The Year in Politics • 2018

Surveying the Landscape of our Brave New World

Posted In: Politics, National, State, Local, News, Local, State, National,   From Issue 872   By: Greg Schmid & Robert Martin

20th December, 2018     0

“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you. Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”

 - Aldous Huxley

2018 was the year in which the fractured political terrain between right and left became more solidified and the ability of moderates to weigh the merits between the two extremes of the political spectrum became more difficult thanks to the monopolization of informational access by Silicon Valley giants Facebook & Google and logarithmic manipulation of access to the information that shapes our thought and rationality.

Consequently, this was also the year in which the most significant political developments resulted from people working outside parameters of mainstream opinion to reclaim the foundation of our political system - fighting for the freedom that it was meant to entail.

While the topics and issues were numerous, here’s a few of the pivotal ones that caught our attention.

FEDERAL & WORLD

  1. TRUMP – THE ART OF THE VOTE. The President held his own against all odds in 2018 just by being Trump. He campaigned successfully wherever GOP candidates wanted him, and where Republican candidates did not want him, they lost. Trump continued to use twitter to influence the news cycle, often staying ahead of news events, but also often making in-artful comments.

What critics fail to understand about his appeal is that Trump’s art is to make big promises and fight hard to keep them. He says what he means in his own words, which is a quality that resonates strongly among the majority of disenfranchised voters in the country. 

Despite his numerous mistakes and regardless of what you think of his policies, Trump is authentic and does not act like any president in living history. He has surrounded himself with superstars of conservative policy, much the way Kennedy did to advance his liberal agenda; and he has governed at a rapid rate.  His potential Achilles heel is that he might run out of credibility with the majority that elected him, a possibility based on his rapid unchecked use of twitter feeds.

2. KAVENAUGH NOMINATION. In July Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice, his second successful nomination in 2 years.  Kavanaugh might be more conservative than Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, but Justice Clarence Thomas is now the conservative heart of the SCOTUS. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. now looks to be the swing vote on the conservative leaning Supreme Court, with Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan and 86-year-old Ginsberg bringing up the left.

This nomination was ultimately approved, but not before the country sat riveted watched televised hearings where the nominee defended his honor against an accuser who positively asserted the nominee had groped and kissed her at a High school party. This event discredited the Me-Too movement after partisan Democrats tried but failed to exploit the issue for mid-term election advantage.

       3. BLUE WAVE IN US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.

“I’m on the ballot,” Trump claimed. In the meantime, 40 House Republicans resigned outright or announced that they would not seek reelection, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. The GOP held POTUS and the executive branch, SCOTUS, and both chambers of Congress. Historical cycles all but guaranteed the GOP would lose the House, and they did. Thirty-five of the 100 seats in the United States Senate and all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives were contested. Democrats elected 100 senators and made a net gain of at least 40 seats. They control the House, but lost important seats in the Senate, which could be the deciding factor in any possible future Impeachment proceeding.

Trump is a sitting President with a loyal base, an increased majority in the Senate, and a federal judiciary that grounds further to the right every time the Senate approves one of Trump’s judicial appointments. Unless the Democrats reconsider, he will most likely be impeached in a Democratic house following the Mueller report.

The GOP Senate will kill the process quickly. If they do go forward, and given Trump’s ongoing popular support from his core constituency, competing Democrat candidates for President must be careful not to eviscerate each other in the process, as Trump will undoubtedly watch them go picnicking on themselves and bait them daily until they marginalize themselves completely. Warren, Bernie, Biden, Clinton, Booker will all need to be careful not to paint themselves into uncomfortably left-wing corners if Democrats wish to reclaim the White House in 2020.

STATE

1.  CANNABIS PROHIBITION ENDS & REEFER MADNESS STILL A GOOD JOB TO HAVE.

Proposal 1 passed by a 56-44 percent margin on Nov. 6 and took effect December 6, 2018. Now adults can possess, use, and grow cannabis in private, subject only to unenforced US prohibition laws. Residents can grow 12 plants, and any 21 year old can give up to 2 ½ ounces to a 21 year old as long as its free and not advertised or publicly promoted.

Employers don’t have to tolerate violation of drug policy violations, but landlords can’t prohibit tenant cannabis use by means other than smoking. This generational issue drew a strong contingent of youth voters and may be the reason the GOP lost at the top of the ticket. GOP leadership likely could have avoided their fate by enacting the measure and thereby removing it from the ballot, like they did with Prevailing Wage repeal and minimum wage/paid leave proposals.

Republicans were already responsible for the Marijuana Facilities and Licensing Act, and may well have made the pragmatic move, except that house leader and Attorney General hopeful Tom Leonard faced a ruthless challenger in the fight for the Republican Convention nomination contest; he exercised an abundance of caution and blocked the effort to enact Proposal 1.

Retiring Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof would have done the deal and then amended the proposal with a simple majority vote after the election in the Lame Duck session. He proposed to enact Prop 1 to get it off the ballot to help Republican candidates in the general election by removing the incentive for young pro-pot voters. By avoiding voter approval, he could have amended the initiative with a simple majority vote. When the measure passed, he tried to amend the new law anyway, but could not get the ¾ vote needed after an initiative is voter approved.  He wanted to ban homegrown pot altogether, and to reduce the 10-percent excise tax rate to match the 3-percent tax on medical marijuana as an incentive for municipalities to opt out in their towns because the shared tax revenues would be too low.

This was part of an ongoing war on marijuana wages by think tank mercenaries Scott Greeley and the Michigan Townships Association, who announced efforts to lobby municipalities to exercise their option to do so and sent around model opt-out ordinances for good measure.

Proposal 1 authorized municipalities to opt out, but it also provided a citizen override with which to petition for a vote of the locals to establish marijuana establishments in city, township, or village. Communities are organizing to pass petitions to get the issue on their local ballot before December 6, 2019, when the state starts taking applications for Marijuana Establishments from Marijuana Microbusinesses [150 plants], Class A grows [100 plants], and bigger Medical Marijuana companies that already have state licensed medical marijuana facilities.

Michigan has 276 cities, 257 villages, and 1,240 townships, and each municipality will face a choice whether to allow commercial marijuana establishments.

2.  LINE 5 DRAG & MAC BRIDGE AUTHORITY TUNNEL DEAL.

The Line 5 oil and natural gas liquids pipeline moves 23 million gallons a day south through the UP all the way to a hub Sarnia, Ontario.  It splits into two underwater pipelines through the Straits of Mackinaw, and that has scared some environmental activists in recent years. The 65-year-old pipeline was well-constructed and was considered structurally sound by all accounts, with added pipeline supports easing the controversy.

An anchor strike was acknowledged to be largest risk identified in a previous independent analysis of the Enbridge pipeline. Then against all odds this past April when a Tug Boat dragged anchor over the pipelines and dented them, this freak accident changed the debate from “if” to “when.” A sense of urgency greased the skids for a plan to replace the pipeline with a large underground utility tunnel 100 feet below the bedrock alongside the bridge across the straits - one big enough to fit replacement pipelines and other utilities too.

The politics came in when a wily and determined technocrat, Gov. Snyder,  maneuvered a deal to have the Pipeline owner pay for the whole thing. He got the legislature to pass SB 1197 creating the Mackinac Straits Corridor Authority and took the opportunity to appoint 3 reliable yes votes on the board.  An amended bill passed 25-13 during the Lame Duck session that would create a 3-member authority to oversee the proposed $350 million to $500 million tunnel. The legislation will allow Snyder to appoint members to the board before his term ends and he’s succeeded by Grethen Whitmer, a Democratic opponent of Line-5.

This bill is very muddled and requires the tax payers to pay for the costs of defense for a suit or the Authority’s unconstitutional conduct.  The Governor and Attorney General by Constitution can only pay for legal expenses that advance the public trust; and thus, this move is unconstitutional on its face.  This is one example of the many problems.  They can change their mind and put the utility tunnel back in the MBA without government approval in violation of the public trust. Meanwhile, they are building structures without a qualified structural, civil and metallurgical engineers like was furnished originally as required by the Great Lakes. Submerged Lands Act. 

It is apparent Enbridge wants to study and litigate  as long as they can use the 23-million gallon a day pipe at no extra cost and not let world-class engineers examine the pipeline to see if its safe. Enbridge and the DEQ do not want to pay to have the pipe analyzed by a world class engineer to see if they are safe.  That fact leaves citizens on the hook, especially if there is a rupture.

The matter may head to court before the tunnel is ultimately dug. “We’ll see,” was all that the farmer said!

3.  DEMS TAKE THE TOP OF THE TICKET

Even after President Trump’s 2016 victor in Michigan, Democrats were optimistic about flipping the governorship and keeping their U.S. Senate seat, and the November mid-terms definitely witnessed an impressive Blue Wave. Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic leader in the Michigan Senate won her race against Attorney General Bill Schuette by 53 to 43% percent; and Debbie Stabenow retainer her Senate seat for a fourth term by a 52.3 - 45.8% margin. Similarly, Democrat Dana Nassel beat Republican Tom Leonard by 49-46%.

Despite the shift demonstrated at the ballot box by the voting public, the lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature witnessed Republicans pushing legislation to limit the powers of incoming democratically-elected officeholders, as well as actions to limit the use of science when cleaning up toxic chemicals like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Commented U.S. Representative Dan Kildee,  “This 11th hour power grab by Republicans in the lame duck legislature is an absolute disgrace. Having lost at the ballot box in the last election, Republicans in the Michigan Legislature are pushing legislation that seeks to overturn the will of the voters and protect special interests.”

“Republicans have introduced legislation to obstruct ballot proposals overwhelmingly passed by Michiganders, including voter-passed laws to legalize marijuana, ensure fair political maps, and expand access to the ballot box. If Republicans have their way, they will cancel wage increases for Michigan workers and take away paid sick leave benefits for families. This extreme Republican power grab would also severely undermine the power of the newly-elected Attorney General and Secretary of State.”

“One bill would also restrict the state from considering scientific studies when addressing toxic PFAS chemicals. Ignoring science will jeopardize public health and hurt progress in cleaning up PFAS contamination around the state. The science shows that these chemicals are harmful to humans and we need to be doing everything we can to expedite remediation.”

FACEBOOK Purges & Censors the Free Flow of Information

“Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth. By simply not mentioning certain subjects totalitarian propagandists have influenced opinion much more effectively than they could have by the most eloquent denunciations.”     - Aldous Huxley

2018 was the year Facebook purged over 800 accounts and pages for allegedly pushing Political Spam, opening a huge vacuum and flashing an immense red flag threatening the very fabric of our Democracy - the free and open flow of information.  When navigating this move they described it as an ongoing effort against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” and mentioned “timing ahead of the U.S. Midterm elections.

With this ‘October Purge’ , the deletions represented something new: the removal of demonstrably real American media figures with significant followings. Another round of such sites would be removed in the days before the midterms, this time without an announcement. Many of these sites would also be removed from other platforms like Twitter virtually simultaneously.

As journalist Matt Tabbi brought to light in the current issue of Rolling Stone, the sites removed were all over the map politically. Some, like the Trump-supporting Nation in Distress, had claimed Obama would declare martial law if Trump won in 2016. Others, like Reverb and Blue State Daily, were straight-up, Democrat-talking-point sites that ripped Trump and cheered the blues. Many others, like the L.A.-based Free Thought Project and Anti-Media, were anti-war, focused on police brutality or drug laws, and dismissive of establishment politics in general.

Two weeks ago, even the REVIEW felt this sting of censorship.  Having published the assessment by Judge William Crane about Governor Snyder’s Line-5 deal in our last edition, we tried to boost the link to the article on our online edition through Facebook, but instead received a reply that the post would not be boosted because we had not been “approved or verified to meet Facebook’s guidelines as a publication qualified to comment on political issues.”

The origins of this frightening censorship harkens back to Dec. 23, 2016, when President Obama quietly signed into law the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorized $611 billion for the military in 2017.   Embedded within this authorization act was the Portman-Murphy Counter-Propaganda Bill, sponsored by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) which purportedly was designed to help American allies counter foreign government propaganda from Russia, China, and other nations.

This bill essentially created a ‘Ministry of Truth’ by establishing an interagency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government.  To support these efforts, the bill also created a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other ‘experts’ outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work.

Known as the Global Engagement Center and led by the State Department, but with active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community, and other relevant agencies, purportedly the Center is designed to develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations and proactively advance so-called fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.

Consequently, this odious Act gave a green light for the government to crack down with impunity against any media property it deems "propaganda", while also providing substantial amounts of money to fund an army of "local journalist" counterpropaganda, to make sure the government's own fake news drowns out that of the still free "fringes."

After Trump was elected in 2016, Facebook - and Silicon Valley in general - faced a lot of heat. There was understandable panic that fake news - be it the work of Russian ad farms, or false stories spread about Barack Obama by Macedonian trolls - was having a destructive impact, responsible for everything from Brexit to the election of Trump. Consequently, politicians began calling for increased regulation.

The most sobering and scary element in all of this is that by 2017, 45% of Americans were actually getting news from Facebook, making it by far the largest social media news source in the country.  A handful of executives could now offer governments (including our own) a devil’s bargain: increased control over information flow in exchange for free rein to do their booming eyeball-selling business.

As Tabbi points out: We could have responded to the fake-news problem in a hundred different ways. We could have used European-style laws to go after Silicon Valley’s rapacious data-collection schemes that incentivize clickbait and hyper-partisanship. We could have used anti-trust laws to tackle monopolistic companies that wield too much electoral influence. We could have recognized de facto mega-distributors as public utilities, making algorithms for things like Google searches and Facebook news feeds transparent, allowing legitimate media outlets to know how they’re being regulated, and why.

Instead, this story may be turning into one of the oldest narratives in politics: the misuse of a public emergency to suspend civil rights and concentrate power. One recurring theme of the fake-news controversy has been a willingness of those in power to use the influence of platforms like Facebook, rather than curtail or correct them. Accused of being an irresponsible steward of information, Facebook is now being asked to exercise potentially vast and opaque new powers.

Ironically, the very business model for Facebook rested on partisanship, divisiveness and clickbait; but now in addition to censoring purported ‘fake news’, they are moving on to anything that is not mainstream media, which should alarm every free thinking American populating this great land of ours.

In its efforts to police ‘fake news’, Facebook recently began working with a cross section of shadowy officialdom: meeting with the Foreign Influence Task Force at the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security; partnering with the Atlantic Council, a NATO-connected organization featuring at least six former CIA heads on its board; and working with a pair of nonprofits associated with the major political parties, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.

Israel has one of the most openly cooperative relationships with Facebook: The Justice Ministry in 2016 boasted that Facebook had fulfilled “95 percent” of its requests to delete content. The ministry even proposed a “Facebook bill” that would give the government power to remove content from Internet platforms under the broad umbrella of “incitement.” Although it ultimately failed, an informal arrangement already exists, as became clear this October.

Moreover, after Google revised its search tool in 2017, a range of alternative news operations — from the Intercept to Common Dreams to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! — began experiencing precipitous drops in traffic. SEMRush and Google Webmaster, ran tests on a dozen other anti-war, progressive-leaning sites. They found their own search traffic had dropped 67 percent, and estimated Alternet was down 63 percent, Wikileaks down 30 percent. Every site they measured was down at least 19 percent.

On May 17th, Facebook announced it would be working with the Atlantic Council. Often described by critics as the unofficial lobby group of NATO, the council is a bipartisan rogues’ gallery of senior military leaders, neocons and ex-spies. Former heads of the CIA on its board include Michael Hayden, R. James Woolsey, Leon Panetta and Michael Morell, who was in line to be Hillary Clinton’s CIA chief.

The council is backed financially by weapons-makers like Raytheon, energy titans like Exxon-Mobil and banks like JPMorgan Chase. It also accepts funds from multiple foreign countries, some of them with less-than-sterling reputations for human rights and freedom of the press. Around the same time the partnership was announced, Facebook donated between $500,000 and $999,000 to the Atlantic Council, placing it among the biggest donors to the think tank.

Scary realities indeed, as we enter this new year handicapped in our abilities to ascertain the truth, let alone obtain access to it.

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