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.

Jeff Flake Denounces Donald Trump For Accusing Democrats Of Treason

Last summer, when people were accusing Donald Trump of treason, I wrote in opposition to misusing the term. While there was then, and continues to be, strong evidence of illegal activity by Donald Trump, his actions have not met the legal criteria for treason. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has no qualms about throwing the word around incorrectly, having gone so far as to accuse those who did not applaud for him at his State of the Union address of treason.

Jeff Flake is among those who spoke out against Donald Trump for this. From The Wall Street Journal:

“Mr. President, respect is earned and not commanded,” Mr. Flake, of Arizona, said in a speech on the Senate floor. “Applause signals approval of an idea, not loyalty to one’s country. Our Democratic colleagues love this country as much as we do, and to suggest otherwise is simply unconscionable.”

The impetus for the senator’s remarks was a Monday appearance in Cincinnati, where Mr. Trump came close to labeling as traitors the Democrats who didn’t clap during portions of his speech to Congress last week.

“They were like death and un-American,” said Mr. Trump, who for days has been brooding that Democrats, as he characterized it last week, were “stone-cold” while he spoke. “Somebody said ‘treasonous,’ ” Mr. Trump said on Monday. “I mean, yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.”

…In his speech, Mr. Flake warned against “numb acceptance’’ of Mr. Trump’s use of the word treason. “I have seen the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek,“ Mr. Flake said. ”But treason is not a punchline, Mr. President.”

…Mr. Trump’s comments jolted Democrats, and Mr. Flake described them as “vile.” He suggested that silence from Republicans could end up undermining the republic, which is based on adherence to a set of norms and conventions.

“One who levels such a charge knows neither the meaning of treason nor the power that the words of a president carry,” he said. He said that declining to respond shows “that we failed to recognize that this conduct in an American president simply is not normal.”

Following is the video:

Tweet Might Be Fake, But It Is Still A Good Idea

There is a fake tweet from Donald Trump which is fooling a lot of people today. It certainly sounds plausible: “If the Dow Joans ever falls more than 1000 ‘points’ in a Single Day the sitting president should be ‘loaded’ into a very big cannon and Shot into the sun at TREMENDOUS SPEED! No excuses!”

The market fell more than 1000 points. I think this is a good idea, even if the tweet is a fake. Load the cannon.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; Interviews With Jason Isaacs; The Good Place Second Season Finale; American Gods Gets New Showrunner

What’s Past Is Prologue was an exciting episode of Star Trek: Discovery in which a lot happened (with major spoilers ahead). In a single episode, Lorca went from a prisoner to taking control of Georgiou’s ship. Georgiou agreed to team up with Burhnam and they not only retook control of the ship, but Georgiou went along with Burnham and her plan to destroy it. The threat to the entire multiverse from the corruption of the mycelial network was resolved, and the Discovery made it home to the prime universe. The title, like so many this season, was quite appropriate considering how the events of the start of the season were mirrored in these events.

That certainly made for an exciting episode, but considering how they had the luxury of telling the story over multiple episodes, I wish that they had given more time to these events to make them more plausible. I’ve seen quicker, less plausible, resolutions in single episode stories, but there was no need to resolve everything so quickly in a serialized format. It seemed way too easy for Lorca to take control. Why were his allies even kept alive after all this time and not beamed into space as we have seen done with other traitors? It was also too easy for Burnham to move around the ship and for her to get Georgiou’s help. Why did Georgiou so quickly give up on her own future after putting down the rebellion?

Putting aside these questions, this has us back to the prime universe with a nine month jump in which the Federation went from appearing to be winning the war with the Klingons to now appearing to have lost the war. If the Federation bases nearby were all destroyed, I do wonder where the Discovery pulled up that map from. Were the conquering Klingons now putting out the information on some sort of public channel to brag about their victory? Of course I’ll let this nitpick go as it allowed the story to progress without a diversion to figure things out--analogous to how they picked up information when first appearing in the Mirror Universe.

Seeing the Federation being defeated when we obviously know they survived the Klingon war raises questions which presumably will be answered in the final two episodes of the season. Is this a case of a war in which each side dominated at various times, leading to the outcome we know of? Or is this a different timeline, and will time travel be used to change events of the preceding nine months? I hope that this is not the case and we don’t wind up with problems of fixing problems with time travel as we have seen on The Flash. I also wonder if the tide changes in the war due to help from Mirror Georgiou.

Regardless of whether Georgiou helps them, it is a big question as to what they do with her. Star Fleet security often seems very limited, but would they allow her to roam freely on the Discovery? On the other hand, it would he difficult to confine her as a prisoner as she has committed no crimes in our universe (and any terrible acts she might have committed in the Mirror Universe were presumably legal over there). Perhaps Discovery might be more realistic than past Star Trek series in having a situation in which someone is not a prisoner, but can be restricted from any sensitive areas and have use of the computer either prohibited or restricted.

Besides having a former Mirror Universe Emperor on board, there are also one and one-half Klingons, and they are also likely to play a role in what is to come this season.

Saru is Captain for now, giving us the first example of an alien being the Captain on a Star Trek series. Previously I had difficulty taking Saru seriously as a Captain, thinking he would not be bold enough for the role. However he did give a great speech to the crew, reminiscent of both Kirk and Picard. Still I bet that next season we will again have a ship with a human captain.

Lorca appears to be dead, but perhaps being absorbed by the mycelial  network gives him a way to return. That speck of the mycelial network falling on Tilly may or may not be significant. I sure hope that it is not foreshadowing Lorca taking over her body. Besides the question of whether the Lorca we know can return, they left matters open so that the original prime Lorca could still be around. Same is true of the original Mirror Burhnam. My suspicion is that neither might be seen this season, but the writers were leaving their options open for future seasons.

Jason Isaacs will be a big loss to Discovery if he is really gone. Entertainment Weekly recently interviewed him:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, so in terms of Mirror universe Lorca — who as it turned out was the Lorca we knew all along — he’s really, truly dead, right?
JASON ISAACS: Here’s the context: I’ve lied to all of the press constantly since the very first day I got this job. So why would you believe anything I say now?

Well, because there is some seeming finality to his story, at least to this version of the character?
I would say, yeah, the prognosis is not good for him given he was dissolved into a million pieces on camera. There are not many homeopathic cures that can help that.

When did you know Lorca’s secret backstory?
I knew before I took the job. It was pitched to me that he was from the Mirror world. I said, “What’s he doing here? How did he get here? What does he want? And how’s he going to go about achieving those things?” And at first they went, “We’re not really sure, it could be one of 20 different things.” And I blinked slightly and I said, “I’m not sure I want to do the job if I don’t know exactly what he’s after, because then I won’t be able to act!” Then we had a bunch of discussions and came up with a plan which we pretty much stuck to all the way through. Then it was not just easy, but a joy, because I had that lovely thing that actors always love, and the camera likes, and that’s that I had secrets. I knew what I was after, why I was doing stuff, and I knew when I would reel Michael Burnham [Sonequa Martin-Green] in, what I wanted her for. It was deliciously ambiguous for viewers but if you watch it a second time you’ll see it was always crystal clear.

Is there anything in particular we should go back and look for in your performance?
Well, there’s the giant bold story points: Why the hell would I get some prisoner, some mutineer, re-route her ship, and promote her way beyond her capacity, in defiance of everybody else in Starfleet? If not to engender loyalty because I had a long-term plan for her. She’s great, but nobody is that great. There’s a number of little things. The fact that [Admiral Katrina Cornwell] and I, that I can’t remember instances that she’s referring to. And I sleep with a phaser in a paranoid way. And when it looks like she might take the ship from me, I consign her to a trap that I must have seen coming or set up. And then there’s forcing Stamets to do a bunch of jumps that were unnecessary, and the mapping I was doing privately. I was prepared to break Starfleet rules and directives. And even when I’m back in the Mirror world pretending to be Prime Lorca who’s pretending to be Mirror Lorca — if you can follow that twisted logic — and when Burnham comes to be and says they’re asking me to kill the people down on the planet and I say, “Just do it.” I’m not sure Kirk or Picard would have done that. This is a guy who’s had his eye on the prize for a very long time, and he gets very close.

What was his biggest mistake? 
In the end, he hadn’t read Burnham correctly. He thought of her as practical, pragmatic, having made out-of-the-box decisions earlier on, that she’d see the best option for her is to stay and help him rule this empire and maybe she might buy into the racist philosophy he adheres to — the lack of assimilation and that the world is healthier and better when those who are powerful and strong rule it and the weak are kept down. He’s blinded by that kind of bigotry, and it’s never going to fly for her.

It’s never quite made clear, I don’t think, exactly what was going on with Prime Lorca, who we assume he switched places with …
There was a Prime Locra, he was captain of the Buran in the Prime world. He swapped with him and found himself captain of the Buran. This never came out, this backstory detail we never put in the dialogue: Lorca spins this story having had to sacrifice the men on Buran and had to blow them up to save them from Klingon torture. Actually, if I remember correctly, there was some kind of DNA identification that would have exposed Lorca as not being Prime Lorca, and so he blew up the ship and killed everyone on it.

But what happened to Prime Lorca is now an open question …
It is.

Do you know the answer to that? 
If I did, you’d have to stand behind my wife, friends, and professional collaborators to find out the answer. I’ve kept this one big secret for six months — I am certainly going to keep any others.

Well, are you signed on for season 2?
I’m sorry, is that not a related question?

It’s my tricky way of asking if we’re going to meet Prime universe Lorca. 
Oh God, that totally would have worked on me if I had the IQ of a sock. If I do do another season, I know I won’t have to wear that leather coat anymore. It turns out I had to revoice every voice I made during those scenes because [the jacket] squeaked like a rusty bedpost in a brothel.

Jason Isaacs was also interviewed by Variety:

Was his interest in Burnham just to use her as a tool to get to Georgiou or was it that he was attracted to her?
It’s twofold. It was 99% “She is the tool by which I will pry open the locked doors and gain access to the Emperor.” Without Burnham, he would just be killed if he reappeared. So he needed Burnham. And not only did he need her, he needed to win her over and make her feel like he was her best friend in the world and her confessor and she could trust him and possibly have faith in him beyond any of her training. And at the same time, in the back of his head, less important, was the idea that if he could gain the throne, she might rule alongside him.

Lorca is revealed to be someone who is pretty racist …
That’s absolutely right. The Terran world, unlike the original incarnations of the Mirror Universe where they were just a kind of one-dimensional evil, this is a world that is not very far from our very own. We could all wake up and be mirror versions of ourselves any day. It’s a very Darwinian world, and a world that from Lorca’s point of view and for millions of people with his point of view, where assimilation is a bad thing and there’s a natural hierarchy of racists. To disrespect that is to sow chaos and anarchy, and lying is a perfectly reasonable technique to get what you want. Sadly, I don’t think we need to look very far to find those these reflected in our headlines every day.

Was it important to you that his thinking be rooted in something and that he not just be a mustache-twirling villain?
Yeah, I wouldn’t have taken the job. But luckily it was important to everyone. I had no interest in playing a mustache-twirling villain and they had no interest in creating one. When we got to the mirror world, it was very important to me that the dialogue feel like it was in many ways ripped from the headlines. It’s no coincidence that I’m exhorting my followers to make the Empire great again.

‘Star Trek’ has always had a socially progressive element to it. Were you surprised or pleased as the season played out to see just how much the the writers dug in on fairly complicated ideas about racism?
One of the great skills of the writers is that it’s never about those things. It’s about the plot. Incidentally you’re looking at a fully ethnically inclusive crew and gay couples and straight couples. It’s a future which is inclusive. But that’s never front and center in the story. What surprised me, given that I know the huge, incredibly welcoming reception that the show’s had from “Star Trek” fans, is the people who, online at least, pretended to be “Star Trek” fans to attack it on racist lines. People would be coming out from where they should be hiding in the shadows to say the most racist things, all sorts of white supremacists and haters, feigning the mask of “Star Trek” supporters, attacking it for the very things that “Star Trek” has always stood for — which makes them look, frankly, ridiculous.

Last week also featured the season finale of The Good Place. For the benefit of those not watching, despite being a comedy, The Good Place has had an ongoing fantasy story line, and has often dealt with philosophical issues. The first season finale totally shook up everything we thought about the show during the season. The second season finale was also a huge change, but not as big as after the first season. Instead it continues from where the season was heading, which is a good thing. The show might have lost credibility if it once again said they were deceiving us and something else was going on.

Among the highlights, there was the opportunity to have Ted Danson back behind the bar like on Cheers. It is not clear whether Eleanor and the others were really returned to Earth and their death was undone, whether this is some sort of simulation created to test them, or whether the distinction even matters. It is somewhat reminiscent of the final season of Lost, with the connection to the afterlife not being clear until the finale. Presumably all four will ultimately wind up back together, perhaps even figuring out once again what is going on. Wherever they are going with this, the twist opens a lot of possibilities for the third season.

American Gods just might have a showrunner who can keep the show going after the loss of Bryan Fuller. The Hollywood Reporter has a story on the newly hired showrunner:

After an extensive search, American Gods has enlisted a new showrunner for season two.

Jesse Alexander, who worked with Bryan Fuller on shows including Hannibal and Star Trek: Discovery, will take over showrunning duties alongside novel scribe Neil Gaiman…

“I’m thrilled that Jesse is [the] showrunner. He loves and understands the book, he loves and understands the TV series and he’s dedicated to making future seasons of American Gods as good and as beautiful and as unique as they can be,” Gaiman tells THR. “Shadow’s journey is going to take him, and Mr. Wednesday, and the New Gods and the Old, to some very strange places. I’m glad that we, and the cast and crew, will have Jesse shepherding us on the way.”

God Provides Michele Bachmann A Sign

Michele Bachmann said she was going to ask God if she should run for Al Franken’s former Senate seat. As seen in the picture above, there has been a sign from God, telling her “No.”

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.

Small Government Foolishness–CDC To Cut Efforts To Reduce World Disease Outbreak By 80%

In the right situation, I’m all for limited government. Reduce foreign interventionism and the surveillance state. Get government out of the private lives of individuals–including regulation of reproductive rights. Unfortunately, when Republicans talk about limited government it generally turns out to be reducing the safety net or cutting important functions which often represent a very small part of the budget. The Wall Street Journal reports, CDC to Scale Back Work in Dozens of Foreign Countries Amid Funding Worries:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to scale back or discontinue its work to prevent infectious-disease epidemics and other health threats in 39 foreign countries because it expects funding for the work to end, the agency told employees.

The CDC currently works in 49 countries as part of an initiative called the global health security agenda, to prevent, detect and respond to dangerous infectious disease threats. It helps expand surveillance for new viruses and​ ​drug-resistant bacteria, modernize laboratories to detect dangerous pathogens​and train workers who respond to epidemics.

The Washington Post adds:

Global health organizations said critical momentum will be lost if epidemic prevention funding is reduced, leaving the world unprepared for the next outbreak. The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe. In less than 36 hours, infectious disease and pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on any continent to become a global crisis.

On Monday, a coalition of global health organizations representing more than 200 groups and companies sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking the administration to reconsider the planned reductions to programs they described as essential to health and national security.

“Not only will CDC be forced to narrow its countries of operations, but the U.S. also stands to lose vital information about epidemic threats garnered on the ground through trusted relationships, real-time surveillance, and research,” wrote the coalition, which included the Global Health Security Agenda Consortium and the Global Health Council.

The coalition also warned that complacency after outbreaks have been contained leads to funding cuts, followed by ever more costly outbreaks. The Ebola outbreak cost U.S. taxpayers $5.4 billion in emergency supplemental funding, forced several U.S. cities to spend millions in containment, disrupted global business and required the deployment of the U.S. military to address the threat.

“This is the front line against terrible organisms,” said Tom Frieden, the former CDC director who led the agency during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks. He now heads Resolve to Save Lives, a global initiative to prevent epidemics. Referring to dangerous pathogens, he said: “Like terrorism, you can’t fight it just within our borders. You’ve got to fight epidemic diseases where they emerge.”

…Officials at the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Security Council pushed for more funding in the president’s fiscal 2019 budget to be released this month.

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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Quote of the Day: Stephen Colbert On The State Of The Union Address

Tomorrow night is President Trump’s first State of the Union address. He’s not scheduled to appear in front of Congress again until the impeachment hearings. –Stephen Colbert (on yesterday’s show)