‘You Should Ask Mr. Soleimani’: Pompeo Drops Mic When Asked if Impeachment Makes Trump Vulnerable (Video) ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

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RUSH TRANSCRIPT:

It was a quick hit except they stayed for almost ten years. Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.

>> Chris: But just this week, the U.S. Deployed 100 Marines to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, plus 752 the region and now another 3500. If the president pulling us out of endless wars in the Middle East or with his action this week did he take a big step back in?

>> Secretary Pompeo: Endless wars are the direct result of weakness and President Trump will never let that happen. We are going to get it right, we’re going to get the force posture right, we are going to get our facilities as hardened as we can possibly get them to defend against what Iran may potentially do, but make no mistake, America’s mission is to have our footprint in the Middle East reduced while still keeping America safe. Safe from rogue regimes like the Islamic Republic of Iran and from terrorist activity broadly throughout the region. Someone’s was it fair to say that while the big strategy is to pull the U.S. Out of endless wars, at least in the short term there could be more of a commitment?

>> Secretary Pompeo: The Obama Administration created an enormous risk to the American people in Iran. This administration is working to reduce that risk.

>> Chris: Some analysts suggest that the impeachment of President Trump has emboldened enemies like Iran and North Korea to think that they can confront him. Do you think that is misguided as it may be, that some of our enemies think that this president is more vulnerable because of the impeachment effort?

>> Secretary Pompeo: You should ask Mr. Soleimani.

>> Chris: I understand that, but he was going ahead before you killed him and the question is do you think that impeachment is emboldening our enemies?

>> Secretary Pompeo: I don’t. I think that our adversaries understand President Trump and our administration will do the right thing to protect the American people everyplace that we find risk.

>> Chris: Secretary Pompeo, thank you. Thanks for coming in on a very busy weekend.

>> Secretary Pompeo: Thank you.

>> Chris: When we come back, Democrats raised questions about the wisdom and legality of the president’s decision to take out Soleimani. We will talk with a top You have a brother in the second battalion? Yes sir. They’re walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow’s attack. If you fail, we will lose sixteen hundred men. Your brother among them.

Cross-posted with Mental Recession

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Iran Attacks U.S. Bases in Iraq; MSNBC Spews False Iranian Propaganda, Pelosi Attacks Trump From Party (Video) ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

As predicted, Iran has retaliated for the US attack that took out the terrorist Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) sent missiles at two Iraqi military bases used by American forces, al-Asad, and Erbil.

Per the Pentagon

At approximately 5:30 p.m. (EST) on January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq.  It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Erbil.

We are working on initial battle damage assessments.

In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners. These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region.

As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.

That the missiles were fired from Iran is a major escalation. Usually, their attacks are conducted by one of their proxies and initiate from Iraq.

The White House said President Trump was monitoring the situation and consulting with his national-security team.

Both CNN and Fox are reporting there are casualties on the Iraqi side. No word on American troops

Iran’s Press TV has released a video of the attack:

UPDATE #1 7:40PM Iran’s Press TV reports

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has targeted the US airbase of Ain al-Assad in Anbar province in western Iraq after vowing to retaliate the US assassination of top Iranian anti-terror commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

“Tens of surface-to-surface missiles” were fired at the strategic airbase and the attack was later confirmed by the US officials.

The IRGC has called for a complete withdrawal of US troops from the Arab country, asserting that it would not differentiate between the US and Israel in retaliating against the assassination of the Iranian national hero.

“We warn US allies providing bases for the [American] terrorist army… that any country serving as the origin of bellicose and aggressive attacks in any form against the Islamic Republic of Iran will be targeted,” read the IRGC statement

UPDATE #2 8:00 PM President Trump will address the nation tonight. Fox News has unconfirmed reports that there are no American casualties. This is a key moment for the President. His message to the country and the next steps against Iran may determine the future of his presidency.   

UPDATE #3 8:20 The IRGC says if the US responds by bombing on Iranian soil it will target the cities of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, and Haifa, Israel, in the third wave of operations.

UPDATE #4 8:30 As Americans were being attacked Nancy Pelosi found time to attack President Trump.

Closely monitoring the situation following bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. We must ensure the safety of our servicemembers, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence. America & world cannot afford war.

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) January 8, 2020

Nancy Pelosi at Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare opening in Navy Yard. pic.twitter.com/OMkVtxeEEk

— Anna Spiegel (@AnnaSpiegs) January 8, 2020

UPDATE #5 8:45 Trump will not deliver address tonight, White House official says

UPDATE #6 9:12 Things at the two bases seem to have calmed down but that doesn’t mean it’s over. Some sources are saying the attack was not as bad as first feared. Pentagon reports there were 15 rockets fired from Iran, four failed. The ten fired at Al-Assad did not directly hit the base. Possibly on purpose so they can say they fired back.  Pentagon is preliminarily saying no American casualties. MSNBC is reporting Iranian propaganda that 13 Americans died.

MSNBC is literally doing the work of the Iranians by airing completely unverified, untrustworthy Intel about US casualties

The Pentagon has not reported on any lives lost

Why would the Media air what is so blatantly Iranian propaganda?

— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) January 8, 2020

CNN is reporting that two missiles hit near Erbil. One missile landed inside the perimeter of Erbil International Airport without exploding, the second missile hit an area 33 kilometers (about 20 miles) west of the city of Erbil without causing casualties.

Iran released the picture below which they claim is the launch of the first missile.

Update #7 10:10pm 

Iraq Foreign Minister said the attack is over for now.

Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.

We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.

— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 8, 2020

President Trump just tweeted “All is Well” and he will address the nation in the morning.

All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020

Per John Roberts of Fox News, the initial assessment is that the Iranian missiles struck areas of the al-Asad base not populated by Americans, according to a US military official and a senior administration official. Some in DC believe the misses were intentional. Iran needed to show a response to save face but intentionally did it in a way that would not hurt Americans.

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Ricky Gervais Horrifies Hollywood Liberals With ‘Savage’ Takedown at the Golden Globes

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Ricky Gervais Golden Globes

Ricky Gervais opened the 77th annual Golden Globes with what amounted to a trigger warning, before launching into a ruthless takedown of the Hollywood crowd. 

“You’ll be pleased to know this is the last time I’m hosting these awards, so I don’t care anymore,” the British comedian said, noting he had hosted for the four previous years. “I’m joking. I never did.”

In case anyone had missed his point, Gervais added, “Let’s have a laugh at your expense, shall we? Remember, they’re just jokes. We’re all gonna die soon, and there’s no sequel.”

Gervais’ first target was Hollywood awards shows themselves. He recalled the scandal over Kevin Hart’s old anti-gay tweets, which led the actor to fire himself from hosting the 2019 Academy Awards.

“Kevin Hart was fired from the Oscars because of some offensive tweets. Lucky for me, the Hollywood Foreign Press can barely speak English, and they’ve no idea what Twitter is,” he said, implicitly acknowledging his own politically incorrect Twitter activity.

Gervais next took aim at Hollywood entitlement in the form of actress Felicity Huffman, who recently spent two weeks in prison for her involvement in a nationwide college entrance exam cheating ring.

“I came here in a limo tonight, and the license plate was made by Felicity Huffman,” Gervais said. “It’s her daughter I feel sorry for. That must be the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to her, and her dad was in ‘Wild Hogs.’”

Ricky Gervais shows Hollywood his Golden Globes

After calling “The Irishman” actor Joe Pesci “Baby Yoda,” Gervais warned all the Hollywood executives in the room that they could be the next casualty of the #MeToo movement.

“In this room are some of the important TV and film executives in the world, people from every background. But they all have one thing in common. They’re all terrified of Ronan Farrow,” he said, referring to the investigative journalist who made a name for himself with exposes about sexual harassment and abuse. “He’s coming for you.”

“Talking of you perverts, it was a big year for pedophile movies,” Gervais continued.” “Surviving R Kelly.” “Leaving Neverland.” “The Two Popes.”

Having highlighted Hollywood’s dirty underbelly, Gervais went after its self-conception as a place that promotes equal opportunity for minorities.

“Many talented people of color were snubbed in all major categories. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that. The Hollywood Foreign Press are all very, very racist,” he said.

“We were gonna do an en memoriam this year, but when I saw the list of people that had died, it wasn’t diverse enough. It just, no. It was mostly white people, and I thought, no, not on my watch. Maybe next year. Let’s see what happens.”

Continuing to literally and figuratively shrug at himself, Gervais quipped that nobody was watching the Golden Globes anyway, saying, “Everyone’s watching Netflix.

He offhandedly suggested that Jefferey Epstein had not killed himself in prison in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

When the crowd moaned, Gervais added, “I know he’s your friend, but I don’t care.”

Pushing on, Gervais joked that Americans only turn to Hollywood these days for superhero blockbusters, which he said have transformed actors in nothing more than buffed drug addicts.

“All the best actors have jumped to Netflix and HBO. And the actors who just do Hollywood movies do fantasy adventure nonsense,” he said.
“They wear masks and capes, and really tight costumes. Their job isn’t acting anymore. It’s going to the gym twice a day and taking steroids. Have we got an award for most ripped junkie?”

Gervais then called out a few more celebrities by name.

He hit Leonardo DiCaprio for his affinity for young women.

“‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ nearly three hours long. Leonardo DiCaprio attended the premiere, and by the end, his date was too old for him,” he said, before comparing the actor to the British prince disgraced by the Epstein revelations. “Even Prince Andrew’s like, “Come on, Leo, mate. You’re nearly 50, son.”

Gervais wrapped up his monologue with an epic rant about the hypocrisy of liberal elites in Hollywood and Silicon Valley alike.

“Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show,” Gervais said. “A superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China.”

Gervais then turned his attention to all the actors, writers and directors in the room.

“Well, you say you’re woke, but the companies you work for…unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service, you would call your agent, wouldn’t you?”

As the audience laughed nervously, Gervais, offered some advice to the nominees.

“So if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech, right?” he said. “You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.”

Actor Tom Hanks’ shocked expression subsequently went viral online.

All of Hollywood when Ricky Gervais tells them that no one cares about their political opinions: pic.twitter.com/CQreakKKTg

— Kyle Morris (@RealKyleMorris) January 6, 2020

Despite Gervais’ admonition, though, the evening was filled with liberal politics.

Patricia Arquette, in accepting a supporting actress in a limited series award for her role in Hulu’s “The Act,” pleaded with the audience to consider the threat of another extended conflict in the Middle East.

Michelle Williams, who won best actress in a limited series for the FX’s “Fosse/Verdon,” delivered a feminist pro-abortion acceptance speech.

And Sacha Baron Cohen, who appeared onstage as a presenter, took a shot at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly allowing Nazis to run rampant on the platform.

Meanwhile, according to People magazine, the crowd for the first time dined on an entirely vegan dinner in the name of fighting climate change.

Cover image:
Ricky Gervais hosts the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony in Beverley Hills, California, on Jan. 5, 2020. (Twitter)

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Bye Bye AOC? Democrat Socialist Ocasio-Cortez Could Lose House Seat After New Census ⋆ Conservative Firing Line

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Based on the latest census projections, New York State may lose one congressional district, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fears the district that goes away will be hers.

The horror. 😉 A0C Fears Losing Seat Due to 2020 Census.

The Potential Loss of A0C’s District Highlights Why Democrats Fumed Over Trump’s Proposed 2020 Census Changes https://t.co/7xQu3sdo4K

— Junkyard Dogs (@baileyjer) January 1, 2020

Nothing is official yet. The Census Bureau will announce the final count in December 2020, and the congressional districts will be updated for the 2022 elections.

Party leadership is not happy with AOC, which is why her district is in danger.

As we reported in January of 2019, Congressional Democrats were growing sick and tired of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s antics, especially her use of Twitter to attack other Democrats and to get what she wants from the caucus.

Even some progressives who admire AOC, as she’s nicknamed, told Politico that they worry she’s not using her notoriety effectively.

“She needs to decide: Does she want to be an effective legislator or just continue being a Twitter star?” said one House Democrat who’s in lockstep with Ocasio Cortez’s ideology. “There’s a difference between being an activist and a lawmaker in Congress.

In  July, AOC used the race card against Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Responding to criticism from the speaker, she told WAPO:

“When these comments first started, I kind of thought that she was keeping the progressive flank at more of an arm’s distance in order to protect more moderate members, which I understood. But the persistent singling out … it got to a point where it was just outright disrespectful … the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color,” she told The Post.

AOC appears to suggest that Pelosi is targeting her because Pelosi wants her to get death threats: “It’s singling out 4 individuals, and knowing the media environment that we’re operating in, knowing the amount of death threats that we get …. I think it’s just worth asking why” pic.twitter.com/cueiQi9XC8

— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 11, 2019

When one adds the fact that in her first election she primaried and beat Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, who was seen as Nancy Pelosi’s heir apparent to the fact that she’s attacked the party leadership as much as the other party, it’s understandable why AOC fears being left without a district in 2022

There is something that may hold party leadership back from gerrymandering  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional district out of existence. In 2022 Chuck Schumer will have to run for re-election. If she is left without a congressional district, AOC may attempt to primary Schumer. And who knows? Schumer is very powerful, but NY is VERY liberal, and a Democratic Socialist like AOC may be their cup of tea.

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Google, Facebook business models threat to human rights: Amnesty | ABS-CBN News

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Abuse
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, US, Oct. 23, 2019. Erin Scott, Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — The data-collection business model fueling Facebook and Google represents a threat to human rights around the world, Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday.

The organization argued that offering people free online services and then using information about them to target money-making ads imperils a gamut of rights including freedom of opinion and expression.

“Despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost,” Amnesty said in its report, “Surveillance Giants.”

“The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse.”

With ubiquitous surveillance, the two online giants are able to collect massive amounts of data which may be used against their customers, according to the London-based human rights group.

The business model is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy,” Amnesty contended.

The report maintained that the two Silicon Valley firms have established “near-total dominance over the primary channels through which people connect and engage with the online world,” giving them unprecedented power over people’s lives.

“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives — amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people,” said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

“Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era.”

The report called for governments to implement policies that ensure access to online services while protecting user privacy.

“Governments have an obligation to protect people from human rights abuses by corporations,” Amnesty maintained.

“But for the past two decades, technology companies have been largely left to self-regulate.”

DISPUTE ON FINDINGS

Facebook pushed back against what it contended were inaccuracies in the report, saying it strongly disagreed with its business model being characterized as surveillance-based.

“Our business model is what allows us to offer an important service where people can exercise foundational human rights — to have a voice (freedom of expression) and be able to connect (freedom of association and assembly),” said a letter from Facebook privacy and public policy director Steve Satterfield in an annex to the Amnesty report.

“Facebook’s business model is not, as your summary suggests, driven by the collection of data about people.”

Facebook spotlighted its measures implemented which limit data information used for ad targeting; controls provided to users regarding their data; and steps taken to restrict abuses by apps on the social network.

“As you correctly note, we do not sell data; we sell ads,” Facebook said.

Facebook chief and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has called for governments to implement uniform rules regarding data-handling instead of leaving private companies to make crucial social decisions such as the limits of free speech.

Google did not offer a specific written response.

But the Amnesty report noted that Google announced this month it would limit data that it shares with advertisers through its ad auction platform, following the launch of an inquiry by the Irish data protection authority and had launched a new feature allowing users to delete location data.

© Agence France-Presse

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2020 presidential race could weigh on FANG stocks

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The 2020 presidential race could weigh on ‘FANG’ stocks as Democrats attack big tech

As 2020 presidential campaigns accelerate, the dominance of Silicon Valley technology companies is likely to remain a key issue for Democratic candidates, Bank of America analyst Justin Post said in a note to investors on Monday.

“Campaign focus on FANG regulation [is] likely here to stay,” Post said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren last week unveiled a plan to break up the biggest tech companies if she is elected president. The Massachusetts Democrat is especially focused on four of Wall Street’s beloved “FAANG” stocks: Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google-parent Alphabet. The group also includes Netflix.

“The giant tech companies right now are eating up little, tiny businesses, start-ups – and competing unfairly,” Warren told CBS on Sunday.

“We’ve got to break these guys apart,” Warren added. “It’s like in baseball: You can be the umpire or you can own one of the teams, but you don’t get to be the umpire and own the teams.”

Post analyzed the “breakup scenarios” for Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook, which Warren referred to repeatedly in her criticism. While forced spinoffs may largely help the former two tech giants, Post thinks Facebook is the most at risk to seriously losing shareholder value.

Bank of America sees “a partial breakup of Alphabet (including spin of YouTube or Waymo)” as possibly “value enhancing.” With the broad reach of each of Alphabet’s business units, as separate entities, each brand “has enough scale to capture vast advertiser interest,” Post added.

Similarly for Amazon, Post said a breakup “would be somewhat neutral for the stock,” as investors in Jeff Bezos’ empire “are generally comfortable” with how much Amazon’s businesses would be worth on their own.

Breaking up Facebook “could be most concerning for investors,” Post said. He found that if Facebook’s Instagram and WhatsApp platforms were separated, they “would likely compete directly with Facebook for usage and advertisers, raising concerns on increased competition.”

That overlap in Facebook’s businesses is a key reason Warren believes they should be separated.

“They bought the competition and now they’re sucking the data out of the competition,” Warren said.

While Bank of America did not include Apple in its breakup analysis, Warren confirmed to CNBC that she intends to break up the iPhone maker. In her interview with CBS, Warren argued that she is not against markets, which she said “produce a lot of good,” but instead thinks “markets have to have rules.”

“It is not capitalism to have one giant that comes in and dominates, a monopolist that dominates a market,” Warren said.

Warren said recent talks with technology venture capital firms revealed that the places where Amazon, Facebook and Google compete are known as “kill zones” to entrepreneurs.

“They call it the kill zone because they don’t want to fund businesses in that space because they know Amazon will eat them up, Facebook will eat them up, Google will eat them up,” Warren said.

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A year later, what Khashoggi’s murder says about Trump’s close ally

(CNN)A year ago, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi writer, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork so he could marry his Turkish fiance, who was waiting for him outside the building. He was never seen again.

A contributor to the Washington Post, Khashoggi, aged 59, was a critic of the Saudi regime and was living in self-imposed exile in the United States. He was murdered inside the Istanbul consulate on October 2, 2018, by a team that was dispatched from Saudi Arabia, among them associates of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman — known as MBS — the then-32-year-old de facto ruler of the country.
The Saudis (and MBS himself) have consistently denied that bin Salman had any direct role in Khashoggi’s murder and instead have ascribed it to a rogue operation by overzealous subordinates. They charged 11 of them, five of whom face a possible death penalty, although given the opaque nature of the Saudi legal system little is clear about the yet unresolved case.
    In November 2018, the CIA concluded — with “high confidence” according to the Washington Post — that bin Salman had ordered the murder of Khashoggi.
    Khashoggi’s murder brought into sharp focus concerns about the judgment of the young prince that had percolated for years. MBS had variously entered an ongoing war in Yemen that, according to the UN, had precipitated the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet; he had blockaded the gas-rich state of Qatar, a close American ally and the site of the most important US military base in the Middle East. Domestically, MBS had also imprisoned a host of clerics, dissidents and businessmen.

      Trump: ‘I’m extremely angry’ about Khashoggi killing

    At first it looked like Trump might distance himself from MBS. Less than two weeks after Khashoggi’s murder on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Donald Trump promised “severe punishment” for the Saudis if it was proven that they had murdered Khashoggi. Khashoggi, after all, was both a legal resident of the United States and a journalist who was contributing regularly to a major American media institution.
    A month later, Trump backpedaled, citing putative massive American arms sales to the Saudis. Trump told reporters, “…it’s ‘America First’ for me. It’s all about ‘America First.’ We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders, and let Russia, China, and everybody else have them … military equipment and other things from Russia and China. … I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia.”
    Until Khashoggi’s murder, it was possible to emphasize the positive case for bin Salman, to argue that he was genuinely reforming Saudi Arabia’s society and economy. He had clipped the wings of the feared religious police in the kingdom and had given women greater freedoms, such as the right to drive and a larger role in the workplace.
    Bin Salman encouraged concerts and movie theaters in a society that had long banned both and he also started to end the rigid gender separation in the kingdom by, for instance, allowing women to attend sports events.
    He also promised a magical moment in the Middle East when the Arab states could deliver a peace deal with the Palestinians, while he was liberating his people from the stultifying yoke of Sunni Wahhabism that had nurtured so many of the 9/11 plotters. For many years, Washington had puzzled over whether Saudi Arabia was more of an arsonist or a firefighter when it came to the propagation of militant Islam. Bin Salman appeared to be a firefighter.

      Wolf Blitzer presses senator over meeting with world leader

    MBS also has a somewhat plausible plan for diversifying the heavily oil-dependent Saudi economy known as Vision 2030, to be financed in part by the sale of parts of the oil giant Aramco, which may be the world’s most valuable corporation with a market value that the Saudis hope is two trillion dollars.
    In March 2018, MBS even visited Hollywood and Silicon Valley, where he ditched his Arab robes in favor of a suit and where he was feted as a reformer by film stars and tech industry heavyweights.
    But after Khashoggi’s murder, the positive case for Mohammed bin Salman was largely submerged in the West, where he was increasingly viewed as an impetuous autocrat. In 2015, he had authorized the disastrous and ongoing war in neighboring Yemen, in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. He had also effectively kidnapped the Lebanese Prime Minister, a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen, when he was on a trip to Saudi Arabia. And MBS led the blockade of his country’s neighbor, gas-rich Qatar, which continues to this day.
    In addition to his arrests of prominent clerics and dissidents, Bin Salman, in a palace coup, supplanted his cousin Mohamed bin Nayef as crown prince in 2017. Famously, MBS also imprisoned 200 rich Saudis at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh and had relieved them of more than $100 billion because of their purported corruption.
    Now Bin Salman faces what may be his most difficult foreign policy challenge yet: What to do about the drone and missile attacks earlier this month against the crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s economy, the Aramco Abqaiq oil facility, an attack the crown prince and the Trump administration have plausibly blamed Iran for. The Iranians have denied involvement in the attacks
    This attack is particularly problematic for MBS, as he is also Saudi minister of defense and he has presided over a massive arms buildup, yet was not able to defend the kingdom against the missile and drone barrage that took down half of Saudi’s oil capacity, at least temporarily.

      Post-Khashoggi murder, why should U.S. believe anything Saudi Arabia has to say?

    The Iranian attack also poses a quandary for President Trump, who doesn’t want the United States to get embroiled in another war in the Middle East, even though he has embraced MBS as a close ally.
    On Sunday, CBS’s “60 Minutes” aired an interview with bin Salman in which he said that he hoped that Saudi Arabia could reach a “political and peaceful solution” with Iran.
      One can only hope that MBS and Trump don’t launch a war against Iran, which has a large army, significant proxy forces around the Middle East and sophisticated ballistic missile systems. However, it’s hard to imagine them not responding at all since the Iranians have shown they can now attack with impunity a key node of the world’s energy markets.
      Mohammed bin Salman may be able to preside over the murder of a dissident journalist in Turkey with relative ease, but there is little in his conduct of foreign policy hitherto to suggest that he will skillfully deal with the Iranians.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

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      Y Combinator-backed Trella brings transparency to Egypts trucking and shipping industry

      Y Combinator has become one of the key ways that startups from emerging markets get the attention of American investors. And arguably no clutch of companies has benefitted more from Y Combinator’s attention than startups from emerging markets tackling the the logistics market.

      On the heels of the success the accelerator had seen with Flexport, which is now valued at over $1 billion — and the investment in the billion-dollar Latin American on-demand delivery company, Rappi, several startups from the Northern and Southern Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia have gone through the program to get in front of Silicon Valley’s venture capital firms. These are companies like Kobo360, NowPorts, and, most recently, Trella.

      The Egyptian company founded by Omar Hagrass, Mohammed el Garem, and Pierre Saad already has 20 shippers using its service and is monitoring and managing the shipment of 1,500 loads per month.

      “The best way we would like to think of ourselves is that we would like to bring more transparency to the industry,” says Hagrass.

      Like other logistics management services, Trella is trying to consolidate a fragmented industry around its app that provides price transparency and increases efficiency by giving carriers and shippers better price transparency and a way to see how cargo is moving around the country.

      If the model sounds similar to what Kobo360 and Lori Systems are trying to do in Nigeria and Kenya, respectively, it’s because Hagrass knows the founders of both companies.

      Technology ecosystems in these emerging markets are increasingly connected. For instance, Hagrass worked with Kobo360 founder Obi Ozor at Uber before launching Trella. And through Trella’s existing investors (the company has raised $600,000 in financing from Algebra Ventures) Hagrass was introduced to Josh Sandler the chief executive of Lori Systems.

      The three executives often compare notes on their startups and the logistics industry in Northern and Southern Africa, Hagrass says.

      While each company has unique challenges, they’re all trying to solve an incredibly difficult problem and one that has huge implications for the broader economies of the countries in which they operate.

      For Hagrass, who participated in the Tahrir Square protests, launching Trella was a way to provide help directly to everyday Egyptians without having to worry about the government.

      “It’s three times more expensive to transport goods in Egypt than in the U.S.,” says Hagrass. “Through this platform I can do something good for the country.”

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      Russia and 2020 Elections

      One week after Robert Mueller’s testimony shined a spotlight, once again, on election interference, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is feeling the heat. The leader turned heads on the Senate floor Monday as he rose to decry critics who have dubbed him “a Russian asset” and “Moscow Mitch” for stonewalling congressional measures to improve election security. And with momentum building in the House to formally start impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the pressure is unlikely to let up anytime soon.

      Focusing on election interference from 2016 is backwards thinking, though, at least according to Virginia Senator Mark Warner. With 2020 just around the corner, he tells WIRED—in an exclusive interview—that the upcoming election is where both parties need to direct their attention right now.

      As the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Warner has long been a vocal proponent of new legislation to strengthen election protections, such as the Honest Ad Act, which would compel Silicon Valley firms to disclose when political ads are paid for by a foreign nation. He’s also behind a bill that would require campaigns to alert federal officials if they’re approached by a foreign operative offering information or other assistance. Both bills have bipartisan support—Senator Susan Collins became the first Republican to cosponsor the Foreign Influence Reporting in Elections Act earlier this week.

      Even as GOP leaders try to position election security as a partisan issue, Warner—a former governor of Virginia and a cofounder of the firm that eventually became Nextel—has maintained the respect of his colleagues across the aisle. But his frustration seems to be growing, especially now that Trump has tapped Representative John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to be his next director of national intelligence. Unlike Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has already come out opposed to Ratcliffe, Warner tells WIRED he’s still got some patience left. Even if it’s wearing thin.

      This transcript is slightly edited for length and clarity.

      WIRED: After Mueller testified, the president and Republicans say case closed. What do you make of that?

      Mark Warner: I’m not here to relitigate 2016, or the Mueller testimony, specifically. I would point out, out of the Mueller investigation: 37 indictments, the president’s national security adviser pled guilty. The president’s campaign manager pled guilty. The president’s deputy campaign manager pled guilty. The president’s chief political adviser is coming to trial in the fall, Roger Stone. The attorney general had to resign. There were literally hundreds of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

      That’s not normal. And I think the biggest takeaway from the Mueller testimony was that the Russians who attacked us in 2016 are still attacking us and, in Bob Mueller’s words, on a daily basis. You combine that with the warnings from Trump’s own FBI director [Christopher Wray] and Trump’s own director of national intelligence [Dan Coats]. And one of the things that concerns me the greatest is that we’ve not done more to protect the integrity of our election system in 2020.

      I was just talking to your [Intelligence Committee] cochair, Senator [Richard] Burr, and he was saying the states in 2018 weathered these attacks, the national infrastructure is good on election security. Basically, case closed, again, not much more is needed.

      I think everyone picked up their game in 2018, including the Department of Homeland Security, and our intelligence community was more active as well. But the intelligence community’s own reporting was that Russia didn’t throw its full force of efforts in 2018. Chances are they’ll reserve those for the presidential election. So I think there is some low-hanging fruit that would get 75 votes on the floor of the Senate—if we could get these bills to the floor of the Senate.

      I think there ought to be an affirmative obligation that if a foreign government, the Kremlin, offers you campaign help, your obligation ought to be not to say thank you, but to report to the FBI. I think we ought to make sure that every polling station in America has a paper ballot backup, so that if a machine was hacked, you’ve still got ability to protect the integrity of the voting system. And I haven’t met anyone that doesn’t think we need some basic guard rails around the manipulation of Facebook, Twitter, and Google by foreign entities and others. So at least there ought to be the requirement that if somebody advertises on a political basis on Facebook, but in truth it’s a foreign government, they ought to have the same disclosure requirements as somebody who advertises on radio or television.

      Isn’t it a little bit ironic that in this highly digital era, we’re going back to paper ballots?

      I think we need to make sure that we use the best technology, but if technology, as we see from banks this week, can continue to be hacked into, if voting machines are not as protected as needed, if the private companies who control the voter files could have their information moved around … You don’t need to change votes to cause chaos. I think people’s overall confidence in the system goes up if there is that back check of having a paper ballot backup. Again, this is not saying we wouldn’t still use voting machines, but across the election community everyone believes it’s safer if you have that paper ballot backup that goes along with the voting counting machines.

      And now we know we’re getting attacked, cybersecurity is on the top of many minds. And then the president this week announced he’s nominating Representative John Ratcliffe to be DNI, who seems like more of a politician and a Trump supporter than someone from the intel community. Does that worry you?

      It worries me greatly. The irony is that Donald Trump’s appointees in the intel world—his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats; his director of the FBI, Chris Wray, his director of the CIA, Gina Haspel—have been pretty good about speaking truth to power, even when Trump did not want to hear the truth. They’ve been very good at not allowing America’s intelligence to get politicized—while I’m going to give Mr. Ratcliffe the courtesy of a meeting, I fear that he is being appointed in the mold of a Bill Barr, the attorney general, who basically is simply a loyalist first to Donald Trump and doesn’t maintain that kind of independence.

      If there’s ever been a time when everyone says that Russians and others will be back, when we’ve got as many potential conflict spots around the world, we need to make sure that the head of our national intelligence is not going to politicize the intelligence. That intelligence product goes to our military, it goes to the executive, it goes to us in the Congress. It cannot be a political product. And we’ve got to make sure that the intelligence community is going to be willing to speak truth to power, and that means telling Donald Trump the truth, even if he doesn’t want to hear it. And so far it appears to me that Mr. Ratcliffe, who doesn’t have much experience and who seems—based upon press reports—that his audition was based on questioning Mueller and questioning the legitimacy of the Russian’s intervention in our electoral system, is pretty chilling.

      What do you see as the biggest threats—or are there any new threats—facing America in 2020?

      So I think there are a couple of new threats. One, Russia in 2016 was surprised at how vulnerable our systems were, our electoral systems. And how easy Facebook and Twitter and YouTube were to be manipulated. So I think that playbook is now out there, they’ve used the same tactics in the Brexit vote [and] the French presidential elections. So my fear is we may not only see Russia, we can see Iran, we could potentially see China, who has a great deal of control over a number of their Chinese tech companies, start to use these tools because they’re cheap and effective. I like to point out that if you add up all Russia spent in the Brexit vote, the French presidential elections, and the 2016 American elections, it’s less than the cost of one new F-35 airplane. So Russia and our adversaries, I think, have decided the way to engage with us in conflict is not through straight up old-school military but through cyber activities, misinformation and disinformation, increasingly trying to weaken and interfere, for example with our space communications, and I think Russia will up their game … and others … [It] means there will be more adversaries in 2020.

      Second is, I think in 2016 we saw Russia try to misrepresent—the Russian agents misrepresent themselves as Americans on Facebook and Twitter by simply posting fake messages. The next iteration, the next generation of that will be the so-called “deepfake” technology, where an American may not be able to view what his eyes are telling him, because you’ll see an image of you or me or a political figure that may sound like that person but isn’t that person at all.

      Now, if McConnell doesn’t allow some of these bills, like the Honest Ads Act or just broader election security bills, to come up, what do you think the Silicon Valley tech firms can do on their own?

      Look, we’ve seen progress made by Facebook, Twitter, some progress made by Google. But I don’t think self-regulation, particularly when a regulation may mean they may not be collecting as much information as they like, or self-regulation may mean they have to go against or limit some of the fake content. It goes against their very business model. So I think Facebook has made progress in particular, but some of the tools they have—for example, the ability to access on an easy basis the campaign ads that they promised, that tool is not effective at all.

      So at the end of the day, when we’re talking about something as critical as protecting the integrity of our democracy, when Americans lack faith in so many of our institutions to start with, if we don’t go the extra mile and put in place a set of rules and regulations—and god forbid should Russia or Iran or another foreign enterprise massively interfere again—and we didn’t do our duty, then shame on all of us.

      This week, two fairly senior Senate Democrats called for impeachment proceedings to begin. Where are you on that? We started this conversation with you saying you don’t want to relitigate 2016, but it seems like there’s this growing chorus amongst Democrats to impeach.

      I actually think Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has navigated that challenge very well. I understand the frustrations with President Trump—his activities and tweets and antics. I think, though, the best way we can show that that’s not who we are as Americans is to defeat him at the ballot box in a free and fair election. And what I worry about is if we don’t guarantee that free and fair election, then we haven’t done our job.


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