Reclusive U.S. billionaire Robert Mercer
helped Donald Trump win the
presidency. But what is his ultimate goal?
Bannon’s relationship with Robert Mercer is cited in a remarkable lawsuit brought by David Magerman, a former employee of Mercer’s hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies. On its surface, the lawsuit is a wrongful dismissal complaint against Mercer. But at its heart, it is an indictment of Mercer’s character and reputation that draws together his political views, his connections to Bannon and Trump and racist comments Mercer allegedly made to Magerman directly... “I have a lot of respect for Bob Mercer. I think he’s a very intelligent person, a very thoughtful person,” Magerman told me recently. But he quickly added, “If the world knew what he was trying to do, they wouldn’t stand for it.”.. He’s fond of talking about the time, years ago, when a colleague he was visiting summoned a helicopter to his estate to whisk them into Manhattan.
There was no life-or-death reason for the extravagance, not even a business emergency. They were just going to a dinner, he says, and his friend rented the chopper to avoid the bother of traffic. From the helicopter, Magerman saw his fellow citizens travelling along a thin ribbon of perfectly good highway below.
.. “Either you are in awe of the grandeur of commuting, taking a two-hour drive and turning it into a helicopter ride, or you can just be, like, disgusted by the waste.” As though there were even a sliver of doubt, Magerman added, “I was in the latter category.”
It wasn’t just the waste that gnawed at him — it was the trespass of a moral principle. The helicopter commute was an example of something that, if everyone did it, would obviously be wrong. ”10,000 people can’t be flying helicopters from their backyard,” he said.
.. Magerman calls that helicopter trip “extra-societal” and “outside the realm of normal behavior,” words that also fit what he believes is wrong with Mercer’s relationship to the president. Magerman thinks Mercer has bought special access to impose “extra-societal” views on the Trump administration.
.. “The ultra-wealthy of today differ from the ultra-wealthy in past eras in that they have, a lot of them, no stake in the infrastructure of society,” Magerman said. He’s seen that their wealth does not depend on the health and stability of the country. In fact, they get rich on volatility and instability.
.. Mercer is not a finance guy; he is a computer scientist. But his research developing speech translation programs through pattern recognition can apparently also be used to discover obscure patterns in the financial markets and make an enormous fortune
.. Instead of poring over prospectuses and profit and loss statements, they apply their sciences to the data that affect markets. It’s called quantitative analysis, and they themselves are known as “quants.”
.. Medallion has pumped out annualized returns of almost 80 per cent a year, before fees.” Even in a bad year, it churns out more than 20 per cent returns.
.. “The people I worked with were great scientists. I mean, we could have solved a lot of important and interesting problems if we’d worked on different things. Instead, we made hundreds of millions of dollars,
.. The problem that Renaissance Technologies faced trying to predict market behaviour is, he said, essentially the same problem that Cambridge Analytica faces in voter analysis and persuasion.
.. Data analysts are largely skeptical that Cambridge Analytica could have had a decisive impact on the 2016 U.S. election or the Brexit referendum, but Magerman brushes that off with a reminder that so-called experts were also skeptical that computer algorithms could predict financial markets.
.. , “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the president’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it all to fall down.”
.. They didn’t get rich by providing the goods, services and infrastructure that bring people into direct contact with their community and its interests — they got rich in financial markets, making money for the sake of it.
.. But the real shrinking of the role of government has been in Trump’s choice of cabinet members, whose aim seems to be to assail the policy goals of their departments.
- secretary of energy is someone who once campaigned to get rid of the Energy Department; the
- Secretary of Education has advocated against the public schools system; the
- Environmental Protection Agency director has a record of repeatedly suing the EPA; and the
- Attorney General has a reputation for opposing the expansion of civil rights.
Other departments are reportedly withering from neglect, as key positions are filled by unqualified people or not filled at all.
.. his daughter Rebekah was part of the transition team that helped Trump choose his cabinet.
.. Was it all worth it?
“It’s like, was having surgery worth it?” Magerman says. “I mean, it was necessary. There was a disease that I thought, like, maybe I had a scintilla of a cure for.”
The average Canadian teenager is on track to spend nearly a decade of their life staring at a smartphone, and that’s no accident, according to an industry insider who shared some time-sucking secrets of the app design trade.
CBC Marketplace travelled to Dopamine Labs, a startup in Venice, Calif., that uses artificial intelligence and neuroscience to help companies hook people with their apps.
Named after the brain molecule that gives us pleasure, Dopamine Labs uses computer coding to influence behaviour — most importantly, to compel people to spend more time with an app and to keep coming back for more.
Co-founder Ramsay Brown, who studied neuroscience at the University of Southern California, says it’s all built into the design.
Brown says he hopes by speaking to CBC, Canadians will be more informed about how they’re being manipulated to spend so much time using apps.
To make a profit, companies “need your eyeballs locked in that app as long as humanly possible,” he says. “And they’re all in a technological arms race to keep you there the longest.”
.. “Just by controlling when and how you give people that little burst of dopamine, you can get them to go from using [the app] a couple times a week to using it dozens of times a week.”