Saturday, January 7, 2017

WaPo and journalistic fraud


Ben Swann once again destroys the mainstream narrativeAs any journalist should know, their first allegiance is always to the truth and the citizens who deserve that truth. Whether the media in this country has always been just another arm of the government, or if that allegiance was shifted during the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird in the 60’s, one thing is now becoming abundantly clear: The corporate media has zero allegiance to the American people, and the truth they deserve. The ...


WikiLeaks Wins Credibility Contest With CIA 83% to 17%


WikiLeaks Wins Credibility Contest With CIA 83% to 17%

In an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, two former, high-ranking intelligence officials tore apart the Obama administration’s vocal and as-yet unproven claim that the Russians interfered with the U.S. election — and hacked systems of the Democratic establishment — to ensure a Donald Trump win.

Stephen Lendman notes the ongoing Fake News from the NYTimes and other presstitutes re “Russian hacking”

Media Hype Fake News Report Claiming Russian US Election Hacking

by Stephen Lendman

Media scoundrels are all over the new CIA/FBI/NSA report, supporting it like gospel, disgracefully claiming Putin ordered America’s election hacked to help Trump defeat Hillary – despite no evidence in the contents proving it.

In a statement released to reporters, Trump said “(w)hile Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

Media hype barely stopped short of suggesting Putin declared war on America, a disgraceful example of hyperbolic misrepresentation of reality.

The militantly anti-Russia, anti-Putin, anti-Trump New York Times headlined “Putin Led a Complex Cyberattack Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Finds,” saying:

The report was “a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them…”

That’s as clear as it gets to America’s self-styled newspaper of record calling Trump’s election illegitimate – a seditious act surrounded by a body of Big Lies.

Previous articles explained no hacking occurred. Information was leaked by one or more Democrat party insiders, angry over Hillary stealing her party’s nomination.

Blaming Russia, Putin specifically, is part of bashing its sovereign independence and leadership. Virtually everything reported through official channels, regurgitated by media scoundrels, are lies, damn lies and Big Lies.

The Times: Trump “issued a written statement that appeared to concede some Russian involvement” in America’s election.

Fact: False! His statement, quoted above, said nothing of the sort, stating “there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines” – meaning no Russian attempt to hack America’s election or influence its results. Trump believes it. So should everyone. Nothing disproves it.

The neocon/CIA house organ Washington Post headlined “Declassified report says Putin ‘ordered’ effort to undermine faith in US election and help Trump,” covering the same misinformation and Big Lies as The Times and other media scoundrels.

Responding to Friday’s report, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it “rubbish,” adding:

“Every day Putin’s website gets attacked by several tens of thousands of hackers. A lot of these attacks are traced to the territory of the USA, but we do not blame the White House or Langley each time.”

On Friday, WikiLeaks tweeted “(t)he released report has poor sourcing and no evidence.” It’s pure propaganda unrelated to cold hard facts.

“Nothing in today’s declassified ODNI report alters our conclusion that WikiLeaks’ US election related sources are not state parties.”

“US government’s declassified ‘Russian hacking’ report has the curious disclaimer that it is based on watching (Russian) TV and reading Tweets.”

WikiLeaks got 84,115 responses to the question: “Who do you believe America?”

Responses were one-sided – 83% believing WikiLeaks, 17% US intell officials.

Deep in its report, The Times, no doubt reluctantly, admitted “the declassified report contained no information about how the (spy) agencies had collected their (alleged) data or had come to their conclusions.”

Draw your own about what clearly in my judgment is outrageous fake news, another black eye on Obama’s deplorable rap sheet as his tenure nears ending.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

The post WikiLeaks Wins Credibility Contest With CIA 83% to 17% appeared first on


US Finally Releases Report Proving Russia Hacked the Election. Just Kidding.

russia hackedThe long awaited report is a major flop.


Fiat Money, Fiat News



Ron Burgundy: Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina.
Veronica Corningstone: No, there’s no way that’s correct.
Ron Burgundy: I’m sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.
Veronica Corningstone: Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?
Ron Burgundy: No. No.
Veronica Corningstone: No, that’s — that’s what it means. Really.
Ron Burgundy: Agree to disagree.
― “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)

Ron Burgundy: Boy, that escalated quickly … I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
Champ Kind: It jumped up a notch.
Ron Burgundy: It did, didn’t it?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
Ron Burgundy: I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you’re probably wanted for murder.
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)
Priest: It’s horrifying. If men don’t trust each other, this earth might as well be hell.
Commoner: That’s right. The world’s a kind of hell.
Priest: No! I believe in men. I don’t want this place to be hell.
Commoner: Shouting doesn’t help. Think about it. Out of these three, whose story is believable?
Woodcutter: No idea.
Commoner: In the end, you cannot understand the things men do.
― “Rashomon” (1950)


Commoner: But is there anyone who’s really good? Maybe goodness is just make-believe.
Priest: What a frightening…
Commoner: Man just wants to forget the bad stuff, and believe in the made-up good stuff. It’s easier that way.
― “Rashomon” (1950)

To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.

― Akira Kurosawa (1910 – 1998)


If the Emperor had not delivered his [15 August 1945] address urging the Japanese people to lay down their swords — if that speech had been a call instead for the Honorable Death of the Hundred Million — those people on that street in Sōshigaya probably would have done what they were told and died. And probably I would have done likewise. The Japanese see self-assertion as immoral and self-sacrifice as the sensible course to take in life. We were accustomed to this teaching and had never thought to question it.

― Akira Kurosawa (1910 – 1998)

Kurosawa’s Rashomon is the defining movie of an Epsilon Theory world, where Narrative dominates and Truth with a capital T is nowhere to be found. The bandit, the wronged woman, the dead samurai, and the woodcutter witness all testify at trial, and the only certainty, as unsatisfying as it may be, is that we the jury will never know what truly happened in that forest. Such is life. Such is history.

I think Kurosawa is spot on with his assessment of Japanese political culture, by the way. No anti-status quo Trump or Brexit votes there. Just the resignation of self-sacrifice and the long slow slide into irrelevance.  

To Counterfeit is DEATH.

Ben Franklin (1706 – 1790), from a 15 shilling note of his design

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monFor 600 years, from the 13th century to 1870, the punishment for counterfeiting in Great Britain and its colonies was the same as for high treason — to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. First you’d be slowly hanged, so that you came close to asphyxiation but couldn’t end the suffering by breaking your neck, then you’d be castrated, then you’d be disemboweled, and THEN you’d be killed by beheading. And then for good measure your headless body would be chopped into four pieces.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monBritish counterfeiters during the American Revolutionary War were known as “shovers” for their efforts to “shove” fake dollars into circulation and destabilize the Colonial government. One infamous shover, David Farnsworth, was arrested with more than 10,000 counterfeit dollars, a not-so-small fortune in 1778. George Washington called for Farnsworth to be tortured to death, but Farnsworth got off easy and was simply hanged.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monThe largest counterfeiting operation in the history of economic warfare was Operation Bernhard, a German plan during the Second World War to destabilize the British economy by flooding the global economy with forged Bank of England notes. The forgeries are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable from the originals.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monsalient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monAlves dos Reis, instigator of the Portuguese Bank Note Crisis of 1925 and my choice for the greatest counterfeiter of all time. ADR didn’t print fake Portuguese currency. He printed fake instructions to the official banknote printers (famed London firm Waterlow and Sons) to print REAL notes equivalent in value to almost 1% of Portugal’s nominal GDP, and ship them to him directly.

It may please your majesty to understand, that the first occasion of the fall of exchange did grow by the King his majesty, your late father, in abasing his coin from six ounces fine to three ounces fine. Whereupon the exchange fell from 26s 8p to 13s 4p which was the occasion that all your fine gold was conveyed out of this your realm.

― Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 – 1579), letter to Queen Elizabeth I

Gresham’s Law: bad money drives good money out of circulation.

Hunt’s Law: fake news drives real news out of circulation.

What is unexpected about medieval houses, however, is not the lack of furniture but the crush and hubbub of life within them. Households of up to twenty-five persons were not uncommon. Since all of these people lived in one or at the most two rooms, privacy was unknown. How did people achieve intimacy under such conditions? It appears that they did not. Medieval paintings frequently show a couple in bed or bath and, nearby in the same room, friends or servants in untroubled, and apparently unembarrassed, conversation.

Witold Rybczynski, “Home: A Short History of an Idea” (1986)

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church decreed that everyone, king and commoner alike, should practice individual confession. In a very real sense, the IDEA of privacy — the concept of an internal life of the mind as a social good — did not exist in the West before this pronouncement.

They say the Nile used to run

From East to West

And you know I’m fine

But I hear those voices at night


The star maker says it ain’t so bad

The dream maker’s going to make you mad

The spaceman says everybody look down

It’s all in your mind

 ― The Killers, “Spaceman” (2008)

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monIllustration of a wolf trap from Le Livre de la Chasse (c. 1407). An entire pack could be captured by laying a blood trail through a one-way wicker door in a circular fence built around a central pen with a scared, bleating sheep. The design ensured that individual wolves could not see each other until it was too late, each wolf believing that it was on a uniquely rewarding path. I’m pretty sure this painting now hangs in Mark Zuckerberg’s office.

On December 30, the Washington Post published a story claiming that Russian hackers had “penetrated the U.S. electric grid” through an “attack” on Burlington Electric, a Vermont utility.

In a statement that night Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) said, “Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety. This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) said he was briefed by Vermont State Police on Friday evening, and announced via statement that “This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides — this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter. That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.”

According to Vermont Rep. Peter Welch (D), the attack showed that Russia “will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country. We must remain vigilant, which is why I support President Obama’s sanctions against Russia and its attacks on our country and what it stands for.”

Wow, even Vermont. Those Russian bastards.

The next day, the Washington Post amended their original story. Turns out that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electric grid.” Turns out that a Burlington Electric employee discovered that his notebook computer, which had never and would never be connected to the grid, had a virus on it. And that virus was probably written in Russia. It’s the same type of virus that lifted John Podesta’s emails. It’s the same type of virus that could lift my emails if I clicked on a “Free Gift From Amazon!!” link. That’s it. That was the “attack on our country and what it stands for.” A Burlington Electric employee clicked on a bad link inside a scam email and downloaded a virus.

So was this Washington Post article fake news?

This may surprise regular Epsilon Theory readers, but no, I don’t think it was. It was fiat news, which is to “real news” what fiat currencies like dollars and euros and yen are to “real money” like a gold coin. Fake news is something different. Fake news is counterfeit news, which is to fiat news what counterfeit bank notes are to fiat currencies.

I think this distinction between fiat news and counterfeit news is an important one. Why? Because when we conflate fiat news with counterfeit news we talk past each other. If we equate the Washington Post’s obviously partisan slanting of news with Russia’s obviously interventionist creation of news, as if both are simply purveyors of “fake news”, then we end up in the ridiculous position of apologizing for one, tacitly or explicitly, when we complain about the other. Democrats (and they’re mostly Democrats) justifiably upset about Russia stealing DNC emails and interfering with our election inevitably find themselves required to defend the Washington Post as some paragon of journalistic integrity. Republicans (and they’re mostly Republicans) justifiably upset about the Washington Post casually equating criticism of the Obama administration with being a treasonous stooge inevitably find themselves required to defend Russia as some falsely accused innocent abroad. So long as both Russia and the Washington Post are evaluated on the same simplistic dimension (is it fake news or real news?), we are forced into contortions of cognitive dissonance to criticize one without tarring the other.

My view: both Russia and the Washington Post deserve as much tarring and as much criticism as humanly possible. My view: both Russia and the Washington Post are bad actors. My view: both Russia and the Washington Post present a danger to a well-functioning American democracy. But they present different dangers, with different dynamics, with different strategic interactions, and with different likely policy responses, because they operate on different dimensions of Information Theory. Oh yeah, one more … my view: there are lots of Russias and there are lots of Washington Posts out there.

Russia is in the counterfeit news business. They are trying to influence our political process to their sovereign benefit, just like the United States is in the counterfeit news business inside Russia and every other corner of the world. Russia is always a foe to a status quo American regime, regardless of which party is in the White House, as their sovereign self-interest requires constant competition. If you trust Putin, you are a fool.

The Washington Post is in the fiat news business. They are trying to influence our political process to their institutional benefit, just like the Wall Street Journal and every other mainstream media institution is in the fiat news business. The Washington Post is never a foe to a status quo American regime, regardless of which party is in the White House, as the regime bestows on them the authority to issue fiat news. Still, if you trust the Washington Post, you are no less a fool.

The fiat news business is booming. As a result, the counterfeit news business is booming, too. And if the history of fiat money and counterfeit money is any guide, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monThe fiat news business is a centerpiece of Epsilon Theory, from “Uttin’ On the Itz” to “Catch-22” to “The New TVA” to “My Passion Is Puppetry” to “When Narratives Go Bad”, so I won’t repeat all that here. But I’ll repeat some. This is from “Stalking Horse”, one of my all-time favorite Epsilon Theory notes, back in September 2014. I think it holds up pretty well as a definition of fiat news, or what I (and the Fed) have called “strategic communication policy” in the past:

“Once you start thinking about what’s happening in markets and the world as an inextricable weave of fundamental events and political efforts to shape our interpretation of those events to achieve a political end, you start to see stalking horses everywhere. A Fed QE program ostensibly to reduce unemployment and help Main Street? Stalking horse. A regulatory Big Data program ostensibly to identify brokers who churn accounts? Stalking horse. A Chinese banking program ostensibly to liberalize currency exchange rates? Stalking horse.

And it’s not just actual programs or actual market behaviors like the Chinese purchase of U.S. Treasuries. When words are used for strategic effect rather than a genuine transmission of information you create a virtual stalking horse. This, of course, describes every use of words by every politician and every central banker. This is what Bernanke and Yellen and Draghi and Abe and Obama and Merkel mean when they refer to communication policy. Communication policy is the strategic use of words to shape perceptions and expectations. It’s a focus on how something is said as opposed to what is described. It’s a focus on form rather than content, on truthiness rather than truth. It’s why authenticity is as rare as a unicorn in the public world today.

Look, I understand why politicians and bankers have completely abandoned authenticity, an uncommon quality even in the best of times. The Great Recession was a near-death experience for the global economy, and slamming a syringe of adrenaline into the patient’s heart — which was basically what QE 1 did — doesn’t happen without long-term side-effects. To switch the metaphor around a bit, this was a war to preserve the System, and as Aeschylus said 2,500 years ago, the first casualty of war is truth. I really don’t think Bernanke or Draghi came into office thinking that their public statements would become the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, or that they could train markets to respond so positively to words presented strategically for effect, but there you have it. This is what worked. This is how the war was won.

So … I understand why politicians and bankers have adopted a stalking horse technique to shape market expectations and behaviors, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. And while I am happy to condone the use of emergency powers to win a war and save the world, I am not at all comfortable with their continued use once the crisis is over. Unfortunately, I believe that is exactly what has happened, that “strategic communication policy” has mutated from an emergency measure designed to prevent an economic collapse into a standard bureaucratic process designed to maintain financial stability. Is this banal assumption and routinization of power a natural bureaucratic response to a crisis, something we also saw in the aftermath of the Great Depression? Yes, but I’ve got examples going the other way, too. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in 1861, and good for him. But in early 1866 — less than a year after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox — the U.S. government stood down and restored Constitutional protections. I am really hard-pressed to understand how the exigencies of recovery from the Great Recession, now more than 5 years on, are somehow more deserving of ongoing emergency policies than the immediate aftermath of the freakin’ Civil War.

Wait a second, Ben. Are you seriously equating the government’s use of “strategic communications” to a suspension of Constitutional protections? Doesn’t that seem a tad over the top? Yes I am, and no I don’t think so. The bedrock assumption of limited, representative government is that we, the people have an inalienable right to make an informed decision about who will make policy decisions on our behalf. Of course this is an imperfect process, and of course the information we use to make these decisions will be mediated and skewed by all sorts of competing interests. But it makes a big difference if the government itself is fully committed to mediating and skewing this information. And it makes all the difference in the world if relatively apolitical institutions like the Fed and various regulatory authorities — institutions which have been granted a vast array of powers over the years precisely because they have been viewed as relatively apolitical — now embrace the highly political act of mediating and skewing information in service to their own particular visions of stability and status quo preservation. This is the danger of strategic communication policy. This is the price we pay for a loss of authenticity within our most important institutions.”

Like I say, holds up pretty well, particularly after this last election cycle. If I rewrote it today, the only change I’d make is to explicitly add news organizations like the Washington Post or CNN to the list of privileged institutions that “now embrace the highly political act of mediating and skewing information in service to their own particular visions of stability and status quo preservation.”

So where does it all go from here? I’ll take a cue from the history of fiat money and its counterfeits and hazard three predictions. After all, prices and news are both just signals when seen through the lens of Information Theory, and the same dynamics and “laws” should apply to both.

First, there’s no reason to believe that the breadth and scope of fiat news won’t grow to the same level of ubiquity as fiat money. There’s really no such thing as “real money”, i.e., gold and silver as a medium for exchange or a store of value, in existence in the world today. That used to be the meaning of gold, but those days are long gone. Today fiat money completely and utterly dominates all global commerce and exchange. Why? Because it supports the existential aims of government: taxation (sovereignty), price control (stability), and liquidity provision (growth). Without the invention of fiat money, global GDP today would be at … I dunno, maybe mid-18th century levels? Something around there, I’d guess. Fiat news serves exactly the same existential aims of government, just in a less overt (but more powerful for being hidden) fashion. There’s just too much at stake for status quo regimes, what with modern referenda like Brexit and national elections like we just experienced in the U.S. and are forthcoming this year throughout Europe, for regime institutions to do anything other than double-down in their embrace and promulgation of fiat news.

Ten years from now we will be awash in “news” to a degree that we can hardly imagine today. That’s what happened with fiat money, and that’s what I think happens with fiat news. The exponential growth in fiat news is still ahead of us, not behind us.

Second, while counterfeit news will continue to suffer the same official opprobrium and punishment as counterfeit money has endured over the centuries, we’re going to see a lot more of it in the years to come. In the same way that it’s easier to counterfeit fiat paper than gold or silver coins, so is it easier to counterfeit fiat news. I mean, the bang for the buck that Russia got from their email hacking and dissemination exploits in 2016 is just … staggering. What Russia did with counterfeit news is the same thing that the British did during the American Revolution with counterfeit dollars. It’s the same thing that the Germans did during World War II with counterfeit pounds. It’s the same thing that I’m sure the U.S. has done in more countries and more conflicts than one can easily count. But what Russia has shown is how easy and cheap it is to counterfeit news for yuuuge sovereign benefit when ALL news is constructed and slanted to some degree. Trust me, this lesson is not lost on China. Or Germany. Or France. Or India. Or Brazil. The Information Wars are just beginning, and the equivalent of hydrogen bombs are both crazy cheap to build and the technology is fully proliferated. There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle.

Is this a potential casus belli? Absolutely. Counterfeit strikes at the heart of what it means to be a sovereign government, whether or not we’re talking about money or news, particularly when the counterfeiting is done by another government. My guess is that the next level of counterfeiting, one that could spark a shooting war, will take the form of something like the Portuguese Bank Note Crisis of 1925, where the real printers of the real money were tricked into printing massive quantities of real notes for a fake customer. This was non-forgery counterfeiting, and it’s the future of sovereign-directed counterfeit news.

Third, Gresham’s Law applies to news as well as money, meaning that fake news drives real news out of circulation. When Thomas Gresham wrote Queen Elizabeth I in 1560 to deliver the bad news that “all your fine gold was conveyed out of this your realm” because her father Henry VIII had debased the currency by lowering the silver content of his coins, he didn’t mean that people packed up their gold and shipped it to France. He meant that people hoarded the old (good) silver coins and didn’t spend them. He meant that people hoarded their gold (or any trusted store of value) and refused to exchange them for Elizabeth’s coins. Elizabethan citizens lost trust in ALL commonly exchanged coins, no matter what the coins looked like or who offered up the coins, because Elizabethan citizens were good game players. If you’re willing to exchange an unknown silver coin for my bad silver coin (or something priced in bad silver coins), then either you’re stupid or that’s also a bad silver coin. Let’s assume you’re not stupid, so I’m going to treat your coin as bad regardless of whether it’s truly a good coin or not. And if you truly have a good coin, there’s nothing you can say to me that will convince me it’s a good coin. You can’t spend your good coin for fair value even if you wanted to. It’s exactly the same with news today. We know that the news has been “debased” through strategic communication policy, through the intentional slanting and mediation of primary news by officially sanctioned sources like Fed Chairs and CNN anchors in the service of stability and status quo maintenance. As a result, we’ve lost trust in ALL commonly exchanged news, no matter what the news is about or who offers up the news. Even though we’re awash in news, just like Elizabethan England was awash in coinage, the exchange value of ALL news has been diminished regardless of its “truth-content”. “Real” news today is diminished in value simply by the act of dissemination. You can’t spend your real news for fair value even if you want to, so it makes no business sense to spend real money to collect real news.

It’s this third point that is the most important, because it points to a potential transformation in the way that we THINK about news, a change in the IDEA of news as a social good. These transformations happen rarely — the invention of privacy, for example, in the 13th century — but they ARE inventions, no less so for being conceptual than the tangible invention of the steam engine or the semiconductor. And when these conceptual transformations do occur, they change the entire course of human civilization.

I’m using the social invention of privacy as a prominent example because I think that this transformation in the idea of news as a political good is connected with a similar transformation in the idea of privacy, both of which are being reinvented by technology. It’s no accident that Facebook is at the center of both.

Here’s the crux of Facebook’s Dec. 15 announcement on combating fake news:

Flagging Stories as Disputed

We believe providing more context can help people decide for themselves what to trust and what to share. We’ve started a program to work with third-party fact checking organizations that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles. We’ll use the reports from our community, along with other signals, to send stories to these organizations. If the fact checking organizations identify a story as fake, it will get flagged as disputed and there will be a link to the corresponding article explaining why. Stories that have been disputed may also appear lower in News Feed.

In practice this means that four established fiat news institutions — Associated Press, ABC News, the Washington Post, and the Tampa Bay Times (Politifact) — together with a smaller media company,, will share the responsibility for determining what stories are “disputed” and dropped into the memory hole of a lower ranking in News Feed. More fact checkers, particularly more fiat news institutions, will undoubtedly be added to the list, as the process is designed to encourage fiat news institutional participation (The Poynter Institute, developer of the “Fact Checking Code of Principles” at the heart of Facebook’s efforts here, owns the Times Publishing Company, which in turn owns the Tampa Bay Times and Politifact). My sense is that these fact checkers can do a pretty good job of identifying counterfeit news (for example that’s why was started, albeit in an urban legend and email hoax context), but will fail miserably at policing fiat news, for obvious reasons. Not that Facebook cares about the distinction, of course, as they will become the preeminent fiat news provider themselves when all is said and done.

Facebook’s erosion of privacy settings and protections is a long-running saga, reflecting Mark Zuckerberg’s many public statements that privacy is “no longer a social norm.” He’s probably right, which is exactly my point in writing about it in this note and linking it to a change in social norms regarding political information and news. But my concern isn’t that Facebook prevents me from maintaining privacy with regard to other Facebook users. My concern is that Facebook prevents me from maintaining privacy with regard to Facebook and other regime institutions, both corporate and governmental, so that the fiat news I receive is curated and distributed to successfully elicit a specific response from me.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monI know, I know … if you don’t want your actions and preferences exposed to The Controllers, don’t use Facebook. And I don’t. But in the same way that there are lots of Russias and lots of Washington Posts out there, so are there lots of Facebooks. Plus the Facebook and the Amazon and the Google are getting harder and harder to avoid. Each of these companies has designed a wonderfully effective Medieval wolf trap, complete with blood trail and bleating sheep, to lure all of us wolves into the pen, and I’m certainly no exception to that. It’s brilliant, really, even if horribly depressing.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monWhat’s happening here is reflective of a prominent feature of American political culture, namely that we tend to trust anything technology or business related, and correspondingly mistrust anything that comes from the government. It’s a big part of the Trump phenomenon, as lots of people have noted, but it goes back literally a couple of hundred years. What’s Hamilton’s core appeal? He’s a self-made man, the highest praise you can offer in the American political tradition. My view, of course, is that it’s absolutely nuts to trust billionaires to devise or administer your social policy, whether it’s Donald Trump or Mark Zuckerberg or Eric Schmidt or Jeff Bezos or whoever, more or differently than you trust permanent members of the political class like the Clintons or the Bushes or whoever. Actually I take that back. I trust technology billionaires like Zuckerberg and Schmidt and Bezos LESS than I trust the Clintons and the Bushes when it comes to my political interests and democracy-supporting social policy, which is really saying something. Why? Because gridlock. I love gridlock. I love the checks and balances embedded in our political machinery, because it prevents government from doing as much as it otherwise would to interfere with and upend my life. There’s no gridlock at Facebook or Amazon or Google, and this is where you’ll find the road to smiley-face authoritarianism. Where are we going? It’s not George Orwell’s 1984. It’s Dave Eggers’ The Circle. A world awash in fiat news as administered by government-licensed technology behemoths with a dissemination “platform”. We don’t trust the news, and in the back of our minds we know we’re being played, but boy, is it an entertaining and compelling delivery.

So what’s to be done? Not much in a political sense. Proposing some “plan” to roll back Facebook and Google and Amazon’s usurpation of fiat news dissemination makes about as much sense as proposing a plan to roll back the Catholic Church in 1215. As a citizen pretty much the best I can do is ring the cow bell with Epsilon Theory and try to convince other citizens to see the world through the same Rashomon-esque lens. As Akira Kurosawa said, to be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes. Ditto for a liberty-loving citizen.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-monAs an investor, though, I hope to do more than just add more cow bell. I think it’s possible to use new technologies to track and analyze the dynamic of fiat news dissemination, i.e., the Narrative, within the discrete social system of capital markets. It’s the same family of new technologies that Zuckerberg and Schmidt and Bezos are using to shape our entire society, just applied for analytical purposes rather than shaping purposes. Plus a wee difference in scale. I’m applying these technologies to a very specific social dynamic — the Common Knowledge Game — that I believe dominates policy-driven markets and story-driven stocks. I call this the Narrative Machine, and it’s the centerpiece of my investment activities for 2017 and beyond. Here’s the Epsilon Theory note that launched the project, and I hope you’ll find this a useful research project to track in the Brave New World ahead.

salient-epsilon-theory-ben-hunt-fiat-money-fiat-news-january-4-2017.pdf (819 KB)


The post Fiat Money, Fiat News appeared first on Salient.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Major molecular differences proven between GMO “Frankencorn” and non-GMO normal corn – serious safety implications revealed by new peer-reviewed study



Toxin-resistant GMO corn called NK603 produces its own toxic effects, according to recent research out of the King’s College in London. NK603 is corn that is immune to the toxic herbicide Roundup but is toxic itself, so what’s the use, and why have the manufacturers been lying to Americans for years saying that the genetic mutation that contains weed-killing components is the “substantial equivalent” of its parent – a normal, conventional, non-toxic variety of corn? NK603 GM corn literally produces toxic effects that heighten allergic reactions and propel the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.

NK603 has been engineered in a laboratory to “tolerate” massive amounts of noxious weed-killers, including Monsanto’s infamous Roundup, that contains about 50% glyphosate, which was implicated by the World Health Organization as a probable cancer-causing agent for humans. Top it off with the fact that glyphosate becomes exponentially more toxic when combined with all the other “inert” or “inactive” ingredients in Roundup. Scientific correlations have also been made between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

These new peer-reviewed research findings completely disprove industry and regulatory agency claims that NK603 is ‘substantially equivalent’ to its non-GMO counterpart. Long term health detriment from eating toxic NK603 is still widely unknown. The study is published in the scientific journal Nature and the research was headed up by Dr. Michael Antoniou, who is now calling for a more thorough investigation of the dangers of consuming NK603.

Lab rats fed NK603 GM maize suffered liver and kidney damage

The London study of GMO corn variety NK603 revealed alarming and disturbing truths the biotech industry doesn’t want anyone to know about. Not only does NK603 contain pesticide genes (yes, weeds are crop “pests” just like insects), but NK603 corn gets sprayed with the toxins that it contains and doesn’t die. That is the goal of GMO and the end result of manipulating the genetic structure of corn; however, the end result for animals that eat it, including rats and humans, is vital organ failure. It’s a double dose of toxins that cause severe allergies and cell mutations.

NK603 substantially altered and nowhere near “equivalent” to non-GMO corn

The findings of the Frankencorn study reveal over 100 proteins and more than 90 small molecule biochemicals (metabolites) were discovered to be “statistically significantly altered” in NK603 corn during the genetic modification transformation process. These metabolic profiles were altered in the lab, not in the field when sprayed with Roundup, according to the scientists. The alterations reveal a protein profile that reflects an imbalance of energy utilization and oxidative stress, meaning damage to cells and tissues by reactive oxygen. In other words, biotech scientists have created corn that now inherently contains “markedly increased” toxic compounds (polyamines, putrescine, and cadaverine), before ever even being sprayed with toxic herbicides or noxious pesticides.

General disturbances in GMO plants call for extreme caution regarding consumption

Furthermore, the genetic modification transformation process causes what the scientists have described as a “general disturbance in the GMO plant.” Profiles of the corn kernels revealed alterations in the levels of enzymes, reflecting imbalances in energy metabolism.

Sure, science and chemical agriculture can be important for protecting food, but when the cost shows up at the hospitals across America where innocent people are getting dosed with chemotherapy (more noxious chemicals) to treat cell disorders that originate from eating toxic corn that’s been sprayed with cancer-causing chemicals, then nobody can be labeled “anti-science” for rejecting GMOs. Who cares about killing weeds and bugs if the same process kills human beings?

The FDA, USDA, and CDC need a complete overhaul to “weed out” the biotech industry hacks who control GMO approval processes

NK603 is considered just one variety of “Roundup Ready” corn that’s made by Monsanto and was completely deregulated in the United States in 2000 by regulatory hacks and charlatans who previously worked for Monsanto. Most national biosafety regulations are undermined in the US because the FDA and USDA rely on the manufacturers of toxic pesticides and herbicides to test their own products for safety, which is like letting criminals be their own judge and jury in court after committing crimes against humanity.

From Reagan to Clinton, and from the Bushes to Obama, the last slew of US presidents have opened the door for the GMO invasion of toxic corn, soy, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, alfalfa, and much more. All these Frankencrops should be assessed for risk and adverse affects early on, but instead they’re all given a green light by industry shills.

In the US, the FDA considers GM technology as an extension of conventional breeding, even though most other developed countries completely ban growing and importing GMO anything. Japan and Russia know too well the dangers of consuming toxic GM corn, soy and rice. Technology can be good or bad, and biotechnology has proven time and time again, and in reliable peer-reviewed studies, to churn out dangerous crops for US consumption.

Eating GMOs can cause liver and kidney damage in just months

In conclusion, GMO crops are not “substantially equivalent” to conventional, non-GM crops. It’s all a big lie and continuation of a sham perpetrated on US consumers for thirty years and running. Research reveals disturbing variations that damage liver and kidney biochemistry in animals, and in some instances, in less than three months. Even the approval process for glyphosate herbicide was massively disputed because it is usually mixed with additives and co-formulants that make it way more toxic than glyphosate alone. Monsanto never tests (or reveals tests) of this nature–knowing the detrimental results they would have to share with American consumers and regulatory officials. It’s all a formula for slow death that makes the biotech industry a fortune.

Say “No!” to GMO. You always have a choice. Look for the USDA certified organic label and ask your local farmers tough questions about the herbicides and pesticides they might be using. An informed consumer directly translates into a smart, healthy human.









'Governments loathe transparency, can do wicked things' – Assange


If organizations like WikiLeaks don't publish information about people in power, the powerful of this world “can do very bad, wicked things,” the group's founder Julian Assange said in an exclusive interview with Fox News.Though they published leaks from the US Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 presidential elections, WikiLeaks has never had the goal of influencing votes, Assange told Fox News host Sean Hannity in a previously unaired portion of their conversation.The DNC's and...


In Stunning Last Minute Power Grab, Obama Designates Election Systems As "Critical Infrastructure"


In a stunning last minute power grab by the Obama administration with just 14 days left in his Presidency, the Department of Homeland Security released a statement this evening officially declaring state election systems to be "critical infrastructure."  The statement from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson defines "election infrastrcutre" as "storage facilities, polling places, centralized vote tabulations locations, voter registration databases, voting machines" and all "other systems" to manage the election pretty much everything.

I have determined that election infrastructure in this country should be designated as a subsector of the existing Government Facilities critical infrastructure sector. Given the vital role elections play in this country, it is clear that certain systems and assets of election infrastructure meet the definition of critical infrastructure, in fact and in law.


I have reached this determination so that election infrastructure will, on a more formal and enduring basis, be a priority for cybersecurity assistance and protections that the Department of Homeland Security provides to a range of private and public sector entities. By “election infrastructure,” we mean storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulations locations used to support the election process, and information and communications technology to include voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process and report and display results on behalf of state and local governments.

Of course, it's likely not a coincidence that the DHS made this announcemnent just hours after the "intelligence community" declassified their "Russian Hacking" propagandga which, once again provided absolutely no actual evidence, basically noted that RT has a very effective social media distribution platform.

Jeh Johnson


Johnson's statement goes on to note that while many "state and local election officials are opposed to this designation" he went ahead with his decision anyway, becuase that's just what the Obama administration does.

Prior to reaching this determination, my staff and I consulted many state and local election officials; I am aware that many of them are opposed to this designation. It is important to stress what this designation does and does not mean. This designation does not mean a federal takeover, regulation, oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country. This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.


The designation of election infrastructure as critical infrastructure subsector does mean that election infrastructure becomes a priority within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. It also enables this Department to prioritize our cybersecurity assistance to state and local election officials, but only for those who request it. Further, the designation makes clear both domestically and internationally that election infrastructure enjoys all the benefits and protections of critical infrastructure that the U.S. government has to offer. Finally, a designation makes it easier for the federal government to have full and frank discussions with key stakeholders regarding sensitive vulnerability information.


Particularly in these times, this designation is simply the right and obvious thing to do.

Of course, one of the most vocal opponents of this move has been Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp who recently told Politico it is nothing more than an attempt to "subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security."

During an earlier interview with the site Nextgov, Kemp warned: "The question remains whether the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security." Kemp told POLITICO he sees a “clear motivation from this White House” to expand federal control, citing Obama’s health care law, the Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation and the increased role of the Education Department in local schools.


To some election officials, this sounds like the first stage of a more intrusive plan.


“I think it’s kind of the nose under the tent,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, a Democrat. “What I think a lot of folks get concerned about [is] when the federal government says, ‘Well, look, we’re not really interested in doing that, but we just want to give you this,’ and then all of a sudden this leads to something else.”

Meanwhile, Kemp continued on by noting that "this administration only has 15 days left in its term" and to make such a critical decision during the 11th hour "smacks of partisan politics."

But we're sure it's nothing, Obama doesn't really strike us as the type to play the "partisan politics" game.


Beyond ‘post-truth’: confronting the new reality


The term ‘post-truth’ is itself a product of seductive alarmism. It’s time we looked at the cold facts of our emerging news systems.

Angela Phillips is a Professor of Journalism at Goldsmiths, University of London. This long-read is based on her inaugural lecture, 'On bubbles and streams: news audiences in the era of social media', which was held on October 25th 2016 at Goldsmiths.

White House Correspondents Association President Jeff Mason speaks with the media at Trump Tower, Jan. 5, 2017. Credit: PA Images/Andrew Harnik.

We are told we are living in a “post truth” world in which fake news proliferates and the established news media, once a bastion of civil society and a pillar of democracy, has lost its influence. As we should expect, alarmist statements such as these, have one foot in fact and the other resting on a shifting foundation of clicks, likes and shares. Alarming headlines work better on social media but they also reduce complex ideas to a series of half understood slogans. 

Much is changing in the way in which we find and share news stories but these changes are a product of many factors.  Some rest in national media systems, others are a product of technical changes and all are influenced by, or have an influence upon, the shifting geopolitical situation.  Fake news is not responsible for the rise of right wing populism in Europe and America but it has certainly fed the fire.

The decline of trust in the mainstream media is genuine but it is not global.  In the Northern European countries, where commercialisation has been tempered by firm statutory intervention and clear professional conventions, trust is still relatively high. In the rampantly commercial systems of the UK and the USA trust has plummeted.  The UK press has the lowest level of public trust of any European country (with higher levels for TV) while the US media has low levels of trust for both TV news and the press  (Aarts, Fladmoe, & Strömbäck 2012).

Lack of trust in news has, in the past, been mainly a problem of dictatorships and unstable democracies. The rise of “post-truth” news in Europe and the USA appears to be a symptom of news systems that are no longer able to command respect, coupled with a change in the way in which people access news.  (Muller 2013) 

Declining news consumption and the The Daily Me

The World Wide Web, invented by a British scientist who believed in public service, connection and democracy, opened the way to the reinvention, not of news or journalism itself, but the means by which it could be disseminated and consumed. For most people this change heralded a new democratisation.  At last the idea of a public sphere in which all voices could be heard was capable of realisation. Once of the early enthusiasts was Nicholas Negroponte who said: 

“The monolithic empires of mass media are dissolving into an array of cottage industries…. Media barons of today will be grasping to hold onto their centralized empires tomorrow…. The combined forces of technology and human nature will ultimately take a stronger hand in plurality than any laws Congress can invent.” (Negroponte (1996 57-58). 

A tribute to Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. Credit:

Much of the optimism about the democratising effect of the internet and social media, came from people who were themselves interested in political matters and who found the ability to get online and sound off without the intermediary of an editor absolutely exhilarating.  It was these scholars and pundits who captured the attention of journalists, with an equal interest in embracing the Internet, who looked mainly for the most optimistic voices to echo their own enthusiasm. 

But they often forgot the basic principle that you cannot take yourself and your mates as a model for the way the world works.  There is no doubt that for many people the abundance of the Internet provided huge new opportunities for information gathering, but there is now also a growing mass of large scale, critical, research that has been flagging up for a decade or so, that there is a democratic downside to the abundance online. Broadly they flag up the problem that the greater the available choice of media, the less likely people are to pay attention to news at all.  

In a low choice environment, even those who were not interested in news, tended to be reasonably well informed about major news events because they would see the news headlines before switching channels.  In a high choice environment it is very easy to avoid watching the news.  In a six country study the USA had, by a very long way, the lowest level of TV news consumption.  It is also the country where low levels of education are most likely to be matched by low levels of news knowledge.  In this environment the growth of personalisation, via social media, has dramatically changed the way people understand the world.

The Sun's headline 'Queen Backs Brexit' was found to be "significantly misleading" by Ipso.

The Pew Research Centre has been monitoring news consumption and found that in 2016, the majority of US citizens (62%) were receiving news on social media and 18 % are doing so often.  Usually this news consumption was unplanned.  The users of social media (usually Facebook) don’t go to their news feed in order to read the news.  They just bump into it there. Women and young people are particularly likely to find their news in this way.

These figures are not out of line with other technologically advanced countries (Reuters 2016) but they have to be seen in the context of very low trust in mainstream news in the USA and very low levels of news consumption, in particular amongst those with low levels of education.  People who have no interest in news and no background knowledge of news events, now get news stories passed on to them from their friends and relations.  The news may well come from a mainstream source but it is consumed completely out of context and often with a negative comment attached. In some cases the stories may have been invented but they are presented as news in exactly the same way as a news story from an established news organisation. 

Bubbles and machine learning 

The concept of a filter bubble was coined by Eli Pariser, who noted that his Facebook feed was filtering out friends whose political views were not in accordance with his own.  The same effect occurs on Google where the algorithm that organises search is personalised, to ensure that you get news that fits in with your own concerns, at the top of your news feeds.

Personalisation is a means of helping people to sort material from the abundance of the Net but because it is organised by a computer programme that learns from our every, interaction, it tends to narrow down our searches to the point at which it is unlikely that we will come across information that makes us question our choices. The effect of the Filter Bubble is to narrow our interests.


This machine learning is organised around not only our own personal choices but also the personal choices of our closest friends and this creates a double wrap of insulation against the world.  Research into group behaviour has demonstrated just how much we are influenced by others.  Most people prefer to avoid confrontation, so they tend to temper their views, or remain silent, when confronted by others with differing views.  Researcher Noelle Neumann referred to this phenomenon as “The Spiral of Silence”.

On Facebook this effect is exaggerated.  People on Facebook tend to give way to the loudest voices. They are even less likely to venture an alternative view online than they would be around a dining table.  This means that social media has become a perfect haven for bullies. Strident people, making extreme statements, often hear responses only from the people who agree with them.  Where comments made are out of line with the dominant view, it is not uncommon for others to gang up and chase them away. The result is a reinforcement of the strident view.  People who live inside these ‘bubbles’ may have very little idea that their beliefs are out of line with the dominant view. They have come to believe in their own propaganda.

Where people have little exposure to mainstream news and tend to get their news only via the selection of their friends, they have little opportunity to test out their beliefs and into this structure it is easy to see how fake news could be used as a means of propaganda.  So it is particularly worrying that those most likely to be getting their news via social media are young people, many of whom are just beginning to form their opinions. 

Trump, Corbyn, and the power of the influencer

The Internet allows every voice to appear equal because everyone has access to easy to use, sophisticated, web applications and social media. For those who feel that the mainstream media fails to give them a voice, this equality of access has opened the door to new possibilities for directly influencing audiences. However the ability to speak does not equate with the likelihood of being heard.

Most individuals with an axe to grind will simply sit on Twitter churning out one liners @their friend and foes in the hope of being followed. It takes a degree of sophistication, significant networks, or an extraordinary stroke of luck to promote a single post or tweet to more than a handful of friends. However the means to develop a following are freely available for those who do have the necessary personal influence.

Celebrities are adept at using their personal following to talk directly to their fans, burnishing their image without the interference of mediators such as journalists, who might prefer to dwell on their cellulite rather than their new hit record or starring role. As a result, any celebrity with a fan base will be sought after by companies paying them to tweet material about their products.  The companies understand that it is the power of the influencer that matters in the social world, more than the power of the message.

Politicians also try to take control of their own messages by speaking directly to voters. This will only work if they are themselves charismatic influencers. A party apparatchik, churning out carefully crafted messages is unlikely to get much traction.    President Obama was the first to use the Internet successfully in this way, more recently Donald Trump in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, have both made a particular point of campaigning directly, to supporters and party members, over the heads of the mainstream. 

A national survey conducted on 6-12 December 2016 found that 52% of Republicans falsely believed that President-elect Donald Trump had won the popular vote.

This direct approach works very well for appealing to, and growing, base support because it cuts out opposing voices, ensures that the messages are heard without either interference or challenge, and exaggerates the popularity of your own position among supporters. Very often supporters, caught inside their own filter bubbles (see the last post on this subject), will not be exposed to opposition voices because they are getting all their campaign material inside the bubble. 

Trump has been hugely successful at using social media to speak directly to disaffected Americans but he had a number of additional factors to help his position. The first is that he was already a celebrity with a fan base from his role as the anchor of the TV show, The Apprentice. He was also a regular target for the derision of the political and media establishment and he understood how to manipulate social media so that his Twitter messages would be taken up and spread by the very journalists he affected to despise. 

Social media works best with messages that appeal to the emotions. So messages that merely correctly produce data are not nearly as potent as hate messages that may not be based in truth but are capable of firing people up.  This is why Trump has done so well and why Corbyn, so far, has failed to break out beyond the circle of his core supporters.

It was the combination of appealing to the base, while at the same time outraging the news media, that ensured everything Trump said was spread far beyond his own power base. This means that he benefited from the intensification effect of the bubble as well as the spreading effect of the mainstream. MSM may be critical of him but as long as it transmits the message then it will spread. In the event Trump was quoted about Hilary Clinton, in mainstream news, more often than she was quoted about her own policies. 

Given the tendency for the US media to produce negative, rather than positive stories, Trump’s propensity for producing negative tweets about his opponent meant that he automatically had the upper hand. The media reported the tweets even when they were clearly outrageous.  Then both the tweets and the reports would be passed along on social media to Trump followers and also, via the mainstream, to those who had no reason to support him.  This just produced an impenetrable fog of negativity that enveloped the Clinton campaign.  

Jeremy Corbyn has, so far, been a lot less successful in his attempt to speak directly to the electorate. In order to spread beyond the base of loyal supporters, he needed the cooperation of the mainstream media. Trump manipulated the mainstream to create outrage. Corbyn avoided the main stream. During the EU Referendum campaign, Prime Minister, David Cameron appeared in 25per cent of items. Corbyn in 6 per cent of items.  When Corbyn managed to create outrage in the press, it was almost always by accident rather than design, so that he was not actually in control of his message. The messages that travelled tended to hold him up to ridicule rather than establishing him as a fighter or a maverick.

This tendency to spread messages that move the emotions, rather than the mind, has meant that the power of the Net has been harnessed more to the spreading of disinformation than the diligent mining of good information.  Those Americans who were least likely to have been ‘inoculated’ by a steady diet of verifiable fact were the ones who were least resistant to the wave of fake news that was circulated online. Trump  won 2:1 amongst those without college degrees. These are the people who are least likely to encounter mainstream news in any form.

There have been calls for social media platforms to prevent ‘fake news’ getting through. However, in the UK, the right wing mainstream press was itself a key driver of fake news about Europe, which was then passed on via the platforms. In a fiercely competitive commercial environment, where news is used as bait to attract audiences, the proliferation of sensationalist news is an inevitable by-product. 

Censorship is not the way to stop unreliable news getting through.  The only way is to ensure that there is always a more trusted alternative that people can rely on.  As global social media companies move into a monopoly position in news distribution in Europe, the publicly funded broadcasters will have to do everything in their power to earn and retain public trust. This doesn’t mean moving towards a right-wing populist agenda. It means having the courage to take apart every statement that is made by politicians and pundits and to stand up for evidence-based reporting and democratic values.  As with any computer based system it is worth remembering the old adage: junk in junk out. 

CC by NC 4.0


Russia Isn't Our Friend, but That Doesn't Make the Democrats' Conspiracy Theories True


Here are two positions an intellectually honest person can hold simultaneously:

First, Russian President Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian who, though no Josef Stalin, subverts human rights and is generally antagonistic to the idealistic aims of the United States. When Republicans cozy up to this sort of person, as President-elect Donald Trump has done, they undermine the stated beliefs and values of conservatism.

Second, though there's little doubt he wishes he could, Putin did not hack the American election. In fact, there's no evidence whatsoever that the Russians had anything to do with Trump's victory.

Now, I understand why so many on the left want to force Republicans to choose between these two statements. They'd like to delegitimize the democratic validity of Trump's presidency (in much the same way they did with President George W. Bush) and smear those who don't join them in this endeavor as unpatriotic Putin-defending lackeys. Considering their own past and Obama's accommodating attitude toward the Russians (and the Cubans, the Iranians, Fatah, Hamas and other illiberal regimes), this seems an uphill battle.

Many in the media, though—which has spent considerable time lamenting its deteriorating influence and the rise of fake news—also decided to start the new year by internalizing a partisan-driven fantasy about the Russians electing Trump with incessant coverage, deceptive headlines and misleading stories.

One recent CNN tweet read, "US officials say newly identified 'digital fingerprints' indicate Moscow was behind election hacking." The number of times I've seen a reputable news organization use terms like "election hacking" is now incalculable. It is a lie—every time.

By "election hacking," reporters and editors mean there might be evidence that Russians successfully phished a Democratic operative named John Podesta, who used the word "password" as his password. Although we should thoroughly investigate foreigners who illegally access American emails, this is not tantamount to infiltrating an election or undermining its legitimacy.

In November, the Washington Post ran a flimsy piece purporting that the "flood of 'fake news' this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign." Last week, it reported that a Russian-backed computer hacking operation had been found inside the system of a Vermont utility company and had penetrated the U.S. power grid. If true, this would be genuinely scary stuff. But it wasn't true. A few days later, the Post—after much effort to save the piece—had to finally admit that "authorities say there is no indication of that so far."

To say there is no indication that Russia tried to infiltrate the grid "so far" almost seems like someone is hoping the story might one day turn out to be true. In any event, everyone makes mistakes. But it's difficult to imagine these sorts of pieces—hampered with numerous problems from the start—didn't have something to do with partisan narratives about Russian influence infecting newsrooms. These kinds of pieces only weaken the impact of genuine foreign-hacking stories.

Many in the left-wing punditry have already taken to speaking about the stolen 2016 election. "The NSA Chief Says Russia Hacked the 2016 Election," says David Corn in a headline. New York's Jonathan Chait asserted that not only was there "evidence that Russian intelligence carried out a successful plan to pick the government of the United States" but it was "probable that the hacks swung enough votes to decide a very tight race," and the latter could not be "proven."

In politics, proving something isn't nearly as important as feeling it. So it's not surprising that a recent Economist/YouGov poll found that 52 percent of Democrats believe Russia "tampered with vote tallies"—not that it leaked real emails to the public but that it altered the outcome of the ballots in the presidential election. There is no proof of this happening, or that it was even attempted. The fact is, Democrats are now more likely to believe the Russians installed Trump into the presidency than Republicans are to have ever believed President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

It's unsurprising that losers of an election would attempt to minimize its validity. It happens all the time. But for the same people who were lamenting our deteriorating trust in democratic institutions—all the rage not long ago—to now embrace this kind of conspiratorial rhetoric is unprecedented. It's a lot more damaging than the Podesta hack. It also undermines genuine concerns about Russian activity. Because Russia is not our friend. (It is not today, and it was not when Dems were mocking Mitt Romney, or when Obama was promising them space.) Julian Assange is not our friend. And Russia has nothing to do with the predicament in which Democrats find themselves. A person can believe all those things.



DNC Refused FBI Access to Its Servers … Instead Gave Access to a DNC Consultant Tied to Organization Promoting Russia Conflict


CNN reports:

The Democratic National Committee "rebuffed" a request from the FBI to examine its computer services after it was allegedly hacked by Russia during the 2016 election, a senior law enforcement official told CNN Thursday.


"The FBI repeatedly stressed to DNC officials the necessity of obtaining direct access to servers and data, only to be rebuffed until well after the initial compromise had been mitigated," a senior law enforcement official told CNN. "This left the FBI no choice but to rely upon a third party for information.




The FBI instead relied on the assessment from a third-party security company called CrowdStrike.

As first reported by George Eliason, CrowdStrike's Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Dimitri Alperovitch - who wrote the CrowdStrike reports allegedly linking Russia to the Democratic party emails published by Wikileaks - is a fellow at the Atlantic Council ... an organization associated with Ukraine, and whose main policy goal seems to stir up a confrontation with Russia.[1]

The Nation writes:

In late December, Crowdstrike released a largely debunked report claiming that the same Russian malware that was used to hack the DNC has been used by Russian intelligence to target Ukrainian artillery positions. Crowdstrike’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, told PBS, “Ukraine’s artillery men were targeted by the same hackers…that targeted DNC, but this time they were targeting cellphones [belonging to the Ukrainian artillery men] to try to understand their location so that the Russian artillery forces can actually target them in the open battle.”

Dmitri Alperovitch is also a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.


The connection between Alperovitch and the Atlantic Council has gone largely unremarked upon, but it is relevant given that the Atlantic Council—which is funded in part by the US State Department, NATO, the governments of Latvia and Lithuania, the Ukrainian World Congress, and the Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk—has been among the loudest voices calling for a new Cold War with Russia. As I pointed out in the pages of The Nation in November, the Atlantic Council has spent the past several years producing some of the most virulent specimens of the new Cold War propaganda.


It would seem then that a healthy amount of skepticism toward a government report that relied, in part, on the findings of private-sector cyber security companies like Crowdstrike might be in order.

The Atlantic Council is also funded by the U.S. military and the largest defense contractors, including:

  • United States Army
  • United States Navy
  • United States Air Force
  • United States Marines
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Raytheon
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Boeing

[1]  Here's an example of the Atlantic Council's bellicose rhetoric from July 2016:

Poland should announce that it reserves the right to deploy offensive cyber operations (and not necessarily in response just to cyber attacks).  The authorities could also suggest potential targets, which could include the Moscow metro, the St. Petersburg power network, and Russian state-run media outlets such as RT.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Rand Paul Reminds MSNBC That James Clapper Is a Liar and Can’t Be Trusted About Russia Hacking


Rand PaulWe were always at war with Eastasia. MSNBC, a seemingly neoconservative news outlet, is enraged that Congressional Republicans won't accept—on blind faith—the intelligence community's view that Russia was the source of the Podesta email hack.

MSNBC commentator Joy Reid was particularly incensed that any Republican would dare question the honor of Director of National Security James Clapper, a man who lied about the NSA committing the most massive Fourth Amendment violation in history. Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that Russia had engaged in an unprecedented level of interference in the U.S. presidential election, for whatever his opinion is worth (not much, I hope).

Sen. John McCain lashed out at Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has claimed that Russia was not the source of the leaked information about Hillary Clinton. McCain asked Clapper, "Do you think there's any credibility we should attach to [Julian Assange], given his record?"

"Not in my view," said Clapper.

Perhaps McCain should have asked Clapper if the director himself deserves any credibility, in the eyes of the American people, given his past misstatements about his office's gross violation of their civil liberties.

But there was nary a mention of Clapper's past dishonesty during Reid's show on Thursday night. Filling in for the usual 8:00 p.m. anchor, Chris Hayes, Reid asked Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, whether he considered himself, "a Julian Assange Republican like Sean Hannity, or a John McCain Republican like DNI Clapper and others who say Russia was behind the hacking?"

Brooks replied that he thought a healthy degree of skepticism was warranted, particularly given how badly the intelligence community dropped the ball in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Reid fired back, "You didn't answer the question. Who do you believe?"

Later on the program, Reid mocked Republicans for not siding with anti-Russia hawks McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham—the sane foreign policy Republicans, in her view.

Sorry to belabor this point, but McCain and Graham are radical interventionist neoconservatives. Why is a supposedly liberal network carrying water for them? This is a telltale symptom of Trump derangement syndrome.

Chris Matthews, to his credit, was much more reasonable, and invited Sen. Rand Paul onto his show to discuss the hacking from a less partisan point of view. Paul said that he didn't think the leaked information about Clinton mattered much in his home state of Kentucky. He also reminded viewers that Clapper misled the American people about whether the NSA was spying on them. (Paul has previously said that if Edward Snowden goes to jail, he should share a cell with Clapper.)

It seems like the libertarian-friendly Paul is offering one of the only principled, independent perspectives in politics these days. Everyone else asks whether a given development would help or undermine Trump, and then adjusts their opinions accordingly.

Meanwhile, intelligence officials are touting emails showing that Russian leaders were happy about Trump's victory as evidence they were involved in the hack. This prove nothing, of course, except that Russian leaders were indeed happy about Trump winning the election—something everyone already knew.


WashPost is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived


In the past six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating Editor’s Note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: the first Note of which was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article, the other of which was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the Editor’s Note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that “the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and that there may not have even been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists – including those at the Post – aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s Executive Editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

Baron himself, editorial leader of the Post, is a perfect case study in this irresponsible tactic. It was Baron who went to Twitter on the evening of November 24 to announce the Post’s exposé of the enormous reach of Russia’s fake news operation, based on what he heralded as the findings of “independent researchers.” Baron’s tweet went all over the place; to date it has been re-tweeted more than 3,000 times, including by many journalists with their own large followings:

Russian propaganda effort helped spread fake news during election, say independent researchers

— Marty Baron (@PostBaron) November 25, 2016

But after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism – from Adrian Chen in the New Yorker (“propaganda about Russia propaganda”), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (“shameful, disgusting”), my own article and many others – including legal threats from the sites smeared as Russian propaganda outlets by the Post’s “independent researchers” – the Post finally added its lengthy Editor’s Note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (“The Post… does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings” and “Since publication of The Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list”).

What did Baron tell his followers about this Editor’s Note that gutted the key claims of the story he hyped? Nothing. Not a word. To date, he has been publicly silent about these revisions. Having spread the original claims to tens of thousands of people if not more, he took no steps to ensure that any of them heard about the major walkback on the article’s most significant, inflammatory claims. He did, however, ironically find the time to promote a different Post story about how terrible and damaging Fake News is:

‘Pizzagate’ shows how fake news hurts real people

— Marty Baron (@PostBaron) November 26, 2016


Whether the Post’s false stories here can be distinguished from what is commonly called “Fake News” is, at this point, a semantic dispute, particularly since “Fake News” has no cogent definition. Defenders of Fake News as a distinct category typically emphasize intent in order to differentiate it from bad journalism. That’s really just a way of defining Fake News so as to make it definitionally impossible for mainstream media outlets like the Post ever to be guilty of it (much the way terrorism is defined to ensure that the U.S. Government and its allies cannot, by definition, ever commit it).

But what was the Post’s motive in publishing two false stories about Russia which, very predictably, generated massive attention, traffic and political impact? Was it ideological and political – namely, devotion to the D.C. agenda of elevating Russia into a grave threat to U.S. security? Was it to please its audience – knowing that its readers, in the wake of Trump’s victory, want to be fed stories about Russian treachery? Was it access and source-servitude – proving it will serve as a loyal and uncritical repository for any propaganda intelligence officials want disseminated? Was it profit – to generate revenue through sensationalistic click-bait headlines with a reckless disregard to whether its stories are true? In an institution as large as the Post, with numerous reporters and editors participating in these stories, it’s impossible to identify any one motive as definitive.

Whatever the motives, the effects of these false stories are exactly the same as those of whatever one regards as Fake News. The false claims travel all over the internet, deceiving huge numbers into believing them. The propagators of the falsehoods receive ample profit from their false, viral “news.” And there is no accountability of the kind that would disincentivize a repeat of the behavior. (That the Post ultimately corrects its false story does not distinguish it from classic Fake News sites which also sometimes do the same).

And while it’s true that all media outlets make mistakes, and that even the most careful journalism sometimes errs, those facts do not remotely mitigate the Post’s behavior here. In these cases, they did not make good faith mistakes after engaging in careful journalism. With both stories, they were reckless (at best) from the start, and the glaring deficiencies in the reporting were immediately self-evident (which is why both stories were widely attacked upon publication).

As this excellent timeline by Kalev Leetaru documents, the Post did not even bother to contact the utility companies in question – the most elementary step of journalistic responsibility – until after the story was published. Intelligence officials insisting on anonymity – so as to ensure no accountability – whispered to them that this happened, and despite how significant the consequences would be, they rushed to print it with no verification at all. This is not a case of good journalism producing inaccurate reporting; it the case of a media outlet publishing a story that they knew would produce massive benefits and consequences without the slightest due diligence or care.


The most ironic aspect of all this is that it is mainstream journalists – the very people who have become obsessed with the crusade against Fake News – who play the key role in enabling and fueling this dissemination of false stories. They do so not only by uncritically spreading them, but then taking little or no steps to notify the public of their falsity.

The Post’s epic debacle this weekend regarding its electric grid fiction vividly illustrates this dynamic. As I noted on Saturday, journalists reacted to this story the same way they do every story about Russia: they instantly click and re-tweet and share the story without the slightest critical scrutiny. That these claims are constantly based on the whispers of anonymous officials and accompanied by no evidence whatsoever gives them no pause at all: any official claim that Russia and Putin are behind some global evil is instantly treated as Truth. That’s a significant reason papers like the Post are incentivized to recklessly publish stories of this kind: they know they will be praised and rewarded no matter the accuracy or reliability because their Cause – the agenda – is the right one.

On Friday night, immediately after the Post’s story was published, one of the most dramatic pronouncements came from the New York Times’ Editorial writer Brent Staples, who said this:

Now that this story has collapsed and been fully retracted, what has Staples done to note that this tweet was false? Just like Baron, he did absolutely nothing. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, as he did so something: at some point after Friday night, he quietly deleted his tweet without comment. He has not uttered a word about the fact that the story he promoted has collapsed, and that what he told his 16,000+ followers – along with the countless number of people who re-tweeted the dramatic claim of this prominent journalist – turned out to be totally false in every respect.

Even more instructive is the case of MSNBC’s Kyle Griffin, a prolific and skilled social media user who has seen his following explode this year with a constant stream of anti-Trump content. On Friday night, when the Post story was published, Griffin hyped it with a series of tweets designed to make the story seem as menacing and consequential as possible. That included hysterical statements from Vermont officials – who believed the Post’s false claim – that in retrospect are unbelievably embarrassing.

VT Gov. Peter Shumlin on Russian hacking attempt: 'One of the world's leading thugs, Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid.'

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) December 31, 2016

That tweet from Griffin – convincing people that Putin was endangering the health and safety of Vermonters – was re-tweeted more than 1,000 times. His other similar tweets – such as this one featuring Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy’s warning that Putin was trying to “shut down [the grid] in the middle of winter” – were also widely spread.

But the next day, the crux of the story collapsed – the Post’s Editors Note acknowledged that “there is no indication” that “Russian hackers had penetrated the electricity grid” – and Griffin said nothing. Indeed, he said nothing further on any of this until yesterday – four days after his series of widely shared tweets – in which he simply re-tweeted a Post reporter noting an “update” that the story was false without providing any comment himself:

In contrast to Griffin’s original inflammatory tweets about the Russian menace, which were widely and enthusiastically spread, this after-the-fact correction has a paltry 289 re-tweets. Thus, a small fraction of those who were exposed to Griffin’s sensationalistic hyping of this story ended up learning that all of it was false.

I genuinely do not mean to single out these individual journalists here. They are just illustrative of what is a very common dynamic: any story that bolsters the prevailing DC orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide. And then, as has happened so often, when the story turns out to be false or misleading, little or nothing is done to correct the deceitful effects. And, most amazingly of all, these are the same people constantly decrying the threat posed by Fake News.


A very common dynamic is driving all of this: media group-think, greatly exacerbated (as I described on Saturday) by the incentive scheme of Twitter. As the grand media failure of 2002 demonstrated, American journalists are highly susceptible to fueling and leading the parade in demonizing a new Foreign Enemy rather than exerting restraint and skepticism in evaluating the true nature of that threat.

It is no coincidence that many of the most embarrassing journalistic debacles of this year involve The Russia Threat, and they all involve this same dynamic. Perhaps the worst one was the facially ridiculous, pre-election Slate story – which multiple outlets (including the Intercept) had been offered but passed on – alleging that Trump had created a secret server to communicate with a Russian bank; that story was so widely shared that even the Clinton campaign ended up hyping it – a tweet that, by itself, was re-tweeted almost 12,000 times.

Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) November 1, 2016

But only a small percentage of those who heard of it ended up hearing of the major walkback and debunking from other outlets The same is true of the Guardian story from last week on WikiLeaks and Putin that ended up going viral, only to have its retraction barely noticed because most of the journalists who spread the story did not bother to note it.

Beyond the journalistic tendency to echo anonymous officials on whatever Scary Foreign Threat they are hyping at the moment, there is an independent incentive scheme sustaining all of this. That Russia is a Grave Menace attacking the U.S. has – for obvious reasons – become a critical narrative for Democrats and other Trump opponents, who dominate elite media circles on social media and elsewhere. They reward and herald anyone who bolsters that narrative, while viciously attacking anyone who questions it.

Indeed, in my ten-plus years of writing about politics on an endless number of polarizing issues – including the Snowden reporting – nothing remotely compares to the smear campaign that has been launched as a result of the work I’ve done questioning and challenging claims about Russia hacking and the threat posed by that country generally. This is being engineered not by random and fringe accounts but by the most prominent Democratic pundits with the largest media followings.

I’ve been transformed, overnight, into an early adherent of alt-right ideology, an avid fan of Breitbart, an enthusiastic Trump supporter, and – needless to say  – a Kremlin operative. That’s literally the explicit script they’re now using, often with outright fabrications of what I say (see here for one particularly glaring example).

They, of course, know all of this is false. The primary focus of the last ten years of my journalism has been a defense of the civil liberties of Muslims. I wrote an entire book on the racism and inequality inherent in the U.S. justice system. My legal career involved numerous representations of victims of racial discrimination. I was one of the first journalists to condemn the misleadingly “neutral” approach to reporting on Trump and to call for more explicit condemnations of his extremism and lies. I was one of the few to defend Jorge Ramos from widespread media attacks when he challenged Trump’s immigration extremism. Along with many others, I tried to warn Democrats that nominating a candidate as unpopular as Hillary Clinton risked a Trump victory. And as someone who is very publicly in a same-sex, inter-racial marriage – with someone just elected to public office as a socialist – I make for a very unlikely alt-right leader, to put that mildly.

The malice of this campaign is exceeded only by its blatant stupidity. Even having to dignify it with a defense is depressing, though once it becomes this widespread, one has little choice.

But this is the climate Democrats have successfully cultivated – where anyone dissenting or even expressing skepticism about their deeply self-serving Russia narrative is the target of coordinated and potent smears where, as the Nation’s James Carden documented yesterday, skepticism is literally equated with treason. And the converse is equally true: those who disseminate claims and stories that bolster this narrative – no matter how divorced from reason and evidence it is – receive an array of benefits and rewards.

That the story ends up being completely discredited matters little. The damage is done, and the benefits received. Fake News in the narrow sense of that term is certainly something worth worrying about. But whatever one wants to call this type of behavior from the Post is a much greater menace given how far the reach is of the institutions which are doing it.

The post WashPost is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived appeared first on The Intercept.