Establishment Democrats Taking Wrong Lessons From Indictments Of Russian Agents

The announcement of the indictment of twelve Russian agents by Robert Mueller yesterday changes little with regards to what was already known, but establishment Democrats are taking all the wrong lessons, and making claims which they never would have made if not for the perceived political benefits. Finding ways to justify the fact that Hillary Clinton was unable to beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump has become top priority.

Establishment Democrats seem oblivious to the fact that an indictment is not proof. No evidence accompanied the indictments and, as it is unlikely that the Russians will ever appear in court, it is possible that no evidence of these accusations will ever be presented. This provides no further proof than the retracted (but still repeated) claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing that Russia hacked the DNC.

I have remained an agnostic as to whether the email was released by a hack or by a leak, and question if we will ever know for certain considering how the DNC refused to allow the FBI to investigate their servers. My personal opinion has been that a hack was the more likely explanation, but this is not definite. While I personally have never taken the Seth Rich theory seriously, there is nothing new here to disprove the view of those who do believe this.

For the sake of further discussion here, I will assume that the claims in Mueller’s indictment are true, again noting that this is not proven. Assuming that the accusations are true, establishment Democrats are still naively living in a pre-Gary Powers world, ignoring the realities of the situation.

Francis Gary Powers was an American spy who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while engaging in espionage. The United States claimed that he was studying weather patterns for NASA, but it was ultimately made clear that he was a spy. The United States was forced to admit that it had been conducting such spy  missions over the Soviet Union for several years, ending any pretense that the United States did not engage in such actions. It was no longer possible to see the United States as purely the victim of Russian espionage, but Democrats have suddenly returned to this mindset.

Such espionage is commonplace, and is rather benign compared to the practice of influencing elections in other countries–along with the outright overthrowing of foreign governments. Despite a long history of the United States meddling in the elections in other countries, establishment Democrats act as if the hack of email from the DNC and Hillary Clinton is somehow a unique attack on the United States, with many even comparing it to an act of war. Russia has meddled in American politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in Russia, and both have meddled in many other countries. Russia did not suddenly attack the United States for the first time to attempt to stop Hillary Clinton–although that might be understandable considering Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia, and her propensity to support war.

While establishment Democrats have increasingly been following the neocon line on Russia, believing claims from the same people who sold the country on going to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, avoiding unnecessary war should be a high priority. Instead many Democrats opposed the recent talks with North Korea, and are now using this as an argument to cancel the talks between Trump and Putin.

There are valid reasons to question these talks, but in a time of escalating tensions with a nuclear power, there is far more compelling reason to continue with summits, including potential talks on nuclear weapons. Trump’s plan to meet with Putin alone is of concern, I think it is far more likely that if Trump has any secretive goals it is more to promote a future Trump Tower Moscow than to engage in any electoral conspiracies. To date there is no evidence of any real collusion occurring, even if the Trump Tower meeting did show a willingness to obtain information from Russia if it existed. While Mueller may or may not present evidence of this in the future, there certainly has been no evidence while establishment Democrats have been trying to pass this off as fact.

While I do not condone the hacking of any Americans by the Russian government, if this was foreign meddling in an election, it was probably the most benign meddling in the history of election meddling. The released email provided the American people with truthful and accurate information which exposed corruption and dishonesty by top politicians in this country.

It certainly makes no sense for Clinton apologists to use the hacked email as an excuse for Clinton losing. If Clinton and the Democratic Party lost because of the American people finding out the truth about their corruption, the blame for the loss falls on the politicians exposed, not those who exposed them. To argue that the email posted by Wikileaks caused Clinton to lose only means that I was right (and Clinton supporters wrong) during all those months I was writing that Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee.

The fact remains that, while Mueller has shown evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes, along with crimes by some Russians, there has been no evidence of any actions which altered the election results. There is no evidence that the voting systems were hacked or that a single vote was changed, despite erroneous reports from Clinton supporters on MSNBC. The evidence obtained in the Congressional hearings showed that Russian ads and other activities on social media were a minuscule amount of traffic,  unlikely to affect the vote.

The actual threat to American democracy comes from the Democratic and Republican Parties. This includes attempt at disenfranchisement of voters by Republicans, and the efforts exposed by the Democratic Party to rig the 2016 nomination and keep out progressive viewpoints. I find the actions by the Democrats especially offensive when the Democratic establishment simultaneously works to restrict the ability of third parties to run, and for those with different viewpoints to effectively run within the Democratic Party. Instead of supporting democratic values and allowing for different viewpoints, many Democrats totally reject opposing views, holding a false belief that differences in opinion with them are based upon falling for Russian propaganda.

To the degree that Russia might be engaging in activities to meddle in our elections, the proper responses are clear. We need to enhance election security, including maintaining a paper trail. If the DNC and other Democrats fell for the hacking attempts described in the indictment, further education is needed to limit this risk in the future.

There are also wrong ways to react. This includes arguing against diplomacy and increasing the risk of war, along with the McCarthyism and support for censorship of opposing viewpoints coming from some Democrats.

Democrats Consider Reforms Over Objections Of Party Establishment

The Democratic National Committee is talking about reforms, but it is not clear how real these reforms will be, and whether the party establishment will really allow them. In response to loss of support after the Democratic Party rigged its 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, a unity commission made recommendations for reform. Their recommendations were far too little, such as reducing but not eliminating the role of superdelegates. During a meeting last week, Democrats made some mixed recommendations, with no final decisions made.

The biggest problem with superdelegates in recent years has not been their actual votes but the manner in which they influence the overall race. Inevitability was a major component of Hillary Clinton’s strategy in 2016, which was strongly promoted by news media delegate counts which showed her with a huge lead from the start of the primaries by including the superdelegates.

The most interesting proposal, supported by Tom Perez, would prohibit superdelegates from voting until a second ballot. As the nomination has been settled on the first ballot in recent years, this could be a back-door method of eliminating superdelegates. Many Democratic leaders are upset about this proposal, seeing it as a loss of power. Of course, if they could get beyond their sense of entitlement, they could show more respect for democracy and run to be regular delegates as others do.

Opponents of reform have made a number of irrational arguments, including a claim from DNC member Bob Mulholland that this is a Russian plot, as reported by Huffington Post:

Mulholland, a DNC member and longtime key player in California Democratic politics, sent an email Friday to other DNC members from the Golden State that implied Russian President Vladimir Putin might be behind the reform effort.

The basis for his claim? An activist from West Virginia promoting the changes, who he had seen at two national party gatherings, admitted to him that she was a Green Party member and had voted for its nominee, Jill Stein, in the 2016 election.

“I concluded someone is picking up her expenses but there she and others are, demanding we change our Rules,” Mulholland wrote. “The Putin operation is still active.”

Contacted by HuffPost on Sunday, Mulholland conceded he had no evidence the woman, who he did not name, was bankrolled by Putin.

As we have seen far too often since the 2016 election, too many establishment Democrats, anything which limits their own power to subvert democracy is a Russian plot.

For those who claim that superdelegates are needed in order to prevent a fiasco such as the nomination of another Donald Trump,  keep in mind that in 2016 the Democratic  superdelegates overwhelmingly supported a candidate who was both unelectable and as bad as Donald Trump.

There are potential problems with this proposal. Superdelegates would still be able to vote on matters other than the nomination on the first ballot. This could give them a disproportional influence on matters such as convention rules, including seating of delegates, which could influence the winner. The party establishment might be tempted to circumvent this with rules which would increase the chances of a vote going to the second ballot, such as returning to requiring a super-majority to win the nomination. They might also be dissuaded from doing so due to the tendency in the past for candidates who received the nomination following contested conventions to be less likely to win the general election.

Eliminating superdelegates would not solve all of the problems. Superdelegates are just one of many ways in which the Democratic Party rigs who can win the nomination. I would also like to see an end to front loading Southern states to help more conservative candidates. We would also need an end to many of the other actions seen in 2015-6 including restricting debates, giving one candidate effective control of the Party as they did with Clinton, games like Harry Reid played in Nevada, changing fund raising rules to help Clinton, and restricting who can vote or making it hard to register to help the establishment candidate.

Another proposal of concern is one that requires that candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination must be registered Democrats and must “run and serve” as Democrats. Bernie Sanders reportedly would still be allowed to run due to rules in Vermont which treat him as a Democrat on the state and federal level.  Even if this rule does not interfere with Bernie Sanders running, it does narrow the range of potential candidates. While the election of Donald Trump might have soured any desire for a candidate outside of politics, the limited support for true liberal and progressive ideas in the current Democratic Party shows a need to allow new blood.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee has until June 30 to decide upon these recommendations, and a decision is to be made at the next DNC meeting in August.

Former Ambassador To Soviet Union Warns Of The Dangers Of Russiagate Hysteria

Jack F. Matlock Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, writes in The Nation that, “We must end this Russophobic insanity.” Many Democrats continue to spread hysteria about Russia as opposed to accepting the reality that they lost the 2016 election by running a terrible candidate who should never have been a major party candidate for president. Matlock countered the false narrative we are often hearing by reviewing the facts. Matlock had the following seven points:

  1. It is a fact that some Russians paid people to act as online trolls and bought advertisements on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Most of these were taken from elsewhere, and they comprised a tiny fraction of all the advertisements purchased on Facebook during this period. This continued after the election and included organizing a demonstration against President-elect Trump.
  2. It is a fact that e-mails in the memory of the Democratic National Committee’s computer were furnished to Wikileaks. The US intelligence agencies that issued the January 2017 report were confident that Russians hacked the e-mails and supplied them to Wikileaks, but offered no evidence to substantiate their claim. Even if one accepts that Russians were the perpetrators, however, the e-mails were genuine, as the US intelligence report certified. I have always thought that the truth was supposed to make us free, not degrade our democracy.
  3. It is a fact that the Russian government established a sophisticated television service (RT) that purveyed entertainment, news, and—yes—propaganda to foreign audiences, including those in the United States. Its audience is several magnitudes smaller than that of Fox News. Basically, its task is to picture Russia in a more favorable light than has been available in Western media. There has been no analysis of its effect, if any, on voting in the United States. The January 2017 US intelligence report states at the outset, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” Nevertheless, that report has been cited repeatedly by politicians and the media as having done so.
  4. It is a fact that many senior Russian officials (though not all, by any means) expressed a preference for Trump’s candidacy. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had compared President Putin to Hitler and had urged more active US military intervention abroad, while Trump had said it would be better to cooperate with Russia than to treat it as an enemy. It should not require the judgment of professional analysts to understand why many Russians would find Trump’s statements more congenial than Clinton’s. On a personal level, most of my Russian friends and contacts were dubious of Trump, but all resented Clinton’s Russophobic tone, as well as statements made by Obama from 2014 onward. They considered Obama’s public comment that “Russia doesn’t make anything” a gratuitous insult (which it was), and were alarmed by Clinton’s expressed desire to provide additional military support to the “moderates” in Syria. But the average Russian, and certainly the typical Putin administration official, understood Trump’s comments as favoring improved relations, which they definitely favored.
  5. There is no evidence that Russian leaders thought Trump would win or that they could have a direct influence on the outcome. This is an allegation that has not been substantiated. The January 2017 report from the intelligence community actually states that Russian leaders, like most others, thought Clinton would be elected.
  6. There is no evidence that Russian activities had any tangible impact on the outcome of the election. Nobody seems to have done even a superficial study of the effect Russian actions actually had on the vote. The intelligence-community report, however, states explicitly that “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.” Also both former FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers have testified that there is no proof Russian activities had an effect on the vote count.
  7. There is also no evidence that there was direct coordination between the Trump campaign (hardly a well-organized effort) and Russian officials. The indictments brought by the special prosecutor so far are either for lying to the FBI or for offenses unrelated to the campaign such as money laundering or not registering as a foreign agent.

Matlock agrees that the election of Trump was a disaster, but also criticizes the false narrative as to why he was elected. He discussed both the problems with blaming Russia, and noted that the Democrats most likely would have won if they had nominated anyone other than Hillary Clinton:

I did not personally vote for Trump, but I consider the charges that Russian actions interfered in the election, or—for that matter—damaged the quality of our democracy ludicrous, pathetic, and shameful.

“Ludicrous” because there is no logical reason to think that anything that the Russians did affected how people voted. In the past, when Soviet leaders tried to influence American elections, it backfired—as foreign interference usually does everywhere. In 1984, Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader then, made preventing Ronald Reagan’s reelection the second-most-important task of the KGB. (The first was to detect US plans for a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.) Everything the Soviets did—in painting Reagan out to be a warmonger while Andropov refused to negotiate on nuclear weapons—helped Reagan win 49 out of 50 states.

“Pathetic” because it is clear that the Democratic Party lost the election. Yes, it won the popular vote, but presidents are not elected by popular vote. To blame someone else for one’s own mistakes is a pathetic case of self-deception.

“Shameful” because it is an evasion of responsibility. It prevents the Democrats, and those Republicans who want responsible, fact-based government in Washington, from concentrating on practical ways to reduce the threat the Trump presidency poses to our political values and even to our future existence. After all, Trump would not be president if the Republican Party had not nominated him. He also is most unlikely to have won the Electoral College if the Democrats had nominated someone—almost anyone—other than the candidate they chose, or if that candidate had run a more competent campaign. I don’t argue that any of this was fair, or rational, but then who is so naive as to assume that American politics are either fair or rational?

Matlock added that falsely blaming the election on Russia is also dangerous:

I should add “dangerous” to those three adjectives. “Dangerous” because making an enemy of Russia, the other nuclear superpower—yes, there are still two—comes as close to political insanity as anything I can think of. Denying global warming may rank up there too in the long run, but only nuclear weapons pose, by their very existence in the quantities that are on station in Russia and the United States, an immediate threat to mankind—not just to the United States and Russia and not just to “civilization.” The sad, frequently forgotten fact is that, since the creation of nuclear weapons, mankind has the capacity to destroy itself and join other extinct species…

We must desist from our current Russophobic insanity and encourage Presidents Trump and Putin to restore cooperation in issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, control of nuclear materials, and nuclear-arms reduction. This is in the vital interest of both the United States and Russia. That is the central issue on which sane governments, and sane publics, would focus their attention.

Related:

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

Further Evidence From Congress Shows No Evidence That Clinton Lost Election Due To Russia

While Hillary Clinton is on a world-wide bitterness tour to continue to give excuses for her loss, further evidence released from the Congressional investigations continues to show that Russia did not cause Clinton to lose. This includes both a review of the Facebook ads from the Internet Research Agency and the testimony regarding the Trump Tower meeting. Democratic attempts to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia, as opposed to Clinton’s own serious flaws and poorly run campaign, again fail to hold up.

USA Today reviewed the Russian ads which were released last week:

The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.

While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.

The company continued to hammer racial themes even after the election.

USA TODAY NETWORK reporters reviewed each of the 3,517 ads, which were released to the public this week for the first time by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The analysis included not just the content of the ads, but also information that revealed the specific audience targeted, when the ad was posted, roughly how many views it received and how much the ad cost to post.

Among the findings:

  • Of the roughly 3,500 ads published this week, more than half — about 1,950 — made express references to race. Those accounted for 25 million ad impressions — a measure of how many times the spot was pulled from a server for transmission to a device.
  • At least 25% of the ads centered on issues involving crime and policing, often with a racial connotation. Separate ads, launched simultaneously, would stoke suspicion about how police treat black people in one ad, while another encouraged support for pro-police groups.
  • Divisive racial ad buys averaged about 44 per month from 2015 through the summer of 2016 before seeing a significant increase in the run-up to Election Day. Between September and November 2016, the number of race-related spots rose to 400. An additional 900 were posted after the November election through May 2017.
  • Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton. A few dozen referenced questions about the U.S. election process and voting integrity, while a handful mentioned other candidates like Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush.

To repeat the key finding, out of approximately 3,500 ads, “Only about 100 of the ads overtly mentioned support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton.”

It is also to keep the impact of Facebook ads in perspective. While perhaps bombarding people’s newsfeeds with product ads might account for some sales, people are far less likely to change their views regarding political parties based upon a Facebook ad. As I noted previously, the Russian ads and other material accounted for a minuscule portion of overall Facebook content. Information previously released from the Congressional investigations found that this accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half of the ads were not seen until after the election and, as is confirmed with this new data, most had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton.

Earlier this year Philip Bump reviewed the data and noted that the ads did not target the swing states which affected the election, with larger numbers of ads being targeted to users in states such as New York and Texas. After reviewing the evidence, Bump concluded, “There’s still little evidence that Russia’s 2016 social media efforts did much of anything.” He also wrote, “As it stands, the public evidence doesn’t support the idea that the Russians executed a savvy electoral strategy on social media to ensure Trump’s victory. In fact, it seems less the case that they did so now than seemed might be possible back in July.”

Russia’s use of Facebook for propaganda appears to just be an updating of the propaganda methods used by both Russia and the United States against each other for decades. There is no evidence that this was a unique effort to attack Hillary Clinton or anything which impacted the election results. While it raises some concern that they are attempting to increase racial tensions, this is also nothing new. Actual racism in the United States, including American news footage of violence against minorities by police officers, is also likely to be far more damaging to race relations than anything coming from Russia.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also released 2,500 pages of congressional testimony today regarding the Trump Tower meeting. This confirms what we already knew that Donald Trump, Jr. attended the meeting hoping to receive dirt on Clinton. While his actions might be unethical, and possibly in violation of elections laws, again there is no evidence that this had any effect on the election results. As The Washington Post found in reviewing the testimony, “the meeting was a bust.” Trump failed to obtain the desired information on Clinton. There is evidence that at least some in the Trump family and campaign were willing to collude with Russia and even attempted to collude with Russia. There is no evidence of any actual collusion or any actions with Russia which affected the election results.

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.

Distorted Right Wing Attacks On Michelle Wolf–What She Really Said (Including Full Transcript)

Donald Trump has a long history of insulting anyone who displeases him, including the handicapped, immigrants, Muslims, and gold star families. He has quite frequently attacked the appearance of women. However, Trump cannot take it when he is the target of mere jokes. For the second straight year he was unwilling to attend the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Conservatives who have often defended Trump’s attacks on others, responded by attacking Michelle Wolf. Frequently the attacks were not for her actual jokes but were based upon distorting what she actually said.

A satiric roast at a dinner such as this would be expected to be far harder on its targets than would be expected in normal political discourse. Comedians are expected to push the boundaries, cross lines, and make people feel uncomfortable. Jokes about Trump are naturally going to include lines about prostitutes and grabby pussy, because this is what Donald Trump, not Michele Wolf, brought to Washington.

Wolf’s actual jokes were far less offensive than many of the things we hear from Trump and his allies. As Wolf’s actual act was tamer than they are, the right attacked by distorting what she actually said. It was reminiscent of past attacks from the right on others such as David Letterman.

The main line of the attacks was to falsely claim that Wolf attacked Sarah Sanders’ looks. This falsehood was often spread by taking a line out of context, making it appear she was joking about Sanders’ eye as opposed to joking about her lying. Her full joke regarding this was, “I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts, and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Even quoted out of context, “smoky eye” is hardly a terrible attack.

Wolf did briefly mention Mitch McConnell’s neck and Christ Christie’s weight, but I haven’t seen complaints about these, and these are common laugh lines for the late night comics. The only woman whose looks were mocked by Wolf were her own, when she referred to her own frizzy hair and small tits.

Wolf was interviewed by NPR and defended what she said:

I think people have a lot of preconceived notions about Sarah’s looks and I think a lot of what’s happening is they’re projecting onto this joke. … I think it’s clear that the joke wasn’t about Sarah’s looks, but I don’t think — to me it’s so obvious that I don’t even really need to defend it. I think if you listen to the joke you’ll understand that it’s about the fact that she lies and if it’s taken another way I think you should go back and listen to it again. …

If there [are] two people that I actually made fun of their looks on Saturday it was Mitch McConnell and Chris Christie and no one is jumping to their defense. I made fun of Mitch McConnell’s neck and I did a small jab at Chris Christie’s weight and no one is jumping to their defense.

Late night comedians did come to her defense, including Stephen Colbert reliving his old conservative character:

“She is filthy and she is mean — which is what we love about her. Because those are wonderful qualities for comedians, and terrible qualities for free-world leaders.” — SETH MEYERS, comparing Michelle Wolf with President Trump

“Michelle should have had the decency not to comment on women’s appearances in any way, shape or form. She’s a comedian, for God’s sake, not the president.” — TREVOR NOAH

“This is the correspondents’ dinner, celebrating the freedom of speech; you can’t just say whatever you want!” — STEPHEN COLBERT

“I am so proud, right down to the breastbone, that the press is defending her despite the fact that her boss joked about throwing reporters in jail. That’s the kind of comedy the press likes!” — STEPHEN COLBERT, on Sarah Huckabee Sanders

The best defense of much of the criticism I’ve heard about the speech is to hear what she actually said. The video is above, and full transcript follows:

(more…)

US Ranking Falls On Press Freedom Index

The threats to freedom of the press under Donald Trump have led to Reporters Without Borders dropping the rating of the United States to 45th, continuing its downward trend. The United States previously finished No. 43 in 2017 and No. 41 in 2016. Even before Trump, they note restrictions in press freedom due to the prosecution of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act which predated his presidency.

From their report on the United States:

The United States’ ranking fell from 43 to 45 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index, continuing its downward trend in the first year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency. In contrast, its northern neighbor Canada gained 4 places due to steps taken to safeguard the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

Donald Trump furthers First Amendment decline

In 2017, the 45th President of the United States helped sink the country to 45th place by labeling the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempts to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routine use of the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting, and calling for media outlets’ broadcasting licenses to be revoked. President Trump has routinely singled out news outlets and individual journalists for their coverage of him, and retweeted several violent memes targeting CNN.

The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protestsor simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job.

Press freedom violations in the country of the First Amendment in fact have become so frequent of late that RSF joined a coalition of more than two dozen press freedom organizations to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker in August, which documented 34 arrests of journalists in 2017, the majority while covering protests (find out more on the tracker).

However, the Trump effect has only served to amplify the disappointing press freedom climate that predated his presidency. Whistleblowers face prosecution under the Espionage Act if they leak information of public interest to the press, while there is still no federal “shield law” guaranteeing reporters’ right to protect their sources. Journalists and their devices continue to be searched at the US border, while some foreign journalists are still denied entry into the US after covering sensitive topics like Colombia’s FARC or Kurdistan.

The US’ decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level. “Fake news” is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes. Democratic governments from several countries in the Organisation of East Caribbean States (OECS), have adopted Trump’s favorite phrase when criticizing the work of journalists. Given that criminal defamation still remains on the books in many Caribbean countries, the spread of Trump’s anti-media rhetoric could have very serious consequences for the local press.

Norway and Sweden were ranked at the top for press freedom for the second straight year. North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Syria and China were at the bottom. The report also mentioned the impact of strongmen such as Vladimir Putin:

The Index also reflects the growing influence of “strongmen” and rival models. After stifling independent voices at home, Vladimir Putin’s Russia (148th) is extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT and Sputnik, while Xi Jinping’s China (176th) is exporting its tightly controlled news and information model in Asia. Their relentless suppression of criticism and dissent provides support to other countries near the bottom of the Index such as Vietnam (175th), Turkmenistan (178th) and Azerbaijan (163rd).

I noted last week how Edward Snowden had joined civil liberties organization in condemning restrictions on free communications in Russia. In a recent interview, Ed Schultz argued that Russia Today provides him with more independence than he had at MSNBC, which he says fired him for his support for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

Damon Linker Asks Why Clinton Supporters Cannot Accept The Truth About Her Loss

Partisan Democrats remain unable to face reality regarding why Hillary Clinton lost, blaming this on James Comey, Russia, or other things which they claim were beyond Clinton’s control. This is despite running against a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, who would probably lost by ten points against anyone other than Clinton. Their recently filed lawsuit would he laughable if not for its attack on freedom of the press. In light of this, Damon Linker asks, Why can’t liberals accept the truth about Hillary’s 2016 failure? Linker wrote:

Like traumatized soldiers after a devastating and unanticipated defeat on the battlefield, a certain kind of partisan Democrat is still struggling with President Trump’s (absurdly narrow) victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Just witness the furious reaction occasioned by a New York Times excerpt from Amy Chozick’s new book about Clinton’s defeat. Because Chozick dared to write that Clinton lost “the most winnable presidential election in modern history,” she (and others, like myself, who’ve made similar claims) inspired a tidal wave of criticism.

After summarizing the excuses made by Clinton and her supporters, Linker concluded:

…Clinton was the worst possible person to answer the angry accusations of a populist insurgency from either the protectionist right or the socialist left. She was too much a contented representative and beneficiary of the very political and economic establishments against which Trump directed his fire. She was the Davos candidate, the woman who defied the advice of her handlers to accept six-figure speaking fees from investment banks at events where she wooed rooms full of potential donors by dreaming of a world of open borders — a world in which the last remaining businesses to pay a decent wage in the Rust Belt would be given the green light to flee in pursuit of ever-higher profits.

To counter that Trump-the-corrupt-real-estate-mogul is just as much a member of the nation’s economic elite misses the political point entirely. A populist defines himself by those he attacks, and Trump attacked those in power. Who did Clinton attack? The “deplorable” voters who were tempted to vote for Trump — and she did it, of course, at a big-ticket fundraiser, before a room full of wealthy liberal donors.

Maybe, given the realities of polarization, negative partisanship, and certain fundamentals at play in 2016, no Democrat would have won against Trump in a landslide. But I’m quite sure a different Democrat — a Democrat who didn’t so badly misjudge the political moment and squander her many advantages, and who wasn’t incapable of taking a stand on behalf of those many Americans who feel they’ve been left behind by the prevailing policies of the past generation — could have won convincingly, decisively.

Until the party demonstrates a willingness to learn from its mistakes, it will run the considerable risk of repeating them.

Clinton was out-flanked on the left by Trump not only on trade. She also suffered from her far right wing views on foreign policy and interventionism.

Democrats do need to accept reality, as opposed to ignoring the mood of the electorate–as they also did in 2010 and 2014 leading to Democratic losses. Rather than accepting why they lost and correcting the problems, they engage in a sick McCarthyism, attacking those who do point out their mistakes. Rather than embrace potential new voters brought in by Bernie Sanders, they attack the left, have purged progressives from the DNC, and attack more liberal and progressive candidates who are more in tune with the voters, and probably more electable.

DNC Suit Against Wikileaks Is A Dangerous Attack On Freedom Of The Press

In 2016 the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton were exposed for undermining democratic principles by rigging the Democratic nomination and other acts of gross dishonesty. While there were many sources of information regarding this, email released by Wikileaks was instrumental in both verifying what was already suspected and providing new information. Rather than showing any remorse and instituting real reform, the Democratic Party has now initiated the absurd act of suing Wikileaks, Russia, and the Trump campaign based upon their unproven conspiracy theories that the 2016 election was stolen by these groups. In other words, the DNC is filing a lawsuit alleging damages because the truth about them was released by Wikileaks. The most alarming aspect is their attack on freedom of the press by including Wikileaks for publishing leaked or stolen emails provided to them.

This foolish action made the DNC the target of civil libertarians on a weekend in which Donald Trump was also attacking the press. The DNC is including Wikileaks in the suit not because of any claims that they had hacked the DNC, but purely because they posted email they received. Media organizations often publish stolen material and the DNC’s attempt to sue Wikileaks for doing is an attempt to intimidate the media for doing so. This includes The Pentagon Papers, The Panama Papers, and the revelations from Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance. The right of the media to publish stolen documents has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

As Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation wrote, “investigative journalism frequently entails media outlets receiving documents and other private information from people who have stolen them or otherwise broke the law to obtain and release them. To convert that into a legal transgression or part of an unlawful racketeering plot – as the DNC lawsuit seeks to do – is to turn a core part of journalism into something illegal.” They also noted:

Even WikiLeaks’ most devoted critics and enemies are constrained to acknowledge that WikiLeaks’ publications in general – and their disclosure of at least some of the DNC and Podesta emails in particular – informed the public about matters legitimately in the public interest. That’s why literally every major media outlet reported on their contents, why those documents forced the resignation of five top DNC officials and the firing of a CNN commentator, and why the DNC itself believes, as evidenced by this lawsuit, that it changed perceptions of Hillary Clinton.

For an entertaining history on this history in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of newspapers to publish stolen documents watch the recent movie The Post. To use an analogy to The Pentagon Papers, the DNC is not only suing what might be the equivalent of Daniel Ellsberg for stealing the papers, but also suing those in the position of The New York Times and The Washington Post (in the pre-Bezos era).

Is this really the position the DNC desires to be in if they want to have any hope of rebuilding bridges with the left? The Democrats have been the villains of this story. Their attempts to portray themselves as the victims, as opposed to cleaning up the party and embracing reform, is counterproductive if they hope to ever regain the trust of many on the left.

Democratic opposition to the publication of email which exposes the unethical actions of the DNC is also rather hypocritical considering that most of them have probably cheered on Rachel Maddow for airing information on leaked tax returns from Donald Trump.

Wikileaks has been victorious in previous cases in which claims that they were involved in the theft of documents they posted. They have also been the target of Democrats in the past, including several false claims about them from Hillary Clinton.

Wikileaks has responded to this suit stating in a Tweet stating, “As an accurate publisher of newsworthy information @WikiLeaks is constitutionally protected from such suits.” They are also requesting contributions for a counter-suit: “Help us counter-sue. We’ve never lost a publishing case and discovery is going to be amazing fun.”

There are also questions regarding the validity of other aspects of the suit. The generally pro-Democratic blog Vox writes:

…there were many hacks and claims of hacks during 2016, and it hasn’t yet been shown whether any of these Trumpworld and Russia contacts involved coordination on the DNC email leak itself, or even whether any cooperation effort between Trump’s team and Russia involving hacked material did materialize.

The DNC may well be hoping to use this new suit to surface more evidence of this, should it proceed to the discovery stage — but as of now, they don’t have the goods on any Trumpworld involvement with the hack and leak that damaged Democrats specifically.

Slate points out that, “Russia and WikiLeaks are unlikely to cooperate with a U.S. civil proceeding.” They also note that, “The DNC’s evidence of Trump participation in the scheme is limited to suggestive but not conclusive information that has already appeared in media reports.” They questioned the point of this suit, which appears to be primarily a stunt, when these matters are already under investigation by Robert Mueller (and we have yet to see evidence to support many of the claims coming from the DNC). They also noted that some Democrats questioned spending money on this during a conference call reviewing the suit. Slate was not impressed with the response from the DNC:

“We’re not getting into costs regarding this litigation” is not the kind of thing you say, in my opinion, when you are really confident that you are spending your donors’ money wisely during a crucial election year!

Edward Snowden Joins Civil Liberties Groups In Protesting Restrictions On Free Speech In Russia

Edward Snowden has joined civil liberties organizations including Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation in condemning Russia for its attempts to suppress a widely used messenger app used to avoid government monitoring of communications. Newsweek reports:

Whistleblower Edward Snowden has backed a prominent critic of the Kremlin in a tense standoff between Russian authorities and a private messaging app used by millions.

The National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower, who fled to Russia from the U.S. in 2013, risked the wrath of the Kremlin when he tweeted his support on Tuesday for messaging app Telegram and its founder Pavel Durov, who is flouting a government request to cease operations in Russia.

“I have criticized Telegram’s security model in the past, but Durov’s response to the Russian government’s totalitarian demand for backdoor access to private communications—refusal and resistance—is the only moral response, and shows real leadership,” Snowden wrote on Twitter.

The messenger tool is facing a formal ban from Russia’s state watchdogs for refusing to allow authorities access to users’ private conversations, despite numerous requests. A Russian court ruled in favor of the ban last week, after authorities argued that Telegram’s encrypted chat feature could be used for criminal or terrorist activities.

Telegram’s privacy is one of its main selling points, and foiling Russian security agents’ attempts to eavesdrop on private chats was part of its raison d’etre, Durov has previously said. The Russian-born developer has refused to comply with the government’s demands and recently pledged millions of dollars toward a “digital resistance” to circumvent the ban.

Durov has said the ban has not resulted in a major disruption of Telegram’s operations, as social media users have shared tips online on tools that help inoculate against blocking the app. The most widely cited tool appears to be the use of so-called VPN anonymizers, which disguise an internet user’s location and allow residents of Russia to access the internet as though they were abroad.

Snowden has also retweeted posts opposing the suppression of Telegraph from civil liberties organizations.

Bloomberg notes that Google and Amazon have become involved in the fight:

Russia’s attempts to ban access to the Telegram messaging service threaten to drag U.S. tech giants including Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. into the war with founder Pavel Durov as he turns to proxy servers to bypass the blocking measures.

Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor has already blocked 18 Google and Amazon sub-networks that Telegram used to avoid restrictions, the watchdog’s head Alexander Zharov told the Izvestia daily on Wednesday. More than 15 million IP addresses were blocked as a result, making some third-party internet resources unavailable in Russia, according to Qrator Labs.
 Durov rejected as “unconstitutional” Russian officials’ demands to turn over encryption keys to allow the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, to access users’ messages on Telegram to intercept communications of terrorists. Roskomnadzor started blocking access to the messenger on Monday, after a Moscow court ruled last week that Durov was in breach of Russian law.

Telegram’s Russian founder fought back, offering to pay administrators of proxy servers in bitcoins to help bypass restrictions and saying he plans to spend millions of dollars on what he called “Digital Resistance.” Telegram “remained available for the majority of Russia’s residents” despite the blocking attempts, Durov said Wednesday on Twitter.

Snowden also tweeted, “Journalists working the story of being blocked in Russia should be absolutely clear that if and halt its access to their cloud platform or remove the app from their stores, they are witting collaborators in a censorship campaign, not victims of it.”

In related news, The Verge reports that recent actions by Google to discontinue domain-fronting will hinder attempts at circumventing censorship:

App developers won’t be able to use Google to get around internet censorship anymore. The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain-fronting, which let services use Google’s network to get around state-level internet blocks.

The article quotes Access Now in protesting this change:

“Google has long claimed to support internet freedom around the world, and in many ways the company has been true to its beliefs,” said Nathan White of Access Now. “Allowing domain fronting has meant that potentially millions of people have been able to experience a freer internet and enjoy their human rights. We urge Google to remember its commitment to human rights and internet freedom and allow domain fronting to continue.”

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