September 28, 2017 Last Updated 8:33 am

Puerto Rico situation grows more desperate; Spanish press says Russian hackers are assisting Catalan websites to stay online

Morning Brief: Focus shifts from Facebook to Twitter as Senate committee looks to bring in company executives to explain their policy towards fake accounts, and what they know about Russian activities during last year’s election

The ability of the American press to be distracted knows no limits. While the situation grows ever more dire in Puerto Rico, few newspapers could be bothered to even place the story above the fold, and for The New York Times it was not even worthy of front page coverage. Still, one thing one can be sure of, by Monday, the news from Puerto Rico, Spain and likely Iraq will be front page news worldwide.

The story that many Republicans may finally wake up to is that with the disaster in Puerto Rico a new migration may be about to take place, one that new, restrictive immigration laws cannot prevent.

Puerto Ricans are desperate to get off their island, and they will likely be heading to Florida, over a million of them. As American citizens, they are free to move as they please, and they can vote.

The Washington Post, Daniel Cassady and Joel Achenbach:

‘Why can’t we get out of here?’ Airports in Puerto Rico, other islands, damaged and slow to recover

Getting off Puerto Rico and other storm-ravaged Caribbean islands has been an exercise in frustration, often culminating in despair, rage and another grim night in a sweltering airport with no air conditioning and the steady boil of angry voices.

While travel within the U.S. territory remains perilous — with washed-out and debris-strewn roads and damaged bridges — airports are gradually reopening. But Hurricane Maria severely damaged the radar system in the island’s capital of San Juan, and, with limited air traffic control, there are safety concerns that curtail the pace of arrivals and departures.

Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer:

Trump’s response to Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Maria: slow, unenthusiastic and mean

President Trump’s slow, unenthusiastic and — yes — mean response to the humanitarian crisis facing Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is astonishing. He seems oblivious to the fact that the 3.4 million people living there are Americans, in many cases more patriotic than he is…

…More to the point, it was utterly insensitive to start a debate over respect to the flag in the middle of the Puerto Rico tragedy. After several days of Trump’s silence on Puerto Rico, singer Marc Anthony — whose parents are Puerto Rican — tweeted on Sept. 25, “Mr. President shut the [expletive] up about NFL. Do something about our people in need in Puerto Rico. We are American citizens too.”

When Trump finally reacted to the avalanche of criticism, he did it with a tweet that sounded mean, if not cruel. Trump said in a tweet that Puerto Rico is in “deep trouble” after Hurricane Maria, and that its billions of dollars in debts to Wall Street banks “must be dealt with.”

The Washington Post: Trump’s Katrina? Influx of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria could tip Florida toward Democrats
NBC2: Puerto Rico evacuees begin to arrive in Florida

The Spanish government’s main strategy regarding the Catalan referendum, scheduled for Sunday, has been to do what they can to prevent the vote. Prime Minister Rajoy has sent police into Catalonia with instructions to surround polling places, creating a wide gap between them and their ballot boxes.

But Catalan separatists are well aware of this and are working to make sure there are alternative places to vote, such at schools. No police force is large enough to surround every school or other building. But this will also create a situation where only the most dedicated voter will turnout, all but assuring a victory for the supporters of Catalan independence.

Supporters of the referendum appear prepared for difficulties on Sunday, instructing supporters to “wear comfortable clothes” and to bring water, food for the day.” (see story below)

Spanish media has been reliably in support of the Rajoy regime, and while El País’s Spanish language website has been fairly objective, its English language website has been a rabid supporter of suppressing the vote on Sunday. Today, the site is leading with a story that claims Russian “hackers” help keep banned Catalan referendum census site online, a story that is not on the home page of the Spanish language edition.

Catalan News, Rachel Bathgate:

Schools call on citizens to ensure polling stations remain open on referendum day

The Catalan educational community is taking very real steps to ensure that citizens be able to vote on October 1. A new website has been opened, called Open Schools, or Escoles Obertes, a project that aims to make the image of crowds lined up to vote in front of the ballot boxes into a reality. Indeed, it also acts as a demonstration against the planned shutting down and guarding of schools and other polling stations, and in favor of democracy.

The movement was born in light of Spain’s announcement that it’s taking control of the Catalan Police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, with the planned order that the police seal off sites to be used as polling stations with a perimeter of 100 meters. Additionally, the law enforcement officers are to investigate anyone who manages to get inside….

…The organization reminds those who sign up to follow “official sources” and “avoid rumors.” During the process, they urge the people involved to stay “serene, calm, and festive.” Additionally, should it be necessary, they remind participants to “wear comfortable clothes” and to bring “water, food” for the day. Indeed, those who wish to participate should be “prepared to receive specific instructions to be sent in the next few days.” Yet, the nature of these specific instructions remains largely unsaid.

The New York Times, Raphael Minder:

Catalan Officials Squeezed as Madrid Tries to Stop Independence Vote

We are witnessing the worst democratic regression since the death of Franco,” Mr. Puigdemont said in an interview, referring to Gen. Francisco Franco, the dictator whose death in 1975 opened the way for Spanish democracy. “What is happening in Catalonia is very serious.”

…n 2014, the last time Catalonia held an independence vote, it, too, was declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court. But Catalan officials described that vote as a straw ballot, and the government in Madrid and the police did not prevent it.

This time, sensing the growing seriousness of the Catalan referendum, which the regional government says will now be binding, Madrid is taking a far more aggressive tack.

The approach has left many Catalans bridling under what they say is a heavy hand by the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

The Herald (Scotland): Why a dead fascist dictator haunts Catalonia’s independence vote
El País in English: Russian “hackers” help keep banned Catalan referendum census site online
El País: Thousands of students march in Barcelona in favor of referendum

The media is starting to ask some good questions of Jack Dorsey, head of Twitter, about what the company knows about fake accounts and Russian bots and trolls.

The reality is that investors have, each quarter, closely watched the new customer acquisition numbers at social media companies, punishing them whenever the number of new customers did not impress them. In other words, there has been a lot of pressure to grow those numbers, and probably a temptation to grow them by whatever means necessary.

Has this led to a lackadaisical attitude towards monitoring “fake accounts?” Likely, and it also may have led to allowing foreign agents to buy political advertising, as well.

CNN, Dylan Byers:

Russian-bought Black Lives Matter ad on Facebook targeted Baltimore and Ferguson

At least one of the Facebook ads bought by Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign referenced Black Lives Matter and was specifically targeted to reach audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, sources with knowledge of the ads told CNN.

Ferguson and Baltimore had gained widespread attention for the large and violent protests over police shootings of black men. The decision to target the ad in those two cities offers the first look at how accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency used geographically targeted advertising to sow political chaos in the United States, the sources said.

The New York Times, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Scott Shane:

Twitter, With Accounts Linked to Russia, to Face Congress Over Role in Election

As Twitter prepared to brief staff members of the Senate and House intelligence committees on Thursday for their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, researchers from a public policy group have been following hundreds of accounts to track the continuing Russian operations to influence social media discourse and foment division in the United States.

For three weeks, a harsh spotlight has been trained on Facebook over its disclosure that Russians used fake pages and ads, designed to look like the work of American activists, to spread inflammatory messages during and since the presidential campaign.

But there is evidence that Twitter may have been used even more extensively than Facebook in the Russian influence campaign last year. In addition to Russia-linked Twitter accounts that posed as Americans, the platform was also used for large-scale automated messaging, using “bot” accounts to spread false stories and promote news articles about emails from Democratic operatives that had been obtained by Russian hackers.

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