It Could Have Been Worse: Russian Troll Farm Reportedly Faked Hillary Clinton Sex Tape

We have had a lot of absurd stories about ways in which Russian trolls allegedly changed the election results. This includes a mere $100,000 in Facebooks ads (with over half not even seen until after the election) which even Mark Penn agreed was nonsense, the use of Pokemon Go, and web sites with puppies. Now someone who worked in a Russian troll factory has said that they even created a fake Hillary Clinton sex tape. From The Daily Beast:

A Russian-government-backed “troll factory” hired a black man and a Hillary Clinton look-alike to make a sex tape, according to the first former employee of the factory’s American division to go on the record…

Once, Baskaev recalled, Russian propaganda-makers thought they hit the “sensation” jackpot with a fake video of a black man and a woman who looked like Hillary Clinton having sex.

“Do you understand… no one will believe that,” Baskaev said.

I think that I can safely say that regardless of one’s opinion on Hillary Clinton, we will all agree in being happy that this faux Clinton sex-tape was never released and never made the topic of news stories during the election.

Further Reaction To Revelation That Trump Russia Dossier Was Commissioned By The Clinton Campaign

Yesterday’s revelations that Clinton and the DNC were behind the Trump Russia dossier has resulted in objective observers agreeing that this should create considerable skepticism as to the validity of the report, much of which could not be verified despite efforts of many in the media (and presumably now Robert Muller). Some Clinton partisans have tried to ignore the significance. It is amazing how they will ignore well documented evidence of Clinton’s dishonesty while saying we should believe a report about Donald Trump which was commissioned by the Clinton campaign and which could not be verified by independent sources. Besides, there is enough evidence as to how rotten Donald Trump is in his own Twitter feed, leaving no reason to make up more.

Aaron Blake has discussed some of the ramifications. Here is a  portion:

Yes, the dossier was funded by Democrats

Some of the pushback on the left has focused on the fact that a still-unidentified Republican client retained Fusion GPS to do research on Trump before the Clinton campaign and the DNC did. Thus, they argue, it’s wrong to say the dossier was just funded by Democrats.

But The Post is reporting that the dossier’s author, Steele, wasn’t brought into the mix until after Democrats retained Fusion GPS. So while both sides paid Fusion GPS, Steele was only funded by Democrats.

Trump’s allegation of FBI payments is still dubious

After the story posted, some on the right seized upon The Post noting the FBI had agreed to pay Steele for information after the campaign. The argument seemed to be that the FBI was engaged in a witch hunt against Trump using Democrats’ sources.

But The Post originally reported on the FBI’s agreement back in February. At the time, it also reported it never actually paid for the work after the agent was identified in news reports:

The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.

Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
>Despite there being no proof the FBI actually paid Steele, Trump suggested it might have in a tweet last week — along with “Russia . . . or the Dems (or all).” Of those three groups, only Democrats have been reported to have actually paid Steele. And again, that was already kind-of known.

The appearance problems for Democrats

There is, presumably, a reason Democrats haven’t copped to funding the dossier — something they still haven’t publicly confirmed. Fusion GPS threatening to plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination raised eyebrows last week, for instance.

First among those reasons is paying a foreigner for opposition research for an American political campaign. Given Democrats’ argument that Russia’s interference on Trump’s behalf was beyond the pale, the Clinton camp and the DNC paying a Brit for information would seem somewhat problematic.

(The Clinton campaign has also, notably, denied working with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on Trump. Republicans have pushed dubious comparisons between the Ukraine allegation and Russia’s alleged Trump advocacy.)

It is also notable that this revelation of a second episode of the Clinton campaign working with foreigners to affect the election results also came shortly after a new report on the Clintons accepting bribes from Russia.

Yesterday I updated the post with this opinion from Vox, a normally pro-Democratic Party source:

Now, however, we know that the dossier’s research during much of 2016 was funded by a top lawyer working for the Clinton campaign itself. That of course doesn’t necessarily mean the information in it is deliberately false — campaigns usually try to dig up opposition research that is true, if they can.

But it certainly presents the possibility that the research of the dossier and subsequent circulation of it were more akin to a dirty trick than a genuine, disinterested effort to find the truth about Trump and Russia. After all, if a campaign hires a firm to find dirt on their opponent, that is what that firm will try and deliver, even if what they turn up is dubious or thinly-sourced.

Overall, viewing this uncorroborated document very skeptically was always a good idea, and the fact that its funders were Trump’s biggest opponents only makes that more the case.

While biased pro-Trump, Michael Goodwin could very well could be correct in arguing at The New York Post that The Trump dossier was Clinton’s dirtiest political trick:

Now it’s Democrats’ turn in the barrel.

The explosive report in the Washington Post goes a long way to explaining how the dossier was so widely spread among political reporters during the election. The Clinton camp must have passed it out like Halloween candy to its media handmaidens.

News organizations tried for months to confirm the salacious details, but couldn’t. The document became public when BuzzFeed, a loud Clinton booster, published it 10 days before the inauguration, while acknowledging it couldn’t verify the contents.

The Post report provides possible answers to other questions, too. Because Clinton’s team paid for the dossier, it’s likely that she gave it to the FBI, where James Comey planned to hire the former British agent who had compiled it to keep digging dirt on Trump.

The finding also raises the possibility that the dossier is what led the Obama White House to snoop on members of Trump’s team, and leak the “unmasked” names to the anti-Trump media in a bid to help Clinton.

In short, we now have compelling evidence that the dossier was the largest and dirtiest dirty trick of the 2016 campaign. And Clinton, who has played the victim card ever since her loss, was behind it the whole time.

This all basically provides further evidence of what I argued throughout the election that the race was between two of the worst people in America. It also casts further doubt on the validity of Clinton’s claims regarding Trump and Russia.

Update: The Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint with the FEC arguing that the Clinton campaign’s failure to disclose their funding of this report is a violation of campaign finance laws.

Washington Post Reveals That Trump-Russia Dossier Was Commissioned By Clinton Campaign And DNC

The Washington Post today revealed that the dossier complied with accusations including ties between Donald Trump and Russia (along with more salacious claims) was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. From their report:

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the firm in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Prior to that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by a still unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day.

This may or may not have any bearing on the accuracy of the information released, but knowing that this was paid opposition research from the Clinton camp could cast doubts on its credibility. We will hopefully know more about the accuracy of the report after investigations by Robert Muller and the Congressional investigations are completed. At this time questions about money laundering and other financial crimes involving Donald Trump, his family, and associates appear to be more credible than claims of collusion between Trump and Russia to alter the election results (not that Trump’s family wasn’t interested if Russia had something to offer).

While some items have been found to be true, much of the information in the dossier has not been independently verified. Today’s revelation of Clinton’s involvement in funding the dossier must cast doubt as to whether its claims such as ties between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign are true, especially in light of how Shattered revealed that Clinton had latched onto the claim that Russia was responsible within twenty-four hours of her loss to distract from the many mistakes made by her campaign which were the more likely cause of her loss. Even former Clinton strategist Mark Penn recently disputed the claims that Russia caused Clinton to lost the election.

The Russia hysteria being generated by Clinton’s claims has undermined the credibility of the US electoral process with Clinton and many of her supporters making unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen, been used as justification for restrictions on internet freedom, and has fueled Cold War style hostilities which feed into the goals of Clinton’s neocon allies for increased hostilities towards Russia.

As opposition research can be biased towards the desired conclusions of those paying for the report, the information in the dossier now must be considered to be based upon partisan bias until the claims are independently verified. On the other hand, the decisions announced today by the House to launch two investigations of Hillary Clinton will also be seen as based upon partisanship. This includes investigations regarding the Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton investigation and the sale of uranium mines. The later comes after a recent report providing new accusations of Russian bribes to the Clintons while the matter was being reviewed at the State Department.

While there is undoubtedly plenty to investigate in the conduct of Hillary Clinton, especially her influence peddling at the State Department, it is questionable whether the Republican House can be trusted to conduct a meaningful hearing after how they handled Benghazi.

Update: Vox takes a similar line in recommending skepticism towards the dossier:

Now, however, we know that the dossier’s research during much of 2016 was funded by a top lawyer working for the Clinton campaign itself. That of course doesn’t necessarily mean the information in it is deliberately false — campaigns usually try to dig up opposition research that is true, if they can.

But it certainly presents the possibility that the research of the dossier and subsequent circulation of it were more akin to a dirty trick than a genuine, disinterested effort to find the truth about Trump and Russia. After all, if a campaign hires a firm to find dirt on their opponent, that is what that firm will try and deliver, even if what they turn up is dubious or thinly-sourced.

Overall, viewing this uncorroborated document very skeptically was always a good idea, and the fact that its funders were Trump’s biggest opponents only makes that more the case.

Update II: Further Reaction To Revelation That Trump Russia Dossier Was Commissioned By The Clinton Campaign

Jimmy Carter Again Says He Voted For Sanders; Does Not Think Russia Changed Any Votes

We already learned in May that Jimmy Carter voted for Bernie Sanders in the Georgia primary. As I noted then: In 1992, he declined to endorse Bill Clinton, saying “people are looking for somebody who is honest and tells the truth.” In an interview with The New York Times he repeated that he had voted for Sanders. Carter was also asked about whether he agreed with Clinton’s claim that Russia altered the election results. From the interview:

Carter is also not as bothered as some by Trump’s Putin bromance. “At the Carter Center,” he said, “we deal with Putin and the Russians quite frequently concerning Syria.”

Did the Russians purloin the election from Hillary?

“Rosie and I have a difference of opinion on that,” he said.

She looked over archly. “They obviously did,” she said.

He said: “I don’t think there’s any evidence that what the Russians did changed enough votes, or any votes.”

Rosalynn pressed, “The drip-drip-drip about Hillary.”

Carter noted that in the primary, “We voted for Sanders.”

I asked the famously ethical Carter what he made of Obama’s post-presidential string of $400,000 speeches.

Carter was also asked about the Clinton Foundation:

When I compared the Clinton Foundation with the Carter Center, Carter noted: “Rosie and I put money in the Carter Center. We never take any out.”

In other news on the Russia investigation today, NBC News reports that Robert Muller is now investigating Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group. Tony Podesta is the brother of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta:

Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to the sources. As special counsel, Mueller has been tasked with investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West.

The sources said the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA.

SciFi Weekend: Star Trek Discovery; F-Bombs In Genre; Mr. Robot; Arrow; Batman In The Arrowverse; Gotham; Doctor Who; Will & Grace

With Choose Your Pain, Star Trek: Discovery revealed more about Captain Lorca, went where Star Trek has never gone before, and raised new questions. Controversies raised included two incidents on which to further question Lorca’s ethics.

We learned that Lorca had destroyed his previous ship and killed the entire crew to keep them from being captured and tortured by the Klingons, while he alone managed to survive. It may have sounded reasonable when explained by Lorca, but Star Trek fans know that Kirk or Picard would have found a way to save their crews, and would have risked death to achieve this. Lorca’s decision to leave Harry Mudd (played by Rainn Wilson) behind as a Klingon prisoner was also morally questionable, and not something Star Fleet captains we are accustomed to would have done.

While Lorca did leave Mudd behind, he did bring Ash Tyler after what seemed like too easy an escape. Was this just yet another example of a show’s protagonists having unrealistic success which has happened very frequently on television, or were they allowed to escape? There is considerable grounds to suspect that this was a trick with Ash Tyler being a Klingon spy. One popular fan theory that he is actually Voq is explained here. Of course if he is a Klingon spy, he is unlikely to get past Lorca’s pet tribble.

Discovery had the first f-bomb ever on Star Trek after Staments told Tilly of his idea to transfer Tardigrade DNA into his body. Tilly responded to the idea by saying, “You guys, this is so fucking cool.” She apologized for her language but Stamets replied, “No, Cadet. It is fucking cool.”

There was no softening of the word such as with changing it to “fraking” as on Battlestar Galactica. This sure goes beyond McCoy saying, “Damn it, Jim.” AV Club has posted a history of swearing on Star Trek.  Of course such language is common on pay cable, with basic cable being more mixed. Syfy has cut the frequent f-bombs from The Magicians in the initial showing, but later showed the first season again uncut. Presumably the second season will be released in an uncut form in the future. On the other hand, I noticed such language being left uncut on Mr. Robot last week.

After Trek also showed a sneak peak of tonight’s episode with Burnham and Tilly wearing Disco t-shirts. Is disco still alive, or (more likely) is this a shortened form for the name of their ship?Possibly the producers are hoping that fans refer to Star Trek: Discovery as Disco as opposed to the abbreviation STD. Last week’s episode also had a very rare (but not the first) scene of a Star Trek bathroom. Plus we learned that they have not yet learned a more modern, futuristic way to fight tooth decay than brushing, and the suspicions about Stamets and Dr. Culber were confirmed.

The DNA transfer done by Stamets might actually not be all that cool based upon what we saw in the mirror at the end of the episode. Does this mean that the spores connect not only throughout the universe, but also into the Mirror universe? If so, this could be yet another reason why the spore drive is not used (or mentioned) on subsequent series.

Besides the introduction to Harry Mudd and telling us more about Lorca, Stamets, and Culber, the episode also revealed more about  Saru, who does have difficulties assuming the role of Captain, even if all worked out in this episode. There was another nod to continuity in the list of decorated captains which came up: Robert April, Jonathan Archer, Matthew Decker, Christopher Pike, and Captain Georgiou.

Besides including f-bombs as I mentioned above, Mr. Robot was notable last week for Elliot getting the cairn terrier back. As for the even more meaningful aspects of the show, Sam Esmail was interviewed by The Guardian.  The article began:

When Mr Robot first aired, two years ago, it was hailed for its timeliness. A serial drama about a nefarious hacking group taking on corporate power felt right for the age of Anonymous and banking failure. Now, in 2017, the existing two seasons can look a little dated; why spend ages plotting to bring down the west when the US president can do it with a tweet?

While a lot has changed in two years, there is a sense of vindication for Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail. The ideas the 40-year-old wanted to explore in this drama – his first TV show, which he wrote, directed, produced and edited himself – are still playing out in reality.

“One thing I’ve noticed about the show is that it feels like a period piece of today,” Esmail says. “The world is so heavily influenced by technology and it has started to feel like it’s not on solid ground. The world has become unreliable, unknowable. Facts are vulnerable and things you have come to rely on are no longer there. It’s an overlap that I’m not going to be so bold as to say I predicted, but that was what I was thinking about when I constructed the character of [protagonist] Elliot [Alderson].”

Included among the unreliable and unknowable elements of Mr Robot are the following: whether Elliot is good or bad; whether he hacked the biggest corporation in the US under instruction from the Chinese government; whether he is living at his mother’s house or in prison; whether his father is alive and, if so, why he wants to kill him; and, finally, whether or not he is really friends with 80s sitcom puppet ALF.

Should we also worry about Flipper the dog after learning about the allegedly Russian run web page full of those puppie pictures?

Oliver Queen made a reference to Bruce Wayne on Arrow last week. Having Bruce Wayne exist in his world does not mean that he is also Batman, but it does raise the question. It is more likely that Batman exists on Supergirl’s earth. After all, if Batman existed in Oliver’s world, there would be no reason for him to spend so much time fighting Batman’s foes.

TV Guide has complied a list of other references to Batman in the CW Arrowverse.

Right now Fox has the television rights to Bruce Wayne, but they have only been able to show him as partially growing into becoming Batman. Gotham is also showing the origins of other Batman characters, sometimes changing the details. Gotham introduced Solomon Grundy last week. Screen Rant reviewed his back story and how Gotham is varying from the comics.

Getting back to Arrow, Entertainment Weekly has spoken with Stephen Amell about the big changes in last week’s episode:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Oliver actually gives up the mantle of being the Green Arrow. Game changer! Can you talk about how that might affect him moving forward? Does he still get the urge to go out there? 
STEPHEN AMELL: That’s been the cool thing about this season is that he can’t. You say him giving up the mantle is the game changer, but William is the game changer. The father-son dynamic can’t possibly can’t get any stronger than that. For all of the things that Oliver’s dad did wrong, and for all the things that we have since learned about him, Oliver still reveres him and holds him up to such a high standard, so that relationship is so important. I give it to Diggle; I don’t give it to him with a heavy heart, I give it to him with a full heart. I give it to him expecting him to be able to handle it. I like the idea that I give it to him because the city needs a Green Arrow, right? The Green Arrow can be more than one person. The Green Arrow is a symbol and his team is a symbol. The fact that we are pushing Star City in the right direction is something that is important to me because I don’t want the city to get destroyed every year, because then what’s the point of what we’re doing? We’re a team of vigilantes that are the definition of insanity, because we’re just doing things over and over again and hoping for a different result. Obviously I don’t know what’s going on with Diggle, but I give it up and there’s not a lot of angst.

It’s been a very strange time for me on the show, because we’re talking about going on four episodes now where I’m really out of the mix, and that’s been challenging for me, because I prep myself to work all the time, but we had — without getting into details — a story line last year where in the aftermath of Oliver being tortured by Chase — the big torture, making him reveal his animal instincts and that he enjoyed killing at one point — the producers and I had a lot of back and forth after that about how long that should affect him, because in one iteration, he just jumped right back on the horse. I was like, “Well, if we don’t follow the through line of that affecting him, then what was the point? What was the point of it happening if it doesn’t have consequences?” So I like that he’s given the mantle to Diggle and that’s been the show since then. That, to me, is really cool.

Realistically, do you see Oliver really never suiting up again?
No. Look, I remember one season of 24 when Jack Bauer had been taken prisoner, Jack was in China. They’re like, “Well, how long of this season is Jack going to be in China for?” and the producers were like, “He’s landing like six minutes after it starts. The show is the show.” Our show’s the show, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t surprise people. If he suits back up again, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it goes back to the status quo.

In Doctor Who news this week, Matt Lucus has hinted that he might not be done with Doctor Who after the Christmas episode.

Comic Book Resources has accumulated what we know, along with rumors, about upcoming changes on Doctor Who.

Doctor Who has won an Ally Award for LGBT inclusiveness. Pearl Mackie accepted the award and made this statement:

It’s lovely to be able to accept this Award on behalf of Doctor Who. I feel quite honoured to even have been invited, let alone for Doctor Who and the character of Bill.

It’s testament to how well she was received. I met a couple of young girls who were BAME, and talked to me about how watching Bill on Doctor Who enabled them to come out and feel comfortable with their own sexuality. For me, that’s a massive achievement.

The thing that I liked most about Bill was that she wasn’t grappling with her sexuality, she didn’t need to come out, it wasn’t an issue! It was always just about, I’m gay and happy and this is who I am, this is who I like and this is who I’m in love with.

Victoria, staring Jenna Coleman, concluded its second season on ITV last week, with a Christmas episode also announced. Presumably it will be combined with the other episodes into a nine episode series when it shows in the United States. Victoria will premiere on Masterpiece on PBS on January 14, 2018.

Will & Grace had an excellent episode last week dealing with gay conversion camps. A clip is above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Lie 1: Claims WikiLeaks never publishes anything about Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CARLSON: Yes.

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

New FBI Information Released On Russian Bribes In Uranium Deal

There’s another major news story today regarding a 2016 candidate colluding with Russia, except this time it is Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump. The Hill reports:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

The racketeering scheme was conducted “with the consent of higher level officials” in Russia who “shared the proceeds” from the kickbacks, one agent declared in an affidavit years later.

Rather than bring immediate charges in 2010, however, the Department of Justice (DOJ) continued investigating the matter for nearly four more years, essentially leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions.

The first decision occurred in October 2010, when the State Department and government agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States unanimously approved the partial sale of Canadian mining company Uranium One to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom, giving Moscow control of more than 20 percent of America’s uranium supply.

While the American public was left in the dark about these specifics, there have been many reports (such as this one at The New York Times) regarding a Uranium deal and payments to the Clinton Foundation. While there is no documentary evidence of a quid pro quo between Clinton and the Russians (possibly due to to Clinton having destroyed half of her emails from when she was Secretary of State in violation of the laws in effect in 2009), there have been multiple such episodes in which the Clinton have been found to have unethically received payments from parties with decisions before the State Department. This included both donations to the Clinton Foundation and unprecedented payments for speeches to Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton also ignored the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State to disclose such contributions.

Once again we see how little difference there really is between Donald Trump and the Clintons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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