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The fall of Facebook has only begun. The platform is broken and neither human nor machine can fix it.

Even after losing roughly a third of its market cap, it still may prove one of the great shorts of all time.

The Duran

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Via 13D Research:


“There’s no mental health support. The suicide rate is extremely high,” one of the directors of the documentary, “The Cleaners” told CBS News last May. The film is an investigative look at the life of Facebook moderators in the Philippines. Throughout his 2018 apology tour, Mark Zuckerberg regularly referenced the staff of moderators the company had hired as one of two key solutions — along with AI — to the platform’s content evils. What he failed to disclose is that the majority of that army is subcontractors employed in the developing world.

For as long as ten hours a day, viewing as many as 25,000 images or videos per day, these low-paid workers are buried in the world’s horrors — hate speech, child pornography, rape, murder, torture, beheadings, and on and on. They are not experts in the subject matter or region they police. They rely on “guidelines” provided by Facebook — “dozens of unorganised PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets with bureaucratic titles like ‘Western Balkans Hate Orgs and Figures’ and ‘Credible Violence: Implementation standards’,” as The New York Times reported last fall. The rules are not even written in the languages the moderators speak, so many rely on Google Translate. As a recent op-ed by John Naughton in The Guardian declares bluntly in its headline, “Facebook’s burnt-out moderators are proof that it is broken.”

As we noted in last week’s issue, 41 of the 53 analysts tracked by Bloomberg currently list Facebook as a buy, with “the average price target… $187, which implies upside of nearly 36%.” That optimism springs from a basic assumption: the company’s monopolistic data dominance means it can continue extracting more from advertisers even if controversy after controversy continues to sap its user growth. Given the depth and intractability of Facebook’s problems, this is at best short-sighted.

The platform’s content ecosystem is too poisoned for human or machine moderators to cleanse. Users are fleeing in droves, especially in the company’s most valuable markets. Ad buyers are already shifting dollars to competitors’ platforms. Governments are stepping up to dramatically hinder Facebook’s data-collection capabilities, with Germany just this week banning third-party data sharing. The company is under investigation by the FTC, the Justice Department, the SEC, the FBI, and several government agencies in Europe. It has been accused by the U.N. of playing a “determining role” in Myanmar’s genocide. An executive exodus is underway at the company. And we believe, sooner or later, Facebook’s board will see no option but to remove Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg.

The market is drastically underestimating the peril the company is in. In the very short term, the user backlash may simply hinder its revenue growth. In the longer-term, however, the institutionalized failure to see and respond to the platform’s downsides may render Facebook the Digital Age’s Enron — a canonized example of how greed and corruption can fell even the mightiest.

According to data recently released by Statcounter, Facebook’s global social media market share dropped from 75.5% in December 2017 to 66.3% in December 2018. The biggest drop was in the U.S., from 76% to 52%. As Cowen survey results released this week suggest, these engagement declines will continue to depress the company’s earnings. Surveying 50 senior U.S. ad buyers controlling a combined $14 billion in digital ad budgets in 2018, 18% said they were decreasing their spend on Facebook. As a result, Cowen estimates the Facebook platform will lose 3% of its market share.

No doubt Facebook’s struggles are not just about the headline scandals. For years, one innovation priority after another has fallen flat, from VR to its video push to its laggard position in the digital-assistant race. The company’s most significant “innovation” success of the past few years was copying the innovation of a competitor — pilfering Snapchat’s ephemerality for its “moments” feature.

However, it’s the scandals that have most crippled the company’s brand and revealed the cultural rot trickling down from its senior ranks. Consider just the most-sensational revelations that emerged in 4Q18:

  • Oct. 17: The Verge reports that Facebook knew about inaccuracies in the video viewership metrics that it provided to advertisers and brands for more than a year. “The inflated video views led both advertisers and media companies to bet too much on Facebook video.”
  • Nov. 14: The New York Times publishes an investigative report that reveals Facebook hired a conservative PR firm to smear competitors and minimize the company’s role in Russia’s 2016 election meddling.
  • Dec. 5: British lawmakers release 250 pages of internal Facebook emails that show that, “the company’s executives were ruthless and unsparing in their ambition to collect more data from users, extract concessions from developers and stamp out possible competitors,” as The New York Times reported.
  • Dec. 14: Facebook reveals that a bug allowed third-party app developers to access photos people may not have shared publicly, with as many as 6.8 million users potentially affected.
  • Dec. 17: Two Senate reports reveal the shocking extent of Russia’s efforts on social media platforms during the 2016 election, including the fact thatInstagram was their biggest tool for misinformation.
  • Dec. 18: The New York Times reports that Facebook gave the world’s largest technology companies far more intrusive access to user data than previously disclosed, including the Russian search firm Yandex.
  • Dec. 20: TechCrunch reports that, “WhatsApp chat groups are being used to spread illegal child pornography, cloaked by the app’s end-to-end encryption.”
  • Dec. 27: The New York Times obtains 1,400 pages of Facebook’s moderation guidelines and discovers an indecipherable mess of confusing language, bias, and obvious errors.

Scandal after scandal, the portrait of the company is the same: Ruthlessly and blindly obsessed with growth. Overwhelmed by that growth and unwilling to take necessary steps to compensate. Willing to lie and obfuscate until the truth becomes inescapable. And all the time excusing real-world consequences and clear violations of user and client trust because of the cultish belief that global interconnectedness is an absolute good, and therefore, Facebook is absolutely good.

The scale of Facebook’s global responsibility is staggering. As Naughton writes for The Guardian:

Facebook currently has 2.27bn monthly active users worldwide. Every 60 seconds, 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated and 136,000 photos are uploaded to the platform. Instagram, which allows users to edit and share photos as well as videos and is owned by Facebook, has more than 1bn monthly active users. WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service that is also owned by Facebook, now has 1.5bn monthly active users, more than half of whom use it several times a day.

Relying on tens of thousands of moderators to anesthetize the digital commons is both inadequate, and based on the reported working conditions, unethical and exploitative. AI is not the solution either, as we explored in WILTW April 12, 2018. According to Wired, Facebook has claimed that 96% of the adult and nude images users try to upload are now automatically detected and taken down by AI. That sounds like a success until you consider that that error rate means 1.3 million such images made it to the public in the third quarter of 2018 alone (30.8 million were taken down).

In fact, the company has acknowledged that views with nudity or sexual content have nearly doubled in the 12 months ending in September. And detecting nudity is a far easier task for a rules-based algorithm than deciding the difference between real and fake news, between hate speech and satire, or between pornography and art.

Facebook has economically and culturally empowered hundreds of millions of people around the world. It cannot be blamed for every destabilized government, war, or murder in every region it operates. However, more and more, it’s clear that one profit-driven platform that connects all of the world’s people to all of the world’s information — the vision Zuckerberg has long had for his invention — is a terminally-flawed idea. It leads to too much power in the hands of too few. It allows bad actors to centralize their bad actions. And it is incompatible with a world that values privacy, ownership, and truth.

Governments are waking up to this problem. So is the public. And no doubt, so are competitive innovators looking to expand or introduce alternatives. Collectively, they will chip away at Facebook’s power and profitability. Given the company’s leaders still appear blinded by and irrevocably attached to their business model and ideals, we doubt they can stave off the onslaught coming.


This article was originally published in “What I Learned This Week” on January 17, 2018. To subscribe to our weekly newsletter, visit 13D.com or find us on Twitter @WhatILearnedTW.

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You can call me ALManInTheMoonGeorge HartwellOlivia KrothJoe Recent comment authors
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Joe
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Joe

Stopped reading after “Russia’s election meddling”. Why is the Duran giving a platform to people pushing this demented anti Russian nonsense?

ManInTheMoon
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ManInTheMoon

Totally agree. Facebook is toast, not because of totally fictional Russian ‘meddling’ but because of its nonsensical censorship policy – allowing all kinds of violence and pornography while cracking down on dissidents (including those of us pointing to the nonsense of Russian meddling).

Olivia Kroth
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Facebook is a CIA outlet.

ManInTheMoon
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ManInTheMoon

No doubt but – to quote Lewis Carroll – all the King’s (aka Deep State’s) Men et al won’t be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

You can call me AL
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You can call me AL

Because the articular was about their future decimation and in no way trying to promote it; just the opposite.

George Hartwell
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Facebook’s immoral or amoral practices can bring on our judgment, however, our moral judgments are not well linked to corporate success. Facebook is in trouble but that does not rule out a stock price rebound.

You can call me AL
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You can call me AL

Agreed, but the article has highlighted the recent historical fall.

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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