By Robert A. Vella
Very quietly, Facebook took down over 600 accounts earlier this week which were tied to the conspiracy website The Epoch Times for using artificially created identities to push pro-Trump political propaganda. This story was detailed last night on The Rachel Maddow Show which also examined a report by Lisa Kaplan of Lawfare on the Cyprus-based Russian media giant TheSoul Publishing. (see: The Biggest Social Media Operation You’ve Never Heard of Is Run Out of Cyprus by Russians). TheSoul is the third largest such enterprise in the world, and it specializes in offering apolitical craft videos as clickbait as a means to expand its reach. With a captive audience secured, it then advances disinformation campaigns in support of its political agenda such as via the Smart Banana channel. One of the videos exposed by Maddow paints a revisionist history of Russia including the portrayal of Joseph Stalin, one of the most brutal and oppressive dictators ever to seize power, as a “reformist” who “helped working people.”
Meanwhile, President Trump’s reelection campaign is focusing on the traditionally blue Midwestern states which he narrowly won in 2016. Those efforts include voter suppression techniques designed to limit the participation of key demographic groups which typically support Democratic candidates (e.g. ethnic minorities, students, and urban voters) such as the recent purge of 200,000+ voters in Wisconsin (see: Wisconsin appeals court delays ruling on voter purge case).
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of President Donald Trump’s top reelection advisers told influential Republicans in swing state Wisconsin that the party has “traditionally” relied on voter suppression to compete in battleground states, according to an audio recording of a private event obtained by The Associated Press. The adviser said later that his remarks referred to frequent and false accusations that Republicans employ such tactics.
Justin Clark, a senior political adviser and senior counsel to Trump’s reelection campaign, made the remarks on Nov. 21 as part of a wide-ranging discussion about strategies in the 2020 campaign, including more aggressive use of Election Day monitoring of polling places.
“Traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places,” Clark said at the event. “Let’s start protecting our voters. We know where they are. … Let’s start playing offense a little bit. That’s what you’re going to see in 2020. It’s going to be a much bigger program, a much more aggressive program, a much better-funded program.”
All this, and probably much more, directly threatens the integrity of the 2020 election in the U.S. and the viability of functional democracy worldwide. If all legitimate citizens can’t vote, then the voice of the people is muted and the election result is jeopardized. If the factual information voters need to make educated choices is obscured or falsified, then the democratic process is compromised. It is also no coincidence that these authoritarian perpetrators, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, are aligned with each other. Some would say they are in bed with each other.
I urge readers to engage in a little introspection. Do you patronize social media which might be illegitimate? Do you encourage bloggers and commenters who might be spreading disinformation and propaganda? Do you support notions which assert that objective knowledge doesn’t exist, that empirical facts are irrelevant, or that subjective opinion is as important? Is reality, like Trump sees it, only something to be manipulated? Do we all not share a common nature and environment? If we argue about everything, how can we accomplish anything? What kind of world do we want to live in, one where we are subservient slaves or one where we are free and participatory individuals?
Here’s today’s other news:
Vilified by lawmakers from both parties for months, the health-care industry this year appeared to face an existential threat to its business model.
But this week, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, insurance companies and medical device manufacturers practically ran the table in Congress, winning hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks and other gifts through old-fashioned lobbying, re-exerting their political prowess.
The success shows how formidable the health-care industry remains, able to overwhelm Democrats with well-honed talking points and splinter Republicans through a concerted push.
The unexpected victories could also serve as a wake-up call to political leaders who have vowed to completely upend the health-care system after the 2020 elections. It showed how the industry, even when it is targeted, can emerge politically and financially stronger.
The biggest wins came as part of a $1.4 trillion spending package, which was passed by the House on Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday.
Senior Trump administration officials in recent days threatened a presidential veto that could have led to a government shutdown if House Democrats refused to drop language requiring prompt release of future military aid for Ukraine, according to five administration and congressional officials.
The language was ultimately left out of mammoth year-end spending legislation that passed the House and Senate this week ahead of a Saturday shutdown deadline. The White House said President Trump signed the $1.4 trillion package Friday night.
The Ukraine provision was one of several items the White House drew a hard line on during negotiations to finalize the spending legislation, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the developments. It would have required the White House to swiftly release $250 million in defense money for Ukraine that was part of the spending package.
A measure in the National Defense Authorization Act meant to keep white nationalists out of the U.S. military no longer mentions “white nationalists” after Congress quietly altered the text after it initially passed the House.
The change, which has not been previously reported, could water down a House-passed amendment meant to address the threat of white nationalists in the military. The House language was specifically drafted to encourage screening for white nationalist beliefs in military enlistees. But after the Republican-controlled Senate passed its own version of the massive military spending bill and the two chambers’ bills were reconciled, the final NDAA instead requires the Department of Defense to study ways to screen military enlistees for “extremist and gang-related activity.”
Mr. Bevin issued more than 600 pardons and reduced sentences in the final weeks of his administration. They included cases in which the governor — in an extraordinary exercise of personal judgment that went well beyond typical governors’ pardons — released inmates serving time for serious crimes, based on his own conclusion that they had been wrongfully convicted.
As news of the decisions began trickling out, criticism focused quickly on clemency recipients who had wealth or influential family connections.
To his defenders, including unlikely liberal allies who support criminal justice reform, the outgoing governor showed unusual courage in righting the wrongs of a broken system.
But his critics say that he displayed reckless arrogance in some of his decisions, and legislators from both parties have since called for investigations and discussed amending the constitution to curtail the pardon authority for future governors.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand authorities said Saturday their country will be a safer place after owners handed in more than 50,000 guns during a buyback program following a ban on assault weapons. But critics say the process was flawed and many owners have illegally stashed their firearms.
The government banned the most lethal types of semi-automatic weapons less than a month after a lone gunman in March killed 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques. The police then launched a six-month program to buy the newly banned weapons from owners.
The buyback ended midnight Friday, with gun collection events staying open late as police reported in a surge in last-minute returns.