‘The Good Doctor’ Actor Hill Harper Announces Candidacy For Open US Senate Seat In Michigan 

Hill Harper, a Detroit native and actor best known for his TV roles on “CSI: NY” and “The Good Doctor,” announced on Monday that he intends to run as a Democrat for Michigan’s open US Senate seat in 2024. 

“We need leadership in the U.S. Senate. If we just keep electing the same folks, we’ll continue to see the results we’ve been seeing,” Harper, said to the Detroit Free Press.

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Harper has been known publicly for his roles in the recent seasons of “The Good Doctor” on ABC, as well as “CSI: NY.” He’s also an author, activist, and owner of Detroit’s Roasting Plant coffee shop. He moved to Detroit in 2016. 

On Monday, Harper’s campaign released a powerful video announcing his candidacy for the race, showcasing Harper speaking to his adopted son about why he decided to run. 

The seat that Harper is campaigning for will be left open by the retirement of current Democratic US Senator Debbie Stabenow, who announced earlier this year that she would not be running for a fifth 6-year term. Harper is set to go up against US Representative Elissa Slotkin in the race to the Senate. 

While this is Harper’s first official run in public office, his resume is extensive in experience with public speaking as well as a Harvard law degree; where it’s known that he used to play pickup basketball with former President Barack Obama. 

Slotkin has been a strong campaigner as well. Last year she won her third US House term, earning large amounts of funding for her campaign.

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Harper was initially born in Iowa with the name Francis Eugene Harper, and took the name Hill to honor his mother, who was one of the first Black anesthesiologists in the US. 

As an author, he wrote bestsellers like “Letters to a Younger Brother,” which was drawn from his own motivational speeches given to inner-city school students. He also wrote “The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in its Place,” which discussed his battle with thyroid cancer as well as the need for people to build financial security for themselves. 

Harper stated that he initially moved to Michigan after working there as an actor during a time when the state provided tax incentives for movie makers filming in the state. 

“I met some of the greatest people in the world, [I want my kids] to be more like Michigan folks than Hollywood folks.” 

Harper mentioned to the Detroit Free Press that he intends to describe himself to voters during his campaign as a more progressive candidate than Slotkin. He’s made it clear that he supports a single universal health plan provided by the government, as well as supporting efforts from the Biden Administration to forgive up to $20,000 in federal debt owed on student loans. 

“I’m getting into a Democratic primary that has a number of candidates. But I can speak to exactly where I think there are differences,” Harper stated.

White House

Trump’s Russian and Ukrainian Connections, Explained

While the allegations at the core of the current presidential impeachment effort are fairly straightforward, the larger story of the president’s alleged misconduct can become extraordinarily complicated, as Republicans are actively spreading Russian disinformation to defend the president, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction. Additionally, quite a large number of people are involved in this story, each with unique and often mysterious worldviews and motives. While you may know the basic allegation that Donald Trump asked the president of Ukraine for assistance in his personal political campaign in exchange for desperately-needed military assistance, thereby trying to cheat in his next election, you may have not heard about, or have forgotten, the numerous associates of Donald Trump who are linked to Russia and Ukraine, some of whom are currently serving time in jail.

Trump’s connections with Russia and Ukraine predate matters directly related to impeachment. Trump has a substantial personal financial investment in Russia, a corrupt dictatorship, as he has pursued building a Trump property in Moscow for decades. Infamously, Trump publicly implored Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account when he was the nominee and she was his opponent, but was not found to have successfully colluded with the Russian government to promote his 2016 campaign. The day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified that his team had not found evidence of successful collusion with Russia, President Trump called Ukraine’s President Zelensky for help in his domestic political campaign, apparently having believed he had gotten away with it the first time and thus could do so again without facing consequences. To this day, Trump contends that he did nothing wrong and that his call was “perfect,” and while he often lies, he likely believes this to be true, as he is prone to subscribing to conspiracy theories that are disproven but nonetheless help him politically.

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Trump’s connections with Ukraine are related to his connections with Russia. Paul Manafort, the president’s campaign chairman who is now a convicted felon, previously helped in the campaign of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was a corrupt politician who was preferred by Russia and acted to strengthen Ukraine’s ties with Russia. He was removed from office by the Ukrainian parliament, who also issued a warrant for his arrest for “mass killing of civilians.” Yanukovych now lives in exile in Russia and was succeeded by oligarch Petro Poroshenko, whose administration was also involved in widespread corruption. Poroshenko’s reelection efforts were defeated by the election of current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who won a landslide victory after campaigning on a platform of rooting out corruption.

When Poroshenko was elected president, Joe Biden was the Vice President and had urged President Obama to provide Ukraine with military assistance after that country was invaded by Russia, which he declined to do. So Biden called Poroshenko and urged the newly-elected President to reform his country’s corruption-laden political system, explaining that corruption makes it difficult for other countries to work with them, particularly in their fight against Russia. At around the same time, Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, joined the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, in large part not because of the younger Biden’s experience or skills but because of the value of his last name. 

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Joe Biden, alongside most of the international community, worked to oust Ukraine’s corrupt prosecutor general who was accused of taking bribes from various companies, including Burisma, to protect them from investigation. Ultimately, this prosecutor was fired as a result of the allegations, resulting in the hiring of a prosecutor who would have been more likely to investigate Burisma. Joe Biden contends that he has not discussed Burisma with his son, and there’s no evidence to suggest that he even took Burisma into consideration when deciding to oppose the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Notably, this prosecutor’s removal actually increased the chances that Burisma would be investigated, as the prosecutor was replaced by one who was less likely to accept bribes from companies like Burisma. The fact that Hunter Biden worked for Burisma while his father was the Vice President shows poor judgment and a willingness to take advantage of nepotism, but does not constitute evidence of a crime.

While based on partial truths, Trump’s narrative depends on several facts arguably invented by Moscow

The president’s narrative, then, depends on material falsehoods and happens to be identical to a Russian disinformation campaign, as Russia expert and impeachment witness Fiona Hill recently testified. Republicans and the president falsely allege that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the 2016 American presidential election, and that Biden’s actions in Ukraine were meant to protect his son from investigation into corruption. These claims are refuted by material evidence, but have nonetheless convinced a significant portion of the American electorate, thanks to Trump and the network of media that supports him. 

While based on partial truths, Trump’s narrative depends on several facts arguably invented by Moscow in an attempt to even further divide the American electorate, as such behavior is consistent with Russia’s foreign policy, particularly in the aftermath of their successful attempt to elect a president they believed would harm the United States. Putin, a former KGB spy, often uses disinformation against his political opponents to harm them, both domestically and abroad. Throughout his presidency, Trump has repeatedly and consistently praised Russian President Putin, despite his corruption and human rights abuses, and has privately met with Putin several times. To this day, we don’t know exactly what the two presidents discussed in these closed-door meetings, as the only other people in the room were translators.

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In addition to Manafort, Putin, and Zelensky, Trump has an unusually large number of connections to people in Eastern Europe for a sitting American president. Rick Gates, for instance, worked in a high level position during the 2016 Trump campaign and briefly worked for the Trump administration before pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiring against the United States by concealing millions of dollars he earned representing pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Yesterday, he was sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years’ probation for this offense. Other Trump associates with connections to Russia who are facing criminal penalties include his former personal lawyer, Micheal Cohen, self-professed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. Furthermore, The Moscow Project, which documents the connections between Trump and Russia, has identified 272 contacts between Trump and Russia-linked operatives.

It’s no coincidence, I believe, that Trump’s ongoing abuse of power involves extorting Ukraine, an enemy of Russia and an ally of the United States

While the Mueller Report did not explicitly find that Trump successfully colluded with Russia, it did find that Trump obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, as he is accused of doing to Congress in the present impeachment. It’s no coincidence, I believe, that Trump’s ongoing abuse of power involves extorting Ukraine, an enemy of Russia and an ally of the United States, to the benefit of both Trump personally and Russia. In my view, Trump felt emboldened by the lack of consequences for his request for election interference from Russia, and so did so again with Ukraine, perhaps at Russia’s direction, this time bolstered by a quid pro quo. Thankfully, this second attempt has not so far been as successful, as Trump released the withheld military aid to Ukraine after he was caught and has faced accountability in the form of impeachment proceedings, which have convinced roughly half of the American electorate of the president’s substantial wrongdoing. No one can predict how the results of impeachment will affect the outcome of the next election, but one thing is clear: the theories that Trump was looking forward to impeachment as it would help him politically have been debunked, as the president is clearly troubled, as evidenced by his hundreds of tweets on the subject and his angry letter to Nancy Pelosi, by the constitutional remedy currently being exercised.


Twitter to Ban All Political Ads

As social media rapidly replaces traditional journalistic forms of disseminating information, regulators have been slow to catch up with the new form of communication, as the appropriate legal boundaries on free speech on social media platforms remain an open question. Recently, Facebook has drawn criticism for allowing demonstrably false political advertisements to run on its platform, and the company’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, defended the decision to do so by citing free speech concerns. In an apparent response to Zuckerberg’s decision, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey announced that all political ads from around the world would be banned on Twitter, neatly avoiding the problem of politicians spreading disinformation through sponsored posts. Though Dorsey didn’t mention Zuckerberg or Facebook by name, it’s pretty clear that the company’s decision was made in the context of its rival’s position of allowing politicians to lie using advertisements, and it effectively functions as a commentary on Facebook’s policy.

Already, politicians have taken advantage of Facebook’s almost-nonexistent restrictions on paid political speech by running advertisements that contain falsehoods. The Trump campaign, for instance, ran an ad on Facebook falsely accusing rival Joe Biden of “[offering] Ukraine $1 billion to fire the prosecutor investigating a company affiliated with his son.” In response, the Biden campaign asked Facebook to remove the ad from its website, citing a lack of evidence supporting that claim, and Facebook declined to do so, reiterating its policy and defending it by arguing that removing political advertisements constitutes censorship. Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading Democrats in the race for the presidential nomination, ran an ad falsely suggesting Mark Zuckerberg endorsed Donald Trump in order to draw attention to Facebook’s political ad policy and point out how easily it can be abused. The Trump campaign has already spent millions of dollars on Facebook ads containing disinformation, including video ads that have been rejected by CNN and MSNBC for containing falsehoods, which nevertheless have been seen by millions of people.

“A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.” — Jack Dorsey

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress with the intent of discussing his crypto-currency service, Libra, but instead found himself being grilled by lawmakers over Facebook’s stance on misinformation. One exchange which grabbed headlines recently involved freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who questioned Zuckerberg about the boundaries of the company’s restrictions on ads, and posed a hypothetical question: under Facebook’s policy, would she be allowed to run ads in Republican districts claiming that her Republican opponents had endorsed the Green New Deal? Zuckerberg replied that he didn’t know, but that she probably would be allowed to do so. Facebook doesn’t run ads for political campaigns through independent fact-checkers except in rare circumstances, so in all likelihood, Ocasio-Cortez would be permitted to run such an ad if she so chose.

Recently, Zuckerberg revealed that political ads make up only 0.5% of the company’s revenue, suggesting that banning all political ads on the site would have little impact on Facebook’s bottom line. Nonetheless, Facebook remains steadfast in its position, even after receiving significant controversy from the media, Congress, and the general public alike. Zuckerberg also recently drew criticism for having lunch with Republican politicians and conservative commentators, a decision that he defended by stressing the importance of getting along with people from different political stripes. In an apparent rebuke of Zuckerberg’s take on political speech, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey opposed the idea that allowing political ads to run indiscriminately is necessary to avoid censorship and ensure free speech, saying “A political message earns reach when people decide to follow an account or retweet. Paying for reach removes that decision, forcing highly optimized and targeted political messages on people. We believe this decision should not be compromised by money.” This difference in opinion is at the core of the argument about free speech on social media platforms, and may very well one day manifest in the form of regulations about using advertising to spread misinformation on social media platforms, like the ones that already exist for other forms of media.


Disinformation Campaigns On the Rise Around the World

The United States is currently in the midst of an intragovernmental conflict that speaks to the core of questions about the proliferation of truth and facts in a democracy and about how disinformation can spread to corrupt the ordinary political processes that ensure fair and proper representation of citizens by government. The Trump administration, infamous for its strategy of communicating falsehoods and outright lies in an unyielding effort to smear any and all political opposition, nevertheless enjoys seemingly-unshakable support from a core constituency of voters who, while not representing the majority of American voices, enable largely unchecked majority rule in the federal government. The stability of this coalition speaks to the efficacy of disinformation campaigns, promulgated by the White House and repeated unquestioned by propaganda outlets including Fox News. The success of such campaigns affecting the US has resulted in similar strategies being tried in other governments, as the New York Times reports that at least 70 countries have had disinformation campaigns.

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The article references a report conducted by the Computational Propaganda Research Project at the University of Oxford, which studied governments that spread disinformation “to discredit political opponents, bury opposing views and interfere in foreign affairs.” According to the report, the number of governments employing such tactics has more than doubled in the past two years, and manipulation of social media is a key factor in their expansion. Despite efforts from companies like Facebook, Twitter, and others to combat disinformation, colloquially called “fake news,” social media remains the primary avenue by which malicious actors spread deliberately harmful information, owing to the lack of journalistic standards inherent to the way information spreads on the medium. Governments use disinformation on social media to interfere not only in their own elections, but in the elections of other countries, as infamously exemplified by the Russian government’s successful effort to leverage their Internet Research Agency to improve Trump’s odds of being elected.

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One notably prominent actor in the disinformation space is China, which has long been known to proliferate political lies and has expanded its efforts in the wake of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, leveraging technology in innovative and uniquely destructive ways. As time has progressed, disinformation campaigns have become more formalized and professional operations, as governments have recruited university students and others to create and spread disinformation on fake social media accounts. Generally, disinformation campaigns don’t produce news articles, which are easy to identify as disreputable, but instead create content like memes and videos, which are spread anonymously and for free and are difficult for social media platforms to spot. Given the fact that an increasing number of people get their information about politics from social media instead of traditional news organizations, the proliferation of disinformation via memes is particularly worrying.

The threat of disinformation is real, but it can be reduced by the development of a well-informed and thoughtful citizen population

Because of the awesome power of the United States on the world stage and growing concerns about the stability of its democracy, of particular concern is the integrity of the 2020 election. Given the success of their disinformation campaign in 2016 and the relative lack of consequences faced for having conducted it, Russia is likely to attempt to meddle in the election again, supporting the incumbent president over the democratic nominee. The incumbent party has additional advantages in the form of gerrymandered district maps, which have prevailed despite ongoing legal challenges, the gradual weakening of the Voting Rights Act, and the electoral college, which has allowed Republican candidates to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote on multiple occasions. And the incumbent party, having benefited from Russia’s interference, has already demonstrated a willingness to corrupt the country’s system of free and fair elections, most recently by actively soliciting the help of a foreign government to smear a political rival.

Given the threat of disinformation, it falls upon citizens to become extra vigilant in defending themselves against propaganda and false beliefs. The best way to do so is to maintain a skeptical yet inquisitive attitude concerning the validity of political information, and to develop a sense of news literacy to serve as a guide in navigating questionable and murky developments. To be well-informed, it is essential to understand why certain media outlets are trustworthy and why others aren’t, which comes from an understanding of how news outlets go about finding sources and verifying their reports, and to have the ability to separate facts from opinions and recognize bias when it’s present not only in the news, but in oneself. The threat of disinformation is real, but it can be reduced by the development of a well-informed and thoughtful citizen population, which starts at the individual level.

Podium Speaker

Andrew Yang Stands Out in a Crowded Field

Andrew Yang is not a typical presidential candidate. For one, his signature campaign promise, at first glance, seems patently absurd – if elected, he promises to institute what he calls the “Freedom Dividend,” a promise to give every American adult $1,000 a month, for free, no strings attached.