Anti-Russia Hysteria Leads To Increased Censorship Of Americans On Facebook

Facebook has received a lot of criticism for the selling of ads to Russians under the belief that the $100,000 in Facebook ads had an impact on the election results. Regardless of how much effort should be made to prevent such Russian activities, the unfortunate result has been an increase in the restrictions on Americans expressing their political views on Facebook.

There have always been problems with “Facebook jail” in which people have their accounts restricted, but I’m finding that the number has increased tremendously recently. The biggest change appears to be with restricting posting to Facebook groups, with automated algorithms erroneously flagging legitimate posts as spam. Others have been restricted due to complaints, which are often politically motivated, with punishment administered with no form of due process.

Besides the material not meeting any conventional definition of spam, there are other issues with this assessment. Many groups approve posts on a post by post basis, suggesting that any approved posts must not be spam. Administrators of groups can also remove members who they feel are spamming a group. It hardly makes sense to call a post spam when approved by the administrator. In addition, I have frequently received messages of thanks from administrator of groups for sharing material with the group, along with many Facebook Likes from members.

Last week I had this post flagged as spam by Facebook and I was prohibited from posting to any groups for one week. Note that the post cites sources including the Brookings Institution and major media sources, also making it hard to call “fake news” or spam. Ironically, the same day as this occurred, I had listened to an interview with Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, on NPR in which she claimed to support the rights of users to express their political beliefs, including beliefs she disagrees with. This contrasts with the experience of myself and a large number of others on Facebook who have had political posts restricted.

It gets even more bizarre. I am the administrator of one of the groups I was prohibited from posting to. I have also encountered administrators of other Facebook groups who have been prohibited from posting to their groups or pages. Facebook’s claims that they are spamming their own pages sounds rather illogical.

In one case,  Mark A. Di Carlo was prohibited from posting to his own campaign page. Di Carlo said, “I was prevented from posting for about 5 days on my Di Carlo for Mayor page, during about 5 crucial days during my campaign for Mayor. What is really bad, is they do not tell you what your violations were, nor who complained against you.”

It gets even worse. Di Carlo also me that “many of these were ‘boosted’ posts, and were paid for by me as advertising.” Facebook did refund the payments, but it is just unbelievable that they would prevent these from being posted.

Many of us have also had the same frustration in never receiving an answer as to what the violations are. The decisions are often done by computer algorithms which appear to be quite faulty. Facebook might use verbiage such as “violation of Community Standards,” but the posts they take action against usually do not violate any of their posted rules. Actions which are acceptable on Facebook one day might get a user restricted the next.

There is a box to click to say that a post is not spam, but clicking this does no good. The response I received from Facebook was: “Thanks for letting us know about this post. We’ll try to take another look to check if it goes against our Community Standards and send you a message here in your Support Inbox if we have an update.”  Of course they never respond further and it is doubtful that a human ever looks at the posts.

There is also technically a way to request an appeal, but again there are no signs that what anyone writes is ever seen by a human. After filing an appeal I received this response:

We received your report and appreciate your patience as we work to fix technical problems on Facebook. Though we can’t update everyone who submits a report, we’re using your feedback to improve the Facebook experience for everyone.
To contact us about non-technical issues, please visit the Help Center.
Thanks,
The Facebook Team

It is unfortunate that actions intended to respond to alleged threats from Russia are resulting in restrictions on so many Americans. Facebook is the digital equivalent of the town square, and restricting posting of people’s opinions on Facebook has a deleterious effect on freedom of expression. People following links from Facebook is also a major source of traffic to blogs such as this these days, and Facebook’s actions have been deleterious to blog traffic.

Facebook states they are planning to hire more people to monitor posts, including some with national security clearance. The question is whether hiring more people will result in humans making better decisions than computer algorithms, or whether this will lead to more people finding more material to restrict.

Information Released On Facebook Ads Continues To Be Of Minimal Significance

With most of the accusations that Russia rigged the election going nowhere, Clinton supporters continue to concentrate on blaming Russian ads for Hillary Clinton’s loss. As I’ve previously noted, the actual amount that Russia is accused of spending on Facebook ads is a tiny portion of overall campaign spending–as well as trivial compared to US efforts to intervene in the elections of other nations. As Shattered revealed, Clinton latched onto the idea that others such as Russia were responsible for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing in order to shift the blame away from her for losing a campaign any competent candidate could have easily won.

Facebook has released additional information about the ads:

What was in the ads you shared with Congress? How many people saw them? 
Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights. A number of them appear to encourage people to follow Pages on these issues.

Here are a few other facts about the ads:

An estimated 10 million people in the US saw the ads. We were able to approximate the number of unique people (“reach”) who saw at least one of these ads, with our best modeling
44% of the ads were seen before the US election on November 8, 2016; 56% were seen after the election.
Roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach  people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result.
For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

Additional information is provided. The major violation of Facebook’s advertising policies appears to be the inauthenticity of the ads, and many would have been permissible if the Russians had purchased the ads in a transparent manner. According to Facebook, “many of these ads did not violate our content policies. That means that for most of them, if they had been run by authentic individuals, anywhere, they could have remained on the platform.”

There are also freedom of expression concerns which are often ignored by those protesting the publication of anything critical of Hillary Clinton. Facebook addressed the matter of freedom of speech:

Shouldn’t you stop foreigners from meddling in US social issues?
The right to speak out on global issues that cross borders is an important principle. Organizations such as UNICEF, Oxfam or religious organizations depend on the ability to communicate — and advertise — their views in a wide range of countries. While we may not always agree with the positions of those who would speak on issues here, we believe in their right to do so — just as we believe in the right of Americans to express opinions on issues in other countries.

Some of these ads and other content on Facebook appear to sow division in America and other countries at a time of increasing social unrest. If these ads or content were placed or posted authentically, you would allow many of these. Why?
This is an issue we have debated a great deal. We understand that Facebook has become an important platform for social and political expression in the US and around the world. We are focused on developing greater safeguards against malicious interference in elections and strengthening our advertising policies and enforcement to prevent abuse.

As an increasingly important and widespread platform for political and social expression, we at Facebook — and all of us — must also take seriously the crucial place that free political speech occupies around the world in protecting democracy and the rights of those who are in the minority, who are oppressed or who have views that are not held by the majority or those in power. Even when we have taken all steps to control abuse, there will be political and social content that will appear on our platform that people will find objectionable, and that we will find objectionable. We permit these messages because we share the values of free speech — that when the right to speech is censored or restricted for any of us, it diminishes the rights to speech for all of us, and that when people have the right and opportunity to engage in free and full political expression, over time, they will move forward, not backwards, in promoting democracy and the rights of all.

Nobody has offered a meaningful explanation as to how this ad buy could have had a more important role in determining the election results than the far larger efforts by the candidates and their US supporters, including the paid trolls used by the Clinton campaign on social media. Those who did see these Facebook ads undoubtedly saw many, many more ads from other sources. It is also doubtful that having a Facebook ad appearing on one’s news feed is going to change one’s vote.

It is also worth considering that Russia did have legitimate concerns regarding the outcome of the US election. The Democratic candidate (who received the nomination due to a quite undemocratic system which was little different from choosing the nominee in the proverbial smoked-filled rooms), was one of the most hawkish candidates to run for political office to recent years, with many of her neocon allies supporting regime change in Russia similar to the regime change Clinton has backed in other countries. She has a long history of belligerence towards Russia, along with a history of meddling in Russia’s election when Putin was a candidate. Russia (as did many American voters) had good reason to believe that the election of Clinton would lead to a restoration of cold war style hostilities at very least, with direct military conflict a very real possibility.

Reading “What Happened” So You Do Not Have To

Reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir, What Happened, is like reading a memoir from Jesse James which makes no admission that he ever robbed a bank. She talked about trivial matters from her life, repeated her excuses blaming everyone else for her loss, and gave virtually no recognition of her dishonest actions and lifelong opposition to liberal values behind the opposition to her. What Happened  was previously used as a book title by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan. Maybe she reused this title because Jeff Flake beat her to reusing the philosophically more honest choice, Conscience of a Conservative. Of course that would assume that she has a conscience, but she showed no signs of having one.

It is hard to see the point in this book beyond finger pointing. Clinton wrote:

At first, I had intended to keep relatively quiet. Former Presidents and former nominees often try to keep a respectful distance from the front lines of politics, at least for a while. I always admired how both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush avoided criticizing Bill and Barack, and how Bill ended up working with George H. W. on tsunami relief in Asia and Katrina recovery on the Gulf Coast. And with George W. in Haiti after the earthquake in 2011. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

She should have ended the book right there.

In a rare moment of honesty, Clinton showed how clueless she is in writing, “in terms of fighting the previous war, I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t realize how quickly the ground was shifting under all our feet.” The only shifting Clinton has shown with the times has been to move on from blaming everything on the vast right wing conspiracy to blaming the vast left wing conspiracy against her.

She might briefly admit to a mistake, but it is quickly followed with a major but as she places the blame on Russia, James Comey, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or others. If she did mention something she did wrong, it was passed over as a minor tactical error, ignoring the magnitude of her ethical lapses.

This week Bernie Sanders has been pushing for comprehensive, affordable health care for all Americans. Hillary Clinton is pushing a book which attacks the left and questions the validity of our electoral process (which she previously attacked Trump for threatening to do). She has opposed Medicare for All based upon false claims, continuing her long history of working to undermine liberal ideas.

While she launched numerous bogus attacks against others, she feels that her mistakes are too trivial to be considered. She wrote, “The truth is, everyone’s flawed. That’s the nature of human beings. But our mistakes alone shouldn’t define us. We should be judged by the totality of our work and life.”  Judging Clinton by the totality of her work and life, we must include her repeated push for neoconservative wars and regime change, her repeated advocacy of violating our First Amendment rights, her social conservatism, her support for the corrupting influence of money in politics, and her use of her position for personal financial gain–including violating the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton wrote about her concern for children. In the real world, Hillary Clinton has shown her concern for children in other countries by dropping bombs on them and defending the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. There are also those who suffered from Bill’s welfare reform at home. However, “It was a hard call. Bill and I lay awake at night talking it over.”

Clinton shows no understanding of liberal or progressive values. While she mischaracterized Bernie Sanders’ platform as offering everyone a pony, it is actually Clinton who sees liberalism as little more than government giving out ponies, even if smaller ones than she believes Bernie Sanders would. She has no understanding of how true liberal and progressives would change the status quo, no concept of the human rights we defend, and no concept of what is wrong with her interventionist views.

Her ignorance of liberal concepts of human rights would explain how she totally misunderstood the warnings of George Orwell. To an authoritarian such as Hillary Clinton the lesson of 1984 is that we should not question our political leaders, the press, or experts:

Attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism. This is what the Soviets did when they erased political dissidents from historical photos. This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.

On the other hand, Clinton is quite skilled in using Orwellian techniques to attack her political enemies. She uses the same types of distortions against Bernie Sanders as she did during the campaign, and as she used against Barack Obama in 2008. I have already responded to some of the attacks against Sanders here, and also recommend this rebuttal of Clinton’s arguments by Les Leopold. While reading What Happened I came across another fallacious attack on Sanders. Clinton wrote, “After the election, Bernie suggested that Democrats should be open to nominating and supporting candidates who are anti-choice.”

No, that is not what happened at all. On the other hand, the Democratic establishment has shown how they are willing to ignore reproductive rights. Clinton herself has also been to the right of Sanders on the issue, including her support for parental notification laws and expressing a willingness to compromise with Republicans. This is not surprising in light of her personal social conservatism on the issue and her mantra of keeping abortion”safe, legal, and rare,” stigmatizing women who have had an abortion.

Her attempts to falsely portray Sanders as being to the right of her on abortion are similar to her claims of being to the left of Sanders on gun control, despite having run in 2008 as a “pro-gun churchgoer.” Of course while attacking Sanders and blaming him for her loss she overlooked the degree to which Sanders campaigned for her after the primaries were over. Her antipathy towards a fair democratic process includes a visceral objection to being challenged for political office.

Clinton was no more honest in discussing the scandals which rightfully harmed her campaign. For example, she misquoted from the State Department Inspector General report to falsely make it look like the report supported her actions in the email scandal. In reality, the Inspector General report said exactly the opposite in showing how she violated policy. As we saw during the campaign, she keeps repeating the same lies about the scandal, including the statements from James Comey, regardless of how often the media fact checkers show that she is outright lying.

She attempted to open up personally, but even then wasn’t entirely honest. Among the more unbelievable lines, Clinton wrote, “For me, fund-raisers were a little more complicated than other campaign events. Even after all these years, it’s hard for me to ask for other people’s money.”

Among the other personal discussions in the book, Clinton wrote, “Bill and I bought our home in 1999 because we loved the bedroom.” Now try to get that image out of your mind.

Actually what she wrote after this was quite tame, including a description of the vaulted ceiling, windows, and photos. And then, “After waking up, I check my email and read my morning devotional from Reverend Bill Shillady, which is usually waiting in my inbox. I spend a few minutes in contemplation, organizing my thoughts and setting my priorities for the day.” The rest of us will not be able to see the writings of Bill Shillady as his publisher has pulled his planned book, entitled Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, due to plagiarism.

Of course, as was inevitable, I am seeing defenses of What Happened claiming that disagreements with Clinton’s book are based upon misogyny. What an intellectually and morally bankrupt viewpoint. Do such Clinton supporters have even a shred of integrity? I am just relieved that Hillary Clinton is not in the White House, leaving us to contend with claims that our objections to whatever war she wanted to start, or whatever violation of the First Amendment she was advocating, was based only on sexism.

Hillary Clinton Smears Bernie Sanders In What Happened

More excerpts have been released from What Happened.  After Bernie Sanders spent months campaigning for Clinton, she repaid him by smearing and lying about him in her new book. While Hillary Clinton does get dirtier than most, such attacks on political opponents are expected during a political campaign. Hillary Clinton takes the political slime to new heights by continuing her dishonest attacks long after the primary is over, undermining her claims that Bernie only entered the race to disrupt the Democratic Party. If anyone is disrupting and damaging the party, it is Clinton.

CNN reported on this exchange from her book:

In her forthcoming book, Clinton noted that the Vermont independent “isn’t a Democrat.”

“That’s not a smear, that’s what he says,” she wrote. “He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.”

After outlining how she disagrees with Sanders’ view of the Democratic Party, Clinton concludes, “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”

Clinton also complained that Sanders “attacks against her during the primary caused ‘lasting damage’and paved the way for ‘(Donald) Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.'” Actually it was Hillary Clinton who paved the way for the Crooked Hillary campaign when Clinton used her political position to sell access and influence. This includes grossly violating the ethics agreement she entered into before she was confirmed as Secretary of State. What is really sad is that she does not even understand why her actions are rightfully considered crooked.

Clinton is also clueless as to the ideological differences between Sanders and his supporters and Clinton: “Because we agreed on so much, Bernie couldn’t make an argument against me in this area on policy, so he had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character.” This ignores the many areas of disagreement, including her support for neoconservative interventionism, her far right wing record on civil liberties, her right wing views on social issues, and her dishonest attacks on single payer health care.

Clinton contradicted her own argument elsewhere in the book when she criticized Sanders’ ideas. She cannot consistently both deny there were disagreements on policy on one page and attack his ideas on another.

Despite her claims of agreeing on so much, during the campaign Clinton falsely claimed to be to the left of Sanders on guns during the campaign, despite his D- lifetime rating from the NRA, when it was Clinton who had described herself as a “pro-gun churchgoer” in 2008.

Clinton’s problem is that she did not stand for anything and could never answer questions as to why she was running. If she really stood for something, she might have written a book promoting what she believes in as opposed to resorting to a book of bogus excuses for why she lost.

Clinton even resorted to repeating the debunked Bernie Bros narrative, which was actually created by Clinton supporters in an attempt to discredit her opponents. While sexist attacks on her supporters as she described undoubtedly did occur, comparable attacks on Sanders supporters from Clinton supporters were probably far more common on social media, with their attacks being both racist and sexist with their repeated slurs against “white males,” often including quite a bit of profanity. I have blocked far more supporters of Hillary Clinton on Facebook than backers of any other candidate for their rude, dishonest, and harassing behavior. This included Clinton supporter Tom Watson, who released portions of the book on Twitter.

Clinton’s arguments were essentially the same type made by her most rabid supporters such as Peter Daou, who launched a new pro-Clinton propaganda site over the weekend, which I wrote about yesterday.

There is some justice in the world. Despite the attempts of Clinton and her supporters to promote her with such falsehoods, Clinton’s favorability has fallen further since the election. As The Hill points out:

According to the latest Harvard-Harris Poll survey, Sanders is the most popular active politician in the nation, at 54 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable. Clinton’s favorability has not improved in her time out of the spotlight. She remains underwater at 42 percent positive and 53 percent negative.

There is an excellent chance that Clinton’s book will backfire and her favorability will fall further. RogueDNC correctly showed what section of the book store What Happened belongs in their graphic above.

Update: The Hill reports, Sanders brushes off Clinton criticism: ‘Look forward and not backward’

U.N. High Commissioner For Human Rights Criticizes Donald Trump’s Attacks On Freedom Of The Press

The United Nations  High Commissioner for Human Rights  has called Donald Trump’s criticism of journalists amounts an attack on the freedom of the press and warned that it could provoke violence against reporters. Reuters reports:

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Trump had also made worrying remarks about women, Mexicans and Muslims and went on to question the president’s approach to immigration and decision to pardon former Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio…

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years is now itself under attack from the President,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

“It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one,” he told a news conference in Geneva.

Referring to the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, he added: “To call these news organizations ’fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way, I have to ask the question is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?”

Zeid voiced concern that a journalist from the Guardian had been “assaulted in the United States most recently” but gave no details.

Trump rounded on journalists last week, calling them “truly dishonest people” and criticizing their coverage of a white supremacist-organized rally in Virginia and the political fallout from his comments that violence there was caused by “many sides”.

Nazi salutes, swastikas, anti-Semitic slurs and racist references to African-Americans had “no place in the United States or beyond”, Zeid said, in his first comments on the events in Charlottesville.

Trump has also made worrying remarks about women, Mexicans and Muslims, “mocked a person with disabilities publicly” and issued a directive on a transgender ban in the military, he said.

“The President prides himself as a taboo breaker, indeed his supporters see him as such. But at the time I expressed my feeling that this was grossly irresponsible, because it has consequences, it emboldens those who may think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” he said.

Zeid voiced deep concern at Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in a racial profiling case that highlighted tensions over immigration policy.

“Does the President support racial profiling, of Latinos in particular, does he support abuse of prisoners? Arpaio referred at one stage to the open-air prison that he set up as a concentration camp, he later recanted said it was a joke,” Zeid said. “Does the president support this? These actions have consequences.”

I have also often voiced concern for Donald Trump’s attacks on the press and views on civil liberties. However, the danger does not come from Donald Trump alone, with civil liberties coming under increased assault since the Patriot Act under George Bush. Many Democrats have been willing to overlook similar attacks from Hillary Clinton on freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. Americans must be willing to defend civil liberties as a matter of principle, not just when it benefits their partisan views.

The Danger Of Hillary Clinton’s Theocratic Views

The Atlantic has a story about Hillary Clinton’s religious views entitled, Hillary Wants to Preach. They miss the real issue with regards to Hillary Clinton and religion as her religious views have affected her views on policy. Clinton has always been oblivious to First Amendment rights, seeing no problems when her political policies violate First Amendment related to either freedom of expression or separation of church and state.

I have always suspected that the vast ideological difference between myself and Clinton is that while I am a civil libertarian concerned with defending our rights, Hillary Clinton’s political views are based upon her strong religious views. The article notes, “Clinton might argue that her politics were the ultimate expression of her faith. Methodists helped lead the early 19th-century Social Gospel movement, a faith-based campaign for greater aid to the poor and vulnerable.” While perhaps her religious views led her to some admirable goals, her religious views probably have also been responsible for many of her conservative political positions on social and cultural issues throughout her career. Plus, like many who are deeply religious, she finds in her religion a way to justify her dishonesty and personal corruption.

While Clinton has usually kept open talk about her religion out of her political speeches, this is hardly the first time it has come up. She was mocked quite a bit when she cited the Bible as the book which influenced her the most. This was generally taken as a politically calculating move, but afterwards I believed, for better or worse, that in this case she was saying what she believed.

Clinton discussed her religious views in an interview with Newsweek in 1994. (Hat tip to The Blaze for the link.) One paragraph is particularly interesting:

Despite what some critics believe, the nation’s First Lady is not markedly feminist in her religion. She thinks abortion is “”wrong,” but, like her husband, she says, “”I don’t think it should be criminalized.” She does not follow feminist theology and seems unaware of the upheaval its most radical exponents have created among Methodists in the name of greater inclusiveness.

Even without having read this interview before, I have longed warned that Hillary Clinton’s support for abortion rights has never seemed very sincere, and had predicted that if she was elected she would be far more likely than Donald Trump to actually bring about further restrictions on abortion rights while triangulating with Republicans. She has already expressed a willingness to compromise, and has supported restrictions such as parental notification laws. Her often stated view of keeping abortion safe, legal, and rare plays into Republican policies to restrict access, along with placing a stigma on women who have had abortions.

The danger of Clinton’s religious views were most apparent when she was in the Senate and worked with The Fellowship to increase the role of religion on public policy. I posted about this in 2008, quoting from an article from Mother Jones: 

These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right.

I discussed this again during the 2016 campaign cycle, again noting that Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, Clinton’s lack of concern for First Amendment issues includes a poor record on both separation of church and state and freedom of expression. This includes her support for making flag burning a felony as mentioned above, as well as sounding remarkably like Donald Trump in mocking freedom of speech while promoting restrictions to supposedly fight terrorism. After losing the election, Clinton called on Congress to restrict what she considered fake news. This appears to include both the many bogus attacks on Clinton, along with the many valid points made despite her repeatedly debunked denials. Regardless of the accuracy of someone’s speech, First Amendment rights do not have an exclusion for “fake news” which a political leader objects to.

Clinton’s primary problem might be that she wound up in the wrong political party. Every bone in her body is that of a conservative Republican and she has struggled to alter her public statements to fit in with Democrats. It is often pointed out that she started in politics as a Goldwater Girl, however this is an insult to Barry Goldwater. Despite other faults, Goldwater was far more socially liberal than Clinton. Goldwater abhorred the religious right and its influence on the Republican Party, and certainly would not have joined The Fellowship as Clinton did.

It is also notable that many of Clinton’s supporters have as little respect for freedom of expression as she does. Write a comment on Facebook about what you had for lunch that day, and nobody will complain. However post something critical of Clinton and her supporters will descend repeating the same lines about what a waste of time it is to still talk about her (while also Liking and Sharing posts if they are favorable to her). Of course the battle between liberals and DLC Democrats like the Clintons has gone on since the 1990’s and this battle for control of the party continues to this day. Clinton supporters have been engaging in an on-going dirty attack against the left. As I posted just earlier today, Clinton has announced two new people for her “Resistance” PAC, oblivious to how she is part of what we are resisting.

Federal Court Rules Against Politicians Blocking Critics On Social Media With Similar Suit Pending Against Donald Trump

In June I looked at complaints against Donald Trump for blocking people from his Twitter account. With social media becoming the major arena for the discussion of public issues, those blocked on Facebook or Twitter have decreased opportunity to both follow public debate and to respond. This becomes more significant as public officials use social media for matters of public policy. A federal court has ruled against a public official who has blocked users in response to criticism. Slate reports:

Does the First Amendment bar public officials from blocking people on social media because of their viewpoint?

That question has hung over the White House ever since Donald Trump assumed the presidency and continued to block users on Twitter. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has sued the president on behalf of blocked users, spurring a lively academic debate on the topic. But Trump isn’t the only politician who has blocked people on social media. This week, a federal court weighed in on the question in a case with obvious parallels to Trump’s. It determined that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does indeed prohibit officeholders from blocking social media users on the basis of their views.

Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors involved the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis J. Randall. In her capacity as a government official, Randall runs a Facebook page to keep in touch with her constituents. In one post to the page, Randall wrote, “I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts.” She explicitly encouraged Loudoun residents to reach out to her through her “county Facebook page.”

Brian C. Davidson criticized Loudoun County’s School Board and then sued after being temporarily blocked.  U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris wrote in his decision:

Defendant’s offense at Plaintiff’s views was therefore an illegitimate basis for her actions—particularly given that Plaintiff earned Defendant’s ire by criticizing the County government. Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.

This would seem to be relevant to Donald Trump’s actions in blocking people who disagree with him. The Wall Street Journal noted the ramifications of this decision for a similar case against Donald Trump:

The lawsuit against Mr. Trump in federal court in Manhattan was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of seven users whom Mr. Trump blocked.

“We hope the courts look to this opinion as a road map in holding that it is unconstitutional for President Trump to block his critics on Twitter,” said Alex Abdo, senior staff attorney at the institute.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

There is one potential difference as technically Trump is using his personal account, although he is using it to issue pronouncements related to government policy. Sean Spicer previously said that Trump’s tweets should be considered official statements.  Slate addressed this point:

There’s just one lingering issue with this comparison: It isn’t clear whether Trump intends his personal Twitter page to function as a public forum the way Randall did. (Trump has a presidential account, @POTUS, from which he does not block users—but he doesn’t use it for interesting communications.) Public officials have more latitude to censor expression in personal, private forums than they do in forums that they use to speak in their official capacity. Trump’s lawyers will almost certainly argue that his personal Twitter feed is a private forum, not a government project.

But that argument will likely fail. As Trump’s recent tweets banning transgender military service demonstrate, the president uses Twitter not just to convey official policy but also for lawmaking. This habit would seem to turn his feed into a quintessential public forum. And so, under the First Amendment, he lacks the power to block those users who tweet their discontent at @realDonaldTrump.

Repeal And Replace Fails–Perhaps Congress Had The Wrong Target

The Republicans have failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, primarily because they never had a sensible replacement plan. It took three Republicans to block the final attempt, with John McCain casting the deciding vote. Now that he will not be on the ballot again, it was easiest for McCain to do this, allowing other Republicans who opposed the bill to cast a politically safer party-line vote. McCain might have also felt some satisfaction in thwarting Trump’s agenda after Trump’s past attacks on McCain, claiming McCain was not a war hero because he was captured.

Hopefully attempts at repealing Obamacare are dead–at least until a more liberal Congress has the votes to pass a single payer plan to replace it. Some are still claiming that they can propose a new bill which can achieve fifty-one votes, but any new efforts will have the same problems trying to please both wings of the party.

A more hopeful sign is a bipartisan group in the House which claims to be working together to improve Obamacare rather than repeal it. So far there has been no sign of bipartisan cooperation on health care, but there is a remote chance that matters have changed now that the Senate has been unable to pass any of its attempts at repeal. Sensible Republicans should realize that they will be held accountable for the success or failure of health care. Obamacare is the law of the land. Donald Trump and the Republican Congress now own it.

Maybe repeal and replace isn’t such a bad concept after all, except that Congress had the wrong target.

How about repealing the authorization to go to war and replacing our failed foreign policy? How about repealing the Patriot Act and replacing it with a policy which provides for needed security while respecting our Constitutional rights? How about repealing the drug war and replacing it with treatment where needed?

Of course this will never happen as there will be too much opposition from both parties. Can we just repeal and replace our current dysfunctional two-party duopoly?

The Democratic Leadership Has Failed To Give A Good Reason Why Their Party Should Continue To Exist

In followup of yesterday’s post on the struggle of the Democratic leadership to revamp their party by coming up with a new slogan, Chuck Schumer has an op-ed in The New York Times on The Better Deal. As I quoted Nancy Pelosi in saying yesterday, this “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” Democrats who turned out to willingly vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 will be pleased, but only a major course direction will satisfy those of us who did not. This offers little to win back the votes of those of us who did not vote Democratic in 2016. That includes those of us who voted third party, and the even larger numbers who crossed over and voted for Trump over Clinton or stayed home.

These proposals leave the Democrats as a party which stands for nothing. At least they didn’t mention Russia. Unfortunately this also didn’t really discuss  health care. It is like trying to steal Bernie Sanders’ agenda while ignoring Medicare-for-all or actually getting big money influence out of politics.

Beyond this, the problem comes down to thinking they can substitute a new slogan for real policies or ideas. They hardly inspire confidence when the principles of one election, to the limited degree they express any, are ignored in the next. Running on social issues alone was not enough (especially when led by a socially conservative presidential candidate), but that does not mean they should ignore liberal social issues now.

Those of us who voted Democratic because of outrage over policies of George W. Bush are hardly going to be enthusiastic about a party which nominated a candidate who supported the worst abuses under Bush–neoconservative interventionism, restrictions on civil liberties, and increased government secrecy.  Nor is there any offer to reform the undemocratic nomination rules which make the mockery out of the primary process, making it little different than picking the nominee in the old smoked filled rooms.

The new slogan has been received with considerable derision. Jonathan Allen compares the new Democratic slogan, “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages” to the pitch from Papa John’s, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” Except the Democrats failed to add better ingredients.

First Read has a more serious but equally devastating criticism of Schumer and Pelosi in asking, “Can Democrats promise a ‘Better Deal’ with the same leaders in charge?”

The one thing that Democrats do have going for them in 2018 is that Donald Trump will (probably) be sitting in the White House, and Hillary Clinton will not be on the ballot. Hillary Clinton’s popularity has fallen even more than Donald Trump’s. FiveThirtyEight showed how the nomination of Hillary Clinton cost the Democrats not only the White House, but Congress:

Clinton’s unpopularity turned out to be a key factor in 2016 congressional races. Unsurprisingly, people who had a favorable view of Clinton primarily voted for Democrats in House races, while people with a favorable view of Trump primarily voted for Republican candidates. But among the 19 percent of voters who had an unfavorable view of both presidential candidates, House Republican candidates won by a margin of 30 percentage points. (Some voters may have cast a ballot for a Republican House candidate in the belief that a House controlled by the GOP would balance Clinton’s power after what most Americans thought would be a Clinton win.)

Not having Clinton on the ballot should help Democrats pick up seats in 2018, but it is likely to be a dead cat bounce, and perhaps more limited than Democrats hope, if the Democrats do not come up with more of a reason to attract voters than opposing Trump. It might be best if the Democrats could get out of the way and allow a new party to take over as a the true opposition and resistance.

The Democrats Are Hopelessly Lost

After terrible showings in the 2010, 2014, and 2016 elections, the Democratic establishment is looking for a solution. The Washington Post reports that they are going to announce a new slogan:

Completely sapped of power in Washington, top leaders of the Democratic Party now believe that the best way to fight a president who penned “The Art of the Deal” is with an economic agenda that they plan to call “A Better Deal.”

The campaign-style motto, panned by some liberal activists as details began to trickle out ahead of the Monday rollout, is designed to revive a party desperate to win back at least some control next year. The push comes months earlier than most campaign-year sales pitches begin — an acknowledgment of the need to shore up public opinion of the Democratic Party in the faster pace of modern politics.

Nancy Pelosi remains one of the captains of the sinking ship, saying this “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” No, the Democrats need a full fledged course correction. The Democratic Party’s answer for the Titanic would be to find a better way to talk about the iceberg before hitting it.

At least there was one bit of sense in the article:

“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”

Unfortunately the new slogan still sounds like they are against Trump but otherwise stand for nothing. As Mahablog says, “The Democratic Party is like your unhip parents trying to be cool, and failing.”

The Democrats took the wrong lesson out of their loss. The conventional wisdom is that they lost because they concentrated on social issues as opposed to economics, but that is a misreading of their problem. They compromised so much on social issues with a socially conservative candidate such as Hillary Clinton that they had no chance to build a winning coalition on social issues. That does not mean that they should abandon liberal social issues entirely.

Just as they now look to abandoning social issues, they gave up on opposing neocon interventionism and support for civil liberties in 2016 with a candidate who was far right wing on both, throwing out their previous advantages over the agenda of George W. Bush. Democrats need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Instead they focus on one voter group while giving others no reason to support them, and don’t even do a good job with the group they are focusing on.

The new slogan sounds like a watered-down copy of Bernie Sanders’ agenda. The Hill points out that Bernie Sanders is keeping the door open for 2020. Unfortunately the article points out that establishment Democrats oppose him, both because of Sanders being an independent, and as he is on their long list of people to blame for Hillary Clinton losing an election she should have been able to win. Establishment Democrats complain that Bernie Sanders is an independent and not a Democrat. In contrast, Sanders supporters complain about far more consequential matters, such as the Democratic establishment picking their nominees with an undemocratic process, the Democratic establishment choosing a neocon warmonger as their last nominee, and the Democratic establishment being in the pocket of corporate money.

Update:  The Democratic Leadership Has Failed To Give A Good Reason Why Their Party Should Continue To Exist