Sean Parker unloads on Facebook "exploiting" human weakness
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Sean Parker unloads on Facebook "exploiting" human psychology

Mark Zuckerberg (L) and Sean Parker (R). Photos: Steven Senne/AP, Axios video

Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, gave me a candid insider's look at how social networks purposely hook and potentially hurt our brains.

Be smart: Parker's I-was-there account provides priceless perspective in the rising debate about the power and effects of the social networks, which now have scale and reach unknown in human history. He's worried enough that he's sounding the alarm.

Parker, 38, now founder and chair of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, spoke yesterday at an Axios event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, about accelerating cancer innovation. In the green room, Parker mentioned that he has become "something of a conscientious objector" on social media.

By the time he left the stage, he jokingly said Mark Zuckerberg will probably block his account after reading this:

  • "When Facebook was getting going, I had these people who would come up to me and they would say, 'I'm not on social media.' And I would say, 'OK. You know, you will be.' And then they would say, 'No, no, no. I value my real-life interactions. I value the moment. I value presence. I value intimacy.' And I would say, ... 'We'll get you eventually.'"
  • "I don't know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and ... it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ... It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it's doing to our children's brains."
  • "The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, ... was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'"
  • "And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments."
  • "It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."
  • "The inventors, creators — it's me, it's Mark [Zuckerberg], it's Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it's all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway."

P.S. Parker, on life science allowing us to "live much longer, more productive lives": "Because I'm a billionaire, I'm going to have access to better health care so ... I'm going to be like 160 and I'm going to be part of this, like, class of immortal overlords. [Laughter] Because, you know the [Warren Buffett] expression about compound interest. ... [G]ive us billionaires an extra hundred years and you'll know what ... wealth disparity looks like."

Go deeper: See the video of Parker's comments.

Go deeper: Joe Biden rips Trump's "phony nationalism".

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Clinton: Trump and Roy Moore should apologize

Hillary Clinton slams Trump and Roy Moore for their allegations of sexual misconduct. Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

"Look at the contrast between Al Franken, accepting responsibility, apologizing, and Roy Moore and Donald Trump, who have done neither," Hillary Clinton said during a radio interview with 77 WABC New York. She also said that Trump "has disgraced the office" and that Moore "clearly doesn't appear to be someone who will bring respect and honor to the state of Alabama."

One more key quote: "I didn't think he'd be as bad as he turned out to be," she said of Trump's job as president.

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The "backdoor" Russia meeting proposed to Trump's team

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort all received this email from a top Russian official. Photos: Evan Vucci / AP; Richard Drew / AP; Mary Altaffer / AP

A senior Russian official emailed senior level aides of Trump's campaign team offering to set up a "backdoor" meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, NYT reports.

Why it matters: Although the meeting never actually happened (Jared Kushner and others eventually declined the invitation at the advice of others), it's the latest example in a growing list of ways the Trump campaign team had contacts with Russian officials discussing meetings with Trump.

The email subject line: "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite." Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who is an advocate of Christian causes, sent the email, which made its way to senior level aides first. Once it reached Jared Kushner, the meeting was squashed, per NYT.

Timing: This email came just weeks after a Russian official told Trump campaign foreign policy adviser that they had "thousands of emails" containing "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Not long after the prospects of this meeting ended, Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer in August 2016.

Read more about the email on NYT.

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The states where private prisons are thriving

Private prisons are a $5 billion industry that employs more than 33,000 people, per the market research firm IBISWorld. Here's where they're most prevalent:


Note: States with no private prison population are as of December 31, 2015; Data was not available for Nevada, Oregon and Vermont; Data: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Chart: Chris Canipe / Axios

Why it matters: The Obama Justice Department pushed to end the federal government's use of private prisons. But the Trump administration's decision to rescind the order has led the industry to hope for a resurgence, though some states like New York, Iowa and Illinois, have ended their use for state prisoners.

Key takeaways:
  • In 2015, 126,272 people — or about 8% of the country's prison population — were housed in private facilities.
  • The states with highest shares of inmates in private prisons were New Mexico (42.2%) and Montana (40.4%).
  • Texas alone housed 14,293 inmates in private prisons.
  • Per IBISWorld, the private prison industry has been growing at a rate of about 1% per year since 2012.
  • If a state has a private prison population of zero, that does not necessarily mean that the state does not have such facilities, per the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The data simply indicates that no prisoners were held in private prisons at the end of the year in 2015.
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Trump backs off allowing elephant trophy imports — for now

President Trump and the Interior Department announced Friday night that they're freezing plans to allow the importation of parts of elephants hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Why it matters: Plans to reverse a ban on such imports had sparked strong criticism from environmental groups and others as well.

On Friday GOP Rep. Ed Royce, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the move to allow imports was inappropriate in light of the crisis in Zimbabwe, and that he he did not believe the country's government, given its years of corruption, can properly manage conservation programs

"When carefully regulated, conservation hunts can benefit habitats and wildlife populations. That said, this is the wrong move at the wrong time," Royce said.

Proponents of sport hunting say it can raise funds for initiatives that aid the conservation of imperiled species. Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service had said late this week that "well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve those species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation."

However, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement Friday night: "President Trump and I have talked and both believe that conservation and healthy herds are critical. As a result, in a manner compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, the issuing of permits is being put on hold as the decision is being reviewed."

Go deeper: The New York Times has more on the decision here.


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A read on Trump's new court names

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

A year and a half ago, as a candidate for president, Trump broke precedent and named a list of people from whom he'd promise to pick Supreme Court justices. He fulfilled the promise by nominating Neil Gorsuch; and today announced five new names.

Here's a read on the names from Leonard Leo, an influential figure in the conservative legal community and an outside adviser to President Trump on judicial selections:

  • Brett Kavanaugh (judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals): "The president obviously shied away from D.C. personalities when he was running for office, but he's now, almost a year into his office, in a much better position to have a more geographically diverse list." Leo has made no secret of his enthusiasm to see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and says he has "one of the deepest and widest judicial records."
  • Britt Grant and Patrick Wyrick (state Supreme Court justices) : "The president likes the whole state Supreme Court justice angle ... because they're people who have to make final decisions and like a CEO, when you have to make a final decision, you own it. So that requires you to have a degree of strength." Leo added that these two state Supreme Court justices, in their prior careers as state solicitor generals, had been "very important architects of efforts to challenge overreach in Washington during the Obama administration, on behalf of the states."
  • Amy Coney Barrett and Kevin Newsom (recent appointments): Having recently been picked for the Federal bench they "could have potential going forward."

Behind the selections: Trump consulted with White House counsel Don McGahn, who led the process; and they sought advice from conservative legal thinkers. But they didn't need to do much vetting. The five they selected are well known in the conservative legal community.

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Peter Thiel has parted ways with Y Combinator

Peter Thiel. Photo: Kevin Moloney / Fortune Brainstorm Tech

Famed investor Peter Thiel, who publicly supported Donald Trump during his candidacy and as president, is no longer affiliated with startup accelerator program Y Combinator, as BuzzFeed first reported and a blog post update confirms.

Be smart: Thiel isn't the only one departing the program. Y Combinator has shuttered its entire part-time partner program in which Thiel participated, according to BuzzFeed. So it's not quite the symbolic move many wanted YC to make last year.

  • The organization has been experimenting with various ways to involve alumni entrepreneurs who want to advise new startups, such as having "visiting partners" for a 6-month run.
  • And as a venture capitalist with close ties to the startup community and friendships with some of YC's executives, it's hard to believe that Thiel won't continue to meet with and invest in the accelerator program's startups.
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Report: War on ISIS killing 31 times more civilians than claimed

Airstrikes target ISIS positions on the edge of the Old City a day after Iraq's prime minister declared "total victory" in Mosul, Iraq. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP

The U.S.-led war against ISIS is claiming civilian lives at a rate 31 times higher than was previously acknowledged by the coalition, according to Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, NYT reporters who conducted an 18-month investigation in northern Iraq.

Why it matters: This staggering number of deaths "is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history," per NYT. It also raises questions about civilian casualties in neighboring Syria, and how far this reporting problem reaches around the world.

What they did, per the NYT: The reporters went to roughly 150 airstrike sites in northern Iraq to interview witnesses and local officials, photograph bomb fragments, search local records and news sources, and map out the destruction through satellite imagery. They visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition is based and interviewed coalition officials and advisers. They provided coalition analysts with coordinates and date ranges of 103 air strikes to examine and compare their responses.

What they found, per the NYT: The coalition claims 1 civilian is killed in every 157 airstrikes but their on-the-ground analysis shows 1 civilian is killed in every 5 airstrikes. They added the coalition is doing a poor job of investigating claims or even to keep proper records to make investigation possible.

"While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants," according to Khan and Gopal.

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White House on sexual allegations: Franken admitted wrongdoing, Trump hasn't

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a press briefing at the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday that the allegations of sexual misconduct against Sen. Al Franken are different from those against President Trump because, "Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the president hasn't. That's a very big distinction."

Key quote: When asked why allegations against Franken merit an investigation but those against Trump don't, Sanders replied "The American people spoke very loud and clear when they elected the president."

More from Sanders:

  • Is it the WH position that Trump's accusers are lying? "The president has denied those allegations."
  • Does Trump believe the women who accused Roy Moore? "The president certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling ... and he feels it's up to [Alabama] ... to make a determination."

Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, joined Sanders to discuss the latest on tax reform:

  • Trickle-down economics: "There's nothing about that's controversial."
  • Difficulty of passing tax reform in the Senate: "I'm hopeful that people can work it out, and that everybody, even Democrats, will end up wanting to vote for it."
  • Temporary tax cuts: Hassett said he hopes future congresses won't let them expire.
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The tax bill’s not looking so popular

The GOP may be heading for more trouble with its legislative agenda — this time with an unpopular tax bill. A compilation by Chris Warshaw of George Washington University of various polls shows that the plans to rewrite the tax code are only slightly more popular than the Affordable Care Act bills that narrowly failed — and both are among the least popular legislative proposals of the last three decades.

Reproduced from a chart by Chris Warshaw, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: Republicans really can't afford to give up on the tax bill, after suffering an embarrassing defeat on their health care effort. But when something is as central to their agenda as the tax rewrite, they're going to have serious headaches if they can't win more support with the public.

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Florida Democratic Chair resigns after sexual harassment claims

Stephen Bittel apologized to the women who felt uncomfortable. Screengrab via YouTube

Stephen Bittel, Florida's Democratic Party chairman since last January, resigned today after several women accused him of making inappropriate comments toward them, according to Politico's interviews with six women.

Key quote: "There was a lot of boob stuff in his office," one woman, a former fundraiser for Bittel, told Politico. "I was told by other women not to go into his bathroom. I was warned."

Why it matters: Bittel is another Democrat after Franken who has faced allegations of sexual harassment, and he's likely not going to be the last. His resignation is one example of some of the consequences these men will face in the wake of these revelations.

His statements:

  • To Politico on Thursday, before his official resignation: "Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry. I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I've not been successful in that goal, and I will do better."
  • On the day of his resignation: "When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside. I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable under my tenure at the Democratic Party. I am working with our leadership to elect my successor."
One more quote: "He's just so f----ng creepy," a former party staffer told Politico. "He just leers at you, and stares. I don't know if you know what that feels like, but he just leers at you. I don't know how to describe the feeling."