Thursday, September 21, 2017

Your Russia update

1. Paul Manafort is in deep дерьмо (derrmo).

In the middle of Donald Trump's presidential run, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort said he was willing to provide "private briefings" about the campaign to a Russian billionaire the U.S. government considers close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Manafort's offer was memorialized in an email exchange with a former employee of his political consulting firm in July 2016. It was first reported by The Washington Post, which said portions of Manafort's emails were read to reporters.

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni confirmed to The Associated Press that the email exchanges were legitimate but said no briefings ever occurred. The email involved an offer for Oleg Deripaska, a wealthy Russian who made his money in the aluminum business.

I would say that with an indictment pending, his troubles are just beginning.  Let's hope this goes all the way to Trump himself, in a thread Bob Mueller is gradually and painstakingly unraveling ...

2.  ... because Facebook ads bought by the Russians don't count as collusion, and don't count as 'hacking the election', either.

Just days after last year’s election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience that the suggestion that misinformation on his social network had any substantial effect on the outcome was “pretty crazy.” Now, imagine a disembodied Ron Howard narrator voice saying, “It wasn’t.” And then smash cut to … September 2017: Facebook is turning over evidence to federal investigators that Russian government–linked agencies bought Facebook advertisements with the intent of influencing the election. Today, it gets even weirder: The Daily Beast reports that a Russian-created, Trump-supporting Facebook group actually threw well-attended pro-Trump rallies in Florida.

As stories of Facebook being used by Russian agencies and trolls to influence the election trickle out, the general narrative — certainly Facebook’s narrative — has been that this is a misuse of Facebook, an abuse of its platform. In April, the company called the strategies used in last year’s election “insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people.”

Certainly, we can agree that it’s bad that hostile foreign powers are able to easily and cheaply sow discord and division among American voters. But it’s not at all clear to me that what Russia is doing is a “misuse” of Facebook. Isn’t this the company that explicitly markets its ability to influence and swing voters? Isn’t this the company whose decade-long mission has been to allow people on one side of the globe to communicate and influence people on the other side?

Didn’t Zuckerberg say last year, “We stand for connecting every person. For a global community. For bringing people together. For giving all people a voice. For free flow of ideas and culture across nations”? You don’t have to be particularly cynical to see how Russians sharing Trump memes falls under the “free flow of ideas across nations.” As Zuck put it: “We’ve gone from a world of isolated communities to one global community, and we are all better off for it.” Well, maybe we wouldn’t go that far.

The point is this: Facebook has always wanted, from a business and ideological perspective, to be a tool with which people can reach across the ocean and exert influence on one another. The problem is that 2016 is a case study in why mere connection is not enough to make something good. Cynically motivated Russian actors used Facebook to pose as grassroots Americans, and did so in support of an authoritarian reality-television star.

There are a lot of fresh questions raised here, particularly in that Daily Beast piece.  Before we can move on to them, we have to agree on something: if Americans were big enough fools to have their votes swayed -- or even have their existing biases confirmed -- by Facebook ads, then the blame for Hillary (now Rodham again) Clinton losing does not lie in any of the various places she has strewn it in her recent book.  It lies with the ignorance of the general electorate.

Not sure what Democrats can do to overcome that in 2018 and 2020, but I doubt that fighting the 2016 primary all over again is the answer.

3.  There are some lingering questions about Russia's actual influence on the election, and they may still be waiting to be unearthed.  Josh Marshall:

Over recent weeks we’ve learned much more about how Russian operatives used Facebook to support Donald Trump, attack Hillary Clinton and spread conspiracy theories pumped up the heat of the 2016 campaign. One big question has been: how effectively did they target those messages, given Facebook’s vast ability to target messages? And if they did target their messages to areas of particular Democratic weakness in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, how were they able to do that? Where did they get the data to drive the effort?

One possibility is obvious: Maybe the Trump campaign gave the Russians access to their data and voter files. To date, there’s at least no public evidence that this happened.

But maybe it didn’t have to.

Marshall refers back to this story of his, which I blogged about on June 2nd, and linked to him and the original in the WSJ (scroll down to "May 25").  You should finish reading Marshall's premise there; it's plausible and even ominous ... as long as you believe that the Russians hacked the DNC.

As mentioned here back in December, both Julian Assange and retired NSA and CIA analysts (not exactly the best of buddies, mind you) assert that the Clinton and DNC emails were leaked, not hacked.  The latter two, William Binney and Ray McGovern, show their computer forensics analysis work to prove it.  It's technical, but anyone with an understanding about computer data files and the speed with which they can be transferred will get it.  On that basis, the DNC, etc. had -- perhaps still has, but go on by yourself and follow the Seth Rich or Imran Awan conspiracy theories -- an IT security breach of epic proportions.

Manafort should be on his way to prison, Facebook should be severely penalized, financially and in perhaps other ways (and you might consider deactivating your account to make 'em pay yourself, especially if you spend time there arguing over politics) and Democrats need to find the ball and then keep their eye on it.  Trump's tax returns, collusion, emoluments, the 25th Amendment, some combo thereof ought to get it done.

All else is white noise.


Alessandro Machi said...

The FBI publicizing that Hillary Clinton was under investigation, twice, while failing to mention that any other Presidential candidate was under investigation, was a game changer as to who would win the 2016 election.
I would add FBI collusion, or FBI favoritism to your list. Trump does not win if at the time of the second notice Hillary Clinton's email to Congress in late October, the FBI had also stated that Trump was under Investigation, Clinton wins.
Plus, Sanders was probably under investigation because of some questionable investments made by his wife, and his own claim that he was poor when he was not.
Stein has connections to Russia, maybe she was being investigated by the FBI as well. If this had all come out in late October, rather than only Hillary Clinton Investigation, she wins the election.

Gadfly said...

My own take, somewhat overlapping, on Facebook issues and how they relate to it vis-a-vis conventional media:

PDiddie said...

M. Machi:

Thanks for commenting. New contributors are always welcome.

Comey indeed takes the leading blame for externally influencing the 2016 election, as I have blogged and Nate Silver has quantified, back in December of 2016. This does not lead to the definitive "Clinton would have won" conclusion, however.

Your absolutism runs off the rails following that, after you reveal your Sanders (both of them!?!) Derangement Syndrome and your fold-in, almost like a few caramel chips into your cone at Marble Slab, of Jill Stein and some tenuous connection to Russia.

I believe that among the many reasons Hillary Clinton lost an election she should have easily won -- and in fact polling showed her to be winning even the day before the election -- because she was perceived as an insincere, moderate insider, who used her insider connections to cheat in the primary. This caused thousands of longtime Democrats to abandon her candidacy AND the party in the general. She also declined to campaign in the three Midwestern swing states she ultimately lost to Trump, a grievous and unforced error. I could go on in this fashion but this conversation helps Democrats in no discernible way, which happens to be the most definitive conclusion that can be made on this topic.

Your comment is simply not well-reasoned or, for that matter, well-written. I'd invite you to give it another go if you like, but we will NOT be re-litigating the 2016 primary any further here. It's possible you might have the last word, if you can contribute something more articulate and coherent than your last. For example, if you wish to open again with "Clinton wins the election if ...", it needs to finish with "Clinton screwed up in many ways" or something similar, in order to be honest.