Politics

Politics (18)

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that momentum is building for the U.S. government to subject Google and other Big Tech firms to antitrust scrutiny for fears that they have become too big and too powerful.

In today’s digital ecosystem, politicians, political parties, organizations and media all rely on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube to get the message out because that’s where consumers by and large go to in order to consume information.

A Pew report found 68 percent of adult Americans use Facebook, or over 170 million. 24 percent use Twitter, or about 61 million. A separate Pew report found 73 percent, or 185 million, use broadband internet. Statista reports that Google’s family of sites are the most popular in America, with 255 million unique U.S. visitors in March 2019 alone.

So, the internet is indisputably a huge part of the way people are getting information nowadays.

Now, conservatives and Republicans have become alarmed as many of these platforms are censoring and restricting speech that does not coincide with Big Tech’s social justice agenda. Deplatforming is real. Actor James Woods has been censored on Twitter, Stephen Crowder has been demonetized on Youtube (owned by Google) and Candace Owens was temporarily suspended on Facebook before the company did a reversal and declared it “an error.”

Political discrimination is destructive as it creates an incentive to silence your political opponents. Suddenly you have countrymen reporting on one another to get them deplatformed. Is this healthy for a society?

But it is not merely the reporting features that are being abused on these platforms.

Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe released a video on June 24 that showed how the algorithms that produce Google search results (and other machine learning) are programmed with algorithmic “fairness” in mind to prevent, per an internal 2017 Google document, “unjust or prejudicial treatment of people that is related to sensitive characteristics such as race, income, sexual orientation or gender, through algorithmic systems or algorithmically aided decision-making.”

Just throw in political affiliation, philosophy or religion, and one can immediately recognize how Republicans, conservatives or Christians might feel marginalized on social media platforms, but Google did not end up looking into that. A study by Google in 2018 on algorithmic fairness stated, “due to our focus on traditionally marginalized populations, we did not gather data about how more privileged populations think about or experience algorithmic fairness.”

As a Google executive in the video who was quoted in an undercover camera noted, “Communities who are in power and have traditionally been in power are not who I’m solving fairness for.”

But if Google had looked at other groups, they would have likely found that supposedly “privileged” populations can feel marginalized, too. The 2018 study unsurprisingly found that participants expressed, “In addition to their concerns about potential harms to themselves and society, participants also indicated that algorithmic fairness (or lack thereof) could substantially affect their trust in a company or product” and that “when participants perceived companies were protecting them from unfairness or discrimination, it greatly enhanced user trust and strengthened their relationships with those companies.”

The thing is, nobody wants to be discriminated against, and if they are it will affect their perception of the company or companies that are doing it. Deplatforming, censorship and manipulating search and news results undermines trust in these Big Tech firms, and suddenly makes them a problem that many want to solve. No need for another focus group.

So, what responsibility does Big Tech have to foster our way of life and our competitive system of representative government, if any?

I would argue just as much responsibility as they feel to tackle the issue of fairness for historically marginalized groups, if for no other reason than it is good, sound business to cater to all comers, particularly in the political and governmental sphere. Why make enemies? It’s provocative.

Many solutions have been proposed to help there to be a level playing field on the Internet. Some are heavy-handed and appear to miss the target, while others are more narrow.

There is the Federal Communications Commission route, which might seek to make public utilities out of Big Tech companies, and all the regulation that comes with that. Net neutrality springs to mind, although that appeared more focused on throttling broadband speeds due to how much data was being used, whereas the issues today appear to focus on content-based censorship.

There is antitrust approach, whether via the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, that might envision breaking up these large companies. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has come out for this approach. In a recent statement, she said, “As these companies have grown larger and more powerful, they have used their resources and control over the way we use the internet to squash small businesses and innovation, and substitute their own financial interests for the broader interests of the American people. To restore the balance of power in our democracy, to promote competition, and to ensure that the next generation of technology innovation is as vibrant as the last, it’s time to break up our biggest tech companies.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act exempts “interactive computer services” from liability of what their users post, and grants them the power to remove items at their discretion they find objectionable. Some have proposed simply removing the liability protections, which would render sites that allow users to write whatever they want suddenly subject to liability of hundreds of millions of users. It would also effectively destroy the Internet, since nobody would be willing to assume the risk of hosting somebody else’s material that might be defamatory.

Some have called for conservatives to boycott these platforms and to take their business elsewhere or to make their own platforms, but what sort of echo chamber would we wind up with? More to the point, to win elections, Republicans have to appeal to independents and unaffiliated voters. You buy ads where there’s ad space to reach undecideds. Insular practices of exclusively only talking to partisans on your side is a recipe for being in the minority for a very long time. It does not grow a political movement to do that.

This author has posited that perhaps Congress could narrowly expand the franchise of protected groups under civil rights to include politics, philosophy and the like (although excluding employment hiring for exclusive organizations like political parties and organizations) and defining interactive computer services as public accommodations so that services cannot be denied on the basis of partisan differences. Throw in banking, DNS resolution, web hosting and email services as public accommodations while we’re at it for good measure.

From the perspectives of the Big Tech companies, surely they have noticed a marked uptick in calls to regulate their firms? Conservatives complain about censorship. Elizabeth Warren is worried about smaller businesses. The calls for regulation are directly proportionate to how powerful these firms have become. Do any of the above options sound profitable or more like a regulatory headache that will cost millions or billions of dollars to manage?

And these are not even things we would normally consider, but throw in the prospect of censorship and suddenly it’s an existential matter of survival. Republicans who might normally defend these companies from regulation might look the other way when it comes up now. See how that works?

The truth is, I’m taking time out of my column to focus on this issue and so are many other organizations that are worried they too could be censored. The platforms we’re talking about have such market saturation that is so pervasive it could be utilized to discriminate on the basis of politics in order foster conditions conducive to one-party rule, which I believe to be dangerous.

More broadly, groups like Americans for Limited Government and political parties depend on a competitive political system to function. If we and others like us were suddenly barred from posting on social media or hosting a website or sending emails, suffice to say we would not function for much longer.

In a representative form of government, political parties’ access to media and their followers are critical to building and growing constituencies, and in the digital age these represent a digital sort of civil rights, and they must be protected in order for that system to continue to exist. One party systems do not respect civil rights. They squelch dissent to consolidate power and they target political opponents and critics of the system.

The great Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli supposed that there were but two forms of government, republics and principalities, perhaps for that reason. One is ruled by the consent of the governed and the separation of powers, and the other by the will and domination of the state and over time needs to instill fear in order to govern.

There are liberal democracies that foster debate, and then there are one party systems that demand loyalty to the state. There’s not much in between.

The alarming trends we’re seeing with Big Tech companies engaging in censorship in the pursuit of “fairness” look a lot like a bid for one party rule. And the thing about one party systems is, once you have one, it’s really, really hard to get rid of it and there’s no guarantee that your favored class will be represented in its leadership. Sometimes those who support the rise of such a system wind up being marginalized by it. Look no further than Elizabeth Warren to see what lies at the end of that tunnel. Is it worth the risk? Be careful what you wish for.

 

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. He is also a guest contributor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

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Democratic Debate: Part II

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Well, this is going to be easy to write. Wednesday night’s Democratic debate (that wasn’t a debate) was pretty tame and stuffed to the brim with a whole lot of “meh.” Last night’s Democratic debate (that was slightly more of a debate) had more fire. Not, much - but a bit. 

And here’s the thing. It was so painfully, clearly obvious that Senator Kamala Harris came out on top that I don’t actually have anything quippy to say. I mean, when the issue of race came up, Harris beat Joe Biden down like he was an amateur. (Editor’s note: This is the same link as the one on the front page). 

Just like Warren on the previous evening’s debates, Harris was razor sharp across the board and was, again (as we always say) … presidential. I think Biden, Warren and Sanders have been the obvious front runners but that’s simply because they’ve raised a lot of money and get a lot of press. Which is important. 

And, while it’s true that I don’t think you can have much of a “debate” when you only allow each candidate 60 seconds to answer questions (because you’re not really going to get to the meat of the deal.)  That being said, when you put ten people up on the stage, sometimes it does become clear - “who is out of their league?” 

And, there was a whole lot of “this candidate is out of their league.” Andrew Yang, who is mainly an “automation is a huge problem” candidate (he’s right); self-help author Marianne Williamson, former Gov. John Hickenlooper; Rep. Eric Swalwell (who had a nice “pass the torch” exchange with Biden); Sen. Kristen Gillibrand; and finally Sen. Michael Bennet - all of which, performed well (except, perhaps for Williamson) but are clearly just “out of their league.” 

Which brings it down to Harris, Biden, Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Frankly, Biden kind of bungled it. Harris clearly got under his skin and it showed. After her beat down exchange, Biden awkwardly tried to explain his positions but it didn’t matter. From that point on he was stony faced and submissive. He, quite literally, lost -  and he knew it.

Sanders was … well, he was Sanders. He didn’t offer anything that he hasn’t been consistently saying his entire career in politics - free health care, go after wall street and big Pharma, end student loan debt. His usual playbook. BUT THEN, he said something that I thought took guts. When asked if he would “raise taxes on the middle class,” he told the truth. He said, “Yes.” Because - that’s how government pays for things. 

I mean, politicians usually say “no” to that question (and then raise taxes on the middle class anyway). So, at least Sanders is consistent and truthful. And I do like Sanders but, compared to the youth on stage he really did stand out as … old. 

So, I wouldn’t say Sanders lost the debate in the same way that Biden did; however, Sanders, I feel, probably didn’t win over new voters. 

Which brings us to Pete Buttigieg, or “Mayor Pete” as his constituents know him. He’s still not mainstream well known but is considered a rising star on the left. And he is. He’s incredibly smart. He’s extremely well spoken. He’s a veteran having served in Afghanistan. He has governing experience (several years Mayor). And, to be honest - he’s just flat out likable. I don’t see him as a front runner though. He’s just too unknown. But, perhaps a VP pick or a cabinet position?

Anyway, it all comes down to this. Biden has the money. He has the reputation. But he got his butt handed to him by the fiery Senator Harris. Who also has money. Primary’s are still a long way away and anything could happen, but after two nights of hearing twenty candidates, it really does look like these folks are at the head of the pack: 

Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Bernie Sanders and VP Joe Biden (even though he lost big time last night, I wouldn’t count him out just yet). Then I would add both Julian Castro and Mayor Pete near the top of the race as they appear to be exceptionally good candidates … that probably don’t have a chance to make the top of the ticket.

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Democratic Debate: Part I

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I probably know what you’re thinking. Either - “I hate all the libtard Democrats and don’t care what they have to say” or, “There are too bloody many Democratic Presidential nominees for me to care what any of the non-front runners have to say (because we all know the three obvious front runners are Biden, Warren and Sanders.)”

Fair enough. But last night’s debate (that wasn’t actually a debate) held a few surprising moments. But, only a few. I mean, Warren basically - crushed everyone. And, I say, “wasn’t actually a debate” because, rarely did the candidates - debate one another and when you only get 60 seconds to answer complex policy questions then, well - it’s not a debate.

Anyway. A few takeaways:

In his after the “debate that wasn’t actually a debate” coverage Trevor Noah was spot on when he said, “This was a chance for many of the unknown candidates to introduce themselves to a national audience. They could go from who is that?” - all the way too … “ooooooh, yeaaah - that guy! (pause). No, I’m not going to vote for him. No.” (It’s probably a bit funnier when Noah says it).   

And it was one hundred percent true! There were at least three people on stage where I had that exact moment of “who” to “oh, him” to “nope.” Let’s call them “the debate that wasn’t actually a debate losers” - Tim Ryan, John Delaney, Jay Inslee. I’m not even going to rank them on their policy choices because, most of the Democrats have similar ideas (in the same way the most Republican’s have similar ideas). These three public figures just, well, quite figuratively - didn’t even need to be at the “debate.”  It’s not like any of them were bad, per say. They, along with Klobuchar, were all fine (even though she kept getting cut off). But all of them were just kind of. “meh.” 

And “meh” will NEVER beat Donald Trump. 

Then, we come to the nights actual loser. And there really is only one actual loser and that’s Beto O'Rourke. He’s been polling fairly high. People seem to like him. I was expecting him to, at the very least - beat out Bill de Blasio in the debate but - nope. De Blasio beat down O'Rourke on multiple occasions and Beto came off as kind of a stammering dolt. De Blasio did what New Yorkers do (I lived there for many years), they shout over you to get their point across, and they expect you to do the same to them to get your point across too! 

I swear, walking the streets of NYC, I’ve seen that exact scenario dozens and dozens of times. Two New Yorker’s, usually men - have a minor dispute over something, then yell at each other to get their point across. And then they’re both like, “Oh, cool, that’s your point. I understand it now.” 

And then they literally shake hands and are like, “We should grab a beer some time,” and walk away from each other.  

Lots of folks outside of NY are appalled by this kind of behavior. Especially if you’re from the passive aggressive Midwest. I think it’s kind of great, TBH. Get it out in the open and then move on. 

Anyway. That’s my take on De Blasio. He’s a typical New Yorker. He might actually do well against Trump. Can you imagine the debates between those two. Because I’m thinking -  Shouting. Match.

Alas, it’s really not going to be De Blasio. He might stick around for a bit but … nope. Not him.  

Moving on. Tulsi Gabbard and Cory Booker both came out fine, Booker probably more so. In fact, along with De Blasio, I expect both of them to be in the race for a while - until they all drop out and offer their full support for the obvious front runners - Warren, Sanders, Biden. 

Which brings me to the remaining two stand out stars of last nights “way too many candidates on stage” debate (that wasn’t a debate.)

The first, truly great stand out star: Julian Castro. As the kids these days say, Julian Castro - “killed it.” He was razor sharp on policy, he was razor sharp on social reform, he was a charismatic speaker, he was comfortable on stage and he was, as we all like to say - “presidential.” My opinion on this seems to be par for the course because Castro shot up on Google about 4000% and trended himself right to the top of the candidates list. 

But … honestly … it probably won’t matter. Because, the second stand out from last night was Elizabeth Warren. Warren just crushed everyone the first half of the “debate.” The second half she had much less speaking time and so other folks were able to step up more and “meh” the heck out over everyone watching.  

As sharp as Castro was on policy, social reform and being “presidential,” Warren has pretty much been doing exactly that for the last few months. And she continued to do it at last night’s debate.

I would love to see Castro right at the top with the three front runners and the other two popular candidates (Harris & Buttigieg) but I honestly don’t see any of them taking down Warren, Sanders or Biden. 

And, if that’s not enough Democratic candidate talk for you. Well, don’t worry! There are another ten candidates speaking tonight! And only two of them are named Sanders and Biden. You know, the obvious front runners. 

But, then again - you never know who will stand out and who will tank but I guess we’ll find out tonight. 

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will leave her position at the end of the month. Apparently, she plans to run for office somewhere with some speculating a gubernatorial run in her home state of Arkansas. Which, to be honest, is a little odd, as Hutchinson just won a reelection for Governor in 2018, so the next election won’t happen until 2022. It seems a little strange to me that Sanders would leave the press secretary job at the end of the month so she can - run for office years from now?

But, maybe. I guess campaigns do take a long time to build.

Regardless, Sanders has been something of a controversial figure. Her literal job description is to “act as spokesperson for the executive branch of the US government administration, especially with regard to the president, senior executives and policies.”  Okay, fair enough. But, she hasn’t held a press conference in something like four months, and has only held eight press conferences in the last year. So, I don’t really know what she does at work all day long.

How long would you keep your job if you only did your actual job description like, once every four months? Because I know I wouldn’t have my job long if I did that.

Anyway, it also does appear, to even the most casual observer that, even when she does speak to the press (which is, again - literally her job), she seems to have a hard time speaking truthfully, on behalf of said administration. From June 13th, Vanity Fair piece, “As Sarah Sanders Signs Off, A Look Back At Some Of Her Biggest Lies:

“In fact, it appears that the only known instance of Sanders telling the truth involved a nine-year-old nicknamed “Pickle” writing a letter to the White House about how much he likes Donald Trump. But her track record was so bad that initially, no one believed her.”

Okay, that’s a little snarky - but kind of funny. I mean, I doubt it’s the “only known instance of Sanders telling the truth” but it does illustrate the amount of times Sanders created “alternative facts.” And, here’s a pro tip for life - there is no such thing as an “alternative fact.” The phrase, “alternative fact” just a funny way of saying, “I’m lying my @$$ off” and/or “I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

But, whatever.  It’s not like the new White House press secretary will be more truthful. Hopefully, though, whomever it is - he or she will actually, you know - hold press conferences and “act as spokesperson for the Executive Branch.”

Basically, their job.

That’s probably wishful thinking on my part but a man can dream, can’t he?  

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Amash condoning FISA spying

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U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on May 18 called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump in a Twitter thread, accusing him of committing obstruction of justice and “conduct that violates the public trust,” citing the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as justification.

Nowhere in the Twitter thread did Amash make a specific allegation of which conduct by President Trump he was referring to that obstructed justice or violated the public trust — although he said there were “multiple examples”. In May 2017, Amash did indicate that President Trump firing former FBI Director James Comey could be a basis for impeachment, a topic the Mueller report does consider, so let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that in part that is what he’s talking about.

Critically, nowhere in the Twitter thread did Amash mention Russia or the fact that the Mueller report had found no coordination or conspiracy with Russia by President Trump, his campaign or any American for that matter to interfere in the 2016 elections.

Mueller stated in the report, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” It also stated, “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”

That is important because the only reason President Trump was under investigation in the first place were false allegations made by former British spy Christopher Steele, beginning in the summer of 2016, paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, that Trump was a Russian agent and his campaign had coordinated the hack of the DNC and posting the emails on Wikileaks with Russia. Those allegations were given to the FBI and eventually formed the basis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application against the Trump campaign in Oct. 2016.

Amash has always been a hawk on reining in FISA abuse. In July 2013, Americans for Limited Government supported his efforts to rein in mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). In Jan. 2018, when the USA Rights Act came up as an amendment by Amash, Americans for Limited Government again supported it, specifically because we believed if it had been law, the FISA abuse that occurred in 2016 would not have been possible, and that it might be a means of preventing it.

When more information about the Steele dossier’s role in the FISA warrant began to be known in Feb. 2018 with the release of the House Select Committee on Intelligence memorandum, Amash responded on Twitter calling for Congress to enact the USA Rights Act if members of Congress were concerned about FISA abuse.

Of the memo, Amash said, “The central allegation is that a warrant was obtained fraudulently or without sufficient cause. If true, it shows the dangers of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, something @libertycaucus and @freedomcaucus members have been saying for a long time.”

Amash noted, “the section of FISA discussed in the memo requires probable cause and a warrant.” Here, Amash is referring to 50 U.S. Code Sec. 1805(a)(2), which would have required probable cause that Carter Page, then a Trump campaign official, was acting as a foreign agent for the warrant to be issued.

But there was no probable cause. Steele, we now know in the Oct. 2016 FISA warrant application obtained by Judicial Watch in July 2018 in a Freedom of Information Act request, used “sub-source(s),” and the court was fully aware that Steele was not an eye-witness to the allegations. It stated Steele “tasked his sub-source(s) to collect the requisite information.” And then, after Steele “received information from the sub-source(s),” it was passed along to the FBI. So, the court knew it was second-hand or third-hand information, or hearsay.

These were rumors that were given to the FISA Court. The information was unverified, something Steele would later admit in testimony, saying that the allegations needed to be “further corroborated and verified.” Steele said his sources were Kremlin officals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but so far no evidence has been presented publicly he actually spoke to those sources directly.

In fact, Steele never went to Russia. Instead, according to testimony by Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Nov. 2017, Steele hired “a network of sources who live in or came from the place that you’re interested in… who can travel and talk to people and find out what’s going on” to get the dirt. But we don’t know who, since, per Simpson, “I didn’t ask for the specific identities of specific people.”

On why didn’t Steele go to Russia himself, Simpson said “[H]e really would not be safe if he went to Russia. He’s been exposed as a former undercover British Intelligence officer who worked in Moscow. So it wouldn’t be wise for him to go to Russia.”

March 2017 Vanity Fair piece about Steele by Howard Blum similarly stated, “[Steele] could count on an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years. There was no safe way he could return to Russia to do the actual digging; the vengeful F.S.B. would be watching him closely. But no doubt he had a working relationship with knowledgeable contacts in London and elsewhere in the West, from angry émigrés to wheeling-and-dealing oligarchs always eager to curry favor with a man with ties to the Secret Service, to political dissidents with well-honed axes to grind. And, perhaps most promising of all, he had access to the networks of well-placed Joes — to use the jargon of his former profession — he’d directed from his desk at London Station, assets who had their eyes and ears on the ground in Russia.”

McCain Institute Senior Director for Human Rights and Human Freedoms David Kramer, testified in federal court about when he met Steele to get the dossier after the 2016 election, with the purpose of giving it to the late Sen. John McCain. Kramer said Steele told him, in Kramer’s words, “what was produced … needed to be corroborated and verified, he himself did not feel that he was in a position to vouch for everything that was produced…”

In May 2017, former FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.”

By the time President Trump was being inaugurated in Jan. 2017, the dossier had been published by Buzzfeed. It was known as early as April 2017 that the dossier had been used in the FISA warrant application. That was a month before Comey was fired by President Donald Trump for lying to him about the extent of the investigation.

In his order firing Comey, Trump wrote, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

Steele had alleged in July 2016 that not only had Russia hacked the Democrats and put the emails on Wikileaks, which was already public knowledge since June 2016, but that Trump and his campaign helped with “full knowledge and support” of the operation. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as campaign advisor Carter Page when he traveled to Moscow in July 2016, were both named by Steele as the key intermediaries to the Kremlin. Steele said then-Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague in the summer of 2016 to meet with Russian agents to mop up the fallout of the supposed operation.

The Mueller report debunked those claims, stating, “In particular, the Office did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control or request — during the relevant time period.”

Manafort was brought up on unrelated tax and bank fraud charges. Papadopoulos pled guilty of lying to investigators about his start date with the Trump campaign. Page was not charged with anything. As for Cohen, per the Mueller report, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague…” And so, he very well could not have been there meeting with Russian intelligence officials.

Trump knew all along and was well aware there was no basis for the investigation. For example, it was known as early as Jan. 2017 that Cohen had never traveled to Prague. Trump himself was also in a position to know that Steele’s allegations that he was Russian agent were false. So, when it became public that the FBI relied on false allegations to get electronic surveillance on the Trump campaign, and that the investigation into Trump had been carried over into his administration, which Comey lied about to Trump, the President had more than ample basis for firing Comey.

The only reason Mueller was appointed was because Trump fired Comey, who was leading the investigation — which turned out to be into a crime that was not committed by Trump or his team. At the time, Amash was already on the record in May 2017 saying that the firing could be the basis for impeaching Trump.

But Comey should have been fired. The FISA warrant, which Comey signed, and the ensuing investigation that carried over into the Trump administration in 2017 was all based on false information.

The FBI had reason to doubt Steele and his sources, and yet kept going back to renew the FISA warrant. A New York Times report Scott Shane, Adam Goldman and Matthew Rosenberg on April 20 that in Jan. 2017 reported the FBI interviewed one of the main sources for the dossier and came away with “misgivings about its reliability [that] arose not long after the document became public” in Jan. 2017.

Per the Times report: “By January 2017, F.B.I. agents had tracked down and interviewed one of Mr. Steele’s main sources, a Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West, according to a Justice Department document and three people familiar with the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. After questioning him about where he’d gotten his information, they suspected he might have added his own interpretations to reports passed on by his sources, one of the people said. For the F.B.I., that made it harder to decide what to trust.”

What is disappointing about Amash is he has previously championed FISA reform in 2013 after the NSA mass surveillance program was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. What does Amash imagine should happen to government officials who abuse the federal government’s spying powers? Should they get promotions or something?

By defending Comey’s actions, which permitted the FISA court to be defrauded by Steele, the DNC and the Clinton campaign even after the FBI knew it was a fiction, and condemning Trump’s actions to fire Comey, Amash is condoning the use of FISA to spy on a presidential campaign, the opposition party, in an election year, for crimes, conspiracy with Russia to interfere with the election, that were not committed by Trump, his campaign or any American.

In short, Amash is buying the Justice Department’s official rationale for the Russian collusion investigation that there was “probable cause” that Trump was a Russian agent when we know for a fact that was a lie today. The court was given false information. The call for impeachment comes despite the fact that in Feb. 2018, Amash said that “a warrant… obtained fraudulently or without sufficient cause… shows the dangers of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

I suppose now Amash no longer believes that fraudulent FISA warrants are dangerous if they’re taken out against his political opponents, like President Trump.

Ironically, Amash now warns that “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome.” He added, “When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law — the foundation of liberty — crumbles.”

I agree, and in this case, Amash might want to take his own advice. In July 2013, when the House debated his amendment barring suspicionless surveillance, Amash asked, “When you had the chance to stand up for Americans’ privacy, did you?” Today, Amash is failing his own test. So blinded by his apparent political hatred of President Trump is he, Amash is ignoring the flagrant abuse of spying authorities that occurred in 2016 against a political campaign that most certainly endangers the liberty of all Americans. For shame.

 

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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. He is also a guest contributor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

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Polls won't tell you who can beat Trump

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Pollsters love to do general election matchup polls early in the process to figure out which candidates would fare the best against a sitting incumbent president like Donald Trump. The idea is to give primary voters of one party or another an idea of which candidate is the most “electable.”

For example, in April 2011, Democracy Corps published a poll that showed Mitt Romney could defeat then-President Barack Obama, 48 percent to 46 percent. In Oct. 2011, another CNN-Opinion Research poll showed Romney leading 50 percent to 45 percent.

But we all know how it turned out. Even after showdowns with House Republicans over the debt ceiling in 2011 — which resulted in budget sequestration that helped reduce the deficit — Obama went on to comfortably win re-election in 2012.

So, how much stock should we put in the Politico-Morning Consult poll that shows former Vice President Joe Biden at 42 percent versus President Donald Trump at 36 percent? Almost none.

The question, particularly for first term presidents, is whether voters think it is time for a change, or if they are willing to be patient while the incumbent party finishes what it started.

In modern history, since 1952, that has yielded a fairly high re-election rate for incumbent parties in their first terms. Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956, Lyndon Johnson won John Kennedy’s second term in 1964, Richard Nixon was re-elected in 1972, Jimmy Carter was ousted in 1980, Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984, Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996, George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 and Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012.

All told, in modern history, in 87.5 percent of the cases where the incumbent party had served one term it tended to be re-elected.

Readers will note that George H.W. Bush is not included in that listing. The reason for that is he won Reagan’s third term — that is, the third consecutive term that Republicans had held the White House. So, his being ousted in 1992 was less surprising because it came after 12 years of uninterrupted Republican rule in the White House. The same applies to Gerald Ford, who in 1976 was running for essentially Nixon’s third term, and Lyndon Johnson and then Hubert Humphrey in 1968 running for a third Democratic term.

But even if you include Bush and Ford in the mix as far as how sitting presidents have fared in a general election, in 70 percent of cases they have won since 1952. If you want to go back to World War II, Harry Truman won election in 1948 as a sitting president, and the number jumps up to about 73 percent.

If you look as far back as the beginning of the republic, sitting presidents who have stood for re-election in the general election have won about 70 percent of the time, although it is worth noting that until the 1800s, state legislatures generally chose electors.

So, there’s a distinct incumbency advantage, especially for first-term presidents that should give Trump an edge in 2020 no matter who the candidate is.

Particularly when it comes to presidents, in modern history, the American people, particularly independents, do not aspire to one-party rule. Swing voters tend to decide elections nowadays, and after just one term, they are still a lot more likely to give the incumbent the benefit of the doubt.

Where the rubber meets the road, and what separates one-term presidents from two-term presidents, will be the primaries. Biden or whoever is going to win the Democratic nomination must first compete and win the nomination, and do so in commanding fashion (rather than being bloodied along the way), to have a good chance to oust the incumbent.

Simultaneously, whoever the Democrat nominee is would need President Trump to have a bruising primary contest for the nomination to even out the odds. If Trump is vulnerable, it should be revealed in the primaries. But is William Weld really a credible threat to Trump? We’ll find out soon.

In modern history, unchallenged incumbents have tended to cruise to reelection. The likelihood of unseating an incumbent in the primary is close to zero, but real damage can be wrought to harm to his re-election chances. For more information, check out Stony Brook University Professor Helmut Norpoth’s primary model, which offers a guide to some of these trends. (Disclosure: I took his class!)

President Trump and Republicans have been in power for just two years and change. Is it already time for a change? History says the odds are - not yet.

--

Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government. He is also a guest contributor to the Penny Press - the conservative weekly "voice of Nevada." You can subscribe here at www.pennypressnv.com. His column has been reprinted in full, with permission. 

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Opinion: The Mueller Report

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By now you all know that the full (but redacted) Mueller report has been made available to the public. I am slogging through it now. It’s long. Four hundred and eighty eight pages long. And I’m only one guy. It’s gonna take me awhile to get through it all.

But I have read a decent amount of it. It’s broke down into two volumes.

Volume I details Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and "if the Trump Team conspired with the Russians."  

Volume II deals with the president's “actions towards the FBI investigation” and if any of said actions are "obstruction of justice."

So far - I have some thoughts.  

So, what does the Mueller report actually say about Russian interference and collusion?

A lot. Like, way more than I ever expected it to. From Mueller’s introduction to Volume I of the report:

“The Russian Government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016. In June, the DNC and its cyber response team publicly announced that Russian hackers had compromised its computer network. Release of hacked materials -hacks that public reporting soon attributed to the Russian government-began that same month …. Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos … (said) that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The information prompted the FBI on July 31st, 2016, to open an investigation into weather individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.

That fall, two federal agencies jointly announced that the Russian government “directed recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including US political organizations,” and, “these thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

So, this all makes it very, very clear that Russia, a hostile foreign power, endlessly interfered in the US presidential election. That’s not even in debate.

The next part of the introduction talks about how Mueller was assigned, came on board in May of 2017 as Special Counsel and was authorized to investigate “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election,” including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.

Okay. We all know this. And then the report clearly says this:

“As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered …. principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Hrmmm. The words “numerous links,” and “did not establish” don’t seem to fit together. Let me unpackage it all:

  1. The report says the Russians interfered. Like - a lot. Like - a huge amount. The Russians …
    1. committed cyber terrorism by stealing documents and materials from our government. Then, using that information, ran social media campaigns against Clinton. And because of the large amount of Trump / Russian business connections, the Russians -
    2. knew a Trump White House would be more sympathetic to the Russian cause and so they …
    3. contacted the Trump Campaign and said “We have a bunch of stolen information that will help you (Trump) win the election. Do you want it?”
  2. The Trump campaign went, “What?!? Heck yes we’ll take all your stolen goods in order to win the election!”
  3. And so the Trump Campaign met with Russian personnel in order to exchange stolen goods and documents.  
  4. But since there was no long term agreement between the two parties to interfere in the election, that means …

Mueller felt that the while the Russians instigated cyber terrorism and the Trump team accepted the stolen material there was technically “no collusion,” because both groups acted independently towards the same mutually beneficial goal.   

Okay. I understand. That’s fair. The Trump team never called up the Russians and said, “Can you steal a bunch of stuff in order to help us win the election?” In which case, for it to be collusion, then the Russians would have to respond with, “Of course! We’ll break into the US Government and steal a bunch of information that will help you win!” Because that specific agreement - tacit or express - did not seem to happen - then there was “no collusion.”

Which … is not exactly how Barr’s four page summary spun it. But, whatever. 

Also, I’m only about fifty pages into the report so far. 

More to come.  

The 2019 Chicago mayoral election was held on Feb. 26th but since no candidate received a majority of votes, a runoff election was held on April 2nd between the two candidates with the most votes - Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle.  

Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, won the runoff election by a 50 point margin and will become the city’s first black woman and openly gay person elected mayor of Chicago. Lightfoot ran on a platform that she would clean up Chicago’s well known, historic level of corruption. And she is not wrong. I mean, did you know that four of Illinois’s last ten Governors were or are currently in prison? For corruption. Seriously.

Otto Kerner, Governor from 1961-1968 - sentenced to three years in prison for bribery.

Dan Walker, Governor from 1973-1977 - spent a few years in prison for bank fraud.

George Ryan, Governor from 1999-2003 - spent several years in prison for racketeering.

Rod Blagojevich - Governor from 2002-2009, impeached and currently serving a 14 year prison sentence for corruption.

And even though Rahm Emanuel has never been actually accused of a crime his tenure as Chicago’s mayor has certainly not been scandal free. As Rick Perlstein points out in his excellent, “The Sudden But Well-Deserved Fall of Rahm Emanuel” for the New Yorker,

“….Emanuel had became the mayor of Chicago, elected with fifty-five per cent of the vote in the spring of 2011. Since then, there have been so many scandals in Emanuel’s administration that have failed to gain traction that it’s hard to single them out.”

Well, Rahm decided not to run again and opened the way for Lightfoot. Lightfoot has never held public office but as a former federal prosecutor she certainly knows how to go after crime. The city has actually only had one black mayor, Harold Washington Jr., who was elected in the early 80’s but only held office for a few months before dying of a heart attack at the age of 65.

Lightfoot certainly has her work cut out for her as Chicago universally wins yearly “most corrupt city in the US” awards from all the right and wrong places. Even their very own University of Illinois releases a yearly report on corrupt cities and Chicago is always number one with either L.A. or NYC (Manhattan) switching places back and forth for the second and third spot.

Lori Lightfoot will assume the office of Chicago mayor on May 20th, 2019.

Editor's note: Mueller investigators are coming forward to say that the report is far more damaging to the President than the AG (Barr) has let on. Which, is probably true. And that's why Congress should be able to read it.

 

Former special investigator Robert Mueller turned in his several hundred page report on Friday morning. I’m sure you’ve heard all about it - the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 16' Presidential election.  No one outside of the Attorney General (and maybe his office) has seen the full report and so far, only a four page summary has been sent to Congress. The only thing we “know” is from the four page summary, which quotes Mueller’s report as saying, “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election.”

Well, that’s kind of hard to misinterpret, you know? It sounds like the report is exonerating the President of all guilt. Right? And it might - for collusion. But the report also says, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Argh to prosecutor double speak!

As someone who once worked on a lot of legal depositions, I know prosecution speech when I hear it. It sounds as if Mueller is saying, “I don’t think that President Trump and team colluded with the Russians” but he’s also saying, “but Trump still might be guilty of obstruction of justice, I just didn’t find enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in court to a jury.”

Prosecutors all over the world struggle with that exact issue. They might honestly believe a suspect is guilty of a crime and the suspect in fact - might actually be guilty.  But a prosecutor’s belief in the suspect’s guilt - doesn’t prove anything. A prosecutor needs evidence, and then they have to spend taxpayer money in order to prosecute in a court of law.

Fair enough.

What the report does NOT say is that President Trump and team are innocent of all crimes. What the report does NOT say is that the Russians did not interfer in the 2016 Presidential election.

Of course, conservatives are lining up to say the President is innocent of everything and the Mueller report proves it. And Democrats are lining up to say, “Well, maybe - but we need to read the full report because something is fishy here!” And, I do agree at the very least, Congress should receive the full report. I mean, you could convince me that the press and/or regular folks don’t NEED to see the full report (we might want to see it, though). I mean, there are plenty of state or federal secrets and/or sensitive materials that are probably buried within the Mueller Report and I would be okay if the DOJ was like, “No, the general public will not see the full report.”

But Congress? Um, what possible justification could you use to claim that Congress shouldn’t be able to see the full report? The entire legislative branch should be able to read the full report! Congress practically runs the country or at the very least, allows the country to function. They already have top secret clearance so there is no reason the report should be withheld from them. Also, they legislate laws and the report clearly has evidence of Russian interference in the 16’ election, which they might need to legislate laws to protect the U.S. elections from future interference. Withholding the full report from Congress is, frankly, a little suspicious. So give the full report to Congress. 

Not that anyone asks me. =)

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: Round II

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The 116th Congress opened today with second time speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) as Speaker of the House. Despite the pointless “Never Nancy” posturing of several freshman (and a few veteran) Congress Folk - Nancy Pelosi is the first and second woman to hold the role of Speaker. She’s also the first congressperson to win the role a second time since 1955.

 

That being said, in order to appease some of the vocal “Never Nancy” folks, Pelosi made some behind closed doors deals with them (which, is all they wanted in the first place) and  agreed to step down as Speaker after a four year term.

 

Pelosi won with 220 votes (of the 218 she needed to win), defeating Republican nominee Kevin McCarthy who now takes the role as Minority Speaker. Here are all the leaders for the 116th Congress (from the House.gov site).

 

As for the “why” of the “Never Nancy” folks? Well, it doesn’t matter much now (the “pointless “Never Nancy” link above explains some of it), but a lot of them were merely “out with the old, in the with new” types. Which is totally fair. But Nancy Pelosi has become the most powerful female politician the US has ever seen. For a reason. And so all the, “out with the old, in with the new,” folk, as fine an idea as it is, might want to apply some common sense and reason in respect to our current political climate. Experience might be what we actually need to move forward.

 

Or not. Maybe the “Never Nancy” folks are correct. I guess we’re all about to find out. As for the dissenters - I often find great interest in what dissenters against popular opinion have to say and I am keeping my eye on them. They may have lost this battle but as they say - the war is not over, yet.

 

Here are the congress people who voted for someone other than/against Pelosi:

Freshmen: Anthony Brindisi (New York), Jim Cooper (Tennessee), Jason Crow (Colorado), Joe Cunningham (South Carolina), Ron Kind (Wisconsin), Conor Lamb (Pennsylvania) Ben McAdams (Utah), Max Rose (New York), Kathleen Rice (New York), Mikie Sherrill (New Jersey), Kurt Schrader (Oregon), Elissa Slotkin (Michigan), Abigail Spanberger (Virginia), Jeff Van Drew (New Jersey) and Jared Golden (Maine).

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