Both Parties Tainted By Corruption

There are reasons to fear that the Trump administration might set new records for corruption in government, but before Democrats can claim the high moral ground they must recognize the corruption they have both tolerated and ignored from Bill and Hillary Clinton. Two stories today highlight these points.

First CNN, following attacks for spreading fake news by Donald Trump at his recent press conference, has broken some real news regarding one of his cabinet picks:

Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

In potentially related news, The New York Times has a lengthy account of Donald Trump chasing deals in Russia, contradicting the recent statement from his press secretary that, “Mr. Trump does not have any business dealings in/with Russia.”

Today there was also news with the closing of the Clinton Global Initiative to remind us of all the unsavory stories about the Clinton Foundation and how the Clintons have made a fortune selling influence:

…as soon as Clinton lost the election, many of the criticisms directed toward the Clinton Foundation were reaffirmed. Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work. In November, the Australian government confirmed it “has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million.” The government of Norway also drastically reduced their annual donations, which reached $20 million a year in 2015…

WikiLeaks revealed several criticisms of the Clinton Foundation were true, as pay-to-play schemes and the foundation’s corrupt management were exposed. On October 26, The Washington Post reported a memo detailed how the Clinton Foundation was used to boost Bill Clinton’s income.

“The memo, made public Wednesday by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, lays out the aggressive strategy behind lining up the consulting contracts and paid speaking engagements for Bill Clinton that added tens of millions of dollars to the family’s fortune, including during the years that Hillary Clinton led the State Department,” reported The Washington Post. “It describes how Band helped run what he called “Bill Clinton Inc.,” obtaining “in-kind services for the President and his family—for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like.”

The Clinton Foundation‘s downward trajectory ever since since Hillary Clinton’s election loss provides further testimony to claims that the organization was built on greed and the lust for power and wealth—not charity.

I previously posted about the material on the Clinton Foundation leaked by Wikileaks here. As I wrote in another previous post, Clinton unethically made rulings on multiple occasions regarding parties which contributed to the Foundation and/or made unprecedented payments for speeches to Bill Clinton. I’ve previously discussed the Clinton Foundation scandals in greater detail, including here and here. I’ve recently noted how both fact checkers and ethicists viewed the scandals and Clinton’s violations of the ethics agreements which she entered into before becoming Secretary of State, while Common Cause called for an independent audit of the Clinton Foundation well before her nomination.

I bet we will see plenty of rotten things under Trump, but we must not forget this record of corruption from two Democratic leaders.

SciFi Weekend: Sherlock; The Expanse; Deadpool; Stranger Things; Wayward Pines; Twin Peaks; iBoy; Humans; Victoria; John le Carré; Celebrities On Surviving Trump

I am not going to give any spoilers on the season finale of Sherlock which airs tonight but leaked out early, waiting to watch until this is posted, but there remains a lot to say about last week’s episode. Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis spoke about the big twist in The Lying Detective. (Major spoilers for those who have not seen the episode):

At the end of the episode, we found out that the woman pretending to be Watson’s therapist, rush hour crush and Culverton Smith’s daughter were the same person. Not only that, but she was Sherlock and Mycroft’s long lost sister, Eurus (which means east wind).

After a screening at the BAFTA Cymru in Cardiff, the show creators hosted a Q and A where they told all about the chaos that had just ensued.

Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat explained how the idea that Sherlock had a sister had been in the back of their minds ever since the first episode. Gatiss said:

It started as a joke years, years ago. Right from the beginning of the first season, there was a line in ‘The Great Game’ when we were sort of sketching in the idea of the Holmes family and there was going to be a line about Mycroft being a member, Sherlock admitting that he was cleverer than him and then him kindly saying, mind you…my sister…

It was absolutely cut off, and that’s really where it all began.

[At the time] we thought, we won’t do too much. And thank god we didn’t, as it gives us this place to go.

But that wasn’t the only shock of Sherlock. People were frankly dumbfounded to see that Watson had been seeing a girl behind Mary’s back. Steven decided to tackle that one, head on, saying:

He’s a fully rounded character. He’s a fully rounded human being with all the normal flaws that people have.”

BuzzFeed then asked him if he was going to be back to his usual self for the next episode, to which he said:

We’re not going to say now that he’s cosy and lovely, you don’t get Martin Freeman to play that.”

The episode even contained a Torchwood Easter egg–a postcard on the mantel with the Torchwood ‘T’ logo. Technically this would place Sherlock in the Doctor Who universe.

The Lying Detective left Radio Times with thirteen burning questions. Fans are looking back through old scenes for clues.

Moffat and Gatiss did tease tonight’s finale:

“It’s a grand old finale. It’s a very very finale finale,” said Moffat, at the BAFTA screening for ‘The Lying Detective’.

“It’s the most like a Universal Sherlock Holmes that we’ve ever done,” Gatiss added. “It’s like a Basil Rathbone one. It’s absolutely crazy.”

The Expanse returns for season 2 on February 1. For those of use who didn’t make it through the entire first season, Syfy has put out a series of videos on the series, such as the one above. For those who want a briefer summary of season 1, below is a recap with cats:

Deadline interviewed the writers of Deadpool about the planned second movie. They also blamed the leak of test footage from the first movie on Putin.

The cast of Stranger Things teased season two in an interview with Vanity Fair.

Wayward Pines will not be returning this summer, but Fox has left open the possibility of it returning in the future. I’m actually happy to hear this. I’ve read the novels the show was based on by Blake Crouch, but the television show is one of many shows in this era of peak TV which I haven’t gotten to yet. Another year might give me a chance of watching the first two seasons before a third if there should be one. Incidentally, Blake Crouch is also the author of Dark Matter (no relationship to the televisions how by that name). The novel is more a page-turner thriller than hard science fiction, but, like his Wayward Pines series, was a quick and enjoyable read, and I’ve seen it on some of lists of top books of 2016. (Also, while not really related, I have used the hiatus in new shows around the holidays to catch up on Syfy’s Dark Matter and will now be able to include it in the weekly show coverage when it returns).

Return to Twin Peaks on May 21:

Kyle MacLachlan reprises his role as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper. TWIN PEAKS, the 18-part limited event series will debut with a two-part premiere on Sunday, May 21 at 9PM ET/PT. Immediately following the premiere, SHOWTIME subscribers will have access to the third and fourth parts, exclusively across the SHOWTIME streaming service, SHOWTIME ANYTIME® and SHOWTIME ON DEMAND®. In its second week, TWIN PEAKS will air the third and fourth parts back-to-back on the linear network, starting at 9 p.m. ET/PT, followed by one-hour parts in subsequent weeks…

Directed entirely by David Lynch, the new SHOWTIME limited event series picks up twenty-five years after the inhabitants of a quaint northwestern town were stunned when their homecoming queen Laura Palmer was shockingly murdered.

Widely considered one of the most groundbreaking and influential broadcast series of all time, TWIN PEAKS followed the inhabitants of a quaint northwestern town who were stunned after their homecoming queen Laura Palmer was shockingly murdered. The town’s sheriff welcomed the help of FBI agent Dale Cooper, who came to town to investigate the case. As Cooper conducted his search for Laura’s killer, the town’s secrets were gradually exposed. The mystery that ensued set off an eerie chain of events that plunged the inhabitants of Twin Peaks into a darker examination of their very existence. Twenty-five years later, the story continues…

Maisie Williams has a major role in an new superhero movie coming out on Netflix. It has a more modern origin story. Instead of being bit by a radioactive spider, the hero gets his powers from portions of a smartphone embedded in his brain:

Tom is an average teenager whose world is turned on its head when a violent encounter with local thugs leaves fragments of his shattered smartphone embedded in his brain. He wakes from a coma to discover that returning to normal teenage life is impossible because he has developed a strange set of superpowers. With these new powers he sets out to seek revenge on the gang, who also assaulted his best friend Lucy.

iBoy is a Netflix original film starring Bill Milner, Maisie Williams, Miranda Richardson and Rory Kinnear and is available on Netflix globally from January 27th, 2017.

The Hollywood Reporter has news on another Game of Thrones Star. Peter Linklage is engaged in talks to appear in Avengers: Infinity War.

The second season of Humans was excellent, and will become available (legally) in the United States on AMC on February 13. Deadline has some information. Syfy Wire spoke with the showrunners about topics including the comparisons to Westworld:

The showrunners were asked whether they minded that Westworld entered their same thematic storytelling space last year, but Brackley says the more, the merrier. “From our point of view, it’s only a good thing if people are interested in the issues we are all talking about. There’s plenty of room for both of us, and probably more about AI. Our shows are very different.”

Another excellent series from the UK will also become (legally) available in the US. Victoria debuts on PBS tonight. It is often compared to Golden Globe winner, The Crown, with similarities including actors from Doctor Who in key roles. While The Crown had Matt Smith in a supporting role, this one stars Jenna Coleman. Both The Crown and Victoria center around a new Queen and her relationship with the Prime Minister in their first season. Unlike The Crown, in which Elizabeth is married to Philip at the start, Victoria doesn’t meet Albert until later in the first season.  Entertainment Weekly has more on Victoria and spoke with Jenna Coleman:

Apparently there is some other show about British royalty called The Crown, which features your Doctor Who costar Matt Smith. Have you two compared notes?
[Laughs] I think both of us tried to work out our [characters’] relationship to each other. It’s funny, he’s filming the second season in London. I’ve seen all the first, which I think is fantastic.

We already know Victoria will have a second season. In an ideal world, how long will the show run?
It depends on appetite and the pacing. There’s so much story, it could run for 60-odd years!

There is another interview with Jenna Coleman at Collider.

The Night Manager was one of the highlights of 2016. This leaves me optimistic about the next John le Carré adaptation from AMC, The BBC, and The Ink FactoryThe Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

While several celebrities say that at first they were petrified about the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump, they are now singing, I Will Survive. Those singing Andrew Garfield, Chris Pine, Emma Stone, Amy Adams, Natalie Portman, Matthew McConaughey, and Chris Pine. Needless to say, conservatives don’t find this entertaining. The New York Times looked at how other celebrities such as Judd Apatow are responding in a different manner. I previously posted about reactions to Donald Trump at the Golden Globe Awards, including text and video of Meryl Streep’s speech, here.

Senate To Investigate Alleged Ties Between Trump And Putin

The Hill  and Politco report that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to probe the alleged connections between Donald Trump and Russia. As long as it is a real investigation, and not a coverup or witch hunt depending upon party affiliation, I’m all for investigating. I’ll go with whatever the facts show. I could be wrong, but at the moment I question if the Russia claims are the new Benghazi.

There is a tendency of people to believe negative things they hear about politicians they do not like. Sometimes they are true, and sometimes they are not. While I do not like Hillary Clinton, and have discussed at length many of the valid criticisms of her, I never bought into many of the claims ranging from Vince Foster to Benghazi. Turning on Fox (which I can only handle in brief spurts) demonstrates that many on the right still believe these things. Despite all the conspiracy theories, multiple investigations have shown that most of what conservatives claimed about Benghazi was false. All that is left is the possibility that Clinton might have involved in spinning the explanation for the attack after the fact based upon what sounded best politically, and it is also possible we were just seeing confusion from the fog of war as opposed to intentional deceit.

I don’t like Trump any more than I like Clinton, and there is also considerable valid criticism of him, but the material recently released regarding Trump’s alleged Russian ties has the same smell of bullshit as that which surrounded Benghazi. Claims of Russian attempts to influence our election are probably valid, just as the United States (including Hillary Clinton) often tries to influence elections in other nations. Circumstantial evidence such as business ties between Trump and associates is insufficient to prove a wider conspiracy.

This all needs to be investigated, but any conclusions ultimately need to be based upon the facts, not whether you dislike Trump for other valid reasons. On the other hand, if there is valid evidence against Trump, this should not be ignored just because you dislike Hillary Clinton, also for multiple other reasons. If the claims are false, they should be demonstrated to be false, as opposed to hiding behind the vastly over-used term fake news.

Whatever the investigation finds, Russian interference is not the main reason Hillary Clinton lost. There are no credible allegations that Russia actually hacked the voting machines, or even faked email. The Wikileaks email was one of many factors which was damaging to the Clinton campaign, but ultimately this just provided evidence of dishonesty on the part of Clinton, and unfair intervention in the campaign by the DNC, which was already known. Similarly, it is foolish to blame James Comey for Clinton’s loss when it was Clinton who both violated the rules regarding handling of email (as documented in the State Department Inspector General report) and who handled classified information in a careless manner, placing her campaign in this situation. Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate for Democrats to nominate, and she went on to run an inept campaign.

One negative to a two party election system is that some people come out of it seeing one side as good and the other side as bad. Both sides can be bad, and if we are unusually fortunate, perhaps some year we will have an election when both sides are good. Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. Disliking Clinton is no reason to like either Trump or Putin, and all of Trump and Putin’s flaws do not make Hillary Clinton acceptable.

Russian Journalist Warns Of Dangers To The Free Press Under Trump

Donald Trump’s confrontation with the press on Wednesday has reinforced the view among civil libertarians that Donald Trump’s election is a threat to the free press. In November, the Freedom of the Press Foundation pointed out that–

he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment.

While much of Trump’s behavior is unprecedented by American standards, Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev found this to be similar to what journalists face in Russia. He wrote:

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now …

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

Kovalev had other warnings for the press, such as not to expect any camaraderie from other members of the press: ” It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.”

While Kovalev addressed this to “my doomed colleagues in the American media,” fortunately the United States is not Russia. We have a tradition of supporting freedom of the press which Russia lacks. Trump might attack journalists, but he is not likely to have them killed as has become far too common in Russia. PolitiFact points out that “Russia currently ranks 180 out of 199 countries for press freedom, behind Iraq, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the international watchdog Freedom House.”

Unlike Russia, elected government officials can be voted out of office, and public opinion has some effect on them. While it is common for winning presidential candidates to receive a positive bounce after being elected, Donald Trump is taking office with record low approval. The latest Gallup poll found:

In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving. Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving…

Trump’s 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton’s in 1992-1993. Trump’s current rating only further separates him from his predecessors — particularly Barack Obama, who earned 83% approval for his handling of the transition process in January 2009, up from 75% in mid-December 2008….

The last president before Trump to win the election despite losing the national popular vote was George W. Bush in 2000. However, while Bush’s transition scores were lower than those of both his predecessor (Clinton) and his successor (Obama), his 61% approval rating in mid-January 2001 was nowhere near as low as Trump’s is today.

Evaluating Russian Actions Based Upon Facts And Not Political Biases

With the intelligence reports released yesterday being somewhat underwhelming but raising serious questions, I fear that many people will continue to look at the Russian hacking through partisan lenses as opposed to taking a fact-based approach. Clinton supporters many partisan Democrats see a conspiracy between Trump and Russia which stole the election from who they see as the rightful winner, ignoring how weak a candidate Clinton was. Some opponents of Clinton, on both the left and right, go to the other extreme in denying any foul play by Russia, with some even displaying a misplaced admiration for a despot such as Putin. The facts we have now place matters somewhere in between.

William Rivers Pitt had a good comment on the situation on Facebook:

I am capable of holding two thoughts in my head simultaneously. 1: Clinton and her campaign fucked up royally and are in full dodge mode; 2: Russia fucked with a national presidential election. Both of these things can be true at the same time.

Try it, see what happens. This binary 1 0 1 0 shit is for the birds.

To this I would add 3: The United States also has a long history in meddling in foreign elections. This includes Clinton. Therefore it is important to keep matters in perspective. Clinton, Trump, and Putin are all bad guys here. It is not necessary to love Putin (or Trump) if you oppose Clinton.

I think we are seeing excessive push back from some on the left because of the manner in which many Clinton supporters have exaggerated the significance this, with claims that Clinton would have won if not for  Putin (or Comey). This is especially dangerous when we hear speculation that Clinton might run again in four years, which would be a colossal mistake.

It is not necessary to deny that Russia has had a policy of trying to disrupt western elections to blur the distinction between himself and the west. Improving relations with Russia as Trump speaks of is preferable to Clinton’s Cold War policies, but we also must not be naive regarding Russia, or totally ignore intelligence based upon political considerations.

Last night Rachel Maddow gave a rather one-sided account of events, portraying Clinton as the hero in opposing Putin, ignoring her history of support for regime change. Clinton is also not an innocent here, and Russia had legitimate reason for concern that the election of Clinton would greatly increase the chances of increased conflict with the United States. David Remnick provides a more balanced background, including Putin’s disdain for Hillary Clinton, and reminds us of reasons we should not admire Putin out of common ground of opposing the policies of Hillary Clinton:

Putin’s resentment of Clinton was always manifest; it is almost as severe as Trump’s. Putin saw the Clinton Administration of the nineties as having taken advantage of Russian weakness after the fall of the Soviet Union, twenty-five years ago. He viewed Hillary Clinton as a foreign-policy hawk who wanted regime change from Baghdad to Kiev to Moscow. In 2011, Putin, who lives in fear of spontaneous uprisings, events like the Arab Spring and the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia, accused Clinton of giving “a signal” to urge thousands of Russians to come out on the streets of Moscow to protest parliamentary-election “irregularities” and Putin’s intention to return once more to the Kremlin as President.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with Russian political experts, and all of them agreed that Putin was certainly pleased, at least initially, with Trump’s victory—and that satisfaction is reflected, too, on countless news and talk shows on television. These analysts added that Putin is undoubtedly cheered that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s appointment to head the State Department, was likely to leave behind American “sanctimony” about human rights and democracy and, following the pattern of his career at ExxonMobil, to concentrate on purely “transactional politics.” Some, however, wondered if Putin will remain enchanted with Trump once he encounters Trump’s inconsistencies, his alarming penchant for surprise pronouncements via Twitter.

Like many nationalist politicians in Europe, Trump has made plain his admiration for Putin, complimenting the Russian leader’s “great control over his country,” while at the same time failing to address the reality that Putin’s regime has instituted wholesale censorship of television, increased repressive measures on ordinary citizens, and unleashed his forces in Ukraine and Syria. (Putin, of course, discounts criticism of his policies as Western hypocrisy and points to everything from the invasion of Iraq, which he opposed, to the eastward expansion of NATO, which he sees as an aggressive act.)

Trump’s argument throughout the campaign, the reason for his compliments for Putin, he has said, is related to his stated desire to ease tensions between Russia and the United States and avoid the ultimate disaster, a nuclear confrontation. But what concerns many seasoned American analysts, politicians, and diplomats is that Trump is deluding himself about Putin’s intentions and refuses to see the nature of Russia’s nationalist, autocratic regime clearly. Trump has spoken critically of NATO and in support of European nationalist initiatives like Brexit to such a degree that, according to one Obama Administration official, “our allies are absolutely terrified and completely bewildered.”

Strobe Talbott, who was Bill Clinton’s closest adviser on Russia, told me recently that the hack of the D.N.C. and Putin’s other moves in Europe—including the annexation of Crimea, the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, and the financial support of nationalists like Marine Le Pen, of France—were part of a larger strategy intended to weaken the E.U. and NATO.

The reports continue to leave many questions open, as described by The New York Times:

Perhaps most arresting is the assessment that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, sees the election attack as payback — not offense, but defense. He has borne a serious grudge against Mrs. Clinton, who he believes denigrated him when she was secretary of state and encouraged the pro-democracy protests in Moscow that erupted against him in 2011.

Mr. Putin, the report says, sees the hidden hand of the United States in the leaking of the Panama Papers, files stolen from a law firm that exposed the wealth of his closest associates, secreted in offshore accounts. He even blames the United States for the exposure — carried out mainly by international sports authorities — of Russian athletes for their widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“From the Russian perspective, this is punching back,” said Christopher Porter, a former C.I.A. officer who now studies cyberattacks at the firm FireEye. “We may not think that’s fair or justified, but that’s the way they see it.”

Mr. Porter said Mr. Putin had made no secret of his view that the United States, by promoting democracy in countries like Ukraine and Georgia, had interfered in Russia’s backyard and was trying to undermine its power.

What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey.

There is only a whisper of dissent in the report — the eavesdroppers of the N.S.A. believe with only “moderate confidence” that Russia aimed to help Mr. Trump, while their colleagues at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have “high confidence.”

While most of Congress and much of the public appears to accept the agencies’ findings, Mr. Trump’s prominent doubts, accompanied at times by scorn for the agencies’ competence, has rallied a diverse array of skeptics on the right and the left. Under the circumstances, many in Washington expected the agencies to make a strong public case to erase any uncertainty.

Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to “trust us.” There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’s propaganda machinery.

While the claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed the need to be skeptical of intelligence reports, especially when used to justify going to war, they also cannot be discounted. Most likely Russia was involved in trying to influence the US election, as they have been involved in similar actions in Europe. This does not mean that there was a direct conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed without any evidence. On the other hand, it would be a serious matter if this was true, and any connections should be investigated.

This also does not mean that Russia is responsible for Clinton’s loss. While Wikileaks received a lot of news coverage, at most it was one of many factors affecting a very close election. As I mentioned previouslyFivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election. None of the released intelligence information casts any doubt on the accuracy of the leaked email, regardless of whether Russia was indirectly the source for Wikileaks.

The Search For Excuses For Clinton’s Loss Continues, Dividing Clintonland

Hillary Clinton and her supporters continue to blame others for her loss to Donald Trump, despite a poorly run campaign with an unpopular candidate. James Comey was a hero to Hillary Clinton and her supporters when Comey announced his recommendation against prosecution, but now, along with Vladimir Putin, he is receiving the blame in Clintonland for Hillary Clinton’s loss. Attacks on the FBI by John  Podesta have now prompted Loretta Lynch, generally seen as an ally of the Clintons, to break rank and defend Comey over both the investigation of alleged Russian interference in the election and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. CNN reports:

Attorney General Loretta Lynch defended the FBI’s handling of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, swatting away criticism from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman as uninformed…

Much of the trashing happened in The Washington Post, where Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta lambasted the agency as slow to respond.

“He’s not involved in the ongoing investigation so he wouldn’t be privy to everything that would have been done or said to that. But as I said, he’s entitled to his opinion,” Lynch said of Podesta. “I can tell you that this investigation was taken seriously from the beginning.”

Lynch repeatedly declined to address Podesta’s specific allegations, saying she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But she suggested that the longtime Democratic power-broker was tainted by his political connections and was not an unbiased observer.

“I know also because of his involvement with the campaign, he’s going to have a certain interest in this and a certain view of that,” she said. “Everyone has a great deal of respect for him. So I allow him that opinion, but I disagree with that.”

Lynch also declined to say whether the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server earned more attention from law enforcement than the Russian hackings, saying it would not “be helpful to try and draw equivalencies to any investigations.” But she broadly defended the government’s handling of cyberthreats as “extremely high quality.”

Even back when James Comey was a hero to Clintonistas, there was selective hearing of  his statement which pointed out both carelessness and dishonesty on the part of Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton frequently lied about this initial FBI report. Clinton’s statement that, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful” was the first lie listed by Glenn Kessler (listed in no particular order) in his listing of The biggest Pinocchios of 2016. Hillary Clinton’s frequent lies during the campaign negated any advantage she might have had over Donald Trump, who has shown very little regard for facts or reality.

Julian Assange continues to deny that Russia was the source of the leaked email.  Regardless of the source, the media coverage continues to downplay the fact that Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons unrelated to the Wikileaks email, and that she deserves any negative impact from the information revealed about her campaign regardless of its source.

Sam Kriss has made comments in Slate regarding the question of Russian interference in the election which are similar to my previous posts on this topic:

It’s possible that the Democratic National Committee leaks were caused by Russian hackers—but given that the hack took place thanks to John Podesta clicking on a link in a phishing email, displaying all the technological savvy of someone’s aunt extremely excited by the new iPhone she thinks she’s won, it could have been anyone. The “leaked” CIA concerns over Russian meddling were quite clearly leaked deliberately by the CIA itself, an organization not exactly famed for its commitment to the truth; they’re the conclusions of an investigation that hasn’t even happened yet and on which there’s no consensus even among the gang of petty Caligulas that calls itself the intelligence community. Still, it’s possible. Countries sometimes try to exert influence in each other’s internal affairs; it’s part of great-power politics, and it’s been happening for a very long time. When Americans meddled in Russia’s elections, it was by securing victory for Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s very own Donald Trump, a man who had sent in tanks to shell his own parliament. Leaked cables suggest that Hillary Clinton’s own State Department interfered with the political process in Haiti by suppressing a rise in the minimum wage. And American involvement in the politics of Chile, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Iran was mostly through military coups, sponsored by none other than the CIA. There was no question of these countries repeating their elections; anyone the generals didn’t like was tortured to death. Next to the mountain of corpses produced by America’s history of fixing foreign elections, a few hacked emails are entirely insignificant.

Whatever Russia did or didn’t do, the idea that its interference is what cost Hillary Clinton the election is utterly ludicrous and absolutely false. What cost Hillary Clinton the election can be summed up by a single line from Sen. Chuck Schumer, soon to be the country’s highest-ranking Democrat: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” As it turned out, he was fatally wrong. It wasn’t the Russians who told the Democratic Party to abandon the working-class people of all races who used to form its electoral base. It wasn’t the Russians who decided to run a presidential campaign that offered people nothing but blackmail—“vote for us or Dangerous Donald wins.” The Russians didn’t come up with awful tin-eared catchphrases like “I’m with her” or “America is already great.” The Russians never ordered the DNC to run one of the most widely despised people in the country, simply because she thought it was her turn. The Democrats did that all by themselves.

What the Russia obsession represents is a massive ethical failure on the part of American liberals. People really will suffer under President Trump—women, queer people, Muslims, poor people of every stripe. But so many in the centrist establishment don’t seem to care. They’re far too busy weaving themselves into intricate geopolitical power plays that don’t really exist, searching for a narrative that exonerates them from having let this happen, to do anything like real political work.

Despite Clinton Conspiracy Theories, FBI Finds No Clear Link Between Trump And Russia

trump-putin-clinton

Donald Trump has many other faults, but The New York Times reports that the FBI has found no clear link between Trump and Russia:

For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters, angry over what they regard as a lack of scrutiny of Mr. Trump by law enforcement officials, pushed for these investigations. In recent days they have also demanded that James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I., discuss them publicly, as he did last week when he announced that a new batch of emails possibly connected to Mrs. Clinton had been discovered.

The Clinton campaign has been trying to blame many of their problems on Russia, imagining a conspiracy between Trump and Putin and engaging in what has felt like Cold War era red-baiting.

Clinton and Putin have a long history of distrust for each other, and, while there is no clear evidence, it is possible that Putin did desire to interfere in Clinton’s election in retaliation for what he perceived as Clinton interfering in Russian elections along with her views on regime change. From Politico:

…nothing angered Putin as much as Clinton’s statement about Russia’s December 2011 parliamentary elections, which produced widespread allegations of fraud and vote-rigging on behalf of Putin allies. At a conference in Lithuania, Clinton issued a biting statement saying that the Russian people “deserve to have their voices heard and their votes counted, and that means they deserve fair, free transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.” Some Obama officials felt the provocative statement went too far…

Whether Putin genuinely believed that Clinton was plotting his overthrow is another question. But he has repeatedly criticized the U.S. for “regime change” policies that have toppled authoritarians in other countries, including Iraq and Libya, that Clinton supported. In the latter case, Putin was furious when a 2011 U.S. and European military operation billed as humanitarian — and advocated by Clinton — evolved into a de facto campaign against dictator Muammar Qadhafi.

Putin reportedly obsessed over Qadhafi’s violent death in Kremlin meetings. The graphic video of the Libya ruler’s bloodied body being dragged by a mob is often replayed on Russian television, along with Clinton’s wisecrack about the executed strongman: “We came, we saw, he died.”

It has been a goal of Clinton’s fellow neoconservatives to also achieve regime change in Russia, similar to Iraq and Libya, and Clinton has threatened war with Russia. Even prior to this threat, Putin and other Russian leaders have believed that the election of Clinton would mean war between the United States and Russia, giving them motivation to oppose Clinton without any plots between Trump and Putin.

Another story in The New York Times describes how Donald Trump Used Legally Dubious Method to Avoid Paying Taxes.

Update: Slate reviewed some of the suspicious behavior which has suggested communications between the Trump Organization and Russia.

Putin Cracking Down On Bloggers And Swearing

Putin

The New York Times reports on new restrictions on bloggers in Russia:

Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Vladimir V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.

Mr. Putin’s action on Monday, just weeks after he disparaged the Internet as “a special C.I.A. project,” borrowed a page from the restrictive Internet playbooks of many governments around the world that have been steadily smothering online freedoms they once tolerated…

Widely known as the “Bloggers Law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.

Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.

“This law will cut the number of critical voices and opposition voices on the Internet,” said Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defense Center and an expert on Russian media law. “The whole package seems quite restrictive and might affect harshly those who disseminate critical information about the state, about authorities, about public figures.”

The article also notes actions to suppress the Internet in China, Turkey, Venezuela, and Pakistan.

Update: CNN reports on a law prohibiting obscene language in art:

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law Monday that bans swearing at arts, cultural and entertainment events in the country.

Any new film containing obscene language won’t be granted a distribution certificate, so there’s no chance of seeing it at the movie theater.

And copies of books, CDs or films containing swearing can only be distributed in a sealed package labeled “Contains obscene language,” a Kremlin statement said.

According to state news agency ITAR-Tass, individuals caught using foul language face a fine of up to $70, while officials can be fined up to $40 and businesses nearly $1,400. They face a higher fine and a three-month suspension of business for repeated offenses.

Determination of what counts as profane language will be done through “an independent examination,” the news agency said…

A report by rights group Amnesty International in January highlighted a denial of “basic freedoms” in Russia, which last year introduced a law barring anyone from talking positively about homosexuality in earshot of minors.

Imagine what they might do to bloggers who swear.

The 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner–Full Video And Best Lines

Above is the video of Barack Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Full transcript is here and excerpts follow:

I admit it — last year was rough.  Sheesh.  At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.

Of course, we rolled out healthcare.gov.  That could have gone better.  In 2008 my slogan was, “Yes We Can.”  In 2013 my slogan was, “Control-Alt-Delete.”  On the plus side, they did turn the launch of healthcare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.  (Slide of “Frozen”)

But rather than dwell on the past, I would like to pivot to this dinner.  Let’s welcome our headliner this evening, Joel McHale.  On “Community,” Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist.  So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.

I want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for hosting us here tonight.  I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia.  The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.  I think they’re still searching for their table.

MSNBC is here.  They’re a little overwhelmed.  They’ve never seen an audience this big before.

Just last month, a wonderful story — an American won the Boston Marathon for first time in 30 years. Which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six.

We have some other athletes here tonight, including Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson is here.  We’re proud of her.  Incredibly talented young lady.  Michelle and I watched the Olympics — we cannot believe what these folks do — death-defying feats — haven’t seen somebody pull a “180” that fast since Rand Paul disinvited that Nevada rancher from this dinner. As a general rule, things don’t like end well if the sentence starts, “Let me tell you something I know about the negro.”  You don’t really need to hear the rest of it. Just a tip for you — don’t start your sentence that way.

And speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight.  But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front.  Hello, Fox News.

Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.

Of course, now that it’s 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms.  Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don’t really want me campaigning with them.  And I don’t think that’s true — although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton.a, Bill Clinton, Bill O’Reilly, Captain America, Chris Christie, Community, Donald Trump, Facebook, Fox, George Bush, Health Care Reform, Hillary Clinton, House of Cards, Jeb Bush,

And I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the Speaker of the House, as well.  These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.

Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever.  Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder:  What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?

One issue, for example, we haven’t been able to agree on is unemployment insurance.  Republicans continue to refuse to extend it.  And you know what, I am beginning to think they’ve got a point.  If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else.

Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy.  They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.  Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment. Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don’t want to repeal it?  What if everybody’s cholesterol drops to 120?  What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game? Not the old, Donald Sterling Clippers — the new Oprah Clippers.  Would that be good enough?  What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse?  What is it going to take?

Joel McHale, star of Community and The Soup, did an excellent job. #sixtimesashostandamovie. He has followed a long line of top comedians who have roasted politicians and the media and previous events. The all time best speakers was Stephen Colbert who roasted George Bush in 2006. The full transcript of his speech can be found here.

Following are some of Joel McHale’s best jokes, with video above and full transcript here.

Good evening, Mr. President — or as Paul Ryan refers to you, yet another inner-city minority relying on the federal government to feed and house your family.

I’m a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s one of the all- time great presidents — definitely in the top 50. Please explain that to Jessica Simpson. You’re right. That was low.

All right, how about the president’s performance tonight, everyone?  It is — it’s amazing that you can still bring it with fresh, hilarious material. And my favorite bit of yours was when you said you’d close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. That was a classic. That was hilarious, hilarious. Still going.

All right, look, I know it’s been a long night, but I promise that tonight will be both amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.

It’s a genuine thrill to be here in Washington, D.C., the city that started the whole crack-smoking-mayor craze.

The vice president isn’t here tonight, not for security reasons. He just thought this event was being held at the Dulles Airport Applebee’s. Yes, right now Joe is elbow-deep in jalapeno poppers and talking to a construction cone he thinks is John Boehner. Also true.

Hillary Clinton has a lot going for her as a candidate. She has experience. She’s a natural leader. And, as our first female president, we could pay her 30 percent less. That’s the savings this country could use.

Hillary’s daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to “Bad Grandpa.” It also raises the question, when the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?

Jeb Bush says he’s thinking about running. Wow, another Bush might be in the White House. Is it already time for our every-10- years surprise party for Iraq? Yes.

As it stands right now, the Republican presidential nominee will either be Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, or a bag of flour with Ronald Reagan’s face drawn on it.  A bag of flour. All right.

People are asking, will Donald Trump run again? And the answer is, does that thing on his head crap in the woods?  I actually don’t know. I don’t know.I don’t know if that thing on his head has a digestive system.

Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.  Now, I get that. I’m sorry for that joke, Governor Christie. I didn’t know I was going to tell it, but I take full responsibility for it. Whoever wrote it will be fired. But the buck stops here. So I will be a man and own up to it, just as soon as I get to the bottom of how it happened, because I was unaware it happened until just now.

I’m appointing a blue-ribbon commission of me to investigate the joke I just told. And if I find any wrongdoing on my part, I assure you I will be dealt with. I just looked into it. It turns out I’m not responsible for it. Justice has been served. He’s going to kill me.

Mr. President, you’re no stranger to criticism. Ted Nugent called you a subhuman mongrel. And it’s comments like that which really make me question whether we can take the guy who wrote “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” seriously anymore.

Your approval rating has slipped. And even worse, you only got two stars on Yelp.

Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was to get the president out of office. So, Mitch, congrats on being just two years away from realizing your goal. You did it — kind of.

But thanks to “Obamacare,” or, as the president refers to it, “Mecare,” millions of newly insured young Americans can visit a doctor’s office and see what a print magazine actually looks like. That’s awesome.

Now over 8 million people have signed up for “Obamacare,” which sounds impressive until you realize Ashley Tisdale has 12 million Twitter followers. So that’s pretty good.

Sir, I do think you’re making a big mistake with Putin. You have to show a guy like that that you’re just as crazy as he is. He invades Crimea. You invade Cancun.  Russia takes back the Ukraine. America takes back Texas. Something to think about.

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is here. Finally I can put a face to the mysterious voice clearing its throat on the other end of the phone.  It was weird.

And CNN is desperately searching for something they’ve been missing for months — their dignity.  Totally. That was just that table. At this point, CNN is like the Radio Shack in a sad strip mall. You don’t know how it’s stayed in business this long. You don’t know anyone that shops there. And they just fired Piers Morgan.

Fox News is the highest-rated network in cable news.  Yeah. I can’t believe your table  — that far.  And it’s all thanks to their key demographic, the corpses of old people who tuned in to Fox News and haven’t yet been discovered.

Former “Inside Edition” host Bill O’Reilly is not here. He did host that. Bill’s got another book coming out soon, so he’s making his ghost writers work around the clock. Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity are the Mount Rushmore of keeping old people angry.

This event brings together both Washington and Hollywood. The relationship between Washington and Hollywood has been a long and fruitful one. You give us tax credits for film and television production, and in return, we bring much-needed jobs to hard-working American cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Vancouver again.

Hollywood helps America by projecting a heroic image to the rest of the world. We just released another movie about Captain America, or, as he’s known in China, Captain Who Owes Us $1.1 Trillion.

There’s a lot of celebrities here tonight. They’re the ones that don’t look like ghouls. Look around. The cast of “Veep” is here. That’s a series about what would happen if a Seinfeld star actually landed on another good show. I like “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” I swear.

I’m not going to spoil the shocking twist on “House of Cards,” but just know that it was so surprising that Nancy Pelosi’s face almost changed expression. Did you like that one, Nancy? I can’t tell.

Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, is here. So if any of you congressmen want to cut out the middleman, just show him your penis. Not now! Are you nuts?

And here’s why America is the best country in the world. A guy like me can stand before the president, the press and Patrick Duffy — and tell jokes without severe repercussions. And instead of being shipped off to a gulag, I’m going to the Vanity Fair after-party. That’s right. This is America, where everyone can be a Pussy Riot.

Edward Snowden Explains That His Goal Was To Expose Putin For Lying About Mass Surveillance, Not To Whitewash Him

Yesterday Edward Snowden called into a question and answer show held by Vladamir Putin and asked him about mass surveillance in Russia. The video is above. Putin’s response:

“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent,” the president replied. “I used to work for an intelligence service. Let’s speak professionally.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Mr. Putin said. “You have to get a court’s permission first.” He noted that terrorists use electronic communications and that Russia had to respond to that threat.

“Of course we do this,” Mr. Putin said. “But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”

“But what is most important,” Mr. Putin concluded, “is that the special services, thank God, are under a strict control of the government and the society, and their activities are regulated by law.”

Most likely as a reflection of views they already had about him, some people have since criticized Snowden for giving Putin the opportunity to lie in this manner, as if the only way Putin could lie on Russian television is by responding to a question from Edward Snowden. Think Progress has pointed out some of the ways in which Putin was lying:

Numerous reports lay doubt to Putin’s claims that the collection of information is much more narrowly tailored in Russia. In fall 2012, Russia put into place a system it claimed was to protect children from viewing pornography. The method it decided to enact that goal, however, was one not only puts into place a list of banned websites that could surpress political speech, but also has the ability to track the flow of information across Russian networks. “Logistically, this will require Russia’s [internet service providers] to maintain detailed records of user traffic and would allow the Russian government a potential backdoor into the private lives of Russia’s internet users,” ThinkProgress explained at the time of the network’s launch.

Last October, Reuters also reported that the Russian government was requiring internet service providers to “store all traffic temporarily and make it available to the top domestic intelligence agency.” Under the order drafted in the Communications Ministry, the FSB — the successor to the KGB — would have access for 12 hours to all stored data, “including phone numbers, IP addresses, account names, social network activity and e-mail addresses.” That order is due to take effect this July.

And just this year, Russian officials admit while defending hotels in Sochi built for the Winter Olympics that they were equipped with surveillance equipment that was closely watched. The entire proceedings in the Russian resort town were subject to a massive dragnet of surveillance as a system was put into place to monitor all communications that flowed in and out. This was done using the SORM system that Russia utilizes to listen in to phone conversations and read email threads, which according to Privacy International, “gathers information from all communication media, and offers long-term storage (three years), providing access to all user data.” SORM is deployed year-round and controlled by the FSB.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said he has been on the receiving end of the Russian surveillance program. As a government official, he was a prime target, he told NBC just prior to stepping down earlier this year, but Americans writ large are also subject to having their information spied upon, given Moscow’s espionage abilities. “As we remind all Americans that come to this country,” McFaul said, “the Russian government has tremendous capabilities, and legal by their law, of intercepting phone calls, emails, etc.”

In a post at The Guardian entitled Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama, Snowden explained that “I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him.”

On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”

I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.)

Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.

In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as “extremely important for Russia”. According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

Others have pointed out that Putin’s response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.

So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

When this event comes around next year, I hope we’ll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don’t have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals’ communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.

I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.

Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded “will make our nation stronger”. I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.

I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials’ claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.

This comes a few days after The Guardian and the Washington Post received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on the NSA surveillance based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden.