    ...

    Even as it blocks sales by small­er investors, Palan­tir has allowed Karp and Thiel to sell shares, accord­ing to the law­suit. KT4 claims that these sales fly in the face of rights it has as an investor to par­tic­i­pate in such trans­ac­tions.
    ...

    And this law­suit by KT4 only comes after its failed to obtain basic busi­ness infor­ma­tion about Palan­tir through oth­er means. Palan­tir lit­er­al­ly won’t inform its own investors about how the busi­ness makes mon­ey and runs a scheme that appears designed to allow Thiel and Karp to sell their shares to new investors instead of allow­ing exist­ing investors to sell their shares:

    ...
    KT4 Part­ners first bought Palan­tir shares over a decade ago and is seek­ing to com­pel Palan­tir to hand over finan­cial records, which it says are need­ed to under­stand the val­ue of its invest­ment. Fur­ther, KT4 claims it needs this infor­ma­tion to inves­ti­gate whether Palan­tir or its exec­u­tives have engaged in “improp­er and ille­gal con­duct” to harm minor­i­ty share­hold­ers. The law­suit was filed under seal last week in the Delaware Court of Chancery; a par­tial­ly redact­ed ver­sion was released on Mon­day and is report­ed here for the first time.

    Palan­tir, in an emailed state­ment, referred to an ear­li­er law­suit that it filed against Marc Abramowitz, the man­ag­ing mem­ber of KT4, claim­ing he stole Palantir’s intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty (a claim KT4 says is “mer­it­less”).

    “This law­suit is noth­ing more than a bla­tant attempt to dis­tract from Mr. Abramowitz’s unlaw­ful and egre­gious theft of our intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty,” Lisa Gor­don, a Palan­tir spokesper­son, said in the state­ment. “His alle­ga­tions are with­out mer­it and need­less to say, Palan­tir will con­tin­ue to aggres­sive­ly pur­sue its exist­ing legal action against him.”

    Co-found­ed in 2004 by the bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel, who is now advis­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Palan­tir ana­lyzes data for gov­ern­ment agen­cies and major cor­po­ra­tions. It has a $20 bil­lion val­u­a­tion, mak­ing it the third most high­ly val­ued start­up in Sil­i­con Val­ley, behind only Uber and Airbnb. Yet Palan­tir — whose stock changes hands only through pri­vate trades — goes to great lengths to keep any detailed infor­ma­tion about its busi­ness pri­vate. A report by Buz­zFeed News last year gave an unprece­dent­ed, though lim­it­ed, account of its com­mer­cial oper­a­tions.

    The law­suit, a high­ly unusu­al step for a start­up investor, fol­lows efforts by KT4 to obtain busi­ness infor­ma­tion through oth­er means. KT4 made a writ­ten demand last August to inspect Palan­tir’s books and records, the law­suit says. But then, accord­ing to the law­suit, Palan­tir retroac­tive­ly amend­ed its investors’ rights agree­ment “for the sole and express pur­pose” of avoid­ing dis­clo­sure oblig­a­tions.

    In Sep­tem­ber, Palan­tir filed its law­suit against Abramowitz — which, accord­ing to KT4, has the “true pur­pose” of pre­vent­ing dis­clo­sure of infor­ma­tion and intim­i­dat­ing the investor. Palan­tir, in the law­suit, described Abramowitz as a one­time con­fi­dant to Palan­tir exec­u­tives who betrayed their trust.

    Palan­tir is under increas­ing pres­sure from its share­hold­ers, a num­ber of whom have held its stock for a decade or more and are anx­ious­ly await­ing a pay­day. For­mer employ­ees, who received a major part of their pay in stock options, have strug­gled to cash out, despite lim­it­ed share pur­chase offers arranged by the com­pa­ny. Last fall, in a rever­sal of his long­time refusal to pur­sue an IPO, Palan­tir CEO Alex Karp said at a tech con­fer­ence, “We’re now posi­tion­ing the com­pa­ny so we could go pub­lic.”

    This state­ment by Karp has a pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed back­sto­ry, accord­ing to the law­suit: KT4 says it came after a for­mal request by the investor for infor­ma­tion on whether Palan­tir had con­sid­ered an IPO.
    ...

    And Kennedy’s DTA is a key ele­ment of those secre­cy regime. And when DTA suc­ceeds in con­vinc­ing new investors to buy shares direct­ly from the com­pa­ny (direct­ly from Thiel and Karp, prob­a­bly) instead of from the small investors DTA gets a com­mis­sion. And they appar­ent­ly get a com­mis­sion even when they “per­formed no legit­i­mate work” on the sale, accord­ing to the law­suit:

    ...
    KT4 says its stake in Palan­tir is worth over $60 mil­lion — a sig­nif­i­cant sum by many mea­sures, but small in the con­text of Palan­tir, which has raised more than $2 bil­lion from investors. When KT4 tried to sell por­tions of its stake, Palan­tir repeat­ed­ly inter­fered, the law­suit claims. Palan­tir, fol­low­ing a com­mon prac­tice in Sil­i­con Val­ley, requires that any sell­ers of its stock seek the com­pa­ny’s approval for the trans­ac­tion; com­pa­nies do this to lim­it and man­age own­er­ship of their shares.

    But remark­ably, KT4 claims that when Palan­tir receives infor­ma­tion from an investor about a planned sale, it uses that infor­ma­tion to con­tact the buy­er and per­suade them instead to buy shares direct­ly from the com­pa­ny or from cer­tain Palan­tir insid­ers. One par­tic­u­lar bro­ker, Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers, or DTA, repeat­ed­ly gets com­mis­sions from these sales, even when it “per­formed no legit­i­mate work,” KT4 claims.
    ...

    KT4 expe­ri­enced this scam in 2015 when it tried to sell its shares to JP Mor­gan’s High­bridge Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, although in that case JP Mor­gan reject­ed the scheme and went through with the pur­chase of KT4’s shares:

    ...
    KT4 says it expe­ri­enced inter­fer­ence by Palan­tir when it tried to sell shares to High­bridge Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, a hedge fund that was owned by JPMor­gan Chase, in May 2015. After KT4 noti­fied Palan­tir of the planned sale, Palan­tir turned around and instruct­ed DTA to “take the oppor­tu­ni­ty, on Palan­tir’s behalf,” and arrange a sale from Palan­tir to High­bridge instead, accord­ing to the law­suit.

    But when Alex Fish­man, a founder of DTA, met with a senior man­ag­ing direc­tor at High­bridge, the hedge fund exec­u­tive said he would not break his deal with KT4, telling Fish­man to leave his office, accord­ing to the law­suit. The sit­u­a­tion esca­lat­ed when Karp, the Palan­tir CEO, learned of Highbridge’s affil­i­a­tion with JPMor­gan — a very impor­tant cus­tomer of Palan­tir’s — and that the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, “would be asked to con­tact Karp direct­ly to express dis­plea­sure” at these tac­tics, the law­suit says. Karp then alleged­ly let the sale by KT4 go through.
    ...

    But lat­er in 2015, DTA did suc­ceed in thwart­ing a KT4 sale to a Chi­nese invest­ment com­pa­ny:

    ...
    Lat­er, in Decem­ber 2015, Palan­tir and DTA had more suc­cess in imped­ing a sale of shares by KT4 and oth­er investors to a Chi­nese invest­ment com­pa­ny, whose name is redact­ed in the doc­u­ment, the law­suit says. DTA, rep­re­sent­ing Palan­tir, con­tact­ed the buy­er and led it to believe that it was required to buy the shares direct­ly from Palan­tir, ulti­mate­ly lead­ing the buy­er to call off the deal with KT4 and the oth­ers.
    ...

    And, yes, this implies that a Chi­nese invest­ment com­pa­ny appar­ent­ly invest­ed in Palan­tir, which is basi­cal­ly a pri­va­tized Big Data intel­li­gence firm with exten­sive con­tracts with the US nation­al secu­ri­ty state. It seems like some­thing that should raise some eye­brows.

    And when Palatir did pro­vide poten­tial investors with infor­ma­tion about the com­pa­ny it was DTA that pro­vid­ed that infor­ma­tion, forc­ing buy­ers to do busi­ness with DTA. DTA got paid even when it was­n’t actu­al­ly involved in the deal:

    ...
    Until KT4 made its recent demand for finan­cial infor­ma­tion, Palan­tir refused to pro­vide finan­cial infor­ma­tion to buy­ers of its shares except through DTA — forc­ing buy­ers and sell­ers to do busi­ness with that firm or with Fish­man, the law­suit says.

    Even when DTA was not involved in a deal, it still could get paid, accord­ing to KT4. Last sum­mer, when UBS Secu­ri­ties was bro­ker­ing a sale of Palan­tir shares, Karp demand­ed that UBS pay 25 cents a share to Fish­man and DTA, even though DTA “had per­formed no work on the trans­ac­tion” — and UBS agreed to make the pay­ment, the law­suit says. (KT4 says it learned this from a UBS man­ag­ing direc­tor, but in an inter­view with Buz­zFeed News, a per­son close to UBS dis­put­ed that the bank par­tic­i­pat­ed in such a sale and denied that UBS agreed to pay DTA.)
    ...

    Not sur­pris­ing­ly, DTA founders Alex Fish­man and Alex Davis appar­ent­ly “enjoyed a very close rela­tion­ship” with Palan­tir co-found Alex Karp:

    ...
    Fish­man and Alex Davis, the oth­er DTA founder, recent­ly “enjoyed a very close rela­tion­ship” with Karp, accord­ing to the law­suit. (Accord­ing to Fish­man’s LinkedIn pro­file, he sold his half of DTA to Davis last week and no longer works there.)
    ...

    As we can see, between Gre­go­ry Kennedy’s per­son­al his­to­ry with Thiel at Stan­ford and the per­son­al rela­tion­ships of DTA’s co-founders Alex Fish­man and Alex Davis with Palan­tir’s Alex Karp, the ties between Kennedy’s com­pa­ny and Palan­tir are pret­ty tight. So tight that DTA is basi­cal­ly act­ing as the mid­dle-man between Palan­tir and Palan­tir’s investors.

    And with Thiel now emerg­ing as one of Trump’s clos­est allies and advi­sors, we have to ask what, if any, involve­ment Thiel and Palan­tir may have had in lobbying/convincing Kennedy that now is the right time to resign. If Antho­ny Kennedy could be per­suad­ed to resign in order to help a for­mer clerk, what about promis­es to help his fam­i­ly? Were any promis­es made by Thiel to the ben­e­fit Gre­go­ry Kennedy via DTA? The pre­vi­ous sweet­heart deals enjoyed by DTA were already in place by 2015, before Kennedy arrived at the firm. But giv­en the rela­tion­ship between Palan­tir and DTA it’s not like it would be sur­pris­ing if there were new sweet­heart deals as part of a quid pro quo with Jus­tice Kennedy.

    And, sure, there’s no evi­dence that Jus­tice Kennedy and Trump actu­al­ly worked out a for­mal quid pro quo arrange­ment involv­ing either of Kennedy’s sons. But there is evi­dence that the selec­tion of Kavanaugh was part of a very straight­for­ward quid pro quo: Kennedy retires in exchange for Kavanaugh get­ting nom­i­nat­ed. That’s bare­ly in dis­pute at this point.

    And while that sim­ple quid pro quo, alone, would be pret­ty sleazy, giv­en every­thing else we’ve learned about the par­ties involved and the close work­ing rela­tion­ships between the Trump and Kennedy fam­i­lies, it’s not hard to imag­ine a less straight­for­ward, and much sleazier arrange­ment. If any­thing, it’s hard not imag­in­ing a much sleazier arrange­ment. It is the Trump era after all.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 10, 2018, 2:38 pm
  16. Here’s an inter­est­ing arti­cle from Novem­ber of 2017 that’s worth keep­ing in mind as con­text of the neo-Nazi ter­ror attack in New Zealand: it turns out the far right New Zealand First (NZ First) Par­ty end­ed up in a king-mak­er posi­tion fol­low­ing the 2017 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. The anti-immi­grant par­ty only got 7 per­cent of the vote but nei­ther of the two largest par­ties got a major­i­ty leav­ing NZ First to decide which one it want­ed to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment with. And that pre­dictably result­ed in the left-lean­ing Labour par­ty mak­ing mas­sive con­ces­sions in or to get NZ First’s back­ing. Con­ces­sions like mak­ing the leader of NZ First, Win­ston Peters, the deputy prime min­is­ter and for­eign min­is­ter. The new Labour gov­ern­ment also had to vow to put for­ward leg­is­la­tion that would cut immi­gra­tion, make it hard­er to obtain visas, and require employ­ers to prove they can­not find a qual­i­fied New Zealand cit­i­zen before hir­ing a non-cit­i­zen. As the arti­cle puts it, Labour may be the pub­lic face of the gov­ern­ment but it’s the far right pulling the strings and hold­ing the nation hostage:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    How the far right is poi­son­ing New Zealand

    By Ben Mack
    Novem­ber 8, 2017

    Ben Mack is a New Zealand-based colum­nist for the New Zealand Her­ald and asso­ciate edi­tor of Vil­lain­esse.

    A shad­ow is poi­son­ing Mid­dle-earth.

    On the sur­face, New Zealand’s new gov­ern­ment sounds like a pro­gres­sive dream: a young, ener­getic prime min­is­ter rem­i­nis­cent of Barack Oba­ma or Justin Trudeau who not only dis­cuss­es the impor­tance of fem­i­nism but calls peo­ple out for misog­y­nis­tic com­ments on the spot; min­is­ters for cli­mate change and child pover­ty reduc­tion; and the fact that the heads of the three branch­es of gov­ern­ment are all women.

    But for all the excite­ment around Prime Min­is­ter Jacin­da Ardern and her new gov­ern­ment, the real pow­er lies with the far right. And, more ter­ri­fy­ing: The far right seized pow­er by exploit­ing the very sys­tem meant to be a fair­er ver­sion of democ­ra­cy.

    Led by vet­er­an politi­cian Win­ston Peters — who has made racist com­ments toward immi­grants and peo­ple of Asian descent and Trumpian abuse of the press — New Zealand First has tra­di­tion­al­ly been an after­thought in New Zealand pol­i­tics. That all changed this past Sep­tem­ber, when the two largest par­ties fin­ished close enough in the gen­er­al elec­tion that whichev­er par­ty New Zealand First decid­ed to enter a coali­tion with would con­trol enough seats in New Zealand’s Ger­man-style MMP (mixed-mem­ber pro­por­tion­al) par­lia­ment to gov­ern. In oth­er words, a far-right par­ty that received just sev­en per­cent of the vote had the pow­er to decide who would rule.

    If that wasn’t appalling enough, Peters and New Zealand First held the coun­try for ran­som, repeat­ed­ly delay­ing the announce­ment of their deci­sion for sev­er­al weeks as they extract­ed more and more con­ces­sions from suit­ors. When Peters final­ly declared on Oct. 19 that New Zealand First would go into a coali­tion with Ardern and her Labour Par­ty, it was only because Ardern had kow­towed the most to his increas­ing­ly extreme demands.

    The effects of the far right’s influ­ence are already being felt. Amid pres­sure from New Zealand First, the gov­ern­ment has vowed to slash immi­gra­tion by tens of thou­sands by mak­ing it hard­er to obtain visas and requir­ing employ­ers to prove they can­not find a qual­i­fied New Zealand cit­i­zen before hir­ing a non-cit­i­zen. They’ve also put for­ward leg­is­la­tion ban­ning non-cit­i­zens from own­ing prop­er­ty, the new min­is­ter for immi­gra­tion has equat­ed increased immi­gra­tion with increased unem­ploy­ment (while also fail­ing to denounce his party’s claims that immi­gra­tion is a fac­tor in New Zealand hav­ing the high­est rate of youth sui­cide in the devel­oped world) and pro­posed a plan that would require peo­ple receiv­ing wel­fare to work.

    Like Amer­i­can white suprema­cists in the age of Trump, big­ots in New Zealand have also been embold­ened by New Zealand First’s suc­cess into tak­ing action beyond rant­i­ng on Inter­net mes­sage boards and social media. In late Octo­ber, clash­es erupt­ed when white suprema­cists ral­lied in front of Par­lia­ment. Threat­en­ing fliers have also appeared in pub­lic, call­ing on white peo­ple to “uni­fy” in order to “pre­serve iden­ti­ty.”

    All this flies in the face of Ardern and her “more com­pas­sion­ate” government’s out­ward pro­gres­sive­ness. But Peters — who took the roles of deputy prime min­is­ter and for­eign min­is­ter as a con­di­tion of work­ing with Ardern — and New Zealand First can end the coali­tion agree­ment, which would trig­ger the need for new elec­tions. Put sim­ply, while Ardern may be the pub­lic face, it’s the far right pulling the strings and con­tin­u­ing to hold the nation hostage.

    ...

    Appeal­ing to eth­ni­cal­ly homoge­nous, over­whelm­ing­ly cis­gen­der male vot­ers with lim­it­ed edu­ca­tion and eco­nom­ic prospects who feel they’re being left behind in a chang­ing world is noth­ing new for the far right. But what is new is its savvy at exploit­ing democ­ra­cy by dou­bling down on these vot­ers while most­ly allow­ing larg­er polit­i­cal par­ties to attack each oth­er on their own, thus posi­tion­ing them­selves as “king­mak­ers” who can demand con­ces­sions from those larg­er par­ties before car­ry­ing them into pow­er. Then, they can rule from the shad­ows by threat­en­ing to leave the gov­ern­ment at any time and plunge the coun­try into chaos when things don’t go their way. It’s a dan­ger­ous tac­tic that could prove bru­tal­ly effec­tive in oth­er par­lia­men­tary sys­tems like New Zealand’s if the far right is not con­front­ed ear­ly for its big­otry, regard­less of how mar­gin­al its sup­port may seem.

    If she tru­ly wants New Zealand to be a more tol­er­ant place for all and to set a world­wide exam­ple that hate is not accept­able, it would be best for Ardern to end her unholy alliance with New Zealand First and the far right, even if it meant she might not return as prime min­is­ter. As long as the far right has pow­er, big­otry and hate will con­tin­ue to fes­ter in Mid­dle-earth.

    ———–

    “How the far right is poi­son­ing New Zealand” by Ben Mack; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 11/08/2017

    “All this flies in the face of Ardern and her “more com­pas­sion­ate” government’s out­ward pro­gres­sive­ness. But Peters — who took the roles of deputy prime min­is­ter and for­eign min­is­ter as a con­di­tion of work­ing with Ardern — and New Zealand First can end the coali­tion agree­ment, which would trig­ger the need for new elec­tions. Put sim­ply, while Ardern may be the pub­lic face, it’s the far right pulling the strings and con­tin­u­ing to hold the nation hostage.

    It’s one of the unfor­tu­nate fac­tors that’s poten­tial­ly going to be play­ing into the New Zealand gov­ern­men­t’s response the neo-Nazi attack: the junior mem­ber of the cur­rent gov­ern­ing coali­tion is a far right anti-immi­grant par­ty and it has the pow­er to threat­en to leave the gov­ern­ment if they don’t get their way:

    ...
    Led by vet­er­an politi­cian Win­ston Peters — who has made racist com­ments toward immi­grants and peo­ple of Asian descent and Trumpian abuse of the press — New Zealand First has tra­di­tion­al­ly been an after­thought in New Zealand pol­i­tics. That all changed this past Sep­tem­ber, when the two largest par­ties fin­ished close enough in the gen­er­al elec­tion that whichev­er par­ty New Zealand First decid­ed to enter a coali­tion with would con­trol enough seats in New Zealand’s Ger­man-style MMP (mixed-mem­ber pro­por­tion­al) par­lia­ment to gov­ern. In oth­er words, a far-right par­ty that received just sev­en per­cent of the vote had the pow­er to decide who would rule.

    If that wasn’t appalling enough, Peters and New Zealand First held the coun­try for ran­som, repeat­ed­ly delay­ing the announce­ment of their deci­sion for sev­er­al weeks as they extract­ed more and more con­ces­sions from suit­ors. When Peters final­ly declared on Oct. 19 that New Zealand First would go into a coali­tion with Ardern and her Labour Par­ty, it was only because Ardern had kow­towed the most to his increas­ing­ly extreme demands.

    ...

    Appeal­ing to eth­ni­cal­ly homoge­nous, over­whelm­ing­ly cis­gen­der male vot­ers with lim­it­ed edu­ca­tion and eco­nom­ic prospects who feel they’re being left behind in a chang­ing world is noth­ing new for the far right. But what is new is its savvy at exploit­ing democ­ra­cy by dou­bling down on these vot­ers while most­ly allow­ing larg­er polit­i­cal par­ties to attack each oth­er on their own, thus posi­tion­ing them­selves as “king­mak­ers” who can demand con­ces­sions from those larg­er par­ties before car­ry­ing them into pow­er. Then, they can rule from the shad­ows by threat­en­ing to leave the gov­ern­ment at any time and plunge the coun­try into chaos when things don’t go their way. It’s a dan­ger­ous tac­tic that could prove bru­tal­ly effec­tive in oth­er par­lia­men­tary sys­tems like New Zealand’s if the far right is not con­front­ed ear­ly for its big­otry, regard­less of how mar­gin­al its sup­port may seem.
    ...

    And the impact of giv­ing New Zealand First this much pow­er isn’t a hypo­thet­i­cal. The Labour pol­i­cy agen­da has already been inject­ed anti-immi­grant leg­is­la­tion. Like a ban on non-cit­i­zens own­ing prop­er­ty:

    ...
    The effects of the far right’s influ­ence are already being felt. Amid pres­sure from New Zealand First, the gov­ern­ment has vowed to slash immi­gra­tion by tens of thou­sands by mak­ing it hard­er to obtain visas and requir­ing employ­ers to prove they can­not find a qual­i­fied New Zealand cit­i­zen before hir­ing a non-cit­i­zen. They’ve also put for­ward leg­is­la­tion ban­ning non-cit­i­zens from own­ing prop­er­ty, the new min­is­ter for immi­gra­tion has equat­ed increased immi­gra­tion with increased unem­ploy­ment (while also fail­ing to denounce his party’s claims that immi­gra­tion is a fac­tor in New Zealand hav­ing the high­est rate of youth sui­cide in the devel­oped world) and pro­posed a plan that would require peo­ple receiv­ing wel­fare to work.
    ...

    Note that while the incom­ing Labour gov­ern­ment sug­gest­ed that immi­gra­tion cuts were com­ing soon when the new gov­ern­ment first formed in Octo­ber of 2017, but the fol­low­ing month Prime Min­is­ter Ardern announced that there would be no imme­di­ate cut and they were still work­ing on a new pol­i­cy. Then, a year lat­er in Novem­ber of 2018, the Labour gov­ern­ment said it was still work­ing on what those cuts would be. So while New Zealand First cer­tain­ly has had an influ­en­tial role in the new gov­ern­ment, it has­n’t got­ten its agen­da passed com­plete­ly which is some­thing worth keep in mind as the polit­i­cal reper­cus­sions of the Christchurch attack plays out.

    Also note that the leg­is­la­tion ban­ning most for­eign­ers from own­ing prop­er­ty in New Zealand did actu­al­ly pass the par­lia­ment last year. But it was also a pol­i­cy that Labour actu­al­ly cam­paigned on them­selves as part of a bid to keep hous­ing prices down and reduce home­less­ness giv­en the surge in hous­ing prices over the last decade. So that’s more of an exam­ple of where Labour’s poli­cies might align with the NZ First agen­da.

    And that push to cut immi­gra­tion and make it hard­er for for­eign­ers to buy prop­er­ty in New Zealand leads us to one of the more inter­est­ing sto­ries that’s tan­gen­tial­ly-relat­ed to the neo-Nazi attack: Recall how in 2017 a bit of a scan­dal erupt­ed in New Zealand after it was dis­cov­ered that Peter Thiel, a cit­i­zen of Ger­many and the US, was able to effec­tive­ly buy cit­i­zen­ship there after a two-week hol­i­day in 2011. This was kept a secret for six years and only became pub­lic when the NZ Her­ald broke a sto­ry on it. It turns out Nathan Guy, the Inter­nal Affairs Min­is­ter in 2011, invoked an excep­tion­al cir­cum­stance to waive the nor­mal require­ments that prospec­tive cit­i­zens had to live in New Zealand. Guy ini­tial­ly claimed he could­n’t recall the case but after review­ing the file he claimed made his deci­sion based on the Thiel’s local invest­ments and phil­an­thropic activ­i­ty. It was a par­tic­u­lar­ly galling expla­na­tion because the rea­son Thiel’s cit­i­zen­ship was dis­cov­ered in the first place was due to an inves­ti­ga­tion by the NZ Her­ald that revealed Thiel’s invest­ment vehi­cle in New Zealand exer­cised a lit­tle-known buy­out clause in its part­ner­ship with the New Zealand Ven­ture Invest­ment Fund to reap mas­sive prof­its at the tax­pay­ers’ expense on the pur­chase of a large estate bor­der­ing Lake Wana­ka. And it was also dis­cov­ered at this time that the mul­ti­ple New Zealand secu­ri­ty agen­cies — the New Zealand Defence Force, the Secu­ri­ty Intel­li­gence Ser­vice and the Gov­ern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Secu­ri­ty Bureau — have long-stand­ing ties to Palan­tir.

    So giv­en Thiel’s far right pol­i­tics and giv­en all the ques­tions fol­low­ing the Christchurch attack over why it was that Bren­ton Tar­rant was­n’t on the radar of New Zealand’s author­i­ties despite the fact that he was a pro­lif­ic online poster of neo-Nazi con­tent, it’s worth ask­ing the ques­tion of what pos­si­ble role Palan­tir may have had in those domes­tic secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions that should have flagged Tar­rant. And since sim­i­lar ques­tions are asked about why Tar­rant was off the radar of Aus­trali­a’s author­i­ties, also note that Palan­tir is report­ed­ly used by Aus­trali­a’s domes­tic law enforce­ment agen­cies.

    And that’s all an exam­ple of the very real far right forces oper­at­ing with­ing New Zealand’s gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty ser­vices. Hope­ful­ly the New Zealand gov­ern­men­t’s response to the attack includes an assess­ment of those forces.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2019, 2:16 pm
  17. Here’s some­thing worth not­ing about Peter Thiel and Palan­tir in light of the reports about how the US Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty recent­ly dis­band­ed the small group of peo­ple who were focused on track­ing threats from white suprema­cists and inten­tion­al­ly left that task to the FBI, argu­ing that it was a redun­dan­cy to have both DHS and FBI agents mon­i­tor­ing white suprema­cists:

    while the pri­vate­ly-held Palan­tir has yet to turn a prof­it, it’s on track to being prof­itable this year as a result of a rev­enue jump over the last year from $600 mil­lion to $880 mil­lion, which is far ahead of the $750 mil­lion investors were told to expect. Palan­tir is telling investors that it’s going to be prof­itable this year. And as a result, the com­pa­ny is well posi­tion for its IPO which could val­ue the com­pa­ny at around $41 bil­lion. Giv­en Peter Thiel’s 10 per­cent stake in the com­pa­ny, if the IPO hap­pens at that val­u­a­tion it will effec­tive­ly triple Thiel’s per­son­al wealth. And a big part of that surge in rev­enues came from a $42 mil­lion con­tract with U.S. Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), which is a part of DHS.

    So while DHS has decid­ed that it does­n’t real­ly have the resources to track white suprema­cists, Palan­tir appears to have a had such a ban­ner year that Peter Thiel’s wealth is now poised to triple thanks in large part to a big con­tract with ICE to track immi­grants:

    NZ Her­ald

    Peter Thiel’s secre­tive spook out­fit Palan­tir has finan­cials leaked

    By: Chris Keall
    Busi­ness writer
    8 Feb, 2019 8:33am

    A rare light has been shone on the finances of Peter Thiel’s secre­tive data-min­ing firm Palan­tir — which makes soft­ware used by US intel­li­gence agen­cies and cor­po­rates try­ing to sniff out threats.

    The Ger­man-born, US entre­pre­neur received a fast-tracked NZ cit­i­zen­ship in 2011, despite spend­ing just 11 days in the coun­try.

    A 2018 Her­ald inves­ti­ga­tion uncov­ered that the NZ Defence Force has spent around $7.2m with Palan­tir since 2012.

    There are also strong indi­ca­tions that the GCSB and SIS (who won’t offi­cial­ly com­ment) are cus­tomers.

    Cit­ing sources famil­iar with the fig­ures, the Wall Street Jour­nal says the pri­vate­ly-held Palan­tir’s rev­enue jumped from US$600 mil­lion to US$880m ($1.3 bil­lion) last year, well ahead of the US$750m that investors had been told to expect.

    Cen­tral to the rev­enue lift was a US$42m con­tract signed with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), the con­tro­ver­sial US gov­ern­ment bor­der pro­tec­tion agency.

    Thiel has been a finan­cial sup­port­er and advi­sor to Pres­i­dent Trump and, the Jour­nal reports, “Some Palan­tir staffers and civ­il rights advo­cates have crit­i­cised Palan­tir’s ICE ties.”

    The sources say Palan­tir is not prof­itable over­all, but “Palan­tir’s gov­ern­ment arm sep­a­rate­ly con­tin­ues to make mon­ey, in part thanks to a tra­di­tion of dis­miss­ing inter­nal and exter­nal crit­i­cism about its affil­i­a­tion with unpop­u­lar agen­cies world­wide”.

    Investors have been told Palan­tir will final­ly be in the black this year, clear­ing the way for its long-antic­i­pat­ed IPO — which the Jour­nal says could val­ue the Thiel’s fast-grow­ing com­pa­ny at $US41b ($60b). Dur­ing its last major cap­i­tal raise, in 2015, Palan­tir — which has raised a total of US$2.5b across var­i­ous fund­ing rounds — had a pri­vate equi­ty val­ue of US$20b.

    Palan­tir has not dis­closed indi­vid­ual share­hold­ers’ stakes, but Forbes report­ed that Thiel owns 10 per cent of the com­pa­ny.

    Forbes puts Thiel’s wealth at US$2.5b, mak­ing him the sec­ond-rich­est NZ cit­i­zen behind Graeme Hart. But Thiel’s wealth could at least triple with a suc­cess­ful Palan­tir list­ing.

    ...

    ———–

    “Peter Thiel’s secre­tive spook out­fit Palan­tir has finan­cials leaked” by Chris Keall; NZ Her­ald; 02/08/2019

    “Cit­ing sources famil­iar with the fig­ures, the Wall Street Jour­nal says the pri­vate­ly-held Palan­tir’s rev­enue jumped from US$600 mil­lion to US$880m ($1.3 bil­lion) last year, well ahead of the US$750m that investors had been told to expect.”

    As we can see, Palan­tir’s report­ed rev­enues surged well ahead of expec­ta­tions last year. As a con­se­quence, Palan­tir is on track to being prof­itable this year ahead of a long-antic­i­pa­tion IPO that could effec­tive­ly triple Thiel’s wealth:

    ...
    Investors have been told Palan­tir will final­ly be in the black this year, clear­ing the way for its long-antic­i­pat­ed IPO — which the Jour­nal says could val­ue the Thiel’s fast-grow­ing com­pa­ny at $US41b ($60b). Dur­ing its last major cap­i­tal raise, in 2015, Palan­tir — which has raised a total of US$2.5b across var­i­ous fund­ing rounds — had a pri­vate equi­ty val­ue of US$20b.

    Palan­tir has not dis­closed indi­vid­ual share­hold­ers’ stakes, but Forbes report­ed that Thiel owns 10 per cent of the com­pa­ny.

    Forbes puts Thiel’s wealth at US$2.5b, mak­ing him the sec­ond-rich­est NZ cit­i­zen behind Graeme Hart. But Thiel’s wealth could at least triple with a suc­cess­ful Palan­tir list­ing.
    ...

    And a big part of that rev­enue surge was a $42 mil­lion con­tract with ICE:

    ...
    Cen­tral to the rev­enue lift was a US$42m con­tract signed with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), the con­tro­ver­sial US gov­ern­ment bor­der pro­tec­tion agency.

    Thiel has been a finan­cial sup­port­er and advi­sor to Pres­i­dent Trump and, the Jour­nal reports, “Some Palan­tir staffers and civ­il rights advo­cates have crit­i­cised Palan­tir’s ICE ties.”

    The sources say Palan­tir is not prof­itable over­all, but “Palan­tir’s gov­ern­ment arm sep­a­rate­ly con­tin­ues to make mon­ey, in part thanks to a tra­di­tion of dis­miss­ing inter­nal and exter­nal crit­i­cism about its affil­i­a­tion with unpop­u­lar agen­cies world­wide”.
    ...

    So what does that lucra­tive ICE con­tract involve? Well, accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, it’s more or less what we might expect for a con­tract with Palan­tir: the com­pa­ny was con­tract to a case man­age­ment sys­tem that allows ICD to surviell, track, and deport immi­grants across the US, draw­ing on infor­ma­tion from sources like the DHS, FBI and oth­er gov­ern­ment data­bas­es to build pro­files in immi­grants. And as the arti­cle also describes, Palan­tir is far from the only com­pa­ny mak­ing big mon­ey from these kinds of gov­ern­ment con­tracts:

    For­tune

    Tech Com­pa­nies Are Prof­it­ing Off ICE Depor­ta­tions, Report Shows

    By Erin Cor­bett
    Updat­ed: Octo­ber 23, 2018 11:06 AM ET

    Tech and data com­pa­nies are building—and prof­it­ing from—the Trump administration’s depor­ta­tion machine, pro­vid­ing local, state, and fed­er­al law enforce­ment agen­cies with the data analy­sis and track­ing soft­ware nec­es­sary for a mas­sive web of sur­veil­lance, a new report shows.

    The “Who’s Behind ICE? The tech and data com­pa­nies fuel­ing depor­ta­tions” report, pre­pared by Empow­er LLC and com­mis­sioned by the Lati­no and immi­gra­tion rights orga­ni­za­tions Mijente, the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project, and the Immi­grant Defense Project, details an expan­sive net­work, and shows that key tech companies—including Ama­zon, Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, and Foren­sic Logic—are prof­it­ing from it.

    Ear­li­er this year, NBC News report­ed based on a pub­lic records search that Hewlett Packard Enter­prise, Thom­son Reuters, Microsoft, Motoro­la Solu­tions, and Palan­tir all have active con­tracts with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE). But the Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s expan­sive net­work of per­son-cen­tric data sys­tems, built for an infor­ma­tion-shar­ing ini­tia­tive between var­i­ous lev­els of law enforce­ment, pos­es not only a threat to immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, but to mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, activists say.

    ICE col­lects data, which it uses to build pro­files of undoc­u­ment­ed per­sons, with the intent to arrest, detain, and deport them. Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy (IT) spend­ing accounts for near­ly 10% of DHS’s bud­get, or $6.8 bil­lion, mak­ing it the largest IT bud­get in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, accord­ing to data from the DHS Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion FY 2019. This lev­el of mass sur­veil­lance and data col­lec­tion and shar­ing opens the door to a much wider net that could broad­ly tar­get peo­ple of col­or, incar­cer­at­ed or for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed peo­ple, and left­ist activists, includ­ing Black Lives Mat­ter, envi­ron­men­tal activists, and antifas­cists, activists say.

    “The Trump admin­is­tra­tion is push­ing an incred­i­bly racist and xeno­pho­bic polic­ing agen­da. Tech and data com­pa­nies’ involve­ment is part of this expan­sion,” Jac­in­ta Gon­za­lez, Mijente’s field direc­tor tells For­tune. “The gov­ern­ment could be con­tract­ing tech com­pa­nies for envi­ron­men­tal rea­sons, but instead it’s tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, specif­i­cal­ly peo­ple orga­niz­ing for their rights.”

    Mijente has pres­sured Palan­tir to drop its $51 mil­lion con­tract with ICE to build a web case man­age­ment sys­tem that helps the agency sur­veil, track, and deport immi­grants across the coun­try. The group tar­get­ed Palan­tir and Ama­zon over the sum­mer at Burn­ing Man, where activists brought a giant cage labeled with “ICE” to the Neva­da music fes­ti­val known to attract the tech lead­ers of Sil­i­con Val­ley.

    The data­base cre­at­ed by Palan­tir uses infor­ma­tion pulled from the DHS, FBI and oth­er sources to build pro­files of peo­ple who have crossed the bor­der, includ­ing “school­ing, fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships, employ­ment infor­ma­tion, phone records, immi­gra­tion his­to­ry, for­eign exchange pro­gram sta­tus, per­son­al con­nec­tions, bio­met­ric traits, crim­i­nal records, and home and work address­es,” the Inter­cept report­ed last year.

    Mean­while, Ama­zon receives mil­lions of dol­lars to host Palan­tir, as well as back­ups of DHS’s vast data­base of bio­met­ric infor­ma­tion on its web servers, accord­ing to the report. The two com­pa­nies are dom­i­nat­ing the mar­ket to meet the fed­er­al government’s data stor­age needs, build­ing an increas­ing­ly effec­tive depor­ta­tion and incar­cer­a­tion infra­struc­ture for the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, activists say.

    Ama­zon, which is now the wealth­i­est cor­po­ra­tion in the world, has more fed­er­al autho­riza­tions to store gov­ern­ment data than any oth­er cor­po­ra­tion, with 204 autho­riza­tions com­pared to Google’s 27, accord­ing to data from the FedRAMP Mar­ket­place.

    Ama­zon faced back­lash from employ­ees ear­li­er this year for sell­ing its facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy, Rekog­ni­tion, to law enforce­ment agen­cies in Ore­gon and Flori­da, and for its part­ner­ships with com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing tech­ni­cal and data sup­port to ICE. In an open let­ter, employ­ees crit­i­cized CEO Jeff Bezos for the move, argu­ing that these tech­nolo­gies help fur­ther mil­i­ta­rize the police, and fuel the deten­tion and depor­ta­tion of immi­grants.

    “Ama­zon says Rekog­ni­tion can be used to iden­ti­fy ‘peo­ple of inter­est,’ rais­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that those labeled sus­pi­cious by governments—such as undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants or Black activists—will be seen as fair game for Rekog­ni­tion sur­veil­lance,” the ACLU wrote in a blog post about the tech­nol­o­gy. The civ­il lib­er­ties group added that the Rekog­ni­tion soft­ware, which can mon­i­tor “all faces in group pho­tos, crowd­ed events, and pub­lic places such as air­ports,” pos­es a threat to dis­sent broad­ly, as more Amer­i­cans con­tin­ue to attend pub­lic protests.

    “Sur­veil­lance and silenc­ing of com­mu­ni­ties that express dis­sent is noth­ing new, but tech­nol­o­gy facil­i­tates it so much more that it reach­es new lev­els,” says Mijente’s Gon­za­lez. “This con­cen­tra­tion of pow­er and influ­ence is unprece­dent­ed in a lot of ways.”

    Polic­ing soft­ware pro­vid­ed by Palan­tir and Foren­sic Logic’s COPLINK pro­gram enables Infor­ma­tion shar­ing between ICE and state and local law enforce­ment. Many of the cities with Palan­tir con­tracts across Cal­i­for­nia are sanc­tu­ary cities, accord­ing to Gon­za­lez, who says there have been more and more poli­cies intro­duced to pro­hib­it this kind of data shar­ing by pri­vate par­ties.

    Palan­tir soft­ware has been imple­ment­ed by DHS fusion cen­ters across Cal­i­for­nia, as well as by police depart­ments in Los Ange­les, Long Beach, and Bur­bank; and sheriff’s depart­ments in Sacra­men­to, Ven­tu­ra, and Los Ange­les coun­ties. The com­pa­ny has received more than $50 mil­lion from these agen­cies since 2009, most­ly financed by DHS grants, the report shows.

    Fusion cen­ters were cre­at­ed to cen­tral­ize intel­li­gence gath­er­ing, analy­sis, and dis­sem­i­na­tion into a sin­gle inte­grat­ed sys­tem, acces­si­ble to law enforce­ment agen­cies from the local lev­el up to the fed­er­al intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. They are one of the largest tools for DHS and ICE infor­ma­tion shar­ing, and ICE’s largest data source. Fusion cen­ters have been used to mon­i­tor and tar­get immi­grants, as well as activists.

    “Fusion cen­ters were set up for coun­tert­er­ror­ism, but it became ‘all crimes, all threats, all haz­ards’ because ter­ror­ism isn’t a real threat,” Bren­dan McQuade, for­mer­ly a vis­it­ing assis­tant pro­fes­sor at DePaul Uni­ver­si­ty told the Inter­cept in 2015. The DHS used the intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing cen­ters to mon­i­tor Black Lives Mat­ter activists in Fer­gu­son. They were also used to spy on the social media accounts of Black Lives Mat­ter activists in Boston.

    “We’ve nev­er seen mass sur­veil­lance not abused,” Bri­an Hofer, the chair of the city of Oakland’s Pri­va­cy Advi­so­ry Com­mis­sion tells For­tune. Accord­ing to Hofer, sur­veil­lance of this scope is usu­al­ly first applied to the most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, in this case undoc­u­ment­ed per­sons, and then to a larg­er pop­u­la­tion. “IBM inten­tion­al­ly auto­mat­ed the Holo­caust with cen­sus data and punch cards. Now you can get all this data and apply ana­lyt­ics to it and can do even more harm.”

    Hofer said that this mass col­lec­tion of data is not being used to track “ter­ror­ism,” as DHS might sug­gest. Instead, it’s “being applied to any­one who chal­lenges the sta­tus quo.”

    Bio­met­ric col­lec­tion has been used in cas­es of mass arrests at protests, for exam­ple. Hofer described a sce­nario where antifas­cists were arrest­ed while defend­ing the Berke­ley area against white suprema­cist groups over the sum­mer. “Antifa gets arrest­ed, fin­ger­print­ed, DNA swabs, and all charges are dropped but each of those peo­ple are in a data­base now,” he explains. The infor­ma­tion is lat­er shared with the FBI’s Auto­mat­ed Fin­ger­print Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Sys­tem, he says, which auto­mat­i­cal­ly goes to DHS.

    Sim­i­lar­ly, this mass sur­veil­lance has cre­at­ed a cul­ture of intim­i­da­tion by ICE offi­cials, who mon­i­tor immi­grants involved in orga­niz­ing, activists say.

    Maru Mora-Vil­lal­pan­do, an undoc­u­ment­ed woman who has lived in the U.S. for more than 25 years said she was at her home in Decem­ber with her daugh­ter when she received a notice from ICE order­ing her to appear in court for depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings. “To me, it’s a clear sign that ICE wants me to stop my job,” she told the Seat­tle Times. “It was an intim­i­da­tion tac­tic.”

    “Maru was inten­tion­al­ly tar­get­ed for her activism and orga­niz­ing,” Gon­za­lez says. “It was a way to silence dis­sent and it will affect how peo­ple approach pub­lic life and engage­ment in activism.”

    ...

    ———–

    “Tech Com­pa­nies Are Prof­it­ing Off ICE Depor­ta­tions, Report Shows” by Erin Cor­bett; For­tune; 10/23/2018

    “The data­base cre­at­ed by Palan­tir uses infor­ma­tion pulled from the DHS, FBI and oth­er sources to build pro­files of peo­ple who have crossed the bor­der, includ­ing “school­ing, fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships, employ­ment infor­ma­tion, phone records, immi­gra­tion his­to­ry, for­eign exchange pro­gram sta­tus, per­son­al con­nec­tions, bio­met­ric traits, crim­i­nal records, and home and work address­es,” the Inter­cept report­ed last year.”

    A giant data­base of immi­grant pro­files. That’s what ICE is pay­ing Palan­tir to do, with the intent of arrest­ing, detain­ing, and deport­ing the pro­filed immi­grants. A giant col­lec­tion of data­bas­es designed to be shared across gov­ern­ment agen­cies. And as activists warn us, there’s obvi­ous­ly noth­ing stop­ping this same immi­grant-track­ing sys­tem from being used for track­ing non-immi­grants unpop­u­lar with the gov­ern­ment like incar­cer­at­ed or for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed peo­ple, left­ist activists, envi­ron­men­tal activists, and antifas­cists:

    ICE col­lects data, which it uses to build pro­files of undoc­u­ment­ed per­sons, with the intent to arrest, detain, and deport them. Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­o­gy (IT) spend­ing accounts for near­ly 10% of DHS’s bud­get, or $6.8 bil­lion, mak­ing it the largest IT bud­get in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, accord­ing to data from the DHS Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion FY 2019. This lev­el of mass sur­veil­lance and data col­lec­tion and shar­ing opens the door to a much wider net that could broad­ly tar­get peo­ple of col­or, incar­cer­at­ed or for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed peo­ple, and left­ist activists, includ­ing Black Lives Mat­ter, envi­ron­men­tal activists, and antifas­cists, activists say.

    “The Trump admin­is­tra­tion is push­ing an incred­i­bly racist and xeno­pho­bic polic­ing agen­da. Tech and data com­pa­nies’ involve­ment is part of this expan­sion,” Jac­in­ta Gon­za­lez, Mijente’s field direc­tor tells For­tune. “The gov­ern­ment could be con­tract­ing tech com­pa­nies for envi­ron­men­tal rea­sons, but instead it’s tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, specif­i­cal­ly peo­ple orga­niz­ing for their rights.”
    ...

    Yep, DHS has the largest IT bud­get in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.

    And it’s not just Palan­tir receiv­ing these kinds of con­tracts with ICE. Tech giants like Ama­zon, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and Motoro­la are also con­tract­ed with ICE to han­dle the work of sur­veilling, track­ing, and pro­fil­ing immi­grants and activists:

    ...
    The “Who’s Behind ICE? The tech and data com­pa­nies fuel­ing depor­ta­tions” report, pre­pared by Empow­er LLC and com­mis­sioned by the Lati­no and immi­gra­tion rights orga­ni­za­tions Mijente, the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Project, and the Immi­grant Defense Project, details an expan­sive net­work, and shows that key tech companies—including Ama­zon, Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies, and Foren­sic Logic—are prof­it­ing from it.

    Ear­li­er this year, NBC News report­ed based on a pub­lic records search that Hewlett Packard Enter­prise, Thom­son Reuters, Microsoft, Motoro­la Solu­tions, and Palan­tir all have active con­tracts with Immi­gra­tion and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE). But the Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s expan­sive net­work of per­son-cen­tric data sys­tems, built for an infor­ma­tion-shar­ing ini­tia­tive between var­i­ous lev­els of law enforce­ment, pos­es not only a threat to immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, but to mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, activists say.
    ...

    So some of the largest tech com­pa­nies on the plan­et are being paid big mon­ey by DHS to build vast data­bas­es of pro­files for track­ing immi­grants and left-wing activists. And the far right Peter Thiel is poised to see his wealth triple as a result of an IPO that’s being tur­bo-charged by one of these con­tracts. Keep all that in mind the next time you hear about about DHS does­n’t have the resources to track white suprema­cist domes­tic ter­ror move­ments.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 4, 2019, 3:05 pm
  18. Here’s a sto­ry that gives us a peek at what the Repub­li­can Par­ty and US right-wing move­ment in gen­er­al is envi­sion­ing as part of its inevitable post-Trump future: The Nation­al Con­ser­vatism con­fer­ence took place place last week. The stat­ed goal of the con­fer­ence was, “to recov­er and recon­sol­i­date the rich tra­di­tion of nation­al con­ser­v­a­tive thought.” The unstat­ed goal, accord­ing to the author of the fol­low­ing arti­cle, con­ser­v­a­tive econ­o­mist Karl W. Smith, was to res­cue nation­al­ism from the likes of Steve Ban­non. Sur­prise! It does­n’t sound like that hap­pened. Peter Thiel gave the open­ing address where he laid out his vision for the kind of nation­al­ism that should guide the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment going for­ward. Sur­prise! It basi­cal­ly sounds like a rehash­ing of Trump­ism. Thiel pushed for the US to make judg­ments and assess­ments based on a sin­gle cri­te­ria: is it good for Amer­i­ca? In oth­er words, Trump’s “Amer­i­ca First” vision of an Amer­i­ca (and world) where every nation is expect­ed to only take into con­sid­er­a­tion their own nar­row inter­ests and that’s it. It’s the kind of mani­a­cal­ly stu­pid world­view that more or less guar­an­tees every­thing even­tu­al­ly breaks but that’s about what we should have expect­ed from some­one like Thiel.

    Along those lines, Thiel also backed the idea of the US seiz­ing the nat­ur­al resources of coun­tries in the event of a war. Specif­i­cal­ly, he backed the idea of the US set­ting out to seize the US tak­ing Iraq. That’s some­thing he felt made sense from a nation­al­ist per­spec­tive, although he cau­tioned that the val­ue of the seized oil would­n’t have jus­ti­fied the cost of the war. So Thiel appears to endorse for-prof­it wars for seiz­ing nat­ur­al resources in the future. Keep in mind that, in the con­text of cli­mate change, dwin­dling resources, and eco-col­lapse, invad­ing coun­tries for their resources will be some­thing fas­cists like Thiel will like­ly be embrac­ing in the future.

    Thiel also used the speech to attack ‘Big Tech’, observ­ing that devel­op­ments like social media have been of lim­it­ed val­ue for the pub­lic at large and point­ed out that tech­nol­o­gy is mak­ing it eas­i­er for gov­ern­ments like Chi­na to sur­veil and sup­press its peo­ple, which is an inter­est com­ment from the founder of Palan­tir. He then went to to accuse Google of includ­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment in its AI devel­op­ment.

    And, of course, Thiel main­tained his attacks on the col­lege and the idea that peo­ple should go to col­lege. This is in keep­ing with the “Thiel Fel­low­ship” that pays col­lege stu­dents to drop out of col­lege and start a busi­ness instead. This, in turn, is in keep­ing with the long-stand­ing right-wing meme that if you want a decent stan­dard of liv­ing you should become a suc­cess­ful busi­ness own­er (or find some oth­er way to get rich). It’s the kind of meme that sounds aspi­ra­tional until you think about and real­ize that it’s simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for keep­ing almost every­one in pover­ty (because we can’t all be suc­cess­ful busi­ness own­ers, <a href=””>which is a point Thiel him­self had repeat­ed­ly made).

    So that us a sense of how con­tem­po­rary con­ser­vatism is plan­ning on ‘recov­er­ing and recon­sol­i­dat­ing the rich tra­di­tion of nation­al con­ser­v­a­tive thought’ after Trump. By dou­bling down on Trump­ism:

    Bloomberg
    Opin­ion

    Can Peter Thiel Save Con­ser­vatism?
    The tech­nol­o­gy bil­lion­aire has a com­pelling world­view, but he lacks a real­is­tic agen­da.

    By Karl W. Smith
    July 21, 2019, 8:00 AM CDT

    The stat­ed pur­pose of last week’s Nation­al Con­ser­vatism con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton was “to recov­er and recon­sol­i­date the rich tra­di­tion of nation­al con­ser­v­a­tive thought.” The unstat­ed goal was to res­cue nation­al­ism from the likes of Steve Ban­non.

    It is a task larg­er than any one per­son, but it is telling that the man select­ed to give the open­ing address was Peter Thiel, the ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and tech­nol­o­gy entre­pre­neur. Thiel suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing news with his com­ments about Google (“seem­ing­ly trea­so­nous”) and the U.S. trade war with Chi­na (Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s “sig­na­ture achieve­ment”). He was less suc­cess­ful, how­ev­er, in artic­u­lat­ing a kinder, gen­tler nation­al­ism.

    His vision of nation­al­ism is not unap­peal­ing: It is intro­spec­tive, self-crit­i­cal and, believe it or not, hum­ble. The prob­lem is that it is all diag­no­sis and no cure. Thiel chal­lenged impor­tant pre­con­cep­tions but failed to even ges­ture in the direc­tion of answers — and with­out answers, this new nation­al­ism is vul­ner­a­ble to being hijacked by the alt-right.

    Thiel’s core the­sis is that view­ing the world through a glob­al­ist lens dri­ves polit­i­cal debate to two extremes, mak­ing it hard­er for Amer­i­ca to address its very real chal­lenges.

    At one extreme is the idea that bor­ders are a near­ly obso­lete con­cept and that Amer­i­cans should view them­selves as cit­i­zens of the world. Under this fram­ing, Amer­i­cans are rel­a­tive­ly healthy, wealthy and well-fed. They thus have a moral respon­si­bil­i­ty to take in as many immi­grants as pos­si­ble and work to undo the rav­ages of colo­nial­ism.

    At the oth­er extreme is the notion that the U.S. is unique among nations. Its found­ing was not only noble but exem­plary. The U.S. thus has a duty to lead the rest of the world to free­dom and pros­per­i­ty — by force if nec­es­sary.

    The nation­al­ist view, accord­ing to Thiel, rejects both extremes. Instead, in mak­ing judg­ments and assess­ments, it asks a sim­ple ques­tion: Is it good for Amer­i­ca?

    By way of exam­ple, Thiel asked: Is big tech good for Amer­i­ca? Sil­i­con Val­ley itself sees itself as part of the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty and con­sid­ers con­nect­ing the entire world not only its job but an unal­loyed good. Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ists, in con­trast, see a wild­ly suc­cess­ful, glob­al­ly dom­i­nant indus­try that could only have been born in the U.S. Big tech’s very exis­tence is a val­i­da­tion of their world view.

    A nation­al­ist, Thiel argued, sim­ply asks what Sil­i­con Val­ley has done to improve the lives of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. Out­side of the Bay Area, he said, the answer is not much. Social media may con­sume more of our lives, but it’s not clear it’s mak­ing those lives bet­ter. Even worse, Thiel argued, tech­nol­o­gy is mak­ing it eas­i­er for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to oppress its own peo­ple. (Here is where he sin­gled out Google, not­ing that it is work­ing with Chi­na but can­celed its con­tract with the U.S. mil­i­tary.)

    ...

    On oth­er issues, Thiel was sim­i­lar­ly adept at dis­man­tling the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom. On the Iraq war, for exam­ple, Thiel argued that set­ting out to grab Iraq’s oil would have made sense from a nation­al­ist per­spec­tive. It also would have sparked the cold cal­cu­la­tion of weigh­ing the val­ue of the oil against the cost of the war — a cal­cu­la­tion that would have made it clear from the start that the war wasn’t worth it.

    Then there is Thiel’s dim view of col­lege, which is well-known (he offers a $100,000 fel­low­ship to stu­dents who drop out to “build new things”). The edu­ca­tion at elite uni­ver­si­ties is not very good to begin with. The pace of sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery is slow­ing and most engi­neer­ing majors, out­side of com­put­ers and petro­le­um, face a nar­row­ing career path. Even the very best col­leges aren’t very good, and even the bright­est stu­dents should think care­ful­ly about whether it’s worth wast­ing the most ener­getic years of their life.

    These ideas — that Big Tech is a threat to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty, that the prof­itabil­i­ty of a war ought to be a major fac­tor in decid­ing whether to deploy the mil­i­tary, that the high­er edu­ca­tion sys­tem is on net a waste — are brac­ing. They could even form the core of a rad­i­cal nation­al­ist con­ser­v­a­tivism if only Thiel had even the hint of an agen­da. Should U.S. tech com­pa­nies be for­bid­den from oper­at­ing in Chi­na alto­geth­er? Should the U.S. demand finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion from any nation that it pro­tects? Should state col­leges be abol­ished?

    Thiel didn’t say. And with­out an agen­da, Thiel’s vision pro­vides lit­tle coun­ter­weight to the racial­ly charged ver­sion of nation­al­ism that guid­ed the last Trump cam­paign — and looks like­ly to guide the next one as well.

    ———-

    “Can Peter Thiel Save Con­ser­vatism?” by Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg, 07/21/2019

    “These ideas — that Big Tech is a threat to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty, that the prof­itabil­i­ty of a war ought to be a major fac­tor in decid­ing whether to deploy the mil­i­tary, that the high­er edu­ca­tion sys­tem is on net a waste — are brac­ing. They could even form the core of a rad­i­cal nation­al­ist con­ser­vatism if only Thiel had even the hint of an agen­da. Should U.S. tech com­pa­nies be for­bid­den from oper­at­ing in Chi­na alto­geth­er? Should the U.S. demand finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion from any nation that it pro­tects? Should state col­leges be abol­ished?”

    Yep, Thiel’s “Amer­i­ca First!” world­view could indeed for the core of a rad­i­cal nation­al­ist con­ser­vatism, as evi­denced by the fact that this is more or less what Trump has already got­ten the Repub­li­can Par­ty to embrace. Trump has already pro­posed sim­ply tak­ing Iraq’s oil. And he’s hap­py to claim Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies as biased against him and con­ser­v­a­tives as part of the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s ‘work­ing the refs’ strat­e­gy and has even sug­gest­ed the US gov­ern­ment might sue social media giants over that alleged bias (while ignor­ing the cru­cial role these giants played in secur­ing his 2016 vic­to­ry). Thiel was just rehash­ing Trump­ism:

    ...
    Thiel’s core the­sis is that view­ing the world through a glob­al­ist lens dri­ves polit­i­cal debate to two extremes, mak­ing it hard­er for Amer­i­ca to address its very real chal­lenges.

    At one extreme is the idea that bor­ders are a near­ly obso­lete con­cept and that Amer­i­cans should view them­selves as cit­i­zens of the world. Under this fram­ing, Amer­i­cans are rel­a­tive­ly healthy, wealthy and well-fed. They thus have a moral respon­si­bil­i­ty to take in as many immi­grants as pos­si­ble and work to undo the rav­ages of colo­nial­ism.

    At the oth­er extreme is the notion that the U.S. is unique among nations. Its found­ing was not only noble but exem­plary. The U.S. thus has a duty to lead the rest of the world to free­dom and pros­per­i­ty — by force if nec­es­sary.

    The nation­al­ist view, accord­ing to Thiel, rejects both extremes. Instead, in mak­ing judg­ments and assess­ments, it asks a sim­ple ques­tion: Is it good for Amer­i­ca?

    By way of exam­ple, Thiel asked: Is big tech good for Amer­i­ca? Sil­i­con Val­ley itself sees itself as part of the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty and con­sid­ers con­nect­ing the entire world not only its job but an unal­loyed good. Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ists, in con­trast, see a wild­ly suc­cess­ful, glob­al­ly dom­i­nant indus­try that could only have been born in the U.S. Big tech’s very exis­tence is a val­i­da­tion of their world view.

    A nation­al­ist, Thiel argued, sim­ply asks what Sil­i­con Val­ley has done to improve the lives of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. Out­side of the Bay Area, he said, the answer is not much. Social media may con­sume more of our lives, but it’s not clear it’s mak­ing those lives bet­ter. Even worse, Thiel argued, tech­nol­o­gy is mak­ing it eas­i­er for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to oppress its own peo­ple. (Here is where he sin­gled out Google, not­ing that it is work­ing with Chi­na but can­celed its con­tract with the U.S. mil­i­tary.)

    On oth­er issues, Thiel was sim­i­lar­ly adept at dis­man­tling the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom. On the Iraq war, for exam­ple, Thiel argued that set­ting out to grab Iraq’s oil would have made sense from a nation­al­ist per­spec­tive. It also would have sparked the cold cal­cu­la­tion of weigh­ing the val­ue of the oil against the cost of the war — a cal­cu­la­tion that would have made it clear from the start that the war wasn’t worth it.
    ...

    Wars for resource con­quests. That’s part of Thiel’s “Amer­i­ca First!” vision of the future of con­ser­vatism. And he was the keynote speak­er.

    And while Trump has­n’t exact­ly embraced Thiel’s push to dis­suade peo­ple from going to col­lege, he has­n’t done any­thing to make col­lege more afford­able and, worse, actu­al­ly reen­abled the preda­to­ry for-prof­it scam col­lege indus­try and even asked Jer­ry Fawell Jr to lead a Trump admin­is­tra­tion task force charged with elim­i­nat­ing anti-preda­to­ry reg­u­la­tion. So, at a min­i­mum, Thiel’s attacks on the idea of col­lege are con­sis­tent with Trump’s attacks on the qual­i­ty of US col­leges.

    But let’s not for­get who Peter Thiel is: the lib­er­tar­i­an extrem­ist who feels democ­ra­cy and free­dom aren’t com­pat­i­ble and the main backer for the ‘Seast­eading’ move­ment to cre­ate inde­pen­dent microstates. So when Thiel puts for­ward an ‘Amer­i­ca First’ ide­ol­o­gy, we have to keep in mind that what he’s real­ly advo­cat­ing for is an ‘every man for him­self!’ phi­los­o­phy. It’s one of the grand ironies of Thiel’s vision of a future ‘nation­al­ist con­ser­vatism’. It’s ‘nation­al­ism’ from the per­spec­tive of a lib­er­tar­i­an bil­lion­aire on a quest to polit­i­cal­ly cap­ture a nation and shape it in his ‘every man for him­self!’ world­view. A nation where peo­ple feel no social oblig­a­tions towards each oth­er.

    The oth­er grand irony for Thiel’s vision of the a future ‘nation­al­ist con­ser­vatism’ is, of course, that this already what Repub­li­can Par­ty is basi­cal­ly all about. Bil­lion­aires First!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 25, 2019, 1:29 pm

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