Democracy Under Attack–From Both Major Political Parties

The fundamental principles of democracy have been under attack for several months, unfortunately by both major political parties. The lack of respect for democratic norms by Donald Trump and his Republican supporters has been well documented. Rather than presenting a clear alternative, the last nominee for the Democratic nomination has also been attacking Democratic norms, including acceptance of election results and freedom of speech. Hillary Clinton repeated her attacks on the legitimacy of the 2016 election in an interview with Ari Berman of Mother Jones.

During the election, when there was a question of Donald Trump not accepting the results of the election, Hillary Clinton said that Donald Trump “threatens democracy” by not accepting the election results. She also said, “We know, in our country, the difference between leadership and dictatorship. And the peaceful transition of power is something that sets us apart.”

Since then, Hillary Clinton lost the election after running a terrible campaign. It was a huge mistake for the Democrats to essentially rig the nomination for a weak candidate as opposed to allowing a stronger candidate capable of winning a national campaign to be its nominee. Democrats made a terrible mistake, but once the election results were in, in a democracy there was no choice but to accept the results and look forward to the next election. Instead, as was revealed by in Shattered, Hillary Clinton devised a strategy of blaming others, including Russia, for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing.

The claim that Russia affected the election result was largely based upon the Steele Dossier. Clinton and the DNC had covered up their role in paying for this report for months, casting doubt on its reliability. More recently we learned that Christopher Steele is saying he believes the report is 70% to 90% accurate. In other words, he admits that thirty percent could be inaccurate.

Over the last several month, as information has come out on the Congressional and Mueller investigations, the evidence has cast further doubt on Clinton’s claims. We have seen substantial evidence of improper business dealings between Trump, members of his family, and key people in his campaign having improper business relations with Russia. We have seen evidence of Trump conspiring to cover this up. The indictments to date have related to financial dealings, and it appears that this is what Mueller is concentrating on.

On the other hand, evidence released through the Congressional hearings have shown that Russia’s advertising on Facebook and use of Twitter was too inconsequential to have had an impact. We learned during the recent Congressional testimony that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. We also learned that the Russian Twitter accounts were not very large and that, of the tweets attributed to troll accounts Russia’s Internet Research Agency, only  “9 percent of the tweets were election-related .” Even former Clinton adviser Mark Penn has argued that the Facebook ads were not the reason Clinton lost.

It has been commonplace to see sensational headlines of a smoking gun of Russian tampering with the election results, only to have them quickly shot down. One supposedly Russian site consisted of pictures of puppies. Just this week we had the revelation that Russia had designated money “to finance election campaign of 2016.” Rather being a smoking gun, this appears to have been money spent on the Russian Parliamentary elections. Yes, Russia has been caught meddling in their own election.

With report after report falling apart, we have no evidence of any more Russian meddling in the 2016 election than has been occurring for decades–with the United States similarly meddling in other elections. There is no evidence of a vast and successful conspiracy to change the results of the 2016 election. 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.

In the interview Clinton claimed, “This is the first time we’ve ever been attacked by a foreign adversary and then they suffer no real consequences.” This is an especially chilling statement from a politician who has already participated in lying the country into wars, and is aligned with neoconservatives who wish to attempt regime change in Russia.

Just as chilling has been how this contrived scandal has been used to restrict political discourse. With the new McCarthyism which has overtaken many Democrats, to question this march towards conflict with Russia, no matter how reminiscent it is of the march towards war with Iraq over fake WMD, is countered with attacks of being pro-Russia. To oppose conflict with Russia over fake claims from the Clinton camp and other neocons no more means one is pro-Russia than opposing the rush to war with Iraq over false claims of WMD meant one was pro-Saddam.

One consequence of this hysteria has been to censor Americans on social media as I and others have been pointing out. Clinton, who has a long history of lack of respect for First Amendment rights, has used the bogus claim that her loss was illegitimate to call for government censorship of information critical of her as she labels it “fake news.” She also claims this is not protected by the First Amendment.

Nobody likes to lose an election, but we have never encountered a situation such as this in which the loser questions the legitimacy of the election, endangers our national security in promoting unnecessary conflicts, and attacks First Amendment rights. Of course we have also never encountered much of what we have seen by the winner of the election either, but this provides no justification for Clinton’s actions.

Russian Facebook Ads And Tweets Turning Out To Represent A Minuscule Percent Of Their Traffic

It increasingly looks like a journalist can simply put out a headline with Russia and either Facebook or Twitter in it and create hysteria. Despite all the hype, we learned during the recent Congressional testimony that Russian-purchased Facebook ads accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.

It also looks like 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.

Today’s hysterical headline is about Twitter, but looks far less scary when looking at the details. Apparently there were trolls on Twitter supporting Donald Trump. There is an enormous number of tweets going out every minute on Twitter, and a tweet does nothing if someone is not following the person tweeting. According to this article, the largest of these Russian troll pages had 25,045 followers at its peak, and the others had far fewer. These are far from widely viewed tweets. It also seems a safe bet that if these accounts were tweeting pro-Trump material, they were primarily followed by pro-Trump individuals and it is questionable whether they could actually change votes, especially considering the far larger number of people tweeting in favor of both Trump and Clinton.

The likelihood of them impacting the election appears even less after noting that of the tweets attributed to troll accounts Russia’s Internet Research Agency, only  “9 percent of the tweets were election-related .”

Most likely we are seeing a combination of things going on. There were probably Tweets and Facebook ads designed to disrupt American politics in general without supporting a particular candidate. There were many which had nothing to do with the election, very likely posts from Russian troll farms designed to obtain page hits, sometimes by making controversial comments. There very well could have also been some intentionally posted to try to help Donald Trump–but considering how small a percentage of overall Facebook and Twitter traffic they represented, it is absurd to say they were more important than Hillary Clinton’s war chest of over one billion dollars, and many others helping her (including paid trolls for Clinton). Even former Clinton adviser Mark Penn has written that this is not what cost Clinton the election.

Russia very likely has been misbehaving–as they have for decades, and as the United States government has. According to a paper of election meddling reviewed by Slate:

Using declassified documents, statements by officials, and journalistic accounts, Levin has found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3 percent of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia. They happened in every region of the world, though most commonly in Europe and Latin America. The two powers tended to focus on different countries, though Italy was a favorite of both, receiving eight interventions by the U.S. and four by the Soviets.

We should certainly work towards making Facebook and Twitter more transparent so people know when they are reading ads purchased by Russians. We should not be so naive as to think that we can control what appears on line in the internet age. We should also not take this to mean that there was some sort of unique conspiracy to push Clinton over Trump on social media in 2016. As was revealed in Shattered, Clinton came up with the excuse that Russia cost her the election within twenty-four hours of losing to distract from her own mistakes which cost her the election.

While there are legitimate responses to this issue, this should not be used as an excuse to restrict freedom of speech. The dangers from restricting free communication on Facebook and Twitter are far greater than the actual risk of Russia using social media to alter election results. The consequence of this hysteria has been to censor Americans on social media as I and others have been pointing out. This is what we must concentrate on avoiding. We also must be cautious about playing into neocon propaganda, with many of those now making the same noise attacking Russia are the same people who got this country into a war based upon false claims about Iraq and WMD.

Ideology Versus Party Identification: The Redefinition Of Liberalism By Clinton Democrats

Eric Levitz has an op-ed in The New York Times showing that it is not true that America is a center-right nation. His primary point is to dispute the idea among many Democratic leaders that the Democratic Party should continue to move to the right to gain votes. This a topic which has been addressed many times before, but the part I found most interesting was on the relationship between party and ideological labels.

“…the number of genuine “liberals” and “conservatives” is far smaller than meets the eye. Most voters who identify with those terms are partisans first, and ideologues second. Or as Mr. Kinder and Mr. Kalmoe conclude an analysis of four decades of voter survey data, “ideological identification seems more a reflection of political decisions than a cause.” In other words: The average conservative Republican isn’t a Republican because she’s a conservative — she self-identifies as a conservative because she’s a Republican.

“One crucial implication of this finding is that political elites have enormous power to dictate ideological terms to their rank-and-file supporters. For a healthy chunk of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, the “liberal” and “conservative” position on most issues is whatever their party leaders say it is. Donald Trump’s success at redefining conservative voters’ consensus views on free trade, American policy toward Russia and the relevance of personal morality to effective political leadership offers a particularly vivid illustration of this phenomenon.”

I would expand on this to point out how the Clintons and other DLC Democrats have redefined liberalism as used by Democrats to mean a rather conservative philosophy. This goes back to the years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and was exacerbated by Hillary Clinton’s neoconservative foreign policy views, her conservative views on social/cultural issues, and her far right views on civil liberties.

We saw in the 2016, along with Democratic loses when they ran as a Republican-lite party in 2010 and 2014, that this form of conservatism does not win elections. Conservative voters are more likely to identify with Republicans, while true liberals and progressives lack interest in turning out for Clinton-style Democrats. The fallacy of viewing politics on a simplistic left/right political scale was also seen with the nature in which Bernie Sanders was able to bring in more independent and Republican voters than Clinton could, and was far more likely to have won the general election if he was the Democratic nominee.

Even Former Clinton Strategist Mark Penn Says That Russia Did Not Win The Election For Donald Trump With Facebook Ads

Clinton and many of her supporters claim that a trivial expenditure by Russia on Facebook ads caused her to lose to Donald Trump. Even her former strategist Mark Penn realizes this is nonsense. Earlier this week Penn wrote an op-ed entitled You Can’t Buy the Presidency for $100,000–Russia didn’t win Trump the White House any more than China re-elected Bill Clinton in 1996. Here is an excerpt:

The fake news about fake news is practically endless. Americans worried about Russia’s influence in the 2016 election have seized on a handful of Facebook ads—as though there weren’t also three 90-minute debates, two televised party conventions, and $2.4 billion spent on last year’s campaign. The danger is that bending facts to fit the Russia story line may nudge Washington into needlessly and recklessly regulating the internet and curtailing basic freedoms.

After an extensive review, Facebook has identified $100,000 of ads that came from accounts associated with Russia. Assume for the sake of argument that Vladimir Putin personally authorized this expenditure. Given its divisive nature, the campaign could be dubbed “From Russia, With Hate”—except it would make for a disappointing James Bond movie.

Analyzing the pattern of expenditures, and doing some back-of-the-envelope math, it’s clear this was no devilishly effective plot. Facebook says 56% of the ads ran after the election, reducing the tally that could have influenced the result to about $44,000. It also turns out the ads were not confined to swing states but also shown in places like New York, California and Texas. Supposing half the ads went to swing states brings the total down to $22,000.

Facebook also counted ads as early as June 2015. Assuming they were evenly spread and we want only those that ran the year of the election, that knocks it down to $13,000. Most of the ads did not solicit support for a candidate and carried messages on issues like racism, immigration and guns. The actual electioneering then amounts to about $6,500.
Now look at the bigger picture. Every day, Americans see hundreds of ads on TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards and smartphones. North Americans post to Facebook something like a billion times a day, and during the election many of those messages were about politics. Facebook typically runs about $40 million worth of advertising a day in North America.

Then consider the scale of American presidential elections. Hillary Clinton’s total campaign budget, including associated committees, was $1.4 billion. Mr. Trump and his allies had about $1 billion. Even a full $100,000 of Russian ads would have erased just 0.025% of Hillary’s financial advantage. In the last week of the campaign alone, Mrs. Clinton’s super PAC dumped $6 million in ads into Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

I have 40 years of experience in politics, and this Russian ad buy, mostly after the election anyway, simply does not add up to a carefully targeted campaign to move voters. It takes tens of millions of dollars to deliver meaningful messages to the contested portion of the electorate. Converting someone who voted for the other party last time is an enormously difficult task. Swing voters in states like Ohio or Florida are typically barraged with 50% or more of a campaign’s budget. Try watching TV in those states the week before an election and you will see how jammed the airwaves are.

Considering how absurd the claims are, it is not surprising that, as BuzzFeed News reports, many employees at Facebook feel like they are the victim. Much of the article also plays into the hysteria being spread, but it also points out that:

those with knowledge of Facebook’s ad system say that there’s a solid case to be made that the disclosed Russian ad spend — and even the reported millions of impressions those ads received — pales in comparison to the billions spent by political groups in the run-up to 2016 on Facebook’s ad platform and the hundreds of millions of impressions that the platform delivers daily on all types of paid and unpaid content. Basically: Facebook’s unprecedented scale, when applied to the Russian ads, renders the scandal’s impact far less consequential than news reports would suggest.

The article also notes the problem mentioned by Penn of curtailing basic freedoms on the internet.  I also discussed recently that concern over spreading “fake news” can result in suppression of legitimate discussion. Buzzfeed wrote:

Sources familiar with recent discussions inside Facebook told BuzzFeed News there’s some concern that the strong reaction to 2016 election meddling and the desire for fast reform could push the company to assume a greater role in determining what is or isn’t legitimate news…

Facebook, too, has long been concerned about assuming any sort of media watchdog role and the company’s objection usually takes the form — as it did last week in an interview with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — of its well-worn argument that Facebook is a technology company, not a media company. “We hire engineers. We don’t hire reporters. No one is a journalist. We don’t cover the news,” Sandberg told Axios’s Mike Allen.

Antonio Garcia Martinez, a former Facebook employee who helped lead the company’s early ad platform, worries that the momentum to correct for what happened during the 2016 election will push Facebook a step too far. “Everyone fears Facebook’s power, and as a result, they’re asking them to assume more power in form of human curation and editorial decision-making,” he said. “I worry that two or three years from now we’re all going to deeply regret we asked for this.”

Freedom can be messy, including people spreading fake news, and even people from Russia posting on the internet. The alternative to freedom is far worse, including the restrictions on expression by Americans on Facebook which we are already experiencing.

Debunking Misinformation From Hillary Clinton On Wikileaks & The Mainstream Media On Russia

Much of the talk about “fake news” misses the fact that two of the most prominent sources of false information these days are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Despite the belief of seventy-six percent of Republicans (and forty-six percent of the entire sample polled) that the media fabricates stories about Donald Trump, most of what the media publishes about him is generally true, while much of what he says is not. Hillary Clinton might not lie as much as Donald Trump (nobody does), but she has also been frequently caught lying, including repeating the same lies after exposed. The latest fact checking of Clinton worth noting came from Caitlin Johnstone fact checking Hillary Clinton’s recent attack on Wikileaks.

I would recommend reading Caitlin’s entire post as it is extensively documented with links, including from major media sources. She debunked the following lies from Clinton:

  • Lie 1: Claims WikiLeaks never publishes anything about Russia

  • Lie 2: Podesta leaks were timed to eclipse the Access Hollywood “grab them by the pussy” October surprise.

  • Lie 3: Implying that there was nothing incriminating in the Democratic party emails that WikiLeaks published.

  • Lie 4: Julian Assange is “a tool of Russian intelligence” who “does the bidding of a dictator.”

  • Lie 5: Claiming WikiLeaks helped spread lies and is therefore not protected by the First Amendment.

We expect Clinton to lie about Wiklleaks because lying about those who present evidence against her is what Hillary Clinton has done throughout her career. The fifth is the most disturbing as Clinton, who has a terrible history on First Amendment issues, is once again supporting censorship against those who criticize her or express dissent.

While Trump and Clinton are huge distributors of false information, I do not mean to suggest that the media is perfect. While I oppose the attacks on the First Amendment and attempts by Trump and Clinton to censor the media, the media does make mistakes. One has been to fall for Clinton’s fabricated claims blaming Russia for her loss and the other hysteria about Russia being spread. Glenn Greenwald and Tucker Carlson, who generally do not agree on much, discussed how the media is falling for a number of unsubstantiated claims on Carlson’s show last night. Following is an excerpt, with more here:

CARLSON: So, you and I don’t agree on a lot of issues but I think we share the same concern about this story, and that is that American journalists are being manipulated for whatever reason by the intelligence community in the United States, and I’m wondering why after years of having this happen to American journalists, they are allowing this to happen again.

GREENWALD: Well, that’s the thing I would refrain that a little bit. I don’t actually think so much that journalists are the victims in the sense of that formulation that they’re being manipulated. I think at best what you can say for them is they are willingly and eagerly being manipulated.

Because what you see is over and over they publish really inflammatory stories that turn out to be totally false and what happens in those cases? Nothing. They get enormous benefits when they publish recklessly. They get applause on social media from their peers, they get zillions of re-
tweets, huge amounts of traffic, they end up on TV. They get applauded across the spectrum because people are so giddy and eager to hear more about this Russia and Trump story.

And when their stories get completely debunked, it just kind of, everybody agrees to ignore it and everyone moves on and they pay no price. At the same time, they are feeling and pleasing their sources by publishing these sources that their sources want them to publish. And so, there is huge amounts of career benefits and reputational benefits and very little cost when they publish stories that end up being debunked because the narrative they are serving is a popular one, at least within their peer circles.

CARLSON: Gosh! That is so dishonest. I mean, I think all of us and journalism have gotten things wrong, I certainly have. If you feel bad about it, I mean, you really do and there’s a consequence. Do you really think there’s that level of dishonesty in the American press?

GREENWALD: I think what it is more than dishonesty is a really warped incentive scheme bolstered by this very severe groupthink that social media is fostering in ways that we don’t yet fully understand.

CARLSON: Yes.

GREENWALD: Most journalists these days are in Congressional Committees or at zoning board meetings or using — they’re sitting on Twitter talking to one another and this produces this extreme groupthink where these orthodoxies arise in deviating from them or questioning them or challenging, believe me, results in all kinds of recrimination and scorn. And embracing them produces this sort of in group mentality where you are rewarded, and I think a lot of it is about that kind of behavior.

FCC Chairman Stands Up To Trump’s Attack On First Amendment

Donald Trump has threatened to revoke the licences of broadcasters which broadcast “fake news,” which often amounts to information which is unfavorable about Trump. While this received considerable condemnation, it was also widely seen as an empty threat. The president does not have the authority to revoke licenses, and the broadcast licenses are held by individual stations, not the networks. The FCC technically does have the authority to revoke licenses from stations. Fortunately FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by Donald Trump,  has sided with the First Amendment over Trump. Politico reports:

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday defended the First Amendment and said his agency can’t revoke the license of a broadcaster based on its content, six days after President Donald Trump threatened to pull the licenses of TV networks he dislikes.

“I believe in the First Amendment,” Pai said at a telecom law event in Washington, without mentioning Trump by name. “The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment, and under the law the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on content of a particular newscast.”

Trump last week lashed out at an NBC News report that he had sought a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, calling it “pure fiction” and suggesting broadcasters’ licenses should be challenged when they put out “fake news.”

…Asked if there’s a role for the FCC in deciding what is “fake news” and doing something about it, Pai answered, “Traditionally that has not been within the FCC’s jurisdiction,” adding, “I’m a lawyer by training, of course. I tend to hew as closely as I can to the terms of the Communications Act and of course to other applicable legal principles, and so that’s the standard that we adopt, at least, going forward.”

I am not sure why it took Pai almost a week to stand up for the First Amendment, but glad that he ultimately did so.

Claims of “fake news” have increasingly been used to advocate censorship with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having called for some form of government action against “fake news.” Of course the First Amendment has no exception for “fake news” and it would be very dangerous for government to determine which news is fake. This is especially the case when both Trump and Clinton appear to consider information critical of them to be fake, regardless of the validity, along with other information spread which is more clearly untrue.

Claims of “fake news” and other hysteria over alleged Russian meddling in the election has also resulted in suppression of the expression of political opinion on Facebook as I discussed yesterday.

Anti-Russia Hysteria Leads To Increased Censorship Of Americans On Facebook

Facebook has received a lot of criticism for the selling of ads to Russians under the belief that the $100,000 in Facebook ads had an impact on the election results. Regardless of how much effort should be made to prevent such Russian activities, the unfortunate result has been an increase in the restrictions on Americans expressing their political views on Facebook.

There have always been problems with “Facebook jail” in which people have their accounts restricted, but I’m finding that the number has increased tremendously recently. The biggest change appears to be with restricting posting to Facebook groups, with automated algorithms erroneously flagging legitimate posts as spam. Others have been restricted due to complaints, which are often politically motivated, with punishment administered with no form of due process.

Besides the material not meeting any conventional definition of spam, there are other issues with this assessment. Many groups approve posts on a post by post basis, suggesting that any approved posts must not be spam. Administrators of groups can also remove members who they feel are spamming a group. It hardly makes sense to call a post spam when approved by the administrator. In addition, I have frequently received messages of thanks from administrator of groups for sharing material with the group, along with many Facebook Likes from members.

Last week I had this post flagged as spam by Facebook and I was prohibited from posting to any groups for one week. Note that the post cites sources including the Brookings Institution and major media sources, also making it hard to call “fake news” or spam. Ironically, the same day as this occurred, I had listened to an interview with Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, on NPR in which she claimed to support the rights of users to express their political beliefs, including beliefs she disagrees with. This contrasts with the experience of myself and a large number of others on Facebook who have had political posts restricted.

It gets even more bizarre. I am the administrator of one of the groups I was prohibited from posting to. I have also encountered administrators of other Facebook groups who have been prohibited from posting to their groups or pages. Facebook’s claims that they are spamming their own pages sounds rather illogical.

In one case,  Mark A. Di Carlo was prohibited from posting to his own campaign page. Di Carlo said, “I was prevented from posting for about 5 days on my Di Carlo for Mayor page, during about 5 crucial days during my campaign for Mayor. What is really bad, is they do not tell you what your violations were, nor who complained against you.”

It gets even worse. Di Carlo also me that “many of these were ‘boosted’ posts, and were paid for by me as advertising.” Facebook did refund the payments, but it is just unbelievable that they would prevent these from being posted.

Many of us have also had the same frustration in never receiving an answer as to what the violations are. The decisions are often done by computer algorithms which appear to be quite faulty. Facebook might use verbiage such as “violation of Community Standards,” but the posts they take action against usually do not violate any of their posted rules. Actions which are acceptable on Facebook one day might get a user restricted the next.

There is a box to click to say that a post is not spam, but clicking this does no good. The response I received from Facebook was: “Thanks for letting us know about this post. We’ll try to take another look to check if it goes against our Community Standards and send you a message here in your Support Inbox if we have an update.”  Of course they never respond further and it is doubtful that a human ever looks at the posts.

There is also technically a way to request an appeal, but again there are no signs that what anyone writes is ever seen by a human. After filing an appeal I received this response:

We received your report and appreciate your patience as we work to fix technical problems on Facebook. Though we can’t update everyone who submits a report, we’re using your feedback to improve the Facebook experience for everyone.
To contact us about non-technical issues, please visit the Help Center.
Thanks,
The Facebook Team

It is unfortunate that actions intended to respond to alleged threats from Russia are resulting in restrictions on so many Americans. Facebook is the digital equivalent of the town square, and restricting posting of people’s opinions on Facebook has a deleterious effect on freedom of expression. People following links from Facebook is also a major source of traffic to blogs such as this these days, and Facebook’s actions have been deleterious to blog traffic.

Facebook states they are planning to hire more people to monitor posts, including some with national security clearance. The question is whether hiring more people will result in humans making better decisions than computer algorithms, or whether this will lead to more people finding more material to restrict.

Information Released On Facebook Ads Continues To Be Of Minimal Significance

With most of the accusations that Russia rigged the election going nowhere, Clinton supporters continue to concentrate on blaming Russian ads for Hillary Clinton’s loss. As I’ve previously noted, the actual amount that Russia is accused of spending on Facebook ads is a tiny portion of overall campaign spending–as well as trivial compared to US efforts to intervene in the elections of other nations. As Shattered revealed, Clinton latched onto the idea that others such as Russia were responsible for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing in order to shift the blame away from her for losing a campaign any competent candidate could have easily won.

Facebook has released additional information about the ads:

What was in the ads you shared with Congress? How many people saw them? 
Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights. A number of them appear to encourage people to follow Pages on these issues.

Here are a few other facts about the ads:

An estimated 10 million people in the US saw the ads. We were able to approximate the number of unique people (“reach”) who saw at least one of these ads, with our best modeling
44% of the ads were seen before the US election on November 8, 2016; 56% were seen after the election.
Roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach  people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result.
For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

Additional information is provided. The major violation of Facebook’s advertising policies appears to be the inauthenticity of the ads, and many would have been permissible if the Russians had purchased the ads in a transparent manner. According to Facebook, “many of these ads did not violate our content policies. That means that for most of them, if they had been run by authentic individuals, anywhere, they could have remained on the platform.”

There are also freedom of expression concerns which are often ignored by those protesting the publication of anything critical of Hillary Clinton. Facebook addressed the matter of freedom of speech:

Shouldn’t you stop foreigners from meddling in US social issues?
The right to speak out on global issues that cross borders is an important principle. Organizations such as UNICEF, Oxfam or religious organizations depend on the ability to communicate — and advertise — their views in a wide range of countries. While we may not always agree with the positions of those who would speak on issues here, we believe in their right to do so — just as we believe in the right of Americans to express opinions on issues in other countries.

Some of these ads and other content on Facebook appear to sow division in America and other countries at a time of increasing social unrest. If these ads or content were placed or posted authentically, you would allow many of these. Why?
This is an issue we have debated a great deal. We understand that Facebook has become an important platform for social and political expression in the US and around the world. We are focused on developing greater safeguards against malicious interference in elections and strengthening our advertising policies and enforcement to prevent abuse.

As an increasingly important and widespread platform for political and social expression, we at Facebook — and all of us — must also take seriously the crucial place that free political speech occupies around the world in protecting democracy and the rights of those who are in the minority, who are oppressed or who have views that are not held by the majority or those in power. Even when we have taken all steps to control abuse, there will be political and social content that will appear on our platform that people will find objectionable, and that we will find objectionable. We permit these messages because we share the values of free speech — that when the right to speech is censored or restricted for any of us, it diminishes the rights to speech for all of us, and that when people have the right and opportunity to engage in free and full political expression, over time, they will move forward, not backwards, in promoting democracy and the rights of all.

Nobody has offered a meaningful explanation as to how this ad buy could have had a more important role in determining the election results than the far larger efforts by the candidates and their US supporters, including the paid trolls used by the Clinton campaign on social media. Those who did see these Facebook ads undoubtedly saw many, many more ads from other sources. It is also doubtful that having a Facebook ad appearing on one’s news feed is going to change one’s vote.

It is also worth considering that Russia did have legitimate concerns regarding the outcome of the US election. The Democratic candidate (who received the nomination due to a quite undemocratic system which was little different from choosing the nominee in the proverbial smoked-filled rooms), was one of the most hawkish candidates to run for political office to recent years, with many of her neocon allies supporting regime change in Russia similar to the regime change Clinton has backed in other countries. She has a long history of belligerence towards Russia, along with a history of meddling in Russia’s election when Putin was a candidate. Russia (as did many American voters) had good reason to believe that the election of Clinton would lead to a restoration of cold war style hostilities at very least, with direct military conflict a very real possibility.

Reading “What Happened” So You Do Not Have To

Reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir, What Happened, is like reading a memoir from Jesse James which makes no admission that he ever robbed a bank. She talked about trivial matters from her life, repeated her excuses blaming everyone else for her loss, and gave virtually no recognition of her dishonest actions and lifelong opposition to liberal values behind the opposition to her. What Happened  was previously used as a book title by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan. Maybe she reused this title because Jeff Flake beat her to reusing the philosophically more honest choice, Conscience of a Conservative. Of course that would assume that she has a conscience, but she showed no signs of having one.

It is hard to see the point in this book beyond finger pointing. Clinton wrote:

At first, I had intended to keep relatively quiet. Former Presidents and former nominees often try to keep a respectful distance from the front lines of politics, at least for a while. I always admired how both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush avoided criticizing Bill and Barack, and how Bill ended up working with George H. W. on tsunami relief in Asia and Katrina recovery on the Gulf Coast. And with George W. in Haiti after the earthquake in 2011. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

She should have ended the book right there.

In a rare moment of honesty, Clinton showed how clueless she is in writing, “in terms of fighting the previous war, I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t realize how quickly the ground was shifting under all our feet.” The only shifting Clinton has shown with the times has been to move on from blaming everything on the vast right wing conspiracy to blaming the vast left wing conspiracy against her.

She might briefly admit to a mistake, but it is quickly followed with a major but as she places the blame on Russia, James Comey, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or others. If she did mention something she did wrong, it was passed over as a minor tactical error, ignoring the magnitude of her ethical lapses.

This week Bernie Sanders has been pushing for comprehensive, affordable health care for all Americans. Hillary Clinton is pushing a book which attacks the left and questions the validity of our electoral process (which she previously attacked Trump for threatening to do). She has opposed Medicare for All based upon false claims, continuing her long history of working to undermine liberal ideas.

While she launched numerous bogus attacks against others, she feels that her mistakes are too trivial to be considered. She wrote, “The truth is, everyone’s flawed. That’s the nature of human beings. But our mistakes alone shouldn’t define us. We should be judged by the totality of our work and life.”  Judging Clinton by the totality of her work and life, we must include her repeated push for neoconservative wars and regime change, her repeated advocacy of violating our First Amendment rights, her social conservatism, her support for the corrupting influence of money in politics, and her use of her position for personal financial gain–including violating the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton wrote about her concern for children. In the real world, Hillary Clinton has shown her concern for children in other countries by dropping bombs on them and defending the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas. There are also those who suffered from Bill’s welfare reform at home. However, “It was a hard call. Bill and I lay awake at night talking it over.”

Clinton shows no understanding of liberal or progressive values. While she mischaracterized Bernie Sanders’ platform as offering everyone a pony, it is actually Clinton who sees liberalism as little more than government giving out ponies, even if smaller ones than she believes Bernie Sanders would. She has no understanding of how true liberal and progressives would change the status quo, no concept of the human rights we defend, and no concept of what is wrong with her interventionist views.

Her ignorance of liberal concepts of human rights would explain how she totally misunderstood the warnings of George Orwell. To an authoritarian such as Hillary Clinton the lesson of 1984 is that we should not question our political leaders, the press, or experts:

Attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism. This is what the Soviets did when they erased political dissidents from historical photos. This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.

On the other hand, Clinton is quite skilled in using Orwellian techniques to attack her political enemies. She uses the same types of distortions against Bernie Sanders as she did during the campaign, and as she used against Barack Obama in 2008. I have already responded to some of the attacks against Sanders here, and also recommend this rebuttal of Clinton’s arguments by Les Leopold. While reading What Happened I came across another fallacious attack on Sanders. Clinton wrote, “After the election, Bernie suggested that Democrats should be open to nominating and supporting candidates who are anti-choice.”

No, that is not what happened at all. On the other hand, the Democratic establishment has shown how they are willing to ignore reproductive rights. Clinton herself has also been to the right of Sanders on the issue, including her support for parental notification laws and expressing a willingness to compromise with Republicans. This is not surprising in light of her personal social conservatism on the issue and her mantra of keeping abortion”safe, legal, and rare,” stigmatizing women who have had an abortion.

Her attempts to falsely portray Sanders as being to the right of her on abortion are similar to her claims of being to the left of Sanders on gun control, despite having run in 2008 as a “pro-gun churchgoer.” Of course while attacking Sanders and blaming him for her loss she overlooked the degree to which Sanders campaigned for her after the primaries were over. Her antipathy towards a fair democratic process includes a visceral objection to being challenged for political office.

Clinton was no more honest in discussing the scandals which rightfully harmed her campaign. For example, she misquoted from the State Department Inspector General report to falsely make it look like the report supported her actions in the email scandal. In reality, the Inspector General report said exactly the opposite in showing how she violated policy. As we saw during the campaign, she keeps repeating the same lies about the scandal, including the statements from James Comey, regardless of how often the media fact checkers show that she is outright lying.

She attempted to open up personally, but even then wasn’t entirely honest. Among the more unbelievable lines, Clinton wrote, “For me, fund-raisers were a little more complicated than other campaign events. Even after all these years, it’s hard for me to ask for other people’s money.”

Among the other personal discussions in the book, Clinton wrote, “Bill and I bought our home in 1999 because we loved the bedroom.” Now try to get that image out of your mind.

Actually what she wrote after this was quite tame, including a description of the vaulted ceiling, windows, and photos. And then, “After waking up, I check my email and read my morning devotional from Reverend Bill Shillady, which is usually waiting in my inbox. I spend a few minutes in contemplation, organizing my thoughts and setting my priorities for the day.” The rest of us will not be able to see the writings of Bill Shillady as his publisher has pulled his planned book, entitled Strong for a Moment Like This: The Daily Devotions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, due to plagiarism.

Of course, as was inevitable, I am seeing defenses of What Happened claiming that disagreements with Clinton’s book are based upon misogyny. What an intellectually and morally bankrupt viewpoint. Do such Clinton supporters have even a shred of integrity? I am just relieved that Hillary Clinton is not in the White House, leaving us to contend with claims that our objections to whatever war she wanted to start, or whatever violation of the First Amendment she was advocating, was based only on sexism.

U.N. High Commissioner For Human Rights Criticizes Donald Trump’s Attacks On Freedom Of The Press

The United Nations  High Commissioner for Human Rights  has called Donald Trump’s criticism of journalists amounts an attack on the freedom of the press and warned that it could provoke violence against reporters. Reuters reports:

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Trump had also made worrying remarks about women, Mexicans and Muslims and went on to question the president’s approach to immigration and decision to pardon former Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio…

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years is now itself under attack from the President,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

“It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one,” he told a news conference in Geneva.

Referring to the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, he added: “To call these news organizations ’fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way, I have to ask the question is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?”

Zeid voiced concern that a journalist from the Guardian had been “assaulted in the United States most recently” but gave no details.

Trump rounded on journalists last week, calling them “truly dishonest people” and criticizing their coverage of a white supremacist-organized rally in Virginia and the political fallout from his comments that violence there was caused by “many sides”.

Nazi salutes, swastikas, anti-Semitic slurs and racist references to African-Americans had “no place in the United States or beyond”, Zeid said, in his first comments on the events in Charlottesville.

Trump has also made worrying remarks about women, Mexicans and Muslims, “mocked a person with disabilities publicly” and issued a directive on a transgender ban in the military, he said.

“The President prides himself as a taboo breaker, indeed his supporters see him as such. But at the time I expressed my feeling that this was grossly irresponsible, because it has consequences, it emboldens those who may think similarly to sharpen their assaults on these communities,” he said.

Zeid voiced deep concern at Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in a racial profiling case that highlighted tensions over immigration policy.

“Does the President support racial profiling, of Latinos in particular, does he support abuse of prisoners? Arpaio referred at one stage to the open-air prison that he set up as a concentration camp, he later recanted said it was a joke,” Zeid said. “Does the president support this? These actions have consequences.”

I have also often voiced concern for Donald Trump’s attacks on the press and views on civil liberties. However, the danger does not come from Donald Trump alone, with civil liberties coming under increased assault since the Patriot Act under George Bush. Many Democrats have been willing to overlook similar attacks from Hillary Clinton on freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. Americans must be willing to defend civil liberties as a matter of principle, not just when it benefits their partisan views.