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

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

The statement from DHS follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editor Of Politico Magazine Expresses Skepticism Over Russiagate Conspiracy

Can The Two Party System Come To An End?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Washington Post writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; The Magicians Get Timey Wimey; The X-Files On The Horrors Of War; Nudity On Altered Carbon; Star Wars

The War Without, the War Within is largely a table-setting episode of Star Trek: Discovery to transition from the Mirror Universe episodes to the season finale. While the season is supposedly about the Klingon War, we seemed to have missed a lot of key developments, with these covered by quick explanations of what happened over the past nine months

We learned that the war has gone badly with the Klingons dominating the war after Discovery failed to deliver the information regarding detection of cloaked Klingon ships to Starfleet. As we know that this ability is not present in future series, the question remains as to whether the information is never received from Discovery, or if the Klingons subsequently find away around this.

The ISS Discovery was apparently destroyed by the Klingons, so we will probably never see stories about Captain Killy in the Prime Universe. They suggested that Prime Lorca could not have survived, immediately making me suspicious that he will turn up in the future. Similarly have been led to assume that Mirror Burnham has died, but cannot be certain. I also suspect that the writers might have left this open even if they do not have plans for either character to show up at present.

Admiral Cornwell and Sarek took control of Discovery early in the episode. While I was not surprised to see Sarek being used for mild melds in the Mirror Universe, where ethics are loose, I have missed feelings about him doing involuntary mind melds in the Prime Universe. However, these are desperate times, and we later are led to believe that Sarek and Cornwell were going along with a plan which stretches usual Starfleet ethics.

When they learned what had gone on, Sarek did have an entirely logical explanation for nobody suspecting being suspicious about Locra’s origin: “That Lorca was an imposter from an alternative universe was not the most obvious conclusion.”

Making information on the Mirror Universe classified helps explain how Kirk and Spock were unaware of what was going on when they appeared in the Mirror Universe.

There was also advancement on the Ash Tyler storyline, and I continue to suspect that he will be significant in what happens with the Klingons. He apparently is no longer really Ash or Voq, but is more Ash with Voq’s memories. However, is it really safe to trust what  L’Rell said, considering that she created him to be a sleeper agent in the first place? If  L’Rell is still up to something, hopefully the “Fitbit” placed on him will be enough to contain him.

Tilly has a traditional Starfleet argument for trusting Tyler: “What we do now, the way that we treat him, is what he will become.” I’m just wary that this is the wrong attitude during a war which is not going well. Burnham is more wary, considering both her underlying distrust of the Klingons who killed her parents, along with having had Ash just recently try to strangle her. Saying “things got complicated” was a real understatement, sounding more like a Facebook status than a full description of the complexities of their relationship.

The one thing even more dangerous than trusting Ash Tyler would be to trust Mirror Georgiou. It appears that, having conquered the Klingons, she knows things about the Klingons which those in the Prime Universe do not know–and has a plan which the crew of Discovery might not go along with. It is disturbing that Starfleet is not able to come up with their own leaders who can win the war but, as Sarek argued, “Starfleet tactics have failed us.”

It did seem strange that  Burnham and Saru weren’t briefed about the plan to pretend that Mirror Georgiou was the Prime Georgiou. At very least they should have been told so that they did not give things away, but the scene was probably written this way to be more dramatic for the viewers. Considering that the transporter officer saw her come aboard, and everyone else just came from the Mirror Universe were everyone had a double, I wonder whether the crew of the Discovery will remain fooled about this for long.

The spore drive, which appeared to be out of commission for a while, is now a factor again with Stamets finding a way to grow spores quickly. Apparently they are to emerge in the caverns within Qo’noS as part of their final plan. Presumably, regardless of what their actual plan is, the outcome will lead to the Cold War situation with the Klingons we saw on the original show as opposed to serious damage long term damage to either side.

The Magicians had a real timey wimey episode last week, with Quenton and Elliot going back in time and living another life. While the time travel element was different, this reminds me to some degree of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, The Inner Light, in which Captain Picard had another entire life. Penny’s situation is a bit better, but for now he is still dead.  TV Guide interviewed executive producers John McNamara and Sera Gamble the episode:

Give it to me straight, does this mean Quentin has grandchildren running around Fillory?John McNamara: Hmmm…
Sera Gamble: It might mean that, yeah.
McNamara: He’s got to be very careful who he marries.

Let’s talk about that Quentin/Elliot hook up! Why did you guys decide to have those two share a night together amidst all the puzzling?
Gamble: It felt true about their relationship… What would these two people do if they were together every single day of their lives in one location, and frankly they’ve hooked up before. It just didn’t seem that weird to us that they might get drunk one night and one of them would make a pass at the other.
McNamara: The last time they hooked up, it was a Margo sandwich.
Gamble: Yeah, last time it was a threesome.
McNamara: But there was the reference in dialogue, I believe, in that episode or the next episode, where Alice (Olivia Taylor Dudley) says to Quentin because she walked in on the threesome, “The last time I saw you Elliot’s dick was in your mouth.” So that’s on record. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
Gamble: We say this a lot when we’re talking about the show, but the job of the writer is often just to sit around and talk about what they did when they were in their 20s, and occasionally getting drunk and sleeping with a friend is a fairly normal part of being in your 20s, especially in a situation when you are very intensely hanging out with them to the exclusive of almost everyone else for a long period of time. That’s the causes and conditions for a hook up.

How does the knowledge that he had a wife and a kid and a whole life affect Quentin moving forward?
 They do remember it, there are references later in the season. There’s a scene I’m thinking of, I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a really beautiful scene that Quentin has late in the season. It’s maybe my favorite scene of the whole season, where he sits down with someone he loves and he talks about what he has experienced on the quest. A huge part of what has changed him in his own mind is that he experienced a whole lifetime trying to solve the mosaic with Elliot, and he talks really specifically about how that changed him and how it changed his outlook on the quest and on his entire life.

How dead is Penny right now? Like he’s dead, but he’s still kind of around? How much hope can we have that he’ll be able to get back to the land of the living?
Gamble: He’s going to try!
McNamara: Whatever you think is going to happen, it’s not going to happen.
Gamble: I have to say, Penny this season though — John speaks the truth. Of any storyline we’ve ever done on this show, Penny this season is the one that has surprised me the most. Right around the time we decided we were going to burn his body, we really felt like we were walking on a tightrope without a net in a super exhilarating way. The pitches from the writers about where to take this character next were so exciting and unusual. And Arjun came to play, and in episodes to come I think you’ll see him doing his best work of the series, and that’s saying a lot because he’s always great.

The X-Files looked at Skinner’s past and the horrors of war. While not one of the top episodes of all time, it was a solid story. This  also provided an explanation for Skinner helping Mulder and Scully,  as they “taught me not to hide, but have the guts to shine a light into the darkest corners.” The finals scene also played into the general paranoia of the series.

Assignment X interviewed Mitch Pileggi about returning to the role:

ASSIGNMENT X: Were you surprised when X-FILES came back for a tenth season two years ago, or are you at this point, “Nothing about X-FILES surprises me”?

MITCH PILEGGI: Nothing surprises me. No, it was a pleasant surprise when it came back two years ago, and then to have it come back again this time, and even have more episodes, it was a treat.

AX: What was the point when you stopped being surprised at the longevity of X-FILES? I’m sure at the beginning, it was like, “This is still here?” Not because of quality, but just because it’s so hard for anything to endure the way X-FILES has.

PILEGGI: I came in late in the first season, so they had been going a little bit at that point. And when I came on, we didn’t really know what we had. David said he thought the show would last six episodes and be out. Here we are twenty-five years later. Not the case [laughs]. So with any show, it’s really difficult to anticipate or predict how it’s going to do or what it’s going to do. You think you’re on a show that’s going to last forever, they pull the plug on it after eight episodes. You don’t know. It’s so unpredictable that there’s no point in even trying to guess, but I think the second season, we were nominated and won the Golden Globe. If you put any weight into awards, that was fairly impressive and gave some indication that there was a pretty positive thing going on with this, with what we were doing…

AX: What is Skinner’s attitude at this point towards belief/non-belief/what he thinks is happening as far as the paranormal and/or extraterrestrial visitations?

PILEGGI: He’s definitely seen things, and he definitely has his own beliefs, and he’s seen things previously when he was in Vietnam. He had an out-of-body experience that he relates to Mulder, I think, in Season 2 or 3. So he’s had his past experiences, and that’s one of the things that draws him to Mulder and Scully. So there is definitely a belief system set up within him to accept it.

AX: But does Skinner believe less than Mulder does, or is he just more pragmatic about fighting the system?

PILEGGI: I think he’s definitely pragmatic in everything he does. But he does have faith in what Mulder and Scully are searching for, so that’s why he’s become their champion within the FBI.

AX: Who has a more secure secrecy system, the X-FILES production company, or the government?

PILEGGI: Well, I’ll tell you what – we’ve been able to keep secrets pretty good this time around, so THE X-FILES right now, I think we’ve probably got it down where leaks are not prevalent. Our government is what it is.

AX: Did you at any point do research for the character into the FBI, or Area 51, or …?

PILEGGI: I grew up around the military, I grew up around the government. My dad worked for them, and eventually I did, too, before I started acting. So I had a pretty good taste of the procedure and behavior.

Gamespot discussed the frequent use of nudity on the new Netflix series Altered Carbon with showrunner Laeta Kalogridis:

“Our worst instincts as human beings have to do with our carelessness with natural resources, and when the body itself becomes just one more of those resources, how will we treat it? Will we treat it with such indifference and with such depersonalization that it becomes more like a very fancy car than a repository of the self?” Kalogridis continued. “And that, I think, is one reason that the nudity itself is not gratuitous; it’s meant to reinforce to you, as a viewer, that the advent of this technology fundamentally and substantially changes people’s relationships with their idea of their own body.”

In other words, in a world in which bodies are interchangeable, what does nudity even matter? It’s not really “you” being seen naked–it’s just your sleeve. Depending how wealthy you are, it might not even be the one you were born in–or even a real human body, since synthetic sleeves are also a thing.

As Kalogridis pointed out, Altered Carbon‘s nudity is “equal opportunity”–the show features a comparable number of naked male bodies as female. She emphasized that the whole thing only works because so many of the actors were onboard to strip down.

Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will be writing and producing a new series of Star Wars movies. Does this mean there will be nudity and dragons?  (Probably not.) From the announcement:

“David and Dan are some of the best storytellers working today,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. “Their command of complex characters, depth of story and richness of mythology will break new ground and boldly push Star Wars in ways I find incredibly exciting.”

“In the summer of 1977 we traveled to a galaxy far, far away, and we’ve been dreaming of it ever since,” Benioff and Weiss said in a joint statement. “We are honored by the opportunity, a little terrified by the responsibility, and so excited to get started as soon as the final season of Game of Thrones is complete.”

No release dates have been set for the new films, and there have (thankfully) been no sightings of White Walkers around Lucasfilm.

Gay US Olympians vs Anti-Gay VP Mike Pence

One of the most exciting contests at the Olympics so far has been the feud between two gay Olympians and Vice President Mike Pence. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed a “religious freedom law” which many fear will encourage anti-gay discrimination. The Hill reports on the latest in this Olympic event:

The first two openly gay male U.S. winter Olympians are doubling down on their feud with Vice President Pence over his record on LGBTQ rights.

Freeskier Gus Kenworthy posted a photo on Instagram of himself and figure skater Adam Rippon with a caption that calls out Pence, who is leading the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Olympics, by name. Rippon was named to the U.S. Olympic team first, making history as the first openly gay man to represent the country in the Winter Olympics. Kenworthy was named to the team a few weeks later.

“The Opening Ceremony is a wrap and the 2018 Winter Olympic Gaymes are officially under way!” Kenworthy wrote. “I feel incredibly honored to be here in Korea competing for the US and I’m so proud to be representing the LGBTQ community alongside this amazing guy! Eat your heart out, Pence.”

He also used the hashtag “TeamUSGay,” adding American flag and Pride flag emojis.

Kenworthy earlier in February called Pence a “strange choice” and a “bad fit” to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics.

“To have somebody leading the delegation that’s directly attacked the LGBTQ community, and a Cabinet in general that just sort of stands against us and has tried to do things to set us back, it just seems like a bad fit,” Kenworthy said.

Rippon has been outspoken about his views on Pence and President Trump, saying in an interview earlier this year that he would decline an invitation to the White House because he doesn’t think he would be “welcome” as a gay athlete.

Reading The Daily Intelligence Brief Does Not Fit Into Donald Trump’s Style of Learning

Remember when George W. Bush ignored that daily intelligence report which warned that Osama bin Laden was “determined” to attack U.S. targets using airplanes? Donald Trump apparently doesn’t remember, or isn’t concerned about what he might be missing. The President’s Daily Brief just does not fit into Trump’s “style of learning,” which doesn’t include reading. The Washington Post reports:

For much of the past year, President Trump has declined to participate in a practice followed by the past seven of his predecessors: He rarely if ever reads the President’s Daily Brief, a document that lays out the most pressing information collected by U.S. intelligence agencies from hot spots around the world.

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings.

Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

Soon after Trump took office, analysts sought to tailor their intelligence sessions for a president with a famously short attention span, who is known for taking in much of his information from conservative Fox News Channel hosts. The oral briefings were augmented with photos, videos and graphics.

First they tried a picture book version, but  that turned out to be too much for Donald Trump. Instead briefers talk to Trump, after he finishes watching Fox & Friends and can take a break from Twitter:

The meetings were often dominated by whatever topic most interested the president that day. Trump would discuss the news of the day or a tweet he sent about North Korea or the border wall — or anything else on his mind, two people familiar with the briefings said.

On such days, there would only be a few minutes left — and the briefers would have barely broached the topics they came to discuss, one senior U.S. official said.

“He often goes off on tangents during the briefing and you’d have to rein him back in,” one official said.

Remember, this is the president who brags about his intelligence.

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.