How Facebook Might Have Actually Helped Trump Win–And It Had Nothing To Do With Russia

As was highlighted in yesterday’s indictment, there is a lot of attention being paid to Russian actions on Facebook, giving a false impression that this was the deciding factor in the election. As I pointed out again yesterday, the evidence presented in the Congressional testimony regarding Russian 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.

While the overall influence of Facebook on the election is unknown, if Facebook did influence the election there were factors far more important than the Russian activities. Both sides had many supporters who posted substantially far more on line for their candidate than anything coming from Russia. The Clinton campaign and its allies also utilized an army of paid trolls which were  more prevalent on social media than the Russians. The Trump campaign effectively used social media in a manner which was totally legal and had nothing to do with Russia–Facebook employees embedded in the campaign to instruct them in the most effective way to use social media.

The Guardian looked at how the Trump campaign used the Facebook embeds, based upon a story on CBS News:

The Trump presidential campaign spent most of its digital advertising budget on Facebook, testing more than 50,000 ad variations each day in an attempt to micro-target voters, Trump’s digital director, Brad Parscale, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview scheduled to air on Sunday night.

“Twitter is how [Trump] talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won,” Parscale said…

Parscale said the Trump campaign used Facebook to reach clusters of rural voters, such as “15 people in the Florida Panhandle that I would never buy a TV commercial for”.

“I started making ads that showed the bridge crumbling,” he said. “I can find the 1,500 people in one town that care about infrastructure. Now, that might be a voter that normally votes Democrat.”

Parscale said the campaign constantly tested minute variations in the design, color, background and phrasing of Facebook ads, in order to maximize their impact. Typically 50,000 to 60,000 variations were tested each day, he said, and sometimes as many as 100,000.

But Parscale’s comments highlight how actively Facebook has pursued election advertising as a business strategy, even as its platform has come under attack as a fertile ground for Russian-backed political propaganda, conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation.

Among other services, Facebook’s elections advertising allows campaigns to take lists of registered voters drawn from public records and find those people on Facebook.

Parscale said he asked the Facebook “embeds” to teach staffers everything the Clinton campaign would be told about Facebook advertising “and then some”…

Parscale told CBS he was told the Clinton campaign did not use Facebook employee embeds. “I had heard that they did not accept any of [Facebook’s] offers,” he said.

While Clinton did not take advantage of this opportunity, there are other ways in which Facebook has been biased towards Clinton which might have offsetted this potential advantage for Trump.

Yesterday’s indictment by Robert Mueller was about violations of federal election laws by Russians. As Rod Rosenstein verified, it was not about altering the election result. It is less clear how much legal activities on Facebook contributed to the ultimate result.

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.

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.

Can The Two Party System Come To An End?

The two party system is seriously broken when we were given a choice as terrible as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. More people voted for third  parties in 2017 than in other recent elections which lacked a big name candidate, but others see third party voting as futile. It is a sign that the two party system might be due to collapse when an establishment writer such as David Brooks writes a column about The End of the Two-Party System.

While I don’t entirely accept his rational for this, it is clear that both parties are divided. True conservatives don’t fit into a party led by Donald Trump. True liberals and progressives, including many supporters of Bernie Sanders, don’t fit into a party led by an authoritarian right warmonger like Hillary Clinton, or a party which consider her fit for its nomination. Brooks concluded his column writing:

Eventually, conservatives will realize: If we want to preserve conservatism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors. Liberals will realize: If we want to preserve liberalism, we can’t be in the same party as the clan warriors.

Eventually, those who cherish the democratic way of life will realize they have to make a much more radical break than any they ever imagined. When this realization dawns the realignment begins. Even with all the structural barriers, we could end up with a European-style multiparty system.

The scarcity mentality is eventually incompatible with the philosophies that have come down through the centuries. Decent liberals and conservatives will eventually decide they need to break from it structurally. They will realize it’s time to start something new.

We do need something new, regardless of whether it is for the reasons which Brooks discussed.

There are structural barriers as Brooks noted. Earlier this month The New Republic looked at Why America Is Stuck With Only Two Parties:

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time in American politics when it was relatively easy to jump-start a new political party and get it into the mainstream. That was how the Republican Party—the only third party in American history to become a major party—displaced the Whigs (along with several smaller parties) between 1854, when it was founded, and 1860, when it propelled Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.

It took three things to create a party back then: people, money, and ballots. Parties were responsible not only for recruiting and nominating candidates for office, but they also printed and distributed their own ballots (typically with the help of partisan newspaper publishers). Thus, there were very few barriers to entry: Candidates didn’t have to petition to appear on a ballot, and new parties were free to endorse candidates from the more major parties, so their nominees ran less risk of being labeled spoilers. Essentially, parties could contest for power just as soon as they had backers and supporters. This was what happened to the Liberty and Free Soil parties in the nineteenth century: Starting in the mid-1840s, as the two dominant parties—the Whigs and Democrats—hewed to the pro-slavery forces in their ranks, these new formations sprouted quickly and began gathering anti-slavery advocates.

In 1848, Free Soil nominated former President Martin van Buren after the Whigs supported slave owner Zachary Taylor for president, and got 10 percent of the national vote. Crucially, they were able to do this after the Whig convention that summer because there were no legal obstacles to getting him on the ballot. Six years later, in July 1854, the Republican Party held its first convention and swept the Michigan statehouse and executive branch that very same year. By 1856, its presidential candidate John Fremont won a third of the popular vote and 114 electoral votes.

That’s no longer possible: Today, third parties can’t mount their own presidential bids after they learn whom the two major parties have nominated—there simply isn’t enough time between the end of primary season and the general election to gain meaningful ballot access in enough states to win an Electoral College victory. Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative who ran for President in 2016 as an anti-Trump alternative to Hillary Clinton, was only able to get on the ballot in 11 states because he entered the race so late. It would’ve been easier in the 1800s: McMullin wouldn’t have had to collect millions of petition signatures and hire expensive lawyers to get on the ballot.

The article went on to how the two major parties use ballot access to make it difficult for third parties to compete. The two major parties also conspire to prevent competition in other ways, including restricting access to the debates. While true that these are major obstacles, knowledge of how the major parties maintain their monopoly also presents strategies to work at to achieve change.

Ultimately bigger changes such as rank order voting would be helpful. This would enable voters to choose more than one candidate, with their vote transferring to their second choice if their first choice is eliminated. The idea is to allow people to vote for a third party without feeling like they are wasting their vote. Voters might vote for a Green Party candidate first, and then have their vote go to the Democrat next. This pattern might often be seen, but in  2016 I probably would have voted for Jill Stein and then Gary Johnson, only voting for candidates opposed to our pattern of perpetual warfare. It is also hoped that with ranked order voting more people would vote third party, leading to better third party candidates, with them ultimately being able to win.

There are no doubt major obstacles to third parties actually challenging the major parties. It is debatable as to whether this is a better or worse strategy than to try to reform the major parties, but the two strategies are not mutually exclusive. Despite the major obstacles, we are closer to changing the system than at many times in the past. Dissatisfaction with the major parties is at a new high, with many young voters having no affiliation with either. The internet changes the rules, both for fund raising and campaigning, reducing traditional needs for the old party structures. The internet has the potential to alter politics as it has altered a lot of commercial activity.

Even if a third party does not become a major party, third parties have historically had their value in influencing the major parties, which desire their votes. Seeing the loss of votes to a third party could keep the Democrats from continuing to move to the right. On the other hand, people practicing lesser-evilism voting it makes it easier for the major parties to continue on their current path–which led to a choice as terrible as Trump v. Clinton.

Hillary Clinton’s Plans To Reenter Politics In 2018 and 2020

The Democrats continue to have an excellent chance to win control of the House, despite their lead falling on some generic polls, according to Stuart Rothenberg, but The Washington Post indicates a problem which could harm the Democrats in 2018 and 2020, as in 2016: Hillary Clinton reentering politics.

The Washington Post writes:

In the first electoral season since the stunning loss that extinguished her years-long drive for the presidency, Clinton, 70, has begun a discreet and low-profile reentry into the political fray.

Her emerging 2018 strategy, according to more than a dozen friends and advisers familiar with her plans, is to leverage the star power she retains in some Democratic circles on behalf of select candidates while remaining sufficiently below the radar to avoid becoming a useful target for Republicans seeking to rile up their base.

Most likely, they said, Clinton will attempt to help Democratic candidates who have a history of supporting her and her family, and expending her political capital in a number of the 23 congressional districts she won in 2016 but are now held by a Republican. Lending a hand to Democrats organizing at a grass-roots level is a priority, they added.

She will be supporting the politicians who have supported the Clintons in the past–in other words, conservative Democrats, and the types of Democrats who lost in 2010, 2014, and 2016.

The most ominous line in the article is: “Clinton friends expect that she will be an influential figure in 2020 — as a potential kingmaker, or queen maker, in the Democratic presidential scramble.”

Since losing the 2016 election, Clinton has spent her time attacking the left, spreading pro-war hysteria, and undermining fundamental principles of Democracy, including freedom of speech and the acceptance of election results by the losing candidate.

While the Democrats should be able to do well in 2018 with the well-deserved unpopularity of Donald Trump and the Republican Party, long term their future depends upon whether or not they continue to be a Republican-lite Party, running on a platform of being just a little less crazy than the Republicans. In January The Intercept warned that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is trying to prevent progressive candidates from running:

…the DCCC, its allied groups, or leaders within the Democratic Party are working hard against some of these new candidates for Congress, publicly backing their more established opponents, according to interviews with more than 50 candidates, party operatives, and members of Congress. Winning the support of Washington heavyweights, including the DCCC — implicit or explicit — is critical for endorsements back home and a boost to fundraising. In general, it can give a candidate a tremendous advantage over opponents in a Democratic primary.

In district after district, the national party is throwing its weight behind candidates who are out of step with the national mood. The DCCC — known as “the D-trip” in Washington — has officially named 18 candidates as part of its “Red to Blue” program. (A D-trip spokesperson cautioned that a red-to-blue designation is not an official endorsement, but functions that way in practice. Program designees get exclusive financial and strategy resources from the party.) In many of those districts, there is at least one progressive challenger the party is working to elbow aside, some more viable than others. Outside of those 18, the party is coalescing in less formal ways around a chosen candidate — such as in the case of Pennsylvania’s Hartman — even if the DCCC itself is not publicly endorsing.

It is also discouraging that many of the same people who handed Hillary Clinton the nomination in 2016, which led to the election of Donald Trump, continue to lead the DNC, with progressive members having been purged last fall. So far the DNC has not adopted the recommendations of the Unity Commission, which were rather tame and did not go far enough to reform the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, there are signs of hope. The Intercept reported earlier this month that, “AT LEAST SIX progressive insurgents managed to out-raise their establishment Democratic opponents in House races in the final quarter of 2017, a stunning development that threatens to upend the way the party goes about selecting candidates.” Yesterday Politco reported that, “Progressive insurgents are launching challenges to Democratic members of Congress in some of the country’s bluest districts, sparked by deep frustration with the party establishment and anti-Trump anger.”

The future of the Democratic Party must be on standing for principles, not seeing more of Hillary Clinton, who embodies what is most rotten in our politics.

NBC News Revives Debunked Claim Of Russia Hacking Voter Databases

I always find it ridiculous when CNN repeatedly calls news stories throughout the day “breaking news,” but NBC has taken this much further. NBC is taking a debunked claim of Russia hacking voter databases from several months ago, and labeled this “breaking news.” That would be like starting a news cast with a claim such as “Breaking News. There are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq requiring military action.”

This claim was first made months ago, with the Department of Homeland Security subsequently reporting during Congressional testimony that all that occurred was routine scanning of computer systems, with it commonplace for Russia and the United States to routinely scan each other’s computer systems. The same is true of much of “Russiagate” with it being common for both Russia and the United States to meddle in the elections of each other and other countries, with no evidence of any actions in 2016 which altered the election results. After months of investigations, there has been evidence of money laundering and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump, but no evidence of any collusion between Trump and Putin which affected the election, despite repeated claims from Democrats.

For whatever it might mean, some states have also accused the Department of Homeland Security of trying to hack into their system.

Glenn Greenwald discussed this story here.  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.

Despite the claims in this story being both old news and false information, NBC and MSNBC continued to spread this false claim, which was subsequently picked up by other media outlets. 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.

There very likely are vulnerabilities in our election systems which can be exploited. The proper response is to improve cyber-security. There is no place for the hysteria being spread by NBC and MSNBC, or for the McCarthyism and war mongering by some Democrats in response. It is dangerous to exaggerate Russian actions to place the blame for Clinton’s loss on a nuclear power such as Russia. This also leads to many Democrats failing to accept the real reasons why Hillary Clinton lost to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, reducing the chances that the Democrats will fix the problems which have resulted in multiple losses over the past decade.

Russia is hardly led by a band of boy scouts, but there are far more serious threats to our democracy. This includes Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, Republican voter suppression, Democratic McCarthyism and rigging of the nomination system to exclude more liberal and progressive viewpoints, and even, as I discussed yesterday, Facebook censorship of alternative opinions. In the scheme of things, Russia is minor threat which has been greatly exaggerated, distracting from our more serious problems.

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.

Nunes Memo Provides Reminder Of Republican Hypocrisy And Democratic Dishonesty

Following days of hype far in excess of the outcome, the Nunes memo was finally released. The memo itself, while providing reminders of both Republican hypocrisy and Democratic dishonesty, doesn’t change what we knew. What matters is how Donald Trump and others wind up responding to the release.

The memo actually means very little, especially when kept in mind that it is a memo written by members of one party, while the response from the other party has so far been suppressed. The key argument is that Steele dossier was an essential part of the argument for the surveillance of Carter Page. However, the same memo undermines this argument, stating that  information about George Papadopolous “triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation” in July 2016. The initial application for the surveillance remains classified, so it is not possible to independently determine how important the Steele dossier was.

The significance of the Steele dossier is reduced if there is evidence beyond it to justify surveillance of Carter Page, as the Nunes memo concedes does exist. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reports: “Carter Page, who served as a foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, was known to U.S. counterintelligence officials for years before he became a prominent figure in a dossier of unverified research about the future president’s ties to Russia.” There is further information later in the article, which raises questions as to how significant the Steele dossier were as opposed to other actions by Page in bringing him to the attention of counterintelligence officials:

Mr. Page’s dealings with Russia date back to more than a decade before Mr. Trump ran for president and his opponents began crafting the dossier.

For three years, starting in 2004, Mr. Page was living in Moscow, where he opened an office for the investment banking firm Merrill Lynch & Co. He also served as an adviser on “key transactions” involving the Russian state-owned energy company PAO Gazprom and RAO UES, the Russian state-controlled electricity monopoly, according to Mr. Page’s biography.

In January 2013, Mr. Page was in New York at an Asia Society event on China and energy development, when he met Victor Podobnyy, a junior attaché at the Russian consulate in New York City who was in the audience, Mr. Page told the House Intelligence Committee last fall.

In March 2013, Mr. Page met with Mr. Podobnyy again over coffee or a Coke, he told the House panel in his testimony. Mr. Page, asked why he had sought out Mr. Podobnyy a second time, said he wanted to practice his Russian.

That June, three years before the 2016 presidential campaign and the creation of the dossier, Mr. Page had his first known brush with a U.S. counterintelligence official. He was interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agent Gregory Monaghan and another FBI agent, who were investigating whether Mr. Podobnyy was a Russian intelligence agent, according to a criminal complaint.

In 2015, Mr. Podobnyy was charged with posing as a U.N. attaché under diplomatic cover while trying to recruit Mr. Page as a Russian intelligence source. The criminal complaint filed by U.S. federal prosecutors alleged Mr. Podobnyy was an agent for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The complaint also detailed Mr. Podobnyy’s discussion in April 2013 with Igor Sporyshev, a second alleged SVR agent posing as a Russian trade representative, about efforts to recruit “a male working as a consultant in New York City.” Mr. Podobnyy was afforded diplomatic immunity and left the country.

In a statement last year, Mr. Page confirmed he was the unnamed consultant and said he helped U.S. federal investigators during the case. The complaint charging Mr. Podobnyy said Mr. Page had provided the Russians with documents, which Mr. Page said were “nothing more than a few samples from the more detailed lectures” he was preparing for a course he was teaching at New York University at the time.

There certainly might be grounds to question both the initial surveillance and the continued renewal of FISA warrants for the surveillance of Page (as is required every ninety days).  However, if the Republicans see abuses re FISA, why did they overwhelmingly just recently vote to renew it and expand surveillance? It is hard to take seriously Republican concerns today regarding surveillance when they have been such strong supporters of mass surveillance.

It is not even clear if Carter Page is very significant with regards to Robert Muller’s investigation considering he is not one of those who have been indicted or who has entered into a plea agreement with Muller.

The release of the memo does serve as a reminder of the dishonesty of the Clinton campaign and the DNC, which had denied for months their role in paying for the Steele dossier. They very well might have violated federal election rules, and should be investigated for this. However, that is a separate matter, and is hardly enough to discredit investigations into money laundering and obstruction of justice within the Trump administration. On the other hand, the attempts by Democrats to fabricate a case, contrary to all the evidence to date, that the election was stolen from Clinton due to a conspiracy between Trump and Russia, is likely to ultimately help Trump distract from his actual crimes.

The real significance of the Nunes memo is not the content, but how it is used. If it is used to reform mass surveillance it could be a good thing–but that is very unlikely to happen by the hypocritical Republicans. The greatest fear is that Trump will use the Republican spin not only to undermine the credibility of the investigation but to justify another Saturday Night Massacre.

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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Senate Defeats 20 Week Abortion Ban Proposed By Republicans Based On Pseudoscience

The Senate defeated a Republican proposal, backed by Donald Trump, to ban abortions after twenty weeks. Politico reports:

The Senate on Monday blocked a bill, backed by President Donald Trump, to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The procedural vote, designed to put pressure on red-state Democrats who are up for reelection this fall, fell significantly short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The White House expressed strong support for the measure earlier Monday, saying it would “help to facilitate the culture of life to which our nation aspires.” During the 2016 election, Trump said he would sign a 20-week abortion ban if it made it to his desk — one of several key reasons anti-abortion groups reversed course to back his campaign.

Three Democrats voted with the Republicans: Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Bob Casey. At least this was significantly fewer than the eighteen Democrats who voted to renew and expand wireless surveillance, leading to that passing by a single vote. Two Republicans, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, voted with the Democrats to block the measure.

The twenty week limit is based upon pseudo-science which falsely claims that a fetus can feel pain at twenty weeks,despite the cerebral cortex not being developed to enable experiencing pain until well after this point. I previously discussed this issue when Republicans attempted similar restrictions in 2015.