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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'".

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Twitter and Facebook and Russia: Consider the numbers

Remember how we were initially told that "Russia" (in quotes, because we have no idea who actually placed these ads, whether they had any relationship to the Russian government, or whether they were Russian at all) placed 3000 ads on Facebook? Only to learn later that 56% of them were placed after the election, 25% of them were never shown to anyone, 50% had ad budgets less than $3, and 99% of them had ad budgets less than $1000? Leaving approximately 14 ads seen during the election which had a budget exceeding $1000.And by the way virtually none of these ads mentioned Trump or Clinton at all; most dealt with issues like Black Lives Matter or gun rights. How that had an influence on the election is never quite specified. We're told this is because Russia is trying to encourage "divisiveness" in America. As if we aren't doing quite well on that score all by ourselves, with a little assist from FOX and MSNBC, and why that would effect that election anyway isn't clear. Oh and most of those ads were geographically targeted, and some of the ones that were were targeted to non-"swing states".

And then we were told by FB that those "Russian ads" reached "up to" 126 million Americans. There were 198 million Facebook users in 2016. According to Politico, 128 million people across the US generated 8.8 billion likes, posts, comments and shares related to the election. Which means that the ads reached 98.4% of all people who were posting or seeing posts about the election! Really? Bear in mind that are only 144 million Americans in the 18-65 age range, which is the default age range when you place an ad on FB (it can be changed of course). Which means that, according to FB, "Russian ads" reached a whopping 87.5% of all FB users aged 18-65. Again, really? Did you see any? I know I didn't.

Now along comes Twitter with its own math challenges. They tell us they found 50,000 (!) accounts "linked to Russia", which were followed, liked, or retweeted by at least 677,775 Americans, all of whom have received dire warnings from Twitter that their thinking may have been swayed by these tweets. 3,814 accounts were operated by alleged "Russian state operatives" connected to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a company allegedly "linked to" the Russian government (how has never exactly been specified). Twitter said these IRA accounts posted 175,993 tweets during the election period, and 8.4% of these were election-related.

Wait, what? This was the big attempt to influence our election, but 91.6% of the output of these alleged "trolls" couldn't even be classified as "election-related" according to what were undoubtedly extremely loose criteria. So that's not 176K tweets, but 15K tweets. Is that a lot? Well, to begin with that's over an 18 month period, so we're talking about fewer than 1K tweets per month, or fewer than 30 per day*. What's Twitter's volume? According to them, more than 1 billion tweets about the election were sent out. 15K election-related tweets amounts to 0.0015% of that amount. Not 1%. Not a tenth of a percent. Not a hundredth of a percent One and a half thousandths of one percent.

*ADDED: Twitter says this was actually a 10-week period, which brings the number of tweets up to 200/day. But remember that's spread over 3,814 accounts, which works out to 0.06 tweets/day/account, or one tweet per account every 16 days! I hope those trolls aren't being paid much, they're not very productive! On average you'd have to be following 16 of those accounts just to see one tweet from them every day.

And what about the daily rate of all tweets? There are 500 million tweets sent out every day. 21% of Twitter users are American, and I'm going to guess (because I can't find the statistic) that they send out more than their share of tweets, so lets round up to 25% and say that Americans send out 125 million tweets/day (obviously people from other countries were also tweeting about the election, but we're going to disregard that). So if these Russian trolls were sending out 325 tweets a day on all subjects (not just the election), that amounts to 0.00026% of the tweets on any given day. 2 and a half ten-thousandths of a percent of all tweets being sent out. Have you stopped laughing yet?

None of this, by the way, goes to the effectiveness of these FB ads or Tweets. If you're following a rabidly pro-Trump account, chances are you're either a rabidly pro-Trump person yourself, or perhaps the opposite just monitoring the opposition. How many neutral people whose minds were susceptible to be changed follow such accounts? There has yet to be any measurement, or for that matter even anecdotal accounts, of such things happening. "Well, I was going to vote for Hillary, but then I saw this Russian troll account tweet that Hillary lost the debate to Trump, so I changed my mind." Really?

And now FB is going to let users rank news sources for trustworthiness. I can't think of a worse idea. Trump supporters will rank FOX as credible and everything else as "Fake News". The 99.5% of the population who have never even watched RT or listened to Sputnik will rank them as "untrustworthy", because they've been told repeatedly that's what they are, leaving the 0.5% of us who do to recognize they're both as, or more credible, than any U.S. corporate media (and carry viewpoints we can't get on the latter). Actually I can think of a worse idea, and that would be to let FB itself do the ranking. We've already seen what happens when Google does that, as progressive and left-wing sites, once easy to find when searching Google or Google News, have been harder or even impossible to find.

Monday, January 15, 2018


A wall is forever

This article in the Washington Post, and it's headline "Take a deal for the dreamers. Build the wall." urging Democrats to accept the building of a wall (and spending $18 billion just for starters) in return for a DACA bill got me thinking about China.
Here’s the thing. The Great Wall of China was built primarily between 1368–1644 (some of it dates from even earlier). That is to say, walls last a long time. Compromise on this issue isn’t something like Obamacare that can be undone by the next Administration, or the one after that, or 100 Administrations after that. Once it’s built it will stay built.
So no compromise is possible. Opponents of the wall should say simply “We’ll accept a wall once we have the money in the Treasury given to us by Mexico to pay for it, as promised.” This is, of course, entirely rhetorical; I oppose the wall even if it’s free, just like I oppose U.S. wars of intervention even if they cost nothing. But in this case, it does make for a nice rhetorical flourish, akin to “when hell freezes over”.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


The unasked question about "Russiagate"

As I see it, there are four facets or different aspects to the whole Russiagate issue:

1) Is it true? Who hacked into or leaked emails from the DNC and John Podesta? Did the Russian government place ads on Facebook or just some random politically active Russians (or even the CIA)? I'm not going to address that here, just putting this out as issue #1.

2) Did it have any effect on the elections? Did something come out in the Clinton emails that really send voters fleeing to Jill Stein or Donald Trump? Did $40K of FB ads really change anyone's mind? Personally I've seen zero evidence of any of this, but in any case it's issue #2.

3) The "US has done much worse and even done it openly" argument, and that just goes for influencing elections with its media or buying elections with its money, and doesn't even include overthrowing governments with bombing and/or invasions (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Panama, Grenada) or organizing or lending its backing to military coups (Iran, Honduras).

But the fourth aspect is one I haven't seen discussed anywhere else — why shouldn't Russia (or anyone else) have a say in American elections? (Not a vote, but a say). I'm not addressing here the legalities involved (what is or is not legal right now), just the morality or philosophy of the issue.

My point is best illustrated by using Cuba, not Russia, as an example. How many Americans are affected by American policy towards Cuba? Some certainly, but a small percentage of the entire population. People wanting to visit, farmers wanting to sell products to Cuba, patients with diseases which could be treated by medicines developed in Cuba, people who like good rum, and so on. Again, definitely some people, but probably just a few percent.

On the other hand, how many Cubans are affected by U.S. policy towards Cuba? Pretty much every single one. Whether it's directly affected (people renting rooms in their homes through AirBnBs, for example), or indirectly affected by the fact that Cuba loses billions of dollars each year because of the blockade, money that could be used for all kinds of improved services and development, there are few if any Cubans who aren't affected by U.S. policy.

So, given those facts, why shouldn't Cubans have a say (by placing ads on FB, just for example) if there's one candidate whose policies promise to improve their lives and another whose policies promise to make them worse.

When the argument is applied to Russia, of course it's not quite so dramatic. Russia is a much bigger country, further away, with a stronger economy, and so on. But even so, there is little doubt that U.S. policy towards Russia affects a far higher percentage of Russians than it does Americans (actually it affects hardly any Americans at all, except those profiting from the increased war budget that having Russia as our "enemy" promotes). So again, why shouldn't Russians, or the Russian government, be able to voice its opinion about that policy, including how different candidates might change that policy? It seems perfectly reasonable to me.

And why, returning to point #3 above, would I still say it's wrong for the opposite, that is, why it's wrong for the U.S. to try to influence elections in other countries? Because it's the U.S. which is the 800-lb gorilla in the world. El Salvador's foreign policy towards the U.S. matters, more or less, not a whit. U.S. policy towards El Salvador (for example, its position on Temporary Protected Status), on the other hand, matters immensely. And that's precisely why I would argue that other countries should have a say in U.S. politics, while the U.S. should butt out of theirs.


Trump brags about his ratings

If you haven't seen this clip of Trump talking about his "ratings", you must see it. While the Republicans are all about using Trump and their current 3-branch majority to accomplish all sorts of objectionable things, for Trump itself it's basically about one thing — keeping his ratings up so his "show" is renewed three years from now. Everything he does and especially everything he says is a means towards that end.
By the way, Trump is not entirely wrong when he says the media really loves his ratings. Don't forget it was CBS President Les Moonves who said about Trump, during the election, "it may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS". And it was CNN and all the rest of them who gave Trump a boost into the Oval Office by giving him $2B worth of free air time; who can forget when all three networks showed an empty podium at a Trump rally rather than showing an actual Bernie Sanders giving an actual speech. If you want to know what media are responsible for Trump being elected, look no further, and stop letting those same media help convince you it was some obscure Russian-government owned media (RT and Sputnik) with their minuscule audiences.


U.S. government goes after Sputnik Radio

The U.S. government has now demanded that Sputnik radio register as a “foreign agent”, an outrageous assault on free speech and nothing less than an attempt to enforce media conformity in this country.

I listen to two shows on Sputnik, Loud and Clear and By Any Means Necessary. Both are hosted by American socialists. Another show (that I don’t listen to) is hosted by a conservative Trump supporter. As far as I can tell all of Sputnik’s hosts and most of their guests are American, and none takes orders from the Kremlin or is restricted in any way as to what they say, and I know this for a fact because the two American socialists I mentioned above are both friends of mine.

Sputnik broadcast studio in Washington, D.C., with Brian Becker (L) and
John Kiriakou (R) in the background, on the air with their show Loud and Clear

No, Sputnik is not a “foreign agent”. What it is is one of the few places in the broadcast media spectrum, along with shows like Democracy Now, where you can hear stories and guests you absolutely will not hear on any “mainstream” sources. Is there a single socialist with a show on “left-leaning” (really Democrat-leaning) MSNBC, or even a regular guest? A single socialist who is a columnist for the New York Times, Washington Post, or any corporate newspaper? Not to my knowledge.

Sputnik’s motto is “Telling the Untold”. That’s why the government wants to demonize them and, if they can, shut them down. Not because they’re a “foreign agent”.

Listen for yourself and make up your own mind. Start with this show which deals with this very subject:

Monday, January 08, 2018


CBS Takes on RT; Falls on its Face

I honestly don't think it's my preexisting bias to say that Margarita Simonyan, Editor-in-Chief of RT, absolutely destroys CBS' Leslie Stahl in this interview. Stahl does a great job parroting U.S. accusations but little else, starting with an unimportant but basic factual error ("RT" no longer stands for "Russia Today", just like "KFC" no longer stands for "Kentucky Fried Chicken") and going on from there.

Although only a tiny number of Americans can actually watch RT on their televisions, Stahl tries to scare us by letting us know that RT videos have had up to 2B views on YouTube. Sounds like a lot right? That's for all their videos combined. Gangnam Style has had 3B views all by itself. She accuses RT of broadcasting "a steady diet of violent protests and racial conflict." Does it occur to her they could only do that if there were a steady stream of such news? And, by the way, cops killing Black people isn't "racial conflict", it's cop terror.

Stahl slams RT for broadcasting white supremacists like Richard Spencer but he and people like him get orders of magnitude more exposure on FOX News, or even on CNN (e.g., here). And as for broadcasting people slamming Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, again as if those broadcasts had the tiniest fraction of the views of identical criticism of Clinton on FOX News.

In what I thought the most amusing moment, Stahl also criticizes RT for interviewing…wait for it…actors! Yes, you never see that on American news channels.

I'll close by asking a simple question. If RT had been "in the tank" for Hillary Clinton, and had broadcast a steady stream of glowing news stories about Clinton and negative ones about Trump, and Clinton had won, or even if Trump had still won, is there anyone who thinks that "Russiagate" would be a thing now? Not a chance, even though in that hypothetical case alleged Russian interference would have been just as great (or, in my postulated scenario, even greater and more clear cut).

Russian "interference" is an excuse invented by the Clinton camp to provide a convenient excuse for their loss and to ward off the ascension of the Sanders wing of the party, and picked up and amplified by the entire establishment because it helps elevate an "enemy" that can be used to justify a trillion dollar war budget (as I've said before, ISIS doesn't have a navy or an air force or even anti-aircraft guns, so justifying advanced weaponry based on ISIS or Al Qaeda as your main foe just doesn't cut the mustard). And those of you who are on that bandwagon are doing your part, however inadvertently, to join in that justification, and the simultaneous destruction of the social fabric of this country (because that trillion dollars has to come from somewhere, and it sure isn't coming from taxing the rich or the corporations). Which is a particular shame coming from those of you who are "Sandernistas".

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