Monday, October 4, 2021

Last Call For The GOP Grift Never Stops

The FBI investigation into Lebenese-Nigerian billionaire donor Gilbert Chagoury's illegal donations to Republican politicians has now snared House Appropriations ranking GOP member Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska.

The top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee's agriculture panel raised money for a legal defense fund with claims he’s facing federal prosecution that a spokesperson later disavowed.

Driving the news: On a fundraising page for a new legal expense fund — which was later taken off-line — Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) wrote: "[President] Biden’s FBI is using its unlimited power to prosecute me on a bogus charge."  Neither Fortenberry nor the FBI responded immediately to requests for comments, but a Fortenberry spokesperson later said the congressman "never saw or approved that language." 
The investigation in question, the spokesperson said, had to do with illegal campaign contributions by a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire to a number of congressional Republicans. “It’s been previously reported that the FBI investigated an effort by a foreign national to illegally funnel money to U.S. political campaigns, including Rep. Fortenberry’s," he wrote. "The people involved in that scheme were prosecuted and no charges were filed against him. This legal expense trust was established in part to address costs associated with that investigation.”

Between the lines: Fortenberry's present-tense appeal was made after his campaign committee paid a new law firm over the summer, according to Federal Election Commission records. In June, it reported paying $25,000 to Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams LLP, a California firm specializing in white collar criminal defense. It was the campaign's largest payment for legal services, to date.

Until Axios posted a story Monday morning, Fortenberry's legal expense fund was soliciting contributions of up to $5,000 per donor per year. Under House rules, the fund may accept donations from individuals, corporations and political action committees but not registered lobbyists. Records on file with the House clerk showed Fortenberry established the legal expense fund on August 27. 
"Unlike Swamp Creature Nancy Pelosi, I’m a principled conservative who has NEVER abused my seat in Congress to get wealthy," its fundraising page said. "And right now I'm facing the Deep State's bottomless pockets."
Except of course he's being investigated for just that kind of power abuse. 

The story is however that all Republicans are Donald Trump now: pocket the illegal cash, blame the "Deep State witch hunt" when you get caught, and plead for defense donations on your fundraising channels. Only this time there's no Trump to pardon these assholes.

We'll see where this goes. I'd like to see him in jail and his seat vacated, but it's Nebraska. It'll just end up in another crooked Republican's hands.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

We've got two more years of this grift as Trump raises money for his legal fees and con games with this whole "will he or won't he run?" nonsense, and the Village press can't get enough of it, because candidate Trump sold newspapers, clicks, and ads like nobody else.
As turmoil in Afghanistan reached a crescendo in August, Donald Trump began talking again with advisers about whether he should announce his 2024 campaign for president right away.

They responded by urging patience, according to three people familiar with the discussions, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. An announcement would force a reshuffling of his newly formed fundraising apparatus, advisers argued, and could complicate his ability to appear on broadcast television without triggering equal time rules.

Some of his advisers were concerned that Democrats might use his announcement in their effort to frame the midterm elections around his candidacy, potentially boosting their own turnout and hampering his plans if Republicans fall short next year. Advisers also argued that he could be more effective electing like-minded Republicans next year if he was not an official candidate himself.

“The biggest point we drove home was that he doesn’t want to own the midterms if we don’t win back the House or Senate,” said one person familiar with the conversations.

The arguments won Trump over, for the time being at least. Instead of a presidential campaign announcement, Trump, 75, has settled on a strategy of winks and nods. As some in his party worry, he is acting like a candidate for public office, and making clear he intends to be one again, without actually declaring so himself.

“He tacitly keeps the 2024 crowd on notice that nobody can move a major muscle until he decides what he’s doing,” said Kellyanne Conway, a former top White House adviser to Trump who served as his campaign manager in 2016. “As for 2024, there has been a shift from intention to urgency as he watches in horror the many failings of this administration.”

Trump has returned to traveling the country for rallies — including a planned gathering Saturday in Iowa — designed to look identical to his campaign events. He is raising money with the same aggressive online tactics he used during his last campaign — an unprecedented move for a former president. With Trump still cut off from Facebook and Twitter after his supporters attacked the Capitol when he encouraged them to “stop the steal,” aides send out daily emails — often riddled with false statements — on his behalf going after Democrats, detractors and wayward Republicans.

An informal poll of 13 of his current and former advisers in recent days indicated that 10 believed he would run, two said it was a public relations ploy, and another said he was not sure.

“We’re not supposed to be talking about it yet, from the standpoint of campaign finance laws, which frankly are ridiculous,” Trump said on Sept. 11, when asked if he would again be a candidate for president. “But I think you are going to be happy. Let me put it that way.”


Which brings up a good point: If it's so obvious that Democrats are doomed in 2022 and will lose dozens, if not scores of House and Senate seats combined, why is Trump holding his cards? Going on the campaign trail with rally after rally will certainly put him on the news regularly. 

Does anyone here really think the biggest ego on Earth is going to be able to resist not making 2022 all about himself, as he has done with every facet of US politics since 2015?

I don't.

Throwing The (Face)Book At Them, Con't

Last night's 60 Minutes report on Facebook featuring corporate whistleblower Frances Haugen revealing that the company is a willing and integral part of the GOP disinformation machine is only shocking if you haven't been paying attention to Silly Con Valley techbros over the last decade.

She secretly copied tens of thousands of pages of Facebook internal research. She says evidence shows that the company is lying to the public about making significant progress against hate, violence and misinformation. One study she found, from this year, says, "we estimate that we may action as little as 3-5% of hate and about 6-tenths of 1% of V & I [violence and incitement] on Facebook despite being the best in the world at it."

Scott Pelley: To quote from another one of the documents you brought out, "We have evidence from a variety of sources that hate speech, divisive political speech and misinformation on Facebook and the family of apps are affecting societies around the world."

Frances Haugen: When we live in an information environment that is full of angry, hateful, polarizing content it erodes our civic trust, it erodes our faith in each other, it erodes our ability to want to care for each other, the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.

'Ethnic violence' including Myanmar in 2018 when the military used Facebook to launch a genocide.

Frances Haugen told us she was recruited by Facebook in 2019. She says she agreed to take the job only if she could work against misinformation because she had lost a friend to online conspiracy theories.

Frances Haugen: I never wanted anyone to feel the pain that I had felt. And I had seen how high the stakes were in terms of making sure there was high quality information on Facebook.

At headquarters, she was assigned to Civic Integrity which worked on risks to elections including misinformation. But after this past election, there was a turning point.

Frances Haugen: They told us, "We're dissolving Civic Integrity." Like, they basically said, "Oh good, we made it through the election. There wasn't riots. We can get rid of Civic Integrity now." Fast forward a couple months, we got the insurrection. And when they got rid of Civic Integrity, it was the moment where I was like, "I don't trust that they're willing to actually invest what needs to be invested to keep Facebook from being dangerous."

Facebook says the work of Civic Integrity was distributed to other units. Haugen told us the root of Facebook's problem is in a change that it made in 2018 to its algorithms—the programming that decides what you see on your Facebook news feed.

Frances Haugen: So, you know, you have your phone. You might see only 100 pieces of content if you sit and scroll on for, you know, five minutes. But Facebook has thousands of options it could show you.

The algorithm picks from those options based on the kind of content you've engaged with the most in the past.

Frances Haugen: And one of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is it is -- optimizing for content that gets engagement, or reaction. But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it's easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.

Scott Pelley: Misinformation, angry content-- is enticing to people and keep--

Frances Haugen: Very enticing.

Scott Pelley:--keeps them on the platform.

Frances Haugen: Yes. Facebook has realized that if they change the algorithm to be safer, people will spend less time on the site, they'll click on less ads, they'll make less money.

Haugen says Facebook understood the danger to the 2020 Election. So, it turned on safety systems to reduce misinformation—but many of those changes, she says, were temporary.

Frances Haugen: And as soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety.

And that really feels like a betrayal of democracy to me.

Facebook says some of the safety systems remained. But, after the election, Facebook was used by some to organize the January 6th insurrection. Prosecutors cite Facebook posts as evidence--photos of armed partisans and text including, "by bullet or ballot restoration of the republic is coming!" Extremists used many platforms, but Facebook is a recurring theme.

After the attack, Facebook employees raged on an internal message board copied by Haugen. "…Haven't we had enough time to figure out how to manage discourse without enabling violence?" We looked for positive comments and found this, "I don't think our leadership team ignores data, ignores dissent, ignores truth…" but that drew this reply, "welcome to Facebook! I see you just joined in November 2020… we have been watching… wishy-washy actions of company leadership for years now." "…Colleagues… cannot conscience working for a company that does not do more to mitigate the negative effects of its platform."

Scott Pelley: Facebook essentially amplifies the worst of human nature.
The profit motive for Facebook is to continue to spread GOP disinformation to willing consumers who eat up every last bit of it and spread it around. Facebook makes billions off of clicks, ads, and targeted posts. They don't care who gets hurt as long as they make money.
In effect, Facebook wants an American authoritarian propaganda state. They'd have a forced audience of hundreds of millions and would make hundreds of billions.

They have no reason to stop the GOP disinformation, and every reason to continue to amplify it.


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