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The ACLU, Prior to COVID, Denounced Mandates and Coercive Measures to Fight Pandemics

By Glenn Greenwald | September 7, 2021

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) surprised even many of its harshest critics this week when it strongly defended coercive programs and other mandates from the state in the name of fighting COVID. “Far from compromising them, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties,” its Twitter account announced, adding that “vaccine requirements also safeguard those whose work involves regular exposure to the public.”

If you were surprised to see the ACLU heralding the civil liberties imperatives of “vaccine mandates” and “vaccine requirements” — whereby the government coerces adults to inject medicine into their own bodies that they do not want — the New York Times op-ed which the group promoted, written by two of its senior lawyers, was even more extreme. The article begins with this rhetorical question: “Do vaccine mandates violate civil liberties?” Noting that “some who have refused vaccination claim as much,” the ACLU lawyers say: “we disagree.” The op-ed then examines various civil liberties objections to mandates and state coercion — little things like, you know, bodily autonomy and freedom to choose — and the ACLU officials then invoke one authoritarian cliche after the next (“these rights are not absolute”) to sweep aside such civil liberties concerns:

[W]hen it comes to Covid-19, all considerations point in the same direction. . . . In fact, far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties. . . . .

[Many claim that] vaccines are a justifiable intrusion on autonomy and bodily integrity. That may sound ominous, because we all have the fundamental right to bodily integrity and to make our own health care decisions. But these rights are not absolute. They do not include the right to inflict harm on others. . . . While vaccine mandates are not always permissible, they rarely run afoul of civil liberties when they involve highly infectious and devastating diseases like Covid-19. . . .

While limited exceptions are necessary, most people can be required to be vaccinated. . . . . Where a vaccine is not medically contraindicated, however, avoiding a deadly threat to the public health typically outweighs personal autonomy and individual freedom.

The op-ed sounds like it was written by an NSA official justifying the need for mass surveillance (yes, fine, your privacy is important but it is not absolute; your privacy rights are outweighed by public safety; we are spying on you for your own good). And the op-ed appropriately ends with this perfect Orwellian flourish: “We care deeply about civil liberties and civil rights for all — which is precisely why we support vaccine mandates.”

What makes the ACLU’s position so remarkable — besides the inherent shock of a civil liberties organization championing state mandates overriding individual choice — is that, very recently, the same group warned of the grave dangers of the very mindset it is now pushing. In 2008, the ACLU published a comprehensive report on pandemics which had one primary purpose: to denounce as dangerous and unnecessary attempts by the state to mandate, coerce, and control in the name of protecting the public from pandemics.

The title of the ACLU report, resurfaced by David Shane, reveals its primary point: “Pandemic Preparedness: The Need for a Public Health – Not a Law Enforcement/National Security – Approach.” To read this report is to feel that one is reading the anti-ACLU — or at least the actual ACLU prior to its Trump-era transformation. From start to finish, it reads as a warning of the perils of precisely the mindset which today’s ACLU is now advocating for COVID.

In 2008, the group explained its purpose this way: “the following report examines the relationship between civil liberties and public health in contemporary U.S. pandemic planning and makes a series of recommendations for developing a more effective, civil liberties-friendly approach.” Its key warning: “Not all public health interventions have been benign or beneficial, however. Too often, fears aroused by disease and epidemics have encouraged abuses of state power. Atrocities, large and small, have been committed in the name of protecting the public’s health.”

2008 report of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

The immediate impetus for the ACLU’s 2008 report was two-fold: 1) the 2008 emergence of the avian bird flu pandemic, which produced highly alarmist and ultimately false headlines around the world about millions dying; and 2) new pandemic legislation and regulatory frameworks, enacted in the wake of 9/11, premised on the view, as the ACLU put it, “that every outbreak of disease could be the beginning of some horrific epidemic, requiring the suspension of civil liberties.”

The ACLU issued its 2008 report to warn that the worst possible way to respond to a deadly pandemic was through coercion and mandates. Instead, the group argued — as one would expect from a civil liberties organization — persuasion and voluntary compliance were both more effective and less likely to erode core liberties. As they put it:

The lessons from history should be kept in mind whenever we are told by government officials that “tough,” liberty-limiting actions are needed to protect us from dangerous diseases. Specifically: coercion and brute force are rarely necessary. In fact they are generally counterproductive—they gratuitously breed public distrust and encourage the people who are most in need of care to evade public health authorities. On the other hand, effective, preventive strategies that rely on voluntary participation do work.

The key dichotomy emphasized by the 2008 version of the ACLU was the difference between constructive and persuasive messaging regarding public health versus the use of law enforcement and forced mandates. Starting with the report’s title (“The Need for a Public Health – Not a Law Enforcement/National Security – Approach”) through every section, the ACLU urges that mandates and coercion be dispensed with in favor of voluntary compliance and educational messages:

Government agencies have an essential role to play in helping to prevent and mitigate epidemics. Unfortunately, in recent years, our government’s approach to preparing the nation for a possible influenza pandemic has been highly misguided. Too often, policymakers are resorting to law enforcement and national security-oriented measures that not only suppress individual rights unnecessarily, but have proven to be ineffective in stopping the spread of disease and saving lives . . . .

This law enforcement/national security strategy shifts the focus of preparedness from preventing and mitigating an emergency to punishing people who fail to follow orders and stay healthy.

Much of the report is devoted to an examination of how the U.S. government has historically treated pandemics. As it reviews each pandemic — including horrifically lethal ones such as the plague and smallpox — the ACLU concludes over and over that American health authorities excessively relied on coercion rather than education and persuasion, fueled by media-aided fear porn and alarmist narratives:

Lessons from History: American history contains vivid reminders that grafting the values of law enforcement and national security onto public health is both ineffective and dangerous. Too often, fears aroused by disease and epidemics have justified abuses of state power. Highly discriminatory and forcible vaccination and quarantine measures adopted in response to outbreaks of the plague and smallpox over the past century have consistently accelerated rather than slowed the spread of disease, while fomenting public distrust and, in some cases, riots.

Amazingly, the model that the ACLU identifies as the one that must be avoided is precisely the one that it is now urging be used for COVID. Compare, for instance, the ACLU’s defense of coercive mandates in its New York Times op-ed this week (vaccine mandates “rarely run afoul of civil liberties”) with this ringing endorsement of the need to preserve freedom of choice in its 2008 report:

This model assumes that we must “trade liberty for security.” As a result, instead of helping individuals and communities through education and provision of health care, today’s pandemic prevention focuses on taking aggressive, coercive actions against those who are sick. People, rather than the disease, become the enemy.

What most worried the 2008 version of the ACLU was that authoritarian power vested in the hands of public health officials in the form of mandates and coercion will become permanent given that we will always live with such threats and endless pandemics. That was why, urged that iteration of the ACLU, we must opt for an approach that relies on education programs and voluntary compliance rather than state mandates.

“The law enforcement approach to public health offers a rationale for the endless suspension of civil liberties,” they explained. Using post-9/11 expansions of state power as its framework, the group explained that “the ‘Global War on Terror’ may go on for a generation, but the war on disease will continue until the end of the human race. There will always be a new disease, always the threat of a new pandemic. If that fear justifies the suspension of liberties and the institution of an emergency state, then freedom and the rule of law will be permanently suspended.

The ACLU’s New York Times op-ed this week repeatedly stressed that coercive mandates are justified whenever “the disease is highly transmissible, serious and lethal.” But its 2008 report argued exactly the opposite. The report was critical of forced vaccinations and other mandates in prior outbreaks of smallpox — certainly a highly contagious and lethal disease — but then argued that when the disease reappeared in the late 1940s, New York City handled it much better by offering voluntary vaccines and education programs rather than coercive measures:

In contrast, New York City relied on a different approach in 1947, one that viewed the public as the client rather than the enemy of public health. When smallpox reappeared in the city after a long absence, the city educated the public about the problem and instituted a massive voluntary vaccination campaign. Not surprisingly, no coercion was needed. Provided with information about the need for and benefits of vaccination, and reassurance that the city was helping rather than attacking them, the citizens of the New York turned out en masse for one of the world’s largest voluntary vaccination campaigns. The campaign was successful, and the epidemic was quashed before it had a chance to spread broadly in the city or beyond.

In the scheme of repressive measures that worried the 2008 ACLU, “compulsory isolation and quarantine are among the most coercive non-pharmaceutical interventions that may be employed during a pandemic.” They minced no words about such policies: “civil liberties concerns arise when these interventions are imposed by law.”

The ACLU did not merely warn with words of the dangers of excessive pandemic coercion. They also legally represented at least one client who they viewed as the victim of public health hysteria and tyranny. In 2006, “a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient named Robert Daniels was involuntarily quarantined in Phoenix, Arizona for disobeying an order by Maricopa County health officials to wear a face mask in public at all times.” Even once Daniels was released and it turned out he had a less severe case of TB than originally assumed, “Sheriff Joe Arpaio publicly threatened him with prosecution for the pre-quarantine events.”

The ACLU’s lesson from that case, and similar ones it had handled, was clear: these cases “are cautionary tales that illustrate the counterproductive nature of a punitive, law enforcement approach to preventing the spread of disease.” Most important of all, said the civil liberties group, coercive steps — such as mandates and quarantines — not only endanger civil liberties but are less effective in improving the public health, because they convert the public from cooperative allies into enemies that must be controlled and punished:

These efforts require working with rather than against communities, providing communities with as healthy an environment as possible, health care if they need it, and the means to help themselves and their neighbors. Most importantly, to protect public health, public health policies must aim to help, rather than to suppress, the public.

A separate ACLU report from 2015, issued during the ebola epidemic, contained a similar message. It warned “against politically motivated and scientifically unwarranted quarantines, which the report found violated individuals’ rights and hampered efforts to end the outbreak.” Hysteria over ebola became so intense that the ACLU “found that people were illegally deprived of their right to due process under the 14th Amendment because the quarantines and movement restrictions were not scientifically justified.”

While both reports acknowledge that more restrictive measures can be justified under extreme circumstances, the crux of each is that voluntary compliance is better than coercion, that state mandates typically fail, and that the far greater danger is vesting too much power in the hands of the state, which it will never relinquish given the permanence of pandemics.

How the ACLU fell from those traditional and vital civil liberties positions to urging this week in The New York Times that “far from compromising civil liberties, vaccine mandates actually further civil liberties,” is anyone’s guess. But what is beyond doubt is that it is a far fall indeed. And most of all, hearing the ACLU invoke the standard rationale of authoritarians — we all have the fundamental right to bodily integrity and to make our own health care decisions, but these rights are not absolute — is nothing short of jarring.

Update, Sept. 7, 2021, 6:58 p.m.: Shortly after publication of this article, a former ACLU lawyer, Margaret Winter, noted in response: “It was NOT just ‘prior to covid’ that ACLU denounced vaccine mandates: Read ACLU’s 2020 position paper passionately and correctly arguing that vaccine mandates ‘exacerbate racial disparities and harm the civil liberties of all.’” Winter was referencing this ACLU report, from May of 2020, that warned of the serious dangers of “immunity passports,” under which citizens who already got COVID and thus had immunity would enjoy rights not available to others:

We at the ACLU have serious concerns about the adoption of any such proposal, because of its potential to harm public health, incentivize economically-vulnerable people to risk their health by contracting COVID-19, exacerbate racial and economic disparities, and lead to a new health surveillance infrastructure that endangers privacy rights. . . . This division would likely worsen existing racial, disability, and economic disparities in America and lead people struggling to afford basic necessities to deliberately risk their health.

While such a scheme is different in degree from vaccine passports let alone vaccine mandates — which the ACLU is now championing — its rationale for opposing such a system is fully applicable: “there are serious civil liberties and civil rights harms from making workplace decisions on that basis,” adding: “any immunity passport system endangers privacy rights by creating a new surveillance infrastructure to collect health data.”

September 8, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Progressive Hypocrite, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

ACLU Again Cowardly Abstains From an Online Censorship Controversy: This Time Over BLM

Black Trans Lives Matters’ march in London. (Photo by Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
By Glenn Greenwald | April 26, 2021

Enormous sums of money have poured into racial justice groups since the May, 2020 murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. “The foundation widely seen as a steward of the Black Lives Matter movement says it took in just over $90 million last year,” according to a February Associated Press review, while at least $5 billion was raised by groups associated with that cause in the first two months alone following Floyd’s death.

Two weeks after the Floyd killing, The New York Times said that the “money has come in so fast and so unexpectedly that some groups even began to turn away and redirect donors elsewhere,” while “others said they still could not yet account for how much had arrived.” Propelled by the emotions and nationwide protest movements that emerged last summer, corporations, oligarchs, celebrities and the general public opened their wallets and began pouring money into BLM coffers and have not stopped doing so.

Where that money has gone has been the topic of numerous media investigations as well as concerns expressed by racial justice advocates. AP noted that BLM’s sharing of financial data in February “marks the first time in the movement’s nearly eight-year history that BLM leaders have revealed a detailed look at their finances.” That newfound transparency was prompted by what AP called “longstanding tensions boil[ing] over between some of the movement’s grassroots organizers and national leaders — the former went public last fall with grievances about financial transparency, decision-making and accountability.”

In December, ten local BLM chapters severed ties with the national group amidst questions and suspicions over the handling of activities and finances by one of its co-founders, Patrisse Cullors, who had assumed the title of Executive Director. On April 10, The New York Post published an exposé on what it called Cullors’ “million-dollar real estate buying binge.” The paper noted that as protests were unfolding around the country, the BLM official was “snagging four high-end homes for $3.2 million in the US alone, according to property records,” including a California property valued at $1.4 million. The article also revealed that the self-described Marxist and her partner “were spotted in the Bahamas looking for a unit at the Albany,” an “elite enclave laid out on 600 oceanside acres,” which “features a private marina and designer golf course.” The Post included photos of several of the properties obtained from public real estate listings.

In an interview about that Post story with Marc Lamont Hill, Cullors — except saying she has not visited the Bahamas since the age of 15 — did not deny the accuracy of the reporting, but instead justified her real estate acquisitions. She denied she had taken a salary from the BLM group, pointing to other income she earns as a professor, author, and a YouTube content creator as the source of this sudden outburst of real estate purchases. She denounced the Post reporting as “frankly racist, and sexist.”

So that seems like a perfectly healthy cycle for covering a controversy, obviously in the public interest. In the wake of concerns from activists about where this massive amount of BLM money has gone, The New York Post did its job of unearthing the splurge of real estate acquisitions by the person who controls and directs BLM’s budget and who has been a target of accusations and suspicions from activists. Cullors then had the opportunity to publicly provide her side of the story concerning her aggressive and ample financial investments.

But then something quite unhealthy and unusual occurred. Five days after publication of that Post article, the Substack journalists Shant Mesrobian and Zaid Jilani reported that Facebook was banning the sharing of that article worldwide on its platform — similar to what Twitter and Facebook did in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election to The New York Post‘s reporting on the Biden family’s business dealings in China and Ukraine. The Substack reporters noted that Facebook ultimately confirmed the worldwide ban of the Post‘s reporting to The New York Times’ media reporter Ben Smith, justifying it on the ground that the article “revealed personal details about [Cullors] and her residence in violation of Facebook’s community standards.”

In his weekly New York Times Sunday night media column, Smith returned to this subject. When a Facebook lawyer justified the censorship by citing an alleged policy that the tech monopoly will ban any “article [which] shows your home or apartment, says what city you’re in and you don’t like it,” Smith expressed extreme skepticism:

The policy sounds crazy because it could apply to dozens, if not hundreds, of news articles every day — indeed, to a staple of reporting for generations that has included Michael Bloomberg’s expansion of his townhouse in 2009 and the comings and goings of the Hamptons elites. Alex Rodriguez doesn’t like a story that includes a photo of him and his former fiancée, Jennifer Lopez, smiling in front of his house? Delete it. Donald Trump is annoyed about a story that includes a photo of him outside his suite at Mar-a-Lago? Gone. Facebook’s hands, the lawyer told me, are tied by its own policies.

Presumably, the only reason this doesn’t happen constantly is because nobody knows about the policy. But now you do!

Smith was additionally disturbed that Facebook was, in essence, overriding the editorial judgment of news outlets, which grapple every day with how to strike the balance between ensuring the public knows of information in the public interest and protecting a person’s right to privacy. For obvious reasons, public figures and organizations — which both BLM and Cullors undoubtedly are — are deemed to have a lower expectation of privacy when it comes to what is newsworthy. That is why, for example, the extramarital affairs of Donald Trump or Bill Clinton are deemed newsworthy whereas, outside of the dead-but-returning Gawker sewer, the sex lives of private citizens are not. Yet Facebook accords no deference to the editorial judgments even of the most established media outlets. Instead, they told Smith, “Facebook alone decides.”


Whatever one’s views are on this particular censorship controversy, there is no doubt that it is part of the highly consequential debate over online free speech and the ability of monopolies like Facebook to control the dissemination of news and the boundaries of political discourse and debate. That is why Smith devoted his weekly column to it. And yet, when Smith approached the standard free speech advocacy groups for comment on this story, virtually none was willing to speak up. “Facebook’s usual critics have been strikingly silent as the company has extended its purview over speech into day-to-day editorial calls,” he wrote.

Among those groups which insisted that it would not comment on Facebook’s censorship of the Post‘s BLM story was the vaunted, brave and deeply principled free speech organization, the American Civil Liberties Union. “We don’t have anyone who is closely plugged into that situation right now so we don’t have anything to say at this point in time,” emailed Aaron Madrid Aksoz, an ACLU spokesman. Smith said “the only criticism he could obtain came from the News Media Alliance, the old newspaper lobby, whose chief executive, David Chavern, called blocking The Post’s link ‘completely arbitrary’ and noted that ‘Facebook and Google stand between publishers and their audiences and determine how and whether news content is seen.’”

How is it possible that the ACLU is all but invisible on one of the central free speech debates of our time: namely, how much censorship should Silicon Valley tech monopolists be imposing on our political speech? As someone who intensively reports on these controversies, I can barely remember any time when the ACLU spoke up loudly on any of these censorship debates, let alone assumed the central role that any civil liberties group with any integrity would, by definition, assume on this growing controversy.

In lieu of the traditional, iconic and organization-defining willingness — eagerness — of the ACLU to defend free speech precisely when it has been most controversial and upsetting to liberals, what we now get instead are cowardly, P.R.-consultant-scripted excuses for staying as far away as possible: “We don’t have anyone who is closely plugged into that situation right now so we don’t have anything to say at this point in time.” That sounds like something Marco Rubio’s office says when asked about a Trump tweet or that a corporate headquarters would say to avoid an inflammatory controversy, not the reaction of a stalwart civil liberties group to a publicly debated act of political censorship.

In this particular case, it is not difficult to understand the cause of the ACLU’s silence. They obviously cannot defend Facebook’s censorship — affirmatively defending the stifling of political speech is, at least for now, still a bridge too far for the group — but they are petrified of saying anything that might seem even remotely critical of, let alone adversarial to, BLM activists and organizations. That is because BLM is one of the most cherished left-liberal causes, and the ACLU now relies almost entirely on donations and grants from those who have standard left-liberal politics and want and expect the ACLU to advance that ideological and partisan agenda above its nonpartisan civil liberties principles. Criticizing BLM is a third rail in left-liberal political circles, which is where the ACLU now resides almost entirely, and thus it again cowers in silence as another online act of censorship which advances political liberalism emerges. Indeed, BLM is an organization which the ACLU frequently champions:

Like so many liberal-left media outlets and advocacy groups, the ACLU was suffering financially before they were saved and then enriched beyond their wildest dreams by Donald Trump and the #Resistance movement he spawned. “The American Civil Liberties Union this week laid off 23 employees, about 7 percent of the organization’s national staff,” announced The Washington Post in April, 2015. But in the Trump era, the money flowed in almost as quickly and furiously as post-Floyd money to BLM. In February, 2017, said AP, the group “is suddenly awash in donations and new members as it does battle with President Donald Trump over the extent of his constitutional authority, with nearly $80 million in online contributions alone pouring in since the election.” So that is the donor base it now serves.

The ACLU’s we-know-nothing routine for abstaining from commenting on Facebook’s censorship of the BLM article is, for so many reasons, preposterous. The group funds what it calls its Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and some of its best lawyers oversee it. Clearly they focus on these issues. And the ACLU in general has taken a firm and borderline-absolutist position against online censorship by Silicon Valley monopolies: principles whose application to this particular case would be easy and obvious. The ACLU has a section of its website devoted to “Internet Speech,” and its position on such matters is stated explicitly:

The ACLU believes in an uncensored Internet, a vast free-speech zone deserving at least as much First Amendment protection as that afforded to traditional media such as books, newspapers, and magazines….The ACLU has been at the forefront of protecting online freedom of expression in its myriad forms. We brought the first case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared speech on the Internet equally worthy of the First Amendment’s historical protections.

In a July, 2018 article published on the group’s site entitled “Facebook Shouldn’t Censor Offensive Speech,” the group praised Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s controversial pledge “to keep Facebook from diving deeper into the business of censorship” as “the right call.”

Unlike in response to the BLM controversy, the ACLU had no trouble back then recognizing that “what’s at stake here is the ability of one platform that serves as a forum for the speech of billions of people to use its enormous power to censor speech on the basis of its own determinations of what is true, what is hateful, and what is offensive.” The ACLU’s stated policy on these controversies could not have been clearer: “given Facebook’s nearly unparalleled status as a forum for political speech and debate, it should not take down anything but unlawful speech, like incitement to violence.” In light of that principle, how is it remotely hard to denounce Facebook’s censorship of the Post‘s article given that it does not even arguably fall within the scope of those narrow exceptions?

Because the ACLU still employs a few old-school civil libertarians among its hundreds of lawyers and staff, those employees manage to do work and express views that are consistent with the ACLU’s old-school civil liberties agenda even when contrary to the interests of liberal politics. But the tactics used by the ACLU in those cases to downplay or hide those aberrations are as transparent as they are craven.

When three Silicon Valley monopolies united to remove the social media app Parler from the internet in January, 2021 after influential Democratic lawmakers demanded it — one of the most brute acts of monopolistic censorship yet — an ACLU lawyer, Ben Wizner, was cited in The New York Times as labelling Parler’s destruction “troubling,” telling the paper: “I think we should recognize the importance of neutrality when we’re talking about the infrastructure of the internet.” But on the ACLU’s highly active and influential Twitter account — the group’s primary platform for promoting its work, expressing its views, and soliciting donations, where it has two million followers and often tweets up to fifty times a day — the group said absolutely nothing about the removal of an entire social media app from the internet.

Indeed, the ACLU — outside of a few token, hidden statements — has chosen to play at most a minor role in the key free speech controversies of the day, ones focusing on such weighty matters as internet freedom and online censorship over our political debates by Silicon Valley monopolies. Over the last four years, as Facebook’s censorship has expanded rapidly, the ACLU has said little to nothing about it — including remaining in utter silence about the extraordinary decision to censor pre-election reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop and what it revealed about Joe Biden’s business dealings. Last month, Substack reporter Michael Tracey reviewed the ACLU’s prior 100 tweets and found that 63 of them were about trans issues while a grand total of one was about free speech and none about due process. A comparison of the number of ACLU statements on online censorship controversies to its manifestations on trans issues similarly reveals a fixation on the latter with very little interest in the former.

It goes without saying that the ACLU has every right to devote a huge bulk of its institutional resources and public advocacy to the cause of trans equality if it chooses to do so. But what that reveals is that the group is becoming exactly what its leaders always vowed it would never be: just another garden-variety liberal political advocacy group. After all, there is no shortage of extremely well-financed LGBT groups doing the same advocacy on trans issues. Those LGBT groups shifted their focus almost entirely to trans issues when they won the entire agenda of gay and lesbian equality with the Supreme Court’s 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage in all fifty states, and supporting trans rights is the mainstream, standard view of Democratic Party leaders and liberal activists.

The ACLU’s refusal to engage with growing online censorship is baffling even from the perspective of its liberal politics given that radical leftists are increasingly (and predictably) the targets of tech censorship alongside anti-establishment right-wing voices. Just yesterday, the highly popular trans YouTube host Natalie Wynn of Contrapoints complained that one of her past episodes had just been demonetized and urged: “Free speech should be reclaimed as an essential leftist issue. We should not surrender the most fundamental civil right to Google LLC in the name of deplatforming rightists and curtailing harassment.” Wynn’s last video, rebutting the views of J.K. Rowling on trans issues, featured Wynn’s list of the telltale signs of “indirect bigotry” toward trans people, and she included “free speech advocacy,” but — as happens to so many people — Wynn has apparently reconsidered that view and has discovered the centrality of free speech values now that her own speech is targeted. But agitating for more online political censorship still remains a cause deeply popular among establishment liberals, further explaining the ACLU’s reluctance to involve itself in these controversies on the side of free expression.

ACLU page touting its advocacy of trans and nonbinary rights

What always distinguished the ACLU in the past — and what gave it credibility with judges in courtrooms — was its devotion to and focus on non-partisan free speech, free press and due process causes that were too unpopular or controversial for other groups to touch, particularly liberal groups who could not afford to offend the political sensibilities of Democrats. There are still some isolated occasions when the ACLU does such things — such as when it spoke up in defense of the NRA against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s efforts to target the group with destruction or when the ACLU recently denounced parts of the Democrats’ H.R.1 “reforms”— but the ACLU largely hides those exceptions on its most popular public platforms, and they are becoming increasingly rare.

And now we have arrived at the truly depressing and tawdry place where the ACLU is afraid to apply its long-stated principles to denounce Facebook’s censorship because the censorship in question happened to be an article that reflected poorly on the sacred-among-liberals BLM group. In the place of brave lawyers and activists defending the constitutional rights and civil liberties even of those people and groups most despised, we have instead a corporate spokesman emailing The New York Times with excuses about why it cannot and will not speak up about a major censorship controversy that has been brewing for two weeks. In that decline one finds the ACLU’s sorry trajectory from stalwart civil liberties group into a lavishly funded arm of the Democratic Party’s liberal political wing.

April 26, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | Leave a comment

Democrats and neocons clamor to bring the ‘war on terror’ home, targeting Trump supporters as ‘domestic terrorists’

Biden or Bush?

By Nebojsa Malic | RT | January 20, 2021

Just like that, the Democrats became the party of George W. Bush. You’re either with them, or with Trump supporters who need to be treated just like Al-Qaeda, the media and political paladins of Our Democracy are now declaring.

“The pro-Trump fanatics stormed and trashed the citadel of American democracy, nearly executing what al-Qaeda had failed to do: destroy the US Capitol,” Jeff Stein of the Daily Beast argued on Monday, gushing over a Democrat proposal to empower law enforcement to “prevent violent acts of domestic terrorism.”

Wait, you might say. Al-Qaeda was accused of killing nearly 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How can five deaths that happened during the Capitol unrest compare? Silence, bigot! What are you, a terrorist?

Why yes, you are, according to the same Democrats who spent 2020 endorsing the Black Lives Matter chants of “ACAB” and “defund the police,” and now want to empower the police to go after 74-plus million Trump as “white terrorists” who are basically the same as Osama Bin Laden.

In the same breath as he called for “unity” and “healing,” Joe Biden denounced his opposition as “domestic terrorists” and Nazis. Even before he gets sworn in, his party is using the Capitol unrest to criminalize political dissent in America.

Almost every single mainstream outlet is rushing to interview “national security experts” and “extremism researchers,” who are selling the line that a new War on Terror is needed, right here at home, with fellow Americans as the enemy – and them in charge, obviously.

Joining the Democrats in this crusade are the neocons, from the NeverTrump shriekers Max Boot, Bill Kristol and David Frum – architects and instigators of the original WoT and the Iraq invasion launched under its pretext – to Bush alumni who worked on the inside to sabotage Trump’s agenda until they decided denouncing him would profit them more. One of them is Elizabeth Neumann, a Bush alum embedded in Trump’s Homeland Security department until she resigned in a huff last May, who denounced her former boss in TIME magazine as near enough the equivalent of OBL.

If you thought social media bans, no-fly lists, denials of service by banks and hotels, and mass layoffs were bad, wait till you hear former FBI agent Ali Soufan. Interviewed in the same TIME article, he gushed about the drone strike President Barack Obama ordered against Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011, saying he had it coming because he was “instigating” terrorism. Al-Awlaki also happened to be an American citizen and, therefore, ostensibly entitled to due process, but his extrajudicial execution was conducted with absolute impunity.

Some veterans of the “war on terror” are all too eager to see it happen domestically. General Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the deaths of more than 1,000 US troops in Afghanistan during the “surge” there, now says the problem with America is white men angry about losing their “privileged position,” and claims Trump supporters are the KKK. Who could’ve guessed that Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) had won the war for the hearts and minds of the US military?

Then again, McChrystal has already been waging war on Americans, albeit of the psychological kind. Back in May 2020, the Washington Post reported that he was advising a Democrat group called Defeat Disinfo, which was “planning to deploy technology originally developed to counter Islamic State propaganda in service of a domestic political goal,” namely, the election of Joe Biden. The mainstream media saw nothing wrong with this, just as they cheer the calls to outlaw half of America now.

Not that the mainstream media will remind you, but the original War on Terror resulted in mass warrantless spying on Americans – eventually exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – and war crimes in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, exposed by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. It also led to the massive expansion of administrative searches and seizures – from airports onward – and encroachment on civil liberties. These were all denounced as a bad thing.

All of that pales in comparison to what has already been done by private companies in the name of “resisting” Trump, and what the incoming government is preparing to do, with zero pushback from civil libertarians such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now fully on board.

Well, not exactly zero. The one objection came from a somewhat unexpected quarter: the “Squad” of progressive members of Congress, who wrote a letter opposing any expansion of domestic national security and surveillance powers.

The existing laws, powers and regulations are quite enough to go after “white nationalist and QAnon groups,” they argued, since “increasing the reach and power of our national security apparatus now would only serve to further the oppression of Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color, and leftist groups.” The What is just fine, it’s the Who/Whom that’s the problem, you see.

The pinnacle of irony is that in the very same speech, delivered before Congress, Bush said the  terrorists attacked America because “they hate our freedoms” – specifically citing “our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” With the notable exception of the Squad’s virtue-signaling – that is unlikely to accomplish much to shift the Democrats leftward – the very same people who once compared George W. Bush to Hitler are now rehabilitating his acolytes and policies, and echo his September 2001 message that “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”

With those freedoms now effectively abolished in the name of protecting Our Democracy, does that mean the terrorists have no reason to hate America? That’s one way to win the ‘war on terror’ – just in time to start another, at home.

Nebojsa Malic is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Telegram @TheNebulator and on Twitter @NebojsaMalic

January 20, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

How Russia-gate Rationalizes Censorship

By Joe Lauria | Consortium News | December 4, 2107

At the end of October, I wrote an article for Consortium News about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign paying for unvetted opposition research that became the basis for much of the disputed story about Russia allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The piece showed that the Democrats’ two paid-for sources that have engendered belief in Russia-gate are at best shaky. First was former British spy Christopher Steele’s largely unverified dossier of second- and third-hand opposition research portraying Donald Trump as something of a Russian Manchurian candidate.

And the second was CrowdStrike, an anti-Putin private company, examining the DNC’s computer server to dubiously claim discovery of a Russian “hack.” In a similar examination of an alleged hack of a Ukrainian artillery app, CrowdStrike also blamed Russia but used faulty data for its report that it was later forced to rewrite. CrowdStrike was hired after the DNC refused to allow the FBI to look at the server.

My piece also described the dangerous consequences of partisan Democratic faith in Russia-gate: a sharp increase in geopolitical tensions between nuclear-armed Russia and the U.S., and a New McCarthyism that is spreading fear — especially in academia, journalism and civil rights organizations — about questioning the enforced orthodoxy of Russia’s alleged guilt.

After the article appeared at Consortium News, I tried to penetrate the mainstream by then publishing a version of the article on the HuffPost, which was rebranded from the Huffington Post in April this year by new management. As a contributor to the site since February 2006, I am trusted by HuffPost editors to post my stories directly online. However, within 24 hours of publication on Nov. 4, HuffPost editors retracted the article without any explanation.

This behavior breaks with the earlier principles of journalism that the Web site claimed to uphold. For instance, in 2008, Arianna Huffington told radio host Don Debar that, “We welcome all opinions, except conspiracy theories.” She said: “Facts are sacred. That’s part of our philosophy of journalism.”

But Huffington stepped down as editor in August 2016 and has nothing to do with the site now. It is run by Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times reporter and editor, who evidently has very different ideas. In April, she completely redesigned the site and renamed it HuffPost.

Before the management change, I had published several articles on the Huffington Post about Russia without controversy. For instance, The Huffington Post published my piece on Nov. 5, 2016, that predicted three days before the election that if Clinton lost she’d blame Russia. My point was reaffirmed by the campaign-insider book Shattered, which revealed that immediately after Clinton’s loss, senior campaign advisers decided to blame Russia for her defeat.

On Dec. 12, 2016, I published another piece, which the Huffington Post editors promoted, called, “Blaming Russia To Overturn The Election Goes Into Overdrive.” I argued that “Russia has been blamed in the U.S. for many things and though proof never seems to be supplied, it is widely believed anyway.”

After I posted an updated version of the Consortium News piece — renamed “On the Origins of Russia-gate” — I was informed 23 hours later by a Facebook friend that the piece had been retracted by HuffPost editors. As a reporter for mainstream media for more than a quarter century, I know that a newsroom rule is that before the serious decision is made to retract an article the writer is contacted to be allowed to defend the piece. This never happened. There was no due process. A HuffPost editor ignored my email asking why it was taken down.

Support from Independent Media

Like the word “fascism,” “censorship” is an over-used and mis-used accusation, and I usually avoid using it. But without any explanation, I could only conclude that the decision to retract was political, not editorial.

I am non-partisan as I oppose both major parties for failing to represent millions of Americans’ interests. I follow facts where they lead. In this case, the facts led to an understanding that the Jan. 6 FBI/NSA/CIA intelligence “assessment” on alleged Russian election interference, prepared by what then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called “hand-picked” analysts, was based substantially on unvetted opposition research and speculation, not serious intelligence work.

The assessment even made the point that the analysts were not asserting that the alleged Russian interference was a fact. The report contained the disclaimer: “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

Under deadline pressure on Jan. 6, Scott Shane of The New York Times instinctively wrote what many readers of the report must have been thinking: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. … Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”

Yet, after the Jan. 6 report was published, leading Democrats asserted falsely that the “assessment” represented the consensus judgment of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies – not just the views of “hand-picked” analysts from three – and much of the U.S. mainstream media began treating the allegations of Russian “hacking” as flat fact, not as an uncertain conclusion denied by both the Russian government and WikiLeaks, which insists that it did not get the two batches of Democratic emails from Russia.

(There is also dissent inside the broader U.S. intelligence community about whether an alleged “hack” over the Internet was even possible based on the download speeds of one known data extraction, which matched what was possible from direct USB access to a computer, i.e., a download onto a thumb drive presumably by a Democratic insider,)

However, because of the oft-repeated “17 intelligence agencies” canard and the mainstream media’s careless reporting, the public impression has built up that the accusations against Russia are indisputable. If you ask a Russia-gate believer today what their faith is based on, they will invariably point to the Jan. 6 assessment and mock anyone who still expresses any doubt.

For instance, an unnamed former CIA officer told The Intercept last month, “You’ve got all these intelligence agencies saying the Russians did the hack. To deny that is like coming out with the theory that the Japanese didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor.”

That the supposedly dissident Intercept would use this quote is instructive about how imbalanced the media’s reporting on Russia-gate has been. We have actual film of Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor and American ships burning – and we have the eyewitness accounts of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors. Yet, on Russia-gate, we only have the opinions of some “hand-picked” intelligence officials who themselves say that they are not claiming that their opinions are fact. No serious editor would allow a self-interested and unnamed source to equate the two in print.

In this groupthink atmosphere, it was probably easy for HuffPost editors to hear some complaints from a few readers and blithely decide to ban my story. However, before it was pulled, 125 people had shared it. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and frequent contributor to Consortium News, then took up my cause, being the first to write about the HuffPost censorship on his blog. McGovern included a link to a .pdf file that I captured of the censored HuffPost story. It has since been republished on numerous other websites.

Journalist Max Blumenthal tweeted about it. British filmmaker and writer Tariq Ali posted it on his Facebook page. Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams interviewed me at length about the censorship on their TV program. ZeroHedge wrote a widely shared piece and someone actually took the time, 27 minutes and 13 seconds to be exact, to read the entire article on YouTube. I began a petition to HuffPost’s Polgreen to either explain the retraction or restore the article. It has gained more than 1,900 signatures so far. If a serious fact-check analysis was made of my article, it must exist and can and should be produced.

Watchdogs & Media Defending Censorship

Despite this support from independent media, a senior official at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, I learned, declined to take up my cause because he believes in the Russia-gate story. I also learned that a senior officer at the American Civil Liberties Union rejected my case because he too believes in Russia-gate. Both of these serious organizations were set up precisely to defend individuals in such situations on principle, not preference.

In terms of their responsibilities for defending journalism and protecting civil liberties, their personal opinions about whether Russia-gate is real or not should be irrelevant. The point is whether journalists should be permitted to show skepticism toward this latest dubiously based groupthink. I fear that – amid the frenzy about Russia and the animosity toward Trump – concerns about careers and funding are driving these decisions, with principles brushed aside.

One online publication decidedly took the HuffPost’s side. Steven Perlberg, a media reporter for BuzzFeed, asked the HuffPost why they retracted my article. While ignoring me, the editors issued a statement to BuzzFeed saying that “Mr. Lauria’s self-published” piece was “later flagged by readers, and after deciding that the post contained multiple factually inaccurate or misleading claims, our editors removed the post per our contributor terms of use.” Those terms include retraction for “any reason,” including, apparently, censorship.

Perlberg posted the HuffPost statement on Twitter. I asked him if he inquired of the editors what those “multiple” errors and “misleading claims” were. I asked him to contact me to get my side of the story. Perlberg totally ignored me. He wrote nothing about the matter. He apparently believed the HuffPost and that was that. In this way, he acquiesced with the censorship.

BuzzFeed, of course, is the sensationalist outlet that irresponsibly published the Steele dossier in full, even though the accusations – not just about Donald Trump but also many other individuals – weren’t verified. Then on Nov. 14, BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold wrote one of the most ludicrous of a long line of fantastic Russia-gate stories, reporting that the Russian foreign ministry had sent money to Russian consulates in the U.S. “to finance the election campaign of 2016.” The scoop generated some screaming headlines before it became clear that the money was to pay for Russian citizens in the U.S. to vote in the 2016 Duma election.

That Russia-gate has reached this point, based on faith and not fact, was further illustrated by a Facebook exchange I had with Gary Sick, an academic who served on the Ford and Carter national security staffs. When I pressed Sick for evidence of Russian interference, he eventually replied: “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…” When I told him that was a very low-bar for such serious accusations, he angrily cut off debate.

Part of this Russia-gate groupthink stems from the outrage – and even shame – that many Americans feel about Trump’s election. They want to find an explanation that doesn’t lay the blame on the U.S. citizenry or America’s current dysfunctional political/media process. It’s much more reassuring, in a way, to blame some foreign adversary while also discrediting Trump’s legitimacy as the elected president. That leaves open some hope that his election might somehow be negated.

And, so many important people and organizations seem to be verifying the Russia-gate suspicions that the theory must be true. Which is an important point. When belief in a story becomes faith-based or is driven by an intense self-interest, honest skeptics are pushed aside and trampled. That is the way groupthink works, as we saw in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq when any doubts about Iraq possessing WMD made you a “Saddam apologist.”

As the groupthink grows, the true-believers become disdainful of facts that force them to think about what they already believe. They won’t waste time making a painstaking examination of the facts or engage in a detailed debate even on something as important and dangerous as a new Cold War with Russia.

This is the most likely explanation for the HuffPost‘s censorship: a visceral reaction to having their Russia-gate faith challenged.

Why Critical News is Suppressed

But the HuffPost’s action is hardly isolated. It is part of a rapidly growing landscape of censorship of news critical of American corporate and political leaders who are trying to defend themselves from an increasingly angry population. It’s a story as old as civilization: a wealthy and powerful elite fending off popular unrest by trying to contain knowledge of how the insiders gain at the others’ expense, at home and abroad.

A lesson of the 2016 campaign was that growing numbers of Americans are fed up with three decades of neoliberal policies that have fabulously enriched the top tier of Americans and debased a huge majority of the citizenry. The population has likewise grown tired of the elite’s senseless wars to expand their own interests, which these insiders try to conflate with the entire country’s interests.

America’s bipartisan rulers are threatened by popular discontent from both left and right. They were alarmed by the Bernie Sanders insurgency and by Donald Trump’s victory, even if Trump is now betraying the discontented masses who voted for him by advancing tax and health insurance plans designed to further crush them and benefit the wealthy.

Trump’s false campaign promises will only make the rulers’ problem of a restless population worse. Americans are subjected to economic inequality greater than in the first Gilded Age. They are also subjected today to more war than in the first Gilded Age. American rulers today are engaged in multiple conflicts following decades of post-World War II invasions and coups to expand their global interests.

People with wealth and power always seem to be nervous about losing both. So plutocrats use the concentrated media they own to suppress news critical of their wars and domestic repression. For example, almost nothing was reported about militarized police forces until the story broke out into the open in the Ferguson protests and much of that discontent has been brushed aside more recently.

Careerist journalists readily acquiesce in this suppression of news to maintain their jobs, their status and their lifestyles. Meanwhile, a growing body of poorly paid freelancers compete for the few remaining decent-paying gigs for which they must report from the viewpoint of the mainstream news organizations and their wealthy owners.

To operate in this media structure, most journalists know to excise out the historical context of America’s wars of domination. They know to uncritically accept American officials’ bromides about spreading democracy, while hiding the real war aims.

Examples abound: America’s role in the Ukraine coup was denied or downplayed; a British parliamentary report exposing American lies that led to the destruction of Libya was suppressed; and most infamously, the media promoted the WMD hoax and the fable of “bringing democracy” to Iraq, leading to the illegal invasion and devastation of that country. A recent example from November is a 60 Minutes report on the Saudi destruction of Yemen, conspicuously failing to mention America’s crucial role in the carnage.

I’ve pitched numerous news stories critical of U.S. foreign policy to a major American newspaper that were rejected or changed in the editorial process. One example is the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document of August 2012 that accurately predicted the rise of the Islamic State two years later.

The document, which I confirmed with a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. and its Turkish, European and Gulf Arab allies, were supporting the establishment of a Salafist principality in eastern Syria to put pressure on the Syrian government, but the document warned that this Salafist base could turn into an “Islamic State.”

But such a story would undermine the U.S. government’s “war on terrorism” narrative by revealing that the U.S.-backed strategy actually was risking the expansion of the jihadists’ foothold in Syria. The story was twice rejected by my editors and has received attention almost entirely — if not exclusively — on much-smaller independent news Web sites.

Another story I pitched in June 2012, just a year into the Syrian war, about Russia’s motives in Syria being guided by a desire to defeat the growing jihadist threat there, was also rejected. Corporate media wanted to keep the myth of Russia’s “imperial” aims in Syria alive. I had to publish the article outside the U.S., in a South African daily newspaper.

In September 2015 at the U.N. General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed my story about Russia’s motives in Syria to stop jihadists from taking over. Putin invited the U.S. to join this effort as Moscow was about to launch its military intervention at the invitation of the Syrian government. The Obama administration, still insisting on “regime change” in Syria, refused. And the U.S. corporate media continued promoting the myth that Russia intervened to recapture its “imperial glory.”

It was much easier to promote the “imperial” narrative and to ignore Putin’s clear explanation to French TV channel TF1, which was not picked up by American media.

“Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organizations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces?” Putin said. “These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Why Russia Is Targeted

So, where are independent-minded Western journalists to turn if their stories critical of the U.S. government and corporations are suppressed?

The imperative is to get these stories out – and Russian media has provided an opening for some. This has presented a new problem for the plutocracy. The suppression of critical news in their corporate-owned media is no longer working if it’s seeping out in Russian media (and through some dissident Western news sites on the Internet).

The solution has been to brand the content of the Russian television network, RT, as “propaganda” since it presents facts and viewpoints that most Americans have been kept from hearing. But just because these views – many coming from Americans and other Westerners – are not what you commonly hear on the U.S. mainstream media doesn’t make them “propaganda” that must be stigmatized and silenced.

As a Russian-government-financed English-language news channel, RT also gives a Russian perspective on the news, the way CNN and The New York Times give an American perspective and the BBC a British one. American mainstream journalists, from my experience, arrogantly deny suppressing news and believe they present a universal perspective, rather than a narrow American view of the world.

The viewpoints of Iranians, Palestinians, Russians, North Koreans and others are never fully reported in the Western media although the supposed mission of journalism is to help citizens understand a frighteningly complex world from multiple points of view. It’s impossible to do so without those voices included. Routinely or systematically shutting them out also dehumanizes people in those countries, making it easier to gain popular support to go to war against them.

Russia is scapegoated by charging that RT or Sputnik are sowing divisions in the U.S. by focusing on issues like homelessness, racism, or out-of-control militarized police forces, as if these divisive issues didn’t already exist. The U.S. mainstream media also seems to forget that the U.S. government has engaged in at least 70 years of interference in other countries’ elections, foreign invasions, coups, planting stories in foreign media and cyber-warfare.

Now, these American transgressions are projected onto Moscow. There’s also a measure of self-reverence in this for “successful” people with a stake in an establishment that underpins the elite, demonstrating how wonderfully democratic they are compared to those ogres in Russia.

The overriding point about the “Russian propaganda” complaint is that when America’s democratic institutions, including the press and the electoral process, are crumbling under the weight of corruption that the American elites have created or maintained, someone else needs to be blamed. Russia is both an old and a new scapegoat.

The Jan. 6 intelligence assessment on alleged Russian election meddling is a good example of how this works. A third of its content is an attack on RT for “undermining American democracy” by reporting on Occupy Wall Street, the protest over the Dakota pipeline and, of all things, holding a “third party candidate debates.”

According to the Jan. 6 assessment, RT’s offenses include reporting that “the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’” RT also “highlights criticism of alleged US shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties.” In other words, reporting on newsworthy events and allowing third-party candidates to express their opinions undermine democracy.

The report also says all this amounts to “a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest,” but it should be noted those protests by dissatisfied Americans are against privileges of the wealthy and the well-connected, a status quo that the intelligence agencies routinely protect.

There are also deeper reasons why Russia is being targeted. The Russia-gate story fits neatly into a geopolitical strategy that long predates the 2016 election. Since Wall Street and the U.S. government lost the dominant position in Russia that existed under the pliable President Boris Yeltsin, the strategy has been to put pressure on getting rid of Putin to restore a U.S. friendly leader in Moscow. There is substance to Russia’s concerns about American designs for “regime change” in the Kremlin.

Moscow sees an aggressive America expanding NATO and putting 30,000 NATO troops on its borders; trying to overthrow a secular ally in Syria with terrorists who threaten Russia itself; backing a coup in Ukraine as a possible prelude to moves against Russia; and using American NGOs to foment unrest inside Russia before they were forced to register as foreign agents. Russia wants Americans to see this perspective.

Accelerated Censorship in the Private Sector

The Constitution prohibits government from prior-restraint, or censorship, though such tactics were  imposed, largely unchallenged, during the two world wars. American newspapers voluntarily agreed to censor themselves in the Second World War before the government dictated it.

In the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said he didn’t “desire to reestablish wartime censorship” and instead asked the press for self-censorship. He largely got it until the papers began reporting American battlefield losses. On July 25, 1950, “the army ordered that reporters were not allowed to publish ‘unwarranted’ criticism of command decisions, and that the army would be ‘the sole judge and jury’ on what ‘unwarranted’ criticism entailed,” according to a Yale University study on military censorship.

After excellent on-the-ground reporting from Vietnam brought the war home to America, the military reacted by instituting, initially in the first Gulf War, serious control of the press by “embedding” reporters from private media companies which accepted the arrangement, much as World War II newspapers censored themselves.

It is important to realize that the First Amendment does not apply to private companies, including the media. It is not illegal for them to practice censorship. I never made a First Amendment argument against the HuffPost, for instance. However, under pressure from Washington, even in peacetime, media companies can do the government’s dirty work to censor or limit free speech for the government.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen an acceleration of attempts by corporations to inhibit Russian media in the U.S. Both Google and Facebook, which dominate the Web with more than 50 percent of ad revenue, were at first resistant to government pressure to censor “Russian propaganda.” But they are coming around.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said on Nov. 18 that Google would “derank” articles from RT and Sputnik in the Google searches, making the stories harder for readers to find. The billionaire Schmidt claimed Russian information can be “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponized,” he said. That is how factual news critical of U.S. corporate and political leadership is seen, as a weapon.

“My own view is that these patterns can be detected, and that they can be taken down or deprioritized,” Schmidt said.

Though Google would effectively be hiding news produced by RT and Sputnik, Schmidt is sensitive to the charge of censorship, even though there’s nothing legally to stop him.

“We don’t want to ban the sites. That’s not how we operate,” Schmidt said cynically. “I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do.”

But the “deranking” isn’t only aimed at Russian sites; Google algorithms also are taking aim at independent news sites that don’t follow the mainstream herd – and thus are accused of spreading Russian or other “propaganda” if they question the dominant Western narratives on, say, the Ukraine crisis or the war in Syria. A number of alternative websites have begun reporting a sharp fall-off of traffic directed to their sites from Google’s search engines.

Responding to a deadline from Congress to act, Facebook on Nov. 22 announced that it would inform users if they have been “targeted” by Russian “propaganda.” Facebook’s help center will tell users if they liked or shared ads allegedly from the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which supposedly bought $100,000 in ads over a two-year period, with more than half these ads coming after the 2016 U.S. election and many not related to politics.

(The $100,000 sum over two years compares to Facebook’s $27 billion in annual revenue. Plus, Facebook only says it “believes” or it’s “likely” that the ads came from that firm, whose links to the Kremlin also have yet to be proved.)

Facebook described the move as “part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy.” Congress wants more from Facebook, so it will not be surprising if users will eventually be told when they’ve liked or shared an RT report in the future.

While the government can’t openly shut down a news site, the Federal Communications Commission’s upcoming vote on whether to deregulate the Internet by ending net neutrality will free private Internet companies in the U.S. to further marginalize Russian and dissident websites by slowing them down and thus discouraging readers from viewing them.

Likewise, as the U.S. government doesn’t want to be openly seen shutting down RT operations, it is working around the edges to accomplish that.

After the Department of Justice forced, under threat of arrest, RT to register its employees as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nuaert said last Tuesday that “FARA does not police the content of information disseminated, does not limit the publication of information or advocacy materials, and does not restrict an organization’s ability to operate.” She’d earlier said that registering would not “impact or affect the ability of them to report news and information. We just have them register. It’s as simple as that.”

Then on Wednesday the Congressional press office stripped RT correspondents of their Capitol Hill press passes, citing the FARA registration. “The rules of the Galleries state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed ‘by any foreign government or representative thereof.’ Upon its registration as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), RT Network became ineligible to hold news credentials,” read the letter to RT.

Even so, Russia-gate faithful ignore these aggressive moves and issue calls for even harsher action. After forcing RT to register, Keir Giles, a Chatham House senior consulting fellow, acted as though it never happened. He said in a Council on Foreign Relations Cyber Brief on Nov. 27: “Although the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue action against Russian information operations, there are steps the U.S. Congress and other governments should consider.”

commented on this development on RT America. It would also have been good to have the State Department’s Nuaert answer for this discrepancy about the claim that forced FARA registrations would not affect news gathering when it already has. My criticism of RT is that they should be interviewing U.S. decision-makers to hold them accountable, rather than mostly guests outside the power structure. The decision-makers could be called out on air if they refuse to appear.

Growing McCarthyite Attacks

Western rulers’ wariness about popular unrest also can be seen in the extraordinary and scurrilous attack on the Canadian website globalresearch.ca. The attack started with a chilling study by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the relatively obscure website, followed by a vicious hit piece on Nov. 18 by the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper. The headline was: “How a Canadian website is being used to amplify the Kremlin’s view of the world.”

“What once appeared to be a relatively harmless online refuge for conspiracy theorists is now seen by NATO’s information warfare specialists as a link in a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of mainstream Western media – as well as the North American and European public’s trust in government and public institutions,” the Globe and Mail reported. “Global Research is viewed by NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence – or StratCom – as playing a key accelerant role in helping popularize articles with little basis in fact that also happen to fit the narratives being pushed by the Kremlin, in particular, and the Assad regime.”

I’ve not agreed with everything I’ve read on the site. But it is a useful clearinghouse for alternative media. Numerous Consortium News articles are republished there, including a handful of mine. But the site’s typical sharing and reposting on the Internet is seen by NATO as a plot to undermine the Free World.

Drawing from the NATO report, The Globe and Mail’s denunciation of this website continued: “It uses that reach to push not only its own opinion pieces, but ‘news’ reports from little-known websites that regularly carry dubious or false information. At times, the site’s regular variety of international-affairs stories is replaced with a flurry of items that bolster dubious reportage with a series of opinion pieces, promoted on social media and retweeted and shared by active bots.”

The newspaper continued, “’That way, they increase the Google ranking of the story and create the illusion of multi-source verification,’ said Donara Barojan, who does digital forensic research for [StratCom]. But she said she did not yet have proof that Global Research is connected to any government.”

This sort of smear is nothing more than a blatant attack on free speech by the most powerful military alliance in the world, based on the unfounded conviction that Russia is a fundamental force for evil and that anyone who has contacts with Russia or shares even a part of its multilateral world view is suspect.

High-profile individuals are now also in the crosshairs of the neo-McCarthyite witchhunt. On Nov. 25 The Washington Post ran a nasty hit piece on Washington Capitals’ hockey player Alex Ovechkin, one of the most revered sports figures in the Washington area, simply because he, like 86 percent of other Russians, supports his president.

“Alex Ovechkin is one of Putin’s biggest fans. The question is, why?” ran the headline. The story insidiously implied that Ovechkin was a dupe of his own president, being used to set up a media campaign to support Putin, who is under fierce and relentless attack in the United States where Ovechkin plays professional ice hockey.

“He has given an unwavering endorsement to a man who U.S. intelligence agencies say sanctioned Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election,” write the Post reporters, once again showing their gullibility to U.S. intelligence agencies that have provided no proof for their assertions (and even admit that they are not asserting their opinion as fact).

Less prominent figures are targeted too. John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture and was jailed for it, was kicked off a panel in Europe on Nov. 10 by a Bernie Sanders supporter who refused to appear with Kiriakou because he co-hosts a show on Radio Sputnik.

Then last week, Reporters Without Borders, an organization supposedly devoted to press freedom, tried to kick journalist Vanessa Beeley off a panel in Geneva to prevent her from presenting evidence that the White Helmets, a group that sells itself as a rescue organization inside rebel-controlled territory in Syria, has ties to Al Qaeda. The Swiss Press Club, which hosted the event, resisted the pressure and let Beeley speak.

Russia-gate’s Hurdles

Much of this spreading global hysteria and intensifying censorship traces back to Russia-gate. Yet, it remains remarkable that the corporate media has failed so far to prove any significant Russian interference in the U.S. election at all. Nor have the intelligence agencies, Congressional investigations and special prosecutor Robert Mueller. His criminal charges so far have been for financial crimes and lying to federal authorities on topics unrelated to any “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russians to “hack” Democratic emails.

There may well be more indictments from Mueller, even perhaps a complaint about Trump committing obstruction of justice because he said on TV that he fired Comey, in part, because of the “Russia thing.” But Trump’s clumsy reaction to the “scandal,” which he calls “fake news” and a “witch hunt,” still is not proof that Putin and the Russians interfered in the U.S. election to achieve the unlikely outcome of Trump’s victory.

The Russia-gate faithful assured us to wait for the indictment of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, briefly Trump’s national security adviser. But again there was nothing about pre-election “collusion,” only charges that Flynn had lied to the FBI or omitted details about two conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding policy matters during the presidential transition, i.e., after the election.

And, one of those conversations related to trying unsuccessfully to comply with an Israeli request to get Russia to block a United Nations resolution censuring Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land.

As journalist Yasha Levine tweeted: “So the country that influenced US policy through Michael Flynn is Israel, not Russia. But Flynn did try to influence Russia, not the other way around. Ha-ha. This is the smoking gun? What a farce.”

There remain a number of key hurdles to prove the Russia-gate story. First, convincing evidence is needed that the Russian government indeed did “hack” the Democratic emails, both those of the DNC and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta – and gave them to WikiLeaks. And, further that somehow the Trump campaign was involved in aiding and abetting this operation, i.e., collusion.

There’s also the question of how significant the release of those emails was anyway. They did provide evidence that the DNC tilted the primary campaign in favor of Clinton over Sanders; they exposed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from the voters; and they revealed some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation and its foreign donations.

But – even if the Russians were involved in providing that information to the American people – those issues were not considered decisive in the campaign. Clinton principally pinned her loss on FBI Director James Comey for closing and then reopening the investigation into her improper use of a private email server while Secretary of State. She also spread the blame to Russia (repeating the canard about “seventeen [U.S. intelligence] agencies, all in agreement”), Bernie Sanders, the inept DNC and other factors.

As for the vaguer concerns about some Russian group “probably” buying $100,000 in ads, mostly after Americans had voted, as a factor in swaying a $6 billion election, is too silly to contemplate.

That RT and Sputnik ran pieces critical of Hillary Clinton was their right, and they were hardly alone. RT and Sputnik‘s reach in the U.S. is minuscule compared to Fox News, which slammed Clinton throughout the campaign, or for that matter, MSNBC, CNN and other mainstream news outlets, which often expressed open disdain for Republican Donald Trump but also gave extensive coverage to issues such as the security concerns about Clinton’s private email server.

Another vague Russia-gate suspicion stemming largely from Steele’s opposition research is that somehow Russia is bribing or blackmailing Trump because Trump has done some past business with Russians. But there are evidentiary and logical problems with these theories, since some lucrative deals fell through (and presumably wouldn’t have if Trump was being paid off) — and no one, including the Russians, foresaw Trump’s highly improbable election as U.S. President years earlier.

Some have questioned how Trump could have supported detente with Russia without being beholden to Moscow in some way. But Jeffery Sommers, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, wrote a convincing essay explaining adviser Steve Bannon’s influence on Trump’s thinking about Russia and the need for cooperation between the two powers to solve international problems.

Without convincing evidence, I remain a Russia-gate skeptic. I am not defending Russia. Russia can defend itself. However, amid the growing censorship and this dangerous new McCarthyism, I am trying to defend America — from itself.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist. He has written for the Boston Globe, the Sunday Times of London and the Wall Street Journal among other newspapers. He is the author of How I Lost By Hillary Clinton published by OR Books in June 2017. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.

December 4, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russia-gate Breeds ‘Establishment McCarthyism’

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | October 26, 2017

In the past, America has witnessed “McCarthyism” from the Right and even complaints from the Right about “McCarthyism of the Left.” But what we are witnessing now amid the Russia-gate frenzy is what might be called “Establishment McCarthyism,” traditional media/political powers demonizing and silencing dissent that questions mainstream narratives.

Sen. Joe McCarthy with lawyer Roy Cohn (right)

This extraordinary assault on civil liberties is cloaked in fright-filled stories about “Russian propaganda” and wildly exaggerated tales of the Kremlin’s “hordes of Twitter bots,” but its underlying goal is to enforce Washington’s “groupthinks” by creating a permanent system that shuts down or marginalizes dissident opinions and labels contrary information – no matter how reasonable and well-researched – as “disputed” or “rated false” by mainstream “fact-checking” organizations like PolitiFact.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the paragons of this new structure – such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and, indeed, PolitiFact – have a checkered record of getting facts straight.

For instance, PolitiFact still rates as “true” Hillary Clinton’s false claim that “all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies” agreed that Russia was behind the release of Democratic emails last year. Even the Times and The Associated Press belatedly ran corrections after President Obama’s intelligence chiefs admitted that the assessment came from what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called “hand-picked” analysts from only three agencies: CIA, FBI and NSA.

And, the larger truth was that these “hand-picked” analysts were sequestered away from other analysts even from their own agencies and produced “stove-piped intelligence,” i.e., analysis that escapes the back-and-forth that should occur inside the intelligence community.

Even then, what these analysts published last Jan. 6 was an “assessment,” which they specifically warned was “not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.” In other words, they didn’t have any conclusive proof of Russian “hacking.”

Yet, the Times and other leading newspapers routinely treat these findings as flat fact or the unassailable “consensus” of the “intelligence community.” Contrary information, including WikiLeaks’ denials of a Russian role in supplying the emails, and contrary judgments from former senior U.S. intelligence officials are ignored.

The Jan. 6 report also tacked on a seven-page addendum smearing the Russian television network, RT, for such offenses as sponsoring a 2012 debate among U.S. third-party presidential candidates who had been excluded from the Republican-Democratic debates. RT also was slammed for reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protests and the environmental dangers from “fracking.”

How the idea of giving Americans access to divergent political opinions and information about valid issues such as income inequality and environmental dangers constitutes threats to American “democracy” is hard to comprehend.

However, rather than address the Jan. 6 report’s admitted uncertainties about Russian “hacking” and the troubling implications of its attacks on RT, the Times and other U.S. mainstream publications treat the report as some kind of holy scripture that can’t be questioned or challenged.

Silencing RT

For instance, on Tuesday, the Times published a front-page story entitled “YouTube Gave Russians Outlet Portal Into U.S.” that essentially cried out for the purging of RT from YouTube. The article began by holding YouTube’s vice president Robert Kynci up to ridicule and opprobrium for his praising “RT for bonding with viewers by providing ‘authentic’ content instead of ‘agendas or propaganda.’”

The article by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Nicholas Confessore swallowed whole the Jan. 6 report’s conclusion that RT is “the Kremlin’s ‘principal international propaganda outlet’ and a key player in Russia’s information warfare operations around the world.” In other words, the Times portrayed Kynci as essentially a “useful idiot.”

Yet, the article doesn’t actually dissect any RT article that could be labeled false or propagandistic. It simply alludes generally to news items that contained information critical of Hillary Clinton as if any negative reporting on the Democratic presidential contender – no matter how accurate or how similar to stories appearing in the U.S. press – was somehow proof of “information warfare.”

As Daniel Lazare wrote at Consortiumnews.com on Wednesday, “The web version [of the Times article] links to an RT interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that ran shortly before the 2016 election. The topic is a September 2014 email obtained by Wikileaks in which Clinton acknowledges that ‘the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia … are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.’”

In other words, the Times cited a documented and newsworthy RT story as its evidence that RT was a propaganda shop threatening American democracy and deserving ostracism if not removal from YouTube.

A Dangerous Pattern

Not to say that I share every news judgment of RT – or for that matter The New York Times – but there is a grave issue of press freedom when the Times essentially calls for the shutting down of access to a news organization that may highlight or report on stories that the Times and other mainstream outlets downplay or ignore.

And this was not a stand-alone story. Previously, the Times has run favorable articles about plans to deploy aggressive algorithms to hunt down and then remove or marginalize information that the Times and other mainstream outlets deem false.

Nor is it just the Times. Last Thanksgiving, The Washington Post ran a fawning front-page article about an anonymous group PropOrNot that had created a blacklist of 200 Internet sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other independent news sources, that were deemed guilty of dispensing “Russian propaganda,” which basically amounted to our showing any skepticism toward the State Department’s narratives on the crises in Syria or Ukraine.

So, if any media outlet dares to question the U.S. government’s version of events – once that storyline has been embraced by the big media – the dissidents risk being awarded the media equivalent of a yellow star and having their readership dramatically reduced by getting downgraded on search engines and punished on social media.

Meanwhile, Congress has authorized $160 million to combat alleged Russian “propaganda and disinformation,” a gilded invitation for “scholars” and “experts” to gear up “studies” that will continue to prove what is supposed to be proved – “Russia bad” – with credulous mainstream reporters eagerly gobbling up the latest “evidence” of Russian perfidy.

There is also a more coercive element to what’s going on. RT is facing demands from the Justice Department that it register as a “foreign agent” or face prosecution. Clearly, the point is to chill the journalism done by RT’s American reporters, hosts and staff who now fear being stigmatized as something akin to traitors.

You might wonder: where are the defenders of press freedom and civil liberties? Doesn’t anyone in the mainstream media or national politics recognize the danger to a democracy coming from enforced groupthinks? Is American democracy so fragile that letting Americans hear “another side of the story” must be prevented?

A Dangerous ‘Cure’

I agree that there is a limited problem with jerks who knowingly make up fake stories or who disseminate crazy conspiracy theories – and no one finds such behavior more offensive than I do. But does no one recall the lies about Iraq’s WMD and other U.S. government falsehoods and deceptions over the years?

Often, it is the few dissenters who alert the American people to the truth, even as the Times, Post, CNN and other big outlets are serving as the real propaganda agents, accepting what the “important people” say and showing little or no professional skepticism.

And, given the risk of thermo-nuclear war with Russia, why aren’t liberals and progressives demanding at least a critical examination of what’s coming from the U.S. intelligence agencies and the mainstream press?

The answer seems to be that many liberals and progressives are so blinded by their fury over Donald Trump’s election that they don’t care what lines are crossed to destroy or neutralize him. Plus, for some liberal entities, there’s lots of money to be made.

For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union has made its “resistance” to the Trump administration an important part of its fundraising. So, the ACLU is doing nothing to defend the rights of news organizations and journalists under attack.

When I asked ACLU about the Justice Department’s move against RT and other encroachments on press freedom, I was told by ACLU spokesman Thomas Dresslar: “Thanks for reaching out to us. Unfortunately, I’ve been informed that we do not have anyone able to speak to you about this.”

Meanwhile, the Times and other traditional “defenders of a free press” are now part of the attack machine against a free press. While much of this attitude comes from the big media’s high-profile leadership of the anti-Trump Resistance and anger at any resistors to the Resistance, mainstream news outlets have chafed for years over the Internet undermining their privileged role as the gatekeepers of what Americans get to see and hear.

For a long time, the big media has wanted an excuse to rein in the Internet and break the small news outlets that have challenged the power – and the profitability – of the Times, Post, CNN, etc. Russia-gate and Trump have become the cover for that restoration of mainstream authority.

So, as we have moved into this dangerous New Cold War, we are living in what could be called “Establishment McCarthyism,” a hysterical but methodical strategy for silencing dissent and making sure that future mainstream groupthinks don’t get challenged.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.

October 26, 2017 Posted by | Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Witch Hunt: “Fake News” Software Touted by CBS News

Creator Admits He Made Up Who Went on Hit List

Yves Smith | Naked Capitalism | December 7, 2016

One of most pernicious means underway to crush independent news sites is the release of software tools that brand them as unreliable. This means that hidden developers and the parties that fed them information are beyond any accountability, yet would serve as censors.

Last week, the Financial Times described efforts to use software to designate certain sites as suspect:

Concern over the impact on voters of soaring amounts of fake news during the US election has sparked a hackathon where the technology industry and the media’s top thinkers are seeking to find new ways to prioritise the truth.

A community has gathered to share ideas around a 58-page Google document started by Eli Pariser, the author of a best-selling critique of social media, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. A professor has circulated a spreadsheet of reliable and less reliable news sources for comment, while hackathons at Princeton and in the Bay Area have produced prototype products that Facebook could copy…

A team of students won a prize sponsored by Google at a Princeton hackathon last week by creating a quick and dirty prototype of a product that does just that: showing Facebook users a “trust rating” for stories they see, based on an online safety rating provided by “World of Trust”.

If you read the article in full, you’ll see it depicts Wikipedia as a gold standard. As Gary Null discussed yesterday in his Progressive Commentary Hour show (we were a guest; the archived interview should be up later today), it is in fact very difficult to get corrections of Wikipedia entries. Similarly, on certain topics, such as economics, Wikipedia minimizes or excludes non-mainstream views even when they have solid empirical underpinnings and have been given a hearing in academic journals and the press.

The faith in coders coming up with a magic bullet for information validation is similarly questionable. The concern about “fake news” on the Internet is almost comical given that more citizens encounter “fake news” via seeing National Enquirer and National Examiner covers in grocery stores than via websites. It is not hard to imagine that much of the tender concern expressed by the mainstream media is commercial: independent news and analysis sites threaten their legitimacy by exposing how dependent they are on stories planted by government or business sources that these press outlets often fail to vet adequately.

One approach is browser extensions that flag sites as suspect via undisclosed, unverifiable methods. Browser extensions are a particularly pernicious approach, since many users are not even aware that they have installed them, and they update automagically in the background. Most consumers do not know how to check for them or remove them.

Shadowproof exposed how this technological response is being deployed in a reckless, fact-free, libelous manner against Shadowproof, Naked Capitalism, and other long-standing, well-regarded websites. Worse, this dodgy tool was promoted by CBS News. As Kevin Gosztola reports:

CBS News reported developers increased pressure on Facebook to address its “fake news problem” with a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox called the “B.S. Detector.” It claimed the extension relies upon “a constantly-updated list of known fake news sites, propaganda mills and ‘promoters of kooky conspiracy theories’” as a reference point.

However, CBS News was wrong. The extension is not “constantly updated.” The extension, as developer Daniel Sieradski shared, was created to “make fun” of Facebook. Sieradski “scraped some data together” that included sites, which are not “fake news” websites. (One of those sites was Shadowproof.com.)

“B.S. Detector” displays a red banner that indicates a news website is “not a reliable news source.” Up until publication, the extension still flagged Consortium News, Naked Capitalism, Truthout, and Truthdig, even though Sieradski said they would not be listed in the update….

Sieradski claims he never expected this to achieve the kind of success or interest it has garnered in the past couple weeks. He seems reluctant to own the mistakes made and publish a list of the websites that were wrongly included in the initial launch in order to exonerate them.

It does not matter if the improper inclusion of certain websites was done maliciously or accidentally. The effect is the same, at this point. People who do not know better can install the extension, and if they become a unique or new viewer to Consortium News, Naked Capitalism, Truthout, or Truthdig, they will see a red banner that may discourage them from further reading and visits to these sites.

Gosztola is being unduly charitable in how he characterizes the casual way with which Sieradski went about smearing small websites. Sieradski’s Twitter handle is @selfagency and business name is The Self Agency, LLC. This page on GitHub, selfagency/bs-dector, contains this astonishing admission:

As I have repeatedly stated in the press, on our repo, and on our homepage, the dataset was somewhat indiscrimintely compiled and we are slowly making our way through it. We are also looking to partner with media watchdog groups to provide research to back up our inclusions and classifications so that it is neither arbitrary nor the decision of a sole authority.

This is an admission of reckless disregard for accuracy for someone who is making himself an arbiter and doing damage to small sites that have worked long and hard to establish their reputations. This is defamation, pure and simple. Sieradski claims that he is not acting as a censor when he is doing precisely that. The fact that he may get others to participate in this witch hunt does not change the fundamental nature of the activity.

In fact, Sieradski’s ability to rationalize that what he is doing here is on the up and up by virtue of his having donated to the EFF, ACLU, and Chelsea Manning’s defense funds is yet another example of Upton Sinclair’s aphorism, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Gosztola points out that the reason that Sieradski was so casual about smearing well-established sites and so unapologetic about reputational harm is that they are assumed to lack the resources to take legal action:

The developers also possess a few viewpoints, which may inhibit their ability to develop an extension that is objective and valuable to news readers.

One, Sieradski has no idea how to handle the problem of corporate news media, which publishes “fake news.” Journalist Marcy Wheeler asked Sieradski why “mainstream fake news” was not flagged through this extension. She wondered why “Squawk Box” financial-type news that pushes a made-up “market” narrative is not flagged. Or what about Fox News? Why aren’t they flagged as a “fake news” website?

Sieradski replied, “We’re working on gathering data on all NewsCorp titles,” and looking for “examples of false stories that point to a pattern of intent to mislead the public.”

It is abundantly evident the developers are going through a much more rigorous process to determine whether it is proper to include Fox News than it is going through other independent news media sites that possibly should not be flagged. Of course, their inclusion is much more detrimental to them because unlike corporate news outlets they do not have significant money and resources.

Due to the traditional media’s eagerness to use the “fake news” meme to regain control over what they once called “the discourse,” independent news sites are under the threat of death by a thousand at best uninformed and at worst malicious efforts to silence them. And for a soi-disant progressive like Sieradski to take up this rancid cause is deeply disturbing.

December 7, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 5 Comments

Why Are These Indian Children Being Torn Away From Their Homes?

By Stephen Pevar | ACLU | July 23, 2014

Imagine entering family court and knowing that what’s at stake is the person you hold most dear – your child. Now imagine having a judge tell you that he’s removing your child from your custody, from your home. When you ask him why, the judge’s replies, “I honestly can’t tell you.” The judge then signs an order giving custody of your son to Social Services.

You might think that such a court proceeding could never happen in the United States – but you’d be wrong.

It happened not long ago to the father of an American Indian child in South Dakota. What’s more, many similar hearings in which Indian children are removed from their homes for no reasons given to the parents occur at least 100 times a year in Rapid City, South Dakota, alone.

Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 in an effort to stop American Indian families from having their children removed by state and local officials for invalid and sometimes even racist reasons. Yet 36 years later, Indian children in South Dakota are 11 times more likely to be removed from their families and placed in foster care than non-Indian children.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in March 2013 in federal court on behalf of the Oglala Sioux and the Rosebud Sioux tribes in South Dakota and on behalf of a class of all Indian families living in Rapid City, South Dakota, the state’s second largest city. We sued state and local officials who, we contend, repeatedly violate ICWA.

We recently examined 120 transcripts of initial custody hearings – known as “48-hour” hearings – held during the past four years involving Indian children. Nearly 100 percent of the time, Indian children were removed from their homes in those hearings. The average length of time those hearings took was less than 4 minutes. Within that time, of the six different judges that oversaw the hearings, not one judge ever told one Indian parent that they have a right to contest the state’s petition for temporary custody of their children in the hearing on the petition.

During those hearings, the parents were not told the reasons for the removal, not provided with an attorney, not allowed to submit any evidence, and not allowed to cross-examine the Social Services worker who had submitted an affidavit against them. In most cases, the parents were not even allowed to see the affidavit.

And what were the parents in these hearings “guilty” of? Here is a snapshot of some of the cases discussed in the transcripts:

  • A mother abused by her boyfriend lost custody of her child even though the abuser was not being allowed to return to the home. Before the judge’s decision, the mother pleaded with the judge not to punish her for what the abuser had done.
  • A father going through divorce was denied custody of his children solely because his estranged wife got into trouble with the police, even though no evidence was introduced suggesting that the children would be at risk staying with the father.
  • A mother lost custody of her daughter merely because the daughter’s babysitter had become intoxicated, without any showing that the mother knew that such a thing might occur.
  • A father who tried to discuss the merits of his case was interrupted by the judge and told that the details of child custody removals were not to be discussed in 48-hour hearings, and then the judge signed an order removing the child from the father’s custody.

Our lawsuit seeks to stop state judges and social workers from continuing to remove Indian children from their homes unless the parents are provided with basic guarantees of due process of law and rights afforded 36 years ago in ICWA These include the right to a fair and prompt hearing, the right to notice of the charges against them, the right to an attorney, the right to present evidence, and the right to cross-examine the state’s witnesses.

Based on the 120 transcripts, we recently filed motions asking the federal court to rule that South Dakota officials engage in a pattern and practice of denying Indian families and Indian tribes their basic rights to fairness under ICWA and the Constitution. And next month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will consider a report submitted by the ACLU on U.S. failure to meet its international treaty obligations to end pervasive and institutionalized discrimination, including the lack of due process in American Indian child custody proceedings in South Dakota.

Ultimately, we hope to restore justice to a group of people who our legal system has repeatedly failed.

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | Leave a comment

“Guantánamo North” – NDAA Indefinite Detention Coming Soon to a Town Near You?

By Chris Anders | ACLU | June 6, 2014

Top senators thought you wouldn’t notice. Behind closed doors, they wrote up new indefinite detention and Guantánamo provisions in the annual defense policy bill, and then waited 11 days to quietly file the bill.

But we now have the bill, and everyone can read it. And everyone should understand what is in this new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the full Senate makes a big mistake and paves the way for Guantánamo-style indefinite detention being brought to the United States itself.

The new Senate NDAA:

Brings Indefinite Detention to the U.S. Itself: The bill now says that detainees may be brought to the United States for “detention pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force” (AUMF). In plain English, that means the policy of indefinite detention by the military, without charge or trial, could be carried out here at home. Right now, the number of people in the U.S. in military indefinite detention is zero. If the bill is enacted, that number could immediately jump to 100 or more.

Bolsters Claims of NDAA and AUMF Indefinite Detention Authority: The AUMF is the basis for the indefinite detention authority included in the NDAA that Congress passed nearly three years ago. Indefinite detention is wrong today and certainly cannot be sustained past the end of U.S. combat in the Afghan war. But passing a new Senate NDAA that relies on detention authority based on the AUMF, just as the U.S. combat role in the war is winding down, could be used by the government to bolster its claim that indefinite detention can just keep on going. Even when any actual U.S. combat is over.

Requires Report on Even More NDAA and AUMF Indefinite Detention Authority: As if the government didn’t already have enough claims of indefinite detention authority, the Senate NDAA asks the administration to let Congress know what more indefinite detention authority it wants.

Tries to Strip Federal Courts of Ability to Decide Challenges to Harmful Conditions: In a stunning provision, the Senate NDAA tries to strip federal courts of their ability to “hear or consider” any challenge related to harmful treatment or conditions by detainees brought to the United States. This provision tries to gut our system of checks and balances by cutting out the courts.

Violates Supreme Court Decision by Stripping Habeas Rights from Detainees Left at Guantánamo: In a classic example of why it is never a good idea for a committee to legislate behind closed doors, the Senate NDAA includes language inadvertently stripping habeas rights from any Guantánamo detainee who is not moved to the United States. Habeas is the very fundamental protection of being able to have a judge decide whether it is legal or illegal to hold someone in prison. While this is almost certainly the product of sloppy drafting, the result squarely contradicts the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush, in which the Court said Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to habeas.

Blocks Most Cleared Detainees from Going Home: The Senate NDAA would block the transfer home of the vast majority of cleared detainees by imposing a blanket ban on transfers to Yemen, instead of continuing to allow the secretary of defense to make decisions on an individual basis. That would mean dozens of detainees cleared for transfer would remain trapped in limbo.

There is a right way and a wrong way to close Guantánamo. Charging and trying in court anyone who committed a crime – and sending anyone who isn’t charged with a crime back home or to another country – is the right way to close Guantánamo. Simply moving all of the bad Guantánamo policies to the U.S. itself is the wrong way.

The Senate NDAA gets it very wrong. We urge all senators to say “NO” to these provisions.

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Marshals Seize Local Cops’ Cell Phone Tracking Files in Extraordinary Attempt to Keep Information From Public

By Nathan Freed Wessler | ACLU | June 3, 2014

A run-of-the-mill public records request about cell phone surveillance submitted to a local police department in Florida has unearthed blatant violations of open government laws, including an incredible seizure of state records by the U.S. Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department. Today the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida filed an emergency motion in state court to preserve the public’s right of access to government records.

Over the past several months, the ACLU has filed dozens of public records requests with Florida law enforcement agencies seeking information about their use of controversial cell phone tracking devices known as “stingrays.” (The devices are also known as “cell site simulators” or “IMSI catchers.”) Stingrays track phones by mimicking service providers’ cell towers and sending out powerful signals that trick nearby phones — including phones of countless bystanders — into sending their locations and identifying information.

The Florida agencies’ responses to our requests have varied widely, with some stonewalling and others releasing records. The most recent request went to the Sarasota Police Department, and the fallout from that request has raised red flag after red flag.

RED FLAG #1: The Sarasota Police initially told us that they had responsive records, including applications filed by and orders issued to a local detective under the state “trap and trace” statute that he had relied on for authorization to conduct stingray surveillance. That raised the first red flag, since trap and trace orders are typically used to gather limited information about the phone numbers of incoming calls, not to track cell phones inside private spaces or conduct dragnet surveillance. And, such orders require a very low legal standard. As one federal magistrate judge has held, police should be permitted to use stingrays only after obtaining a probable cause warrant, if at all.

RED FLAG #2: The Sarasota Police set up an appointment for us to inspect the applications and orders, as required by Florida law. But a few hours before that appointment, an assistant city attorney sent an email cancelling the meeting on the basis that the U.S. Marshals Service was claiming the records as their own and instructing the local cops not to release them. Their explanation: the Marshals Service had deputized the local officer, and therefore the records were actually the property of the federal government.

We emphatically disagree, since the Sarasota detective created the applications, brought them to court, and retained the applications and orders in his files. Merely giving him a second title (“Special Deputy U.S. Marshal”) does not change these facts. But regardless, once the Sarasota Police Department received our records request, state law required them to hold onto the records for at least 30 days, to give us an opportunity to go to court and seek an order for release of the documents.

Instead of complying with that clear legal obligation, the local police allowed the records to disappear by letting the U.S. Marshals drive down from their office in Tampa, seize the physical files, and move them to an unknown location. We’ve seen our fair share of federal government attempts to keep records about stingrays secret, but we’ve never seen an actual physical raid on state records in order to conceal them from public view.

RED FLAG #3: Realizing we weren’t going to get hold of the Sarasota Police Department’s copies of the applications and orders anytime soon, we asked the county court if we could obtain copies from its files. Incredibly, the court said it had no copies. The court doesn’t even have docket entries indicating that applications were filed or orders issued. Apparently, the local detective came to court with a single paper copy of the application and proposed order, and then walked out with the same papers once signed by a judge.

Court rules — and the First Amendment — require judges to retain copies of judicial records and to make them available to the public, but the court (and the detective) completely flouted those requirements here.

The ACLU’s emergency motion seeks a temporary injunction preventing the Sarasota Police Department from transferring any more files to the U.S. Marshals, as well as a determination that the police violated state law by sending the stingray applications and orders to the Marshals Service in the first place and an order requiring the police to produce the records.

When the government obtains court authorization to use invasive surveillance equipment, the public should not be kept in the dark. We have open records laws for a reason, but they mean nothing if the government can violate their clear commands at its whim.

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , | Leave a comment

NYPD Shutters Muslim Mapping Unit – But What About Other Tactics?

By Noa Yachot | ACLU | April 15, 2014

The New York Police Department is disbanding the unit that mapped New York’s Muslim communities, their places of worship, and businesses they frequent – based on nothing but their religious beliefs and associations. To this we say: Good Riddance.

But the end of the Zone Assessment Unit – better known by its former, more apt name, the Demographics Unit – doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the NYPD’s unconstitutional surveillance of New York’s Muslims.

The NYPD’s discriminatory spying program has many components, of which the Demographics Unit was just one. (The ACLU, along with the NYCLU and CLEAR Project at CUNY Law School sued the NYPD over the program – read about our case here.) Before we celebrate the end of bias-based policing, we need to ensure that the other abusive tactics employed by the NYPD meet the same fate as the unit. For example:

  • Use of informants: A wide network of NYPD informants have infiltrated community organizations, mosques, restaurants, bookstores, and more to monitor, record, and take notes on innocent people and innocuous conversations. This needs to stop.
  • Designation of entire mosques “terrorism enterprises”: The NYPD has used “terrorism enterprise investigations” against entire mosques to justify the surveillance of as many people as possible. That unmerited designation has allowed the police department to record sermons and spy on entire congregations.
  • Discriminatory use of surveillance cameras: Cameras have been set up outside mosques and community events – even weddings – to record community members’ comings and goings and collect license plate numbers of congregants and attendees.
  • Radicalization theory: The NYPD must disavow its debunked “radicalization” theory, on which discriminatory surveillance is based. This misguided notion, which we’ve described in detail here, treats with suspicion people engaging in First Amendment-protected activities including “wearing traditional Islamic clothing [and] growing a beard,” abstaining from alcohol, and “becoming involved in social activism” – meaning, basically, anyone who identifies as Muslim, harbors Islamic beliefs, or engages in Islamic religious practices.
  • Discriminatory surveillance by other units: The Demographics Unit’s discriminatory mapping activities shouldn’t be carried out by other parts of the NYPD and its Intelligence Division.

The Demographics Unit has sown fear and mistrust among hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers – creating “psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York told the New York Times. Shutting it down is a welcome step, but it’s only the first one.  New York’s Muslims — and all its communities — deserve more and better from their police force than bias-based policing.

April 16, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Islamophobia, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Law Enforcement Agencies All Over California Have Been Secretly Using Stingray Devices

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | March 14, 2014

More documents have been uncovered (via FOI requests) that show local law enforcement agencies in California have been operating cell phone tower spoofers (stingray devices) in complete secrecy and wholly unregulated.

Sacramento News10 has obtained documents from agencies in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and Alameda County — all of which point to stingray deployment. As has been the case in the past, the devices are acquired with DHS grants and put into use without oversight or guidelines to ensure privacy protections. The stingrays in use are mainly limited to collecting data, but as the ACLU points out, many manufacturers offer devices that also capture content.

Some of these agencies have had these devices for several years now. Documents obtained from the Oakland Police Dept. show the agency has had stingrays in use since at least 2007, citing 21 “stingray arrests” during that year. This is hardly a surprising development as the city has been pushing for a total surveillance network for years now, something that (until very recently) seemed to be more slowed by contractor ineptitude than growing public outrage.

The device manufacturer’s (Harris) troubling non-disclosure agreement (which has been used to keep evidence of stingray usage out of court cases as well as has been deployed as an excuse for not securing warrants) rears its misshapen head again, mentioned both in one obtained document as well as by a spokesperson reached for comment. One document states:

“The Harris (REDACTED) equipment is proprietary and used for surveillance missions,” the agreement reads. “Its capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government. This equipment’s capabilities are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512.”

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Dept. had this to (not) say when asked about its stingray usage:

“While I am not familiar with what San Jose has said, my understanding is that the acquisition or use of this technology comes with a strict non-disclosure requirement,” said Under sheriff James Lewis in an emailed statement. “Therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment about any agency that may be using the technology.”

Law enforcement agencies are conveniently choosing to believe a manufacturer’s non-disclosure agreement trumps public interest or even their own protection of citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights.

The devices aren’t cheap, either. Taxpayers are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for these cell tower spoofers, and the agencies acquiring them are doing very little to ensure the money is spent wisely. ACLU’s examination of the documents shows that many of the agencies purchased devices without soliciting bids.

It’s hard to know whether San José or any of the other agencies that have purchased stingray devices are getting good value for their money because the contract was “sole source,” in other words, not put out to competitive bidding. The justification for skirting ordinary bidding processes is that Harris Corporation is the only manufacturer of this kind of device. (We are aware of other surveillance vendors that manufacture these devices, though a separate Freedom of Information Request we submitted to the Federal Communications Commission suggests that, as of June 2013, the only company to have obtained an equipment authorization from the FCC for this kind of device is Harris.)

With Harris effectively locking the market down, buyers are pretty much ensured prices far higher than the market would bear if opened to competition. (Not that I’m advocating for a robust surveillance device marketplace, but if you’re going to spend taxpayers’ money on products to spy on them, the least you can do is try to get the best value for their money… ) Using federal grants also allows these departments to further avoid public scrutiny of the purchase and use by circumventing the normal acquisition process.

Beyond the obvious Fourth Amendment concerns looms the very real threat of mission creep. These agencies cite combating terrorism when applying for federal funds, but put the devices to use for ordinary law enforcement purposes. The documents cite stingray-related arrests, but since so little is known about the purchase, much less the deployment, there’s really no way to tell how much data and content totally unrelated to criminal investigations has been collected (and held) by these agencies.

March 14, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

District Court Says DEA’s Warrantless Access Of Oregon’s Prescription Database Is Unconstitutional

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | February 13, 2014

Early last year, the news surfaced that the DEA was bypassing Oregon state law by using administrative subpoenas to get around the state’s warrant requirement for drug prescription database access. “Administrative subpoenas” are yet another government tool that allows agencies to seek information that would normally require a warrant, but without the hassle of running it past a judge or even showing probable cause.

The DEA probably didn’t expect to encounter much resistance to its subpoenas. After all, drugs are bad and the DEA is fighting the good fight. But the state of Oregon wasn’t impressed with the DEA’s warrantless tactics and filed suit with the assistance of the ACLU. The ACLU is now reporting that a federal judge has ruled in its (and Oregon’s favor) and the DEA (along with other law enforcement entities) will no longer be able to skirt the state’s warrant requirement.

For the first time, a federal judge has ruled that patients have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their drug prescription records, and that law enforcement must obtain a warrant in order to search such information…

“This is a victory for privacy and for the constitutional rights of anyone who ever gets drug prescriptions,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case last month. “The ruling recognizes that confidential medical records are entitled to the full protection of the Fourth Amendment. The court rightly rejected the federal government’s extreme argument that patients give up their privacy rights by receiving medical treatment from doctors and pharmacists.”

As the ruling points out, citizens have long associated privacy with medical treatment, something that has gone hand-in-hand dating back to the 4th century B.C.E. and the origin of the Hippocratic Oath. It also points out the obvious: federal law itself (HIPAA) contains built-in privacy protections. (Hence the form you have to sign, the privacy info sheet you’re handed on every visit, and signs everywhere telling you to stand behind them for the privacy of the patient in front of you.)

The judge’s decision also notes that stripping away this expectation of privacy will have a chilling effect on those seeking medical care, something that could have very adverse effects on the health of people who might avoid seeking treatment because they fear their medical records will be exposed.

As the ACLU notes in its press release, it’s not exactly happy the state of Oregon has chosen to create a centralized database of drug prescriptions, but, if it is going to do so, it has at least chosen to take the privacy of those contained in the database very seriously.

This decision strikes a small blow against the government’s routine abuse of “exceptions” to warrant requirements as well as against its even more routine abuse of the “third party doctrine,” which the DEA actually used to claim that talking to a doctor is no different than dialing a phone. The DEA knows there’s a huge difference between these two “third parties” but applying that knowledge means showing probable cause and getting a judge to sign off on the warrant, two aspects it apparently feels only hampers its War on Drugs.

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment