Study Casts Doubt On Fake News Affecting Election Results

Fake news was probably the most over-used word of 2016-7. This was used to refer to both false information (as if this was a brand new problem) and subsequently used to refer to any material people did not like, regardless of its veracity. Hillary Clinton has used claims that fake news affected the election to support censorship. Facebook has been censoring legitimate news in their overreaction to fake news. While I don’t think that anyone doubts that the internet is full of false information, the more important question is whether people are actually fooled by it. While providing no definitive answer, The New York Times reported on a study which presents reasons to question whether fake news had a significant effect on the 2016 election results.

Not surprisingly fake news is widespread, and more widespread in conservative circles.  The study found that, “the most conservative 10 percent of the sample accounted for about 65 percent of visits to fake news sites.” That comes as little surprise after the 2016 election. There were both factual and totally fictitious reasons spread in 2016 as to vote against Hillary Clinton. In contrast, while some attacks on Donald Trump might have had some minor errors, the case against him was generally based upon reality. Plus there is a long history of false information coming from conservative sites, such as the Birther claims when Obama was president, and much of what is on Fox every night. (Unfortunately MSNBC is now acting increasingly like Fox).

From the description of the study:

In the new study, a trio of political scientists — Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College (a regular contributor to The Times’s Upshot), Andrew Guess of Princeton University and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter — analyzed web traffic data gathered from a representative sample of 2,525 Americans who consented to have their online activity monitored anonymously by the survey and analytic firm YouGov.

The data included website visits made in the weeks before and after the 2016 election, and a measure of political partisanship based on overall browsing habits. (The vast majority of participants favored Mr. Trump or Hillary Clinton.)

The team defined a visited website as fake news if it posted at least two demonstrably false stories, as defined by economists Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow in research published last year. On 289 such sites, about 80 percent of bogus articles supported Mr. Trump.

A key finding was that, “false stories were a small fraction of the participants’ overall news diet, regardless of political preference: just 1 percent among Clinton supporters, and 6 percent among those pulling for Mr. Trump. Even conservative partisans viewed just five fake news articles, on average, over more than five weeks.”

Most of the people reading fake news were both intensely partisan, probably making them unlikely to change their minds based upon fake claims, and obtained information from a variety of sources (hopefully making them more likely to see through fake news):

“For all the hype about fake news, it’s important to recognize that it reached only a subset of Americans, and most of the ones it was reaching already were intense partisans,” Dr. Nyhan said.

“They were also voracious consumers of hard news,” he added. “These are people intensely engaged in politics who follow it closely.”

Given the ratio of truth to fiction, Dr. Watts said, fake news paled in influence beside mainstream news coverage, particularly stories about Mrs. Clinton and her use of a private email server as secretary of state. Coverage of that topic appeared repeatedly and prominently in venues like The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Of course many Democratic partisans are likely to see the email scandal as fake news. As I noted at the start of this post, fake news has increasingly been used to refer to material people do not like, regardless of whether it is factual.

It was not terribly surprising to see that, “Facebook was by far the platform through which people most often navigated to a fake news site.” However the article does not compare this to the amount of factual information which is also navigated to through Facebook. Regardless, Facebook is hardly the best way for people to get their news, as this post at Mashable pointed out.

This data does not say definitely whether fake news affected the election result. Is possible that some people did vote against Clinton based upon false information in the battleground states which cost her the election. However, considering what the study shows about the readers of fake news, it is more likely that economic conditions in the rust belt, along with Clinton’s many mistakes while campaigning, as opposed to reading some of the more outlandish fake stories about Hillary Clinton, cost her the election. It is doubtful that fake news had any more impact than the rather insignificant Russian ads on social media.

Donald Trump On Beating Clinton In The Electoral College, Collusion, Presidential Power, And The Media

Donald Trump had a number of interesting, while frequently erroneous, things to say in his interview with The New York Times. While the media reports have concentrated on him denying collusion (repeatedly), he also did argue that he beat Hillary Clinton because of competing better in the electoral college as opposed to colluding with Russia:

I didn’t deal with Russia. I won because I was a better candidate by a lot. I won because I campaigned properly and she didn’t. She campaigned for the popular vote. I campaigned for the Electoral College. And you know, it is a totally different thing, Mike. You know the Electoral College, it’s like a track star. If you’re going to run the 100-yard dash, you work out differently than if you’re going to run the 1,000 meters or the mile.

Trump also said, “It would have been a whole different thing. The genius is that the popular vote is a much different form of campaigning. Hillary never understood that.” He might be overstating the case in saying “Hillary never understood that,” but he did a better job of understanding the electoral college than Clinton did, and concentrating resources on a strategy to win the election. Trump realized how unpopular Clinton was in the “rust belt” before she did. Even when Clinton realized at the last minute that she was vulnerable, she did a terrible job of campaigning in states like Michigan, as I discussed after the election.

Trump also showed that he understood the differences in strategy in saying, “Otherwise, I would have gone to New York, California, Texas and Florida.” Many Democrats, who take undeserved satisfaction in winning the popular vote, do not understand how things could have been entirely different if the election was based upon the popular vote and Trump did campaign differently. As Aaron Blake explained:

An electoral-college election involves making explicit appeals to and advertising in around 10 or 12 out of the 50 states. It means Trump didn’t campaign or advertise in California or Massachusetts or Washington state and that Clinton didn’t campaign in Oklahoma or even Texas (despite polling within single digits there). They knew it would be wasted effort to try to turn a 30-point loss in those states into a 22-point loss, or a 14-point loss into an eight-point loss.

For example, if Trump shaved 10 points off his 30-point loss in California, turned his 22-point loss in New York into a 15-point loss, and added just six points to his nine-point win in Texas, he’d have won the popular vote. And that’s just three really populous states out of the many in which neither side really tried.

Trump’s argument that collusion was not necessary to win does make sense in light of all the mistakes Clinton made, and there is no evidence of actual collusion occurring which altered the election results, despite the attempts of Hillary Clinton and many of her supporters to  blame her loss on Russia. Of course Trump’s denials mean less when we know that both his son and son-in-law had attended a meeting with Russians after being teased with information, even if it turned out that they did not receive any. (We do not know whether he knew about this meeting with close family members but it is hard to believe he did not, and this is one of many question which  I hope the current investigations find an answer about).

Trump’s denials also sounded weaker when he claimed, citing Alan Dershowitz, “There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime.” While he is right that there is currently no evidence of collusion, this almost sounds like he is saying that if this part of his defense should be proven wrong, it is still not a crime. There could be major ramifications politically if evidence should arise of collusion.

Unfortunately the media coverage of this case is overly concentrated on the question of collusion. As I’ve pointed out many times, such as here, Robert Mueller’s investigation does appear to be more concentrated on evidence of financial crimes and obstruction of justice as opposed to collusion.

Trump again showed his lack of understanding of the limits of the presidency with his claim that, “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

He talked about bipartisan solutions for infrastructure and a new health care bill, both of which might be desirable but are not likely to occur in today’s political climate. He stated, “I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall.” If he holds to this, it will make a bipartisan deal on immigration more difficult to achieve.

Trump was also asked about additional topics, and then concluded with an amusing, even if flawed, argument as to why he will be reelected:

… I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, “Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.”

Yes, Trump is good for the news media, and also late night comedians, but that is hardly enough to get their actual support for his reelection.

Clinton Supporters Attack Vanity Fair After Clinton Mocked

Clinton supporters are going ballistic on Facebook and Twitter, threatening to cancel their subscriptions to Vanity Fair in response to their video, Six New Year’s Resolutions for Hillary Clinton. The suggestions for Clinton in the above video were:

It’s time to start working on your sequel to your book, “What Happened”: “What the Hell Happened.”

Get someone on your tech staff to disable autofill on your iPhone so that typing in “F” doesn’t become “Form Exploratory Committee for 2020.”

You know how on Anderson Cooper you were telling him about alternate-nostril breathing? You seemed really adept. You should try teaching a class.

Take more photos in the woods. How else you are going to meet unsuspecting hikers?

Take up a new hobby in the New Year: Volunteer work, knitting, improv comedy – literally anything that will keep you from running again.

Put away your James Comey voodoo doll. We all know you think James Comey cost you the election, and maybe he might have, but so did a handful of other things. It’s a year later and time to move on.

TYT Nation responded with this video which points out why Hillary should go away:

Maya Kosoff, a tech writer for VF Hive, responded “i don’t appreciate being taken out of context to make me seem super sexist. this wasn’t a hillary hit piece either, fwiw! we made silly new years resolutions for a bunch of politicians.”

They did make make similar videos mocking other politicians including White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Donald Trump, but it is the Clinton supporters who were protesting. While late night comedians, and others, have helped us get through the misery of Donald Trump’s first year, just imagine the protests if Clinton was in the White House. Anyone making a joke about her, along with anyone protesting her wars, would be under constant attack as being sexist (or a pawn of Putin).

Peter Daou, who is promoting the #CancelVanityFair hashtag, had a rather weak comeback with, “Vanity Fair had the audacity to tell Hillary she should take up knitting. Today we learn she’s the most admired woman in the world for the 16th consecutive time, according to Gallup.” While she came in first, Clinton was listed as most admired by 9 percent of those responding–down from 12 percent last year. That is hardly a show of support in a poll which is primarily based upon name recognition. It is more significant that Gallup recently found that Clinton’s favorable rating has fallen to a new low of 36 percent, falling below that of Donald Trump.

Russia Tries To Play Hillary Clinton’s Game, Complaining Of Foreign Interference In Their Election

Russia is taking a lesson from Hillary Clinton in whining and irrational complaints, now complaining of foreign intervention.

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination in a system which was essentially as rigged as picking nominees in the proverbial smoke-filled room–or almost as rigged as a typical Russian election. When she thought that she was going to win, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “threatens democracy” by not accepting the election results. When she subsequently lost as a consequence of her own faults, Clinton decided within twenty-four hours of losing to place the blame on others, and later became even more aggressive in questioning the legitimacy of the election.

Clinton participated in a sham nomination battle in which the rules were rigged to deliver her the nomination and refused to accept the legitimacy of the general election after losing. Putin didn’t even bother with super delegates or debate restrictions–and he is not going to risk making losing a possibility. He simply prohibited opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running against him when he runs for reelection. Navalny was barred from running due to an embezzlement charge which the European Court of Human Rights determined in October to be”arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

As I noted back in a 2007 post, this is not the first time in which the Russian government has acted to prevent opposition forces from competing in elections.

The State Department protested:

…a State Department representative expressed concern over the Russian government’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians.”

“These actions indicate the Russian government has failed to protect space in Russia for the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement said. “More broadly, we urge the government of Russia to hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded on Facebook by accusing the US of “direct interference in our electoral process and internal affairs.”

In our era of constant world-wide interaction on social media we will always see “interference” in foreign elections if any comments by one government is considered to be interference. What matters is that there is no reason that the United States State Department cannot comment on the undemocratic nature of the Russian election. This “interference” is no more likely to alter the results of the Russian election than Russian activity on social media affected the results of the US election.

Besides, Democrats in the United States have been helping Putin quite a bit. Russian opponents of Putin have complained that the false portrayal of Putin as such an powerful puppet master that he can alter foreign elections enhances his reputation and political strength.

Facebook Posts Tool To Tell If You Followed Any Russian Pages

Facebook recently posted a tool which will check whether you followed any of the alleged Russian Facebook pages or Instagram accounts. I thought it was certainly a possibility as during the election I did follow several anti-Clinton pages. It looks like the were all legitimate after using their tool. Several Facebook friends have also checked and so far I have not found anyone who reports that any of the pages they followed was Russian.

Russian material very likely was lost among the huge amount of noise present on Facebook.  Russian material was a minuscule percentage of overall material on Facebook. The Congressional testimony revealed that  material from these Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. That is hardly enough to have impacted the election result.

It is also probably because the Russians ads appear to have been targeted towards a more conservative audience. Most people are not likely to change their minds as to who to vote for based upon something they see on Facebook, and people joining a political group already have their minds made up. Sure they can get some clicks by posting anti-Clinton material directed towards Republican voters, but those voters 1) already have seen the same from multiple other sources, and 2) were not going to vote for Clinton even before seeing material from Russia.

While the Russian material is portrayed as being pro-Trump and anti-Clinton, much of it had nothing to do with the election, and that which was about the election was not necessarily pro-Trump. The biggest success attributed to Russia on Facebook has been to get 5000 to 10,000 people to turn out for a rally–a rally protesting against Donald Trump after the election.

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

As was the case in the run up to the Iraq war when a small number of us were disputing the claims used to justify war, there also continues to be articles disputing the Russiagate conspiracy theory that Donald Trump and Russia successfully colluded to alter the 2016 election result. This is most often spread by establishment Democrats who cannot face the fact that Hillary Clinton was such a terrible choice for the nomination that she could not beat someone as awful as Donald Trump. While Robert Mueller’s investigation is uncovering evidence of financial crimes, and obstruction of justice, no evidence has been presented to support the claims of Russia altering the election results which has not been quickly retracted or debunked. Yesterday I quoted from an article by Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University. Another article on this subject by Aaron Maté in The Nation is less extensive but has the benefit of being more likely to be read by Democrats who are being duped this conspiracy theory.

There have been so many debunked claims regarding Russiagate that no single article can deal with them all. Maté concentrated on the numerous reports which have been circulated by the mainstream media, only to be quickly shown to be false–a subject I previously discussed here. He also touched on the false claims of Russian hackers hacking the voting systems of 21 states and the claim that there was a consensus from all the intelligence agencies that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee. This later claim continues to be repeated by many Clinton apologists despite having been retracted by The New York Times last June. It is also worth noting that, while no evidence has been presented so far showing that Russia hacked the DNC, if future evidence should happen to show this, it would be a negative regarding Russia but would still not support Clinton’s argument that Russia is responsible for her loss. The hacked email which was released by Wikileaks provided factual information regarding unethical behavior by Clinton and the DNC, and Clinton would still be responsible for any votes lost because of this.

There are at least five reasons why the Russiagate conspiracy theory is so dangerous. It allows the Democratic establishment to deny responsibility for their mistakes, making reform less likely. It promotes McCarthyism and promotion of restrictions on freedom of expression in the United States. It unnecessarily increases conflict with a nuclear power (playing into the hands of Clinton’s neocon allies who desire to attempt regime change in Russia). It strengthens Putin by showing him to be a far greater master strategist than he is, to the frustration of anti-Putin forces in Russia. Maté began his article with a fifth reason. Concentrating on such false charges distracts from forming a true resistance to the many terrible things Donald Trump has been doing.

After this introduction, Maté more directly addressed the unsupported claims regarding the 2016 election:

The basis for the “virtually uncontested truths” of the year’s “biggest story” remains the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s January 2017 report, which accused Russia of hacking Democratic e-mails and using social media to influence the 2016 election. Yet the report openly acknowledges that its conclusions are “not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.” Nearly one year later, we have yet to see a shred of proof.

What we have in its stead is a stream of Russiagate stories that make bombastic entrances only to quietly slink away. The pattern persists thanks to a media and political culture that embraces credulity and shuns accountability.

Virtually every major outlet reported claims in September that Russian-government-backed hackers targeted the voting systems of 21 states. But last month Christopher Krebs, a senior cyber-security official at the Department of Homeland Security, quietly informed Congress that no such hacking had occurred. “The majority of the activity was simple scanning,” Krebs told a House panel. “Scanning is a regular activity across the Web. I would not characterize that as an attack.… If that context was not provided, I apologize.” He added: “When we talk about that scanning, it was not also necessarily an election system that was scanned.”

Krebs’s contrition did not ring out among the media that had fervently reported the scanning as a hacking attack, and continue to do so as part of Russiagate’s “virtually uncontested truths.” The falsity of the “21 states” claim went largely unreported, outside C-SPAN and the marginal Russian website that took notice.

Meanwhile, accountability has been resisted even when the mistakes are seismically embarrassing. The most recent case was CNN’s erroneous report that the Trump campaign was offered access to Wikileaks’ trove of stolen Democratic Party e-mails before their public release. In a story line worthy of Better Call Saul, it turned out that CNN got the date wrong—someone had in fact e-mailed the Trump campaign a link to the Wikileaks e-mails, only after they were already all over the Internet. As Glenn Greenwald noted, the mistake was egregious not just for the story’s ultimate uselessness, but also for the fact CNN and other outlets all reported they had confirmed it with multiple sources. Yet none of the networks have explained how their “multiple sources” all “confirmed” the same incorrect date.

Maté discussed CNN’s error in greater detail. He next discussed the claims that Russia affected the Brexit vote. As was the case with Russia’s actions on Facebook and Twitter in the United States, he showed that the claims regarding Brexit were highly exaggerated, and then discussed Russia Today and the investigation of Jill Stein:

Just weeks ago, The New York Times warned that reports of Russian-linked social-media activity around the Brexit vote “could raise questions about the legitimacy of the referendum” itself. “I have a very simple message for Russia,” declared British Prime Minister Theresa May on November 13. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

We now have a full accounting of what Russia was doing: According to Twitter, the Kremlin-backed network Russia Today spent just over $1,000 to promote its Brexit coverage to UK-based viewers. Facebook reported a grand total of 97 cents spent on three ads, “all centered on immigration and aimed at American users,” reaching no more than 200 of them over four days. Whatever Russia was doing, May’s confidence that they would not succeed was doubtless well-founded.

The unquestioning faith in evidence-free or overblown claims coincides with the targeting of those who dare challenge them. The forced registration of RT America as a “foreign agent” was followed by the revoking of the outlet’s congressional press pass, with the usual silence from press-freedom groups and media outlets, even progressive ones. Without explanation, The Huffington Post removed an article by veteran reporter Joe Lauria that methodically challenged Russiagate’s precepts. On Tuesday, Green Party candidate Jill Stein confirmed that she is complying with a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation looking into, in the words of panel chair Senator Richard Burr, “collusion with the Russians.”

Despite multiple interviews explaining the nature of a 2015 trip to Moscow, Stein remains the target of a smear campaign, cheered on by liberal groups, painting her as a Kremlin stooge. “Here’s hoping this lying sack of piety-spewing shit goes to jail with the rest of the bastards Mueller is investigating,” commented liberal sex-advice columnist Dan Savage. Zac Petkanas, a Democratic Party senior adviser and Clinton campaign staffer, was so enthused by the Senate probe that he repeated the phrase “Jill Stein is a Russian agent” to his Twitter followers eight times.

Stein calls the investigation part of a “resurgence of McCarthyism, to suppress opposition voices, to suppress independent politics.” But for its proponents to recognize that would mean acknowledging that it derives from the same kind of behavior that is recognized in Trump. “Any genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland,” the New York Times editors write of Trump’s right-wing defenders. The tragedy of Russiagate is that its enthusiasts have constructed a “self-sustaining fantasyland” of their own. A fantasyland is no place from which to confront Trump’s reality.

Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Sanders Seen As Front Runner For 2020 Democratic Nomination

Bernie Sanders is repeatedly topping lists of potential 2020 Democratic candidates for president. The latest is a list at The Fix of The top 15 Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, ranked:

1. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Previous: 1)

must-read story from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti recently showed how Sanders conspicuously seems to be addressing the shortcomings that hampered his candidacy in 2016 — most notably his lack of familiarity with foreign policy and of inroads with powerful pro-Democratic groups, such as the American Federation of Teachers. Sanders has done nothing to diminish speculation that he will run again; the biggest question is, and will be, his age (76) — as it is with Brown (79) and Biden (75).

Complaining of a lack of familiarity with foreign policy is a bit of a stretch considering how Bernie Sanders has a far better track record than Hillary Clinton did when it came down to the decisions they made. I am hoping that greater study of foreign policy might lead Sanders to giving more priority to reducing foreign interventionism in a future campaign.

Joe Biden follows at 2nd, Elizabeth Warren is 3rd, Kirsten Gillibrand is 4th, and Kamala Harris is listed as 5th.

Brent Budowsky, writing at The Hill, wrote yesterday that Sanders would be the instant frontrunner if he runs:

If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) decides to run for president in 2020, he would be the instant frontrunner for the nomination and favored in the general election against Trump or any other GOP nominee. If Sanders decides not to run, there is a strong likelihood that the ultimate nominee will campaign, win and govern as a true progressive in the Sanders mold.

When historians look back on the Sanders campaign in 2016, they will note two fundamentally important and lasting contributions that Sanders and his supporters made.

First, the Sanders platform in the 2016 primaries, which was significantly but not fully included in the Democratic platform at the convention, will provide the policy blueprint for the next Democratic presidential campaign and the next great Democratic president.

The progressive populist policies of William Jennings Bryan evolved into the progressive populist presidency of Teddy Roosevelt. The populist policies of Teddy Roosevelt, when he campaigned to regain the presidency as the progressive candidate after abandoning the Republican Party, were largely incorporated by Franklin Roosevelt into his New Deal.

Similarly, the programs championed by Sanders in 2016 will largely be adopted in the Democratic platform in 2020 and fervently championed by the 2020 nominee, whether it is Sanders or a similar candidate.

The second historic legacy of the Sanders campaign in 2016 was that he challenged, and defeated, the old style campaign fundraising paradigm of previous major candidates. It was revolutionary and historic that Sanders energized a gigantic army of small donors and became a fundraising leader who changed campaign fundraising forever.

The Sanders small-donor paradigm thrives today in the pro-Sanders group, Our Revolution, and in the enormous impact small donors have had since 2016, most recently in the Alabama Senate election.

Repeated polls showing that Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country (while the favorable ratings of Clinton and Trump continue to decline) is another point in his favor.

While early predictions for presidential nominations are often wrong, it is encouraging that Sanders has been named by so many sources as the likely front runner for several months. For example, as I posted in July, Vox, A Voice Of The Democratic Establishment, Now Realizes That Bernie Sanders Is The Democrats’ Real 2020 Frontrunner.

We certainly cannot count on the Democrats making the wisest decision, considering that they essentially rigged the nomination for Clinton in 2016 despite all the evidence that Clinton would have difficulty winning and lagged about ten points behind Sanders in head to head match-ups against Republicans. There are also many in the Democratic establishment who are more concerned about maintaining their positions than what is best for the party, and for the country.

Wikileaks Declared To Be A Media Organization By British Tribunal, Possibly Helping In Defense Against US Government

A U.K. legal tribunal declared last week that Wikileaks is a media organization. From The Guardian:

A British tribunal has recognised Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks as a “media organisation”, a point of contention with the United States, which is seeking to prosecute him and disputes his journalistic credentials.

The issue of whether Assange is a journalist and publisher would almost certainly be one of the main battlegrounds in the event of the US seeking his extradition from the UK.

The definition of WikiLeaks by the information tribunal, which is roughly equivalent to a court, could help Assange’s defence against extradition on press freedom grounds.

The US has been considering prosecution of Assange since 2010 when WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of confidential US defence and diplomatic documents. US attorney general Jeff Sessions said in April this year that the arrest of Assange is a priority for the US.

The director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, after leaks of emails from the US Democratic party and from Hillary Clinton, described WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. He added Assange is not covered by the US constitution, which protects journalists.

But the UK’s information tribunal, headed by judge Andrew Bartlett QC, in a summary and ruling published on Thursday on a freedom of information case, says explicitly: “WikiLeaks is a media organisation which publishes and comments upon censored or restricted official materials involving war, surveillance or corruption, which are leaked to it in a variety of different circumstances.”

The comment is made under a heading that says simply: “Facts”.

The 2016 presidential candidates have had mixed views about Wikileaks. While his administration has threatened legal action against Julian Assange, Donald Trump stated that he loved Wikileaks when they were releasing information about Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, never a fan of government transparency or accountability, has taken a hard line against Wikileaks and engaged in a typical Clinton smear campaign of misinformation against them.

Hillary Clinton Favorable Rating Falls To A New Low

Gallup has found that Hillary Clinton’s favorable rating has fallen to a new low:

Hillary Clinton’s image has declined since June and is now the worst Gallup has measured for her to date. Her favorable rating has fallen five percentage points since June to a new low of 36%, while her unfavorable rating has hit a new high of 61%.

Clinton’s prior low favorable rating was 38% in late August/early September 2016 during the presidential campaign. She also registered a 38% favorable rating (with a 40% unfavorable rating) in April 1992, when she was much less well-known…

Since losing to Trump, Clinton’s favorable ratings have not improved, in contrast to what has happened for other recent losing presidential candidates. In fact, her image has gotten worse in recent months as Democratic leaders, political observers and Clinton herself have attempted to explain how she lost an election that she was expected to win. Meanwhile, controversy continues to swirl around Clinton given continuing questions about the fairness of the 2016 Democratic nomination process and her dealings with Russia while secretary of state. There has also been renewed discussion of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s handling of past sexual harassment charges made against Bill Clinton in light of heightened public concern about workplace behavior…

Bill Clinton’s image has also slipped over the past year, with his current 45% favorable rating down five points since Gallup last measured Americans’ opinions of him in November 2016. Given his 52% unfavorable rating, more U.S. adults now have a negative than a positive opinion of the former president.

His current rating is his lowest since March 2001, when it hit 39% after his rocky exit from the White House that included a series of controversial pardons as well as the Clintons taking, but later returning, gifts intended for the White House. At that time, 59% of Americans had an unfavorable view of Bill Clinton, his highest in Gallup’s trend. He did have favorable ratings lower than 39%, but those were measured early in his 1992 presidential campaign when a substantial proportion of Americans were not familiar enough with Clinton to offer an opinion of him.

As The Hill points out, “Clinton’s unpopularity rivals Trump’s, whose favorability rating remains around 40 percent, a record low for presidents at the end of their first year.”

In contrast to Clinton and Trump, Bernie Sanders has been the most popular politician in America in polls during 2017.