OPINION: We are evangelical Christians not voting for Donald Trump this time – BY RYAN HURLBURT AND KATHARINE HURLBURT, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS — 08/31/20 12:00 PM EDT

It is no secret that most white evangelical Christians in the country voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But one recent survey finds that, if the election were tomorrow, his margin of victory with white evangelical voters would be just 38 points, dramatically down from his advantage of 61 points over Hillary Clinton. Evangelical voters are having second thoughts.

We are a white evangelical married couple living in Georgia. We have both worked on evangelical missions across various cultural contexts, and are absolutely committed to upholding the dignity and value of all human life, including those who are not yet born. But having witnessed the negative effects that the administration has had on vulnerable people, particularly refugees and other immigrants, we are among the significant number of evangelical Christians who will not vote for the president again.

Our critical values have not changed since 2016. We were uncomfortable back then with the credible reports of his marital infidelities, his bullying tone, and disparaging comments on immigrants. But we also were, and certainly still are, deeply committed to protecting the lives of children in the womb and the freedom to practice our faith without interference. We felt that we had chosen the lesser of two evils when we voted.

While the president has delivered on some issues of concern to us, such as economic reforms and trade deals, his immigration policies are cruel, undermining his pledges to life and religious freedom. For instance, while we cherish unborn lives, we also value the lives of thousands of children who were separated from their mothers or fathers by the “zero tolerance” policies of the administration at the Mexican border in 2018.

Our commitment to life also compels us to do everything that we can to end human trafficking. The administration has decided to suspend the life saving elements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the passage of which evangelical Christians proudly championed under George Bush and the flouting of which evangelical ministries like World Vision and International Justice Mission have decried.

Our convictions on life also are why we strongly believe the United States should continue to be, in the famous words of George Washington, “a safe and agreeable asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.” Rather than continue the life saving tradition of asylum and resettlement of refugees, the administration has shut out persecuted refugees with its immigration policies.

Denying asylum to those fleeing persecution is not a commitment to life. Since many are fleeing persecution on account of their faith, it undercuts the pledge of the president on religious freedom. As the alarming findings from evangelical ministries Open Doors and World Relief note, the number of refugees from countries where Christians face the most persecution is on track for a decline of 90 percent this year versus 2016.

This is not what the president promised to evangelical voters. During his first week in office, he criticized the previous administration for admitting too few Syrian refugees and promised to assist them. But then, just hours after he made that pledge, he signed an executive order that dramatically restricted the number of refugees to enter the United States, including an indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees. Indeed, fewer Syrian Christians have been resettled in the almost four years of the current administration than in the last year that Barack Obama was in office alone.

With these harsh policies, the president has lost our votes. That does not necessarily mean we will vote for Joe Biden, but our consciences will not allow us to vote for Trump again. We believe he could change his mind. He could set the refugee ceiling at the historical normal of 95,000. He could restore the asylum program. He could also work with Congress to pass the immigration reforms based on restitution, advocated by a broad range of evangelical Christians, that would create a new legal pathway to eventual citizenship, which Bush and Obama tried but failed to do.

We know it might take a miracle for the president to reverse course on his immigration policies at this point. But unless he does so, he will forfeit our votes and, as the polls suggest, many others as well.

Ryan Hurlburt and Katharine Hurlburt are voters who are based in Georgia.


Democrats Say Change In Election Security Briefings Is ‘Outrageous’ – Wynne Davis August 30, 20204:46 PM ET

Congressional Democrats are calling the director of national intelligence’s cancellation of additional in-person election security briefings “outrageous,” after the change was announced on Friday.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Updated at 8:08 p.m. ET

Congressional Democrats are calling the director of national intelligence’s cancellation of additional in-person election security briefings “outrageous,” after the change was announced on Friday. Election Day is about nine weeks away.

Congress will still be briefed on election security by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but through written reports instead of verbal briefings.

In a letter to congressional leaders, John Ratcliffe — a former Texas Republican congressman who was confirmed as director of national intelligence in May — wrote that he believes the change “helps ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the information ODNI provides the Congress … is not misunderstood nor politicized.”

President Trump said Saturday that Ratcliffe was ending the briefings in order to prevent leaks.

The change comes just weeks after a top counterintelligence official warnedabout ongoing interference and influence efforts by Russia, China and Iran.

Democrats, including Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, say the in-person briefings allow Congress to ask necessary questions and assess the tone and urgency of any threats from the intelligence community.

“I think it’s outrageous,” Krishnamoorthi told Weekend Edition Sunday. “The fact that they would prevent further in-person briefings means that they want us not to be able to question career public servants about the intelligence that backs up this assessment of Russian interference, press for additional information about it and, quite frankly, ask how can we do more to combat it.”

Addressing the counterintelligence report that Russia is again trying to influence the upcoming presidential election, Krishnamoorthi said Russians are using lessons they learned from 2016 and using different tactics this year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, both California Democrats, released a joint statement on Saturday saying the change “is a shocking abdication of its lawful responsibility to keep the Congress currently informed, and a betrayal of the public’s right to know how foreign powers are trying to subvert our democracy.”

Schiff, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, said there is a possibility that Congress could subpoena U.S. intelligence officials to testify about election interference.

“We will compel the intelligence community to give Congress the information that we need. We will compel the intelligence community also to speak plainly to the American people,” Schiff said. “And the American people ought to know what Russia is doing, they ought to know their president is unwilling to stand up to Vladimir Putin.”

On Face the Nation on Sunday, Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said his department does intend to continue to brief Congress on cyber threats to election infrastructure and that much of what they deal with is unclassified information. He says the change by the ODNI is “not about limiting access, this is about providing the information to Congress — they’re going to do that in a different format.”

When asked about the leaks that Trump cited as a reason for Ratcliffe’s decision, both Krishnamoorthi and Schiff said that while leaks being used for political gain is a legitimate concern, they do not consider that to be the case in this situation.

Krishnamoorthi says this change is the Trump administration “trying to create a chilling effect within the intelligence community.”

“They don’t want people to tell the truth, they want to muzzle them,” he said, adding that the announcement “just invites the suspicion that once again, they’re trying to invite that foreign interference.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also criticized the decision on Saturday, saying in a tweet that the committee “does not and will not accept ODNI’s refusal to brief Congress in the 66 days ahead of the election.”

“What it appears to me, is that Ratcliffe is trying to control the flow of information,” Warner told NPR’s All Things Considered on Sunday. “Not have intelligence professionals be able to brief. We all know, the way you get information is the back and forth questioning that goes on in the normal course of congressional oversight. He is refusing to have that congressional oversight.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the acting chair of the intelligence committee, also released a statement on the changes, saying past leaks have hurt the relationship between the intelligence community and Congress. Rubio did not say he would take any action to push for in-person briefings again, but that he still expects intelligence officials to keep Congress informed.

NPR’s Christianna Silva contributed reporting.


The VMAs: 10 Takeaways For 2020 – Stephen Thompson August 31, 20201:14 AM ET

Lady Gaga wore a lot of masks Sunday night, but this is the one with tusks. Yay, tusks!

Kevin Winter/MTV VMAs 2020/Getty Images for MTV

Awards shows often take place amid distractions, from natural disasters to civil unrest to the aftermath of a high-profile death. Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards had to coexist with all three, not to mention a worldwide pandemic that made it impossible — and, in New York City, illegal — to assemble a live audience.

How did it go? Here are 10 takeaways.

1) The VMAs actually happened in 2020. You’d be forgiven if they’d slipped your mind, but MTV somehow made a performance-driven awards show without live crowds. The energy was weird and spontaneity was hard to come by — more on that in a moment — but they pulled it off, complete with lavishly staged performances by Lady Gaga, BTS, The Weeknd, Doja Cat, DaBaby, Miley Cyrus, Maluma, Black Eyed Peas and others.

2) It was a big night for Lady Gaga. The superstar took home the inaugural Tricon Award — “triple threat/icon”? — which is basically the equivalent of being inducted into the VMAs Hall of Fame. She put on a grand and game performance with a guest appearance from Ariana Grande, she won a bucket of other awards (Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Collaboration, Best Cinematography), she gave a bunch of speeches and she rocked a series of truly magnificent masks. It was her night.

3) It was also a big night for green screens. Without crowds, artists seized the opportunity to seriously blur the lines separating “live performances” from “music videos.” What they lost in spontaneity, they gained in production values, from BTS dancing in front of an assortment of wildly different backdrops to Maluma and CNCO each performing at what looked like a neon-lit drive-in theater. Bonus points to rapper DaBaby, who brought in the dance troupe Jabbawockeez to help serve up a bit of visual commentary about police violence.

4) The show appeared to be almost entirely pre-taped. At the very beginning of the show, host Keke Palmer appeared in a lo-res video — it looked as if it was shot on a webcam or cell phone — in which she dedicated the night to the memory of actor Chadwick Boseman, who died Friday. Everything else with Palmer looked a lot slicker, which suggests that the intro was tacked on after the rest of her work was completed. Given the green-screen effects in so many of the performances, there wasn’t much here that could really be considered “live.”

5) Pre-taped means pre-vetted. The VMAs are typically known for bonkers moments — beefs between performers, Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, that sort of thing. But nothing here could really be engineered to fly off the rails or otherwise surprise, which made for a relatively uneventful evening. The Weeknd gave the night a dose of humanity and gravity by accepting his awards — for Video of the Year and Best R&B — with a plea for “justice for Jacob Blake, justice for Breonna Taylor.” But if you were hoping for Kanye West to burst in via hologram and announce that he’s a wizard now, it didn’t happen.

6) The actual awards were easy to predict. If you wanted to break a tie between, say, Lady Gaga (who performed) and Billie Eilish (who didn’t), you didn’t have to think very hard. An unforgivably cruel and cynical viewer might be left to wonder whether they’d booked the performers with award winners in mind (or worse). Based on the opaqueness of the VMAs’ process, we may never know.

7) BTS was more than an afterthought. For the past few years, the VMAs have made more of a place for BTS than, say, the Grammys. But this was still the K-pop juggernaut’s first time actually performing on the VMAs — and the group picked up well-earned trophies for Best Pop, Best Group, Best K-Pop and Best Choreography.

8) About that “Tricon Award”… The VMAs’ equivalent of a Lifetime Achievement Award began as something called the “Video Vanguard Award” — and, later, the “Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.” Without fanfare or even explanation, it would appear that the prize has again been renamed, this time as the “Tricon Award,” perhaps as a quiet effort to distance the VMAs from controversies surrounding Jackson. If you hear about these VMAs at all in the coming days, this issue might be the reason why.

9) Black Eyed Peas? Black Eyed Peas were inescapable a few years back, performing at a Super Bowl halftime show and frequently turning up in brightly lit showcases at the Grammys. But somehow, the group had never performed at the VMAs… until the closing set of this year’s telecast. Why? Who knows? But those weird glowing crotches will linger as the VMAs’ deeply unnerving final image. Thanks, 2020.

10) Give Keke Palmer credit. The actress, singer and newly minted VMAs host had a basically impossible job: She had to maintain energy, perform skits, tell jokes and otherwise keep an awards show moving, and she had to do it in empty rooms. Sure, the production simulated crowd noise, in a bit of fakery that distracted as much as it helped. But Palmer held her own — and, seriously, that was a feat.

See a complete list of winners at the 2020 Video Music Awards.


‘It’s a coin toss here’: will swing voters in this Wisconsin county stick by Trump? – Chris McGreal in Forest county, Wisconsin Mon 31 Aug 2020 03.45 EDT

Handmade signs supporting U.S. President Donald Trump stand outside a business in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, U.S., August 18, 2020.

Handmade signs supporting Donald Trump stand outside a business in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on 18 August. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

In Forest county, Wisconsin – which backed Obama before Trump – voters voice doubts about both major candidates

in Forest county, Wisconsin

Mon 31 Aug 2020 03.45 EDT

Joe Biden has blown his chance to win over Kristen, to be found selling home-baked cakes and pies at a farmer’s market in Forest county, northern Wisconsin.

The 46-year-old was once a fan of Barack Obama, voting for him twice before switching her allegiance to Donald Trump four years ago. Kristen, who doesn’t want her last name used, was minded to back Trump again in November but was holding off to see who Biden chose as his vice-presidential running mate.

“The person I think should be the vice-presidential candidate is Michelle Obama. Nothing to do with her gender, nothing to do with her skin colour. I could care less. She could be purple. But I think she’s got a solid head on her shoulders. She’s not reactionary. She’s thoughtful. I don’t think she rushes to judgment,” she said.

Ultimately, Kristen wants to see Michelle Obama as president. She was not happy that Biden chose Kamala Harris, saying the decision was influenced by “the racial climate”.

So Kristen is likely to stick with Trump even if she struggles to offer a persuasive reason to vote for him again.

“When you don’t have a good choice, you go with the least worst choice. Trump versus Clinton, he was the least worst option and it wasn’t saying much. When you’re the least worst option, that doesn’t mean you’re the pretty girl at the prom. It just means there wasn’t anyone else showing up to dance with,” she said.

“Same with Biden. When dumb and dumber are running, it doesn’t matter who wins. I don’t think Trump is going to up his game but Biden, I just don’t think he has the tools in his chest to handle anything.”

Kristen votes in a county that swung heavily to Trump in 2016 along with large parts of rural Wisconsin. That delivered the state to the president by fewer than 23,000 votes, a margin of just 0.77%, and with it the electoral college votes, alongside extremely close victories in Michigan and Pennsylvania, to put him in the White House.

Crandon, located in Forest county, voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then pivoted to vote for Trump in the 2016 election.

Crandon, located in Forest county, voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then pivoted to vote for Trump in the 2016 election. Photograph: Lauren Justice/The Guardian

Opinion polls give Biden a clear but not insurmountable lead in Wisconsin. A Marquette University law school survey shows the gap narrowing slightly in recent weeks, with the Democrat six points ahead of Trump among registered voters even as the president records the second-lowest net job approval rating of his tenure at -10 points (44% approving, 54% disapproving).

The poll also found Democrats as likely as Republicans to vote in November, with about 87% of each saying they are certain to turn out. That is bad news for Trump, who won the state in 2016 in part because of a significant fall in Democrats voting. In Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, about 40,000 people who voted for Obama failed to turn out for Clinton.

The president’s challenge in November is not only to hold on to those who supported him last time but to win over new voters to offset the increased determination by Democrats in the Wisconsin’s larger cities to vote this time and a shift away from him in some conservative suburbs.

Trump has his work cut out in rural Forest county, in the upper reaches of rural Wisconsin, which has consistently backed presidential election winners of either party in recent times.

His support remains soft in the county among some of those who voted for him before, such as Kristen, and who have long criticised his erratic leadership, confrontational tweets and outright lies but who remained loyal because they said the economy was strong. The only plus for Trump is there is little evidence of widespread enthusiasm for Biden.

Terri Burl, the Republican county chair until last month, concedes that Trump is struggling.

“It’s a coin toss here with Wisconsin. Things are a little more ominous now for us. But I’m not a pessimist. I’m an optimist. The word out there is that we just have to stay positive, we have to get a positive message out,” said Burl, a former social worker.
But it’s hard to push the positive in the middle of a pandemic, mass unemployment and a tanking economy.

Terri Burl, chair of the Forest county GOP, right, and her husband, Randy, at home in Crandon.

Terri Burl, chair of the Forest county Republican party, right, and her husband, Randy, at home in Crandon. Photograph: Lauren Justice/The Guardian

Kristen has not been impressed by Trump’s handling of coronavirus, particularly when she looks at other countries. But she pins responsibility on the culture as well as the president.

“I don’t think we acted quick enough. I think we were a little proud of what we thought our capabilities were versus what they were in reality. Overseas when they said stay home, they meant stay the hell home. Here, because we’ve been privileged and a bit spoiled, we’ve decided that we don’t have to listen,” she said. “There’s also a lot of conspiracy theories to the effect of hospitals bumping up the coronavirus numbers so they can get higher stipends from the government. You hear that around here.”

Burl acknowledges that Trump’s handling of the pandemic has not been his finest hour, particularly in questioning the advice of his own medical experts.
“There were mixed messages. On the one hand you want to be safe, you want to social distance as well as you can, wear masks if you can. But the whole notion of requiring this of freedom-loving people who don’t like the government telling them what to do, and who happen to be Republicans most of the time, he didn’t want to turn off his base because his base elected him,” she said.

For all of Trump’s problems, local Democrats are not bubbling with confidence that they can take back the county. Pat Lowery, vice-chair of the Forest county Democrats, put the odds at about 50/50.

“It’s very common to see people wearing Trump 2020 hats and flying a Trump flag underneath the American flag in their yard. It almost seems fashionable for younger people to be Trump supporters for the past couple of years,” he said.

“A lot of it has to do with social media and the misinformation that gets spread on Facebook. They hear that scare word the Republicans like to use, socialism. But I think that’s changing a bit now once they’re seeing the lack of leadership and the unemployment.”

A sign supporting US President Donald Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence is seen in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, on August 16, 2020.

Signs in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, on 16 August. Photograph: Kamil Krzaczyński/AFP/Getty Images

Lowery, who was a public school teacher for 32 years and a professional musician, said the election would boil down to a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic but that longstanding culture war issues continued to play a role.

“People around this part of the state are gun owners and they’re under the impression that Democrats want to take away people’s guns. I don’t know of any Democrat who’s ever taken anyone’s gun away but it’s still a big issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation. One of the things that I see quite often posted on social media is that students in our public schools don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance any more. I visited 18 different high schools last year and every single one of them says the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Still, the divide on cultural issues is not cut and dried. Burl tried and failed to get Wisconsin’s Republican party to endorse same-sex marriage a few years ago, which she said created a lot of backlash. And she is unequivocal in her view of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, even as her own state faces protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed African American man, seven times in the back by a police officer.

But then she questions the extent of the reaction. “That thing with George Floyd, getting murdered like that – really, he was murdered by that cop – I think we can all agree it was not necessary that he did that,” she said. “I think there are going to be positive changes because of that but even with positive changes, you can take it too far. Like they’re gonna get rid of Aunt Jemima pancakes and now football teams are trying to change their names again. I suppose if it’s time, it’s time. I just think there’s too much unrest.”

Lowery calculates that there are hidden Trump voters who are embarrassed to say they still support the president alongside those who do not want to admit they made a mistake.

“I think a lot of them jumped on the bandwagon of Trump’s rhetoric and I think at this point some of them would be embarrassed to say that they were wrong to support President Trump,” he said. “There are also people who people who just won’t talk politics any more because the atmosphere is so nasty. I saw some of it in the 2016 election. But I think it’s much, much worse now. I never saw it before 2016.”

One military veteran said he had been an enthusiastic Trump supporter four years ago and liked the president for keeping the US out of conflicts.

“Now I think he’s betrayed his country, but I’m not going to say that in public. It would cost me friends and it will cause problems in my family,” said the veteran. “It’s not just one thing but the final straw was the Russians paying the Taliban bounties on Americans. I believe Trump knew about that and he’s lying. Doing nothing about the bounties was the final straw for me.”

So why won’t he say this in public?

“Not around here. The Trumpers are angry because he’s going to lose. Lots of anger and lots of guns don’t mix,” he said.

Can Australia Force Google and Facebook to Pay for News? – Celina Ribeiro 08.30.2020 07:00 AM

A proposed law would require the tech giants to negotiate with publishers. Similar attempts in Europe have largely failed.

Australians visiting Google.com last week found, hovering below the search bar, an exclamation point encased in a yellow triangle. A warning: “The way Aussies search every day on Google is at risk from new government regulation.”

The warning links to an open letter from Google Australia and New Zealand managing director Mel Silva. Google’s and YouTube’s offering in Australia could become “dramatically worse,” she warns. The services themselves are “at risk.” All Australians users could be affected.

Silva’s warning stems from a proposed law that would require Google and Facebook to negotiate with news outlets and pay for news content featured on their platforms. Australian regulators say the tech giants benefit from publishing news generated by others, but Google and Facebook are so dominant in search and social, respectively, that publishers can’t make them pay for it.

It’s not the first time a country has tried to force Google and Facebook to pay media companies for republishing their news. A 2014 Spanish law required publishers to charge Google for the headlines and snippets of their stories that appeared on Google News. In response, the company removed the Google News service from Spain and took Spanish publishers off its news service globally. Readership of news stories dropped, particularly at smaller, less-well-known outlets, according to one study.

Last year, France wrote into law an EU copyright directive that demands Google pay for the news content that appears on its sites. Google was ordered back to the bargaining table this year after it removed French publishers’ snippets from its search results and did not pay for links. In 2014, Germany’s biggest publishing house briefly barred Google from featuring snippets of its articles in a bid to make the search giant pay licensing fees but backed out after traffic plunged.

Australian officials studied those efforts and took a different approach. They are not relying on copyright law, and they included measures designed to prevent Google or Facebook from dropping or down-ranking Australian news based on whether outlets try to negotiate a price, as happened in Europe. In response, Google is pitting itself against “big media companies” and appealing to the Australian public to oppose the proposal.

Regulators and media executives around the world are watching to see if Australia can succeed where others have stumbled. The Australian approach could set a global precedent, says Belinda Barnet, a senior lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology. “If every country in the world starts demanding the same, then it will have an impact on [Google and Facebook’s] financial model.”

The proposed Australian law emerged from an 18-month inquiry into the power of digital platforms by the country’s competition regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The commission concluded that many news businesses are reliant on—and benefit from—Google and Facebook for traffic but have little bargaining power with the tech giants.

It also found that while Google and Facebook derived little advertising revenue from featuring news headlines and snippets on their sites, original news content benefited both platforms. More than one-third of Facebook users reported using the social media site to access news, according to the ACCC. Google placed a Top Stories carousel of headlines and snippets in response to 8 to 14 percent of queries, which the commission said indicated that Google values surfacing news content. Google’s ability to provide high-quality and reliable search, and Facebook’s ability to attract and retain eyeballs on its feed, the ACCC argued, relied to some degree on their ability to showcase independent, accurate news content.

The dispute is “about the extent to which [news publishers’] content drives traffic, and they don’t receive returns from that,” says Terry Flew, a professor at the Queensland University of Technology. He says the proposed law recognizes “that each party derives benefit from the other. In the case of the platforms, it’s the content; in the case of the publishers, it’s the distribution channels.” Australia, Flew says, has “proposed that there must be a just price, if you like, for the financial benefit gained by the platforms.”

That just price is intended to result from negotiations between the online platforms and media companies. Should they fail to agree, the parties will submit “final offers” to a panel of arbitrators, who must choose one or the other. The proposed law also would require that Google and Facebook give news outlets 28 days notice of changes to their algorithms that would harm news businesses, such as removing snippets, down-ranking publishers, or closing Google News in the country. Violations, including of the nondiscrimination requirement, could result in fines of up to 10 percent of the platform’s annual revenue in Australia—for each offense.

Silva, the Google executive, says the company pays some publishers for their content, through a licensing agreement announced in June with several Australian, Brazilian, and German publishers, and is looking to do more so, but that the draft code is “unworkable.” Google says the continual changes to its algorithm make it impractical to identify changes that might affect news businesses.

The proposal, Silva said in a statement, “ignores the significant value Google provides to news publishers.” Sharing details about the algorithm “would provide an unfair advantage to news businesses and help them feature more prominently in organic search results at the expense of other businesses, creators, and website owners,” she said, adding that the proposal also doesn’t include safeguards for data shared with news businesses.

Together, Google argues, these conditions put its services in Australia at risk. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can to get this proposal changed,” Silva wrote in the open letter to Australians. Asked in July whether this could mean removing Australian news from its services, Silva replied: “All options are on the table.”

Facebook hasn’t directly appealed to users to oppose the proposed law. Will Easton, the company’s managing director in Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement when the proposal was released in July, “We are reviewing the government’s proposal to understand the impact it will have on the industry, our services, and our investment in the news ecosystem in Australia.”

Fires, a Pandemic, and 8 Reporters

Australia’s news media industry has been contracting, with title closures and journalist job losses across the country. Media companies are in a bind, Flew says. They can’t afford not to be on Facebook and Google, but the distribution of news on the platforms undermines news media companies’ ability to monetize their content and build brands. In its inquiry, the competition commission found that after viewing news snippets, some consumers won’t click through to a news site where the publisher can generate advertising revenue. Google and Facebook account for 71 percent of the $6.5 billion (US) spent annually in Australia.

But the commission did not base its proposal on lost advertising revenue. Rather, it argues that the content itself is of intrinsic value to platforms and therefore they should pay for it.

One of the country’s largest media companies, Nine, headed by a former federal treasurer, has suggested the two companies compensate media companies up to $432 million (US) for use of their content.

For smaller outlets, any compensation at all would be welcome. Bruce Ellen’s team of eight journalists at the Latrobe Valley Express newspaper, covering an area east of Melbourne, has had a busy year. Summer bushfires singed the edges of their readership’s region. Then, as Covid-19 hit in the autumn and returned for a second, more deadly wave in the winter, the newspaper published breaking and exclusive stories about test shortages and the outbreak of clusters in the area. This kind of reporting could not be found anywhere else. But it appears via a Google search and is posted on Facebook, including by the paper itself.

“We get no recompense from Google at all,” says Ellen, general manager of the paper. “Not one cent. My P&L shows nothing at all.”

News is valued by users of Facebook and Google and can attract and keep users on the platforms. It costs his business to produce this content, but so far it has cost Facebook and Google nothing to feature it in headline or snippet form. “They’re leveraging our content to drive traffic,” says Ellen.

The proposed law is not a panacea for the problems facing news media, he says.“We have to row our own boat.” But it could help stop the hemorrhaging of journalists and publications. For his paper, believed to be the last regional newspaper in Australia to print two editions a week, it might just mean survival.

“In reality it means we can continue to employ the same number of journalists,” he says.

A Battle for Public Opinion

The code has received a generally warm reception from Australian news businesses. News Corporation Australasia executive chair Michael Miller called it a “watershed moment.” In a statement, he said that the law would mean that the platforms, which derive “immense benefit” from news content “will no longer be able to use their power to walk away from negotiations with news creators … The tech platforms’ days of free-riding on other people’s content are ending.”

A consultation period over the proposed law ended Friday. The ACCC will consider revisions before putting the proposal before Parliament. With general support from both the governing conservative coalition and the Labor opposition, the legislation is expected to pass.

“Then we get into the realm of public opinion and pressure,” says Flew, the Queensland professor. “The strongest card that Google and Facebook have is a strong dislike of News Corporation and mainstream media in general in Australia, in particular among young people.”

Google “could potentially rally the troops in a way that no other company could,” says Barnet. “It’s their only option. But it’s huge.”

Shortly after Google released its open letter, the ACCC responded, accusing Google of spreading “misinformation” by suggesting it might have to charge for its services or share additional user data. Google disputes that its letter included misinformation.

“Our little ACCC has got the chutzpah,” says Barnet.

Back in the Latrobe Valley, Ellen harbors a cautious optimism. “But the fight has only just begun,” says the newspaper manager. “I assure you.”


Former Intel Officials Thought Mueller Was Investigating Trump’s Personal and Financial Ties to Russia. He Wasn’t. – Edwin Rios Aug 30th, 2020

A New York Times report reveals that the Justice Department limited the scope of its investigation and neglected to inform the FBI.

Susan Walsh/AP

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Former longtime intelligence officials saw President Donald Trump’s extensive history of financial dealings with Russia as such a possible national security threat, they thought it warranted a sweeping investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election.

But as a new book notes, from the start of the investigation, the Justice Department narrowed the inquiry to a criminal investigation into whether the Trump campaign associates broke laws in connection to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. What’s more, it did not tell the the FBI about the investigation, “all but ensuring it would go nowhere,” writes Michael S. Schmidt in his upcoming book, Donald Trump v. the United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein determined that the FBI didn’t have enough evidence to warrant a sweeping investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia. Rosenstein also thought the intelligence agency’s director, Andrew McCabe, who approved the inquiry, had conflicts of interest. As Schmidt writes:

Mr. Rosenstein never told Mr. McCabe about his decision, leaving the F.B.I. with the impression that the special counsel would take on the investigation into the president as part of his broader duties. Mr. McCabe said in an interview that had he known Mr. Mueller would not continue the inquiry, he would have had the F.B.I. perform it.

“We opened this case in May 2017 because we had information that indicated a national security threat might exist, specifically a counterintelligence threat involving the president and Russia,” Mr. McCabe said. “I expected that issue and issues related to it would be fully examined by the special counsel team. If a decision was made not to investigate those issues, I am surprised and disappointed. I was not aware of that.”

FBI officials had questioned whether Russia had influence on the president, so much so that Trump fired former director James Comey to derail any further investigation. The revelation that the Justice Department never explored Trump’s personal and financial ties to Russia, and neither did the FBI, raises significant questions leading up to the 2020 election. As Schmidt noted:

Mr. Trump has sought to build a Trump Tower in Moscow for at least two decades, including during the campaign. His son Eric once said the Trump Organization relied on Russia for “all the funding we need” to purchase several golf courses in the United States. And the Senate report this month revealed the allegations of Mr. Trump’s potentially compromising encounters with women in Moscow in 1996 and 2013.

In May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller launched his investigation into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government” and the Trump campaign, but later told Congress he had not conducted a counterintelligence investigation. Rosenstein reportedly told Mueller that if he wanted to expand the investigation, he had to ask for additional resources. Mueller, in turn, built a staff “to investigate crimes, not threats to national security,” Schmidt reported. A Republican-led Senate intelligence report concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win, a determination also made by Trump’s own intelligence agency (whom he has frequently attacked), though both reports found there hadn’t been a coordinated conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

What’s more, the Senate report determined that Trump’s campaign advisers had extensive contact with people tied to the Russian government, including one associate whom the report called a “Russian intelligence officer.”

In short, Rosenstein’s decision to not go forward with a counterintelligence inquiry and instead prematurely narrow the inquiry’s scope to possible crimes limited what the public could know about its president—ahead of yet another election.

Former Intel Officials Thought Mueller Was Investigating Trump’s Personal and Financial Ties to Russia. He Wasn’t.