ACLU Joins Other Civil Libertarians In Warning About Dangers Of Censorship On Social Media

Censorship on social media has been an ongoing problem involving people on both the left and the right, but the recent banning of Alex Jones has increased attention to the issue. While many civil libertarians have seen the dangers, others have allowed their views of Alex Jones to distract from the urgent civil liberties issues at stake. Attacks on civil liberties have often started with unpopular targets, and then extending to others. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned about the worrisome implications:

Several companies, including Facebook and YouTube, have removed Jones and his radio show for violating their hate speech policies. But doing so may set a dangerous precedent, according to Ben Wizner, director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

As private institutions, these sites have the constitutional right to decide whether to host Jones. But a hate speech policy defining when an individual warrants being banned could be “misused and abused,” Wizner told HuffPost on Monday.

“If [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, for example, were deciding what’s hate speech, he would be less likely to think KKK and more likely to think [Black Lives Matter],” Wizner said. “It turns out to be an extremely subjective term.”

“I have some of the same concerns about platforms making those decisions,” he added. “Governments at least purport to be acting solely in the public interest, but platforms are making these decisions based on what’s in their financial interest. So their interest might be in avoiding controversy, but do we want the most important speech platforms in the world to avoid controversy?”

“Who should decide what’s fake? … It’s not so easy to do in a way that is objective,” he said. “If these platforms get in the business of trying to be the arbiters of truth or falsity, pretty soon everyone is going to have something to complain about.”

“Do we really want corporations that are answerable to their shareholders and their bottom lines being the ones who decide which political speech Americans should see or not see?” he added. “Because that’s what we’re asking for here.”

Some have questioned whether this is a civil liberties issue as on the surface it involves private companies as opposed to the government. The point is not that whether this is a First Amendment issue, but that our concept of censorship and the First Amendment must be updated due to how social media is being used by government to restrict speech. Social media has become the equivalent of the old fashioned town square. When we have a near monopoly controlling social media on the internet (which happened to be developed with taxpayer’s money), and government then instructs these companies to restrict the speech of people, it can be more dangerous than our conventional concept of censorship. Making matters worse, there is no due process when done with supposedly private companies in this manner.

The purpose of the First Amendment was to protect free speech–not to give excuses to support censorship when it does not strictly fall under the wording of the First Amendment. Wired had  warnings about allowing Facebook to censor free speech, and responded to the argument that this is not a First Amendment issue:

The lamest of counterarguments to Zuckerberg’s absolutist position is the drearily predictable one of “the First Amendment doesn’t apply to companies.” It’s the nitpicky point of the eighth-grade know-it-all. How about I quarter troops from my private army in your house, and when you cite the Third Amendment, I’ll reply with “well, they’re not government troops,” and see how you feel about it?

Concepts like “trespassing” and “privacy” are not mentioned in the Constitution and did not then exist in the form we know today. We have extended the animating spirit of the Third and Fourth Amendments—respecting a person’s property and privacy—more broadly, because it’s a foundational value we want to see respected everywhere. Ditto the First Amendment: We want companies to embrace it too.

Internet censorship greatly increased as a result of pressure from Democrats who blame Russian ads and “fake news” for the defeat of Hillary Clinton, as opposed to being willing to acknowledge the serious problems in nominating Clinton, and the terrible campaign she ran, which caused her defeat. Clinton herself called on Congress to regulate what she considered to be fake news after her defeat–a rather serious attack on First Amendment rights.

It is easy to look the other way when someone as vile as Alex Jones is the target, but internet censorship has extended to many others on both the left and the right. If censorship is justified based upon expressing hatred, promoting violence, and spreading false information, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are far more dangerous. If kooky right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones should be banned, the same could just as easily be said about kooky left wing conspiracy theorist Rachel Maddow, whose conspiracy theories risk starting a war with a nuclear power.

Before the government pushed internet companies to act as their censors, they preferred to be regarded as common carriers who are not responsible for regulating content. Either we go with that concept, or we have a handful of executives in Silicon Valley deciding what any of us can say. There is no middle ground. As Matt Taibbi pointed out, “as was obvious during the Senate hearing with Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year, politicians are more interested in using than curtailing the power of these companies. The platforms, for their part, will cave rather than be regulated. The endgame here couldn’t be clearer. This is how authoritarian marriages begin, and people should be very worried.”

After Alex Jones was removed by multiple social media companies, Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.”

Instead of falling into the trap of saying this is not a First Amendment issue as it is not the government doing the censorship (at least directly), we should be exerting pressure on both members of Congress and the social media companies to consider social media companies as common carriers rather than taking on the job of censoring speech. The alternative would be as if AT&T, when they had a monopoly, was also entrusted with determining what types of speech could be allowed over its telephone lines.

In a follow up article to the one I quoted from above, Taibbi wrote on this topic in greater detail:

Two weeks ago, we learned about a new campaign against “inauthentic” content, conducted by Facebook in consultation with Congress and the secretive think tank Atlantic Council — whose board includes an array of ex-CIA and Homeland Security officials — in the name of cracking down on alleged Russian disinformation efforts.­ As part of the bizarre alliance of Internet news distributors and quasi-government censors, the social network zapped 32 accounts and pages, including an ad for a real “No Unite the Right 2” anti-racist counter-rally in D.C. this past weekend.

Last week, we saw another flurry of censorship news. Facebook apparently suspended VenezuelaAnalysis.com, a site critical of U.S. policy toward Venezuela. (It was reinstated Thursday.) Twitter suspended a pair of libertarians, including @DanielLMcAdams of the Ron Paul Institute and @ScottHortonShow of Antiwar.com, for using the word “bitch” (directed toward a man) in a silly political argument. They, too, were later re-instated.

More significantly: Google’s former head of free expression issues in Asia, Lokman Tsui, blasted the tech giant’s plan to develop a search engine that would help the Chinese government censor content…

Both the Jones situation and the Facebook-Atlantic Council deletions seem an effort to fulfill a request made last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Last October, Facebook, Google and Twitter were asked by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hizono to draw up a “mission statement” to “prevent the foment of discord.”

Companies like Facebook might have balked before. They have long taken a position that’s very Star Trek, very Prime-Directive: We do not interfere. Mark Zuckerberg, as late as 2016, was saying, “editing content… that’s not us.”

…After Trump’s shocking win in 2016, everyone turned to Facebook and Google to fix “fake news.” But nobody had a coherent definition of what constitutes it.

Many on the left lamented the Wikileaks releases of Democratic Party emails, but those documents were real news, and the complaint there was more about the motives of sources, and editorial emphasis, rather than accuracy…

Within a year, Google bragged that it had deleted 8 million videos from YouTube. A full 6.7 million videos were caught by machines, 1.1 million by YouTube’s own “trusted flaggers” (we’re pre-writing the lexicon of the next dystopian novels), and 400,000 by “normal users.”

Subsequently, we heard that Facebook was partnering with the Atlantic Council — which, incidentally, accepts donations from at least 25 different foreign countries, including United Arab Emirates and the king of Bahrain, in addition to firms like weapons manufacturer Raytheon and my old pals at HSBC — to identify “potential abuse.”

…For more than half a century, we had an effective, if slow, litigation-based remedy for speech violations. The standards laid out in cases like New York Times v. Sullivan were designed to protect legitimate reporting while directly remunerating people harmed by bad speech. Sooner or later, people like Alex Jones would always crash under crippling settlements. Meanwhile, young reporters learned to steer clear of libel and defamation. Knowing exactly what we could and could not get away with empowered us to do our jobs, confident that the law had our backs.

If the line of defense had not been a judge and jury but a giant transnational corporation working with the state, journalists taking on banks or tech companies or the wrong politicians would have been playing intellectual Russian roulette. In my own career, I’d have thought twice before taking on a company like Goldman Sachs. Any reporter would.

Now the line is gone. Depending on the platform, one can be banned for “glorifying violence,” “sowing division,” “hateful conduct” or even “low quality,” with those terms defined by nameless, unaccountable executives, working with God Knows Whom…

Google and Facebook have long wrestled with the question of how to operate in politically repressive markets — Google launched a censored Chinese search engine in 2006, before changing its mind in 2010 — but it seems we’re seeing a kind of mass surrender on that front.

The apparent efforts to comply with government requests to help “prevent the foment of discord” suggest the platforms are moving toward a similar surrender even in the United States. The duopolistic firms seem anxious to stay out of headlines, protect share prices and placate people like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who just said deleting Jones was only a “good first step.”

Americans are not freaking out about this because most of us have lost the ability to distinguish between general principles and political outcomes. So long as the “right” people are being zapped, no one cares.

But we should care. Censorship is one of modern man’s great temptations. Giving in to it hasn’t provided many happy stories.

Slate warned that, “placing the distribution of information in the hands of a few tech companies will remain a very big problem.”

Did anyone vote to make Google and Facebook monopolies. Did anyone vote to say we are going to make private actors make these decisions? There hasn’t been such a vote. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys are monopolies. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys have built these machines and amplified these kinds of voices. We only had our first major hearing in Congress last summer. This is pretty fresh, pretty new. I think if you put it to a vote, you sure as hell wouldn’t have anybody say, “We will choose these people to be our censors, we will choose these people to be our regulators.” And remember that this is a two-edged story. Any time you say that you are going to allow for this type of private action or private censorship, it is something that can be used against your friends next year, tomorrow.

Caitlin Johnstone, who herself was the target of internet censorship this month, further discussed how In A Corporatist System Of Government, Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship:

In a corporatist system of government, wherein there is no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, corporate censorship isstate censorship. Because legalized bribery in the form of corporate lobbying and campaign donations has given wealthy Americans the ability to control the US government’s policy and behavior while ordinary Americans have no effective influence whatsoever, the US unquestionably has a corporatist system of government. Large, influential corporations are inseparable from the state, so their use of censorship is inseparable from state censorship.

This is especially true of the vast megacorporations of Silicon Valley, whose extensive ties to US intelligence agencies are well-documented. Once you’re assisting with the construction of the US military’s drone program, receiving grants from the CIA and NSA for mass surveillance, or having your site’s content regulated by NATO’s propaganda arm, you don’t get to pretend you’re a private, independent corporation that is separate from government power. It is possible in the current system to have a normal business worth a few million dollars, but if you want to get to billions of dollars in wealth control in a system where money translates directly to political power, you need to work with existing power structures like the CIA and the Pentagon, or else they’ll work with your competitors instead of you.

For more on this topic, I would also recommend the following video discussion with Glenn Greenwald (who has written extensively on civil liberties and social media), Sam Biddle, and Briahna Joy:

Ecuador Might Be Preparing To Turn Julian Assange Over To Authorities–Will This Lead To Prosecution By The US?

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept that Ecuador is preparing to turn Julian Assange over to UK authorities. He writes:

A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement…

The central oddity of Assange’s case – that he has been effectively imprisoned for eight years despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime – is virtually certain to be prolonged once Ecuador hands him over to the U.K. Even under the best-case scenario, it appears highly likely that Assange will continue to be imprisoned by British authorities.

The only known criminal proceeding Assange currently faces is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender” – basically a minor bail violation charge that arose when he obtained asylum from Ecuador rather than complying with bail conditions by returning to court for a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden.

That charge carries a prison term of three months and a fine, though it is possible that the time Assange has already spent in prison in the UK could be counted against that sentence. In 2010, Assange was imprisoned in Wandsworth Prison, kept in isolation, for 10 days until he was released on bail; he was then under house arrest for 550 days at the home of a supporter…

THE FAR MORE IMPORTANT question that will determine Assange’s future is what the U.S. Government intends to do. The Obama administration was eager to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents, but ultimately concluded that there was no way to do so without either also prosecuting newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian which published the same documents, or create precedents that would enable the criminal prosecution of media outlets in the future.

Indeed, it is technically a crime under U.S. law for anyone – including a media outlet – to publish certain types of classified information. Under U.S. law, for instance, it was a felony for the Washington Post’s David Ignatius to report on the contents of telephone calls, intercepted by the NSA, between then National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, even though such reporting was clearly in the public interest since it proved Flynn lied when he denied such contacts…

But the U.S. Justice Department has never wanted to indict and prosecute anyone for the crime of publishing such material, contenting themselves instead to prosecuting the government sources who leak it. Their reluctance has been due to two reasons: first, media outlets would argue that any attempts to criminalize the mere publication of classified or stolen documents is barred by the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment, a proposition the DOJ has never wanted to test; second, no DOJ has wanted as part of its legacy the creation of a precedent that allows the U.S. Government to criminally prosecute journalists and media outlets for reporting classified documents.

But the Trump administration has made clear that they have no such concerns. Quite the contrary: last April, Trump’s then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now his Secretary of State, delivered a deranged, rambling, highly threatening broadside against WikiLeaks. Without citing any evidence, Pompeo decreed that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and thus declared: “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”..

But there seems little question that, as Sessions surely knows, large numbers of U.S. journalists – along with many, perhaps most, Democrats – would actually support the Trump DOJ in prosecuting Assange for publishing documents. After all, the DNC sued WikiLeaks in April for publishing documents – a serious, obvious threat to press freedom – and few objected.

And it was Democratic Senators such as Dianne Feinstein who, during the Obama years, were urging the prosecution of WikiLeaks, with the support of numerous GOP Senators. There is no doubt that, after 2016, support among both journalists and Democrats for imprisoning Assange for publishing documents would be higher than ever.

Greenwald added on Twitter: “It should take only the tiniest amount of rationality to understand the dangers to journalists from having the DOJ prosecute Assange for publishing classified or stolen documents. From the Pentagon Papers to the Snowden reporting to daily leaks, media outlets do that every day.”

Kevin Drum does not think there would be  much support for prosecution among journalists or Democrats:

I don’t have any independent knowledge of what will happen to Assange next, or whether he will indeed eventually be extradited to the United States. But I will say this. If the case brought against him is a fairly ordinary one of publishing classified material, I expect, contra Greenwald, that virtually no Democrats and absolutely no journalists will support the government’s case.¹ There would, unfortunately, probably be a few Democratic politicians who would cheer his prosecution, but even there I think (or hope, anyway) that their numbers would be small. If this case goes forward, I suppose it will be a good test of whose level of cynicism is currently best calibrated to the current mood of the American public.

¹The exceptions are likely to be nutballs like Breitbart or folks like that. Even Fox News would probably defend him against a straight-up publishing charge.

I agree that serious journalists will not support prosecution, but am not so sure about the Democrats. Again, as Greenwald pointed out, the DNC has already sued WikiLeaks for publishing documents obtained by others. Again, as Greenwald points out, this is a serious, obvious treat to press freedom.

Haspel Evades Questions On Torture, Cheney Backs It, And Will Democrats Back Down On Resisting Once Again?

The American Civil Liberties Union has outlined how Gina Haspel evaded multiple questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. This included a question from Kamala Harris whether she found torture to be immoral. She evaded questions from Ron Wyden about whether she had wanted the use of torture “to be continued or expanded” between 2005 and 2007. She refused to recuse herself from decisions on declassifying her role in torture, with Haskel making the decisions regarding which documents the CIA will release. She misrepresented the content of torture tapes. She evaded questions on Trump’s views on torture.

While Haspel evaded questions, Dick Cheney had no qualms about presenting his views, which unfortunately consist of strong support for resuming the use of torture. He also said that that he thinks Haspel would “be a great CIA director.”

The vote on Haspel could be very close. So far one Democrat, Joe Manchin, said he would vote for her while John McCain has said he would vote against. Rand Paul previously stated he would oppose the confirmation of both Pompeo and Haspel, but folded on Pompeo.

Stopping her confirmation will depend upon the remaining Democrats sticking together, along with additional Republican defections. Glenn Greenwald questions whether the Democrats will stick together to block her nomination:

It is difficult to be optimistic, to put that mildly. The history of Democrats throughout the war on terror is to ensure that just enough members of their caucus join with the GOP majority to ensure passage of even the most extremist pieces of legislation or nominees justified in the name of terrorism or national security.

The ruse Democrats typically use to accomplish these dirty deeds is quite ingenious: The defectors change so that no one member bears the blame for enabling right-wing measures, while the party itself is able to claim that a majority opposed the extremism. In 2010 — as the Bush-era tactic of Democratic defections to the GOP continued under Barack Obama — I referred to this tactic as “Villain Rotation” and described it this way:

The primary tactic in this game is Villain Rotation.  They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it.  One minute, it’s Jay Rockefeller as the Prime Villain leading the way in protecting Bush surveillance programs and demanding telecom immunity; the next minute, it’s Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer joining hands and “breaking with their party” to ensure Michael Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney General; then it’s Big Bad Joe Lieberman single-handedly blocking Medicare expansion; then it’s Blanche Lincoln and Jim Webb joining with Lindsey Graham to support the de-funding of civilian trials for Terrorists; and now that they can’t blame Lieberman or Ben Nelson any longer on health care (since they don’t need 60 votes), Jay Rockefeller voluntarily returns to the Villain Role, stepping up to put an end to the pretend-movement among Senate Democrats to enact the public option via reconciliation.

We most recently saw the Democrats act more like collaborators than a resistance civil liberties during the votes on FISA renewal with eighteen Democrats siding with the Republicans to prevent consideration of amendments to reform the law. The eighteen Democrats provided exactly the number of votes for cloture to pass.

Democrats Are No Allies Of The Anti-War Left When Bill Clinton Is Telling The DNC To Keep Sanders Supporters Out

Among the many things which supporters of the Democratic Party establishment fail to understand is the vast difference in views of many on the left and the Democratic Party. They think that we refuse to vote for Democrats because we think they are not liberal or progressive enough. The reality is that we don’t see them as being liberal or progressive at all, and instead see them as a force which has been opposing true liberal values just as much as the Republicans have. This divide is exacerbated by the on-going actions by the pro-Clinton wing of the party to oppose the left.

Jonathan Allen was the co-author of Shattered, a book which clearly shows that Hillary Clinton lost due to being a terrible candidate who ran a dysfunctional campaign, and not due Russia or any others on the long list of those she has  blamed. Allen was on C-SPAN last week and discussed how Bill Clinton told Tom Perez to not let Sanders’ supporters become powerful in the party (video above).

NBC News national political reporter Jonathan Allen said on C-SPAN Thursday that former President Bill Clinton told Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez to not let Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I., Vt.) supporters become powerful in the party.

Allen is the author of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign and wrote a book about Clinton’s work as secretary of state in 2014.

“The DNC is unpopular with its own base,” Allen said. “Roughly half the Democratic Party felt like the DNC was unfairly tipping the scales in the last presidential election trying to get Hillary Clinton nominated trying to hurt Bernie Sanders.”

The bad blood between the Clinton and Sanders camps resumed “the minute Donald Trump was elected,” Allen claimed…

Allen said Perez got “very explicit” instructions from Clinton “not to let the party go to the Bernie Sanders folks.”

Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver has lots of issues with the DNC and called it a “fantasy” that Sanders will hand over his voter data to them.

“We’ve also got to make sure that all the different factions of the party are represented at the DNC,” Weaver said in January. “Tom can do a little bit more to bring in some other voices.”

The Democratic establishment has been working hard to keep other voices out while the Clintons remain active in the party. This includes efforts to demonize both those to the left and the right of them. We saw plenty of red-baiting during the primaries from Clinton supporters during attacks on Sanders. Clinton picked up this line of attack again last week in blaming her loss on declaring herself to be a “capitalist” while she called Sanders’ supporters socialists. While true of some, Sanders and many of us who voted for him are capitalists who desire reforms in the system, not socialists. As I pointed out in a post three years ago, as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie Sanders was very friendly towards business growth.

On the other hand, there are attacks such as this article from Noah Berlatsky criticizing anti-war leftists such as Glenn Greenwald for aligning with anti-war rightists on some foreign policy issues. Berlatsky wrote off rightists as a bunch of authoritarians and conspiracy theorists. While true of some, this is no more accurate than it is to say that everyone on the left who opposed Clinton is a Marxist Socialist.

Berlatsky also criticized Greenwald for appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show, despite Carlson being one of the few people on broadcast or cable news to speak out against intervention in Syria. While his views on immigration are distasteful, Clinton’s pro-war and far right views on civil liberties are just as distasteful. Using Berlatsky’s logic, the anti-war left should not align with establishment Democrats either.

Berlatsky failed to recognize this, arguing that, “Bad as they are, though, the Democrats are, in practice, less likely to use military force than Republicans.” This is hard to reconcile with the new Cold War mentality we are seeing from establishment Democrats. Berlatsky does include criticism of the Democrats while advising that we should be, “working with Democrats when we can, and protesting against both political parties when they try to lead us to war.” Working with them is far less of an option when Democrats fight against us as much as they fight against the Republicans who are far closer to them ideologically.

Washington Post Magazine Does Profile On Dennis Kucinich, Calling Him The Future Of American Politics

The Washington Post Magazine took a lengthy look at Dennis Kucinich, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Ohio. Here are some excerpts:

“Kucinich was ahead of his time in terms of having that progressive politics before it’s popular, before it’s cool,” says Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, the national progressive advocacy group born out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. (Our Revolution has endorsed Kucinich in the governor’s race, though Sanders himself has not taken a position.)

…The candidate himself is too humble and shrewd to take credit for the drift of the times. “To me, it’s arrogant to say, ‘Well, everyone has caught up to me,’ ” Kucinich told me recently. “In terms of where I fit in all this, I was holding that space in the party for 16 years [in Congress] relating to what America’s priorities should be. Trade that included workers’ rights, human rights, environmental-quality principles, a universal single-payer not-for-profit health-care system. And stopping these wars.”

It is indeed too much to say that Kucinich begot Sanders or Trump. Sanders himself was advocating for progressive causes for decades before he picked up 1,900 delegates to Hillary Clinton’s 2,800 in the 2016 primaries — far outstripping Kucinich’s total in 2004. Moreover, Kucinich himself has always had limitations as a politician, and in his upcoming race, he may well lose the nomination to Richard Cordray, who is supported by huge swaths of the Democratic establishment.

Win or lose, however, it is undeniable that Kucinich has long been tuned to a political frequency that few heard until it became a roar. He has vied for offices at nearly every level of American democracy and failed spectacularly while running for the presidency in both 2004 and 2008; nobody has been a has-been in quite the way Dennis Kucinich has been. And yet, right now, there may be no better guide to the strange condition of American politics in 2018…

When it’s his turn to speak, Kucinich takes the microphone and walks to the front of the stage like a tent-revival crusader. He’s dressed in skinny jeans, wingtip boots with thick treads, jacket and tie. His default facial expression is delight, and he wears it now as he prepares to sketch a two-minute fable of how Ohio, and America, got here.

“The Democratic Party lost its soul when they made book with corporate America and started taking corporate America’s money, and it blurred the differences between the two parties,” he says in the voice of a larger man, building in volume and pitch. “The American people caught on because the trade agreements that were made under Democratic administrations said they were going to protect jobs, the environment, workers’ rights. None of those things happened. And so all across this state people got used to the idea that the Democrats would say one thing and do another and wouldn’t deliver. And that opened the door for the candidate who won in 2016.” Trump took Ohio by 8 points. “I can be the person who can bring those people who voted for Donald Trump back into the party,” he declares.

The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., occurred 11 days before the forum, and Kucinich seizes on it to separate himself from the other candidates. In coming days, his campaign will circulate a video of Cordray, as state attorney general, speaking at a Second Amendment rally in 2010 after having submitted a brief in support of a Supreme Court case pursued by gun-rights advocates. “Rich, there’s a reason why you got an A from the NRA and why I got an F,” Kucinich says. “I stand for an assault-weapon ban in the state of Ohio, for the possession, the sale. Where do you stand?”

…When I asked him about his gig as a Fox News contributor, which ended when he started running for governor, he said he’ll use any channel to reach people. He pointed to stands he has taken in his gubernatorial campaign on guns, health care, education, energy and the environment that would be anathema to Trump. “I find myself disagreeing with the president on most everything,” he said. But he told me he can’t help sharing Trump’s wariness toward America’s secret agencies. He cited the discredited evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq as another example of intelligence sources shaping policy in dubious ways. And he described his own strange personal brush with alleged wiretapping: In 2015, reporters for the Washington Times played for Kucinich a recording of a telephone conversation he had in his congressional office four years earlier with Saif Gaddafi, son of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. The son was reaching out to Kucinich because he was a leading American voice against the intervention in Libya. The Times reporters did not reveal from whom they got the recordings, which the story said were “recovered from Tripoli.” Kucinich told me the plausible source was a “U.S. or U.S.-related agency,” though he can’t prove it. Later, in early 2017, after Trump charged that Obama had wiretapped him, Fox host Bill O’Reilly invited Kucinich on the air to talk about the Libyan recordings. “If a member of Congress can have his phone tapped on a policy matter, hey, this could happen to anybody,” Kucinich told O’Reilly.

Kucinich’s suspicions about intelligence agencies and worries about tension with Russia are things liberals fretted over a couple of generations ago. Today they are an affront to mainstream Democrats and Trump haters, even as they are shared by right-wing followers of Trump and left-wing skeptics of the liberal and moderate establishments of both parties. In a shaken-up America, Kucinich’s views on foreign policy and related matters mark a new kind of ideological convergence. As Glenn Greenwald suggested to me, “There is a kind of union between neocon centrist Republicans and centrist Democrats against people who are outsiders on the right and outsiders on the left, who are starting to see a lot of things in similar ways as well. And Kucinich is a perfect example of that.”

I wish Kucinich good luck, but wish that instead of running for Governor he was returning to Congress where we need more anti-war voices such as  his. This is especially true with many Democrats joining with Republican neoconservatives,  promoting confrontation against countries such as Syria and Russia. More on this in a follow-up post on Dennis Kucinich.

The New Republic Warns About Hysteria Over Russia And The Danger Of A New Cold War

To repeat what I said yesterday, with so much of the media feeding into the Russia hysteria, it is good to see that there have been exceptions. Yesterday I quoted the editor of Politico Magazine who gave excellent reasons to be skeptical over the unproven claims from many Democrats that the election results were altered due to collusion between Donald Trump and Russia. I also noted other examples such as at from The Nation and a historian writing at The London Review of Books. The New Republic has now posted a warning to Stop Inflating The Russian Threat.  Some excerpts from Jeet Heer’s article at The New Republic follow:

…Russia’s interference in the election, at least what’s known thus far, is hardly enough to justify a global struggle comparable to the Cold War or the war on terror. These earlier conflicts consumed trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives. The details in the Mueller indictment are troubling, but not an existential threat worth losing a single life over. New Yorker reporter Adrien Chen, who has been following Russian troll accounts for years, tweeted that the election interference waged on social-media was “90 people with a shaky grasp of English and a rudimentary understanding of U.S. politics shitposting on Facebook.”

…“Russia is not working according to a master plan carefully laid-out laid out by President Vladimir Putin,” Henry Farrell, of George Washington University, argued last month in Foreign Policy. “Instead, a loose collective of Russians, with incredibly meager resources, have been working together in a disorganized way to probe American democracy for weaknesses. Instead of persuading people to vote for Donald Trump, and against Clinton, they have wanted to create chaos and paranoia—and they have succeeded in stirring confusion only because there were so many weaknesses for them to exploit in the first place.” Similar Russian attempts to sway elections in France and Germany were much less successful, Farrell notes, because they don’t suffer from he calls a “basic failure of democratic knowledge” in America.

This crisis, which long predates Russian interference, stems from a polarized polity where one party actively encourages its followers to distrust news from non-partisan outlets. It’s enhanced by low voter turnout, active voter suppression, and an electoral system that is constantly manipulated by gerrymandering. The result is a citizenry that does not agree on basic facts, and many of whom distrust the system.

If democratic fragility is the root problem, launching a new Cold War is not going to solve it. Rather, there has to be an active effort to strengthen potential targets, like voting systems (many of which are old and run on outdated technology that’s vulnerable to hackers). The U.S. also needs a comprehensive civics education initiative, for children and adults alike, to instruct Americans on the U.S. Constitution and teach them how to detect propaganda and discount motivated reasoning.

Framing the election meddling as strictly a matter of outside interference will only encourage the conspiracy-mongering that already makes it hard to form a democratic consensus. “By exaggerating the actual consequences of foreign influence operations, American elites are further undermining the confidence and shared knowledge that American democracy needs to function,” Farrell argued. “They are tacitly encouraging Americans on the liberal left to build their own private universe of facts, in which Russian influence has pervasive political consequences.”

Some Democrats think that launching a new Cold War will solve the problem of polarization by unifying the country against a foreign enemy and isolating Republicans who stand with Trump in appeasing Russia. “The Democrats should and must start using Russia as a way to break through the vicious cycle consuming the parties, Washington, and the whole country,” John Stoehr argued in Washington Monthly in January. “Russia is our enemy. This is a fact. It attacked our presidential election. It continues to attack us in what is emerging as a new Cold cyberwar. In tying the Republicans to an enemy, the Democrats have the potential to break the Republicans.”

The actual history of the Cold War belies this fantasy. While Cold War liberals like President Harry Truman did use anti-communism to promote national unity, this only laid the groundwork for Republican demagogues like Senator Joseph McCarthy. Eventually, in the 1960s, the Democrats were torn apart by internal divisions over the Vietnam War. A foreign enemy is no assurance of unity, and perfectly compatible with more polarization.

Trump is the most divisive American president in at least generation. Reversing the damage he’s done to American democracy, let alone fixing the systemic flaws that predate him, is an arduous task that will require many years of political organization and education. There’s no swift solution to this crisis, and whipping up hysteria about Russia will only make it worse.

There are many dangers from distortions by partisans on both sides regarding “Russiagate.” The risk of playing into the hands of hawks like Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies who see desire resuming a Cold War atmosphere with Russia, if not outright attempts at regime change, is probably the greatest danger. I have previously quoted Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, on how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton.

Glenn Greenwald also wrote a column yesterday regarding the dangers of politicians from both parties falsely equating “Russiagate” to an act of war, with some making false comparisons ot Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack. Greenwald wrote:

All of this underscores the serious dangers many have pointed to for more than a year about why all this unhinged rhetoric is so alarming. If you really believe that Russia — with some phishing links sent to Podesta and some fake Facebook ads and Twitter bots — committed an “act of war” of any kind, let alone one on par with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then it’s inevitable that extreme retaliatory measures will be considered and likely triggered. How does one justify a mere imposition of sanctions in the face of an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11? Doesn’t it stand to reason that something much more belligerent, enduring, and destructive would be necessary?

The advice in the article above for greater education of Americans is sensible, but such education should include lessons on how we were lied into military intervention including the Iraq war, the regime change in Libya orchestrated by Hillary Clinton based upon lies, and Vietnam. The lack of such knowledge by Americans increases the risk of us being lied into yet another war, this time with a nuclear power.

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.

Quinnipiac Poll Provides Further Evidence Debunking “Bernie Bros” Smears From Clinton Camp

Hillary Clinton ran her 2008 and 2016 campaigns based upon spreading a myth that her nomination and election were inevitable, and nobody else could win. Despite the evidence in both 2008 and 2016 of how weak a candidate Clinton actually was, I still see frequent comments from Clinton supporters claiming Sanders cannot win because of lack of support from women and minorities. This was not actually true during the 2016 campaign, which Clinton might have never won if not for multiple ways the party rigged the system to help her win the nomination. A recent poll also shows it is not true today.

Quinnipiac poll conducted last week showed that Bernie Sanders was viewed favorably by 50 percent of women polled, exceeding his support from 46 percent of men. He also was seen favorably by 70 percent of blacks and 55 percent of Hispanics polled.

As  Cory Doctorow responded to this poll, “his approval ratings were highest among women and people of color, putting a lie to the stereotype of ‘Bernie Bros’ as young, middle-class white male political radicals who are oblivious to the more moderate preferences of others.” 

Glenn Greenwald also debunked the “Bernie Bros” smear from the Clinton camp two years ago:

The concoction of the “Bernie Bro” narrative by pro-Clinton journalists has been a potent political tactic — and a journalistic disgrace. It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are “bros”); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior. Needless to say, a crucial tactical prong of this innuendo is that any attempt to refute it is itself proof of insensitivity to sexism if not sexism itself (as the accusatory reactions to this article will instantly illustrate).

It’s become such an all-purpose, handy pro-Clinton smear that even consummate, actual “bros” for whom the term was originally coined — straight guys who act with entitlement and aggression, such as Paul Krugman — are now reflexively (and unironically) applying it to anyone who speaks ill of Hillary Clinton, even when they know nothing else about the people they’re smearing, including their gender, age, or sexual orientation. Thus, a male policy analyst who criticized Sanders’ health care plan “is getting the Bernie Bro treatment,” sneered Krugman. Unfortunately for the New York Times Bro, that analyst, Charles Gaba, said in response that he’s “really not comfortable with [Krugman’s] referring to die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters as ‘Bernie Bros’” because it “implies that only college-age men support Sen. Sanders, which obviously isn’t the case.”

Greenwald also cited polling data from the time which ran contrary to the Clinton narrative. What he said about the objective data then still applies:

But truth doesn’t matter here — at all. Instead, the goal is to inherently delegitimize all critics of Hillary Clinton by accusing them of, or at least associating them with, sexism, thus distracting attention away from Clinton’s policy views, funding, and political history…

The sexism charge is especially absurd considering that a very large percentage of “Bernie Bros” supported Elizabeth Warren before Sanders entered the race and Warren announced she would nor run. Most of those who voted for Sanders in the primaries voted for Clinton, and many of those who did not voted for Jill Stein instead. Far more Clinton supporters in 2008 crossed over to vote for McCain/Palin in the general election, often because of having a woman on the Republican ticket, and sometimes due to racism.

In the fantasy world of the David Brock/Peter Daou propaganda machine, if you supported Sanders your views are never taken seriously. Not only are you a sexist, they also believe you are likely to be a Russian bot.

Glenn Greenwald Warns About Use Of Claims Of Fake News To Justify Censorship

Both Glenn Greenwald and I have written many times in the past year about the danger of increased censorship which has arisen from the anti-Russia hysteria being spread by many establishment Democrats, along with portions of the media including MSNBC and The Washington Post. Greenwald has written on this topic again today. In the United States this has been seen with calls for suppressing allegedly fake news critical of them by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both Greenwald and myself have also noted the increase in censorship of political views on Facebook.  Today Greenwald discussed two countries where governments are actually looking at censorship of the internet based upon claims of fake news, Brazil and France.

Greenwald discussed the details in Brazil and France in great detail and it would be best to read his full article. After this description he discussed the issue in general, which is important as it affects response to the Russia story here. Greenwald wrote:

THOUGH PRESENTED AS modern necessities to combat new, contemporaneous problems, both countries’ proposals have all the defining attributes — and all the classic pitfalls and severe dangers — of standard state censorship efforts. To begin with, the fact that these censorship powers are confined to election time makes it more menacing, not less: Having a population choose its leaders is exactly when free expression is most vital, and when the dangers of abuse of censorship powers wielded by state officials are most acute and obvious.

Worse, these new censorship proposals are centrally based on a newly concocted term that, from the start, never had any clear or consistent definition. In the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory, U.S. media outlets produced a tidal wave of reports warning of the damage and pervasiveness of “fake news.” Seemingly overnight, every media outlet and commentator was casually using the term as though its meaning were clear and indisputable.

Yet, as many have long been warning, few people, if any, ever bothered to define what the term actually means. As a result, it’s incredibly vague, shifting, and devoid of consistent meaning. Do any news articles that contain false, significant assertions qualify? Is there some intent requirement, and if so, what is it and how is determined (does recklessness qualify)? Can large mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post, Le Monde, and Globo be guilty of publishing “fake news” and thus subject to this censorship, or is it — as one expects — reserved only for small, independent blogs and outlets that lack a powerful corporate presence?

Ill-defined terms that become popularized in political discourse are, by definition, terms of propaganda rather than reliable, meaningful indicators of problems. And invariably, they wreak all kinds of predictable havoc and inevitably give rise to abuses of power. More than anything else, such terms — which, by design, mean whatever the powerful groups wielding them want them to mean — so often produce arbitrary censorship in the name of combatting them. Just consider two similarly ill-defined but popular propagandistic terms — “terrorism” and “hate speech” — which have been appropriated by governments all over the world to justify the most extreme, repressive powers.

The last decade has seen multiple countries on every continent — including the world’s most repressive regimes — obliterate basic civil liberties in the name of stopping “terrorism,” by which they mean little other than “those who oppose our regime.” And then there’s “hate speech,” which can sometimes be used to silence Nazis or overt racists, but also can be and often is used to silence a wide range of left-wing views, from war opposition to advocacy of Palestinian rights. State censorship is always dangerous, but the danger is exponentially magnified when the censorship targets (terrorism, hate speech, fake news) lack clear definition…

If none of those points convinces you to oppose, or at least be seriously concerned about, efforts to control the internet in the name of “fake news,” simply apply the lessons of Donald Trump to this debate. For years during the war on terror, civil libertarians tried to generate opposition to vast, unchecked executive power — due process-free detentions, secret wars, targeting one’s own citizens for assassination with no charges — by warning that although one may trust these powers in the hands of leaders that one likes (George W. Bush or Barack Obama), at some point a president you distrust will enter the Oval Office, and by then, it will be too late to prevent him from exercising those powers.

As Greenwald noted, fake news is an incredibly vague word. Even if we find news that most would agree is fake, there is no evidence that it is harmful. As I described last week, a study showed that fake news is unlikely to have impacted the election result. The study found that most people who followed links to fake news are  “voracious consumers of hard news,” receiving news from multiple sources, and are less likely to be fooled by fake stories. In addition, most were “intense partisans,” making them unlikely to change their views based upon an occasional story with fake news. Fake news does not represent a meaningful threat, and should not be used as justification for censorship.