Facebook Marks the End of Social Media’s Wild West

The news that Facebook will turn over details of Russian ad buys to Congress recalls a column written by my colleague Eli Lake early year. He wrote that in forcing National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to resign, President Donald Trump “caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition.” That February column warned: “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.” In the case of Facebook Inc., the 3,000 advertisement buys turned over to Congress are indeed the appetizer. Regulation carrying the force of law is the inevitable entree.

It was only 16 months ago when reports surfaced that Facebook employees were removing stories of interest to conservative users from its trending news section. Facebook responded by automating the section, removing humans from the editorial process. Thus began Facebook’s uneasy journey into self-regulation.

Of course, removing humans from the editorial process and allowing unfiltered content to be distributed has its own issues, as Facebook learned during the election last year. Allegations of “fake news” influencing the 2016 presidential election were widespread after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. The site was accused of being played by foreign entities promoting false articles. Facebook responded by pledging to take steps to combat fake news.

Increasingly, Facebook is finding itself in an impossible position as it tries to remain, in spirit at least, a content-agnostic platform that allows everyone to have a voice. Sometimes the company faces scrutiny when it allows certain content to remain, as in the case of fake news or neo-Nazi propaganda. Other times it faces scrutiny for removing content.

Recently Facebook’s algorithmic ad targeting has been faulted as well. ProPublica reported last week the disturbing finding that algorithms allowed the existence of an ad category for anti-Semitic content. The story also noted that algorithms correlated the behavior of anti-Semites with those in a “Second Amendment” category, a finding that upset gun-rights advocates who don’t want to be seen as anti-Semites.

What’s apparent in the past 16 months is a Wild West of self-regulation. Time and time again, Facebook has shown that if confronted with a challenge, the company will listen and often respond. Partisan trending topics, fake news, neo-Nazis, Russian meddling — if it generates enough outrage, it’ll get addressed eventually.

But Facebook’s power and influence seem likely to grow beyond the “self-regulation” phase. That’s why markets are willing to give the company a valuation of $500 billion when its 2017 profits will be in the neighborhood of only $15 billion. (Bloomberg data shows analysts expect Facebook’s revenue to grow to $76 billion in 2020, almost doubling projections for 2017.) The question remains how long self-regulation will be acceptable to the public and Congress.

Now Facebook has tipped its hand. Large, multi-national corporations don’t turn over documents to Congress out of the goodness of their hearts. Facebook’s statement about why it’s turning over information to Congress goes to great lengths to emphasize it was the company’s own decision, and that the first priority is to protect user privacy. Don’t be fooled. Self-regulation will fail, and real regulation will begin. This is how it starts.

Bloomberg View

The Real Civil War in the Democratic Party

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, flanked by fellow Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, second from left. and Elizabeth Warren, far left, introduced the party’s new economic message on Monday in Berryville, Va.

As Democrats try to unite around their new “Better Deal” agenda, the supposed battle between the “socialist” left and the “corporatist” center seems to have collapsed into a bland but serviceable slogan, with a reasonably progressive economic agenda that both Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Schumer can get behind. So much for that overhyped party civil war.

But Democrats shouldn’t be trumpeting party unity quite yet. The economic-left-versus-center debate has always been primarily an elite one.

Among the Democratic rank-and-file, the more consequential divide is between those willing to trust the existing establishment and those who want entirely new leadership. It’s a divide that Democratic Party leaders ignore at their peril.

As part of a report I wrote for the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, I looked at divides between enthusiasts for Senator Bernie Sanders and supporters of Hillary Clinton. For many policy issues I couldn’t find much difference of note, except for a little disagreement over the benefits of foreign trade. Most Democratic voters generally agree on first principles: Economic inequality is a problem; government should do something to help the less advantaged; diversity is a strength. That’s why getting to a shared “Better Deal” agenda was relatively easy.

But I did find one area of notable discord between Clinton and Sanders supporters — their degree of disaffection with political institutions. Support for the political system correlated with positive feelings toward Mrs. Clinton, while voters who felt negatively toward the political system tended to feel positively toward Mr. Sanders.

Most members of the Democratic Party establishment are pragmatists who made it where they are by working within the system that exists, not the one they wish existed. They often have frustration bordering on contempt for those who lack their hardheaded realism.

For those outside the centers of power, it’s far easier to disdain the trade-offs inherent in leadership. After all, voters can look at the political establishment and see a whole lot of consultants and lobbyists getting rich (win or lose).

Such divisions reflect a malady facing both parties: In a word, as the political scientists Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld note, our parties are “hollow.” The parties, they write, are “neither organizationally robust beyond their roles raising money nor meaningfully felt as a real, tangible presence in the lives of voters or in the work of engaged activists.”

No wonder many voters distrust institutions and the establishment. Their engagement with the party mostly consists of receiving fund-raising emails intended to enforce programmatic conformity while activating fear of and resentment toward the other party.

Republicans have already suffered the costs of feeding their supporters a toxic diet of anti-Democratic Party propaganda. They wound up with Mr. Trump as their standard-bearer. Democrats should not make that mistake.

What if, instead of spending billions on consultants, TV ads and mailers engineered to stoke zero-sum partisanship, party leaders and affiliated funders invested in increasing the paid staff of local party organizations, and then sought their input and advice?

With a real investment, community organizations could help Democratic voters feel genuinely invested in their party, including giving them more of a role in helping to develop and select local candidates. Voters might gain more appreciation for the actual challenges of winning a majority — rather than just shouting about how the party establishment is corrupt from their Facebook pages.

They’d also help Democratic Party leaders get a better feel for what communities across the country are thinking, rather than relying on high-priced consultants with data analysis that is too often a lagging indicator or just “proves” what the consultants have been saying for decades. If Democrats had invested in meaningful community organizing in 2016, they might have detected the crumbling of the “blue wall” (states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, which had voted Democratic in recent elections) sooner, and been able to adjust course.

If Democrats need to moderate their message for 2018, local organizers will probably know it, and have a sense of how. If Democrats need to sharpen their message to motivate reluctant supporters, these organizers should know that, too.

Finally, this investment would improve turnout. People are much more likely to get involved and vote when there’s genuine social pressure from people they know (not just random volunteers parachuting into town or calling on the telephone).

Party leaders would have to accept less control, and some national consultants might lose out. But the result would be a party with a broader and stronger base of support, a party that could draw on its strength of relative ideological unity while also making space for some local heterodoxy. Yes, some on-the-ground activists will have crazy ideas. But it’s still better to have them feeling that they’re in the tent, where they can argue about them, rather than outside the tent, where they feel like they have no choice but to organize their own outsider takeover strategies.

Ultimately, the challenge the Democrats face in their party is the challenge of democracy writ large. If voters feel that institutions are not responsive to them, and they have no say in how those institutions are run, powerlessness and resentment have a tendency to erupt in unpredictable and destructive ways.

(The New York Times)

Putin Preferred Clinton? Let’s Test Trump’s Theory

In two recent interviews, President Donald Trump made the argument that Russian President Vladimir Putin would have preferred Hillary Clinton in the White House.

Trump’s argument is that he “campaigned on strong military, strong borders, and low oil prices” and these goals don’t benefit Putin:

Look what I’ve done – oil prices have been driven down. We’re sending LNG to Poland, massive shipments to Poland. That’s not what Putin wants. And for the military, we’ve got $56 billion more of equipment than anybody ever thought of, in the last budget. Putin doesn’t want that – so why would Putin want me?”

Under Clinton, Trump said, the US military would be “decimated” and oil prices would be higher:

We’re going to be exporting energy – he doesn’t want that. He would like Hillary where she wants to have windmills. He would much rather have that because energy prices would go up and Russia as you know relies very much on energy.

Putin doesn’t care whether the US standing army exceeds half a million or not, or whether the US Navy has more ships. Even during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was a much bigger country than today’s Russia, it couldn’t outspend the US on defense. Today, the US military vastly outnumbers the Russian one, and once other North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries are added in, Russia is dwarfed, frankly. That, however, doesn’t matter because both countries’ vast nuclear arsenals deter them from ever having an all-out war, and for possible local and proxy clashes, numerical strength isn’t important. 

Russia and the US back different sides in the Syrian war. There, Trump is doing roughly what Clinton intended to do to defeat ISIS. He intensified the US air campaign and stepped up support for rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. He has also launched isolated attacks on Assad’s forces, ostensibly to restrain them from using chemical weapons or striking US allies, but perhaps also to make sure the US-backed forces don’t have to compete for areas they’re clearing of ISIS militants. President Barack Obama refrained from such aggressive actions, but Clinton, who established herself as a Syria hawk, likely would have acted along the same lines. Many feared she would have been more insistent on removing Assad — she has called it a “number one priority” — but if she did, that would hardly have made her Putin’s preferred candidate, since he continues to stand by Assad as an ally.
On energy, too, President Clinton would have been an equal or greater nuisance to Putin.

Democratic members of Congress currently support a bill broadening Russia sanctions to include energy pipeline projects, another indication that Clinton probably would have pushed through similar measures to retaliate for what she, in the summer of 2016, came to see as a major Russian effort to defeat her.

Whether or not Putin would have preferred Clinton as president hinges on more esoteric considerations than whether or not she would have followed traditional US military and energy policies, which have always clashed with Russian interests and to which the Kremlin has long adapted.

Clearly, given the role the Russian propaganda machine took on during the 2016 campaign, Putin was interested in short-term destabilization and in mocking US democracy. But he has given no indication that he wants instability in the US over the long term. It’s not clear how it can benefit the Kremlin except by diverting attention from its quieter exploits, such as the long-term, slow movement of the Russian border into Georgian territory occupied by Russia’s puppet state of South Ossetia. 

If Putin is learning anything from the chain of events following Trump’s election, it’s probably a deepening conviction that he can’t get any traction with the US because its institutions are inherently hostile toward someone like him.

Bloomberg View

There’s a New Push to Make Obama President Again. This Time, of France.


Paris – In just a couple of months, French voters will go to the polls to elect their next president. It’s already turning into a divisive campaign, with the onetime conservative front-runner François Fillon deeply wounded by a corruption scandal and facing stiff competition from both the far right Marine Le Pen and the upstart “radical centrist” Emmanuel Macron.

In the face of all this, some French voters are apparently hoping another candidate could come in and clean up the mess. The problem, however, is that their proposed president isn’t actually French.

In fact, he used to be the president of the United States.

Over the past week, posters with the slogan “Obama17″ have been plastered around Paris. A website of the same name is urging French voters to sign a petition promising to vote for Barack Obama should he enter the French race. The website says that it is hoping to collect 1 million signatures before March 15 in a bid to convince the former U.S. president to run.

“The French are ready to make radical choices,” a statement on the website reads in French. “That is good because we have a radical idea to propose to them.”

Obama would be a good president for France, the website continues, as he has “the best résumé in the world for the job.” But France’s own domestic political concerns also appeared to be a big issue in the campaign. “At a time when France is about to vote massively for the far right, we can give a lesson in democracy to the planet by electing a foreigner as French president,” the website reads.

According to NPR, this isn’t the first petition launched to request an Obama presidency. At least two similar petitions were launched last year, though this appears to be the most successful so far — one organizer told the Verge on Friday that the group had collected 30,000 signatures.

However, Obama’s chances at winning the French election may be slim. While polls suggest he is widely viewed positively in France — a Pew Global Research poll from last year found that 84 percent of the French had confidence that Obama would do the right thing in global affairs — Obama is not a French citizen and could not run in the French election until he became one.

Additionally, the former U.S. president does not speak French, though his wife, Michelle, has studied the language.

In interviews with media outlets, the organizers of Obama17 have admitted that their task isn’t entirely serious. “It’s definitely a joke,” one unnamed co-creator of the website told NPR. “But it could make people think a little bit about what we could do differently in French politics.”

Though there is also no indication at the moment that Obama would consider running for office in France, other former U.S. presidents have eyed it.

In 2012, Bill Clinton suggested that he might be able to run for election in two foreign countries: Ireland, because of his Irish family heritage, and France, because he was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, which meant he could immediately apply for naturalization. However, as Foreign Policy later pointed out, France changed its laws on naturalization in 2006, making Clinton’s quest for the Elysee Palace just as unlikely as Obama’s.

The Washington Post

U.S. Intelligence Report Assessed Russian Activities in Recent U.S. Elections

US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Washington – The U.S. Congress officially approved on Friday the presidential elections’ results on November 08 which the Republican billionaire Donald Trump won.

As controversial as it may seem, the results coincided with the publication of a report that accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of an “influence campaign” to boost Donald Trump’s chances of winning the election and impugn Hillary Clinton’s credibility.

During the congress session, a handful of House Democrats raised objections to ballots cast for Trump and running mate Mike Pence, but without the support of a single senator, their efforts were futile.

Vice President Joe Biden, who presided over the tally, ruled the congressmen objecting out of order. “It is over,” Biden said.

The report, prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), pointed out that: “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.”

Disputes continued between the intelligence and Trump after the 25-pages report was disclosed. The report drew on intelligence gathered by the FBI, CIA, and NSA, concluded that Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.

After meeting with U.S. intelligence officials at Trump Tower, Trump did not endorse the conclusion of Russian interference but said he would task his administration with devising a new plan to “aggressively combat and stop cyber attacks”.

Trump said he had “tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community. He described the meeting with senior intelligence officials, as “constructive”.

“Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations,” Trump said in a statement, and underlined “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

Prior to the elections, WikiLeaks published a huge number of private emails from Clinton allies, which affected the Democrats candidate.

Trump saw the full ODNI report during his meeting, as well as President Obama.

Gordon Corera, BBC News’ Security correspondent, hoped the new report would contain at least some new technical detail, but he said it contained only few information of what hasn’t been disclosed before.

Corera said that the report didn’t reveal its sources, something which would not convince those who doubt it. But he said that for the first time, it is shown that Russia sided with a party.

Following the publication of the report, President Obama said he’s concerned about Republican commentators who appear to side with Russia over the US, adding that Russian President should not be trusted.

“One of the things I am concerned about is the degree to which we’ve seen a lot of commentary lately where there are Republicans or pundits or cable commentators who seem to have more confidence in Vladimir Putin than fellow Americans because those fellow Americans are Democrats,” said Obama during an interview with ABC News.

“Well, what I will say is that — and I said that after the election — we have to remind ourselves that we’re on the same team,” Obama declared adding that: “Vladimir Putin is not on our team.”

ONDI also mentioned that: “Moscow will apply lessons learnt from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan said: “We must also be clear that there is no evidence that there was any interference in the voting or balloting process. We cannot allow partisans to exploit this report in an attempt to delegitimize the president-elect’s victory.”

In the report, there were no solid evidence of Russian interference, but the hacking of several democrats’ computers was done from Russia.

Whether the Russian interference added more votes for Trump, the report can’t be sure.

“We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion,” explained the report.

According to the report, Russian officials didn’t predict Trump’s victory. Before the election, Russian diplomats had publicly denounced the U.S. electoral process and were prepared to publicly call into question the validity of the results.

The ODNI also added that: “ProKremlin bloggers had prepared a Twitter campaign, #DemocracyRIP, on election night in anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s victory.”

The report also indicated that Russian media played a role in favoring Trump. It explained: “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine—comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.”

During the 2016 campaign, RT aired a number of conspiratorial segments cast Clinton as corrupt and funded by ISIS and portrayed the U.S. electoral system as rigged.

“We assess the Russian intelligence services would have seen their election influence campaign as at least a qualified success because of their perceived ability to impact public discussion,” ODNI writes.

The Tainted Election


The C.I.A., according to The Washington Post, has now determined that hackers working for the Russian government worked to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump. This has actually been obvious for months, but the agency was reluctant to state that conclusion before the election out of fear that it would be seen as taking a political role.

Meanwhile, the F.B.I. went public 10 days before the election, dominating headlines and TV coverage across the country with a letter strongly implying that it might be about to find damning new evidence against Hillary Clinton — when it turned out, literally, to have found nothing at all.

Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?

And it wouldn’t have been seen as a marginal victory, either. Even as it was, Mrs. Clinton received almost three million more votes than her opponent, giving her a popular margin close to that of George W. Bush in 2004.

So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.

The question now is what to do with that horrifying knowledge in the months and years ahead.

One could, I suppose, appeal to the president-elect to act as a healer, to conduct himself in a way that respects the majority of Americans who voted against him and the fragility of his Electoral College victory. Yeah, right. What we’re actually getting are wild claims that millions of people voted illegally, false assertions of a landslide, and denigration of the intelligence agencies.

Another course of action, which you’ll see many in the news media taking, is to normalize the incoming administration, basically to pretend that everything is O.K. This might — might — be justified if there were any prospect of responsible, restrained behavior on the part of the next president. In reality, however, it’s clear that Mr. Trump — whose personal conflicts of interest are unprecedented, and quite possibly unconstitutional — intends to move U.S. policy radically away from the preferences of most Americans, including a pronounced pro-Russian shift in foreign policy.

In other words, nothing that happened on Election Day or is happening now is normal. Democratic norms have been and continue to be violated, and anyone who refuses to acknowledge this reality is, in effect, complicit in the degradation of our republic. This president will have a lot of legal authority, which must be respected. But beyond that, nothing: he doesn’t deserve deference, he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

And when, as you know will happen, the administration begins treating criticism as unpatriotic, the answer should be: You have to be kidding. Mr. Trump is, by all indications, the Siberian candidate, installed with the help of and remarkably deferential to a hostile foreign power. And his critics are the people who lack patriotism?

New York Times

Opinion: With Trump the Pendulum Swings Away From Obama’s Schemes

With President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet appointments almost complete, it is possible to seek an assessment of the direction that the new team may choose for the United States.

The first feature of Trump’s team is that, broadly speaking, its members are people who were somebodies in their respective fields before being asked to join the administration.

This is in contrast with President Barack Obama’s administration which consisted largely of unknown figures plus defeated presidential candidates such as Joe Biden, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry. Obama’s team was dominated by lawyers who, like himself, had not even practiced their trade before they entered politics. In Trump’s team, in contrast, you need a loop to find a lawyer, if at all.

In forming his team, Trump has looked for strong personalities who, because they have had distinguished careers of their own, are unlikely to form a chorus of yes-men and women. In contrast, Obama couldn’t tolerate anyone who challenged his views. This is clear in Hillary Clinton’s memoirs and was manifested on at least three occasions when Obama publicly reversed decisions announced by his Secretary of State John Kerry.

Trump also had a wider field of recruitment, picking his team from 15 states, a wider choice than Obama’s which was, initially at least, centered on the Chicago political Mafia.

Trump played an interesting game by leading many Republican dinosaurs, notably Newt Gingrich, Rudolph Guiliani and Chris Christie, not to mention turncoat Democrats like Senator Joe Libermann and former CIA head James Woolsey, up the garden path by dangling the mirage of big jobs in front of them. In the end, however, he formed his own team and united the Republican Party on his own terms, owing nothing to any party grandee.

Unlike Obama’s team which consisted mostly of people on the margin of American elites, Trump’s Cabinet is a coalition of constituencies that together form the core of the United States’ national power.

Represented in the Trump Cabinet are the Wall Street, the oil and energy industry, the military-security establishment, and the business community. The team includes the largest number of military figures and business people in any US Cabinet since the 1940s; yet, it is more of a citizen’s Cabinet than many previous ones dominated by professional politicians.

The profile of Trump’s Cabinet indicates changes of the pendulum in a direction opposite the one produced by Obama’s wayward presidency. First, the pendulum will swing away from the expansion of the public sector favored by Obama and most dramatically illustrated by his so-called Affordable health scheme. If allowed to develop its full potential, the Obama scheme could mean the virtual nationalization of some 16 per cent of the US gross domestic product, a huge step towards a state-dominated economy.

Next, the pendulum will swing away from globalization. Trump does not want, and cannot, stop let alone reverse globalization. But he seems to want to modulate its rhythm and tempo to reduce its adverse socio-economic effects on sections of US society. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, however, were committed to expanding and speeding up globalization with a series of new trade deals covering the Pacific region and, later, the European continent.

The Trump presidency will also see the pendulum swing away from massive and systematic cuts in the United States’ defense capabilities. Rather than pursue Obama’s strategy of gradually disarming the US, Trump promises an ambitious modernization plan aimed at increasing the American military power and its global reach.

Under Trump, the pendulum will also swing away from Obama’s very a la mode but ultimately vacuous commitment to environmental schemes, notably the witches’ brew cooked in last year’s Climate Change Conference in Paris. Trump believes that at a time the global economy badly needs growth it would be wrong to impose on it restraints motivated by ideology rather than science.

The pendulum will also swing away from restrictions that Obama imposed, and Hillary Clinton endorsed, on the US energy industry. That gives the coal industry a longer lease of life while the shale oil could benefit from a review of rules imposed on it by the federal government. Current restrictions on energy, especially oil exports by the US may also be eased.

In foreign policy the pendulum is likely to swing away from Obama’s policy of wooing, and helping, America’s enemies while antagonizing her friends and allies.

Obama gave Russia the space to go rogue, invading its neighbors, annexing other people’s territories and ignoring international rules even in the field of Olympics sport. The Trump team, in contrast, is unlikely to be such a pushover for Vladimir Putin who, opportunist that he is, knows full well when to stop if there is a risk of hitting something hard.

Under Trump the pendulum will also swing away from Obama’s sycophantic courting of the mullahs of Tehran. Trump is unlikely to follow Obama’s example of writing love letters to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, not to mention the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Nor will Trump repeat Obama’s James-Bond style smuggling of suitcases filled with cash for the mullahs flown via Cyprus to Tehran at night. Trump may not try and overthrow the mullahs, which, in any case, is not anyone’s business except the Iranian people’s. But he is unlikely to help the mullahs, as Obama has done for almost eight years, get out of the holes their antediluvian ideology keeps digging for their regime.

In the same context the pendulum is sure to swing away from lip-service to Islam, support for the Muslim Brotherhood and disdain for pro-democracy forces in the so-called Muslim World. In 2009, Obama sided with the mullahs against the people of Iran, then in nationwide rebellion. In 2011 he helped the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Cairo, wrecking the chances of reformist and pro-democracy forces. However, always lacking the courage of his professed convictions, when the tide turned, Obama abandoned the Brothers to their tragic fate.

Trump may end up disappointing many, including some of his ardent supporters. But his presidency offers a chance for the US to change course away from the disastrous direction set by Obama and his associates.

Opinion: Which Muslims Are Against Trump?

Extremist forces in our region have declared war on the US President-elect Donald Trump even before he has entered the White House under the pretext that he has an agenda to fight Islam and Muslims. They are trying to incite around one billion Muslims around the world against the new administration and the United States. Religious pulpits and media affiliated to extremist Islamic organisations including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime are being used to do this.

Is President-elect Trump really hostile to Muslims in general? Do his secretaries of state really hold hostile positions against Islam as a religion? Since the US President-elect’s choices for his cabinet have been made public, a campaign has started in our region that relies on articles and video clips attributed to members of Trump’s new cabinet, and declares that there are preparations to fight a war on a billion Muslims in Washington. Trump’s Defence Secretary General James Mattis has voiced hostility clearly, but against terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda. He is also explicitly against what Iran is doing in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Trump’s National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn has made fierce speeches against extremist Islamist groups and many have used these speeches to indicate that he is hostile to Islam and Muslims.

In fact, what General Flynn said is what we keep on saying to ourselves – that there is a dangerous virus within the Muslim community called extremism that is killing Muslims and threatening them everywhere, more than it is harming the west and followers of other religions. Doesn’t this dangerous disease exist in Muslim societies around the world? Of course it does. Look at what happened in Turkey and Egypt during the last few days, and the heinous crimes that extremists groups that Flynn and Mattis demand to confront have committed in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan.

Trump chose Mike Pompeo to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and he has the same views on the need to confront extremism and is aware of the destructive role that Iran plays in the region and the world.

If we realise that those who are angry with these three appointments are Iran, Al-Qaeda and Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, we will be able to understand that the problem does not lie in Trump’s choices but in the project of these men to confront terrorism that these parties sponsor or benefit from. The majority of Islamic countries agree with the proposals of these secretaries of state and their view of the crisis that threatens the whole world.

We, as Muslims, have been fighting a war against extremism and extremist ideology and groups for the last fifteen years, and we want the world to differentiate between Muslims and not generalise. We want the world to stand with the majority of peaceful Muslims against the evil minority. It is in our interest to repel regimes, such as Iran, that support terrorist groups, whether Sunni or Shiite, and those that become their allies and intervene in regional wars under false slogans such as defending Islam or standing against the west.

On the other hand, we understand that Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the election angered the Muslim Brotherhood, and their outrage was intensified when the President-elect Trump greeted the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in New York. It is on this basis that the group is trying to portray Trump’s administration as racist and an enemy of Islam and Muslims. It also wants to build a popular bloc that exerts pressure to confront the new US government in order to intimidate it and force it to change its positions. They are doing so by entrenching themselves behind Islam and Muslims.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood should be aware that we do not agree with it, that its ambitions for power do not concern us and that we do not want to stand with it. At the same time we support any government in the world that is ready to be allies with us against extremism and terrorism, and this was the case even before Trump entered the political arena. These groups should realise the gravity of media, political and religious incitement against Trump and the west and how this will cause new waves of violence under false justifications.

Over forty years, Iran has led extremist groups, whether they are armed, politicised, Sunni or Shiite and whether they are in Lebanon, Palestine or the Gulf, and it continues to do so. Today, it is partly responsible for the sectarian chaos that engulfs Iraq and the rivers of blood that flow in Syria. For the first time, we see officials in Washington who know the facts on the ground and have explicitly announced that they will not accept blackmail or remain silent on the practices of extremist and terrorist regimes and groups.

We must understand the motives behind groups that wage campaigns to incite against the new US administration. Iran knows that two of the appointed generals know it through personal experience, and ISIS knows that the stage of truce will end with President Obama’s departure. The Muslim Brotherhood, which enjoyed Obama’s support and bet on Clinton being elected as president, is now facing a new phase that may not be in its interest.

These are the reasons for the anger towards and hasty judgments against the new US administration, and they reflect the stance of all three groups; Iran, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who sympathise with them. As for the majority of Islamic countries, they will be very happy if the president in the White House wants to fight extremism and terrorism.

2016’s Biggest Loser

Of all the losers in this season of discontent, the mainstream media top the list. I don’t say this lightly, and I sincerely fear that loss of faith in journalism ultimately will cause more harm to the nation than any outside enemy could hope to.

Only 18 percent of Americans trust national news and just 22 percent trust local news, according to the Pew Research Center. That said, three-fourths of Americans think news organizations keep political leaders in line, though about the same percentage think the news media are biased.

Not surprisingly, Republicans more than Democrats think this way. It hasn’t helped that Republican politicos and conservative cable and radio outlets have convinced their constituents that the media are the enemy. It seems we’ve forgotten that the purpose of a newspaper, as Chicago Evening Post journalist and humorist Finley Peter Dunne put it in an 1893 column, is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Could there be a better reason to give Donald Trump a rough ride?

Nevertheless, distrust of legitimate journalism is no joking matter. What happens to democracy when an uninformed, misinformed or disinformed populace tries to make sound decisions? The simple and terrible answer is, democracy fails.

We’ve reached this critical juncture thanks largely to the digital revolution. Until relatively recently, most people relied on a limited number of trusted news sources, which provided a basis for what we referred to as “common knowledge.” The country more or less also shared a set of common values.

Today, of course, we have thousands of news sources — millions if you count social media. Everyone can pick his or her own outlet for consumption as well as a venue for invention. Personal journalists — that is, anyone with a smartphone to photograph or record video in real time — have created virtual newsrooms of one that can communicate with countless others through tweets, retweets and created buzz on fact or fiction.

If you’re suddenly put in mind of insects, you’re not far off. Deafened by the dizzying din, it’s hard to hear the angels sing.

To those who complain that Trump received more negative coverage than Hillary Clinton did, I would merely point out that correctly quoting the man was inherently negative. He said a lot of awful stuff and offered little of substance to offset the headlines. Moreover, the media have covered every follicle of Clinton’s scalp for 25 to 30 years. Her flaws and failures are well-known to anyone who’s been half-awake, while Trump was essentially new on the political stage.

Trump’s own criticism of the press was as trumped-up as many of his other campaign slogans, created to rile the crowd and deflect attention from, among other things, the fact that his manipulation of the media was the engine that propelled him to the top of the heap. But he knew that media bashing was popular among his base and gave them what they wanted.

Also contributing to the growing distrust is the perceived blurring of news and opinion, which can be a legitimate beef. Advocacy journalism, in this opinion writer’s view, belongs on the editorial and op-ed pages, though many news organizations subscribe to the notion that advancing a social cause or, perhaps, derailing an unfit candidate justifies aggressive, Page 1 coverage, objectivity be damned.

Thus, one shouldn’t wonder why so many have lost faith. It is worth noting, however, that when a mainstream reporter or editor is found to be deliberately dishonest, he or she is quickly dispatched to the outer darkness. The same can’t be said of the alternative news world or of social media. On Facebook, “fake” news creator Paul Horner recently marveled that his viral, made-up stories helped get Trump elected.

Fortunately, only 4 percent of Americans trust social media “a lot” as a news source, and 30 percent trust it “some,” according to Pew. But sometimes it’s hard to tell fake from true, or advocacy from propaganda, and therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge of our time.

What’s clear is that news consumers must be extra-vigilant in selecting news sources, while also being self-critical about those choices. The mainstream media need to work harder at presenting balanced reporting to rebuild trust. And education programs aimed at teaching students how to evaluate news, such as those created by the News Literacy Project, need greater public support and an accelerated timeline.

Words to this effect from our next president wouldn’t hurt. Trump would see headlines change quickly in his favor, the world would rejoice, and the Trump brand would be golden forever. Come on, do it.

The Washington Post

Opinion: The American System Reviews Itself

The majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and she won the popular vote by at least one million votes. However, the presidency went to her rival Donald Trump because he won the electoral college. This contradiction previously occurred in the 2000 elections, and calls for the reform of the electoral system increased as a result. It seems that Congress listened and is prepared to review it.

In spite of the large amount of self-criticism and the multiplicity of its defects, the American system is considered to be one of the best Western democracies compared to parliamentary systems such as the French and the British ones. After every election season, criticism increases about the interference of major companies who promote candidates through donations, super PACs and lobbyists. This was criticised by Trump himself and he promised to reform the matter although this is doubtful.

However, the system itself is more transparent than others and there is more balance between the authorities. The president has considerable power but it is not absolute as there are counter balancing authorities in the legislative councils that are responsible for accountability and auditing. The president also appoints his ministers rather than the party, but congress has the final say.

Despite the magnitude of the US government, it does not have more than fifteen ministers. This is a small number compared to the ministers of a small country like Lebanon whose latest government has 24 ministers. The president does not meet with them directly in their capacity as the cabinet as is the case in most countries in the world. Some believe that one of the defects of the American system is that the president appoints the judges to the Supreme Court, only when there is a vacant position, and the position of a judge is for life or until the judge cannot perform his/her duties.

Unlike European systems, it is not permissible for government ministers to be members of the Congress. Rather, they must choose one option. On the other hand, all ministers are members of parliament or the House of Lords in Britain and France, and whoever becomes a minister from outside of these institutions is appointed to the House of Lords. The president does not have the right to interfere in the affairs of Congress, and he only leads it once a year. The authorities are separate and neither of them can impose their decisions on the other.

The president and his government, namely the executive authority, is separate from the legislative authority i.e. Congress and the judicial authority. The system requires the government to provide information to citizens at their request except information that is classified as secret.

The system is reasonable but it is not perfect; active groups can influence the workings of the state but inactive groups may lose a lot because the system does not protect people who have needs automatically. For this reason, there are groups to protect the environment, the rights of minorities, trade unions and so on. American Arabs and Muslims are examples of inactive groups that are losing a lot because of their lack of involvement in political work as groups and because they depend on the constitution to protect their rights.

The constitution is indeed the highest level in the system, and there are countries such as Britain without constitutions. In America it is almost sacred and cannot be contradicted however strong the president or the judges are, and amendments to it are historically rare. It protects the fundamental rights of all and is considered the main sources of support for minorities despite the many provocative campaigns against them. Most of the discrimination cases filed by American Muslims after the September 11 attacks were won based on the principles of the constitution.

This does not eliminate the need for political action in accordance with the political system that is available to all, is known for its flexibility, gives the minorities a loud voice no matter how small the group is, and all of this distinguishes countries like the United States where most of its inhabitants are descendants of immigrants from different nations, unlike European countries that are dominated by specific ethnicities and religions and where the interests of the majority dominate the minority.

Finally, although freedoms are protected and political participation is available to all, the political system is dominated by two parties – the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The intellectual differences between the two are limited unlike the situation in Europe. The recent elections were strange and different because Trump doesn’t actually belong to the Republican Party and he doesn’t believe in all its principles. Likewise, Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s main rival for the Democratic Party’s candidacy, was more leftist than any other candidate in the party’s history. We do not know whether this is a sign of transition and change within the American political society or whether they are two rare cases.