Monday, February 19, 2018

Russian social media manipulators have nothing on the National Rifle Association as far as infiltrating Facebook & Twitter goes

By Marc Jampole

We see playing out before us two great dramas involving vast plots to manipulate the minds of millions of Americans. The first is obviously front and center: the Mueller indictments against 13 Russian nationals and 3 companies, which puts to rest any argument against the idea that the Russians intervened in the last national election to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump. We know now that there can be no doubt the Russians interfered and intend to do so again.
The second, unpublicized campaign of distortion is being run right now by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to prevent the mass murder at a Parkland, Florida high school from resulting in stricter gun control laws. Now I’m not accusing the NRA of taking over the Internet identities of unsuspecting people or using bots to boost its posts, like the Russians did. What I am saying is that the NRA engages in an extensive and probably very expensive social media campaign to keep myths and false arguments about gun control in front of social media users.
During the presidential campaign I saw almost none of the garbage that Russia surreptitiously dumped onto Twitter and Facebook, except as reported by the mainstream news media. By contrast, since the Parkland shooting, my Facebook feed has been bombarded by false memes regarding gun control, presented in photographs, cartoons, videos and headlines, typically originating from websites I have never heard of before. Here is a sample of the ridiculous cant being posted:
  • We should arm school teachers.
  • Mentally ill people commit mass murders, not guns.
  • We should have veterans with automatic weapons patrolling the halls of our schools.
  • We should blame video games.
  • A teenage girl crying in delight at having gotten a gun for a present.
  • Determined killers will always find another way.
  • God allowed the shooting because prayer is banned in public schools.
  • We should teach our kids martial arts so they can “Jackie Chan” school shooters.
  • The FBI is solely to blame for the shooting (Trump and the GOP’s excuse for not talking about gun control).
  • We’re not outlawing cars even though thousands have died in car accidents since the beginning of the year.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen plenty of memes proposing gun control since the latest horror. I particularly like the one that suggests that the senators and congressional representatives voting against prohibiting automatic weapons should be charged as accomplices of shooter Nicholas Cruz. I also like the mentions of how much individual politicians have received from the NRA and the headlines that point out that guns are not allowed in the chambers of Congress.
But remember, the approximately 3,500 people in my Facebook network are almost all followers of my very leftwing blog, family and friends (who are decidedly leftwing) and members of the international poetry community (which skewers left). My Facebook network is decidedly more pro-gun control than it was pro-Hillary. Remember too that a large majority of Americans—and gun owners—are in favor of banning automatic weapons, extending waiting periods and other “centrist” gun control legislation. The Russians didn’t really ever penetrate my network with real garbage, but the NRA has made its presence felt to the point that for a while I saw about as many posts against gun control as for gun control. Since I kept asking Facebook not to show me further updates from the originating sources for NRA propaganda, the anti-gun control Facebook posts have finally died down a bit.
Turning now to Twitter: I have no way of evaluating the political beliefs of my approximately 38,000 Twitter followers, except for noting that the campaigns I have conducted to expand my Twitter network have always focused on Hillary and Bernie supporters or the followers of people who retweeted or tweeted my progressive and often pro-gun control tweets. Comments from Twitter followers almost always praise my tweets or the OpEdge articles to which they usually links. Over 9+ years, there are only two subjects that get substantial negative feedback from people opposed to my tweets: when I propose raising the minimum wage and when I advocate more gun control legislation. And it happened again after Parkland.
I don’t have the operation to track the origin of every anti-gun control tweet (or Facebook update), so I am only assuming that behind most of it are NRA-funded groups and individuals, or the NRA itself. Again, I am not accusing the NRA of doing anything underhanded or illegal, but of spending a lot of money legally to monitor social media and respond in one way or another to as many pro-gun control tweets as they can.
Remember that the extensive NRA activity on social media reinforces the nonsense that its elected factotums piously spew, stating that just after a tragedy is not being the time to discuss gun legislation, blaming mental illness or the FBI, or advocating we arm school teachers. It also reinforces the NRA party line blathered by Fox News and the rest of the rightwing news media. On the one hand, we could conclude that the program is a failure, since surveys track a growing interest in strengthening gun control laws among the American public. On the other hand, the NRA’s vast marketing campaign helps to create the alternative reality in which the politicians they finance can thrive. The false statements of the politicians and their reverberation in social media and the right wing news media help to set the agenda for the mainstream media and continually keep pro-gun control advocates on their heels, in a reactive mode, even after the increasingly more frequent tragedies that everyone knows could be prevented by greater gun control and reducing the number of weapons circulating in American society.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Editorial: Know Your Enemies

Dreamers and their allies might feel betrayed by Democrats who went along with the compromise to keep the government running on Feb. 9 without extracting a promise to extend Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But if the besieged immigrants want to stay in this country they’d better figure out who their real enemies are, and get their allies who are citizens to besiege the Republicans who have been running a bait and switch on immigration reform.

The compromise that Congress reached on Feb. 9 will keep the government open until March 23 and it raises the debt ceiling until March 2019. It also provides money for community health centers, health care for children from low-income families, funds to fight opioid abuse and $90 billion in disaster relief for Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, as well as an additional $165 billion to the military, but House Republican leaders refused to promise action on a bill to resolve the situation of the nearly 800,000 immigrants who had been brought to the US as children and signed up for protection under DACA since President Barack Obama issued the executive order in June 2012. President Donald Trump announced last September he would end the program in March.

DACA was created after the DREAM Act, which would have granted legal status and a pathway to permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the US, ran up against roadblocks put up by Republicans. The bill first passed the House, which then had a Democratic majority, in 2010, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate. Obama then set up DACA as a temporary order until Congress could pass the DREAM Act. In 2013, language allowing Dreamers to stay in this country and work or attend school was included in a broader immigration package that passed the Senate with 68 votes. DREAM Act supporters believed they had the votes to pass the bill in the Republican-dominated House, but it died there as right-wing “teabaggers” intimidated House Speaker John Boehner against letting the bill come up for a vote.

The dynamic changed after Trump was elected in 2016 with strong support from his white supremacist base. In September 2017 he announced plans to rescind DACA, but he gave Congress six months to take care of the matter, as he called for lawmakers to “do something and do it right.”

Some Republicans indicated they were interested in a bipartisan solution. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she believed there is “widespread bipartisan support for legislation that would provide some measure of protection to children who are brought to this country through no decision of their own.” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who chairs the House Republican Conference, said that while she has long said she did not agree with the way President Obama enacted his program, Congress “must protect” the Dreamers who are currently shielded from deportation. She added, “That principle is fundamental for me.”

But Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin granny-starver who followed Boehner as speaker in 2015, also has bowed to the will of the teabaggers, such as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who said Obama never had the authority to create DACA; King tweeted that delaying an end to DACA so Republican leadership “can push Amnesty is Republican suicide.”

So Democrats faced the prospect of withholding support for the spending compromise and finding themselves on the same side as the teabaggers in the “House Freedom Caucus,” who wanted to see the government shut down anyway.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stood her ground on the House floor in four-inch heels for eight hours Feb. 7, calling for protection for Dreamers. She said she would not vote for the deal, but she let other House Democrats vote their will.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were split over the spending bill, which meant billions of dollars for their districts. ”I cannot in good conscience go home and say to my [hospitals that serve low-income patients] that I didn’t vote for this because of DACA,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), a member of the CBC, according to Politico. “Or I can’t go home and say to health centers that have already been handing out pink slips, ‘I didn’t vote for this and they gave me money for a permanent fix for your problem.’ I can’t go home and say to union people, ‘Look, they’re going to try to take care of your pension problem, but I didn’t vote for it.’”

Ryan said he would hold a DACA vote, but only on a bill that has Trump’s support, and Trump won’t support a bill that doesn’t have the teabaggers’ support. Democrats can’t place much trust in Trump after he called on Congress on Jan. 9 to put together a bipartisan deal and he then rejected the bipartisan bill Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., brought him Jan. 11, telling them there already are too many immigrants from “s***hole countries.”

The Senate passed the continuing resolution 71-28 shortly before 2 a.m. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., held up the vote until after the midnight Feb. 8 funding deadline because he didn’t get a vote on an amendment to keep Congress under strict budget caps and strip the increase in the debt limit from the package. He expressed outrage at the “hypocrisy” of his Republican colleagues who supported deficit spending, but Paul was oblivious to the fact that just six weeks earlier he had voted for the tax break for billionaires that blew a $1.5 trillion hole in the budget.

Back in the House 119 Democrats joined 67 teabaggers in voting against the stopgap spending bill. But 73 Dems voted with 167 Republicans to pass the bill, 240-186, at 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 9.

“Well, there was no deal,” Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient from Arizona, bluntly told Julianne Hing of The Nation, when asked how she felt about the overnight agreement. She said Democrats got everything they wanted, except help for young people like herself. Montoya has spent the last few months lobbying Congress, and isn’t giving up on the fight yet.

“They go in front of the camera,” Montoya said. “They say they are champions of us, that they want to protect us? But their words are not going to protect me from deportation.”

Among the “borrow and spend” Republicans who voted to keep government open was Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Normally you can count on Cruz to grandstand as a fiscal hawk on a vote like this, but in this case there are plenty of Republican homeowners in the Houston, Beaumont and Corpus Christi areas who were counting on getting that disaster recovery assistance, and US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, threatens to make Canada-born Cruz sweat in his re-election effort this fall. O’Rourke also disappointed some Dreamers when he voted for the spending bill, including those Texas disaster funds, leaving the Dreamers in the lurch. But the chances for getting a reasonable compromise on immigration reform would be greatly enhanced if Texas Latino voters turn out in November to oust Cruz and other Republican officials who have vilified those who support a path to permanent residency for longtime immigrants.

The best hope for Dreamers to get the immigration agents off their backs and let them stay in this country is if they help Democrats take over the House and Senate, take Paul Ryan out of the process and demonstrate to President Trump and the Grand Oligarch Party that there is a price to be paid for pursuing racist policies. Keep hope alive. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2018

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