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.”

(more…)

Matt Taibbi Tries To Explain Why We Should Avoid War With A Nuclear Power

Add Matt Taibbi to those I mentioned yesterday warning about going to war in Syria. He has an article in Rolling Stone entitled,  If We’re on the Brink of War, the Fault Is Ours, Not Trump’s or Bolton’s.

So here we are, on the brink. Here’s Donald Trump’s tough-ass tweet about how he’s about to mix it up with both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!  –Donald J. trump 

The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint.

Ironically, pretty much the only places where you will read today about the frightening possibility of Russian casualties are in military journals, in the nervous musings of Pentagon officials. Here and there you will see reports of concern about what might happen if we kill the wrong Russians, or the wrong quantity of Russians. One outlet calmly suggested the Russians might step up “harassment” of U.S. warplanes and outposts if we kill too many of theirs, as if this would not cause the whole world to soil itself in terror.

So to recap: the most terminally insecure president ever sits in the White House, advised by one of the most war-crazy hacks in the history of federal service, at the outset of a fully avoidable proxy war with an enemy that possesses thousands of lethal thermonuclear warheads aimed directly at us.

Bear in mind that virtually any exchange of nuclear missiles between these two countries would mean the absolute end of civilization. We could all, right now, be minutes away from the end of everything, especially given who holds the respective buttons.

Taibbi notes that there was hope for a different outcome:

But we had a head start in dodging the bullet with Trump, as one of the few not-terrifying qualities he demonstrated as a candidate was his seeming reluctance to get into unnecessary wars. Trump was specifically on record as wanting to “stay out of Syria.”

Taibbi notes that Trump’s isolationism was “at least partly insincere.” He also notes that, “unlike his racism and xenophobia and lack of sympathy for the poor – issues where there are obvious currents visible in what passes for his mind – Trump is highly suggestible in matters military.”

Unfortunately any attempts to influence Trump have been in the wrong direction:

As president, however, the one time he received praise from the Washington consensus was when he bombed Assad last year. You might remember that as the time when Fareed Zakaria gushed on CNN, “Donald Trump became president tonight,” and a tumescent Brian Williams countered by calling the bombs “beautiful” 8 times in 30 seconds, quoting Leonard Cohen as he said, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Taibbi next showed several examples of Trump receiving criticism for talking about leaving Syria and many, including Democrats like Howard Dean, taking the wrong position. Taibbi wrote:

“Trump’s Syria Policy Isn’t Retrenchement, It’s Pandering,” sneeredForeign Policy.

“Chaos reigns with his president,” said Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, calling the withdrawal plan “incoherent.”

Howard Dean, a man I once voted for because he at least tepidly opposed a pointless Middle Eastern war, decided to use this occasion to taunt Trump in schoolyard fashion.

“Why are you such a wimp for Assad and Putin?” Dean tweeted.

This is just one of the reasons why I am glad I did not trust or vote for Howard Dean in 2004.

Taibbi concluded by repeating the consequences of those who now advocate attacking Syria over the alleged poison gas attack:

One could maybe understand this attitude from millennials, who weren’t raised amid The Day After or “99 Luftballoons” or “1999” or Failsafe or Dr. Strangelove even, and have never experienced even fake angst about growing up under the specter of nuclear war. But all the preceding generations should know better. We all grew up aware it could all be over in a heartbeat.

This is probably the most serious showdown between nuclear powers since the Cuban missile crisis, or at the very least, the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983.

The oft-derided Doomsday Clock, kept by the Union of Atomic Scientists, describes us as closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time. “The continued existence of urban, technological civilization will soon hang in a precarious balance,” the Scientists predicted then…

That Trump might forget the awesome danger of nuclear war is a given. The man is a fool. But what’s our excuse?

Taibbi’s Twitter page shows that many others are as foolish as Trump. For example: “Hacking our election was an act of war. No different than Pearl Harbor. I’d proudly fight if I were younger. Remember our Hillary!!! ”

Tabbi replied: “How do you think war with Russia goes? With rifles and bayonets, like at Iwo Jima? This is the nuclear age. In the best case, it’s a big noise, most everyone dies, and the lucky ones get fifty years of MREs.”

Remember Hillary? The ultra-hawk who is just barely less dangerous than John Bolton? She’s the one who supported Syria bombing last year, and who previously supported greater intervention in Syria, which would have placed us at considerable risk of confrontation with Russia. To compare trivial meddling in the election, which had no effect on the result, to Pearl Harbor is utterly insane. Yet many have been making exactly that comparison, or comparing it to 9/11.

Another uninformed reader tweeted, “Putin’s possession of nukes does not mean he intends upon using them or HAS THE CAPABILITY OF USING THEM. Putin actually believes his delivery systems are worthless for the exact same reason that i do. our missile defenses are much further developed than disclosed.”

Does anyone in their right mind really think that it is worth risking a nuclear attack?

As I tweeted and posted on Facebook: “My opposition to going to war with a nuclear power over inconsequential Facebook ads or even a suspected poison gas attack does not mean I support either Putin or Assad. It means I oppose the destruction of the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

More Evidence Facebook Helped Trump Beat Clinton, And It Had Nothing To Do With Russia

There has been a lot of question as to whether Russian  activities on social media were responsible for Donald Trump winning. This does not appear likely as the Congressional testimony revealed that information from Russian Facebook pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Over half the ads were not even seen until after the election, and many had nothing to do with promoting Trump over Clinton. The Russian purchased Facebook ads also targeted deep blue states over battleground states or the rust belt states which cost Clinton the election.

It is also questionable whether people changed their votes from arguments seen on social media, with many people seeking out similar viewpoints and resisting those they disagree with. If Facebook was a benefit to Donald Trump, it was probably due Facebook embedding their employees in the campaign to assist in the use of advertising, as I discussed in January. The Clinton campaign did not take advantage of such assistance, which was likely to be far more helpful to Trump than the amateurish Russian ads.

We have now learned more about how the Trump campaign utilized Facebook more effectively from a paper obtained by Bloomberg News:

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has boasted often that it made better use of Facebook Inc.’s advertising tools than Hillary Clinton’s campaign did. An internal Facebook white paper, published days after the election, shows the company’s data scientists agree.

“Both campaigns spent heavily on Facebook between June and November of 2016,” the author of the internal paper writes, citing revenue of $44 million for Trump and $28 million for Clinton in that period. “But Trump’s FB campaigns were more complex than Clinton’s and better leveraged Facebook’s ability to optimize for outcomes.”

The paper, obtained by Bloomberg and discussed here for the first time, describes in granular detail the difference between Trump’s campaign, which was focused on finding new donors, and Clinton’s campaign, which concentrated on ensuring Clinton had broad appeal. The data scientist says 84 percent of Trump’s budget asked people on Facebook to take an action, like donating, compared with 56 percent of Clinton’s…

Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them to spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement, according to the paper. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.

Using Facebook more effectively is more likely to have helped than the Russian ads did. However, some will always find a way to get back to Russia. The article raises the question, “Did Russian operatives give the Trump campaign a list of names to include or exclude from advertising that was running on Facebook?” Based upon how amateurish the Russian ad campaign was, it is rather doubtful that Russia had such information. It is far more likely that other sources available to a political campaign provided any list of names. This could include sources normally available to major political parties, or possibly Cambridge Analytica.

Study Shows How Ineffective Twitter Bots Are In Changing Political Views

This study is not at all surprising, but provides yet another reason to doubt those who claim that the election was stolen from Hillary Clinton due to Russian trolls or other unfavorable comments on social media. The study looked at people arguing politics on Twitter and, as I could have told them, people do not change their political views based upon arguments on line. Here is the abstract:

There is mounting concern that social media sites contribute to political polarization by creating  “echo chambers” that insulate people from opposing views about current events. We surveyed a large sample of Democrats and Republicans who visit Twitter at least three times each week about a range of social policy issues. One week later, we randomly assigned respondents to a treatment condition in which they were offered financial incentives to follow a Twitter bot for one month that exposed them to messages produced by elected officials, organizations, and other opinion leaders with opposing political ideologies. Respondents were re-surveyed at the end of the month to measure the effect of this treatment, and at regular intervals throughout the study period to monitor treatment compliance. We find that Republicans who followed a liberal Twitter bot became substantially more conservative post-treatment, and Democrats who followed a conservative Twitter bot became slightly more liberal post-treatment. These findings have important implications for the interdisciplinary literature on political polarization as well as the emerging field of computational social science.

It is very doubtful that people changed their view of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump based upon Russian bots or anything else they read on Twitter.

I bet that the same would apply to Facebook. Of course there are also multiple other reasons to question the claims that Russian bots or others caused Clinton to lose, as I most recently discussed in this post. Censoring social media, as Hillary Clinton has been suggesting, and Facebook has been practicing, would serve no positive purpose. There are obviously strong reasons to resist such censorship, although establishment Democrats appear oblivious to the impact on civil liberties.

(Hat tip to Salon for link to study).

Five Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria

The claim that the 2016 election was stolen due to the actions of Russian trolls is one of the most absurd political arguments ever made. As I’ve noted previously, the Congressional testimony revealed that Russian Facebook ads and Tweets represented a minuscule amount of their traffic. Material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Half of it was not seen until after the election, much of it was not supporting Trump over Clinton, and much of it was hilariously unconvincing and amateurish. Phillip Bump added that, rather than targeting the battleground states, ads were concentrated in states such as New York and Texas which had no impact on the election results.

The claim that Russia stole the election based upon their actions on social media is harmful as it gives establishment Democrats an excuse to resist reform. It plays into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia, with their claims about Russia being no more truthful than their claims about WMD in Iraq. It is also an attack on freedom of speech, and has led to McCarthyism from establishment Democrats who claim that criticism stems from support for Putin.

Reason has produced the above video on 5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria.  They also summarized the arguments:

1) Russian trolling was a drop in the bucket.

2) Russian trolls were not very sophisticated.

Russian trolls supposedly had the Machiavellian know-how to infiltrate the American political system, but their social media posts don’t look very sophisticated. The posts often featured broken English and puzzling topic choices. A postpromoting a “buff” Bernie Sanders coloring book, for instance, noted that “the coloring is something that suits for all people.” Another post showed Jesus and Satan in an arm wrestling match under this caption: “SATAN: IF I WIN CLINTON WINS! JESUS: NOT IF I CAN HELP IT!” The post generated very few clicks and shares.

3) Russian troll rallies apparently did not attract many participants.

The indictment makes much of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rallies instigated by Russian trolls, but it does not say how many people participated. The New York Times reported that a Russian-organized rally in Texas opposing Shariah law attracted a dozen people. An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho drew four people. Attendance at other rallies was similarly sparse.

4) Russian trolling probably didn’t change anyone’s mind.

Broken English aside, the social media posts were not qualitatively different from content created by American activists, and they seemed to be aimed mainly at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs and divisions. The Russians might have gotten a few Trump supporters to show up at anti-Clinton rallies, but that does not mean they had an impact on the election.

5) Russian troll hysteria depicts free speech as a kind of violence.

The Justice Department describes the messages posted by Russians pretending to be Americans as “information warfare.” But while the posts may have been sophomoric, inaccurate, and illogical, that does not distinguish them from most of what passes for online political discussion among actual Americans. The integrity of civic discourse does not depend on verifying the citizenship of people who participate in it. It depends on the ability to weigh what they say, checking it against our own values and information from other sources. If voters cannot do that, maybe democracy isdoomed. But if so, it’s not the Russians’ fault.

China’s Social Credit System Sounds Orwellian, And Like An Extension Of Current Facebook Censorship

Recent reports on China’s  social credit system sound Orwellian, or like something out of Black Mirror. The Verge summarized how the system works:

Starting in May, Chinese citizens who rank low on the country’s burgeoning “social credit” system will be in danger of being banned from buying plane or train tickets for up to a year, according to statements recently released by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

With the social credit system, the Chinese government rates citizens based on things like criminal behavior and financial misdeeds, but also on what they buy, say, and do. Those with low “scores” have to deal with penalties and restrictions. China has been working towards rolling out a full version of the system by 2020, but some early versions of it are already in place.

Previously, the Chinese government had focused on restricting the travel of people with massive amounts of debt, like LeEco and Faraday Future founder Jia Yueting, who made the Supreme People’s Court blacklist late last year.

The new travel restrictions are the latest addition to this growing patchwork of social engineering, which has already imposed punishments on more than seven million citizens. And there’s a broad range when it comes to who can be flagged. Citizens who have spread “false information about terrorism,” caused “trouble” on flights, used expired tickets, or were caught smoking on trains could all be banned, according to Reuters.

But the system, as it stands, is opaque; citizens are seemingly just as likely to be flagged for minor infractions like leaving bikes parked in a footpath or issuing apologies that are deemed “insincere” as major credit defaulters like Jia. And it’s often unclear whether they’re on a blacklist in the first place, let alone what kind of recourse is available. “Chinese government authorities clearly hope to create a reality in which bureaucratic pettiness could significantly limit people’s rights,” Maya Wang, senior researcher for the non-profit NGO Human Rights Watch, wrote in December.

Wired has further information on how the system works:

Individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the “complex algorithm” it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

Friends matter, too. The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as “positive energy” online, nice messages about the government or how well the country’s economy is doing, will make your score go up…

Posting dissenting political opinions or links mentioning Tiananmen Square has never been wise in China, but now it could directly hurt a citizen’s rating. But here’s the real kicker: a person’s own score will also be affected by what their online friends say and do, beyond their own contact with them. If someone they are connected to online posts a negative comment, their own score will also be dragged down…

…people with low ratings will have slower internet speeds; restricted access to restaurants, nightclubs or golf courses; and the removal of the right to travel freely abroad with, I quote, “restrictive control on consumption within holiday areas or travel businesses”. Scores will influence a person’s rental applications, their ability to get insurance or a loan and even social-security benefits. Citizens with low scores will not be hired by certain employers and will be forbidden from obtaining some jobs, including in the civil service, journalism and legal fields, where of course you must be deemed trustworthy. Low-rating citizens will also be restricted when it comes to enrolling themselves or their children in high-paying private schools. I am not fabricating this list of punishments. It’s the reality Chinese citizens will face. As the government document states, the social credit system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

This sounds a  lot like what was depicted on an episode of The Orville entitled Majority Rule.

The system is voluntary now and becomes mandatory in 2020. Wired suggests that people are signing up now out of fear of reprisals if they do not, and as high scores can be a status symbol:

Higher scores have already become a status symbol, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) within months of launch. A citizen’s score can even affect their odds of getting a date, or a marriage partner, because the higher their Sesame rating, the more prominent their dating profile is on Baihe.

Sesame Credit already offers tips to help individuals improve their ranking, including warning about the downsides of friending someone who has a low score. This might lead to the rise of score advisers, who will share tips on how to gain points, or reputation consultants willing to offer expert advice on how to strategically improve a ranking or get off the trust-breaking blacklist.

Wired compares this to “a big data gamified version of the Communist Party’s surveillance methods.” People are also likely to seek ways around the system:

We’re also bound to see the birth of reputation black markets selling under-the-counter ways to boost trustworthiness. In the same way that Facebook Likes and Twitter followers can be bought, individuals will pay to manipulate their score. What about keeping the system secure? Hackers (some even state-backed) could change or steal the digitally stored information…

In China, certain citizens, such as government officials, will likely be deemed above the system. What will be the public reaction when their unfavourable actions don’t affect their score? We could see a Panama Papers 3.0 for reputation fraud.

While this sounds absolutely Orwellian, businesses here are regularly rated on line, and their success can be affected by the whims of anonymous reviewers.

While we do not face restrictions as severe as those described in China, this is also analogous to the current censorship we are facing on Facebook. While the internet can increase opportunities for free expression when anyone can write from their own web page,  increasingly communication is being channeled through limited sources. Facebook has become indispensable for communicating, now with over two billion active users worldwide. Facebook will often cite violation of Community Standards to justify restricting individuals, but quite often there is no evidence of violating any of the Community Standards actually posted by Facebook, and no response to appeals. This has led many people to start using social media sites including MeWe, Steemit, Minds, and Tremr. Unfortunately it is far harder for Chinese to change where they live to avoid repression based upon unclear standards than it is to use alternative social media sites here.

Clinton Reminds The World Why She Really Lost–And It Has Nothing To Do With Russia


Most losing candidates keep a low profile after losing an election. Despite being robbed of victory, Al Gore kept quiet at first, and reemerged more liberal, and a vocal opponent of the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton in contrast has been spending the time since her election making excuses, and her popularity has fallen even further since the election. Her recent statement in India are even angering many Democrats who have supported her. The Hill reports:

Democrats are angry that Hillary Clinton continues to discuss what went wrong during the 2016 presidential election against President Trump.

Even some of Clinton’s own former aides and surrogates say the former Democratic presidential nominee should back away from the discussion about her failed campaign because it’s harmful to the party.

During a conference in India this weekend, Clinton called states that supported her in the election more economically advanced than the states that backed Trump.

The remarks reminded many of the former secretary of State’s comments in 2016 that some of Trump’s supporters fit in a “basket of deplorables,” a line the Republican then used against her repeatedly during the final stretch of the campaign.

She also insinuated that women who voted for Trump were motivated by “ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.”

In interviews with The Hill on Tuesday, even the staunchest Clinton allies as well as longtime advisers say the comments were cringeworthy and ultimately detrimental to Democrats.

“She put herself in a position where [Democrats] from states that Trump won will have to distance themselves from her even more,” said one former senior Clinton aide. “That’s a lot of states.”

Another Clinton surrogate questioned the decisionmaking behind Clinton’s remarks. For months, some Democrats have been arguing that Clinton’s sentiments have been counterproductive to the party’s rebuilding efforts. And some have told her she should emulate former President Obama’s model to only make statements when it’s essential.

Even before she launched her book tour last fall for “What Happened,” party strategists have said Clinton should lay low.

“She’s annoying me. She’s annoying everyone, as far as I can tell,” said one 2016 Clinton surrogate. “Who lets her say these things?”

The Washington Post added:

Like Trump, Clinton has lost popularity since the 2016 election in national polls.

In early December, Gallup found 36 percent of Americans viewed her favorably, the same percentage that approved of Trump’s presidential performance. The result marked a record low for Clinton in the Gallup poll, which has tracked her favorability since 1993. Just 5 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of independents had a favorable view of her.

Several studies of the 2016 election have found that Trump overperformed Clinton in economically struggling parts of the nation, a likely motivator for voters seeking change in the party control of the White House. Parts of the country that shifted their support from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 were also more likely to be negatively affected by globalization.

Another post-election study showed that Clinton’s hawkish views were also harmful to her campaign.

As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton decided upon the strategy of blaming others such as Russia for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The Congressional testimony showed that Russian activities on social media were trivial compared to the actions of the two major party campaigns. While we have known for some time that the Clinton campaign had used paid internet trolls, new information came out today in an article at Huffington Post regarding the use of fake accounts used by Clinton supporters to oppose Bernie Sanders.

While Democrats express frustration with Clinton continuing to blame others for her loss, many Democrats do continue to support her unfounded claims. For example, after the House Intelligence Committee reported that there was no collusion between Russia and Donald Trump to alter the election, Democrats have continued to make arguments which are not supported by the facts. While it is true that House Republicans very likely would have denied the presence of collusion if it existed, and it is possible that Robert Mueller might uncover new information in the future, the fact remains that the evidence available at present shows no such evidence of collusion.

Despite the lack of evidence of meaningful cooperation between the Trump  campaign and Russia to effect the election result, Democrats such as Joaquin Castro have been giving interviews distorting the facts following the committee report. In this interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Castro both made unfounded claims and moved the goal post a tremendous distance to promote actions which do not show any meaningful collusion as if they were evidence of collusion. While not in the transcript on the web site, during the actual broadcast host David Greene debunked Castro’s claims after the interview. Democrats who continue to make unfounded claims look like Republicans who continued to justify the Iraq war long after it was clear to most that we were never threatened by WMD from Iraq.

If Democrats are going to move forward from the 2016 election, they need to do more than just cringe when Clinton makes asinine statements. They need to acknowledge that Clinton lost because of her own mistakes, both during the campaign and in making bad decisions throughout her career. They must admit that they were wrong to rig the nomination for her, and reform the nominating process. Finally they must repudiate both the corrupt personal behavior of the Clintons in using their  public positions to unethically enrich themselves, and the conservative positions she has promoted throughout her career.

Alec Baldwin Returns To SNL

Alec Baldwin returned to Saturday Night Live to portray Donald Trump in the cold open, video above.

The skit began with Alex Moffat portraying Anderson Cooper saying, “In times like this we look to our leaders for guidance. But instead, we’ll hear from Donald Trump.”

Alec Baldwin’s Trump began discussing school violence by bragging about his mental health: “We have to take a hard look at mental health — which I have so much of. I have one of the healthiest mentals. My mentals are so high.”

The number of people leaving the Trump White House didn’t deter him: “If I have to make America’s schools safe all by myself, I will. Just like how I’m running the White House all by myself.”

The latest to leave the White House was Hope Hicks: “She’s like a daughter to me. So smart, so hot. You know, I hate seeing her go but I love watching her walk away. Jared Kushner’s basically the hottest chick left in the place.”

This followed another round of Donald Trump attacking Alec Baldwin on Twitter.  The New York Times has a review of that battle here. An earlier, deleted version of the above Tweet referred to Alex Baldwin in error.

 

SciFi Weekend: The X-Files Does Black Mirror; Drone Hosts on Westworld; The Magicians Renewed; Star Trek News; Jessica Jones; Wayward Pines

The X-Files had another unique episode this week with Rm9sbG93ZXJz , which decodes to “Followers” in Base64. The episode has more of the feel of an episode of Black Mirror, and would better take place in the near future than present, but no less plausible than many other episodes of The X-Files.  The story was made to feel more plausible by starting with a true story about a Twitter bot which started out emulating a teenage girl but turned violent and racist after learning to “be human” from interacting with alt-right trolls.

Mulder and Scully were the only customers at a sushi restaurant run entirely by robots. The scene, and much of the episode, were made more surreal with the absense of both other people and of dialogue. Scully ignored a friend request from the restaurant which she received on her phone. Mulder’s dinner was messed up and he decided not to leave a tip due to this and the lack of human service. The restaurant retaliated by refusing to give Mulder his credit card back and refusing to open the door, forcing Mulder to pry it open.

Unfortunately for Mulder and Scully, the AI which controlled the restaurant also seemed to control every other smart device in the world. Scully had problems with a reckless, driverless car. Mulder also had problems when his car wouldn’t play the song he requested, and ultimately returned him to the restaurant.

Problems for Scully and Mulder continued at their homes. Beyond the tech issues, there was another surprise in the episode when Mulder saw Scully’s home and asked, “Why’s your house so much nicer than mine?” Is this really the first time he was there?

As they continued to be attacked by tech, they figured out that “they are tracking us on our phones… they know everything.” They got rid of their phones and keys. Scully got rid of her step tracker and her vibrator, or  “personal massager.”

Ultimately a robot held out Mulder’s phone in front of him and another text came through asking one last time if Mulder would like to leave a tip. While a timer was counting down, Mulder gave in and hit the 10% button. Fortunately the AI was satisfied with a tip which most humans these days would see as stingy. The robot thanked him and explained, “We learn from you.” Mulder responded, “We have to learn to be better teachers.” Mulder and Scully had their next meal at a more conventional human-run diner.

SyFy Wire interviewed Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin, the writers of the episode:

“Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is such a unique episode with virtually no dialogue. Was that always the plan, to write something without dialogue? Or did you start with the story idea and it felt organic to not have any dialogue?

Shannon Hamblin: It was always no dialogue. Conceptually, I think that’s what Glen was looking to do: tell the story without it.

KC: When we did Space: Above and Beyond, they had done an episode that had virtually no dialogue. It was one of the first shows to do it. [Glen] always wanted to do it again. He was excited, as a director, to tell a story visually. I think it created a great show, especially for me. I’m kind of a wordy person, so it was a good challenge.

How did David and Gillian react to an episode with virtually no dialogue?

KC: They were happy about it — they didn’t have to memorize any lines!

SH: Yeah!

KC: I think it was challenging for everybody. The restaurant was [empty], your mouth is empty of dialogue, everybody wants to fill the proverbial space. Everybody had to fight against their instincts to do that, which was kind of interesting.

SH: And how that moved into no music in certain spots, and no sound. Except for the song, “Teach Your Children.” I think it also adds to that isolated feeling that the obsession with technology and your cell phone and all that stuff [gives you]. You feel like you are engaged all the time, but maybe you’re even more alienated by not really engaging.

KC: I think that’s a good point. A lot of being on your technology is spent there, filling space. We all want to fill the space, and that’s why phones have taken over our lives. They are really great space-fillers.

SH: If you are sitting at a restaurant alone, you can just look at your phone: “Oh, look how busy and cool you are!”

…One of my favorite parts of this episode is when the robot vacuum finds Scully’s vibrator under the bed, and then how that carries throughout the show. Did you have any trouble getting the vibrator storyline past Chris Carter or standards and practices?

KC: When we were in preproduction and were working on props, we had certain vibrators that were “cleared.” Prime-time vibrators, I guess! And we do call it the “personal massager” in the script. High-level stuff. But that was motivated by an article that said something about the fact that the personal massagers at, I think it was Brookstone, were collecting your personal data. So all the technology talks to each other, and it is all technology that has been reported, at one time or another, to be collecting your personal data. It all knows about you. So you’ve got spies in your bedroom, spies in your cleaning closet…

SH: Spies in your vagina. Literally! [Laughs]

Plus, it will be a huge plus for all the ‘shippers out there.

KC: Good! Because if you are upsetting the ‘shippers, it’s bad. Believe me; I’ve been there! It’s not good.

Which brings me to a slightly fannish question: Who is Scott? His name appeared on Scully’s smart fridge, saying she had a dinner date with him, and I know that ‘shippers online were freaking out.

KC: Scott is the guy who programmed the display on the refrigerator! He is a really, really talented guy. All of the visual props you see, like in the Whipz car and on the refrigerator, were all programmed by him and the incredible props team they have. All those guys did such a great job, so they should get dinner with Scully! He made all of us look good.

This isn’t the first time The X-Files has featured machines with a mind of their own. Did you go back and watch any of the other episodes? Did you keep in mind how technology has changed in the last 25 years?

SH: I didn’t go back and check the episodes. I think technology has changed so much over the past… even five years. Just thinking about people who don’t know what an answering machine is. Even with the car being automated… I’m working on something right now and GM is talking about their cars being automated. Everything is happening and is so different in technology that I didn’t think it was touching on anything that had been explored before in previous episodes. Did you go back and watch?

KC: No, I didn’t. I was on The X-Files 20 years ago, so I remember. When [the fans] had something to say about you, they had to say it on a message board. So the technology has changed a lot. I think it was completely appropriate to do an episode that deals with technology, and I think one of the interesting things, whenever I see clips of the show, if they are talking on a phone, they are usually talking on a landline. They weren’t even really using cell phones when the show first started. That alone is just so different. It would be appropriate that Mulder and Scully could get into what is now, appropriately, called the Black Mirror, I guess.

The Superbowl commercial for Westworld included a quick glimpse of Bernard with something we haven’t seen before behind him. Entertainment Weekly discussed this with showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy:

As you’ll recall, last season Bernard’s detective work uncovered mysteries about the park’s past, and a major reveal about his own identity. As Nolan explains below (mild tease-y spoilers), in season 2 Bernard discovers there was a lot more about the park and its mysterious corporate owners Delos that was kept from him. The white robot is called a “drone host.” And there’s apparently more than one of them.

“The drone hosts relate to the corporation’s secret project which is hidden in plain sight in this park,” Nolan says. “As we talked about in the pilot, the park is one thing for the guests, and it’s another thing for its shareholders and management — something completely different. We’ve used the Google analogy — for consumers, it’s for search and email, yet for the company, it’s for advertising. There is an agenda here that Delos has undertaken for a very long time. As Bernard is making his way through the wreckage of the fallout from the first season, he’s discovering things about the park that even he doesn’t know and coming upon creatures like the drone host.”

The Magicians has been having an excellent third season, along with receiving an increasing amount of favorable critical reviews (such as here). Therefore it comes as no surprise that it has been officially renewed by Syfy for a fourth season. Variety notes that the show “has been Syfy’s top performing scripted original among on a Live+3 basis in adults 18-49 for the past three years.”

A musical episode of The Magicians will be airing on March 7. More on the episode here.

Many people were upset when Star Trek: Discovery killed off half of a gay couple. This was followed by statements from the producers that Culber would return. His return later in the season was only in the mycelial network, suggesting he was really dead. In an interview at Emmys.com, Wilson Cruz did say he will be returning:

Your character, Dr. Hugh Culber, appears to have a beautiful connection with your on-screen partner, played by Anthony Rapp.

It’s not an accident. I’ve known Anthony for 20 years. I did his last three weeks on Broadway. And as fellow openly gay actors, we’ve talked through the years about what that experience is. We’ve supported and rooted for each other.

When we came to this, I think we both felt like it was a really special opportunity in that we’ve had all of this history and compassion and respect for each other’s talent. So I think we both decided, without even saying it, that we were gonna use our real love for each other to draw on to tell the story.

The process for creating a relationship is different for everyone on TV. And sometimes you talk it through and create a history with each other. But there was this unspoken thing with Anthony and we didn’t have to do any of that. We just showed up on set and decided we loved each other and took it from there. And it was really easy!

Without giving spoilers, what did you think of your character’s twist?

Aaron and Gretchen explained what was gonna happen and told me I was part of the story for next season. This is a longer, epic love story and this is just a part of that that we have to do in order to tell it. I know what that story is and as an actor, I’m really excited about it. But even as a viewer, I think that’s gonna be fun to watch!

How did fans react?

We’re letting people know I’ll be back because there’s this “bury your gays” trope that’s out there. People are concerned about the way that LGBTQ characters, especially those of color and women, continue to be killed off in a very random and dismissive way.

We wanted to make sure that people stayed engaged with the show because this isn’t that. They should just know there’s a bigger plan. It’s gonna pay off and it’s a great story to tell.

Love has a way of telling its own story

In other Star Trek news, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves spoke at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco. TrekMovie.com quoted some of his statements regarding Discovery. His responses were not unexpected. He said that CBS placed Discovery on CBS All Access as opposed to other possible outlets to help the new streaming service in light of the built in fan base. He discussed the more serialized nature of the series, which would not have been utilized for a show on the main network.

David Ogden Stiers died last week. He is best known for playing Major Charles Emerson Winchester III on M*A*S*H but has also had genre roles, including on Star Trek: The Next Generation. StarTrek.com posted this tribute to him:

StarTrek.com is saddened to report the passing of actor David Ogden Stiers, who succumbed to bladder cancer on Saturday at the age of 75. According to his agent, he died peacefully at home in Oregon. The Emmy-nominated Stiers was best known for his role as Major Winchester on M*A*S*H, provided voices for such films as Beauty and the Beast and Lilo & Stitch, co-starred on the TV iteration of The Dead Zone, and made his mark in the Star Trek universe with his role as Dr. Timicin in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Half a Life.”

Stiers touched Trek fans as Dr. Timicin, a scientist who must undergo the Resolution, a ritual suicide, in order to save the people on his planet, Kaelon II. However, his plans were thrown for a loop — at least for a while — when he met and fell for Lwaxana Troi. The episode remains well-regarded for its powerful story, rare focus on two guest stars, unusually serious Lwaxana arc and the strong performances by Stiers and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.

StarTrek.com interviewed Stiers in April 2017, when the mostly retired actor agreed to a chat timed to the release of the film, Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time, which also featured Walter Koenig. During the conversation, he addressed the fact that Dr. Timicin, in the course of a single episode, experienced a full arc. “They really let it focus on the two of us, which was very unusual,” Stiers said. “I just watched a clip of it this morning. I had forgotten how beautifully written the arguments are. The whole moral dilemma was beautifully presented. I’m not jumping up and down, but I really like the idea that I live in a state with dignity legislation and physician assisted suicide, should it ever come to that. That seems to me to be an intelligent and mature middle ground. You don’t use it if you don’t want to, but it’s there if you are in need, for whatever reason, of a legitimate reason for ending your life.”

Please join StarTrek.com in offering our condolences to Stiers’ family, friends, colleagues and fans.

Jessica Jones season two will be released on March 8. Comicbook.com has a spoiler free review.

When Wayward Pines did not return in 2017 after appearing the previous two seasons, Fox left it open as to whether the show would return. While they did not officially cancel the show when it did not return, Fox is now saying that it is “unlikely” to be back. I have read the three novels by Blake Crouch which the series is based upon and hope to some day find time to catch the two seasons of the show.

Tweet Might Be Fake, But It Is Still A Good Idea

There is a fake tweet from Donald Trump which is fooling a lot of people today. It certainly sounds plausible: “If the Dow Joans ever falls more than 1000 ‘points’ in a Single Day the sitting president should be ‘loaded’ into a very big cannon and Shot into the sun at TREMENDOUS SPEED! No excuses!”

The market fell more than 1000 points. I think this is a good idea, even if the tweet is a fake. Load the cannon.