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Conspiracy



All Reason.com articles with the "Conspiracy" tag.



Published: Mon, 22 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2018 15:47:23 -0500

 



Trump Turns One

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 09:30:00 -0500

The 45th president does not tend to elicit measured evaluations. Since even before his formal entry into national politics in 2015, Trump has acted as a powerful magnet on the body politic—attracting and repelling onlookers with equal force. A year ago, as we prepared to see a former reality television star sworn into the highest office on Earth, predictions abounded regarding the effects he was about to have on the country and the world. On one side were confident assertions that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, bring back manufacturing jobs, and end political correctness once and for all. On the other were fears that he was a racist and a dimwit who would certainly abuse the powers of his station and might well start a nuclear war. On the Trump presidency's first birthday, the reality is less extreme than either set of prognosticators envisioned. The Republican Party under his leadership managed one major legislative accomplishment—tax reform that cut the corporate rate and is projected to add nearly $1.5 trillion to the debt—and failed after months of wrangling to enact an Obamacare replacement. Tensions with foreign governments from Iran to Russia to North Korea continue to simmer. The stock market has followed a dramatic upward trajectory, yet anger continues to grow over perceived wealth and income inequality. With the midterm elections now 10 months away, political polarization seems to hit new highs daily, but in many ways the checks and balances of our federalist system are working to keep even the current unscrupulous White House occupant from actualizing his most ambitious plans. As the 365-day mark approaches, have we reached a milestone worth celebrating or taken just another step in our national descent to unthinkable places? Reason asked 11 experts to weigh in on Trump's record so far. From positive signs on transportation policy and regulatory rollback to a worrying rise in nationalist sentiments and redoubled efforts to cleanse the United States of undocumented immigrants, the answers were a mixed bag, highlighting just how much uncertainty awaits the country in the year to come. —Stephanie Slade TAXES AND HEALTH CARE: Victory, Sort of, Maybe Peter Suderman At the beginning of 2017, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers that the new Congress would repeal Obamacare and pass deficit-neutral tax reform by August. At summer's end, Republicans, despite holding majorities in both chambers, had accomplished neither. But eventually they would accomplish parts of each. In March, the House was set to hold a vote on legislation that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act while setting up a new system of related federal tax credits. Ryan was initially forced to pull the bill from the floor due to lack of support, but after making a series of tweaks intended to provide states with more flexibility, the body passed a health care bill in May. GOP leaders congratulated themselves for making progress on the issue, but the plaudits were premature. The bill stalled out in the Senate. By September, the Obamacare repeal effort was dead and Republicans had moved on to more comfortable territory: rewriting the tax code. At the center of the new effort was a significant cut to America's corporate tax rate, which at 35 percent was the highest in the developed world. Donald Trump had campaigned on slashing it to 15 percent. The GOP aimed for 20. At first, the tax effort went much like the health care effort. There were disagreements between the House, which hoped to partially offset any revenue losses with spending cuts, and the Senate, which gave itself permission to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. Republican senators also disagreed among themselves: Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R–Tenn.) worried about sinking the country further into the red, for instance, while Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) wanted a potentially pricey increase in the child tax credit. Moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) meanwhile reserved judgment for other reasons—such as[...]



Don't Blame Ron Paul for Donald Trump

Wed, 17 Jan 2018 19:45:00 -0500

James Kirchick, writing in The New York Review of Books, offers the thesis that Donald Trump and his cause are somehow the fault of Ron Paul, the former Republican congressman from Texas and two-time seeker of the Republican presidential nomination (and one-time candidate of the Libertarian Party, in 1988). Trump, the headline asserts, owes a "Debt to Ron Paul's Paranoid Style." His bill of particulars connecting Paul and Trump: Kirchick in 2007 "had obtained a trove of newsletters that the libertarian gadfly had intermittently published from the late 1970s through to the mid 1990s, which were chock-full of conspiratorial, racist, and anti-government ravings." Further, "The ideological similarities between the two men, and the ways in which they created support, are striking." Among them in policy terms are that both men spoke out against entangling military alliances and the notion that we must be relentless foes of Russia; both said things that might appeal to white supremacists; and both in their private careers helped sell things to the public that positioned them as false "guru[s] of personal enrichment." Kirchick, perhaps carelessly, seems to imply that Paul was an Obama birther like Trump, which Paul was not. At any rate, Kirchick goes on to argue with quoted examples that the strategy of newsletter-era Ron Paul "was to appeal to voters on three bases—racial animus, anti-elitism, and nativism." He rightly notes that Trump's winning campaign in 2016 played to some of the same themes (two of which are pernicious; one, anti-elitism, is not necessarily so). Kirchick declares that Paul's message "shares the limited government principles of traditional libertarianism but places a heavier emphasis on conservative social values, white racial resentment, and isolationist nationalism." This stew, he notes, fed into a portion (how large a portion Kirchick doesn't pretend to know) of Trump's fan base. Kirchick's evidence connecting Paul and Trump, then, is the reason many people know James Kirchick's name to begin with: newsletters from the 1983–1996 interregnum between two of his stints as a congressman. What Kirchick is implicitly saying is that some of the people surrounding Ron Paul in the late '80s and early '90s—people who believed there was political capital to be gained by mixing anti-government ideas with right-populist white resentment—were not the utter loons assumed by most others in the libertarian community, who watched aghast as it happened in real time. In fact, he suggests, they were shockingly prescient. (Kirchick, like nearly everyone, most certainly including me, clearly also underestimated the political power of that toxic brew.) The gap between Kirchick's evidence and his conclusions, the underappreciated fact that makes this article's causal connection between Paul and Trump fail, is that he doesn't sufficiently stress his own reportorial entrepreneurship. He forgets (or wants the reader to forget) the reason people who hadn't followed Paul closely for most of his career found Kirchick's articles a potentially gamechanging newsbreaker: The Ron Paul who ran in 2008 and 2012 evinced none of those awful qualities that Kirchick highlighted in his reporting on the newsletters (which is why it was easy for most people, supporter and enemy alike, to grant that Paul likely didn't write them in the first place). I witnessed, both in person and via video, many dozens of hours of Ron Paul campaigning in those years. He did not have a standard stump speech, so I cannot authoritatively state he never said anything bad along those lines. But I never heard them. And that an inveterate Paul enemy such as Kirchick never quotes any either lends weight to the notion that white-backlash right-populist rage of the Trump variety was no part of Ron Paul's presidential campaigns. That's important to Kirchick's thesis because the only place where Paul had a significant effect on the minds, thoughts, and allegiances of a mass of Americans was as a campaigner. If not for Kirchick's own work, [...]



Trump Kills Incompetent ‘Election Integrity’ Commission, But His Voter Fraud Conspiracy Theory Lives On

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 12:10:00 -0500

Last night, in an unexpected announcement, President Donald Trump dissolved his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which had been assembled in March to add investigatory heft to the president's factually ludicrous claim that between three million and five million people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton in 2016. The commission, operationally managed by vice chair Kris Kobach, who as Kansas Secretary of State has emerged as the nation's leading elected voter-fraud conspiracist, had been riddled from the start by a lack of transparency, brazen attempts to create a national voter database out of compelled state data, and lawsuits from its own members. Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin spells out in detail how its demise marks "a victory for federalism." But not quite a victory for rationality. The White House's brief statement begins with the defiant sentence, "Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry." This even though Kovach, in his capacity as the official in charge of overseeing elections in Kansas, has prosecuted just nine illegal voters, eight of whom (according to Mother Jones) "were citizens who voted in two different states, and most of them were over 60 years old, owned property in both places, and were confused about voting requirements." The president this morning made a Kinsley gaffe in his tweetsplanation of the decision: Many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 Election to the Commission On Voter Fraud. They fought hard that the Commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018 When the purpose of your commission is to root out a partisan conception of voter fraud, rather than the titular and theoretically bipartisan goal of election integrity, choosing a hack like Kobach makes sense. An advisory body seeking to live up to its actual name would better be composed of officials and specialists with respect on both sides of the aisle (and hopefully among those many on the outside of the two-party system), while focusing on all aspects of potential integrity violations, not just the most popular claim on one side. So does this mark the end of the administration's exertions on the issue? No. Trump "has asked the Department of Homeland Security to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action," whatever that means. And his habit of foregrounding partisan electoral math in personnel and policy decisions involving nonpartisan bodies has also taken expression in the potentially influential location of…the Census Bureau. The Department of Justice last month officially requested that the Census Bureau include in its decennial questionnaire for the first time since 1950 whether respondents are citizens of the United States, arguing that the information is necessary "to fully enforce" the Voting Rights Act. (The bureau does ask about citizenship in its annual American Community Survey, which is conducted on a sample basis, and has little comparative impact.) "This is a recipe for sabotaging the census," Arturo Vargas, a member of the Census Bureau's National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations, alleged to ProPublica. Critics warn that the question, coupled with the Trump administration's increased deportations (and threats thereof) of illegal immigrants, will lead to an undercounting of households, neighborhoods, and populations with higher proportions of undocumented residents. This in turn would change the composition of the House of Representatives, and the way legislative districts are drawn. One way to assuage such suspicions would be to appoint a 2020 Census overseer with an academic and/or civil-service pedigree far removed from the scrum of bare-knuckle politics. Presiden[...]



Roy Moore's Claim of 'Systematic Voter Fraud' Is at Least As Plausible As Trump's

Thu, 28 Dec 2017 13:20:00 -0500

Roy Moore, who is still refusing to concede that he lost the Senate election in Alabama on December 12, has asked a state court to block certification of the results, arguing that his opponent, Doug Jones, benefited from "systematic voter fraud." Moore's recalcitrance is too much even for Donald Trump, who supported the Republican candidate despite the credible allegations of sexual abuse he faced. The president, showing rare magnanimity, congratulated Jones on the night of the election, and two days later his press secretary said Moore's concession speech "should have already taken place." Yet as Matt Welch pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Moore's allegation that Jones stole 20,000 or so votes in Alabama is at least as plausible as Trump's claim that he would have won the popular vote in last year's presidential election if it weren't for "millions of people who voted illegally." Jones beat Moore by 1.5 percentage points, while Hillary Clinton received 2.9 million more votes than Trump, a bit more than 2 percent of the total cast. Moore cites "three national Election Integrity experts" who concluded "with a reasonable degree of statistical and mathematical certainty" that "election fraud occurred." Particularly suspicious, in their view, is the 47 percent voter turnout in Jefferson County, where Jones beat Moore by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham, is the state's most populous county and 43 percent black, compared to 27 percent for the state as a whole. The results in Jefferson County do not look so suspicious when you consider that Moore was repelling Democrats and socially tolerant Republicans with his views on race, religion, and homosexuality long before he was accused of sexually abusing teenagers, which presumably did not make them keener to have him represent them in the Senate. Add the Jones campaign's concerted efforts to increase turnout by black voters, and what Moore sees as evidence of fraud looks more like evidence of revulsion's power to motivate participation in an off-year election. Moore's desperation is evident from an affidavit accompanying his complaint in which he states that he "successfully completed a polygraph test confirming the representations of misconduct made against him during the campaign are completely false." According to the affidavit, "the results of the examination reflected that I did not know, nor had I ever had any sexual contact with any of these individuals." That statement contradicts Moore's admission that he knew at least two of the women who said he dated them when they were teenagers, which gives you a sense of how reliable so-called lie detectors are. Leaving aside Moore's inconsistency and the peudoscience of polygraph tests, his affidavit does nothing to bolster his complaint, since the truth of the charges against him has no bearing on whether people actually voted the way that the soon-to-be-official numbers indicate. Thin as it is, Moore's case for throwing out the election results in Alabama is stronger than Trump's argument that he acually won the popular vote last year. After he took office, Trump told members of Congress somewhere between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election. He still has not provided any evidence to back up that claim, possibly because there is none. Update: Today Alabama Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick rejected Moore's petition, and the Alabama State Canvassing Board certified the vote. The board consists of Gov. Kay Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall, and Secretary of State John Merrill, all Republicans. Merrill voted for Moore but said he has seen no evidence that fraud affected the outcome of the race.[...]



Roy Moore's Trumpian Conspiracy Theorizing About Voter Fraud

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 13:35:00 -0500

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lamented that the concession speech from losing Alabama Republican senate candidate Roy Moore "should have already taken place." This morning, President Donald Trump said that "I think he should" concede. This makes obvious sense, in light of the 1.44-percentage-point lead that Democrat Doug Jones has in the unofficial results, well over the 0.5-point difference that triggers a recount according to Alabama law. Ever since Tuesday night, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill—a Moore supporter—has emphasized that it's "highly unlikely" the ballots will be counted again. But Moore's "the battle rages on" intransigence makes all the sense in the world when judged by the example set by Trump himself. Trump, you'll recall, made the baseless charge three weeks after the 2016 presidential election that "millions of people voted...illegally." In January, he narrowed that figure down to between three million and five million illegal votes. If true—and it isn't—that would mean that between 2.2 percent and 3.7 percent of all votes cast were fraudulent (and monolithically in favor of the Democrat). What happens if you run those same numbers on the Alabama Senate race? Why, Roy Moore has a case! The margin between the top two finishers was 20,715 votes; an illegal voting rate of 2.2 to 3.7 percent would amount to between 29,615 and 49,807 fraudulent ballots cast. Stand tall, Roy! Sadly, Trump's flippant conspiracy theorizing about polling integrity has more than just a cultural influence on the right. The president has made it the basis for his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a garbage fire of an advisory board whose vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is the leading voter-fraud fabulist in the country. Kobach, who is currently running for governor with the support of the president's son, has had ample opportunity to act upon his startling contention that "the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive" in his state. And yet, according to Mother Jones, in 2015 he became the only secretary of state in the country with the power to personally prosecute voter fraud cases. Since then, Kobach's office has convicted just nine people for illegal voting, out of 1.8 million registered voters in the state. Only one of them was a non-citizen. The other eight were citizens who voted in two different states, and most of them were over 60 years old, owned property in both places, and were confused about voting requirements. Among Kobach's bad ideas for the country is a massive federal database of voters (what could go wrong?). The commission is being riddled by lawsuits, including, remarkably, by one of its own members, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (read Dunlap's Washington Post explainer for a snapshot of Trumpian amateurishness). So yes, Roy Moore and his supporters are making fools of themselves spreading hoaxes and indulging in dark fantasies about voter fraud. But such pathologies have a seat in the same White House urging him to concede, and still threaten to convert conspiracy theory into federal election law.[...]



Everything You Wanted To Know About The Volokh Conspiracy: Podcast

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:05:00 -0500

"Intellectual honesty isn't just refraining from lying," says UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh in the newest Reason Podcast. "It's mentioning the arguments against you and explaining why you think that they're mistaken, as opposed to just omitting them, hoping that the audience isn't going to catch on." Volokh is the founder of The Volokh Conspiracy, "one of the most widely read legal blogs in the United States" [which] "has more influence in the field—and more direct impact—than most law reviews." The blog is written by mostly libertarian and libertarian-leaning law professors and court watchers, so we're excited as hell at Reason to now be hosting the Volokh Conspiracy on our website. It will remain editorially independent from Reason, though all of our readers will find much of interest and value in its content, which ranges from in-depth yet accessible glosses on the most important legal cases of the moment to disquisitions on pop culture. Volokh explained to me a few weeks ago that the blog began chafing under its home at The Washington Post partly because of that publication's paywall and partly because the newspaper would censor curse words even when they appeared in court documents that Volokh conspiracists were analyzing. When Volokh suggested Reason.com would be a good home for the blog, I instantly agreed, only adding that we would insist on publishing curse words even when they weren't strictly necessary. In a wide-ranging interview about The Volokh Conspiracy, Volokh discussed the site's aims, why he thinks the government is sometimes right to force business owners to serve customers they don't like, and his high opinion (so far) of Donald Trump's appointments to the federal judiciary. In an age of deep polarization and intellectually mendacious debates, the Volokh Conspiracy remains a straight shooter when it comes to pursuing what its contributors see as the truth. "I hope even our libertarian readers appreciate that," says Volokh, "because then they know that when we do take a view that they agree with more, that's because we really, sincerely believe it and think it's the best argument, and sometimes perhaps they see that there are some points in which conservatives, or even liberals or moderates, might be more correct than the libertarian orthodoxy." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/368556689%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-ZGC8S&color=%23f37021&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript. Please check any quotes against audio to ensure accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Today, we're talking with Eugene Volokh. He's a UCLA law professor and perhaps better known as the proprietor of The Volokh Conspiracy, a long-running legal group blog that I am excited to announce is coming to Reason.com. After being its own site and then being perched at The Washington Post for a long time, it is now coming to Reason.com. Eugene, thanks so much for talking to us. Eugene Volokh: Thank you very much for talking to me. Gillespie: Let's talk about The Volokh Conspiracy, which is obviously the premier group legal blog on the planet, I'm willing to say. There are, I guess, certain parts of Africa and some of the 'Stan' countries, I'm not familiar with their law blogs, but I'm pretty sure that The Volokh Conspiracy is still big there, too. What is the aim of The Volokh Conspiracy, for listeners or readers of Reason who may not be fully familiar with it? Volokh: Sure. We're mostly law professors, and we blog mostly about law. We also blog about wha[...]



Mexican Radio in Los Angeles Crashes—And Down With It Comes An Anti-Immigrant Fable

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 11:22:00 -0500

"Spanish-Language Broadcasters Take a Fall," read a front-page headline in the December 3 edition of the Los Angeles Business Journal. In just the past year, according to the accompanying article, the audience share of Spanish-language radio stations in the L.A. market fell two points, from 21.6 to 19.4, while their English-language counterparts saw an increase from a 56 to 58 share. It was a "dramatic drop for several outlets that spent years at or near the top," according to the paper. One of the big factors: a "shift in preferences among younger listeners in Spanish-speaking communities for English-speaking media." The story hasn't gotten much traction outside of media circles. But it's a big one in the continued assimilation saga of Mexicans in the United States. And it's one giant chinga tu madre to anti-immigrant types who have spent the last 25 years decrying the Mexican takeover of "American" airwaves in Southern California. One of their main proofs that unassimilable, backwards Mexican culture had taken over the Southland is the continued switchover of crappy pop and adult alternative stations to Latino formats. First they flooded our schools, then they took over welfare. Now their tuba music is all over the dial, and it probably plays hidden messages about how to sacrifice gringos with an obsidian knife! But L.A. radio station owners don't flip formats because of Reconquista, but because it makes business sense. Mexicans, like all people, are consumers. And Mexicans change their tastes as well—you know, like other people. So the industry keeps evolving. This is a story I've had the advantage of growing up in. I remember a January 6, 1993, Los Angeles Times story that reverberated across the country. KLAX-FM 97.9 ("La Equis"—The X) had topped the local Arbitron ratings with a formula used by all stations in the United States for decades: genius marketing, wisecracking on-air personalities, and a hot new genre that set it apart from rivals. Except this time, the language was Español. And the music was Mexican. KLAX's victory was so unexpected that classic rock station KLSX 97.1 "expressed concern" to the Times "that some of their audience may have gotten the call letters mixed up and that those listeners may have been attributed [in the Arbitron ratings] to KLAX." It was a line repeated by Howard Stern, who saw his reign as king of the L.A. airwaves toppled by what he dismissed as "some Mexican station." (KLAX, the Times reported, responded by sending Stern "a funeral wreath with a note reading: 'Thanks for helping us remain No. 1.'") KLAX's win started a good 15 years of Spanish-language domination of the Southern California airwaves, as other stations emerged to take turns at the top. The same began to happen across the United States. Smart programmers took advantage of changing demographics, and Mexican-Americans no longer ashamed of their ethnic background (see: Linda Ronstadt recording a mariachi album in 1987) wanted to listen to genres like banda sinaloense, pasito duranguense, and rock en Español that were previously available in el Norte only live or on pirated CDs. The influence of Spanish-language radio in the United States reached its peak in 2006, when DJs from across the country set aside their rivalries and urged their respective listeners to take to the streets in support of amnesty; the resulting protest marches were the largest in American history until the Women's March earlier this year. I remember this era well. My cousins and I had all grown up with the music of our parents and liked it enough, but we never thought of it as cool. KLAX changed all that. Suddenly, my older cousins went to quinceañeras decked out in tejanas (Stetsons), silk shirts, and cintos piteados (leather belts with arabesque designs). I'll spare you the visuals of me dressed like this as a gawky 13-year-old nerd, but I can say this: All along, we primari[...]



Roy Moore Sees Restoration of Voting Rights of Felons as a Plot Against Him

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Part of the get-out-the-vote campaign for the special Senate election in Alabama includes a push to get felons freed from prison registered again so they can cast a ballot on December 12.

When AL.com reported on a pastor who claims to have gotten thousands of felons registered to vote before a deadline that passed earlier this week, here's how GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore responded:

The organization involved is actually a religious nonprofit involved in things like soup kitchens, adult literacy classes, and youth programs.

What's actually happening here is that Alabama, back in May, passed a law that allowed more felons to regain the right to vote after they've been released from prison. It was backed by both GOP-controlled halves of the state legislature and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

Alabama law strips voting rights from citizens convicted of felonies "of moral turpitude." But the state didn't clearly define what it meant by "moral turpitude," instead listing five offenses that specifically did not count. The new law, dubbed the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, lists all the crimes—more than 40—that are bad enough that offenders will lose their vote. It hits all the major felonies: murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, etc. (Also, "enticing a child to enter a vehicle, house, etc., for immoral purposes." Just making note of that, given the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore.)

In short, the restoration of these felons' voting rights is not about Moore at all. It's about bringing people who have done their time and moved on with their lives back into a role as contributing members of society.

There's no reason these people shouldn't have their rights restored—no reason, at least, that isn't fundamentally bound up with a candidate or party's political concerns. Moore's tweet doesn't make a coherent argument about why these felons shouldn't have their voting rights restored. He cares only that they might vote for his opponent. This, somehow, is supposed to be an inherent outrage.




The Never-Ending Search for Foreign Subversives

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 14:45:00 -0400

Four days after Donald Trump was elected president, thousands of people turned out for an anti-Trump march in New York City. That in itself isn't so surprising: There were a ton of anti-Trump protests last November, and New York hosted a bunch of them. But this one, BuzzFeed reports, had been called by BlackMatters, a "Russia-linked" group, and therefore it feeds easily into a broader narrative about alien forces subverting American politics. If this protest was indeed arranged by Russian agents, that's a notable story. But that broader narrative is overblown and dangerous—a paranoid tale that scapegoats Russia for America's domestic divisions, and that is already being used to call for curbs on speech. Two things are striking about this New York protest. The first is that it was directed against Donald Trump. That undercuts the notion, popular in some circles, that Trump and Putin are joined at the hip; it supports the idea, popular in other circles, that Moscow is less interested in backing any particular American faction than in accentuating America's divisions in general. (Whether it actually is accentuating those divisions is a separate question, which we'll get to below.) The other striking thing about the march is that it wasn't a flop. The last time I wrote about one of these "Russia-linked" protests, the event drew approximately four people. Other demonstrations have been either equally miniscule or just slightly larger; there's no sign that they were any bigger than the protests organized by homegrown supporters of the same causes. (Impressed that a "few dozen" people may have gone to a Russia-linked rally for Texas secession? Lone Star separatists were able to attract a "few hundred" to an event in the '90s, when Moscow was Washington's pal and presumably wasn't promoting Texit.) So getting thousands to show up at an anti-Trump protest is far better than these troll accounts usually did. But note how they did it: They scheduled it amid a bunch of other protests for the same cause. On top of that, they did it under a name—"BlackMatters"—that's easy to mistake for the name of another group. So a cheap Russian knockoff of Black Lives Matter was able to draw people to a cheap Russian knockoff of an anti-Trump protest, held a month the same city was seeing copious anti-Trump protest anyway. This is what "success" looked like: not opening or even widening a division in American society, but camouflaging yourself as a cause that people already supported. They found a crowd and rushed to stand in front of it. It is certainly possible that we'll later learn Moscow was able to exploit this rally in some unsavory way. (For all I know it was filled with spies trying to recruit sources—though of course, they could do that at any other rally too.) But based on what we know now, this doesn't look like successful subversion; it looks like successful mimicry. Yet so many reactions to stories like this reverse cause and effect, blaming Russia for tensions that in fact grew organically in the United States. The more careful pundits will throw in a to-be-sure statement mentioning that Americans were already fighting each other before any foreign trolls came along, but they'll still insinuate that anyone who dissents from the centrist consensus is a Kremlin dupe. Here's Tim Morris of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, for example: If Russia's objective was to sow discord, doubt, and disruption into the 2016 U.S. elections, undermine our democratic system, and inflame political differences, you really have to hand it to them. Mission accomplished.... Not that the Russians should get all the credit, of course. Americans have been doing our part with gerrymandered political districts, polarized media, and confirmation bias biospheres. All the Russians had to do was to direct a few robots and release a few trolls [...]



Behold the Work of Russia's Evil Advertising Geniuses

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 17:00:00 -0400

Today members of the House Intelligence Committee released some of the election-related ads placed on Facebook and Instagram by accounts linked to the Russian government. The sampling published by Politico seems inconsistent with the way politicians and journalists generally portray "Russian disinformation," which they describe as a plot to "reshape U.S. politics" and undermine our electoral process by sophisticated operatives who know how to manipulate American voters. In fact, the ads are so lame that I initially thought the Politico story was a prank.

Here is an October 2016 Facebook ad placed by "Army of Jesus":

(image) According to Politico, the ad, which targeted "people age 18 to 65+ interested in Christianity, Jesus, God, Ron Paul and media personalities such as Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Mike Savage, among other topics," generated 71 impressions and 14 clicks.

This April 2016 Instagram ad, aimed at "people ages 13 to 65+ who are interested in the tea party or Donald Trump," did much better, generating 108,433 impressions and 857 clicks, although it is not at all clear how it might have influenced the election:

(image) Politico also has an August 2016 Instagram ad, aimed at "people ages 18 to 65+ interested in military veterans, including those from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars," suggesting that Clinton is insensitive to the grief of Gold Star families. It generated 17,654 impressions and 517 clicks.

An anti-Clinton, anti-establishment, pro-secession ad placed by "Heart of Texas" in October 2016, aimed at people who liked that Facebook group, generated 16,168 impressions and 2,342 clicks. A March 2016 ad sponsored by the Facebook group LGBT United featured a "Buff Bernie" coloring book, "full of very attractive doodles of Bernie Sanders in muscle poses." Aimed at people who liked LGBT United, it generated 848 impressions and 54 clicks.

(image) In addition to these crude and clumsy efforts, The New York Times has noted a hoax that anyone familiar with American politics would recognize as utterly implausible, language on the DCLeaks website that described Clinton as "President of the Democratic Party" and referred to her "electional staff," and a tweet promoting the website that said, "These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US." Such misfires suggest that the ability of Russian propagandists to destroy American democracy may have been exaggerated.




Social Media Executives Echo Politicians' Hysteria About 'Russian Disinformation'

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:05:00 -0400

Yesterday representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter testified before a Senate subcommittee about online "Russian disinformation," sounding a note of alarm that echoed legislators' concerns and therefore grossly exaggerated the threat. "When it comes to the 2016 election," said Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, "the foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry, and our society. That foreign actors, hiding behind fake accounts, abused our platform and other internet services to try to sow division and discord—and to try to undermine our election process—is an assault on democracy, and it violates all of our values." The idea that Russian ads on Facebook, Russian tweets on Twitter, and Russian videos on YouTube "undermine our election process" and constitute "an assault on democracy" (let alone that such propaganda "violates all of our values") is hard to take seriously given what we know about the nature and scale of this operation. Social media platforms have every right to insist that users follow their terms of service, which in Facebook's case ban phony source descriptions (falsely identifying a Russian's posts as an American's, for example). But the expectation that Facebook, Twitter, and Google will police political discourse to minimize "Russian influence" is not just impractical but, if backed by the threat of legislation, contrary to the First Amendment. It is important to keep in mind that we are not talking about direct interference with the election process (by hacking computers that tally votes, say). We are talking about efforts to persuade people—or, as seems to have been more common, reinforce their pre-existing opinions—through words and images. Although some of these messages can fairly be described as "disinformation" (such as a fake letter posted on Twitter supposedly documenting a $150 million contribution to Hillary Clinton's campaign by the conservative Bradley Foundation), some (such as reports about police shootings) were entirely accurate, while others were expressions of opinion on subjects such as racism, LGBT issues, immigration, and gun rights. Except for the fact that the messages appear to have been sponsored by the Russian government, there was nothing especially sinister or insidious about them. Cases of broken English and awkward phrasing aside, they were indistinguishable from the mixture of facts, lies, and blather that constitutes good, old-fashioned, American-produced political discourse. So when The New York Times reports that Russian-sponsored "political ads and other content" (including videos from the government-sponsored news outlet RT) "were meant to sow discord or chaos," it is either being hysterical or ascribing absurdly unrealistic ambitions to the Russian government. Our social and political order is not one viral video or inflammatory tweet away from catastrophic collapse. Russian participation in the online U.S. political debate looks even less scary when you consider how tiny its footprint seems to be. On Monday a Times headline proclaimed that "Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone," which sounds impressive unless you realize that an ad can "reach" people without being noticed or read, let alone persuading anyone. What the headline really meant, as the Times explained in its report on yesterday's hearing, is that "more than 126 million users potentially saw inflammatory political ads bought by a Kremlin-linked company, the Internet Research Agency." Yes, and since the post you are reading is available on the internet, it could potentially be seen by 3.6 billion people. No doubt Vladimir Putin would love to determine the outcome of presidential elections by spending $100,000 on Faceboo[...]



The Close Encounters Man

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:00:00 -0400

J. Allen Hynek had his first science fiction short story published before turning 15. Though he grew up to be a scientist, not a writer, his life was defined by the sometimes razor-thin boundary between fact and fiction.

He helped develop the Hubble Telescope, but Hynek is best known for his role in the Air Force's decadeslong investigation into unidentified flying objects, during which he created a four-tier classification system of "close encounters."

In The Close Encounters Man (Dey Street), biographer Mark O'Connell presents Hynek as a "rational person looking at an irrational subject."

The cases he investigated ranged from the mundane to the outrageous—in one, a Wisconsin farmer reported meeting alien visitors who made him pancakes—to the truly unexplainable. Before his death in 1986, the naturally skeptical Hynek admitted to having personally witnessed two UFOs, saying he came to believe not all sightings were fakes, tricks, misidentified aircraft, or "swamp gas."

Steven Spielberg borrowed heavily from one of Hynek's books about the UFO investigations in his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (an encounter with an extraterrestrial being, according to Hynek's system), and a whole subgenre of sci-fi owes a debt to Hynek's real-life work.

Was there a shadowy government conspiracy to hide the truth, as many of those stories allege? "You can cover up knowledge and you can cover up ignorance," O'Connell quotes Hynek as saying. "I think there was much more of the latter than of the former."




Yulia Tymoshenko Warned Us About Paul Manafort Years Ago

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:48:00 -0400

Yulia Tymoshenko warned us about Paul Manafort years ago. In a civil complaint, the former Ukrainian prime minister accused Manafort—who would go on to chair Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign—of conspiring with Ukrainian and Russian partners to launder dirty money through "a labyrinth of shell companies" in the U.S. These companies, it claims, "were solely used for purposes of furthering the unlawful objectives" of people like Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman indicted in 2009 for U.S. racketeering and money laundering, and Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who made the FBI's "Most Wanted" list for suspected fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. Documents filed in the civil action reveal many similar allegations to those Manafort and Gates are now facing at the hands of U.S. Department of Justice special prosecutor Robert Mueller. On Monday, a federal grand jury indicted the former Trump-campaign chairman and Rick Gates, a Manafort business associate, for conspiracy to launder money, making false statements, failing to register as an agent of foreign principal, and failing to file reports on foreign bank accounts. (For a detailed breakdown of the charges, see Popehat.) They pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon. The DOJ indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of "extensive lobbying" in the U.S. on behalf of Ukrainian interests and "in connection with the roll out of a report concerning the Tymoshenko trial commissioned by the Government of Ukraine." Manafort and Gates paid $4 million to law firm Skadden Arps to monitor and report on the Tymoshenko proceedings, ostensibly on behalf of an "independent" European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (which they had helped set up), the indictment says. And it claims that "between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party whose leader Victor Yanukovych was President from 2010 to 2014), Yanukovych, and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions that formed in 2014 when Yanukovych fled to Russia), generating "tens of millions of dollars in income as a result" and "launder[ing] the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts." The work was done through Davis Manafort Partners (DMP), which Manafort co-founded in 2005, and DMP International (DMI), founded in Manafort and his wife Kathleen in 2011. Rick Gates worked for both entities Through these agencies, Manafort and Gates helped propel Viktor Yanukovych to the Ukrainian presidency and oversaw a "watchdog" report on the prosecution of his opposition. Tymoshenko, who served as prime minster from 2007 through 2010, was not just an enemy of Tanukovych's but also of Firtash and Mogilevich. In an agreement with Russia, she helped cut Firtash's company out as a profitable middleman in natural-gas deals between the two countries. Tymoshenko's suit against Firtash and unnamed Yanukovych officials was first filed in U.S. court in April 2011, when Yanukovych was still president. Later amended complaints were eventually filed—the second in November 2014, after Yanukovych had been forced to flee Ukraine amid protests over his administration's corruption and thuggery—and also named Manafort and his partners at CMZ Ventures. The suit accused Manafort, Firtash, and the other defendants of financing politically motivated and "unlawful investigations and prosecutions of Tymoshenko" and her associates through secret payments to Yanukovich and others in his administration or control. Their money-laundering and shell-company scheme "was the proximate cause of Tymoshenko's damages, since it provided the necessary funds to make the unlawfu[...]



For Heaven's Sake, Just Release the Rest of the JFK Files

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 10:30:00 -0400

Yesterday the government was supposed to declassify its final files on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That was the deadline set by the JFK Records Act of 1992, but there was an escape hatch: The president had the power to withhold some of the documents on national security grounds. After much vacillating, Donald Trump decided at the last minute to keep some files classified. A day later, he's still vacillating. The president is "unhappy" about what happened, according to CNN: President Donald Trump wanted more of the documents related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination released. But when the final requests from government agencies hit his desk on Thursday, there wasn't enough time to go through the hundreds of records the agencies wanted to keep secret, two US officials said. As the deadline ticked away, Trump was confronted with a choice: release all of the 3,100 records without any redactions, or accept the redactions of intelligence and law enforcement agencies and release 2,800 of those documents. Trump agreed to the second option, while also requiring agencies to conduct a secondary review of the information they believed should be redacted within 180 days. But Trump was still miffed by his decision. "He was unhappy with the level of redactions," a White House official said, adding that Trump believed the agencies were "not meeting the spirit of the law." If this is actually true, it should put to rest any Trumpian fears that the "deep state" is trying to depose him. What intelligence agency would want to get rid of a president so easily manipulated? You don't need to buy any of the conspiracy theories about John F. Kennedy's death to see that this is a historically significant event that still has several open questions around it, especially with regard to Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City shortly before the shooting. And you don't need to be personally interested in the topic to be appalled that the feds are still suppressing information about an incident that took place more than half a century ago. (No, I don't buy the halfhearted excuse that the withheld files may include relatively recent documents added to the stockpile in the 1990s. Even if you think those should still be classified, they aren't all that's still classified. For example: Jefferson Morley, author of a new biography of former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, notes that Angleton's secret Senate testimony from 1975 is among the missing material.) The deadline for the remaining documents to be reviewed is April 26, 2018. Maybe we'll see more material after that, but I'm not optimistic. If the agencies involved can drag their feet for this long, they can drag them for another six months. In the disappointed words of Gerald Posner, one of the better-known advocates of the lone-assassin theory: "They have only had 25 years to get ready."[...]



Listen to Jesse Walker Talk About the JFK Files on SiriusXM Insight at 2 pm ET

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 13:37:00 -0400

(image) Today, the National Archives and Records Administration released a giant new cache of previously withheld government files pertaining to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Since today also marks a return guest-hosting engagement for me on SiriusXM Insight channel 121's Tell Me Everything With John Fugelsang, I am bringing on Reason's own Jesse Walker, author of the acclaimed The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, to place the JFK conspiracies into historical context.

Also scheduled to join are libertarian-leaning GOP strategist and communications pro Liz Mair (Reason archive here), to discuss the retirement announcement by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona); and the great journalist Nancy Rommelmann (Reason archive), to talk about the ever-expanding fallout from the Harvey Weinstein/Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment/assault scandals.

You can call in to heckle at 877 974-7487.