The Smoke Eater for March 30, 2020

Biden's tech problem, Russia's "totally useless" aid, and #WheresLori

Chicago’s gutters are now filling up with rubber gloves. Photo by Dominic Gwinn

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater for Monday, March 30, 2020, and we are the good guys and we have many factions


Quick Hit

* Joe Biden is aware of the internet * AOC bought-in * Fareed's argument must be signed in triplicate * Russian sends Italy "totally useless" aid * Orbán finally comes out * Journalists vs Journalism * Where's Lori?*

NOTE: Today we're just going to take a quick look at some stories that aren't hitting the front pages. As always, The Smoker Eater is mobile friendly, ad-free and supported by the generosity of its readers. If you want to be super awesome, tip me on Ko-Fi, or subscribe to my Patreon!


In Other News...

Joe Biden needs to quickly learn to how to use the internet and shitpost if he stands any chance at winning the hearts and minds of covid-crisis survivors who can actually make it to the polls in November. There's no shortage of blame to throw around for the fragmentation of the Democratic party’s outreach operations -- some insiders blame Obama, some blame Hillary, others blame Bernie. In 2016 Republican's consolidated their efforts around Trumpland with a little financial help from Robert Mercer. Factional and leaderless, the Democratic party's digital operations also faces serious ethical conundrums, like whether or not it should engage in trolling, shitposting, and geofencing, tactics that the GOP has no reservations about implementing in order to win at all costs.

Rep. Alexandria Ocassio-Cortez has taken a decidedly more modest tone in the Democratic primaries than some progressives would like, Politico reports. Over the last few months AOC has seen some turnover in her senior staff, and she's chastised the more outspoken and venomous members of the progressive movement that helped vault her to national prominence. Though some on the left may consider this selling out, others feel this is a politically savvy move.

Hoteliers are already upset that they aren't getting a bailout (yet), Jim Saksa reports for Roll Call. A major hotel lobby is threatening hotels will have to start furloughing workers in order to cover their debts.

The IRS is evacuating all non-mission critical employees who can effectively telework, according to communiques obtained by Federal News Network. As anyone familiar with Washington might expect, there's a number of nitpicky stipulations to that order. Nobody is saying whether or not this will impact American's from receiving their Trump Buck$. Yes, he wants his name on the damn checks.

Last week Fareed Zakaria argued that one of the problems the U.S. is facing in the corona-crisis is an inefficient and overburden bureaucracy. Zakaria points to Germany, South Korea and Taiwan as modern democratic models that are both well-funded and responsive as opposed to the unnecessary praise some have given autocratic regimes, like China. The bevy of regulations and their "politicized mandates," Zakaria argues, has created a "patchwork quilt" that is hobbling the ability for officials to act decisively, from the federal to the local level.

Fascist Fuckery

The New York Times has an interesting breakdown on some of the tactics Russia is using to shill bullshit. Some of the big ones are reposting shitty screen captures to social media, copying and pasting text to avoid misspellings, and "franchising" their fuckery efforts. In my own research I've noticed certain areas of reddit serving as test kitchens for more direct forms of fuckery, with trolls lurking around forums that are internationally-focused, or serving as discussion groups for journalists.

Italian newspaper La Stampa cites high-level political sources in Italy's far-right government are pissed that, "80% of Russian supplies are totally useless or of little use to Italy." The piece has raised questions about the Russian military's free-wheeling excursion into Northern Italy to deliver disinfection equipment and military personnel. Russian state-media has naturally made a big stink about Russian President Vladimir Putin's overture. Reuters published piece quoting EU and NATO officials raising red flags about Russia's militarized power play, noting that trucks and planes (no joke) are emblazoned with, "From Russia With Love," seem to be a media ploy rather than a public health effort.

Hungary's right-wing autocratic leader, Victor Orbán, has won a parliamentary vote to rule by decree without any time limits. Just like Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, Orbán has promised to give back all his new powers "when this emergency ends." Politico reports the new laws are terrifying to civil rights advocates as they abolish elections and give the government the ability to prosecute people accused of publicizing disinfo until the government declares the crisis is over. NPR notes that Orbán's government hasn't done much to combat the virus, and has done even less testing.

The New York Times has a piece about France's anti-terrorism operations in Western Africa. The simplest analogy is to call it France's Afghanistan as the conflict shares many of the same similarities, though it differs in that French assistance was requested. The conflict is largely supported by the US, though the Trump administration has threatened to withdraw the U.S. presence and shutter a brand new airbase. Frustrated, France is now teetering between pulling out, or biting the bullet.

The "News Business" Is A Bad Business

Ben Smith has a rather interesting rebuke to Margaret Sullivan's WaPo piece on saving local news from last week. Smith suggests instead of throwing money at newspaper's hellbent on propping up outdated business models that rely on advertising, we should instead pay money to directly to journalists. Most readers remain blissfully unaware about the very real debates happening on the future of the news industry: do we become non-profits, risk government-funding or philanthropic schemes, or start front-facing businesses (like a bar) where profits support newsrooms? Smith's main point is that the existing advertising business model has failed thanks to Facebook and Google, and there's no amount of mergers, lay-offs, or cuts that can restore the kind of muckraking (and sometimes boring) niche/local coverage communities need.

The call to arms comes as Facebook announced a $100 million dollar grant for local newsrooms this morning. In a blog post, Facebook’s vice president for global news partnerships (and former journalist), Campbell Brown, notes that the cash comes on top of $300 million it has invested in the very newsrooms it's own ad business has starved into obsolescence.

One More Thing...

Chicago's leaders are not screwing around with Stay-At-Home orders. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot cracked down on public gatherings after people abandoned "social distancing" guidelines during a fit of nice weather last week, shutting down all city parks, and bike/pedestrian trails. People responded by creating memes of the mayor looming ominously over downtown, public parks, and outside apartments.

OK, here's cute critter video: IT'S CHAIRMAN MEOW!

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