Category Archives: politics

Fake news from the White Helmets returns

The so-called White Helmets” pretends to be a non-political aid organisation but in fact is a political construct.

In its on-the-ground activity, it acts as a disaster and relief civil defense organisation for Al Quaeda fighters in Syria. Its links with these terrorist groups were shown by their operations and bases connected with Al Nusra buildings in east Aleppo – and also by the fact it transferred out of Aleppo and into Idlib province together with the terrorist fighters when that city was liberated.

A genuine, neutral, civil defense organisation would have stayed in place.

But the White Helmets also plays an important role internationally in the propaganda campaign against Syria. It campaigned for a “no-flight” zone in Syria and continually promotes an anti-government message. It is often centrally involved in anti-Syria stories about the use of chemical weapons, the bombing of hospitals, etc. The videos they disseminate are often suspect – there have been several cases where they have been exposed at manufacturing false events.

I have written about the White Helmets previously – see these articles:

The above video is timely. With the current attempts by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies to liberate Idlib province and Gouta (near Damascus), the anti-Syria propaganda has again swung into action – and the White Helmets have again become more active in this propaganda.

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RT election subversion – yet again?

The notorious intelligence document about Russian interference in the US election (see Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections) provided as evidence the work o the RT  news agency. For example:

“In an effort to highlight the alleged “lack of democracy” in the United States, RT
broadcast, hosted, and advertised third party candidate debates . . “

Actually, its description of the work of agencies like RT and Sputnik was the only concrete evidence provided for the claimed interference. But, if the political system in the US is seriously suggesting that the work of a news agency like RT, and especially their coverage of third-party candidates, is interference then what should we make of this – RT coverage of minority or “Third Party” candidates in the upcoming presidential election in the Russian Federation?

Does this interview of presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak provide evidence of some sort of illegal interference by RT in these presidential elections? Or should we see it as simply justified reporting of “third-party” candidates we should expect in coverage of elections? The sort of thing we should have expected from the US mainstream media in 2016  – but didn’t get. Except from agencies like RT which US citizens are being pressured to avoid watching at all costs.

Frankly, I am thankful for this coverage of a “third-party” candidate in Russia. I sincerely hope RT gives similar space to other “third-Party” and minority candidates. After all, there are now eight official candidates standing in these elections. We hear plenty about the current incumbent, President Putin, but I would really love to hear from the others.

The candidates

Pavel Grudinin (57) Communist Party

Vladimir Zhirinovsky (71) Liberal Democratic Party

Sergey Baburin Russian All-People’s Union

Ksenia Sobchak Civil Initiative

Maxim Suraykin Communists of Russia

Boris Titov Party of Growth

Grigory Yavlinsky Yabloko

Vladimir Putin Self Nominated (Independent)

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So you are saying . . . . . !

Another case of Jordan Peterson setting a great example for us.

The video demonstrates a classic example of how people cannot see what is in front of them, or hear what is said because their brain (and their prejudices) gets in the way. This happens again and again in the above interview and each time Peterson stands his ground.

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip and the author of several nonfiction works of satire, commentary, and business, explains below what is happening – and how it is a common human problem.

This filtering through the prejudices of commenters and commentators is a major cause of misrepresentation in the media. That is why I prefer to go to the original sources, hear what the person has to say, and not simply accept what is being said about them.

Mind you, there is still a problem in communicating my conclusions to anyone else who has their own biases to confirm.

Why is communication so difficult?

Jordan Peterson demonstrates the importance of free speech

Jordan Peterson argues for freedom of speech and the power of articulate speech.

Also, the power of non-violent response to those attempting to prevent free speech.

I think he sets a great example – I wonder if I would be able to do it though. Such provocation.

Select your conspiracy theory and connect the dots

I have never liked conspiracy theories.  The fact they are generally ideologically driven and not evidence-based simply turns me off and does nothing to encourage me to pursue the claims.

On the other hand, one must admit the truth of the common sense claim – “Just because it is conspiracy theory doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Perhaps the best approach is to try to look behind the publicly promoted claims of the conspiracy theorists and simply consider the credibility of the evidence to the extent it exists. That has been my approach to the heavily promoted conspiracy theory asserting Russian interference/collusion in the last US presidential elections.

Surely that is better than simply accepting the political claims and ignoring the evidence, or, as in this case, the lack of evidence. Particularly as Russophobia is endemic in the US and their politicians are well-known for using red herring tactics.

An alternative conspiracy?

But it is becoming obvious to me that there is more than one conspiracy theory circulating on this issue in the US. There is the well-promoted claim that state agencies of the Russian Federation interfered in the US presidential elections and that Donald Trump and his staff colluded in this interference.

There are a number of investigations of this claim and evidence is coming to light supporting a second conspiracy theory. It is relatively new but seems to be gaining power by the day.

This theory asserts that there was a conspiracy within some elements of the intelligence agencies and the FBI – and possibly even former president Obama. Initially, this aimed to support the Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton, by thwarting investigations of her illegal use of emails. But it then progressed to a search for and release of damaging material on the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, to prevent his election. And once elected to attempt his removal.

The video above gives the clearest and most detailed explanation of this “conspiracy” and the evidence for it I have seen so far. The speaker is Joe diGenova, a former federal prosecutor. The Daily Caller article, The Obama Administration’s ‘Brazen Plot To Exonerate Hillary Clinton’ Starting To Leak Out, According To Former Fed Prosecutor says:

“Joe diGenova . . . connects the dots on former Obama administration Justice Department and FBI officials who may have “violated the law, perhaps committed crimes” to politicize law enforcement and surveillance against political opponents.”

If this particular conspiracy theory pans out it may prove more dramatic, and more damaging, than the alternative theory alleging Russian collusion/interference.

Of course, readers have a right to question this theory too (and let’s be clear it is not one that I accept hook, line, and sinker as the world is never that simple). But it is early days. This particular conspiracy theory is just starting to get legs and coverage in the media (although only limited coverage in the mainstream or “official” media). The congressional investigations have only recently turned attention to what was going on in the FBI and are still collecting evidence.

Supporters of the Russian collusion/interference conspiracy theory often acknowledge that even after 18 months no credible evidence has been produced but appeal to people to wait until the investigations have finished. They seem to have faith that something explosive will be uncovered to support the claims. Well, what is good for the goose is good for the gander – and given the early days of the alternative conspiracy theory there is an even stronger argument not to dismiss it out of hand at this stage.

A secret society?

Peter Strzok and Lisa Page – FBI employees whose secret texts are feeding a new conspiracy theory.

I referred to the FBI Strzok-Page texts in my article Is “Russiagate” another deception like Iraqi WMDs? This is a developing story –  only last Friday the congressional committees received another larger batch of these texts but were informed that many of them have gone missing. (see More texts turned over from FBI agent taken off Mueller team). The FBI claims they were “accidentally” deleted – but the highly critical period covered by the deleted texts – from December 14 to May 17 – the period from soon after Trump’s election until the Mueller special investigation started, do cause suspicions.

Especially as a text exchange the day after Trump’s election contained the sentence: “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” Investigators are surely justified in asking what this “secret society” was and what was its purpose.

Another text message released, by Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, was sent two days after Mueller was named special counsel for the Russia Investigation (see In ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Text, Peter Strzok Expressed ‘Concern’ About Joining Mueller Team). Presumably in response to Page asking if he would participate:

“You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern that there’s no big there there.“

Interesting!

However these two conspiracy theories pan out, whatever the evidence produced to support them, this whole adventure is turning out to be far more interesting to those of us who wish to dig below the surface than we would have thought 18 months ago.

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Whose who in the Russiagate affair – an infographic

The Epoch Times Managing Editor, Jasper Fakkert, takes viewers through the infographic prepared by his paper on the “Russiagate affair.” Unfortunately, I cannot embed the video but viewers can see it at this Facebook link

The Epoch Times recently published a very useful infographic for anyone interested in following the “Russian interference/collusion” story which US politicians are currently obsessed with. It is in the article Fusion GPS and the ‘Insurance Policy’ to Prevent Trump From Becoming President.

I have reproduced it below – but click on it to enlarge so you can read the individual entries. I actually printed off an enlarged form to keep as a reference.

Click on image to enlarge

While the infographic provides a good overview and some useful references worth following up there is also a Politico article which you will find useful if you want more detail.  The 270 people connected to the Russia probes provides brief detail and useful links.

The numbers are somewhat inflated – lawyers and contacts help build up the total number. The links are mostly to media articles (which are of course either extremely biased or the gospel truth depending on what biases you wish to confirm).  But some of the links are to documents, in particular, testimonies, which are of far more value.

Natalia Veselnitskaya – met with Trump Jr on June 9, 2016. Image Credit: CNN Poltics.

One testimony that is worth reading is that given by the Russian Lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She was the lawyer described by the media as having a central role in the infamous Trump Towers meeting with Donald Trump Jr on June 9, 2016.

Despite its length and her preoccupation with the legal case she was working on, her testimony is very informative and worth downloading.  I always think it best to consult documents like this and not rely on news media reports. In this case, do not expect the media reports to confirm the evidence the lawyer presented to the Senate committee.

Sadly, this example of the wide deviation between evidence and media reports is probably typical of most aspects of this current US political preoccupation.

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A week of good news in New Zealand

It’s been a week for good news in New Zealand. Well, most people see the news as good.

The first good news was the Prime Minister’s announcement a few days ago that she is expecting a child. Great news for her and her partner, as she had expected that assisted fertility treatments would have been required. Also, the news seems to have been enthusiastically welcomed by most New Zealanders – even her political opponents – on the whole. It is hard to tell if the few negative voices are die-hard anti-labour people still annoyed at the September election result. Or died in the wool misogynists who do not understand the role women play today in our society.

Today we had news of New Zealand’s first successful launch of satellites into space. The launch was carried out by Rocket Lab at their launch site in the Māhia Peninsula.

Quite exciting to follow a launch like this and hear the updates in Kiwi accents!

The Video above is a little over 30 minutes long – but, if you want to watch the actual launch, fast forward to about 18 minutes.

The rocket carried three satellite into orbit. Professor Richard Easther from Auckland University  said the launch represented a “red-letter day for New Zealand:”

“To put this into perspective, we are now one of just a dozen countries to have successfully built and deployed a rocket that can put satellites into orbit.”

The other nations are either world powers such as the USA and Russia, or smaller countries “which are armed to the teeth” such as Israel and North Korea.

According to Easther  – “New Zealand really stands alone with a technically advanced, commercially focused launch vehicle.”

He added it was “just the first chapter in what promises to be a fascinating story for the country and our technology and science sectors.”

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Is “Russiagate” another deception like Iraqi WMDs?

Iraq: A Deadly Deception – strong parallels with current “Russiagate” affair

The alleged Russian collusion/interference investigations lumber on. Despite the media spin and intelligence leaks nothing of substance has yet been unearthed. Nothing to verify the claims originally made by Hillary Clinton when she attempted to divert attention from the Democratic National committee emails leaked by Wikileaks.

Politically partisan and Russophobic commentators still hold out hope. Admitting no credible evidence has yet emerged publicly (after 18 months) they call on critics to wait for the investigation final reports. They repeatedly use the phrase “where there is smoke there must be fire.”

But what if the investigations finally report that there is no evidence to support Clinton’s original claims? Worse, what if the investigations show that the claim itself was simply an attempt by the establishment to manipulate US politics? To prevent the election of Trump and then to discredit the election result and work to unseat the elected present?

What if the “fire” causing all this “smoke” actually took place, and still continues, but within the political establishment – and within the state agencies, the FBI and intelligence groups?

Well, that is the conclusion drawn by ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern in a recent report – The FBI Hand behind Russia-gate. His conclusions parallel strongly with what was done to justify the 2003 US Invasion of Iraq. The fact that he, with other intelligence agents, criticised the way intelligence was being selectively used by the Bush government is also another strong parallel (see the video Iraq: A Deadly Deception above where McGovern is interviewed).

McGovern, together with other ex-intelligence officers in the organisation Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity,  is analysing and criticising the use of intelligence in the Russiagate affair. They have, for example, submitted to Congress forensic information on the leaked Democratic National Committee documents which indicate these documents were leaked and not hacked as the political and intelligence establishments  claim

McGovern summarises his report this way:

“In the Watergate era, liberals warned about U.S. intelligence agencies manipulating U.S. politics, but now Trump-hatred has blinded many of them to this danger becoming real.”

McGovern’s conclusion may still lack sufficient convincing evidence (although I think there is far more evidence than has yet appeared to support Clinton’s story). But important evidence has recently appeared and further investigation of that material is sure to be enlightening.

The Strzok-Page texts

McGovern discusses some of the evidence of political partisanship and Russiaphobia bias within the FBI revealed in the text messages between FBI Counterintelligence Section chief, Peter Strzok, and his FBI lawyer girlfriend,  Lisa Page. These reveal that they knew their discussions were damning – Strzok insisted their discussion only be in texts to avoid them being traced. Page actually wrote in one text: “So look, you say we text on that phone when we talk about Hillary because it can’t be traced, . .

So far only a fraction (375) of more than 10,000 of these texts have been released, and these only in the last few weeks. These show an almost childish and gleeful partisan support for Hilary Clinton and hatred for Donald Trump. They also show a belief that they could, maybe, play a role in preventing Trump’s elections. Page wrote:  “And maybe you’re meant to stay where you are because you’re meant to protect the country from that menace. “ Strsok replies: “of course I’ll try and approach it that way. I just know it will be tough at times. I can protect our country at many levels.”

McGovern points out:

“Another text message shows that other senior government officials – alarmed at the possibility of a Trump presidency – joined the discussion. In an apparent reference to an August 2016 meeting with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Strzok wrote to Page on Aug. 15, 2016, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk.”  Strzok added, “It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event that you die before you’re 40.”

Strzok will be asked to explain the “insurance policy” comment when he is called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But one can’t help wondering if the so-called Trump Dossier (which has been largely discredited) and the DNC email hacking story were parts of this “insurance policy.”

Strzok a key player in investigations

Strzok and Page were removed from the Mueller investigation last August when these texts came to light, although this was not made public until December. McCabe has said he will retire early.

Partisan commenters have tried to play down these texts but we should not forget Strzok was the Deputy Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division and led the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. In this role:

” It is a safe bet that he took a strong hand in hand-picking the FBI contingent of analysts that joined “hand-picked” counterparts from CIA and NSA in preparing the evidence-free, Jan. 6, 2017 assessment accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of interfering in the election of 2016. “

Previously:

“As the FBI’s chief of counterespionage during the investigation into then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a personal email server for classified information, Strzok reportedly changed the words “grossly negligent” (which could have triggered legal prosecution) to the far less serious “extremely careless” in FBI Director James Comey’s depiction of Clinton’s actions. This semantic shift cleared the way for Comey to conclude just 20 days before the Democratic National Convention began in July 2016, that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Mrs. Clinton.”

Trump’s vindication a downside

While welcoming release of the FBI text messages which provide “documentary evidence that key FBI officials involved in the Russia-gate investigation were indeed deeply biased and out to get Trump,” McGovern warns that they also add  “hard proof to Trump’s longstanding lament that he was the subject of a “witch hunt.””

“Justified or not, Trump’s feeling of vindication could hardly be more dangerous — particularly at a time when the most urgent need is to drain some testosterone from the self-styled Stable-Genius-in-Chief and his martinet generals.

On the home front, Trump, his wealthy friends, and like-thinkers in Congress may now feel they have an even wider carte blanche to visit untold misery on the poor, the widow, the stranger and other vulnerable humans. That was always an underlying danger of the Resistance’s strategy to seize on whatever weapons were available – no matter how reckless or unfair – to “get Trump.””

He also warns it will be difficult for the Washington establishment to “turn back” or have “second thoughts” on all this. The Russophobia and its use in political campaigns are now ingrained. How often will it raise its ugly head in the upcoming elections? And what will that mean for the US political climate?

An example already at hand is its use to oppose whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s candidacy for a US Senate seat in the state of Maryland – see the tweets from Molly McKew who Glen Greenwald describes as “one of the media’s favorite Russia-obsessed “experts”” saying “she didn’t even wait an hour before depicting Chelsea Manning’s Senate candidacy as a dastardly Kremlin plot.”

No certainties

McGovern declares:

“The Donnybrook is now underway; the outcome uncertain.”

And he has good reason to doubt a satisfactory conclusion.

“At this point, the $64 question is whether the various congressional oversight committees will remain ensconced in their customarily cozy role as “overlook” committees, or whether they will have the courage to attempt to carry out their Constitutional duty. The latter course would mean confronting a powerful Deep State and its large toolbox of well-practiced retaliatory techniques, including J. Edgar Hoover-style blackmail on steroids, enabled by electronic surveillance of just about everything and everyone. Yes, today’s technology permits blanket collection, and “Collect Everything” has become the motto.”

Let’s remember this warning given to Trump after the election when there were fears he may do a bit of “housecleaning:”

“Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, with almost four decades of membership in the House and Senate, openly warned incoming President Trump in January 2017 against criticizing the U.S. intelligence community because U.S. intelligence officials have “six ways from Sunday to get back at you” if you are “dumb” enough to take them on.”

Still, it is early days. There are many more of the Strzok-Page texts to be released and there is also talk of other, yet to be released,  evidence coming to light of partisan bias and prejudiced actions within the FBI and the investigation team.

Real progress may depend on at least some of the media abandoning their previously partisan attitudes and pressuring the investigations to declassify the evidence they have. As the Wall Street Journal recently said about the current arguments of the “Trump dossier:”

“You can bet that the dossier spin is going to get even crazier, which is why it is so urgent that Congress move quickly to declassify core documents and release them to the public.

So long as those documents remain secret, dossier proponents can concoct whatever story they choose. It’s time to end the season of silly spin and begin one of accountability.”

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“Fire and Fury” exposes the fundamental problems of the anti-Trump movement

Anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the new Michael Wolff book. Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters

I have long considered myself a “lefty,’ a “liberal” and a “progressive.” But I have despaired over the last 18 months at the behaviour of what I have often considered “my side.” The sinking of “fellow liberals” into a quagmire of political partisanship, political conspiracy theories, confirmation bias and hateful hostility to anyone daring to present an alternative viewpoint distresses me. I have personally been called pro-Nazi and pro-white supremacist for defending freedom of speech and daring to point out simple facts. And this by people from “my side.”

It all suggests the story of the emperor who had no clothes and I can sympathise with those people who have adapted to this atmosphere by simply shutting up. I have found myself also doing that at times as there no longer appears to be room for a reasoned discussion among “liberals” and people on the “left.”

I keep telling myself this will pass – and perhaps we are starting to see a glimmer of hope. A new opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times (which has unfortunately often fed the confirmation bias, political partisanship and conspiracy theories) is a hopeful sign. His article The Decline of Anti-Trumpism outlines many of the feelings I have had over the last year about the anti-Trump (and anti-Russian) hysteria in the US.

Lets’ be clear – Brooks’ article is not a defence of Trump – he declares himself  a “proud member” of “the anti-Trump movement.” That is also my position – but not in a party political partisan way. After all, I do not live in the US and if I did I would not have voted for either Trump or Clinton.

Reducing everything to a fairy tale

Brooks believes the anti-Trump movement seems to be “getting dumber:”

“It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.

I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.”

That’s what I noticed from early on – yet to challenge these fairy tales, particularly the dangerous conspiracy theory of “Russian collusion,” just means one gets called one of “Putin’s useful idiots” or pro-Trump, pro-Nazi and a white supremacist. And this is by people who I have considered in the past as rational – people who should know better.

Insularity and lowbrowism

The anti-Trump movement has all the marks of an internet silo – if a big one – which excludes any contrary viewpoint.

“The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him.  . . .  So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.

The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism.[It] offers a steady diet of affirmation, focuses on simple topics that require little background information, and gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.”

“Fire and Fury”

Maybe Brooks has come to this position relatively recently as he writes  “anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the Wolff book.” He is, of course, referring to the latest “exposures” in the just-published book Fire and Fury.” it is selling like hot cakes. I even have my own copy but am unsure now whether to waste time reading it. Wile the mainstream media is promoting it more rational comments suggest the book is a disaster. Brooks says of the author:

“Wolff doesn’t pretend to adhere to normal journalistic standards. He happily admits that he’s just tossing out rumors that are too good to check. As Charlie Warzel wrote on BuzzFeed, “For Wolff’s book, the truth seems almost a secondary concern to what really matters: engagement.”

The ultimate test of the lowbrow is not whether it challenges you, teaches you or captures the contours of reality; it’s whether you feel an urge to share it on social media.”

That description seems to me to describe the whole anti-Trump, Russian collusion story right from the beginning. Brooks points out this is not good:

“I’ve noticed a lot of young people look at the monotonous daily hysteria of we anti-Trumpers and they find it silly.”

There is more to life than Trump

On the one hand, this sort of hysteria weakens the “anti-Trump movement,” or of more concern, it discredits serious attempts to fight against the harmful policy of the current US president and Congress. There are many harmful policies that need fighting against and it is silly to see the anti-Trump hysteria as contributing anything to those specific struggles.

More seriously, Brooks points out that this descent into a quagmire of irrational confirmation bias, political partisanship and political conspiracy theories is of wider concern – and more long-term concern:

“This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?

Or, are we going to restore the distinction between excellence and mediocrity, truth and a lie? Are we going to insist on the difference between a genuine expert and an ill-informed blowhard? Are we going to restore the distinction between those institutions like the Congressional Budget Office that operate by professional standards and speak with legitimate authority, and the propaganda mills that don’t?”

Footnote

Another example of this low brow hysteria “bursting into full bloom,” in this case over the Russian collusion myth, is the book Collusion by former Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, Luke Harding. This interview with Harding illustrates again how the current narrative has become dominated by mediocrity and lies and not truth and excellence.

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Confirmation bias – we all suffer from it but how can we reduce its effect?

Confirmation bias – we all suffer from it. It’s just part of being human. Sure, we are capable of rational thought but it is often overridden by our emotional messages. And even in the best situations, our attempt at rational thought is inevitably contaminated by our emotions.

This video from Above the Noise • PBS explains what is going on in a popular way. Even resorts to brain scans.

Word of warning, though. It inevitably suffers from its own confirmation bias. Right up front, it produces a graph comparing Facebook clicks on “fake news” articles compared with clicks on “mainstream news” articles!! As if that is a proper analysis.

We all know mainstream media regularly publishes fake news. What they are probably comparing is Facebook clicks for mainstream media articles compared with alternative media articles. That is just not an intelligent differentiation when talking about “fake news.”

So take the video with a grain of salt.  Look at it critically and intelligently.

In fact, probably the best way of avoiding, or at least reducing confirmation bias is to approach all information, from whatever source, critically and intelligently. To think for oneself. Avoid group thinking and official interpretations.