Friday, March 2, 2018

Troll Trouble

Robert Mueller has caught so many parties in his Russia probe that I can't keep up with them. So I'll focus on the one that may be most important - this past month he indicted thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies on charges of conspiracy for trying to persuade voters in 2016 to support Hillary Clinton's various opponents and vote against Hillary herself.  The companies include the Internet Research Agency, based St. Petersburg (no, not St. Petersburg, Florida), which produced the political propaganda aimed at American social media and the two companies that helped finance it.
The tactic was simple - troll the voters.  The object was to discourage people from supporting Hillary and make sure she lost.  The Russians posted memes and fake Facebook pages promoting not just Donald Trump but Bernie Sanders in the primaries and Dr. Jill Stein in the general election.  There is not proof that Trump knew about this or was involved in it, and Trump naturally insists that it exonerates him.  It doesn't, of course, but it lets him off the hook for the time being, and it also buys Mueller some time.  And in that time so far,  he's managed to indict former Trump camping manager Paul Manafort on money laundering and bank fraud charges after former Trump aide Rick Gates pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to cooperate with Mueller.  Gates had lied about the details of a 2013 conversation about Ukraine involving Manafort, a member of Congress, and a lobbyist.  Manafort and Gates have consulted Ukrainian politicians.
As for the 2016 disinformation campaign . . . well, it definitely proves even to those who dismiss the bot stories and the Russian "fake news" strategy as drivel that the Russians indeed tried to influence the outcome of the election.  But let me be clear.  I do believe that the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election and were using an online disinformation campaign.  I just don't think it determined the outcome.  To suggest otherwise would be to absolve Hillary Clinton of blame for blowing the easiest election for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1988 (2000?  No, Al Gore won and the Presidency was stolen from him!) and would be to suggest that voters who went for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and went third-party in the general election (myself included in the latter instance) don't have minds of their own and are subject to Russian brainwashing.  The people who blame the Russians for influencing the outcome, by the way, are the same people who dismissed Ronald Reagan's Soviet-bashing as xenophobic paranoia.  I'd vote for someone other than Hillary in opposition to Trump all over again.
I just don't know if I would still vote for Dr. Stein.  As a presidential candidate, Dr. Stein was not the best messenger the Green Party could have gotten behind to promote and advance its agenda.  Also, she failed to get the Greens to five percent nationwide, rendering them ineligible for federal matching funds in 2020.  Dr. Stein is right when she says that the Democratic establishment is trying to silence liberal voices both within and outside of its own party, and she noted that the Greens were promoted with a couple of Russian-generated memes out of a trillion that were posted on social media.  But her willingness to meet with anyone and everyone on the subject of global affairs - including the infamous Moscow dinner that placed her at the same table with Vladimir Putin and not-yet-then Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn - continues to embarrass some of us who voted for her.  To be fair, she did stress before that her trip to Russia was "about promoting diplomacy, peace, and international cooperation on pressing global issues," and that she was one of several Americans at that Moscow dinner promoting a saner and more just foreign policy.  And there was no intent on her part to conceal her dealings in Russia.  But it's not Dr. Stein's transparency that's in question; it's her judgment.  She wanted to be taken seriously as a third-party U.S. presidential candidate, yet she was seen hobnobbing not only with America's worst foreign adversary but also with its most ethically dubious retired Army man, Michael Flynn.
As a Martin O'Malley supporter, I wonder if I should have written O'Malley in back in November 2016.  The only problem is that you don't vote directly for a presidential candidate in the United States - you vote for Electoral College candidates pledged to vote for your presidential candidate.  New Jersey has fourteen electoral votes, and you vote for a whole slate of electors without even knowing their identities.  There are no Electoral College candidates for an undeclared write-in presidential candidate, of course, so how could I vote for fourteen O'Malley electors who didn't exist?  My vote for Dr. Stein actually offended some of my friends, which wasn't worth it.  One such friend, a dear, sweet woman I've know for a few years now, chastened me for my vote and told me I helped Trump.  
I give up.  I'd rather have voted for O'Malley and been ridiculed than voted for a third-party candidate on the ballot and be scorned.  Why not write in O'Malley? After all, no Russian meme encouraged anyone to vote for him in any way, shape or form.
And I've got a mind of my own.
(Oh yeah, the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo was finally released.  Yay.  Whoppee. :-p)

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