April 7, 2018 in 4,656 words

PORAMBO

How a fearless journalist who wrote a seminal account of police brutality during the 1967 race riots in Newark, New Jersey, wound up on the wrong side of the law

1983

The night Ron Porambo was shot in the head, he told his wife that he was going out to meet a friend. It was late, but that was when the 44-year-old newspaper reporter did his best work. As he had countless times before, Porambo slid into his Volkswagen hatchback and cruised through the dark into downtown Newark.

Outside the car windows, Newark’s row houses looked like gathering ghosts. Block after block, the battered wooden structures loomed three stories tall. Their facades caught the dull glow of the streetlights that flickered on when the sun set each day; the broken lights—and there were many—had been that way for as long as Porambo could remember. Below sagging front stoops, where cracked asphalt met stained sidewalks, garbage clogged the gutters.

Newark had been decaying for decades. Crime, corruption, and disenfranchisement had led Harper’s magazine to dub it “the worst American city.” Porambo, though, saw it as scrappy and resolute. He saw himself in much the same way: as a man with something to prove.

Porambo drove to 186 Ridgewood Ave., the address where he was supposed to meet his friend. After pulling to a stop at the curb, he cut the ignition and waited. He’d made a career out of consorting with hustlers, sex workers, and drug dealers to unearth gritty investigative stories about the city’s poorest residents. Most of his sources and subjects were black. Porambo, who was white, wrote about the people he believed had the most insight into suffering, inequality, and resilience in America. “They know,” he once told a fellow reporter.

A man approached his passenger-side window. It wasn’t the person Porambo had expected to see—or if it was, the greeting was a terrible shock. The man raised a .38-caliber handgun and pulled the trigger.


It’s about to get harder to trick people with political ads on Facebook

MORE MOVES


Fixing things.

In the hope of avoiding future foreign meddling in elections, as was seen in 2016 US presidential campaign, Facebook announced today (April 6) some of its most significant efforts to date to boost transparency in political advertising. The moves come before CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before US lawmakers next week over a different scandal.

In October, Facebook said it would require advertisers running electoral ads to verify their identity and location. It will now extend that requirement to so-called “issue ads,” which aim to sway opinions on immigration, gun rights, the economy and other topics. Crucially, the company said it would now also verify the identity of administrators of pages with large followings, making it harder to run them from fake accounts. Facebook pages were used by Russian agents to spread misinformation during the 2016 election, according to the US Justice Department.

“These steps by themselves won’t stop all people trying to game the system,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his personal Facebook page. “But they will make it a lot harder for anyone to do what the Russians did during the 2016 election and use fake accounts and pages to run ads.”

Each electoral and issue ad will be labeled as “political” and will include information on who paid for it, which would be required by the Honest Ads Act, transparency legislation that has been introduced in Congress, a bill Facebook appears to be pre-empting with its new policies. Zuckerberg reiterated his support for the legislation in his post, although as Quartz has reported, the company has lobbied against it.


The Party of Hubert Humphrey

A push for civil rights that began in 1948 may have led to the ongoing alienation of white middle-class voters from the Democratic Party.


Hubert Humphrey wears a Truman button as he addresses the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1948.

Seventy years ago, on the night of July 14, 1948, Hubert Humphrey, speaking at the Democratic convention in the Philadelphia Convention Hall, changed the course of the Democratic Party, and of post-war American politics. Yes, that’s the same Hubert Humphrey whom those of us who came of age in the late 1960s remember as the incarnation of a shopworn Cold War liberalism, the martyr of the cataclysmic 1968 Democratic convention. That Humphrey was LBJ’s sad rubber-faced puppet. This Humphrey was the maverick mayor of Minneapolis, the Happy Warrior whom Time had put on its cover under the banner, “The number one prospect for liberalism in the country.” In 1948, “liberalism” operated as a synonym for energy, optimism, and, above all, idealism. But with the Democrats now under the stewardship of Harry Truman, a stodgy machine pol, men like Humphrey feared that the party no longer stood for anything worth caring about. And Humphrey had come to Philadelphia determined to commit the Democrats to the one issue that cried out for a politics of conviction: civil rights.

This year, The Atlantic is commemorating the 50th anniversary of 1968, that year of terror and wonders. For the Democratic Party, and for Hubert Humphrey, 1968 was a kind of Calvary. The year 1948, by contrast, is the origin story of the post-war Democratic Party. And the question this history imposes on us today is: Did the commitment of 1948 lead inevitably to the calamity of 1968 and beyond? That is, did the Democrats doom themselves to lose much of the white middle class simply by demanding equal rights for black people? If that’s the case, then racism is so deeply inscribed in the American soul, as much of the party’s left claims today, that a Democratic majority can only be founded on a coalition of the disadvantaged and the high-minded. If it’s not the case, then Democrats and liberals need to ask themselves where they went wrong.

The Hubert Humphrey of 1948 already sported the widow’s peak that would become pronounced later in life; he had the Sunday-school earnestness of a Midwestern druggist—which he was—and the unquenchable zeal of a reformer. In Minnesota, he had driven the Communist-influenced left from the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. In 1947 he had helped found Americans for Democratic Action, the leading organ of the anti-Communist left. Humphrey and his ADA colleagues worried deeply about the appeal of Henry Wallace, the third-party candidate who opposed the Cold War and endorsed European-style socialism. Idealists were shearing off from the Democrats to Wallace. A bold civil-rights plank in the Democratic platform would go a long way to blunting Wallace’s appeal.


A neuroscientist explains what could be wrong with Trump supporters’ brains


CNN panel of Trump supporters

There’s no doubt that Donald Trump has said many things that would have been political suicide for any other Republican. And almost every time he made one of these shocking statements, political analysts on both the left and the right predicted that he’d lose supporters because of it. But as we have clearly seen over the past year, they were dead wrong every time. Trump appears to be almost totally bulletproof.

The only thing that might be more perplexing than the psychology of Donald Trump is the psychology of his supporters. In their eyes, The Donald can do no wrong. Even Trump himself seems to be astonished by this phenomenon. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s, like, incredible.”

Senator John McCain, who has been a regular target for Trump, has a simple explanation for his unwavering support. “What he did was he fired up the crazies.”

While the former Republican presidential nominee may be on to something, he doesn’t exactly provide a very satisfying scientific explanation. So how exactly are Trump loyalists psychologically or neurologically different from everyone else? What is going on in their brains that makes them so blindly devoted?

  1. The Dunning-Kruger Effect:
    Some believe that many of those who support Donald Trump do so because of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it’s ever been, they simply take his word for it.

    The seemingly obvious solution would be to try to reach those people through political ads, expert opinions, and logical arguments that educate with facts. Except none of those things seem to be swaying any Trump supporters from his side, despite great efforts to deliver this information to them directly.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn’t just that they are misinformed; it’s that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed. This creates a double burden.


Trump is a globalist. Just a chaotic one.

THERE’S HISTORY HERE


Traders make money, not war.

Donald Trump is not a strict anti-globalist. He’s just not a fan of the current variety of globalization.

The US president appeared to further cement his reputation as a modern trade warrior this week when he proposed tariffs on $50 billion’s worth of Chinese imports—and then doubled down by threatening to tax $100 billion more.

Yet Trump’s trade philosophy—which appears to be mostly based on the principle of squeezing partners to extract privileges—harks back to the first wave of globalization at the turn of the last century.

From 1870 to 1914, the world experienced a precipitous increase in trade, driven, not unlike today, by falling transportation costs and faster communications. That first huge wave in the global exchange of goods took place amid stiff barriers erected by imperial powers hell-bent on conquering new markets while protecting their own.

A look at that period provides an idea of what international commercial relations could look like if every country adopted the Trumpian approach: a hostile competition for political, economic, and, in some cases, military dominance. It’s not the best accompaniment to a fracturing international system.

That first iteration of globalization came crashing down with World War I. Trump’s revival of that strain of protectionism comes as geo-political tensions are rising again among the big powers.


S.C. Republicans introduce bill to consider secession over gun rights

A group of Republican state legislators in South Carolina introduced a measure Thursday that would allow the state to secede from the United States if the federal government began to seize legally purchased firearms in the state.

The bill, which was referred to the state House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, would allow South Carolina lawmakers to debate whether to secede from the United States if the federal government were to violate the Second Amendment.

It states that “the general assembly shall convene to consider whether to secede from the United States based upon the federal government’s unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution if the federal government confiscates legally purchased firearms in this state.”


6 Things Hollywood Always Gets Wrong About Being A Teenager

Presumably, every single writer in Hollywood was at some point in time a teenager. At the very least, they probably inject themselves with teenage blood in order to keep their organs strong and their skin moist. So how in the world do they know nothing about them? It’s … it’s the cocaine, isn’t it? Well, whatever it is, pay attention, writers. We’re about to help you out …

6. All Teens Are Totally Free To Interrupt Gym Class Or Practice


Teen movies like to portray gym teachers and coaches as sadistic disciplinarians who must win at all costs, yet they’re also super OK with anyone walking onto the field and interrupting things. Movie football practice has to stop every three minutes for each player’s girlfriend to walk onto the field and have a long conversation with him. In The Duff, the protagonist goes right up to the quarterback as he’s running drills.

Hey! Star athlete in the middle of a play! Let’s talk about science class! No, YOU get the hell off the field, COACH.”

In 10 Things I Hate About You, a male student interrupts an all-girl archery class without anyone telling him he’s not allowed to just show up there for so, so many reasons.

“Sup? You in class? Being watched very closely by a protective gym teacher as you shoot a dangerous weapon? Cool, cool.”

In Superbad, Seth has no problem completely ruining the gym class soccer game to talk to his buddy. People seem a little annoyed, but not to the point of anyone kicking him out. The PE teacher barely manages an irritated “Come on.”

“No, YOU come on! Movie school by-law 48B states that if I want to ruin a soccer game, you can’t do a goddamn thing about it!”

Once you notice this, you’ll see it everywhere.


What About “The Breakfast Club”?

Revisiting the movies of my youth in the age of #MeToo. By Molly Ringwald,

Earlier this year, the Criterion Collection, which is “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world,” released a restored version of “The Breakfast Club,” a film written and directed by John Hughes that I acted in, more than three decades ago. For this edition, I participated in an interview about the movie, as did other people close to the production. I don’t make a habit of revisiting films I’ve made, but this was not the first time I’d returned to this one: a few years back, I watched it with my daughter, who was ten at the time. We recorded a conversation about it for the radio show “This American Life.” I’ll be the first to admit that ten is far too young for a viewing of “The Breakfast Club,” a movie about five high-school students who befriend one other during a Saturday detention session, with plenty of cursing, sex talk, and a now-famous scene of the students smoking pot. But my daughter insisted that her friends had already seen it, and she said she didn’t want to watch it for the first time in front of other people. A writer-director friend assured me that kids tend to filter out what they don’t understand, and I figured that it would be better if I were there to answer the uncomfortable questions. So I relented, thinking perhaps that it would make for a sweet if unconventional mother-daughter bonding moment.

It’s a strange experience, watching a younger, more innocent version of yourself onscreen. It’s stranger still—surreal, even—watching it with your child when she is much closer in age to that version of yourself than you are. My friend was right: my daughter didn’t really seem to register most of the sex stuff, though she did audibly gasp when she thought I had showed my underwear. At one point in the film, the bad-boy character, John Bender, ducks under the table where my character, Claire, is sitting, to hide from a teacher. While there, he takes the opportunity to peek under Claire’s skirt and, though the audience doesn’t see, it is implied that he touches her inappropriately. I was quick to point out to my daughter that the person in the underwear wasn’t really me, though that clarification seemed inconsequential. We kept watching, and, despite my best intentions to give context to the uncomfortable bits, I didn’t elaborate on what might have gone on under the table. She expressed no curiosity in anything sexual, so I decided to follow her lead, and discuss what seemed to resonate with her more. Maybe I just chickened out.

But I kept thinking about that scene. I thought about it again this past fall, after a number of women came forward with sexual-assault accusations against the producer Harvey Weinstein, and the #MeToo movement gathered steam. If attitudes toward female subjugation are systemic, and I believe that they are, it stands to reason that the art we consume and sanction plays some part in reinforcing those same attitudes. I made three movies with John Hughes; when they were released, they made enough of a cultural impact to land me on the cover of Time magazine and to get Hughes hailed as a genius. His critical reputation has only grown since he died, in 2009, at the age of fifty-nine. Hughes’s films play constantly on television and are even taught in schools. There is still so much that I love in them, but lately I have felt the need to examine the role that these movies have played in our cultural life: where they came from, and what they might mean now. When my daughter proposed watching “The Breakfast Club” together, I had hesitated, not knowing how she would react: if she would understand the film or if she would even like it. I worried that she would find aspects of it troubling, but I hadn’t anticipated that it would ultimately be most troubling to me.


Assault weapons ban doesn’t violate 2nd Amendment, judge says


A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging Massachusetts’ ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, saying in a ruling released Friday that the weapons fall beyond the reach of the Second Amendment. U.S. District Judge William Young said assault weapons are military firearms and aren’t protected by the constitutional right to “bear arms.” Regulation of the weapons is a matter of policy, not for the courts, he said.

“Other states are equally free to leave them unregulated and available to their law-abiding citizens,” Young said. “These policy matters are simply not of constitutional moment. Americans are not afraid of bumptious, raucous and robust debate about these matters. We call it democracy.”

Democratic state Attorney General Maura Healey said the ruling “vindicates the right of the people of Massachusetts to protect themselves from these weapons of war.”

“Strong gun laws save lives, and we will not be intimidated by the gun lobby in our efforts to end the sale of assault weapons and protect our communities and schools,” she said in a statement. “Families across the country should take heart in this victory,” she said.


Homeland Security Wants to Build an Online ‘Media Influence Database’ to Track Journalists

The Department of Homeland Security announced a public bid for third party companies to build a “media influence database” capable of tracking more than 290,000 news sources across the globe. First spotted by Bloomberg Law, the public bid would also track journalists and bloggers, compiling their personal information and the publications for which they write.

Posted on April 3rd as a call for “Media Monitoring Services,” the database has a dual purpose: monitoring hundreds of thousands of news sources simultaneously worldwide as well as tracking and categorizing journalists and bloggers. The “Media Intelligence and Benchmarking Platform,” as the proposed database is called, would monitor more than 290,000 “online, print, broadcast, cable, radio, trade and industry” news sources worldwide. DHS wants the database to rank and categorize news sources according to a variety of factors, including content and topics covered, reach, circulation and location, and sentiment.

Perhaps even more chilling given the current media climate, the platform would also feature a database filled with the personal and social media data of “journalists, editors, correspondents, social media influencers, [and] bloggers,” searchable by location, beat, publication, and ad-hoc keywords.

It’s not at all unheard of for the PR wings of big companies to keep lists of journalists, both friendly and unfriendly, on hand—but not at this scale.


Tennessee lawmakers cite ‘Wikipedia’ and ‘The Onion’ while debating bill

Two Tennessee lawmakers cited non-credible sources while debating a serious bill earlier this week.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia where anyone can write anything they want. The Onion is an online publication that’s strictly satire with headlines like ‘Cows Go Extinct’ and ‘Company Unveils Spring-Loaded Toaster That Allows Rad High Schoolers To Grab Breakfast in Midair While Leaving House.’

Both websites were cited by State Representative Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and State Representative Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, while debating a bill to make hazing a misdemeanor offense.

“I mean right here on The Onion, a report about Kentucky seniors who haze freshman basketball players, but I do think it’s an issue,” Rep. Van Huss said.

“I’ve just been trying to do a little research on this,” Rep. Michael Curcio said with a laugh. “I looked at our trusty, ever faithful Wikipedia entries on this. They actually have a list of hazing deaths in the United States that goes back into the 1800s.”


Hilton Hotels’ newest upgrades are strictly for staff

ROOM TO IMPROVE


The employee cafeteria at the Beijing Waldorf-Astoria.

Behind the graceful lobbies and elegant dining rooms of luxury hotels are the grim, windowless spaces where employees work, eat, and try to relax.

Kitchens are chaotic, hallways are scuffed and cluttered, break rooms furnished with mismatched or broken chairs retired from guest rooms. Hotels will spend millions renovating spaces visible to the public, but the so-called back of the house is an afterthought, if it’s a thought at all.

While many companies lovingly attend to the working conditions of white-collar employees—with treadmill desks, soothing quiet rooms, and whimsical common areas—the needs of service workers are all but ignored. Hilton Hotels is attempting to rectify this imbalance with an ambitious program to spruce up its employee spaces it hopes will improve their experience and, in turn, reduce turnover, improve customer service, and drive profitability.

“Our mission is to be the most hospitable company in the world, and you can’t do that without great people, and you can’t get great people without being a great workplace,” says Matt Schuyler, Hilton’s chief human resources officer. “We can’t have a dungeonous back of house and expect people to have a great workplace.”


Why there are so many online mattress-in-a-box companies

Some industry insiders estimate there are as many as 100 brands selling compressed foam mattresses online.

Since Casper launched its “mattress in a box” concept in 2014, digital-savvy entrepreneurs have been launching new mattress brands online seemingly every week. Each offers a state-of-the-art mattress made with patented new materials or an innovative design, all compressed into a small box for easy shipping right to your doorstep.

A Layla mattress is two-sided, giving you the choice between a firm or soft mattress. Eight offers a mattress with smart home integration, collecting data on your rest as you sleep. Bear mattresses use “Infrared Yarn Technology” to help athletes and those with active lifestyles recover faster. The Avocado mattress is made of all organic, nontoxic materials.

It’s hard to know just how many online mattress-in-a-box companies are floating around, but one such company’s CEO said the number could be as high as 150. Another said the number of mattress manufacturers, which are rarely the startups actually marketing the mattresses to consumers, is close to 500.

Ideally, a mattress is something you buy once every eight to 10 years, when an old one wears out or a major life event like getting married creates a new household. One can find a quality mattress for around $1,000. Given this is a relatively affordable, infrequent purchase for most households, why do so many companies see an opportunity in the online mattress space?


The unsolved mystery of who owns Sherlock Holmes’s original £130 million home

HOUSE OF THE BASKERVILLES


The mysterious properties loom over Baker Street in London.

221b
Sherlock Holmes
Consulting detective
1881-1904

So reads the blue plaque on this pretty Georgian terraced house, home to London’s Sherlock Holmes Museum. In a city of storied buildings, the home of the fictional detective is as famous as they come. The museum is also not the original location of the fictional detective’s fictional house. If you’re facing the museum and peer to the left, you’ll see an Art Deco cluster of flats and offices. This houses the original 221b Baker Street.

In the 21st century, the original location has fallen far off its pedestal as the home of Britain’s most famous gentleman crime-fighter. Instead, it now symbolizes a very modern London trait: the city as a mecca for money stashed away by the elites of corrupt countries.

Valued at more than £130 million ($183 million), the property spanning 215 to 237 Baker Street is held via a web of secretive offshore corporations which hide its owner’s identity. It is notorious among anti-corruption activists: In 2015, then-prime minister David Cameron singled out allegations about the property in a speech in Singapore, insisting, “We need to stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property.” Two years later, the government cited the buildings in its 2017-2022 Anti-Corruption Strategy (pdf, p.37).

Anti-corruption organizations have previously investigated the properties, and postulated possible secret owners for them. Now, court documents seen by Quartz and files leaked in the Panama Papers suggest the properties have belonged at least in part to one or more family members of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Retailers around the country are shuttering stores — a list that ranges from Toys R Us, which just announced it’s closing or selling all its U.S. locations, to brands including Footlocker, J. Crew and Macy’s that are shrinking their brick-and-mortar operations.

But one retailer — Dollar General — is doing just the opposite.

The discount store has opened more stores than ever before, with more than 5,000 new locations across the U.S. since 2010. It now has more than 14 thousand stores in the country — or just about as many as McDonald’s.

It’s opening up stores in parts of the country that were slow to rebound from the recession —low income, rural communities that larger retailers won’t touch — and they’re making a lot of money doing it.

VICE News traveled to Kansas, where the rise of the discount store has spurred the fall of another, arguably more crucial type of establishment: small, local grocery stores.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.


Seth’s favorite jokes from the week of April 2.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.


Bill recaps the top stories of the week including Russian sanctions, US troops moving to the border and Trump’s tendency to flip-flop.


“Long before Donald Trump was “hearing things,” Bill Maher was making baseless assertions in a segment called “I Don’t Know It For a Fact…I Just Know It’s True.”


In a surprising move, Bill sticks up for children in his editorial New Rule.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.


The many moods of Max.


FINALLY . . .

Elon Musk Worries That AI Research Will Create an ‘Immortal Dictator’


In a new documentary, Elon Musk warns that an ‘immortal’ digital dictator could forever trap humanity in its grasp unless we start regulating technology ASAP.


Imagine your least-favorite world leader. (Take as much time as you need.)

Now, imagine if that person wasn’t a human, but a network of millions of computers around the world. This digi-dictator has instant access to every scrap of recorded information about every person who’s ever lived. It can make millions of calculations in a fraction of a second, controls the world’s economy and weapons systems with godlike autonomy and — scariest of all — can never, ever die.

This unkillable digital dictator, according to Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, is one of the darker scenarios awaiting humankind’s future if artificial-intelligence research continues without serious regulation.

“We are rapidly headed toward digital superintelligence that far exceeds any human, I think it’s pretty obvious,” Musk said in a new AI documentary called “Do You Trust This Computer?” directed by Chris Paine (who interviewed Musk previously for the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?”). “If one company or a small group of people manages to develop godlike digital super-intelligence, they could take over the world.”

Humans have tried to take over the world before. However, an authoritarian AI would have one terrible advantage over like-minded humans, Musk said.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: “At least when there’s an evil dictator, that human is going to die. But for an AI there would be no death. It would live forever, and then you’d have an immortal dictator, from which we could never escape.”


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?