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Senate Votes to Overturn Internet Privacy Rules

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While everyone was (quite understandably) paying attention to the Republican healthcare bill yesterday, the Senate quietly voted to overturn internet privacy rules passed by the FCC during the Obama administration, which prevented internet providers from sharing your browsing history with corporations without your consent.

Jacob Kastrenakes at the Verge reports:
The privacy rules, passed last year by the FCC, required internet providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T to get each customer's permission before sharing personal information like which websites they visit. But internet providers want to be able to sell that data and use it to target ads, so they've been vocal about opposing the rules since around the time [Donald] Trump took office.

This vote uses the Congressional Review Act, which lets Congress strike down recently passed rules by federal agencies, to block the FCC's action. It now heads to the House, where it'll need another vote before the rules are wiped out.

"This resolution is a direct attack on consumer rights, on privacy, on rules that afford basic protection against intrusive and illegal interference with consumers' use of social media sites and websites that often they talk for granted," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in the Senate today ahead of the vote.

What makes this reversal particularly damaging is that it won't just undo these privacy rules, but it'll prevent the FCC from passing similar privacy rules in the future. That means that the FCC won't be able to pass strict privacy rules again, even if opinions change in Congress.
Emphasis mine.

The potential for abuse is almost unlimited. Think about the things that people search online, which would be made available to for-profit corporations under the auspices of "targeted advertising." Think about the way that information could be misinterpreted. If my friend is diagnosed with an illness I don't know much about, and I research it online, will that search be reflexively presumed to be an indication of my own health?

This erosion of privacy is so, so chilling.

It hasn't been implemented yet. There is still time to call your rep's office and tell them to vote no on rolling back FCC privacy rules on browsing histories. If you've got a Republican rep, appeal to their espoused commitment to privacy rights.

Even if it won't change their vote, at least voice your opposition and let them know what hypocrites they are. Let them know we see them.
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1 day ago
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Big Truck Go Vroom Vroom


Well, this happened:

Aaaaaand I couldn’t resist…


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1 day ago
President Toddler in a big truck.
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2 public comments
1 day ago
that big wheel must feel even bigger with such tiny fingers
Waterloo, Canada
1 day ago
"That's somebody's O face" -gf
9 hours ago
goddamn it

It's Past Time for Dems to Get Serious About Propaganda

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[Content Note: References to sexual assault]

One of the major stories this election was "fake news," or more properly, propaganda. The latest round of revelations on the Russia investigations reveals a probe into whether Breitbart, InfoWars, and other American conservative propaganda sites were actively assisting Russian bots and operatives. This, on top of Ben Shreckinger's terrific piece at Politico, World War Meme, offers a frightening look into how twisted and intense the coordinated propaganda efforts against Hillary Clinton really were.

4¢han's Gamergaters received open support from Breitbart as they spread vicious hate against Clinton and her supporters, driving us underground via the harassment they've perfected from years of anti-feminist harassment. Their propaganda network—memes made by 4¢han, spread across social media, repeated at Breitbart and by hundreds of Russian-linked fake news sites—may not have been sophisticated, but it provided repetition and enlargement, powerful propaganda weapons that make sure no one escapes the barrage of negative narratives.

And yet, it's striking to me how little of this seems to be seeping into the postmortems of 2016 and the discussions of rebuilding the Democratic party. The influence of Russian and conservative propaganda, along with James Comey's FBI investigation were problems, is acknowledged. But the "real" is constantly defined as Hillary was a "terrible," candidate, a "flawed" candidate, etc. If only we'd nominated somebody else, anybody else—Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders! BernieWouldaWon! The problem is the corrupt, out-of-touch, wealthy Democratic Party, and so on, and so forth.

The fantasy that Clinton was a terrible candidate masks the reality that she was actually a very good candidate. One whom propaganda managed to almost totally destroy.

And it will happen with the next very good candidate too.

"Better candidates" won't solve this.

Now, that is not to deny mis-steps from the Clinton campaign—and there were some, though not the kind that sink elections. That is not to deny that Clinton's policies didn't please everyone—but no candidate I have ever voted for has done that. And it's most certainly not to deny the role that misogyny played in making people willing to believe the propaganda, nor to deny the Democrats have a very thin bench, and need to work hard to identify strong new candidates for the national as well as state and local scenes.

But consider what Liss was saying to me earlier (and which I share with her permission):

The thing about Hillary Clinton that everyone fucking ignores is that all those investigations which were used to create the illusion of corruption ALL FOUND that she had done nothing wrong. They were partisan witch hunts that turned up nothing. Which absolutely hurt her, but also made her the most thoroughly vetted candidate in history. They didn't turn up anything "new" on her during the entire 18 month campaign.

We aren't going to get a candidate like that again. Not one who is so well-vetted. Not one who is so clean. Not one who is so well-known. Think of how well-known and well-vetted she was, and what propaganda was STILL able to do to her. Now imagine what they can do to someone with legit skeletons in their closet who doesn't have the global recognition she has.

This is new territory, and yet the American left generally, so far as I can see, is reluctant to face this reality.

To be clear: The Republican Smear Machine is nothing new. And it's helpful to remember that they don't shy away at making shit up, nor at attacking strengths in order to turn them into weaknesses. The despicable purple Band-aids used to mock John Kerry's war wounds and the smears against the Clinton Foundation (despite its financial transparency) are two examples. But the intense coordination of the GOP smears with propaganda outlets, Russian bots and trolls, and the Gamergate meme element is something new. I doubt the GOP would have come up with the notion that Hillary Clinton was a predator of children without the 4¢han gang, who, according to the Politico story, made up the pizza-Hillary-child-predator attacks because they themselves call child p0rnography "cheese pizza."

The perfect candidate will not save us. Because, remember the goal: It's not just to defeat a candidate, but to weaken him or her. For the Russians, it's to weaken faith in the democratic process itself.

Consider this: If Clinton had managed to pull it out somehow, think how the propaganda could have been parlayed into a "cloud of doubt." The GOP were already planning to press forward with their FBI investigations. She'd have been dealing with child p0rn accusations and other rumors designed to make her not just disliked, but utterly despised, demonized, discredited, much as Obama was for 8 years on the far right. The Tea Party would have been galvanized again.

As it was, how many people stayed home or voted 3rd Party because "they were the same"? That, in itself, is a Russian triumph: Managing to convince American voters that a lifelong public servant with a solid record of helping women and children was the same as a multiple-bankruptcy real estate developer/reality star whose past—by his own confession—is littered with harassment and assault.

Consider the claim that BernieWouldaWon. This is based on many things, but there's a base assumption that he wasn't "flawed" or "tarnished" or whatever word we are using today. That Clinton's "flaws" brought her down.

Now, let's grant that Sanders, or any other Hypothetical Perfect Dem, has not been the target of GOP lies for a quarter century. That helps.

But let's also recognize that Sanders enjoyed an easy primary. For all the claims of how vicious the Clinton campaign was, the fact is that they remembered the rule: Never harm a primary opponent so badly it will wound them in the general. The GOP would have no such compunction—nor would the Russians, the propaganda "news," or the meme-makers.

And yes, they would have had plenty of material. Remember, the goal isn't just to defeat the Democrat. It's to discredit him or her and democracy itself.

Don't believe me? Okay. Let's play Bernie Woulda Been Flawed. How would that go down? Well, here's a few samples.

1. Bernie the Liar. "Bernie Sanders Has a Secret!" the Politico headline blared. The story revealed that for years, Sanders misinformed the public about his son's mother. She was not his first wife, as claimed, but another woman, to whom Sanders was never married. This was such a deep secret, in fact, that Sanders went to great lengths in his 1996 campaign against Susan Sweetser to condemn her using a private eye to investigate his background—without ever revealing what it was he didn't want her to use against him. Not until the Politico article did Sanders associates go on the record confirming the deception.

Now to you or I, this is pretty mild stuff, a personal decision undertaken, no doubt, to shield his son from social ostracism—even in "liberal" Vermont in the 1970s, people could be cruel. But let's run this through the troll factory and GOP smear machine, and voila—what did he have to hide? Why did he hide it so long? If he can't tell the truth about that, what else is he lying about?

And remember: It doesn't matter that Trump lies every time his mouth opens. The point is to discredit the Dem, and if it's something very personal, so much the better. (I remember when a president was impeached for lying about sex, so.) Imagine if Bernie Sanders lost his reputation for unvarnished truth-telling, no matter how unfairly. How would that hamper his campaign?

2. Bernie the Creepy Sex Freak. Remember that conservatives don't care much about consent, but they do care about sexual law-and-order. I've written before about Sanders' essays, but I was criticizing them from a feminist perspective. Imagine what the GOP would do with rape fantasies and an essay encouraging a 15 year old girls to "forget" what her mothers taught and "give herself" to her boyfriend. There's plenty of stuff in Sanders' essays that hasn't aged so well, but the pre-AIDS Sexual Revolution writings could easily be turned into a roaring fire of nasty claims about him, personally. In that atmosphere, throw in innocent things—like the time that Sanders brought three African American children to live with him for the summer in his Vermont "sugar shack"—and, well, you see where the meme makers would go.

And no, it doesn't matter that Trump is an actual sexual abuser. Somehow Bill's adultery was held against Hillary. Sanders would somehow be painted as worse, "twisted," etc.

3. Sanders the Stalinist. Hey, remember that time that Sanders spent a summer at a kibbutz founded by Stalinists? How about his love for the Sandinastas and Fidel Castro? His visit to Nicaragua? His Soviet honeymoon?

I don't think I have to work very hard to convince you what the propaganda machine would have made of all that, plus whatever weird and out-of-context quotes could be mined from his very own public access television show.

4. Jane Sanders, or, Bernie's College Plan is Terrible. Generally speaking, people on the left have a better understanding than the right of the fact that spouses are individual and different people. That's never bothered the right, who coined "Billary" as a slur. As far as I know, Jane Sanders did not play a role in formulating Bernie's college policies, which mostly concerned public universities anyway. But the idea is to smear, so her time as Burlington College's president would be fair game to them. And Jane Sanders, unfairly or not, received blame for the financial disaster that forced the college's closure in 2016. The allegation that she used her status as a Senator's wife to keep a big loan from being properly scrutinized is, frankly, pretty big. Does it have anything to do with Sanders' college plans? Nope. But I can guarantee that this would have been used to discredit Sanders' famous free college plan as unworkable, unethical, un-whatever. Every controversy related to Jane's presidency would be scrutinized and taken in the worst possible faith, whether the firing of a popular professor or charges of nepotism. To be frank, I'm glad the family didn't go through that. But it's not too difficult to see how that might have blown up.

5. Sanders the Racist Nativist. Now this one probably seems ludicrous when compared with Trump, openly bragging about an anti-Mexican wall. But bothsiderism is a potent tool for propaganda, so expect that Bernie's interview with Lou Dobbs (auto-plays at link) about the 2007 immigration reform bill that he voted to defeat would have been used against him. Then there's the pro-Minuteman militia vote. The reality is, Sanders' history on issues related to immigration is complicated. But all the opposition wants to do is to depress Hispanic support for Sanders. If he can be painted as a hypocrite, as not worthy of Hispanic support, then the smear factory can hope to depress that turnout, just as the World War Meme-ers pushed Hillary Clinton's "superpredator" comment to younger Black voters over and over, hoping to depress her support. The propaganda game is defeat by a thousand small losses. Remember, Bernie had a problem getting enthusiasm from large blocs of African American and Hispanic voters to begin with―his race problem is real. It would not take much GOP nudging to make it an even bigger problem.

6. Sanders and Trump are Just the Same, but Maybe Bernie's Worse. What? This is outrageous! How could anyone think that? I dunno… How did anyone think that about Clinton and Trump? But here we would have two shouty older white men on stage yelling at each other. How hard would it be to focus on that, not what they were saying? It wasn't too hard to drum up hate for Hillary Clinton because of her laugh, her smile, her shimmy. And you want change? Sooner or later someone was bound to discover that Bernie has been in Washington since 1990. That his first "real job" (as defined by the propagandist) was as mayor of Burlington. That he is, in fact, a career politician. And off we go, until outsider Bernie Sanders has been deftly transformed into the ultimate insider, and Trump is the only "real" choice for change.

I could go on, but frankly this is depressing as hell, and the point has been made. And remember: I haven't even factored in the mistakes that every campaign makes on the trail, whatever unfortunate misspeaking Jeff Weaver or Bernie himself might make. What might be revealed in a hack of the Sanders campaign? It doesn't matter if it doesn't reveal much at all—neither did the Podesta emails. I can guarantee, it would have been breathlessly reported as whatever scandal the Russians wanted it to be.

And it would be repeated over and over and over, until doubts and shadows were raised in the minds of the neutral or "soft" supporters. "Sure, Bernie's great, but what about his emails?"

But let's say Sanders won, somehow. But oh, by now, he would be flawed, so terribly, terribly flawed. And we'd need a Congressional investigation into his emails and his taxes and Burlington College's closure and whatever else would be needed to make sure his agenda stalled on the runway. Because that was always the plan if Clinton won: Make her weak, untrustworthy, someone everyone expects to lie, someone Americans can't trust.

Now let's play the game with Elizabeth Warren. Cory Booker. Kamala Harris. And whomever else might run in 2020. Now let's remember that the Russians also meddled in House races in 2016. And let's think about 2018.

We are never, ever, going to have the perfect candidate who can withstand the new propaganda hurricane without a conscious and comprehensive strategy to counter it. Yes, recruit new people, yes reach out, yes, do whatever reality-based reforms need to be undertaken. But this propaganda demands to be taken seriously, like yesterday. It should be regarded as a voter-suppression tactic, and an election-tampering tactic. Pretending that the Democrats lost the presidency primarily due to Hillary Clinton's "flaws" is a fantasy our democracy cannot afford.

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3 days ago
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This Is Not Normal

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Annie Karni at Politico: Ivanka Trump Set to Get West Wing Office as Role Expands.
Ivanka Trump, who moved to Washington saying she would play no formal role in her father's administration, is now officially setting up shop in the White House.

The powerful first daughter has secured her own office on the West Wing's second floor — a space next to senior adviser Dina Powell, who was recently promoted to a position on the National Security Council. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance and is set to receive government-issued communications devices this week.

In everything but name, Trump is settling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father's administration, with a broad and growing portfolio — except she is not being sworn in, will hold no official position and is not pocketing a salary, her attorney said.

Trump's role, according to her attorney Jamie Gorelick, will be to serve as the president's "eyes and ears" while providing broad-ranging advice, not just limited to women's empowerment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eyebrows when she was seated next to Angela Merkel for the German chancellor's first official visit to Trump’s White House.

...People close to Ivanka Trump said that she sees nothing unusual about the arrangement — it's simply how she has worked with her father for years, as a senior official at the Trump Organization and as Donald Trump's partner on "The Apprentice."

But in the White House, the unprecedented arrangement for a child of the president has raised new questions about potential conflicts of interest — and about why Ivanka Trump can't simply join the administration as a government employee. Her husband, Jared Kushner, serves as an official senior adviser in the White House and was sworn in, but his hiring also raised questions of whether it violated anti-nepotism laws.
There is much more at the link.

This is not normal, and it should not be normalized. Ivanka Trump has no business getting a White House security clearance or meeting with foreign dignitaries. Her husband has no business being a senior adviser in the White House. Her brothers have no business still running their father's company and striking business deals while he is president.

As Aphra noted yesterday, there are members of the press losing their shit over Chelsea Clinton writing a children's book and at the mere thought of Chelsea Clinton running for office.

There is a legitimate dynasty worth worrying about in this country. Their last name, however, is not Clinton.

And the issue is not merely the valid concerns about nepotism, conflicts of interest, and access to state secrets. It's also that this is further evidence of Trump's deeply paranoid and authoritarian style. Dictators who trust no one often elevate their children to prominent leadership positions, because they are more easily controlled and prioritize loyalty to their parent over loyalty to country, or anything resembling good governance. Note that Ivanka will reportedly "serve as the president's eyes and ears."

This is extremely worrying. And it may seem a small thing compared to the dozens of other subversions of democratic institutions and introduction of fascism, but it's more important than it may appear.

We should not accept this. It is not normal.
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I honestly don't know what's going on with FBI Director James Comey. Watching him today, what I saw was a man who is intolerably glib about the enormous role he played in deciding this election.

I'm not sure if he doesn't appreciate what he's done, or whether he just doesn't care, but, either way, I cannot even look at him or listen to him without being filled with a feeling I can only describe as rage-grief.
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5 days ago
I bet the Germans have a word for ragegrief.
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There Is No Excuse for This

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On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Donald Trump at the White House. During a press appearance, the two sat side-by-side in familiar chairs, while the sounds of cameras clicked away. The press called for a handshake. Merkel asked Trump if he wanted to do a handshake, the same handshake that U.S. presidents do with visiting foreign dignitaries in those chairs each time. Trump ignored the requests. They did not shake hands.

Later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer would claim that Trump simply did not hear the requests. The video makes that explanation seem very unlikely.

TRUMP: Send a good picture back to Germany, please. Make sure.

MERKEL: [chuckles]

REPORTER: How did your talks go, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Very good.

REPORTER: Talk about NATO?

TRUMP: [nods] Many things.

MERKEL: [answers in German]

REPORTERS: Handshake? Handshake?

MERKEL: Do you want to— Mr. President? Can we have a handshake, please?

TRUMP: [continues to look straight ahead, as Merkel leans toward him; ignores her utterly]

REPORTERS: Handshake?

WH HANDLER: Okay. Thank you, fellas. Thank you. Over here.
The debate, such as it is, since then has been about whether Trump heard the requests for a handshake. Spicer told the German newspaper Der Spiegel that Trump hadn't heard them. Were that indeed the case, and given the ensuing commentary about how rude he'd been to the leader of a key U.S. ally, one might imagine Trump would issue an apology. He has not.

But. BUT. All of that misses the larger point, which is that, even if it were true that Trump simply did not hear the press nor Merkel request a handshake, he shouldn't have to be prompted to engage in what is a basic (and expected) diplomatic gesture.

If Trump didn't hear the prompting, all that means is that he needed to in order to do his job. One of the most rudimentary functions of his job.

I don't know why any American would find it satisfactory that the president can't perform basic diplomatic tasks with our allies, without being instructed to do so. Especially the Tremendously Successful Businessman Donald Trump, who wrote (ahem) an entire book on "the art" of U.S.-centered business deal-making, which virtually always ends in a handshake.

By saying he simply didn't hear the request, they're essentially arguing: "Oh he wasn't being rude! He's just catastrophically ignorant about his job!" Anyone who finds that reassuring has set a bar for the presidency so low that any expectation of competence is "unfair" to Trump.

If you don't believe a president shouldn't have to be told to shake a foreign leader's hand, I can't imagine what basic competency is reasonable to expect.

Do you think Hillary Clinton would've needed to be prompted to shake Angela Merkel's hand? The answer to that question is an unequivocal no.

There is also this: Trump has previously made headlines by shaking men's hands in a way that is inappropriate. I wrote previously: "Trump's handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe today was distressing. He held the PM's hand far too long, jerking him toward him, just like he did to Neil Gorsuch during the SCOTUS nomination announcement. It is also a feature of serial abusers of women that they have no respect for men's bodies/consent either. It just manifests differently."

He also tried it with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but was infamously thwarted.

That we know Trump habitually uses handshakes as displays of dominance is just another datapoint suggesting it wasn't that he "didn't hear" the request to shake Merkel's hand, but ignored it. To prove a point.

The only point he made, however, is that he is a man who will boast about grabbing women to humiliate them against their wills, and refuse to shake a woman's hand in a sign of respect at her request.
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