A masterclass in how right-wing propaganda is manufactured

This NYT interview with two Ukrainian oligarchs gives an inside view into how right-wing dirt peddled by the likes of John Solomon and Sean Hannity is manufactured

(Featured image credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images. Source: NYT.)

NYT published an astonishing article this morning about Rudy Giuliani’s interactions with two Ukrainian oligarchs, in that it gives an inside view into how right-wing dirt is manufactured by such luminaries as John Solomon (formerly at the Hill) and Sean Hannity.

Background

Rudy Giuliani had been attempting to get Ukraine leaders to announce an investigation into Biden for almost a year. He was on the verge of getting the last Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to do so, when Poroshenko lost the election to newbie politician Volodomyr Zelensky on 21st April 2019.

This story picks up when Rudy, with his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (now under indictment at SDNY) scramble to influence new President Zelensky to continue the sham investigation of Biden.

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No, Mr. Zuckerberg, it’s not about free speech. It’s about your propaganda machine.

Facebook’s touting of free speech is deceptive. They want you to forget how their platform works.

In a recent speech, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, claimed that their promotion of known lies in political ads is “something we have to live with” because of Facebook’s devotion to the principle of free speech. He cast this decision in the same light as the civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King Jr. and Black Lives Matter.

A couple weeks later, he informed Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a hearing that the reason they do not fact-check political ads is that they “want people to see that the politician has lied”—thus, once again touting free expression as the animating principle behind their policy.

Nice.

That’s one way to explain away Facebook’s bumbling, incoherent, opaque, and self-serving rules about content moderation on their platform.

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Whistleblower, blow thy whistle

A cinematic treatment of the Whistleblower’s Complaint.

The Scene: Morning of July 25, situation room

Picture this, if you will: It is the morning of July 25. The US President is in the Situation Room speaking on the phone to the new leader of an allied nation. All is routine: a dozen staffers listen in. Transcripts will automatically be produced. That conversation will be treated as “policy” and distributed to the Cabinet and others. None of them suspect anything amiss. The conversation begins with pleasantries.

The allied nation is Ukraine. Volodomyr Zelenskyy has become President a scant two months prior. He used to be a comedian who played a President on TV. He got elected because he promised to drain the swamp of corruption.

Volodomyr Zelenskyy (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

The US President often speaks like a mob boss. He used to be a reality show star who played a successful CEO on TV. He hit upon the slogan “drain the swamp” by accident and milked it to become the President of the United States.

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Twelve Angry Trump Voters

A black-and-white film from 1957 has a strange resonance with contemporary Trumpist America

The 1957 Sidney Lumet classic Twelve Angry Men is a fable about how control of a small tribe shifts from one faction to another.

The “tribe” is actually a jury of twelve men, assembled to rule on the question of guilt of a teenager. But quite apart from the arguments, one can see how one faction (the “Not Guilty” one) starts off powerless, and through moral suasion, ends up snatching the majority from the “Guilty” faction. At the end of the film, the “Guilty” faction ends up where the “Not Guilty” faction had begun: composed of just one man, eyes of the crowd on him, asking him to explain himself.

Now I may be obsessive and I may be a fool—after all, this film was made in 1957—but in it I saw an allegory for contemporary Trumpist America. I saw how xenophobic and authoritarian viewpoints can score early victories and appear invincible. I saw how the smallest crack in that facade can permit moral arguments through. I saw how opening of that smallest crack can find adherents and grow into a movement.

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Don’t let them off the hook: Why Social Media companies are responsible for fake news

Why social media is responsible for our fake news crisis.

We will talk about social media, I promise. But I want to first tell the story of Dan Rather’s fall from grace.

Dan Rather spent decades as the CBS Evening News anchor, one of the big three for nightly news. In 2004, on 60 Minutes Wednesday, he reported on the Killian Documents: a series of memos that were critical of George W Bush’s service during his time in the Air National Guard. It turned out that there were many reasons—including the use of modern typeface—to doubt the authenticity of the memos. Eventually, CBS News recanted the story, fired the producer, and forced Dan Rather to move up his retirement. The entire episode came to be known as RatherGate.

A highly respected decades-long career in news was capped by a “-Gate” because of lack of devotion to fact-checking. Of course no one believed that Dan Rather’s team forged memos themselves. Instead, what people were objecting to was their lack of editorial judgment. Given their giant megaphone, they had the responsibility, as a publisher, to be a gatekeeper for factual news.

Platform or publisher?

Why, then, do we not hold social media companies to the same standard? Why do we let them get away with spreading fake news, propaganda, conspiracies, and hate speech through their platforms?

At heart, I would argue, is a semantic confusion. We generally don’t hold pure platforms accountable for the content that is carried on their wires. For instance, if I was to receive a death threat over my cell phone, not for a minute would I think to blame my wireless carrier, Cricket. The fault would lie with the threat-maker, alone.

On the other hand, we can and do beat up on newspapers, cable shows, even bookstores, that carry objectionable content. As publishers, we expect them to have volition and exercise choice.

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Reading the Mueller Report: Part 3, The Leaks

The story of how the Kremlin fronted leaks through DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Wikileaks, from the Mueller Report.

GRU Unit 74455 was responsible for leaking documents they had stolen and publicizing the leaks through social media. They used three main channels through which they dumped documents: two websites created by GRU themselves (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0), and later, Wikileaks—which, given their long experience publishing leaked archives, appears to have had the most impact.

[Part 2 is here. The full report is here. This post deals with Volume I, Section III. B.]

DCLeaks.com

Almost as soon as GRU began to steal documents, they started planning to dump them. They created the domain DCLeaks.com on April 19, pretty much right as they managed to break into the DCCC computers. They leaked documents through this website in neatly labeled tranches, publicizing them through their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and occasionally directly contacting journalists to give them sneak previews of documents that hadn’t been publicly leaked yet. They hid the GRU ownership of the DCLeaks.com domain behind an anonymous registration and paid for it with Bitcoin.

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Reading the Mueller Report: Part 2, The Hacks

Fancy Bear a.k.a. Unit 26165: how the GRU hacked the Dems.

[Part 1 is here. This post deals with Volume I, Section III. A. The full report is here.]

The hacking of Democratic networks by the Russian State is the part of the Trump-Russia scandal (picturesquely known as Stupid Watergate) that most closely matches the break-in into the DNC headquarters during Watergate, at the eponymous office complex.

Except instead of five men, the break-in was carried out by Russia’s military intelligence, GRU. And instead of breaking into DNC headquarters, the break-in was into the DNC, DCCC, and the Clinton Campaign staffers’ computer networks. The break-in was virtual but much wider in scope. And the documents they stole, unlike during Watergate, were later weaponized by releasing them drip-by-drip through DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Wikileaks, timed for maximum impact during key moments of the campaign.

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IANAL but I’m reading the Mueller Report: Part 1, Active Measures

I am a layperson trying to make sense of the Mueller Report. Read along with me!
Part 1: Active Measures.

In this post I read Volume 1, Section II, which deals with the Russian Active Measures social media campaign to interfere with the 2016 election.

The entire report is here. Read along with me as I call out interesting details.

Both Watergate and the Trump-Russia scandal—some call it Stupid Watergate—started with a purloining of Democratic materials. This investigation started in mid-2016 when the DNC announced that “Russian hackers had compromised its computer network.”

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Howard Schultz: this is your brain on platitudes

Schultz has shown himself to be militantly banal and uninterested in these details

Howard Schultz on Velshi and Ruhle | MSNBC | 4/5/2019

I’ve sat through speeches by CEOs with my brain melting from the unceasing assault of platitudes. We all have. The future looks bright, every graph is rising, every employee is dedicated, every manager is a leader, we have one mission and our ideas will shake up the business.

What I didn’t know is that apparently some CEOs get drunk on applause and come to believe their nonsense.

Many people noticed the Ali Velshi/Stephanie Ruhle interview with Starbucks founder and currently unaligned Presidential candidate for 2020, Howard Schultz. It was trenchant.

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Should the filibuster die?

Do the arguments against killing the filibuster hold up?


Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks during the National Action Network convention in New York. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Last week Elizabeth Warren threw down the gauntlet by arguing for killing the Senate filibuster as the only means of accomplishing the agenda that 2020 Democrats have set out for themselves. Without it, given that any decent-sized legislation needs 60 votes to pass, and accepting the impossibility of getting even one or two Republican votes, any progressive agenda is dead in the water.

So the argument in favor of nuking the filibuster is clear and obvious. As Harry Reid said back in 2013 when he invoked the nuclear option to kill the filibuster for most nominees, the Senate must evolve beyond Parliamentary roadblocks.

But generally, the idea of losing the security blanket of 60 votes is not pleasant for the times when one’s party is in the minority; so it isn’t surprising that this idea has not caught on. Senators as diverse as Corey Booker, Bernie Sanders, and Kirsten Gillibrand have shown reluctance to go there, without really admitting that this makes most of their plans moot. But I understand. The possibility of terrible Republican legislation has most of us in a defensive crouch.

So rather than make the positive case in favor of dropping the filibuster, I want to examine the main arguments in favor of keeping it, to see if they hold up. Will the end of the filibuster bring about apocalypse, or be the means of un-jamming a jammed up government?

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