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Russian Collusion? – Article by Mollie Hemingway

Russian Collusion? – Article by Mollie Hemingway

The New Renaissance Hat
Mollie Hemingway
October 1, 2017
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This essay is reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered on September 7, 2017, at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.

We keep being told that President Trump is not normal. This much has been blindingly obvious. He had never run for office or otherwise served in a public capacity. He has been accused, not without reason, of breaking all manner of political norms. America’s most nontraditional president was never going to conduct business as usual from the West Wing. Less than a year into his first term, he has already caused much anguish in Washington. This should be no surprise—while running for office Trump repeatedly promised to “drain the swamp” and shake things up. Americans knew who they were voting for, and history will judge the results.

That said, Trump’s nascent presidency has coincided with perhaps the greatest violation of political norms this country has ever seen—a violation that has nothing to do with Trump’s behavior. Since the election last November, there has been a sustained, coordinated attack on Trump’s legitimacy as president following his victory in a free and fair election. This has the potential to cause far more lasting damage to America than Trump’s controversial style.

Democratic operatives and their media allies attempted to explain Trump’s victory with a claim they had failed to make stick during the general election: Trump had nefarious ties to Russia. This was a fertile area for allegations, if for no other reason than that Trump had been reluctant to express criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. By contrast, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeatedly condemned Russia’s 2011 elections, saying they were “neither free nor fair” and expressing “serious concerns” about them. She publicly called for a full investigation while meeting with top Russian officials. This made Putin livid. “Mr. Putin said that hundreds of millions of dollars in ‘foreign money’ was being used to influence Russian politics, and that Mrs. Clinton had personally spurred protesters to action,” The New York Times reported.

Trump’s relationship with Putin was decidedly different. In December 2015, Putin called Trump “a really brilliant and talented person.” Trump replied: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” He added, “I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

Then rumors surfaced in the summer of 2016 that Russia probably had something to do with the alleged hack of the Democratic National Committee email system, as well as the successful “phishing” of Democratic insider John Podesta’s inbox. Russia was also alleged to have tried to hack the Republican National Committee, but without success. It remained an open question whether the Russians were trying to help Trump or were simply trying to create chaos in the election. Regardless, these Democratic Party emails were published by WikiLeaks, and they confirmed what many critics had said about Clinton and the DNC—the DNC had engineered the primary to ensure a Clinton victory; the Clinton campaign had cozy, borderline unethical relations with members of the mainstream media; Clinton expressed private positions to Wall Street banks that were at odds with her public positions; and various other embarrassing details indicating her campaign was in disarray.

According to Shattered, a well-sourced book about the Clinton campaign written by sympathetic reporters, Clinton settled on a Russia excuse within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. [Campaign manager Robby] Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.

The Russian collusion story involves a lot of details, but there are two basic tactics that Trump’s enemies have used to push the narrative: they have put seemingly innocuous contacts with Russians under a microscope, and they have selectively touted details supplied by a politicized intelligence apparatus. And this has all been amplified by a media that has lost perspective and refuses to be impartial, much less accurate.

Meetings with Russians

If most of us can now agree that Putin’s Russia is a potential threat to the United States, we shouldn’t forget that the Washington establishment regarded this as a radical opinion not so long ago. Shortly after President Obama was elected in 2008, Time magazine ran a cover with him asking a Russian bear, “Can we be friends?” The media generally celebrated Secretary of State Clinton’s attempt at a Russian “reset” in 2009. Obama was later caught on a hot mic promising Putin more “flexibility” once he was reelected. And during Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, when his opponent Mitt Romney characterized Russia as our greatest geopolitical foe, Obama mocked him by saying, “The 1980s called. They want their foreign policy back.” The New York Times editorial page said of Romney’s Russia comments that they “display either a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics. Either way, they are reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender.”

Trump’s election changed all that. Not since the heyday of McCarthyism in the 1950s have so many in Washington been accused of consorting with Russians who wish to undermine American democracy.

The Washington Post reported in mid-January that Mike Flynn, Trump’s incoming National Security Advisor, had spoken via telephone with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on December 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials in retaliation for the DNC hacking. Although such conversations are perfectly legal, the Postsuggested, quite incredibly, that Flynn might have violated the Logan Act, which bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. The Logan Act, which has a long record of being cited by cranks, has not been enforced since it was passed (in 1799!) because it is widely considered to be grossly unconstitutional. In addition to the PostThe New York TimesForeign Policymagazine, and other outlets credulously repeated the same ludicrous talking point about Logan Act violations.

Let it also be noted that Flynn, while a critic of Russia and of the Iran nuclear deal that Russia helped put together, also was paid to speak at a dinner hosted by the Russian TV network Russia Today.

When then-Senator Jeff Sessions was asked, during his confirmation hearing to be U.S Attorney General, about allegations of Russian attempts to compromise the Trump campaign, he noted that he had been a Trump surrogate and hadn’t heard of any meetings for this purpose. When it turned out Sessions had met with Kislyak in a different capacity—as a U.S. Senator on the Armed Services Committee—the ensuing uproar in the media led him to recuse himself from any investigation into Russian meddling. Of course, it was Kislyak’s job to facilitate as many meetings as possible with top officials across the political spectrum, and he was seen at meetings with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Claire McCaskill, two prominent Democrats, as well as other Republicans. Indeed, such meetings between foreign ambassadors and U.S. elected officials are routine.

It’s true that Trump was associated with people who had ties to Russians. His former campaign manager Paul Manafort had previously done political consulting work in Ukraine for Russia-aligned groups. Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor with a limited role, is a Naval Academy graduate, businessman, and academic who has been open about his belief that America’s anti-Russian foreign policy has been counterproductive. And Roger Stone, a campaign advisor with a reputation for outlandish campaign work, reportedly spoke with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as well as Guccifer 2.0, who may be a Russian hacker.

But perhaps no meeting attracted as much scrutiny as one in June 2016 between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and various Russians, including a Russian lawyer. According to email correspondence, the Trump associates were told they would receive opposition research on Clinton that may have been provided by the Russian government. No research was handed over, but critics said that the language in the emails supported claims of attempted collusion. After weeks of accusations, the story quickly ran out of steam when it was revealed that the Russian lawyer, who was to have provided the information, had employed a shadowy opposition research firm known as Fusion GPS—a business that had strong ties to Democratic interests, had previously tried to smear Mitt Romney donors and critics of Planned Parenthood, and had played a key role in a recent and infamous attempt to smear Trump.

Politicized Intelligence

Many allegations concerning Russia have been taken seriously based solely on the institutional credibility of the accusers. It appears that members of America’s intelligence community are some of the President’s most passionate opponents.

Late last December, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI put out a 13-page report touted as definitive proof of Russian state involvement in the DNC server hack and the phishing attack on John Podesta’s emails. It was remarkably paltry—vague and non-specific in a way that really didn’t help clarify the precise nature of Russia’s involvement. Cyberwarfare expert Jeffrey Carr wrote that the report “adds nothing to the call for evidence that the Russian government was responsible” for the hacks. It listed every threat ever reported by a commercial cybersecurity company that was suspected of having a Russian origin, Carr noted, lumping them under the heading of Russian Intelligence Services, without providing any supporting evidence that such a connection existed. Former Air Force cyberwarfare officer Robert Lee said the report was of limited use to security professionals, in part because of poor organization and a lack of crucial details.

Senior intelligence appointees tried again in early January, with a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It was also lacking in specifics. But comments from high profile Democrats, supported by a leak campaign to media outlets, did have an effect. By late December, more than half of Democrats believed—despite the lack of evidence—that “Russia tampered with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President,” according to a YouGov.com poll.

When Trump responded to these reports with dismissals and a few begrudging admissions of minor contacts with Russians, critics gleefully warned him that partisans at intelligence agencies would retaliate. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.” Former George W. Bush speechwriter and current never-Trump activist David Frum echoed this sentiment: “CIA message to Trump: you mess with us, get ready for a leakstorm of Biblical proportions.” Essentially, intelligence agencies were being publicly encouraged to abuse their power to stop Trump before he had even assumed office.

In January, the big story dropped. “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him,” blared the headline from CNN. According to highly placed anonymous sources, top intelligence appointees had informed Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Trump that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” A former British intelligence operative had compiled a damaging “dossier” on the President-elect. CNN reported that intelligence officials considered this operative’s past work credible. But he had paid his Russian sources for the compromising information, and CNN published its report on the dossier without confirming any of the allegations. Within the hour, BuzzFeed published the actual text of the dossier. It said, among other things, that a senior Trump advisor and three of his colleagues had met with Kremlin operatives in Prague in late August or early September to undermine the Clinton campaign. And the Russians were said to have a kompromat file on Trump, including an amazing story about him renting a hotel room the Obamas had used and paying prostitutes to urinate on the bed.

One of the claims was quickly disproven: Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer who was alleged to have gone to Prague for a clandestine meeting with Kremlin operatives, had never been to Prague. And to date, no media organization has provided any independent evidence to confirm a single claim made in the dossier. It was soon revealed that the firm that had hired the former British operative and put together the dossier was the aforementioned Fusion GPS. What’s more, the FBI allegedly sought to pay the British operative to continue gathering dirt on Trump.

Aside from a lack of concern about the accuracy of the charges against Trump, intelligence chiefs were not discriminating about who got caught up in their anti-Trump crusade. In March, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced that “unmasking” of Trump transition team members had occurred during the last three months of the Obama presidency—that is, significant personal information from and about Trump associates had been collected and widely disseminated.

“I recently confirmed that, on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes said. The information collected, he added, had little or no foreign intelligence value, and nothing to do with Russia. Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes were later reported to be involved in this rampant unmasking activity.

Trump created one of the biggest firestorms of his presidency in May when he fired FBI Director James Comey. The embattled FBI head, who let Hillary Clinton slide after her illegal handling of classified information, had been routinely criticized by both Democrats and Republicans and was officially fired for general ineptness. However, Trump said it was also because Comey was playing games with the Russia investigation. In his letter relieving him of his duties, Trump mentioned that Comey had told him three times he was not under investigation. Many journalists scoffed at this claim, since Comey was publicly intimating otherwise. When he was fired, stories favorable to Comey about private meetings between Comey and Trump came out in the media.

In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee a few weeks later, Comey admitted he had, in fact, told Trump at least three times he was not under investigation by the FBI. Comey also admitted under oath that his leaks to The New York Times were designed to force the hiring of a special prosecutor. His strategy paid off when his close friend and former colleague Robert Mueller was appointed to head an investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. That investigation has since spiraled out to include leads “that have nothing to do with Russia,” according to media reports.

The egregious behavior of influential officials such as Comey has encouraged people to think that the verdict of the intelligence community was more conclusive than it was. During a 2016 presidential debate, Clinton said, “We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election.” Clinton’s claim wasn’t true. It was only three agencies—the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency—that made the claim. Yet media outlets such as NBC, CBS, CNN, and The New York Times repeated the number 17. In late June, The New York Times corrected a story that made the false claim. So did the Associated Press.

In general, the media have overstated the confidence and public evidence in support of Russian hacking. One group of skeptical intelligence analysts, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), issued a memo in late July arguing that the hack of the DNC emails wasn’t a hack at all, but an internal leak. VIPS is generally thought to be sympathetic to the Left—the same group had cast doubt on the quality of intelligence that led the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. The VIPS memo raises questions about why the FBI failed to perform an independent forensic analysis of the Democratic emails or servers in question. In fact, no federal agency performed a forensic analysis, leaving that to CrowdStrike—a company with strong ties to the Clinton campaign that had an incentive to blame foreign governments for the attack. Surely, more forensic scrutiny of the centerpiece of the Russia hack claim is in order.

To date, despite all the misleading claims in news reports, the only actual crime related to the Trump-Russia investigation is the criminal leaking of classified information about U.S. citizens by intelligence officials.

Media Problems

A compliant media responded to the Clinton campaign’s “blame Russia” strategy by pushing stories alleging wrongdoing by Russia. Many of the early ones fell apart. The Washington Post published a story saying that “fake news”—a term originally used to describe the dissemination of blatantly false news reports intended to go viral on social media—was a Russian operation designed to help Trump. An editor’s note was appended backing away from the report a couple weeks later. (Trump would famously appropriate the term “fake news” to describe reports from the mainstream media he found unfair.) A few weeks later, the Post ran an even more incendiary story alleging that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electrical grid. This turned out to be false. One media outlet headline read: “Trump, Russian billionaire say they’ve never met, but their jets did.” Presumably, these inanimate objects exchanged pleasantries and discussed sensitive foreign policy matters.

CNN has had particular trouble. Breathless headlines such as “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign” fail to be supported with evidence. Anonymous officials would say that such communications “are not unusual” and investigators had not “reached a judgment” of any nefarious intent. Other CNN stories had bigger problems, such as the one reporting that Comey would testify he never told Trump he was not under investigation. As mentioned previously, Comey admitted under oath that he’d said this three times, just as Trump claimed. Another story reporting a problematic meeting between a Trump associate and a Russian, again based on a single anonymous source, was quietly retracted, and three employees who worked on it were dismissed.

Journalism in the Trump era has become far too dependent on unreliable and anonymous sources. And considering the steady drumbeat in the media about Trump having a strained relationship with facts, there is plenty of irony in the fact that the media have had to correct or retract an unprecedented number of stories about him and his administration.

There are three primary ways of viewing the Trump-Russia narrative.

View one is that Russians hacked the election and Donald Trump committed treason by knowingly colluding with them. The Obama administration didn’t surveil Trump or his associates, but if it did, it was simply doing its job.

View two is that Russia was probably involved in the hacking and releasing of emails from the DNC and John Podesta. Some Trump associates had ties to Russia, but there is no evidence of Trump or his campaign colluding with Russia.

View three is that the Russia story is a complete fiction concocted by sore losers unable to deal with the reality of their electoral loss.

It shouldn’t be difficult to ascertain which one of these views is most grounded in facts. Despite his friendly rhetoric toward Russia and Putin during the campaign, Trump’s presidency has been marked by a bombing of Russia-backed Syria, bombing of the Russia-aligned Taliban in Afghanistan, stricter enforcement of economic sanctions, support for the expansion of NATO, liquid natural gas exports to Europe that undercut Russia’s economy, the selling of U.S. missile defense to Poland and Romania, and opposition to the Russian-negotiated Iran nuclear deal.

In the meantime, the self-styled anti-Trump “resistance” has created a standard it must meet to justify the broken norms and political trauma to which it has subjected the country. That standard is nothing less than proof that Donald Trump is a traitor put into the White House through collusion with Russia to undermine our electoral system. The better part of a year into his presidency, Trump’s enemies have not come close to meeting that standard.

Mollie Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist and a Fox News contributor. She received her B.A. from the University of Colorado at Denver. She has been a Philips Foundation Journalism Fellow, a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, and a Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Journalism at Hillsdale College. She has written for numerous publications, including The Wall Street JournalThe Washington Post, and Christianity Today, and is the author of Trump vs. the Media.

Our Media-Driven Epistemological Breakdown – Article by Bill Frezza

Our Media-Driven Epistemological Breakdown – Article by Bill Frezza

The New Renaissance HatBill Frezza
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How do we know what we know? Philosophers have pondered this question from time immemorial. Julian Jaynes, in his classic book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, speculates that before the development of modern human consciousness, people believed they were informed by voices in their heads. Today, an alarming number of people are responding to voices on the Internet in similarly uncritical fashion.

As Jesuit scholar John Culkin pointed out in his seminal 1967 Saturday Review article, “A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan,” “We shape our tools and, thereafter, they shape us.” Examining history through this lens, one can identify seven great epochs in mankind’s intellectual and social evolution.  Each is characterized by the way a new technology changed not only how we think about the world, but our actual thought processes. These are:

1) Spoken language, which first led to the primacy of mythology;

2) Written language, which bequeathed to us holy books and the world’s great religions;

3) The printing press, which spread literacy to the elites who went on to birth the nation state, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the U.S. Constitution;

4) The telegraph, which transformed pamphlets and broadsheets into modern newspapers, whose agenda-setting influence goaded America to “Remember the Maine” and become an imperialist power;

5) Radio, which placed broadcast propaganda at the service of central planners, progressives, and tyrants;

6) Television, which propelled the rising tide of the counterculture, environmentalism, and globalism; and

7) The Internet, a nascent global memory machine that puts the Library of Alexandria to shame, yet fits in everyone’s pocket.

Reason’s primacy is a fragile thing.

At each transition, the older environment and way of thinking does not disappear. Rather, it adopts an extreme defensive crouch as it attempts to retain power over men’s minds. It is the transition from the Age of Television to the Age of the Internet that concerns us here, as it serves up an often-toxic brew of advocacy and click-bait journalism competing to feed the masses an avalanche of unverifiable information, often immune to factual or logical refutation.

Rational epistemology holds that reason is the chief test and source of knowledge, and that each of us is not just capable of practicing it, but is responsible for doing so. Reason flowered when the Enlightenment overturned the ancient wisdom of holy books, undermining the authority of clerics and the divine right of kings. Wherever reason is widely practiced and healthy skepticism is socially accepted, error becomes self-correcting (rather than self-amplifying, as under a system based on superstition), as new propositions are tested, while old propositions get reexamined as new facts come to light.

So now that the voices have returned to our heads, we are inadequately prepared to defend against them.

Yet, reason’s primacy is a fragile thing. As increasingly potent electronic media confer influence on new voices, formerly-dominant media and governing elites fight a rearguard action to regain their status as ultimate arbiters of knowledge and what matters. Goebbels proved that a lie repeated loudly and frequently in a culture that punished skepticism became accepted as truth. We all know how that turned out.

Revulsion at the carnage of the Second World War crested with the counterculture revolution driven by the first TV generation. By the time the dust settled, its thought leaders had grabbed control of the academy, reshaping it along postmodern lines that included an assault on language that critics dubbed political correctness. This was intentionally designed to constrain what people can think by restraining what they can say. The intention may have been to avert a repeat of the horrors of the 20th century, but the result was to strip much of the educated populace of the mental tools needed to ferret out error.

So now that the voices have returned to our heads, we are inadequately prepared to defend against them. Digitally streamed into every nook and cranny of our ubiquitously connected lives, these voices are filtered by our own self-reinforcing preferences and prejudices, becoming our own in the process. The result is an ongoing series of meme-driven culture wars where the shouting only gets louder on all sides.

So we come back to the question: How do we know what we know?

What causes crime? Is autism linked to vaccines? Should GMOs be banned? Is global warming “settled science”? These are more than factual questions. Responses to them signal identification with an array of ever more finely differentiated identity groups set at each other’s throats. For those who wish to divide and rule, that’s the whole point.

In a cruel irony, this global outbreak of media-induced public schizophrenia has even empowered jihadists bent on taking the world back to the 10th century using the idea-spreading tools of the Internet to challenge a Western Civilization rapidly losing its mojo.

So we come back to the question: How do we know what we know? At the present time, we don’t. And therein lies the problem.

Bill Frezza

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the host of RealClear Radio Hour.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

George Zimmerman’s Acquittal – Thoughts and Implications – Video by G. Stolyarov II

George Zimmerman’s Acquittal – Thoughts and Implications – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Now that George Zimmerman has been acquitted in a court of law of the charges of murdering Trayvon Martin, Mr. Stolyarov offers his reflections on the Trayvon Martin case in light of the information that emerged during the trial. These thoughts include a re-evaluation of the comments made in Mr. Stolyarov’s earlier (March 2012) video, “The Travesty of Trayvon Martin’s Murder“.

Reference
– “Shooting of Trayvon Martin” – Wikipedia

Illiberal Belief #24: The World is a Scary Place – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #24: The World is a Scary Place – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
June 9, 2013
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Will the world end with a bang or with a whimper? Will terrorists shake the very foundations of civilization by setting off suitcase nukes in major world cities, or will the continuing contamination of the environment with toxic man-made chemicals give everyone on the planet terminal cancer? One way or another, the apocalypse, it seems, is just around the corner. Or is it?
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In fact, neither of these fears is anywhere near as threatening as many people believe them to be. Dan Gardner, columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, has written a book called Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, published last year and newly available in paperback, in which he tries to put such fears in perspective. According to Gardner, even factoring in the 3000 deaths from the unprecedented destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, Americans are more likely in any given year to be unintentionally electrocuted than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Of course, the real fear is that terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weapons. But while this risk does exist, there are also very substantial obstacles that make such a scenario extremely unlikely. Even if, against all odds, a terrorist organization managed to detonate a nuclear bomb in a major American city, killing on the order of 100,000 people, this would be roughly equivalent to the number of Americans killed each year by diabetes, or by accidents, or by infections contracted in hospitals.As for the fear that toxic man-made chemicals are responsible for increasing incidences of cancer, it hides several misconceptions. For one, it implies that the natural is good and that the man-made is bad. In fact, most pesticides, for instance, are not man-made but occur naturally in the foods we eat. Our fear of toxic chemicals also tends to ignore any consideration of dose, since we tend to panic over insignificant parts per billion that are far below the thresholds found to kill lab rats. As toxicologists are fond of repeating, even water is poisonous in large enough quantities. The fear of environmental chemicals, natural or man-made, is also misplaced in that the American Cancer Society estimates they are responsible for only 2 percent of all cancers, as compared to lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking, diet, obesity, and exercise) that account for a whopping 65 percent. Finally, when adjusted for age and improved screening procedures, incidence rates for all cancers except lung cancer are actually declining, not increasing.
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The Great Riddle

Why are we so much more afraid of terrorism than diabetes? Why do we pay so much attention to minuscule environmental hazards while essentially ignoring much larger lifestyle risks? Contrasting Europeans’ blasé smoking habits with their outsized fear of genetically modified organisms, Gardner writes, “Surely one of the great riddles to be answered by science is how the same person who doesn’t think twice about lighting a Gauloise will march in the streets demanding a ban on products that have never been proven to have caused so much as a single case of indigestion.” To take just one more example, we fear statistically non-existent threats like child abduction and therefore keep our kids indoors, depriving them of exercise and contributing to sedentary lifestyles that have a very real chance of cutting years off of their lives.

The answers to this “great riddle” are partly to be found in human nature. We have gut reactions to dangers that are more dramatic, like terrorist attacks and plane crashes. These rare events also are more likely to make the news, both because of their drama and because of their rarity. Another thousand people died today from heart disease? Ho-hum. Fifty people died in a plane crash? That hasn’t happened in months or years, and the visuals are exciting, so that’s news!

Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid

Irrational fears not only lead us to make bad choices, like driving instead of flying, which place us in greater danger. They also allow government officials to manipulate us more effectively and insinuate themselves more deeply into more and more areas of our lives. The disproportionate fear of terrorism has been nurtured and used to justify a protocol of time-consuming security checks at airports, the warrantless wiretapping of phone calls, the tightening of international borders, and of course, two ongoing wars with huge costs both in terms of lives and money. The exaggerated fear of environmental dangers, for its part, has led to increased taxation and regulation of production, empowering bureaucrats and lobbyists while acting as a drag on innovations and economic growth that could be of even greater benefit to human life and flourishing. (See Gennady Stolyarov II’s “Eden Is an Illusion”.)

We are prone to fear all kinds of things we really shouldn’t, fears that can be and are reinforced by the media out to tell an entertaining story; by companies out to sell us an alarm system or a new drug; by activists or non-governmental organizations out to elicit donations and support; and by politicians out to win elections and accumulate power. The only way to counteract this is to inform ourselves about relative risks and becoming comfortable dealing with numbers and statistics in general.

There is no such thing as a risk-free world, but despite the real dangers that exist, we in the developed world in the twenty-first century are better off than any other people who have ever lived. We have our human ingenuity to thank for the startling advances in fighting diseases and increasing lifespans that characterize our time. We shouldn’t let our equally human irrational fears get the better of us and push us into giving up our freedom in exchange for ersatz safety.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

Against Gun Control, Media Sensationalism, and Political Exploitation of Sandy Hook – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Against Gun Control, Media Sensationalism, and Political Exploitation of Sandy Hook – Video by G. Stolyarov II

A senseless tragedy should not be used to justify the deprivation of the liberties of millions of innocent people. Media sensationalism, oriented toward jarring negative events – as well as ulterior political agendas – have utilized the tragic Sandy Hook massacre to justify proposals that damage innocent people and do not solve any problems. From gun control to religious fundamentalism to attacks on video games and gamers – the Sandy Hook tragedy, because of the irrational climate of public opinion it has invited, has the potential to damage even more innocent lives.

References
– “Crime in the United States” – Wikipedia
– “Mike Huckabee Explains Bizarre Claim That God’s Absence From Sandy Hook Led To Massacre” – The Huffington Post – December 17, 2012

Defeating the Special Interests Behind Draconian Copyright Laws – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Defeating the Special Interests Behind Draconian Copyright Laws – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 14, 2012
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In November 2012, it appeared for a day that some influential Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, chastened by their party’s defeat in the 2012 elections, were actually looking for innovative ways to reform the American political system and their own tainted image. Yet, in the area of copyright reform, Mike Massnick of Techdirt writes that it took these same Republicans a mere day to cave into the usual special-interest pressures from recording-industry and film-industry lobbying associations.

Although the Republican Study Committee (RSC) initially produced a promising report on copyright reform (fortunately saved on an external site prior to its prompt removal from the RSC website), its retraction was far more revealing than the report itself. If anything, this episode seems to show how beholden the Republican Party is (as is the Democratic Party) to Hollywood lobbyists, which are possibly the most pernicious and damaging lobbyists in the US, if not the world, today (in close competition with the “security” lobby of the military-industrial complex). To pull a report after it has already been released smacks of behind-the-scenes lobbying influence of the greatest impropriety – the same backroom machinations that brought us one failed attempt after another at draconian Internet censorship: COICA, SOPA, PROTECT IP, ACTA, and surely more to come.

It is possible that both major parties might marginally improve if certain lobbying blocs were weakened or disregarded. However, I doubt that these effects are possible to achieve by politicians. Rather, civil society needs to exert pressure on the lobbyists and expose their machinations to the sunlight of transparency. Even the retracted report can be used to spread an understanding among the general public that the politicians themselves recognize the absurd and repressive nature of the current system of copyright law – if they are allowed a moment to think for themselves without being lied to, threatened, and cajoled by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Furthermore, technological changes and institutional innovations need to occur so as to disempower the traditional lobbying blocs – particularly Hollywood (RIAA, MPAA, et al.) and the military-industrial-security complex.

Public sentiment against draconian copyright laws has indeed been heightened by the recent movements against SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act in the United States and against ACTA in Europe. But it is also likely that the majority of people in the Western world who use the Internet have long considered current copyright law to be unreasonable – hence the extent of online piracy that otherwise law-abiding persons engage in. If politicians were responsive to broader public opinion (as opposed to special-interest influence), then the proposals to reform copyright law would have been seen as no-brainers. Indeed, copyright terms would never have been lengthened in the first place, and copyright terms would have probably remained close to the original 14 years, while prosecution and litigation for non-commercial use of copyrighted works would never have occurred. The key challenge in the copyright wars is to dislodge the power of the special-interest lobbies, which exert undue pressure on the politicians and lead politicians to largely ignore public opinion – with the recent exception of massive campaigns of outrage at attempts to censor the Internet in the name of copyright protection.

So, while public pressure on politicians should certainly continue (especially acute pressure that derails pernicious legislation or achieves incremental improvements), the long-term solution  must work to undermine the very influence of the special interests that push for longer copyright terms. This should be done not just through spreading improved information and arguments on the subject, but also through a change in consumption patterns away from the “traditional” 20th-century forms of media and toward the more decentralized, participatory media available via the Internet – as well as away from the creations of large recording and movie studios and toward works by much smaller-scale independent creators who are roughly equal with their consumers in terms of bargaining power.  These independent creators are much more likely to market their works under a “copyleft” (e.g., Creative Commons) license or even to release them into the public domain. They are also much less likely to viciously persecute their consumers, and are thus appealing enough to enable people to want to pay them.

In order for this cultural and consumption shift to occur, many more people must begin to use the Internet for much of their entertainment. This is the key behavior that many in the younger generations have already adopted – but, unfortunately, too much aversion to computers and the Internet still persists among many older Americans (of course, exceptions abound, but the statistical generational divide is nonetheless vast), whose consumption of the obsolete 20th-century media supports the special-interest lobbies. If all of these people were to become proficient with the Internet overnight, then the agenda of the draconian pro-copyright lobbies would instantly become a non-starter. This thought offers another promising way forward: for every one of our acquaintances, friends, and relatives whom we persuade to use the Internet extensively for the first time – and to like it – we make the special-interest lobbies incrementally weaker, gradually sapping the financial resources available to them for combating common-sense liberalizations of copyright law.

Independence from ACTA Day – July 4, 2012 – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Independence from ACTA Day – July 4, 2012 – Video by G. Stolyarov II

July 4 now has a new meaning: it is the day European pro-liberty activists helped humankind declare independence from the powerful special interests that attempted to impose censorship, online surveillance, and draconian stifling of creativity via the misnamed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

Following the rejection of ACTA in the European Union Parliament by a vote of 478 to 39, ACTA is effectively dead. A great threat to human civilization is averted.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

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References:
– “ACTA: The War on Progress, Freedom, and Human Civilization” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Victory! ACTA Suffers Final, Humiliating Defeat in European Parliament” – Rick Falkvinge
– “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” – Wikipedia

Illiberal Belief #11: The Environment Is Steadily Deteriorating – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #11: The Environment Is Steadily Deteriorating – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
May 13, 2012
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There are plenty of potential sources of concern when it comes to the environment. We are polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink; we are depleting the oceans of fish; we are punching holes in the ozone layer; we are warming the climate to dangerous levels—and all of these problems, we are given to believe, are only getting worse.

Taken together, these worries, along with the ones discussed in more detail above, make up what Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg referred to as The Litany in his controversial(1) 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg plumbs the available data and the environmentalists’ arguments on each of these issues and discovers, to his surprise, that things are not as bad as they are made out to be. Like forest cover, air and water quality are generally improving in the developed world, and have been for decades. The ozone problem had a fairly simple and affordable solution which has been implemented. As for the climate issue, even setting aside the serious uncertainties contained in computer models, it will be much easier for us to adapt to future warming than to try, largely in vain, to prevent it. Our trillions of dollars, Lomborg emphasizes, would be far better spent dealing with more pressing problems like poverty in the developing world—and, he adds, helping the world’s poor climb out of poverty would have the additional benefit of allowing them the relative luxury of caring about and improving the state of their forests and the quality of their air.

We need not choose between improving the environment and alleviating world poverty, for the two categories of problems stem from the same kinds of causes. It is inadequately secure property rights and protectionist trade policies that keep the world’s poor from improving their lot; it is the absence of adequate property rights that threatens the ocean’s fisheries; it is irrational government policies that give polluters the right to pollute and forbid those whose property is polluted from seeking damages; it is government subsidies that lead to the wasteful use of water and other resources. We don’t often hear it in the media, but the solution to global poverty and to the environmental problems that do exist is one and the same: greater economic freedom.

1. Readers who are curious about this controversy are invited to visit www.greenspirit.com to see the debate between Lomborg and Scientific American, and decide for themselves which party is trying to clarify the issues and which is trying to muddy the waters.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

A Barrage of Assaults on Internet Freedom – Video by G. Stolyarov II

A Barrage of Assaults on Internet Freedom – Video by G. Stolyarov II


Even after SOPA/PROTECT IP’s demise, assaults on the Internet in its present form have continued on a variety of fronts. Some of these assaults are in the form of legislation, while others are deployed by nominally private entities that in fact thrive on political connections and special privileges. These attempts would limit harmless individual expression and create the presumption of guilt with respect to online activity — quashing that activity until the accused can demonstrate his innocence.

Mr. Stolyarov focuses on four of these assaults: H.R. 3523 – the dubiously named Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), NSA surveillance, ISP/trade-association cooperation, and Arizona’s House Bill 2549.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

References:
– “A Barrage of Assaults on Internet Freedom” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act” – Wikipedia
– “Stop Online Piracy Act” – Wikipedia
– “PROTECT IP Act” – Wikipedia
– “The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” – James Bamford – Wired Magazine – March 15, 2012
– “NSA vs USA: Total surveillance zooms-in on Americans” – Video from RT
– “RIAA chief: ISPs to start policing copyright by July 1“- Greg Sandoval – cNet – March 14, 2012
– “American ISPs to launch massive copyright spying scheme on July 12” – Stephen C. Webster – Raw Story – March 15, 2012
– “US ranked 26th in global Internet speed, South Korea number one” – Shawn Knight – TechSpot – September 21, 2011
– “Arizona bill could criminalize Internet trolling” – Chris Morris – Yahoo! Games – April 3, 2012
– “Arizona Wants to Outlaw Trolling by Banning ‘Annoying’ Comments” – Paul Lilly – Maximum PC – April 5, 2012

A Barrage of Assaults on Internet Freedom – Article by G. Stolyarov II

A Barrage of Assaults on Internet Freedom – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 11, 2012
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           After massive public outrage and activism by major technology companies in January 2012 put an end to the draconian proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act, one might have expected the US political and media establishments to relent in their attempts to suppress Internet freedom. But the assaults on the Internet in its present form have continued on a variety of fronts. Some of these assaults are in the form of legislation, while others are deployed by nominally private entities that in fact thrive on political connections and special privileges. These attempts would limit harmless individual expression and create the presumption of guilt with respect to online activity – quashing that activity until the accused can demonstrate his innocence. Virtually every attempt is promoted under the guise of one of four motivations: “security” against “terrorist” online activities, copyright protection, protection against pornography, or the simple desire not to be offended.

            Consider H.R. 3523 – the dubiously named Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Like most of the worst bills, it is a “bipartisan” creature, sponsored by Representatives Michael Rogers (R-MI), C. A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD), and 29 others. This bill is being advanced with the dual ostensible purpose of “protecting” networks against unspecified “attacks” and enforcing copyright and patent law. The end result of the bill would be a virtually unlimited power of the US federal government (or private companies that would be empowered to “voluntarily” hand over private user data to the federal government) to monitor any and all online activities at any time without a warrant – even if the activities have no relation to online attacks or infringement of patents or copyrights. Furthermore, there is no limitation in CISPA on how the information collected by government agencies and private companies could be used – and no guarantee that it will not be used for purposes other than “cybersecurity.”  Indeed, the agencies to whom CISPA would delegate authority over “cybersecurity” – the National Security Agency and Cybercommand – are military agencies that are permitted to operate in complete secrecy regarding their aims and protocols. This is a common pattern in attempts to gain power over the Internet: a specific series of threats is asserted, but the proposed “remedy” to these threats is so broad and general as to encompass practically every online activity – with no safeguards to preclude nefarious uses, even when including those safeguards would be a matter of basic common sense. This leads to the unsurprising conclusion that the specific threats are a mere convenient excuse for something else.

            The National Security Agency, in the meantime, does not believe that it even requires legal authority (much less Constitutional authority) to construct a massive data center in Bluffdale, Utah (see this article from Wired Magazine and this video from RT) that is intended to capture and store all e-mails, voice mails, online searches, and other Internet activities by all Americans, all under the ostensible aim of somehow enhancing “national security” – as if your phone conversation with a friend or business e-mail could somehow have any conceivable connection to terrorist activity! While this information will do nothing to prevent terrorist attacks, it will allow the federal government to launch investigations of individuals on the basis of information that has hitherto remained off-limits: sensitive health and lifestyle data, details of private lives that individuals would rather not share with the outside world, the misconstrued off-hand remark in an e-mail or text message, legitimate and peaceful entrepreneurship or intellectual expression that are disagreeable to some federal official, or the unintended violation of some obscure federal law that one did not even know existed.  Even today’s deeply convoluted and often inscrutable system of federal laws can be endured by most Americans, simply because the federal government does not have the ability to pry into the minutiae of each of their lives. Of course, there is so much information online that the NSA would not be able to focus on every individual’s activities in real time. But with access to the entire “electronic footprint” of a person, crucial information about such activities could be produced on demand – say, if a powerful politician wished to investigate a vocal critic for tax evasion (as Franklin Roosevelt often did to his political opponents), or if a federal agency sought to catch a prominent activist in an act of indiscretion (as the FBI routinely attempted to do with leaders of the civil-rights movement). Such surveillance will not lead to every technical violation of every obscure prohibition or mandate being recognized and punished – but if you stand out too much and attract notice for other (perfectly legal) reasons, beware!

          Much of the vast information that would come to the NSA would be automatically flagged for containing “suspicious” keywords or patterns of words – without the imposition of a common-sense filter of meaning. There is the real possibility that Americans might be subject to surveillance, investigation, prosecution, or worse, on the basis of a statistical algorithm. The NSA is even working on ways to break some of the codes used by individuals to encrypt their online communications – a deliberate attempt to bypass privacy safeguards which these individuals have intentionally put in place.

            The trade associations for establishment media interests, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), have not stopped in their designs to limit internet freedom for people merely suspected of copyright infringement. Having lost the legislative battle (which they will surely attempt to fight again), the RIAA and MPAA have instead decided to partner with the regional-monopoly high-speed internet service providers (ISPs) in order to arrive at a “voluntary” scheme of graduated response against individuals whose usage of Internet bandwidth is deemed “suspicious.”  This arrangement is expected come into effect on July 1, 2012, and would, in practice, largely affect users of torrents (which could be utilized for entirely legal purposes, such as an independent artist or game designer freely “seeding” his own work). The first several times, torrent users would be given warnings and asked to attend RIAA/MPAA-sponsored “educational” courses. Ultimately, after repeated suspicions of “infringement,” the ISPs would be required to severely limit the user’s bandwidth – although it is not clear whether they would be permitted to terminate Internet access for the user altogether. All this would be done without recourse to legal due process, without the presumption of innocence, and without the opportunity for the accused user to demonstrate innocence to a body whose Executive Board will be comprised of RIAA/MPAA leadership anyway.

            While this arrangement may superficially seem like a consensual deal among private trade associations and private ISPs, this is far from the underlying reality. Neither the RIAA/MPAA nor the American ISPs are close to free-market entities. The RIAA and MPAA have routinely attempted to use the force of legislation to limit competition and protect the market dominance of their members – the large film and recording studios whose greatest fear is the open, free, decentralized culture of creation emerging on the Internet. The ISPs grew out of telephone companies with local or regional monopolies on service granted to them by law – a legacy of the breakup of AT&T, which until 1982 was the coercive telephone monopoly in the United States. While the AT&T breakup legalized some measure of competition, it did not provide for a market of truly open entry in each jurisdiction; rather, each of AT&T’s pieces (many of which have since re-consolidated) became a mini-AT&T and has used its monopoly profits to artificially bolster itself in subsequent rounds of technological evolution. As a result of their legal privilege, many large ISPs have been able to engage in quasi-monopolistic practices, including the capping of bandwidth on ostensibly “unlimited” plans, the requirement that customers rent modem equipment which they could easily purchase themselves, byzantine phone “help” lines which seem more designed to deter consumers from calling than to actually offer assistance from real people, and frequent reluctance to improve Internet infrastructure despite the ready technological means to do so. The coercive monopolies of the ISPs have resulted in the United States being in mere 26th place in the world – just slightly ahead of the global average – for Internet download speeds. In South Korea, typical Internet speeds are about four times faster – a tantalizing hint at what a freer, more competitive market could accomplish for consumers.  Some of the greatest harms of unfreedom come not in the form of direct legislative or executive action, but rather from the creatures of unfreedom – the politically privileged entities that would not have existed in a free society and that use their power to make deals amongst themselves at consumers’ expense.

            For those who do not understand that freedom of speech includes freedom to offend, there is a new possible recourse in Arizona’s House Bill 2549 (see here and here), which has already passed both houses of the Arizona Legislature. The bill is intended as a way of deterring online bullying, but it would, among other prohibitions, render it illegal to use “any electronic or digital device” to “annoy or offend” anyone or to “use any obscene, lewd or profane language” – punishable by six months in jail for violations that do not involve actual stalking. If you make a controversial comment about a political or religious subject – or simply offend someone’s tastes in art, sports, or food – you will certainly “annoy” someone and be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor in Arizona. And as for that First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech – bring that up, and you will surely have annoyed someone, so off to jail you go. And if you think that “profane language” is limited to words relating to human bodily functions, a religious fundamentalist might have a rather different understanding of that term, which might involve your disbelief or less fervent belief in the principles of his religion.

          The pattern is clear: a seemingly limited purpose with at least some public sympathy is used as a rationale for unprecedented, sweeping powers of surveillance and punishment – designed to transform the Internet of today from an engine of creativity and individual empowerment into a tamed arm of the establishment. The Internet envisioned by the politicians and lobbyists championing CISPA, NSA surveillance, ISP/trade-association cooperation, and Arizona’s House Bill 2549 is a glorified and technological version of “bread and circuses” for the masses – providing them with plenty of entertainment but within carefully controlled and supervised parameters. The intellectual innovator, the independent artist, the small-scale technologist, the do-it-yourself researcher, the electronic activist, the open-source software designer – all members of the “read-write” Internet culture of individual hyper-empowerment – have no place in the centrally planned world of these political and media elites. The old world in which these elites thrived is rapidly succumbing to the broadly uplifting possibilities of electronic technology – but they will not let their power go without a fight. As the downfall of SOPA and PROTECT IP showed, only massive public outrage can defeat ongoing efforts to limit Internet freedom, the last bastion of largely unfettered liberty that exists in contemporary Western societies. An Internet that continues to be predominantly individualistic and unrestrained can catalyze technological and cultural progress that will make freedom and prosperity in all other areas possible within our lifetimes. An Internet that is placed in shackles will become a mere tragic tool for surveillance and social control.