Collaborators, Not Resistance: Eighteen Senate Democrats Vote To Support Restrictions On Civil Liberties

After the House, with the support of fifty-five Democrats including Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, blocked attempts to reform the FISA Act, Rand Paul and Ron Wyden attempted to filibuster FISA renewal in the Senate. They wrote this letter describing the civil liberties violations in the bill to renew and expand the FISA act for six years. The vote was close, with sixty votes required for the cloture vote. Cloture passed on a vote of 60 to 38, with  Democrat Claire McCaskill casting the deciding vote. Once again several Democrats voted to betray the Constitution and vote against civil liberties.

Eighteen Democratic Senators, along with independent Angus King of Maine, vote for cloture. The Democrats voting for cloture were: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.).

The following Republican Senators voted to support the filibuster, which would have provided an opportunity to debate and offer amendments to reform the law: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, Dean Heller, Jerry Moran, and Lisa Murkowski. Yes, Ted Cruz was on the right side of this while eighteen Democrats were not.

The American Civil Liberties Union Tweeted this response: “Members of both parties who voted in favor of this legislation should be sharply rebuked for supporting a bill that is in flagrant violation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

The final bill is expected to pass the Senate this week.

Reason described how the bill expands violations of civil liberties in the FISA Act:

This bill doesn’t just renew Section 702 for six years; it also codifies permission for the FBI to access and use data secretly collected from Americans for a host of domestic federal crimes that have nothing to do with protecting America from foreign threats. It has added some unusually worded warrant requirements that will protect some people—but only when they’re actually suspected and are being investigated for criminal activities.

Furthermore the bill will give the NSA permission to attempt to restart what are known as “about” searches, access to communications that merely reference a foreign target, not just communications to and from that target. The NSA voluntarily ended these types of searches once it became clear they were gaining access communications that they had no authority to be viewing. This bill will allow them to attempt to restart it unless Congress acts separately to stop it.

Once again many Democrats have acted as collaborators rather than as the resistance. Democrats who claim that Trump is a tyrant in cahoots with Putin have not been able to unite to oppose giving him increased powers to spy on Americans. Although they are a minority in both Houses of Congress, the presence of some Republicans supporting privacy rights, along with the requirement for sixty votes in the Senate, provided Democrats with the power to force changes.  A swing of one vote in the Senate or twenty-six Democrats in the House could have forced reforms to the law which allows warrantless surveillance of Americans as well as foreigners.

Does Donald Trump Have Dementia Or Psychiatric Problems?

I have been wondering for quite a while whether Donald Trump’s primary problem is dementia or psychiatric. He has shown some signs of possible dementia, but they were hardly definitive. Psychiatrists have also been questioning Trump’s mental health. We probably now have an answer to the question of whether Trump’s problem is dementia versus psychiatric. Reportedly Donald Trump scored a 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. The test is a pretty reliable indicator of dementia and with a score of 30 and, assuming the report of Trump’s score is factual, it is now doubtful that he has dementia.

With dementia ruled out, Trump should have thorough psychiatric testing, but it is unlikely that he will ever consent to this. The only way to force him to would by trying to remove him from office under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, and this is unlikely to happen unless there is a very clear deterioration .

Study Shows That Legalizing Medical Marijuana Decreases Violent Crime

The Guardian reports on another study showing a decrease in crime with legalization of marijuana:

The introduction of medical marijuana laws has led to a sharp reduction in violent crime in US states that border Mexico, according to new research.

According to the study, Is Legal Pot Crippling Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations? The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime, when a state on the Mexican border legalised medical use of the drug, violent crime fell by 13% on average. Most of the marijuana consumed in the US originates in Mexico, where seven major cartels control the illicit drug trade.

“These laws allow local farmers to grow marijuana that can then be sold to dispensaries where it is sold legally,” said the economist Evelina Gavrilova, one of the study’s authors. “These growers are in direct competition with Mexican drug cartels that are smuggling the marijuana into the US. As a result, the cartels get much less business.”

The knock-on effect is a reduction in levels of drug-related violence. “The cartels are in competition with one another,” Gavrilova explained. “They compete for territory, but it’s also easy to steal product from the other cartels and sell it themselves, so they fight for the product. They also have to defend their territory and ensure there are no bystanders, no witnesses to the activities of the cartel.

“Whenever there is a medical marijuana law we observe that crime at the border decreases because suddenly there is a lot less smuggling and a lot less violence associated with that.”

In other words, the experience with marijuana prohibition is similar to what we experienced with alcohol prohibition.

This also shows a failure of our political system. Despite ending prohibition being both the sensible choice, and a choice favored by a large majority of Americans, there has been little pressure to change the system from either major political party. While the two parties find plenty to fight over, there is little difference over what they parties actually do on far too many issues.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery Returns; The X-Files; Runaways Concludes First Season; The Handmaid’s Tale Season Two; Krypton

Star Trek: Discovery returned last week with Despite Yourself, directed by Jonathan Frakes. The episode immediately provided the answers to two points which were widely predicted: Ash Tyler is Voq and the Discovery is in the Mirror universe. Of course there were new twists to keep things interesting.

As I had been discussing late in the fall season, the only way to make sense of Ash Tyler’s actions was that if he was Voq he was a sleeper agent and did not realize it. This turned out to be true, but in addition something went wrong when L’Rell tried to restore his memories. This leaves Ash/Voq in a situation where we cannot predict what he will do in the future, and we have seen that at times either could dominate.

The procedure used for Voq was quite sophisticated, initially fooling medical exams. (The Tribble was back on Lorca’s desk so perhaps it can expose Voq–except both are off the Discovery.) Ultimately Culber did figure it out, and appears to have been killed to keep him quiet. This resulted in Discovery taking heat for providing another case of part of a same-sex couple getting killed, such as on The 100 a couple of years ago. This led to quick assurances that we will see Culber again. There are many possibilities including that he can still recover (with the help of future medicine) from having his neck snapped, Stamets using time travel or other aspects of the mycelial network to reverse what happened, or the replacement of Culber with a version from the Mirror universe or another universe. It is a bit strange that there was nobody else around either sickbay or the brig when Ash was letting L’Rell out of the brig or attacking Culber.

Finding that Ash Tyler is actually a sleeper Klingon has the potential for further ramifications now that he is one of only three from the Discovery crew on the ISS Shenzhou. This came about due to a poor decision from Burnham to keep quiet about him, but it was established early that Burnham is capable of making really bad decisions. Fortunately we saw that Burnham is very capable of defending herself.

It was also revealed very early in the episode that they were in the Mirror universe from Mirror, Mirror. The data recovered from a destroyed rebel ship quickly provided them with quite detailed information about not only the Empire but about the roles of the crew on their own ship. While somewhat unrealistic that they could have received this much information, it did allow them to quickly get into the story without wasting time searching out this information. This also provided a good way to bring viewers new to Star Trek up to date without boring long time viewers. Tying this into the events of an episode of Enterprise, In a Mirror, Darkly, was also rewarding for long time Star Trek fans, while new viewers could still follow what is going on. (A synopsis of In a Mirror, Darkly can be found here).

While Captain Lorca reviewed the information they retrieved, it also felt like this was for the benefit of others, and Lorca was already aware of what was going on, having appeared to have intentionally caused the Discovery to wind up in the Mirror universe. Having learned that the Lorca of the Mirror universe has disappeared raises suspicion that possibly the Lorca we know is actually the Mirror counterpart. This would explain much of his behavior, including sleeping with a weapon. If so, Lorca is more sophisticated than Mirror Kirk, who could not keep fit in and keep his identity secret when he crossed over to our universe in Mirror, Mirror. There is also the question of what is going on with the Mirror Discovery after it crossed over into our universe.

It was entertaining to see the USS Discovery quickly convert to the ISS Discovery. Seeing a replicator-like process for making Burnham’s uniform in a previous episode makes it more plausible that they could quickly make the needed uniforms (even if not entirely consistent with the original show). As on previous Mirror universe stories, the elevator was one of the preferred places for an assassination attempt (other than the bedroom), and we got the obligatory attempted murder scene. As was foreshadowed in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum with Stamets calling Tilly “Captain,” Tilly (or Killy) is the Captain of the Mirror Discovery. I do like how this is truly a continuing, serialized series, with little events in one episode providing a payoff in future episodes. Having Lorca portray the Engineer with a Scottish accent was also an amusing homage to the original show.

While the recovered data provided far more information than was realistic, the one missing piece of information was the identity of the Emperor. As they made a point of this, it is very likely that this will be revealed in a future episode, and it will also provide a payoff to viewers. If this was fan fiction, I might guess that it was a very old Empress Sato. While that would be satisfying to fans who remember In A Mirror, Darkly, it would mean little to newer fans, so I doubt that this will be the case. My bet is that it will be Philippa Georgiou, especially after there was no sign of her on the Shenzhou. Burnham already had a fight to the death with the Mirror version of someone she knew from the Shenzhou, and I bet she will also have to confront the Mirror Georgiou. (A confrontation with Tyler/Voq is also very likely.)

While previous Mirror universe stories were one or two episodes, it appears that the entire second half of the season will be a longer Mirror story. As I quoted in an interview with the producers last week, Discovery is gradually moving towards showing the vision of the Federation we are accustomed to from the original series. Taking place in the Mirror universe does now allow Discovery to portray what is good about the Federation through contrast with the Empire, even if we did not see it at its greatest in the first half of the season.

The same interview mentioned second chances. Being in the Mirror universe has provided a second chance for Lorca, who appears to have wanted to go there with his future uncertain in our universe. Bringing the Discovery from our universe might also be part of a bigger plan if he is really the Mirror Lorca. Bernham might also be tempted to remain now that she is the Captain of her own ship in the Mirror universe, and faces a possible return to prison in our universe. Ultimately both will have big decisions about what is important to them. The xenophobia of the Mirror universe also resonates in our present with the presidency of Donald Trump, years after the idea was first shown on the original show. It is sad that we have not progressed more since the 1960’s.

TV Line interviewed the Discovery show runners about the episode:

TVLINE | The mirror universe is a huge part of Trek mythology, dating back to the original series. How early on in the writing process did you know you wanted to go there?
GRETCHEN J. BERG | I think pretty much from the beginning.

AARON HARBERTS | Yeah, the biggest thing, frankly, was when we were going to do it. Initially, plans had been hatched to go over there in Episode 5, and we realized as we were talking about it: The mirror universe only works when you can care about the characters enough in the prime universe, so you can uncover the discovery of who people are in the alternate universe. So we realized that the mirror universe really needed to play in the back half of the [season], that it really needed to anchor the last several episodes…

TVLINE | So the crew needs to find a way out of this mirror universe with the Terrans. Is that the overriding mission for the next few weeks? Does it run through the season finale?
HARBERTS
 | We will be in the mirror universe for a little while. Episode 10 is simply the introduction. We felt like we could tell quite a bit of story in this mirror universe — not only about the mirror universe, but about our characters. Things come out about our characters in the mirror universe that wouldn’t come out in the prime universe. So we really felt like it was a great crucible for storytelling.

TVLINE | Is it giving away too much to ask if we’ll see a mirror Georgiou?
BERG
 | I find your question very interesting, but that’s a “no comment.” [Laughs]

TVLINE | Making Tilly the captain was such an inspired stroke of storytelling. How much did Mary Wiseman enjoy that twist?
HARBERTS | [Laughs] The thing that was fun is, we always knew we were going to do it. The gift that we’ve been given from CBS All Access was to allow this to be so serialized. So Tilly says “I’m going to be a captain someday” the first time we meet her. So we knew: “Mary, guess what? In the mirror universe, you’re going to be a captain!” Mary is super-dry and super-sassy, so whenever she would cop a little ‘tude — and I mean that in the most playful of ways, because we have fun and just go at each other — it would just be like, “Yeah, that’s really mirror-universe Tilly. Save that for the mirror universe!” I think she had a ball. When she takes charge of that bridge, it’s just a testament to how great she is as an actor. She can go from comedic to downright scary to fighting both instincts. She’s just truly gifted.

TVLINE | We did witness Dr. Culber’s death as well, when Tyler’s alternate personality came out. What’s the fallout going to be from that when the crew returns to the ship? 
BERG | There are so many things that are set off or started in Episode 10… there are ramifications for every action. It is a huge thing. And it’s heartbreaking, and horrifying.

HARBERTS | One of the early bits of feedback about Discovery is that it’s very dark, and very bleak. And I don’t necessarily believe that that’s true, because we know where the show is going. But I do think that scenes of forgiveness and atonement and redemption are really important in Star Trek, and we’re going to have to take that journey. On our show, no one is ever truly a villain, and no one is ever truly a perfect person. And what’s beautiful about Shazad [Latif]’s performance is, you see just how shocked and horrified he is by his actions…

TVLINE | What else is coming up in the rest of this season? Is Tyler’s alternate personality kind of the ticking time bomb that could derail this entire mission?
BERG
 | It’s looming pretty large, and it’s a huge complication to what is going on, not only personally with Burnham and everybody else.

HARBERTS | If your psyche is hanging by a thread, maybe the last thing you want to do is go on an away mission to the Terran Empire. [Laughs] What you don’t need is more stress.

BERG | Where is the couch and afghan you can climb under? They don’t have one! I would say, also, as shocking as the death of Culber is that you just witnessed at the hands of Tyler, Culber and Stamets have been in a relationship that… sort of represents the epic love story of our series. And, you know, love overcomes all. I think you can count on that it won’t be the last we see Culber. You’ll see him again.

HARBERTS | This relationship between Stamets and Culber… this death is but the first chapter. The trope of “Bury Your Gays,” which is running rampant through our television landscape, that is not something that Star Trek has ever been interested in doing. I think we’ve shown by now that we’re not interested in tropes, and that we love our characters, and we love our actors. When you’re given the gift of Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, and you’ve got several gay writers on staff, you don’t just throw that away. You will see Dr. Culber again. This is a love story that’s going to transcend death, and there is much more story to tell for those two. And the science that [the real-life mycologist] Paul Stamets has provided as a backdrop for our fictional Paul Stamets, and for our show… if the audience is concerned about what’s going to happen to Culber, dig deeper into the science of the mycelial network. There are so many clues in there.

This (as with last week’s episode) has me optimistic that we are in store for a much better season of The X-Files than the previous. While much of the story might not hold up if looked at too critically (which can be said of the original run of the show), it was very entertaining. It provided, as a revival should, both something of the past (Richard Langly of The Lone Gunmen) along with an updated twist. The idea of consciousness being uploaded after death is an idea which Steven Moffat has used several times, although this was handled much more like Black Mirror than Doctor Who.

The episode also played on modern paranoia and conspiracy theories, from the use of the Russians to this exchange:

Skinner: “The bureau is not in good standing to the White House these days.”

Mulder: ‘The FBI finally found out what it’s like to be looked upon a little spooky.”

While the alien threat was potentially eliminated last week, there is a new threat. We were warned that, “life on this earth, all human life, most animal life, is about to be crushed. Burnt to the ground.” They also had to enter something very close to a real life NSA facility.

Runaways concluded its first season last week, and was an excellent origin story setting up their situation. By the end of the first season, we have learned quit a bit about the characters and their situation. Nothing really got resolved in the finale, but fortunately Hulu has renewed the series for a second season. They also renewed Future Man. I have not seen this yet, but have heard good things about the series.

Hulu has turned into a major player in streaming with The Handmaid’s Tale, including with a Golden Globe win last week. It will be interesting to see what happens when it returns on April 25 now that they are beyond the book. Reportedly the second season will go beyond the events in Gilead and show the Colonies. The above trailer was recently released.

Syfy has released the first official trailer for Krypton, which premiers March 21.

With The Outcry Over Trump’s Racist Comment On Shithole Countries Don’t Forget Hillary Clinton’s Role In Creating Shitholes Around The World

Donald Trump verified what we already knew about him with his comment about immigration shithole countries. He showed once again that he is racist, xenophobic, and has a shithole for a brain. Having Hillary Clinton speak out against this remark also served as a reminder of how often the United States is responsible for turning other countries into shitholes.

The long history of destruction in other countries by the United States is obviously too broad a topic for a single blog post, so for today I will just look at a couple of countries which Hillary Clinton helped turn into shitholes–Haiti (as it was mentioned by Trump), and Libya.

Current Affairs had one look at what the Clintons did to Haiti in a 2016 article. This includes suppressing the minimum wage in Haiti, as Wikileaks first revealed, with more at the Columbia Journalism Review.

When Haiti had problems recovering from a 2010 earthquake, the Clinton Foundation was happy to provide assistance, especially if “Friends of Bill” could get a piece of “the lucrative recovery effort.” ABC News reported:

In a series of candid email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials during the hours after the massive 2010 Haiti earthquake, a senior aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly gave special attention to those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or “WJC VIPs” (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

“Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC,” wrote Caitlin Klevorick, then a senior State Department official who was juggling incoming offers of assistance being funneled to the State Department by the Clinton Foundation. “Most I can probably ID but not all.”

The Washington Post notes that, “the Clintons’ image in Haiti has slipped in recent months as Haitians increasingly complain that Clinton-backed projects have often helped the country’s elite and international business investors more than they have helped poor Haitians.” Among those helped was Hillary’s brother, Tony Rodham, thanks to connections he made at a meeting of at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The Washington Post describes the Clinton Global Initiative as “an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation that critics have long alleged invites a blurring of its charitable mission with the business interests of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their corporate donors.”

The country which was probably harmed the most by Hillary Clinton was Libya. Years after she voted for the war in Iraq, turning that country into a shithole, Clinton showed that the lesson she learned was how easy it is to lie the country into further wars. Clinton turned Libya into such a shithole that CNN found that Africans are being sold into slavery. Barack Obama has called the regime change in Libya, orchestrated by Hillary Clinton, the biggest mistake of his administration, and has called it a “shit show.” Last year Huffington Post had a story about how Hillary Clinton Turned a Stable, Developed Nation Into an ISIS Safe Haven:

As a brave crusader for all women – especially for women living in countries that she desperately wants to bomb – then-Secretary Clinton argued that the United States had a moral duty to intervene in Libya, stating that she was “deeply concerned” that Muammar Gaddafi’s troops were using rape as a weapon. (She was parroting a rumor started by Al-Jazeera which claimed that Gaddafi was handing out free Viagra to his soldiers so that they could rape 24/7.)

After Libya was flattened by NATO’s “no fly zone”, Amnesty International published a report which thoroughly debunked Hillary’s passionate plea for war:

Not only have we not met any [rape] victims, but we have not even met any persons who have met victims. As for the boxes of Viagra that Gaddafi is supposed to have had distributed, they were found intact near tanks that were completely burnt out.

The boxes of pristine Viagra found next to burnt-out tanks weren’t the only things planted in Libya. According to its report, Amnesty “failed to find evidence for these human rights violations [used to justify intervention] and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.”

The icing on the illegal war cake is that before Hillary started spreading rape rumors, Libya was considered a “high human development” country by the United Nations:

In 2010, Libya ranked 53rd in the UN’s Human Development Index among 163 countries. With life expectancy at birth at 74.5 years, an 88.4% adult literacy rate and a gross enrolment ratio of 94.1%, Libya was classified as a high human development country among the Middle East and North Africa region.

Libyans once enjoyed a higher standard of living than two-thirds of the planet. Now their country is terrorist stronghold ruled by competing warlords.

And as ISIS continues to lose territory in Syria and Iraq, Libya is increasingly seen as a fertile ground for jihadists. According to The Atlantic:

American intelligence officials estimate that the group’s ranks in Libya have grown to 6,500 fighters, more than doubling since the fall. ISIS first declared its intentions to establish a presence in Libya in 2014 and has been launching attacks ever since. The group is now thought to control 150 miles of Libyan coastline.

Hillary Clinton turned a stable, developed nation into an ISIS safe haven using tactics that would have made even William Randolph Hearst a bit queasy. To whip up support for the Spanish-American War (you’re probably too young to remember it), America’s favorite yellow journalist only managed to invent tame, PG -13 fairytales about Spanish soldiers fondling young Cuban damsels. If Hearst had reported that the Spaniards were having Havana Viagra parties, we could have marched all the way to Madrid. Hopefully President Clinton will remedy this missed opportunity. Pack your bags, ISIS. Next stop: Spain.

Forget Benghazi. Clinton is culpable in a far greater crime.

Besides turning Libya into a shithole country, Clinton’s decision to overthrow Qaddafi after he got rid of his nuclear weapons has been cited as a major reason for the current nuclear standoff with North Korea. If things go bad there, the entire planet could be turned into a shithole, with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to blame.

Quote of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel On Donald Trump’s Great Words

There’s a website called Fact Base that did an analysis of the first 30,000 words spoken in office by every U.S. president since Herbert Hoover. So they loaded all the speeches into a computer, and what their software found is that President Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level, lower than any president they’ve ever measured.

Herbert Hoover is at the top, 11th grade level. Obama was in third place with ninth grade. And then, way all the way in the back of the class in the fourth grade, there’s Donald Trump. Remember that show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader”? He’s not. –Jimmy Kimmel

Democrats, Including Nancy Pelosi, Help Republicans Block Civil Liberties Protections

The House has voted to renew the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program after previously failing to pass an amendment to place limitations on the program to help protect the rights of Americans. The New York Times reports:

The House of Representatives voted on Thursday to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting a yearslong effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans’ emails and other personal communications.

The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law that permits the government, without a warrant, to collect communications of foreigners abroad from United States firms like Google and AT&T — even when those targets are talking to Americans. Congress had enacted the law in 2008 to legalize a form of a once-secret warrantless surveillance program created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The legislation approved on Thursday still has to go through the Senate. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favor major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden…

Before approving the extension of the law, known as Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, the House voted 233 to 183 to reject an amendment that proposed a series of overhauls. Among them was a requirement that officials get warrants in most cases before hunting for and reading emails and other messages of Americans swept up under the program.

Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress tweeted a list of the fifty-five Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Democratic Ranking Member Adam Schiff, who voted against the amendment introduced by Republican Justin Amash.

Schuman noted that the USA Rights amendment could have passed if twenty-six of these Democrats had supported it.

The Intercept described the effects of the bill which was passed:

The law serves as the legal backing for two mammoth NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden: Upstream, which collects information from the internet junctions where data passes into and out of the country, and PRISM, which collects communications from U.S.-based internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo.

The programs rest on the notion that they are “targeting” foreigners, but they collect massive amounts of data on Americans as well, including wholly domestic communications. Amazingly, the intelligence community has never disclosed how much. Numerous members of Congress have requested an estimate since 2011, but both the Obama and Trump administrations have refused to provide one.

The bill also consolidates the FBI’s legal authority to search those communications without a warrant. Under current rules, the NSA shares certain kinds of information it collects under Section 702 with the FBI, whose agents can then search it in the course of investigating crimes unrelated to national security. In a secret court hearing in 2015, a lawyer for the Justice Department compared the frequency of those searches to the use of Google.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued this statement:

The House voted today to give President Trump and his administration more spying powers. The government will use this bill to continue warrantless intrusions into Americans’ private emails, text messages, and other communications.

No president should have this power. Yet, members of Congress just voted to hand it to an administration that has labeled individuals as threats based merely on their religion, nationality, or viewpoints. The Senate should reject this bill and rein in government surveillance powers to bring Section 702 in line with the Constitution.

Of course there is little chance of stopping this in the Senate either.  Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have sponsored a Senate version of the USA Rights Act.

There was one amusing aspect of this with Donald Trump again showing he has no understanding of the legislation before Congress. Trump initially put out a tweet opposing the bill after someone on Fox and Friends had said that the FISA Act had been used to justify surveillance of him based upon the Steele Dossier. He later reversed this after someone explained the position of his administration to him regarding the legislation.

This turned out to be only the second most stupid thing said by Donald Trump today. Later in the day this president with a shithole for a brain referred to Haiti and African countries as shithole countries.

Glenn Greenwald Warns About Use Of Claims Of Fake News To Justify Censorship

Both Glenn Greenwald and I have written many times in the past year about the danger of increased censorship which has arisen from the anti-Russia hysteria being spread by many establishment Democrats, along with portions of the media including MSNBC and The Washington Post. Greenwald has written on this topic again today. In the United States this has been seen with calls for suppressing allegedly fake news critical of them by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both Greenwald and myself have also noted the increase in censorship of political views on Facebook.  Today Greenwald discussed two countries where governments are actually looking at censorship of the internet based upon claims of fake news, Brazil and France.

Greenwald discussed the details in Brazil and France in great detail and it would be best to read his full article. After this description he discussed the issue in general, which is important as it affects response to the Russia story here. Greenwald wrote:

THOUGH PRESENTED AS modern necessities to combat new, contemporaneous problems, both countries’ proposals have all the defining attributes — and all the classic pitfalls and severe dangers — of standard state censorship efforts. To begin with, the fact that these censorship powers are confined to election time makes it more menacing, not less: Having a population choose its leaders is exactly when free expression is most vital, and when the dangers of abuse of censorship powers wielded by state officials are most acute and obvious.

Worse, these new censorship proposals are centrally based on a newly concocted term that, from the start, never had any clear or consistent definition. In the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory, U.S. media outlets produced a tidal wave of reports warning of the damage and pervasiveness of “fake news.” Seemingly overnight, every media outlet and commentator was casually using the term as though its meaning were clear and indisputable.

Yet, as many have long been warning, few people, if any, ever bothered to define what the term actually means. As a result, it’s incredibly vague, shifting, and devoid of consistent meaning. Do any news articles that contain false, significant assertions qualify? Is there some intent requirement, and if so, what is it and how is determined (does recklessness qualify)? Can large mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post, Le Monde, and Globo be guilty of publishing “fake news” and thus subject to this censorship, or is it — as one expects — reserved only for small, independent blogs and outlets that lack a powerful corporate presence?

Ill-defined terms that become popularized in political discourse are, by definition, terms of propaganda rather than reliable, meaningful indicators of problems. And invariably, they wreak all kinds of predictable havoc and inevitably give rise to abuses of power. More than anything else, such terms — which, by design, mean whatever the powerful groups wielding them want them to mean — so often produce arbitrary censorship in the name of combatting them. Just consider two similarly ill-defined but popular propagandistic terms — “terrorism” and “hate speech” — which have been appropriated by governments all over the world to justify the most extreme, repressive powers.

The last decade has seen multiple countries on every continent — including the world’s most repressive regimes — obliterate basic civil liberties in the name of stopping “terrorism,” by which they mean little other than “those who oppose our regime.” And then there’s “hate speech,” which can sometimes be used to silence Nazis or overt racists, but also can be and often is used to silence a wide range of left-wing views, from war opposition to advocacy of Palestinian rights. State censorship is always dangerous, but the danger is exponentially magnified when the censorship targets (terrorism, hate speech, fake news) lack clear definition…

If none of those points convinces you to oppose, or at least be seriously concerned about, efforts to control the internet in the name of “fake news,” simply apply the lessons of Donald Trump to this debate. For years during the war on terror, civil libertarians tried to generate opposition to vast, unchecked executive power — due process-free detentions, secret wars, targeting one’s own citizens for assassination with no charges — by warning that although one may trust these powers in the hands of leaders that one likes (George W. Bush or Barack Obama), at some point a president you distrust will enter the Oval Office, and by then, it will be too late to prevent him from exercising those powers.

As Greenwald noted, fake news is an incredibly vague word. Even if we find news that most would agree is fake, there is no evidence that it is harmful. As I described last week, a study showed that fake news is unlikely to have impacted the election result. The study found that most people who followed links to fake news are  “voracious consumers of hard news,” receiving news from multiple sources, and are less likely to be fooled by fake stories. In addition, most were “intense partisans,” making them unlikely to change their views based upon an occasional story with fake news. Fake news does not represent a meaningful threat, and should not be used as justification for censorship.

Michael Wolf Again Says It Was Money Laundering, Not Collusion Regarding 2016 Election

Michael Wolff has repeated on CNBC what he has written in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House regarding Russia–it is all about money laundering, not a conspiracy to change the 2016 election result. From CNBC:

People around President Donald Trump think that if the Russia investigation touches the president’s finances, it could take him down, the author of an explosive tell-all book told CNBC on Tuesday.

Michael Wolff, author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” said administration officials and Trump confidantes he spoke to do not think the president colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election. However, they think if special counsel Robert Mueller looks into Trump’s finances, it could be perilous for the president, Wolff claimed.

“People don’t think in the White House — don’t think that he colluded with Russia. … They do think that if the investigation goes near his finances, he’s sunk. Everybody, again, to a man,” Wolff said in a “Squawk Box” interview.

The president has repeatedly denied any cooperation with Moscow as an investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election continues. Last year, Trump told The New York Times that a Mueller probe of his finances as part of the investigation would cross a red line.

I previously posted excerpts from Fire and Fury here and here in which Wolff presented arguments that Trump was engaging in money laundering in Russia but there is no evidence of colluding with Russia regarding the 2016 election.

To repeat what I also wrote yesterday: At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

Fire And Fury Contradicts Claims From Democrats Of A Trump/Putin Conspiracy To Alter The 2016 Election

Last week I noted how pre-publication excerpts from Michael Wolff”s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, cast further doubt on claims from Hillary Clinton and many Democrats that a conspiracy between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump caused Donald Trump to beat Clinton. Excerpts showed that Wolff believes (as I have also argued, and as the evidence to date also indicates) that the relationships between Trump and Russia involved money laundering, not anything concerning the election.

I also noted excerpts from Fire and Fury which showed that Vladimir Putin had no interest in Trump, and that Trump did not want to win–contradicting the Democratic conspiracy theories that the two were working together to get Trump elected.

Now that the book is out, additional portions could also be reviewed, which similarly cast doubt on the Democrats’ conspiracy theories. Wolff noted how the Democrats were using Congressional investigations to push their argument and had this comment:

The congressional Democrats had everything to gain by insisting, Benghazi-like, that where there was smoke (even if they were desperately working the bellows) there was fire, and by using investigations as a forum to promote their minority opinion (and for members to promote themselves).

Wolff also talked about the assessment from the intelligence community regarding Russian involvement. The claims of seventeen agencies agreeing have already been retracted, and the remaining intelligence report suggesting Russian involvement provided no evidence. (Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, as also debunked these arguments recently). In the following passage, Wolff both debunked the argument based upon citing the intelligence agencies, and again noted that what Trump has to fear is not collusion regarding the election, but the other crimes he is likely guilty of:

Still, this could yet be seen as highly wishful thinking by Trump opponents. “The underlying premise of the case is that spies tell the truth,” said the veteran intelligence community journalist Edward Jay Epstein. “Who knew?” And, indeed, the worry in the White House was not about collusion—which seemed implausible if not farcical—but what, if the unraveling began, would likely lead to the messy Trump (and Kushner) business dealings. On this subject every member of the senior staff shrugged helplessly, covering eyes, ears, and mouth. This was the peculiar and haunting consensus—not that Trump was guilty of all that he was accused of, but that he was guilty of so much else. It was all too possible that the hardly plausible would lead to the totally credible.

At present Democrats seem to love Wolff’s book. Will establishment Democrats continue to be so enamored over Fire and Fury when they realize that it frequently contradicts their conspiracy theories about Trump and Putin conspiring to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency? Will they ever concede that Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate who represented the worst in American politics in a year when the voters were demanding change?

(more…)