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Friday, February 16, 2018


 

How important are political posts on the Internet anyway?


Now that the horse has left the barn and everyone is all verklempt about Russian meddling in the election (and indictments have even just been issued against 13 Russians) along comes the New York Times with an article which finally makes clear that the importance of these things has been vastly overblown, thanks to a number of factors, including A) It's hard to change people's minds; B) Most people did not see the material in question anyway; C) The ones that did already had the strongest opinions and hence were the least likely to change them; and D) The material in question was a tiny percentage of the material available online.

But the article misstates the case by repeatedly talking about "fake news". Because, as another study in today's Washington Post shows, something they ludicrously (given what follows) refer to as "Russia's disinformation campaign" primarily consisted of promoting stories which appeared in "mainstream" sources, including the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. Real "fake news" stories (like the infamous "pizzagate" story) are given an importance far in excess of their actual existence.

Never forget that when the first report of "Russian meddling" appeared last January, more than half of it was devoted not to hacking of DNC emails, but to public broadcasts of the RT network, and the things that the intelligence agencies found nefarious and objectionable in them included such things as broadcasting a third-party debate, airing a documentary about Occupy Wall Street, and carrying anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. Never forget that when the government talks about Russian "propaganda", this is what they're talking about. Not "fake" news. Real news, but in many cases real news that CNN and the New York Times and Washington Post are doing their best to ignore.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


 

What lies behind the DNI warning that "the Russians are coming in 2018"?


Earlier this week, the heads of the FBI, CIA, and NSA testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, along with DNI head Dan Coats. They were testifying about the latest DNI report about "threats to the United States" but here's the interesting thing. The report is 28 pages long, and covers a wide variety of threats (or perceived or alleged threats). But virtually all the news coverage of that event focussed on just three paragraphs out of those 28 pages, the paragraphs which dealt with predictions (no evidence, mind you!) of Russian interference in the upcoming 2018 elections. Below is a selection of coverage from Google News and also the front page (above the fold!) from the San José Mercury News, showing the prominence this aspect of the story received. And of course this is just the print coverage; the same was echoed in broadcast coverage. Every broadcast I watched (several channels) featured this and only this aspect of the hearing; BBC World News featured a minutes-long interview with Leon Panetta on the subject.


Now part of this emphasis was due to the fact that questioning, particularly by Democrats, focused on that, but it's also because of the media's own predilections. Among other things, they wouldn't want you reading or viewing or listening to RT or Sputnik or TeleSUR and realizing there are other points of view, other information you aren't getting from reading the Times or Post or watching CNN.

So what was said? Coats claimed that the “U.S. is under attack by cyber [sic] to penetrate nearly every major action that takes place in U.S.” Quite a statement. How does he define that "penetration"? He's not talking about hacking. No, rather “Propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen”. In other words, he's talking about free speech. Including mine.

This is the perfect time to recall the previous DNI report, the infamous one from last January which started the public allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. That report contained 2 pages of "background", 2 pages of "summary", 5 pages of the actual report (consisting entirely of evidence-free claims like "We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election", and then 7 pages of an Annex (written in 2012!) describing the supposedly nefarious functioning of Russian-funded broadcaster RT. That is to say, of the "meat" of the report, a whopping 58% of the report was actually devoted to describing the actions of RT (and their actions four years before the 2016 election at that)!

And what kind of accusations were hurled at RT in that Annex? They "aired shows that overwhelmingly focused on criticism of US and Western governments." They "broadcast, hosted, and advertised third-party candidate debates" and dared to suggest that "the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population." They "aired a documentary about Occupy Wall Street." They "allege widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality". They ran "anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health". They were "a leading media voice opposing [illegal] Western intervention in the Syrian conflict."

Are you sensing a pattern? This is what Dan Coats is talking about when he talks about Russian "propaganda." These are the kind of discussions the U.S. government would dearly love to suppress from the media, and if they can stigmatize (or even outlaw) foreign outlets like RT and Sputnik (and, no doubt, TeleSUR as well), and brand anyone voicing similar ideas (guilty as charged) as "sympathetic spokesmen", they will have achieved their aim. They're not concerned with the 2018 election, that's just a cover story. Their real concern is our free speech, and the crimp it puts on their actions.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


 

Colin Powell at the U.N., 15 years later


15 years ago today, Colin Powell delivered his infamous speech at the U.N., the speech which cemented the support of the U.S. political and media establishments for the invasion of Iraq, under the pretext of "weapons of mass destruction". This blog came into existence in August, 2003, a few months later, as one of the very first (if not the first) radical left blogs on the internet (there were a few leftish progressive Democrat blogs at the time, that was about it). Here are some of the posts from that time (and later) which talk about Powell's speech:

Here's a letter to the editor I wrote, before the blog started, but after Powell's speech. I had no special knowledge with which to analyze his speech, just the ability to listen, read, and analyze what was being said, rather than simply accept it at face value. That, unfortunately, was more than the editors of the New York Times, Washington Post, and almost all Democrats and Republicans were capable of.

Here's an article I wrote many years later, when people started asking George Bush and other politicians, "If you knew then what you know now...". That question was a distraction, an excuse, because, as I show in the article, there was plenty known then (more than I had known when I had written that letter to the editor), way more than enough to say that "WMD" was just an excuse to carry out yet another U.S. war of regime change.

And this article talks about a subject which I was practically the only one to ever write about — the fate of Iraqi General Amer al-Saadi, the Iraqi liaison to the weapons inspectors and the man who spoke the truth to Powell's lies. "'I have always told the truth about these old programs,' Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser said in an interview with German TV last April [2003]. 'The future will show it.'" As I wrote in that article, "History has proven that every word al-Saadi spoke was true, and every accusation made by Colin Powell ('We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories...There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more...Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons.') was false." Remarkably, the fate of General al-Saadi, who was imprisoned after the war, remains unknown, while the fate of Colin Powell remains all too well-known.

Thursday, February 01, 2018


 

Did Russian Twitter bots really jump on #ReleaseTheMemo


The claim, widely repeated in the media (e.g., here), is that “Russian bots” increased the use of the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo by 233,000 percent! First, without knowing the numbers (from what to what), percent increases are meaningless. An increase from 1 to 2 is a 100% increase. Any low starting number (like 0, before the subject was even raised) can generate huge percentage increases. Nowhere I can see are the actual numbers reported.

But more importantly, the Hamilton 68 website (run by these people) that tracks these things does not track Russian “bots”, it tracks its alleged “pro-Russian influence network”, which consists of unknown people (could be me or you!), and even at that Hamilton 68 says “It should be reiterated that the presence of a hashtag on the Hamilton 68 dashboard does not necessarily suggest that the success of a hashtag is the result of Russian influence operations, nor does it mean that hashtag originated with the Russian-linked influence operation network we monitor.” None of these qualifiers are being reflected in the media coverage of this "story".

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


 

Fascist statues in Ukraine


You get branded a Russian stooge in this country, or perhaps a "Putin puppet", if you dare to speak the truth that what happened in the Ukraine in 2014 was a neo-Fascist led, U.S.-supported (and, to an extent, organized) coup and not any kind of "revolution".

Here's where we are today, and please note this is not from any "Russian troll" but rather from an Israeli newspaper — statues to Fascists who murdered as many as 100,000 Jews are being erected in Jewish neighborhoods in the Ukraine, much as statues to people who defended the "right" to enslave Black people were being erected in the United States as recently as 2015! If you think that Russia is on the wrong side in Ukraine, I've got news for you — you're the one on the wrong side.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


 

America's "legal rationale" for being in Syria


AP writes today:
The Islamic State's retreat also has forced the U.S. to stretch thinner its legal rationale for operating in Syria. Doing so has raised delicate questions about whether Congress and the American people have truly signed off on a mandate for Syria that goes far beyond killing terrorists.
"Stretch thinner"? The U.S.' "legal rationale" for "operating" in Syria is so thin it's translucent, and that's just the rationale based on U.S. law. Under international law, the situation couldn't be clearer — the U.S. has troops in a foreign country without the invitation of that country, and that country did not attack the U.S. That is de facto illegal under international law, and a war crime. There simply isn't any argument about that.

What is surprising about this paragraph is that it is practically the only time you will ever see a reference to the legality of the U.S. occupying Syria at all; virtually all articles in the U.S. corporate press simply overlook that inconvenient fact.

And, while one can make the thinnest of cases that Congress has "signed off on a mandate for [killing terrorists in] Syria", there is simply no case that the "American people" ever did so. And even less of a case (if that's possible) that the American people signed off on a mandate that goes beyond that. In fact, Donald Trump's victory (albeit without a majority vote) argues exactly the opposite, since he explicitly claimed during his campaign that the only U.S. goal in Syria (or in Iraq) should be getting rid of ISIS (e.g., here: "Trump has said he wants to work with Russia on Syria to defeat ISIS and opposes overthrowing Assad.").

Monday, January 22, 2018


 

Facebook "users" will determine what news is "trustworthy"


Here's the statement from Facebook explaining their plans to restrict news in your news feed based on its "trustworthiness".
Starting next week, we will begin tests in the first area: to prioritize news from publications that the community rates as trustworthy.

How? We surveyed a diverse and representative sample of people using Facebook across the US to gauge their familiarity with, and trust in, various different sources of news. This data will help to inform ranking in News Feed.

We’ll start with the US and plan to roll this out internationally in the future.
There are three fundamental problems with this. First and foremost is the overall idea that Facebook is going to, by whatever means, restrict what we see in our news feeds based on anything other than the friends we choose to have, the organizations we choose to follow, and what those friends and organizations choose to post. It is of course true that FB already controls our news feed, supposedly on the basis of our own actions (e.g., if we like the posts from a particular friend frequently, they'll make sure to prioritize showing us their posts). But this new proposal goes one serious step beyond that.

The second problem is this idea of a "diverse and representative sample". Even assuming that they have somehow chosen such a "diverse and representative sample", 99% of their sample group are unlikely to be familiar with the output of RT (to pick the obvious example), so if people were to answer honestly, their survey might say that only 1% of their test group thinks RT is a "trustworthy" source. The other 99% won't really be familiar with RT at all, except for the fact that they've been told over and over again that RT is a subversive Russian agent, so they'll be able to answer yes to the "are you familiar" question and then rate it as untrustworthy.

Or consider FOX News. If FB's sample is representative, 35% of their respondents will say it is trustworthy and 65% will say it isn't. That will be a very high untrustworthy rating, so will FB deal with that by banning FOX News? I seriously doubt it.

The third problem is the fundamental nature of judging a news source "untrustworthy". Donald Trump repeatedly refers to "the fake news New York Times" (and others). But obviously 99% of what is printed in the New York Times is absolutely, indisputably true. So as a source the New York Times is trustworthy. But by no means does that mean that every article in the New York Times is trustworthy (check for Judith Miller bylines if you're not clear on that). So judging a source "trustworthy" or "untrustworthy" is completely meaningless. And the FB system doesn't allow for judging particular articles.

I like the headline from a Forbes opinion piece on the subject: "Facebook's Continued Quest To Make 1984 A Reality: Deciding What News Is 'Trustworthy'".


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