Study Shows How Ineffective Twitter Bots Are In Changing Political Views

This study is not at all surprising, but provides yet another reason to doubt those who claim that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to Russian trolls or other unfavorable comments on social media. The study looked at people arguing politics on Twitter and, as I could have told them, people do not change their political views based upon arguments on line. Here is the abstract:

There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating  “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues. One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for one month that exposed them to messages produced by elected officials, organizations, and other opinion leaders with opposing political ideologies. Respondents were re-surveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance. We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative post-treatment, and Democrats who followed a conservative Twitter bot became slightly more liberal post-treatment. These findings have important implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization as well as the emerging field of computational social science.

It is very doubtful that people changed their view of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump based upon Russian bots or anything else they read on Twitter.

I bet that the same would apply to Facebook. Of course there are also multiple other reasons to question the claims that Russian bots or others caused Clinton to lose, as I most recently discussed in this post. Censoring social media, as Hillary Clinton has been suggesting, and Facebook has been practicing, would serve no positive purpose. There are obviously strong reasons to resist such censorship, although establishment Democrats appear oblivious to the impact on civil liberties.

(Hat tip to Salon for link to study).

Edward Snowden On Putin, Obama, Trump And Questioning Power

With the high level of McCarthyism coming from pro-Clinton Democrats in recent months, it has been commonplace recently for such Democrats to falsely attack those they disagree with as being pro-Russia. They fail to understand that people can be opposed to Clinton, Trump, and Putin–with all three actually sharing many characteristics with their mutual lack of respect for the norms of liberal democracy. This week several blogs on the left have pointed out that Edward Snowden has joined others in posting videos exposing ballot box stuffing in the recent Russian election:

Snowden posted the video with this caption: “The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people. Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter. Take your future back.”

Glenn Greenwald retweeted this and said, “How many days will elapse until we see the next tweets claiming that Snowden never criticizes Putin or Russia – something he in fact does with great vigor and frequency?”

Stefania Maurizi recently interviewed Edward Snowden for La Repubblica. The first question was about the Democrats who joined with Republicans to support mass surveillance:

Five years have passed since you revealed the NSA’s mass surveillance activities, and we have just seen dozens of US Democrats voting with the Trump Administration to renew the NSA’s surveillance powers, we’ve seen Italy approve a law which extends mandatory data retention to six years, but we’ve also seen a UK Court ruling that the UK’s mass surveillance regime is unlawful. The debate is still ongoing and the picture is mixed. In the long run, will mass surveillance be downsized in our democracies, or will it continue to flourish?

“That’s a big question…(he smiles). For one it’s certainly a real shame, I think, for the Democratic party, and unfortunately this has become quite routine, that the party that is presenting itself as a progressive force is so often joining in to limit the rights that the public enjoys. I don’t think this is unique to the Democratic Party, we see this happening even in countries that don’t share the same dynamics. What we are seeing is a new kind of creeping authoritarianism spreading across the globe.

Having said that, we have made some limited progress: in the United States, of course, we had the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which is the first surveillance law in 40 years that limited the powers of intelligence agencies rather than expanding them, but it is not guaranteed that this progress will continue, and in fact we see laws like the section 702 of the FISA [the NSA’s surveillance powers reauthorized by the U.S. Congress]…

He was later asked about Obama and Trump:

We saw that President Obama, who was an outsider to the US military-intelligence complex, initially wanted to reign in the abuses of agencies like the CIA and the NSA, but in the end he did very little. Now we see a confrontation between president Trump and so-called Deep State, which includes the CIA and the NSA. Can a US president govern in opposition to such powerful entities?

“Obama is certainly an instructive case. This is a president who campaigned on a platform of ending warrantless wiretapping in the United States, he said “that’s not who we are, that’s not what we do”, and once he became the president, he expanded the program.  He said he was going to close Guantanamo but he kept it open, he said he was going to limit extrajudicial killings and drone strikes that has been so routine in the Bush years. But Obama went on to authorize vastly more drone strikes than Bush. It became an industry.

As for this idea that there is a Deep State, now the Deep State is not just the intelligence agencies, it is really a way of referring to the career bureaucracy of government. These are officials who sit in powerful positions, who don’t leave when presidents do, who watch presidents come and go, they influence policy, they influence presidents and say: this is what we have always done, this is what we must do, and if you don’t do this, people will die. It is very easy to persuade a new president who comes in, who has never had these powers, but has always wanted this job and wants very, very badly to do that job well. A bureaucrat sitting there for the last twenty years says: I understand what you said, I respect your principles, but if you do what you promised, people will die. It is very easy for a president to go: well, for now, I am going to set this controversy to the side, I’m going to take your advice, let you guys decide how these things should be done, and then I will revisit it, when I have a little more experience, maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years, but then they never do.

This is what we saw quite clearly happen in the case of Barack Obama: when this story [of Snowden exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance] came forward in 2013, when Obama had been president for five years, one of the defences for this from his aides and political allies was: oh, Obama was just about to fix this problem!  And sure enough, he eventually was forced from the wave of criticism to make some limited reforms, but he did not go far enough to end all of the programs that were in violation of the law or the constitution of the United States.

That too was an intentional choice: he could have certainly used the scandal to advocate for all of the changes that he had campaigned on, to deliver on all of his promises, but in those five years he had become president, he discovered something else, which is that there are benefits from having very powerful intelligence agencies, there are benefits from having these career bureaucrats on your side, using their spider web over government for your benefit.

Imagine you are Barack Obama, and you realise – yes, when you were campaigning you were saying: spying on people without a warrant is a problem, but then you realise: you can read Angela Merkel’s text messages. Why bother calling her and asking her opinion, when you can just read her mind by breaking the law? It sounds like a joke, but it is a very seductive thing. Secrecy is perhaps the most corrupting of all government powers, because it takes public officials and divorces them from accountability to the public.

When we look at the case of Trump, who is perhaps the worst of politicians, we see the same dynamic occurring. This is a president who said the CIA is the enemy, it’s like Nazi Germany, they’re listening to his phone calls, and all of these other things, some claims which are true, some claims which are absolutely not.  A few months later, he is authorizing major powers for these same agencies that he has called his enemies.

And this gets to the central crux of your question, which is: can any president oppose this?  The answer is certainly. The president has to have some familiarity going in with the fact that this pitch is going to be made, that they are going to try to scare him or her into compliance. The president has to be willing to stand strongly on line and say: ‘I was elected to represent the interests of the American people, and if you’re not willing to respect the constitution and our rights, I will disband your agency, and create a new one’. I think they can definitely be forced into compliance, because these officials fear prison, just like every one of us.”

He was asked about attacks claiming that he only exposes problems with  the United States:

How do you reply to those critics who attack you for “only” exposing the US mass surveillance and saying that the Chinese and the Russian surveillance complexes are no less threatening?

“This is an easy one: I am not Chinese, I am not Russian, I didn’t work for the Chinese secret services or Russian secret services, I worked for the US ones, so of course my information would be about the US”.

Critics say we should also expose the Russians and the Chinese…

“Yes, if I could, I would. We need more Chinese whistleblowers, we need more Russian whistleblowers, and unfortunately that becomes more difficult to make that happen when the United States is itself setting a precedent that whistleblowers get persecuted and attacked, rather than protected”.

How do you see this serious diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia?
“I haven’t followed it that closely, but the idea that political violence is being used in any form is reprehensible, it needs to be condemned. If the UK allegations are correct, poisoning people, particularly people who are long out of their service, and in a different country, is contemptible”.

Snowden did subsequently have the opportunity to help expose problems in Russia with the video in the tweet at the start of this post.

The interview concluded with Snowden’s being asked for his advice for young and talented people who want to do the right thing:

“Question power. I don’t want people to trust me, I want people to doubt me, but I want them to take that experience and apply that to the real powers of society, not just isolated, exiled whistleblowers. Think about politicians, business leaders, the people who shape your society. Shouldn’t it be that the ones who wield the most power in society are the ones who are held to the highest standard of behaviour?

And look at the way the system works in your country, around you today, and ask if in fact the most powerful people in society are being held to the highest standards, or if you see cases where if the ordinary person breaks the smallest law, they’re going to jail, but if the most powerful people in society are engaged in criminal activity on the grandest scales, they can simply apologize and face no consequences. If that is the case, think about what you can do to fix that. The first step is always to question if this is the way things should be, and if it’s not, it’s time to change it”.

China’s Social Credit System Sounds Orwellian, And Like An Extension Of Current Facebook Censorship

Recent reports on China’s  social credit system sound Orwellian, or like something out of Black Mirror. The Verge summarized how the system works:

Starting in May, Chinese citizens who rank low on the country’s burgeoning “social credit” system will be in danger of being banned from buying plane or train tickets for up to a year, according to statements recently released by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

With the social credit system, the Chinese government rates citizens based on things like criminal behavior and financial misdeeds, but also on what they buy, say, and do. Those with low “scores” have to deal with penalties and restrictions. China has been working towards rolling out a full version of the system by 2020, but some early versions of it are already in place.

Previously, the Chinese government had focused on restricting the travel of people with massive amounts of debt, like LeEco and Faraday Future founder Jia Yueting, who made the Supreme People’s Court blacklist late last year.

The new travel restrictions are the latest addition to this growing patchwork of social engineering, which has already imposed punishments on more than seven million citizens. And there’s a broad range when it comes to who can be flagged. Citizens who have spread “false information about terrorism,” caused “trouble” on flights, used expired tickets, or were caught smoking on trains could all be banned, according to Reuters.

But the system, as it stands, is opaque; citizens are seemingly just as likely to be flagged for minor infractions like leaving bikes parked in a footpath or issuing apologies that are deemed “insincere” as major credit defaulters like Jia. And it’s often unclear whether they’re on a blacklist in the first place, let alone what kind of recourse is available. “Chinese government authorities clearly hope to create a reality in which bureaucratic pettiness could significantly limit people’s rights,” Maya Wang, senior researcher for the non-profit NGO Human Rights Watch, wrote in December.

Wired has further information on how the system works:

Individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the “complex algorithm” it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

Friends matter, too. The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as “positive energy” online, nice messages about the government or how well the country’s economy is doing, will make your score go up…

Posting dissenting political opinions or links mentioning Tiananmen Square has never been wise in China, but now it could directly hurt a citizen’s rating. But here’s the real kicker: a person’s own score will also be affected by what their online friends say and do, beyond their own contact with them. If someone they are connected to online posts a negative comment, their own score will also be dragged down…

…people with low ratings will have slower internet speeds; restricted access to restaurants, nightclubs or golf courses; and the removal of the right to travel freely abroad with, I quote, “restrictive control on consumption within holiday areas or travel businesses”. Scores will influence a person’s rental applications, their ability to get insurance or a loan and even social-security benefits. Citizens with low scores will not be hired by certain employers and will be forbidden from obtaining some jobs, including in the civil service, journalism and legal fields, where of course you must be deemed trustworthy. Low-rating citizens will also be restricted when it comes to enrolling themselves or their children in high-paying private schools. I am not fabricating this list of punishments. It’s the reality Chinese citizens will face. As the government document states, the social credit system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

This sounds a  lot like what was depicted on an episode of The Orville entitled Majority Rule.

The system is voluntary now and becomes mandatory in 2020. Wired suggests that people are signing up now out of fear of reprisals if they do not, and as high scores can be a status symbol:

Higher scores have already become a status symbol, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) within months of launch. A citizen’s score can even affect their odds of getting a date, or a marriage partner, because the higher their Sesame rating, the more prominent their dating profile is on Baihe.

Sesame Credit already offers tips to help individuals improve their ranking, including warning about the downsides of friending someone who has a low score. This might lead to the rise of score advisers, who will share tips on how to gain points, or reputation consultants willing to offer expert advice on how to strategically improve a ranking or get off the trust-breaking blacklist.

Wired compares this to “a big data gamified version of the Communist Party’s surveillance methods.” People are also likely to seek ways around the system:

We’re also bound to see the birth of reputation black markets selling under-the-counter ways to boost trustworthiness. In the same way that Facebook Likes and Twitter followers can be bought, individuals will pay to manipulate their score. What about keeping the system secure? Hackers (some even state-backed) could change or steal the digitally stored information…

In China, certain citizens, such as government officials, will likely be deemed above the system. What will be the public reaction when their unfavourable actions don’t affect their score? We could see a Panama Papers 3.0 for reputation fraud.

While this sounds absolutely Orwellian, businesses here are regularly rated on line, and their success can be affected by the whims of anonymous reviewers.

While we do not face restrictions as severe as those described in China, this is also analogous to the current censorship we are facing on Facebook. While the internet can increase opportunities for free expression when anyone can write from their own web page,  increasingly communication is being channeled through limited sources. Facebook has become indispensable for communicating, now with over two billion active users worldwide. Facebook will often cite violation of Community Standards to justify restricting individuals, but quite often there is no evidence of violating any of the Community Standards actually posted by Facebook, and no response to appeals. This has led many people to start using social media sites including MeWe, Steemit, Minds, and Tremr. Unfortunately it is far harder for Chinese to change where they live to avoid repression based upon unclear standards than it is to use alternative social media sites here.

Democrats Have A Plan For 2018–Avoid Standing For Anything

First Read looked at the Democrats’ strategy for the 2018 election, which comes down to continuing to avoid standing for anything. They noted the chaos in the Trump administration, and showed how the Democrats plan to respond:

Given that chaos, Democrats believe they’ve discovered the kind of candidates that could be appealing to voters, especially those in red and purple areas, one year-plus into Trump’s presidency: candidates who project stability.

Think of Ralph Northam (military background, doctor, lieutenant governor) who won Virginia’s gubernatorial contest last November. Or think of Doug Jones (a former prosecutor who promised he could “work with Republicans better than Roy Moore can work with anyone”) in December’s Alabama contest. Or think of Conor Lamb (military background, former prosecutor) who’s running in this month’s special congressional election in a Pennsylvania district Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

It’s chaos vs. stability. It’s reality-show background vs. military/prosecutor backgrounds. And it’s excitement vs., well, a little boring.

Yes, it is boring. To just run on a platform of not being as chaotic as the Trump administration again fails to provide voters with positive reasons to vote Democratic. Republicans have won over the years by taking stands, even if they take the wrong positions, and sell voters on their beliefs.

This is hardly anything new. Democrats avoided standing for anything in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, and were beaten badly. In 2016, when voters wanted a change candidate, the nominated the most establishment, status-quo candidate possible, and couldn’t even beat Donald Trump.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders, who has not been afraid to take a stand on the issues,  has led polls of the most popular politician in the country.

We have seen other examples of the cowardice of Democrats recently. Huffington Post reports:

The morning after the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s press staff warned House candidates and their staffs not to “politicize” the shooting that day. Politicization, according to the DCCC official, included talking about gun violence prevention policy.

Instead they also advised, “any message today should be on offering thoughts/prayers for victims and their families.” Thoughts and prayers–exactly what many of us have mocked the Republicans for saying.

They took a similar position on health care with The Intercept reporting that the DCCC advised Democrats against supporting single payer healthcare.

Democrats also have avoided taking  positions against neocon interventionism and perpetual warfare, the drug war, or mass surveillance. Instead they have largely adopted the foreign policy of George W. Bush, and the anti-Russia hysteria of Joe McCarthy. Democrats might do well in 2018 in reaction to Donald Trump, but the party which stands for nothing does not give people any reason to stick with it once Trump is gone.

Amnesty International Criticizes Donald Trump’s Record On Human Rights

Amnesty International has released a report on  The State of the World’s Human Rights 2017/18, citing human rights abuses around the world, including those by Donald Trump. In a press release accompanying the report Amnesty International Secretary General Sail Shetty wrote, “The transparently hateful move by the US government in January to ban entry to people from several Muslim-majority countries set the scene for a year in which leaders took the politics of hate to its most dangerous conclusion.”

Donald Trump’s record was cited later in the press release:

With the report launching in Washington D.C., Amnesty International warned that President Trump’s backward steps on human rights are setting a dangerous precedent for other governments to follow.

“Defenders of human rights around the world can look to the people of the United States to stand with them, even where the US government has failed. As President Trump takes actions that violate human rights at home and abroad, activists from across the country remind us that the fight for universal human rights has always been waged and won by people in their communities,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA…

A vast Women’s March centered on the USA and with offshoots around the world showcased the growing influence of new social movements, as did the #MeToo phenomenon and Latin America’s “Ni Una Menos” – which denounced violence against women and girls…

The willingness of prominent leaders to tout “fake news” in order to manipulate public opinion, coupled with attacks on institutions that act as checks on power, show that free speech will be a key battle-ground for human rights this year, said Amnesty International.

“In 2018, we cannot take for granted that we will be free to gather together in protest or to criticize our governments. In fact, speaking out is becoming more dangerous,” said Salil Shetty…

The report emphasized the need for people to continue to speak out against the kind of hate-filled rhetoric seen in xenophobic slogans at a nationalist march in Warsaw, Poland, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, USA, and sweeping crackdowns on LGBTI communities from Chechnya to Egypt.

This was underscored by the vilification of refugees and migrants from the very highest levels of government. While the Trump administration made headlines for its anti-refugee rhetoric, the report says they were not alone in pursuing xenophobic policies.

“Donald Trump’s policies may have marked a new era of human rights regression but they are not unique. If you look across from Australia to Hungary, leaders have long treated refugees and migrants as problems to be deflected, not as human beings with rights who deserve our compassion,” said Salil Shetty.

The report also accused Trump of  acting on “anti-rights rhetoric of discrimination and xenophobia” (page 28):

In the USA, President Trump wasted little time in putting his anti-rights rhetoric of discrimination and xenophobia into action, threatening a major rollback on justice and freedoms – including by signing a series of repressive executive orders that threatened the human rights of millions, at home and abroad. This included abusive USA-Mexico border enforcement practices such as the increased detention of asylum-seekers and their families; extreme restrictions on women’s and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health services in the USA and elsewhere; repeal of protections for LGBTI workers and transgender students; and permission for the Dakota Access Pipeline to be completed – threatening the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous Peoples, as well as violating their right to free, prior and informed consent.

Later the report cited the Global Gag Rule (page 34):

In January, two days after massive worldwide demonstrations for equality and against discrimination, US President Trump put at risk the lives and health of millions of women and girls around the world by reinstating the so-called “global gag rule”. This blocked US financial assistance to any hospitals or organizations that provide abortion information about, or access to, safe and legal abortion care, or that advocate the decriminalization of abortion or the expansion of abortion services.

In Latin America alone – where experts estimate that 760,000 women are treated annually from complications of unsafe abortion – President Trump’s stance put many more lives at risk.

Today’s Indictments Do Not Support Narratives Of Either Republican Or Democratic Partisans Regarding Russia

Once again the objective facts released with regards to the Russia investigation run counter to the narratives of both Republican and Democratic partisans. The details presented in today’s indictment issued by Robert Mueller again contradicts claims from some Republicans that there was absolutely no Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Of course that was an absurd stand from the start. Russian has meddled in our elections for years, as the United States has meddled in their elections, and both countries have meddled in elections in multiple other countries. On the other hand, the indictments provide nothing to back the Democratic conspiracy theories of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign which somehow stole the election from Hillary Clinton.

We have known for some time that Russians have been active on social media. With the long history of both sides meddling in each other’s affairs, and with the growth of social media, those who are shocked by this are astonishingly naive. Nor is it a surprise that such actions violated federal election laws. As the indictment states, “FECA prohibits foreign nationals from making any contributions, expenditures, independent expenditures, or disbursements for electioneering communications. FECA also requires that individuals or entities who make certain independent expenditures in federal elections report those expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.” A far more interesting potential development would be, as I’ve speculated in the past, if there are grounds for a future indictment against Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kusnher for their attempts to obtain information from Russians at the Trump Tower meeting.

We know from the Trump Tower meeting that the Trump campaign had no qualms against colluding with Russia. However, while the Russians enticed them to attend, they had no information to actually offer. The indictment indicates other contacts between Russians and the Trump Campaign, however without the knowledge of the Trump Campaign. As the indictment states, “Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

While it would hardly surprise me if there were to turn out to be some members of the Trump campaign who did knowingly communicate with Russians, at this time there remains no evidence of any collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia, even if members of Trump’s family did show a willingness to collude with Russians. Obtaining the actual facts, as opposed to promoting the claims of partisans on either side, remains the top priority.

As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stressed, “There is no allegation in the indictment on the outcome of the election.” After over a year of investigations, there remains no evidence that Russia had any effect on the election result, no matter how much Hillary Clinton and her supporters wish to claim this.

While the activities of the Russians very well might have violated federal election laws, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding their actions on social media showed that their actions, such as purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads were very trivial considering the vast amount of activity on social media and other campaign advertising. The Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

The hysteria spread by many establishment  Democrats over Russian actions on social media, along with other false media reports regarding Russia, has had many adverse consequences including providing the Democratic establishment a bogus excuse for not correcting the actual mistakes which cost them the election after giving the nomination to a candidate so weak that she could not beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, increasing Cold War style tensions with a nuclear power, playing into the desires of neocons who have been exaggerating Russian influence on the 2016 election, and increasing censorship of Americans (not Russians) on Facebook. Using Russian activity on social media to censor Americans is a far greater threat to our democracy than any actions done by Russians.

The Explanation For The Number Of Mass Shootings In The United States

The New York Times looked at the question of why there are so many mass shootings in the United States compared to other countries:

When the world looks at the United States, it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader in foreign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.

But there is one quirk that consistently puzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience so many mass shootings?

Perhaps, some speculate, it is because American society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed the bonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health care system that draws frequent derision abroad.

These explanations share one thing in common: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research on shootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

There is far more in their full article but the primary factor comes down to the astronomical number of guns. If we agree that school shootings must be stopped, this leaves us with one conclusion. Something must be done about the number of guns. We can debate the specifics, and we can strive to find ways to allow those who use guns for legitimate reasons to still own guns, but any solution is going to require reducing the number of guns. Or do conservatives think that killing children is acceptable?

Conservatives will claim that restrictions on gun ownership violate the Second Amendment. I don’t take their selective adherence to Constitutional rights all that seriously when they are frequently the same people who are willing to see violations of First Amendment rights, with many outright opposing separation of church and state.

Department of Homeland Security Verifies That NBC’s Report Of Russian Hacking Was False And Irresponsible

Last week NBC and MSNBC continued to spread hysteria about Russia by both misrepresenting Congressional testimony regarding Russia and falsely labeling misinformation from several months ago as breaking news. The Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement verifying that the criticism written by many in the media, which I also discussed in this post. DHS called the report from NBC News incorrect and irresponsible reporting. The statement also stressed that, “we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers.” It was stated during the Congressional testimony that the action was primarily scanning of computer systems, which is done by both the United States and Russia.

The statement from DHS follows:

“Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking. First off, let me be clear: we have no evidence – old or new – that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers. NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking – which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer – as some kind of “breaking news,” incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats. As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure. In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted.

“NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs. While we’ll continue our part to educate NBC and others on the threat, more importantly, the Department of Homeland Security and our state and local partners will continue our mission to secure the nation’s election systems.

“To our state and local partners in the election community: there’s no question we’re making real and meaningful progress together. States will do their part in how they responsibly manage and implement secure voting processes. For our part, we’re going to continue to support with risk and vulnerability assessments, offer cyber hygiene scans, provide real-time threat intel feeds, issue security clearances to state officials, partner on incident response planning, and deliver cybersecurity training. The list goes on of how we’re leaning forward and helping our partners in the election community. We will not stop, and will stand by our partners to protect our nation’s election infrastructure and ensure that all Americans can have confidence in our democratic elections.”

While this does show the need for increased cybersecurity,  it does not justify the hysteria spread by NBC and repeated by many Democrats.

The misrepresentation of the facts made by NBC and MSNBC has often been cited by Democrats who have greatly exaggerated the threat, falsely seeing this as an unprecedented one-sided attack on our country, as opposed to the type of activity which has been commonplace by both the United States and Russia for many years. This has led to the totally unfounded belief by many Democrats that the 2016 election was stolen from Hillary Clinton. This gives the Democratic establishment excuses to avoid making necessary changes as their policies have lost step with voters, and much of the party base, leading to repeated electoral losses. Democrats need to accept that circumventing party rules to give the nomination to a candidate as terrible as Hillary Clinton was one of the worst blunders in political history, along with being an unethical act showing a total disregard for democratic principles.

This unfounded hysteria also feeds into the anti-Russian views of neoconservative interventionists who desire regime change in Russia, and has led to considerable McCarthyism from many Democrats who see legitimate criticism of the party from the left as originating from Russia. Rather than protecting democracy, anti-Russia hysteria is being used as an excuse to oppose dissent, leading to increased risk of censorship, including on social media.

This was only one of multiple examples of claims regarding Russia being made by the news media and later retracted. I listed this and other examples here, and The Nation has also debunked the irresponsible media coverage of claims about Russia. As I noted earlier in the year, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has  criticized the coverage of Russia by Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Update:

Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Facebook “Techno-Fascism” Is Killing Everything From Independent News To Comedy On The Internet

Facebook is bringing communities together–and deciding what we might say and read. This includes both outright Facebook censorship in which posts are taken down and people are placed in “Facebook Jail,” to new algorithms which limit what we see on our timeline. The new algorithms have greatly reduced traffic to many outside sources harming blogs, the independent media, and even internet comedy.

Antimedia writes that Facebook Begins Killing the Independent News Industry. While Facebook has had considerable impact on internet traffic for years, the problem became more severe with the spread of anti-Russia hysteria based on highly exaggerated claims regarding the role of social media on the results of the 2016 election. The response from Facebook has to fight “fake news,” which, as Glenn Greenwald has warned, is often used as an excuse for censorship. Presumably the writings of those of us who warned about the dubious arguments for the Iraq war, along with the revelations of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war, would have been classified as “fake news” by the mainstream in the past. Today alternative views on both the left and right are being restricted. Anti-Media saw the turning point as when Barack Obama spoke with Mark Zuckerberg about battling “fake news.”

…Zuckerberg has slowly been chipping away at “fake news” sites even when he previously believed that they were not even a particular issue. Following the infamous PropOrNot report barely a week later, which effectively labelled every single site that criticizes U.S. foreign policy as a Russian agent, alternative media has faced a slow and inevitable decline.

In September last year, acclaimed writer Chris Hedges of Truthdig wrote:

“In the name of combating Russia-inspired ‘fake news,’ Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by ‘evaluators,’ that hunt for key words such as ‘U.S. military,’ ‘inequality’ and ‘socialism,’ along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 ‘evaluators’ to determine the ‘quality’ and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.”

At first, it was corporate gate-keepers like the Guardian who were begging for donations in the age of Trump, as they had lost all credibility in keeping up with the needs and interests of the people. Now, we are all asking for donations, as Facebook’s algorithms are cutting off close to 100 percent of our Facebook audiences…

This has nothing to do with combating “fake news.” I have written over 400 articles online, and close to 100 percent of my sources are from mainstream outlets like Reuters, the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the Washington Post, and others. Why should we be censored for referencing the very news outlets that people like Obama want us to trust in the first place?

We are being censored because we look for the paragraphs in those reports which need highlighting, or the hidden reports that go overlooked, and we broadcast it to millions of people on a daily basis.

Many other sites on both the left and right are reporting similar difficulties. As Hedges pointed out, this has often been pushed by the establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Supporters of Hillary Clinton have been especially aggressive in filing bogus complaints with Facebook regarding those who disagree with them, and Clinton has outright attacked sources such as Wikileaks, while using what she claims is “fake news” critical of her (even when it is often true) as justification for censorship. Donald Trump has taken a position similar to Clinton’s in backing censorship.

While not true of all, many of us in the blogosphere and alternative press also frequently use mainstream news outlets as a major source of information, even if we do highlight key facts which are often ignored by the talking heads who try to tell us what to think on cable and broadcast news. Articles coming from a small site such as this typically are backed up with multiple references from major media sources, but Facebook algorithms now hide what we write.

The alternative press is probably suffering the most, but Funny or Die also complains about How Facebook Is Killing Comedy:

The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet…

Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content. If you run a large publishing company and you make a big piece of content that you feel proud of, you put it up on Facebook. From there, their algorithm takes over, with no transparency. So, not only is the website not getting ad revenue they used to get, they have to pay Facebook to push it out to their own subscribers. So, Facebook gets the ad revenue from the eyeballs on the thing they are seeing, and they get revenue from the publisher. It’s like if TheNew York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.

The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. Someone can make something really good, and just because of some weird algorithmic reasons, or if it’s not designed specifically for Facebook, it doesn’t do well. And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore…

Facebook says that they are building communities, but really they’re fracturing us. We are all on our own little news bubbles and on our own little islands. It’s also fracturing our own creative projects. The internet has turned into a place where you can’t have many different people speaking as one entity and expect those people to make a living. And to me, those are the most exciting, rewarding projects, and I can’t make those now. I am looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but you can say categorically that the internet was a better place 3-4 years ago. It used to be fruitful, but it’s like a desert now.

It looks like we have been warned about this. Back in 2015, Mark Carrigan warned about Mark Zuckerberg’s philosophy of techno-fascism.

Bernie Sanders’ Response To The State Of The Union Address (Including Full Transcript)

Last night Bernie Sanders was one of five Democratic responses to the State of the Union Address, including Joe Kennedy III’s official response. Sanders criticized Trump for promising to provide “health insurance for everybody,” with “much lower deductibles,” but instead supporting legislation that “would  thrown up to 32 million people off of the health care they had while, at the same time, substantially raising premiums for older Americans.”

Sanders noted that Trump had promised “promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.” Instead, “he supported a Republican Budget Resolution that proposed slashing Medicaid by $1 trillion and cutting Medicare by $500 billion. Further, President Trump’s own budget called for cutting Social Security Disability Insurance by $64 billion.”

In addition to calling out Trump for breaking his campaign promises, Sanders noted many things which Trump failed to talk about, including climate change and voter suppression.

While overall a good speech, there were things which I wish Sanders had said, and one thing statement which was misleading. As has generally been the case with Democrats, there was nothing said about restrictions of civil liberties–passed with the cooperation of many Democrats. Nor were there protests over the never-ending war which Democrats are now accepting as the status quo. Nothing was said about the drug war, while Joe Kennedy III , among other Democrats, has been on the wrong side of this issue. This is what I want to see from a true resistance.

Sanders also stated that the Russians “interfered in our election in 2016, is interfering in democratic elections all over the world.” While technically true, this plays into the hysteria being spread by Democrats, often based upon misinformation. While true that Russia meddled in our election, this must be kept in context that Russia has meddled in elections for decades–just as the United States has frequently meddled in foreign elections. Russian meddling has also been highly exaggerated. There is also no evidence that Russia had any effect on the election results. The information obtained through the Congressional hearings has shown that claims about Russian tampering with the election have been have been of little consequence. Similarly, multiple media reports of Russian hacking were subsequently retracted as false. I would hope that Sanders would know better to play into the misleading claims of Democrats who are distorting the facts to deny the blame they deserve for losing to Donald Trump due to choosing a candidate as terrible as Hillary Clinton, along with playing into the hands of neocons who are distorting Russian electoral interference as they used false claims of WMD in Iraq to promote their goal of regime change in Russia.

The video can be seen here and the full text of Sanders’ speech is below:

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