Archive for March, 2017

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Trolls, Bots & Sock Puppets

March 31, 2017

trolls

Often times movies and TV series are way ahead of the news.  It’s incumbent on screenwriters to be searching in unexplored realms to bring fresh ideas in the form of new story plots to otherwise jaded audiences.  Recently one such occurrence on an episode of “Homeland” revealed such a current insight only to spill over into the news in a very short time.  Considering the lead time to develop a series season and produce the episodes, it is no small feat, indeed, to have been so prescient in their choice.  That episode introduced  the broader American audience to the reality of troll farms and sock puppets.

Ah, “but what is a troll farm?” you ask.  Let’s start with a few simplified explanations.

Troll

A troll is a term used to label a person who invades social media with antagonistic and provocative commentary for the purpose of initiating arguments with witless victims.  Trolls may easily be found on sites like Facebook, Instagram and others.

Bot

A bot is computer code designed to automate the functions of a troll without human direction.

Sock Puppet

A sock puppet is an alias, a false identity designed to obfuscate the true name of a troll.  A single troll can have many sock puppets giving the appearance of many supporters to an idea or argument.

Troll farm

A troll farm is to fake news as a boiler room is to the stock market.  It is a single location with multiple workstations where many trolls work to create fake news and alternative facts. It’s purpose is to disrupt meaningful discussion with disinformation, thereby influencing public opinion, directing it to a favored outcome or by simply creating confusion, thus dividing opposition into weakened fragments.

If you are having trouble reckoning the impact of Russian hackers on the past election, you should think of it in these terms.  Troll farms can consist of thousands of workstations and they can output propaganda daily to unsuspecting audiences who have come to rely on the internet for their source of information. Trolls can use bots to plant fake news and content into the feeds of established news organizations and media.  That is why getting your news from a reliable organization that fact checks content, such as the NY Times or the Washington Post, rather than some newly formed website that fronts for propaganda, is so critical to understanding the events of our time.

Whether fake news or the individual commentary of a sock puppet on Facebook, their effect is pervasive and monumentally influential on the opinions of trusting victims.

Dirty tricks have long been accepted in our elections.  Mudslinging has long been practiced.  Lying and false promises are a recognized form of positioning for candidates. Namecalling has reached a new peak with Donald Trump, but his new form of corruption to political discourse should be seen for what it is, an extension of these detestable practices to a new form of media, one that is more effective because the sources are disguised and made to seem credible.  Worse yet, the trail of responsibility leads to foreign actors outside the reaches of our laws (however weak they may be in this regard) and can only be prosecuted as collusion, a very hard case to make considering the layers of obfuscation.  It’s a lot like trying to prosecute money laundering, or  identity theft through the myriad of international banks and the many separate and nonuniform national laws of the individual countries involved and the perpetrators abroad.

It would help a great deal if first we created new hard and fast ground rules for electoral candidates to follow.

Next, we need to recognize that globalism has many consequences both desirable and undesirable.  Cooperation is needed to resolve the many issues presented by the internet, which, with the exception of North Korea, is a global communication entity.  As long as it exists, global solutions will be required.

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Gullible’s Travails

March 21, 2017

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Gullible’s Travails (Gullible is restrained by the Lilly-Putins)

To be gullible is to believe that which ought not to be believed because on face value it strains credibility in an obvious manner.

Let’s take for example the case of Unidentified Person 1.

Unidentified Person 1 claims he will build a wall across the border between Mexico and the United States and that he will get Mexico to pay for it. This will never happen.  Why?  Well for one thing, it’s just too expensive and for another it is ineffective.  Tighter border security may be desirable, but the cost to value ratio is so lopsided that billions will be spent to stop a handful of migrants seeking a new life in America for their families.  We are told that these migrants are taking American jobs and that they are largely criminals and rapists.  Truth is that the net flow of Mexicans and Latinos is negative towards the US, meaning more travel to Mexico than from Mexico, and those jobs…?  Seasonal migrant farm work is not exactly the American dream of card-carrying US citizens.  If you believe that a wall is needed to change this and that Unidentified Person 1 can make it happen, then you are definitely gullible.

Unidentified Person 1 claims that he will repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something better that will reduce premiums and provide freedom of choice for patients to select the coverage they want and the doctors they prefer. What he didn’t tell you was that 24 million people will lose their health care, Planned Parenthood will lose their federal funding and the cost of the program will shift from the patients to the taxpayers, while those in the top income brackets will see their share of the cost reduced significantly. If you believed that something better was coming in the form of health insurance under the GOP plan, then you are gullible.  For seven years they have failed to develop a plan and now are in such disarray that they cannot even muster the votes in their own party to pass their own proposal.  The GOP plan has been said by members of their own party to be “Dead On Arrival.” It would be more correct to say that it was dead on conception. Unidentified Person 1has been quoted as saying,“nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.”

Unidentified Person 1 promised that he wouldn’t cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Just take a look at the proposed budget to put this promise to the test, though it probably doesn’t matter because if you suffer from gullibility, these programs do not cover that malady anyway.

Unidentified Person 1 promised to “drain the swamp,” yet he has been appointing Wall Street bankers, the same people he told us he would oppose, to very high positions and the same exact Wall Street guys from Goldman Sachs who were there in the past. If you believe that Unidentified Person 1’s appointees were selected for your benefit, then you are most certainly gullible.

If you believe, as Unidentified Person 1 maintains, that global warming, better known as climate change, is not occurring at an ever increasing rate due to man-made carbon pollution, then you and he are in opposition to just about every scientist on the planet which by the way makes you not only gullible but also a self-defeating moron with your head in the sand.

Do I need to go on?

If you believe that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, that there were three million illegal votes in the last election, that reports of inauguration crowd sizes favor Unidentified Person 1,  that there was a Bowling Green massacre, that thousands of Muslims were in the streets of NYC on 9/11 cheering the fall of the twin towers, or that Unidentified Person 1 surrogates were not involved in negotiations with Russian frontmen to play “dirty tricks” from without US borders rather than the dubious, legally-accepted methods routinely used by campaigns here at home, then you dear friend are living in the alternate world of alternate facts, and are a Lilly-white-Putin suffering gullible travails.

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Adam Schiff Lays It All Out.

March 20, 2017

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These are the opening remarks of Adam Schiff at today’s investigative hearing of FBI’s James Comey and NSA’s Admiral Mike Rogers. His logic is so wonderfully delineated that I am running his entire opening statement unedited and without comment.  It’s that important.  Please read on.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank Director Comey and Admiral Rogers for appearing before us today as the committee holds this first open hearing into the interference campaign waged against our 2016 Presidential election.

Last summer, at the height of a bitterly contested and hugely consequential Presidential campaign, a foreign, adversarial power intervened in an effort to weaken our democracy, and to influence the outcome for one candidate and against the other. That foreign adversary was, of course, Russia, and it acted through its intelligence agencies and upon the direct instructions of its autocratic ruler, Vladimir Putin, in order to help Donald J. Trump become the 45th President of the United States.

The Russian “active measures” campaign may have begun as early as 2015, when Russian intelligence services launched a series of spearfishing attacks designed to penetrate the computers of a broad array of Washington-based Democratic and Republican party organizations, think tanks and other entities. This continued at least through winter of 2016. While at first, the hacking may have been intended solely for the collection of foreign intelligence, in mid-2016, the Russians “weaponized” the stolen data and used platforms established by their intel services, such as DC Leaks and existing third party channels like Wikileaks, to dump the documents.

The stolen documents were almost uniformly damaging to the candidate Putin despised, Hillary Clinton and, by forcing her campaign to constantly respond to the daily drip of disclosures, the releases greatly benefited Donald Trump’s campaign.

None of these facts is seriously in question and they are reflected in the consensus conclusions of all our intelligence agencies.

We will never know whether the Russian intervention was determinative in such a close election. Indeed, it is unknowable in a campaign in which so many small changes could have dictated a different result. More importantly, and for the purposes of our investigation, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: the Russians successfully meddled in our democracy, and our intelligence agencies have concluded that they will do so again.

Ours is not the first democracy to be attacked by the Russians in this way. Russian intelligence has been similarly interfering in the internal and political affairs of our European and other allies for decades. What is striking here is the degree to which the Russians were willing to undertake such an audacious and risky action against the most powerful nation on earth. That ought to be a warning to us, that if we thought that the Russians would not dare to so blatantly interfere in our affairs, we were wrong. And if we do not do our very best to understand how the Russians accomplished this unprecedented attack on our democracy and what we need to do to protect ourselves in the future, we will have only ourselves to blame.

We know a lot about the Russian operation, about the way they amplified the damage their hacking and dumping of stolen documents was causing through the use of slick propaganda like RT, the Kremlin’s media arm. But there is also a lot we do not know.

Most important, we do not yet know whether the Russians had the help of U.S. citizens, including people associated with the Trump campaign. Many of Trump’s campaign personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.

In Europe, where the Russians have a much longer history of political interference, they have used a variety of techniques to undermine democracy. They have employed the hacking and dumping of documents and slick propaganda as they clearly did here, but they have also used bribery, blackmail, compromising material, and financial entanglement to secure needed cooperation from individual citizens of targeted countries.

The issue of U.S. person involvement is only one of the important matters that the Chairman and I have agreed to investigate and which is memorialized in the detailed and bipartisan scope of investigation we have signed. We will also examine whether the intelligence community’s public assessment of the Russian operation is supported by the raw intelligence, whether the U.S. Government responded properly or missed the opportunity to stop this Russian attack much earlier, and whether the leak of information about Michael Flynn or others is indicative of a systemic problem. We have also reviewed whether there was any evidence to support President Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama in Trump Tower – and found no evidence whatsoever to support that slanderous accusation – and we hope that Director Comey can now put that matter permanently to rest.

Today, most of my Democratic colleagues will be exploring with you the potential involvement of U.S. persons in the Russian attack on our democracy. It is not that we feel the other issues are not important – they are very important – but rather because this issue is least understood by the public. We realize, of course, that you may not be able to answer many of our questions in open session. You may or may not be willing to disclose even whether there is any investigation. But we hope to present to you and the public why we believe this matter is of such gravity that it demands a thorough investigation, not only by us, as we intend to do, but by the FBI as well.

Let me give you a little preview of what I expect you will be asked by our members.

Whether the Russian active measures campaign began as nothing more than an attempt to gather intelligence, or was always intended to be more than that, we do not know, and is one of the questions we hope to answer. But we do know this: the months of July and August 2016 appear to have been pivotal. It was at this time that the Russians began using the information they had stolen to help Donald Trump and harm Hillary Clinton. And so the question is why? What was happening in July/August of last year? And were U.S. persons involved?

Here are some of the matters, drawn from public sources alone, since that is all we can discuss in this setting, that concern us and should concern all Americans:

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign.

Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services.

The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front.

Also in late July, candidate Trump praises Wikileaks, says he loves them, and openly appeals to the Russians to hack his opponents’ emails, telling them that they will be richly rewarded by the press.

On August 8th, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump political advisor and self-proclaimed political dirty trickster, boasts in a speech that he “has communicated with Assange,” and that more documents would be coming, including an “October surprise.”

In the middle of August, he also communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence.

Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that John Podesta’s personal emails will soon be published. “Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.”

In the weeks that follow, Stone shows a remarkable prescience: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #Lockherup. “Payload coming,” he predicts, and two days later, it does.

Wikileaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to election day.

On Election Day in November, Donald Trump wins. Donald Trump appoints one of his high profile surrogates, Michael Flynn, to be his national security advisor. Michael Flynn has been paid by the Kremlin’s propaganda outfit, RT, and other Russian entities in the past.

In December, Michael Flynn has a secret conversation with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign.

Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation.

The Vice President, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened.

The President is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The President does nothing.

Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the President is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The President then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.

Now, is it possible that the removal of the Ukraine provision from the GOP platform was a coincidence?

Is it a coincidence that Jeff Sessions failed to tell the Senate about his meetings with the Russian Ambassador, not only at the convention, but a more private meeting in his office and at a time when the U.S. election was under attack by the Russians?

Is it a coincidence that Michael Flynn would lie about a conversation he had with the same Russian Ambassador Kislyak about the most pressing issue facing both countries at the time they spoke – the U.S. imposition of sanctions over Russian hacking of our election designed to help Donald Trump?

Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company Rosneft sold a 19 percent share after former British Intelligence Officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size?

Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies that would later come to pass?

Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be the victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?

Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated, and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence?

Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated, and that the Russians used the same techniques to corrupt U.S. persons that they have employed in Europe and elsewhere. We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.

Director Comey, what you see on the dais in front of you, in the form of this small number of members and staff is all we have to commit to this investigation. This is it. We are not supported by hundreds or thousands of agents and investigators, with offices around the world. It is just us and our Senate counterparts. And in addition to this investigation, we still have our day job, which involves overseeing some of the largest and most important agencies in the country, agencies, which, by the way, are trained to keep secrets.

I point this out for two reasons: First, because we cannot do this work alone. Nor should we. We believe these issues are so important that the FBI must devote its resources to investigating each of them thoroughly; to do any less would be negligent in the protection of our country. We also need your full cooperation with our own investigation, so that we have the benefit of what you may know, and so that we may coordinate our efforts in the discharge of both our responsibilities. And second, I raise this because I believe that we would benefit from the work of an independent commission that can devote the staff and resources to this investigation that we do not have, and that can be completely removed from any political considerations. This should not be a substitute for the work that we, in the intelligence committees should and must do, but as an important complement to our efforts, just as was the case after 9/11.

The stakes are nothing less than the future of liberal democracy.

We are engaged in a new war of ideas, not communism versus capitalism, but authoritarianism versus democracy and representative government. And in this struggle, our adversary sees our political process as a legitimate field of battle.

Only by understanding what the Russians did can we inoculate ourselves from the further Russian interference we know is coming. Only then can we help protect our European allies who are, as we speak, enduring similar Russian interference in their own elections.

Finally, I want to say a word about our own committee investigation. You will undoubtedly observe in the questions and comments that our members make during today’s hearing, that the members of both parties share a common concern over the Russian attack on our democracy, but bring a different perspective on the significance of certain issues, or the quantum of evidence we have seen in the earliest stages of this investigation. That is to be expected.

The question most people have is whether we can really conduct this investigation in the kind of thorough and nonpartisan manner that the seriousness of the issues merit, or whether the enormous political consequences of our work will make that impossible. The truth is, I don’t know the answer. But I do know this: If this committee can do its work properly, if we can pursue the facts wherever they lead, unafraid to compel witnesses to testify, to hear what they have to say, to learn what we will and, after exhaustive work, reach a common conclusion, it would be a tremendous public service and one that is very much in the national interest.

So let us try. Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

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The Atomic Silverbacks of World Wrestling.

March 19, 2017

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas

The Atomic Silverbacks of World Wrestling.

Most Americans don’t know the difference between Communism and Socialism, much less the difference between Marxism, Leninism or Stalinism.  I doubt they know the difference between colonialism and imperialism.  Most think that capitalism and democracy are one and the same system.  How about Nazism, fascism and totalitarianism?  They don’t understand the difference between any of these ideologies philosophically, rhetorically or in practice. For them it’s a simple binary choice—capitalism/democracy, good: all else, bad—when in reality any system or it’s leaders are often a mix of various shades of many isms. But here’s what no one dares whisper: The “isms” don’t matter when you surrender your rights to your leaders. At that point it’s pretty much all the same outcome.

So let’s take a look at a few current world leaders to see if there are any similarities and whether that seems to make a difference.

Kim Jong Un:

Nationalist, authoritarian, narcissist, braggart, Fascist, Stalinist, Imperialist wannabe, known liar, ethically bankrupt, crazy hair, unpredictable. His people trust him because he expounds the greatness of North Korea and promises to protect them against American aggression.

Donald Trump:

Nationalist, authoritarian, narcissist, braggart, Fascist, closet Stalinist, Imperialist, known liar, ethically bankrupt, crazy hair, unpredictable. He promises his supporters that he will protect them and make America great again.

Vladamir Putin:

Nationalist, authoritarian, narcissist, braggart, Fascist, Stalinist, Imperialist, known liar, ethically bankrupt, no hair just crazy scary, very predictable in the broad sense of his goals, unpredictable in the specific tactics. He promises to restore Russian greatness by reclaiming previously Russian territories.

These three leaders are now parading around the world stage like WWF combatants taunting their challengers. It’s a mix of unstable and insecure personalities and resolute, confirmed killers, a lethal concoction of blowhards that could easily lead to war. Historically the patterns are always the same. Here’s how it happens:

  1. A charismatic figure assumes a leadership position.
  2. By virtue of that position he/she commands the military.
  3. Media is managed with false narratives, propaganda controlled by the leader.
  4. Dissent is neutralized by a variety of means, some lethal.
  5. Extreme measures are enacted for security and safety. New laws are created.
  6. Human rights are denied.  Torture is accepted.
  7. Minorities are targeted for persecution.
  8. Transfer of wealth is initiated to advantage the privileged.
  9. Public assets are privatized.
  10. Social policies that benefit the underclass are eliminated.
  11. The military is expanded.
  12. The economy tanks.
  13. War is declared.

Like festooned wrestling musclemen, silverback gorillas in costume parading their aggressive behavior, theses leaders pound their chests with ferocious taunts at the edge of their territory, defying anyone to misinterpret their intent as anything less than aggression.

North Korea, on the verge of economic collapse diverting it’s dwindling economic resources to an ever increasing military program to develop nuclear arms, Kim Jong Un manages his captive populace outwardly with unsubstantiated propaganda and  secretly with discreet, violent means, squashing dissent through imprisonment and assassination.  He has fashioned an enemy of the United States and now at the height of his popularity,  he will need a war to restore his shrinking bank account.  As Tillerman, having shed his press entourage, travels to China seeking to leverage China’s dependency on US debt into a cooperative arrangement on North Korean sanctions, the possibility of crazy Kim becoming more desperate looms large.  Furthermore Kim has his honor at stake.  He’s made claims and promises he has to back up.  With a million troops placed on the border of the demilitarized zone with South Korea (also counting a million opposing troops) this could very well be the biggest land war in history. With each passing day Kim demonstrates more aggression, ramping up his nuclear ambitions with more tests of atomic weapons and ICBM launches.

Meanwhile, the Russian people love and trust Vladimir Putin,  Like Trump to his supporters, Putin has promised to restore Russian pride, making Russia great again.   Actions such as attempts to regain territories once under Russian control like Crimea and the Ukraine have already demonstrated his intentions.  Putin’s military support for Syria has little regard for civilian casualties and has caused a flood of immigrants to destabilize European nations and scare American voters into some bad choices favorable to Russian intentions.  Now Putin seeks to further antagonize the United States through cyber-warfare hacks on our election, scandalous leaks regarding Trump’s visit to Moscow, dangerous military flyovers of US naval vessels, a Russian spy ship off the Connecticut coast and ballistic missile testing contrary to our treaty with them. He’s a shirtless cowboy confidently riding into Dodge City to face a witless sheriff and his clown posse that he installed there.  I suppose you have to be that devious to be that brilliant.  No wonder Trump admires him so.

But far and away, Americans are the most delusional.  Faced with massive evidence to the contrary, they continue to support their cowboy presidents—movie stars and the super-rich.  We just keep electing them, thinking they can lead us out of the mess created by the previous cowboy president or movie-star leader. Texas has given us no short supply.  LBJ got his war and the economy soared.  Nixon was no cowboy, but he knew he couldn’t pull out of Vietnam without severe economic consequences.  When he was eventually forced out, we sunk into the Carter years. Reagan followed and was the epitome of a cowboy superstar, with movie credentials, a sweat soaked Stetson and a real horse to back him up.  In the shadow of Vietnam, he waged a different kind of clandestine war in Latin America. Ollie North took the fall and Reagan reaped the glory.

Reagan was followed by two multimillionaire Texan cowboys, often seen publicly in their Stetsons, each of whom got their wars.  But it took a “gosh-shucks” hatless president sandwiched in between them to temporarily rescue the economy while trysting in the oval office. Lacking viable economic policy, the two Bushes needed a war to boost the economy in that “tried and true” old style way. Both failed.

Lacking both cowboy credentials and a proper Stetson, Trump must rely on the famous Trump myth, largely propagated by the success of his reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”  Viewers believe the tough-talking Trump, the guy who makes hard-edged decisions to chastise and rebuke misbehaving and underperforming employees, ultimately firing them, to be the tough guy they need to perform all those cowboy functions required for an American identity.  One of the most infamous and out of control “apprentices” was Omarosa, a villain to be sure.  Now a Whitehouse staffer in Trump’s transition team Omarosa is up to her old tricks, intimidating a Whitehouse reporter with threats to release a dossier they keep on her.

Meanwhile as Trump fails to deliver on each or any of his promises, he will soon need a big win to renew his flagging support.  While he seems to have no limit on victims to attack, (after 16 primary candidates, Hillary Clinton. the Pope, John McCain, the entire press and media, all women, every minority, Muslims, the disabled, veterans, Barack Obama, Federal Judges, every US security agency, Mexico, Canada, Britain and Germany,) Nato and the EU one would think there was pretty much no place left to go to look for more victims, but his willingness to behave foolishly knows no limits and he continues his attacks unabated.  Eventually, when the economy sinks and all his polices have failed to be enacted, he will run out of executive orders for departments to close, employees to fire, and social programs to end. He will need to escalate his attacks and that will coincide with the need to stimulate the economy through external means.  Attacking individual personalities will no longer suffice. That leaves war as the best solution and he won’t have to look far to find agreeable opponents.  Putin has set him up for failure and Kim is too blinded by his own light to fear the dangers of challenging a fool to an atomic bar fight.

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It Can Happen Here.

March 16, 2017

It can happen here pix

I was born in 1949, four scant years after the end of World War II.  My father had been a B17 navigator in the Army Air Corp and flew more than 20 missions over Germany.  After the war he went back to college and then enlisted in the Air Force.  We moved around a lot, about every three years, but in each new location I attended Catholic school.  It was there that I formed a foundation in moral principles and ethics, as well as a basic understanding of civics. But it was through my father’s military experience, that by his example, I understood the place for rules and regulations, laws and tradition, in our society.

In a Catholic school, morality was taught from two points of view.  The first was a delineation of the degrees of sin based on the ten commandments.  These sins had various weight or values, gravity.  The second was a classification of sin mandated by Church law and required dogma.  In the both categories, sin was broken down into mortal and venial sins.  A mortal sin could be murder, unmarried sex, or, missing mass on Sundays, each of which condemned the sinner to suffer the eternal fires of hell. Frankly, I never understood the equivalency of these offenses, nor the cold-hearted judgement of a loving and forgiving God as reasonable.  A venial sin was one that sent the offender to purgatory for a temporary singing of the soul, something purported to work like the cleansing properties of a medieval bloodletting, rather than punishment inflicted on a mortal sinner to burn in the eternal fires of hell.  This was complicated and illogical stuff, but one thing was very clear—certain actions were very wrong and had grave consequences, and were to be avoided. Rules, regulations and laws were necessary for our safety by maintaining order.  No one was to be exempt.  As an abstract concept, we are all equal in God’s eyes and under the law.

Civics was another matter.  It was presented as something logical and simple and above board.  We live in a democracy governed by three branches that provide checks and balances to each other.  Our rights are guaranteed by our Constitution, rights like freedom of religion. Free speech is also protected by the Constitution to guarantee that media and press are safe from persecution, that they may provide oversight of the three branches thus delivering critical information, news of the day, to the electorate who determines who shall govern.  Once again, the concept of equality under the law rose front and center and it validated this system of governance in our eyes.

Eventually, these two fields of study would form a chaotic confluence in our study of history and the consequence was inevitably a philosophical discussion of the merits of some historical event in question with a hypothetical solution, a history altering choice to be made by us students. Being only a few years after World War II, morality, as discussed in religion class, opened the door to an exploration of the righteous cause of the United States in that war and a questioning of the German people in their support of evil leaders.  Hitler became a huge stumbling block, as the question posed to the class was this:  If you had the opportunity to kill Hitler before the war, would you do it?  Now to answer this, one has to first be comfortable with the taking of life, a clear violation of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  But beyond that, one must possess a foreknowledge of future events and assume the moral authority to act as judge, jury and executioner in the absence of due process, contrary to our American principles and in my case, Catholic ethics. The argument in favor of assassinating Hitler was the saving of millions of lives, that with historical hindsight, as history students, we all knew were extinguished in the most horrific ways by Hitler and his Nazis.

The second philosophical discussion centered around the German people.  How could they allow such things to happen?  It was unfathomable to our young minds, so rather than disrupt our sleep patterns with unnecessary anxiety, we were told by our teachers not to worry because “it can’t happen here.”  Yes, we understood that and we believed it wholeheartedly.  We have a system of checks and balances and we have freedom of religion and we have a free press and we have checks and balances and we get to vote for our leaders and we are not dragged off in the middle of the night by the Gestapo to disappear for interrogation by torture.  Yes, we are safe because we are a moral people with moral leaders and we always act morally because we continue to act according to the principles on which we were founded.  No, it can’t happen here.

Then JFK was assassinated and all that changed.  Before that, Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death was never given the public scrutiny it deserved. Now a boondoggle investigative body, the Warren Commission, a body as ineffectual as deodorant spray on a skunk, added layers of conjecture and erroneous science to create a complicated scenario establishing a bogus history of that event.  RFK and MLK followed in quick succession with similar results while we lived through a war based on lies that took hundreds of thousands of our young men’s lives to line the pockets of military contractors and boost the economy.  And then we got, ta da,  Richard Nixon and his band of thugs, including our prestigious Secretary of State and wanted war criminal in France, Henry Kissinger.  No it can’t happen here.  When the national guard killed four students at Kent State walking to class, we were told, it can’t happen here.  When we decimated the village of MyLai and piled the bodies of old people, women and children in a ditch, we were told it can’t happen here. Remember Custer?… hmmm. It took a decade of protest by peaceniks and hippies, college students and liberals, Walter Cronkite seeing the light, Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein to bring down Humpty Dumpty, only to have Gerald Ford pardon this most egregious criminal in the “national interest” and I have to wonder, would the German people have done that for Hitler? Their war criminals got a trial and execution.  Our war criminals get house arrest and a pardon.  Just what is it that can’t happen here? Torture?  Rendition?  What?

But it doesn’t end there, and it’s a long story, so let’s just fast forward to the present day.  A few years ago when the GOP foisted Sarah Palin on us, I thought, “could it possibly get any worse?”  How can they expect anyone to vote for such an ill informed idiot. But they did. All the while Rush Limbaugh, the de facto GOP minister of propaganda, echoed from the radio to our aging population who still prefer to get their news and opinion from such an archaic device. Ah yes, freedom of the press.  It can’t happen here. And so opinions are formed around rigid values, unyielding rules that a clever surrogate can use to preach to the choir in their own language, creating the illusion of a shared identity and trust.  But be sure of this—they have nothing in common with that surrogate or his master, manipulators all.

But we must realize that it does happen here.  It happens when we put nationalism before patriotism.  It happens because we regard ourselves as so special and so different that we consider ourselves to be immune to the temptations and pitfalls that have ensnared other nations. (We call ourselves “the greatest nation on earth.”)  It happens because we have become indifferent and yet arrogant, angry, mad and fearful.  It happens because we refuse to believe that our leaders aren’t any different than their leaders.  It happens because we elect representatives not rulers and we cannot imagine that corruption exists in such a system. It happens because we do not follow our instincts and we allow ourselves to be hogtied by unspoken rules requiring absolute, verifiable legal proof before acting defensively in our own, best self interests.  By then you are dead my friend. It happens because we are too busy, too ignorant and too trustful.  It happens because we allow it to happen when we are lied to, just because we are too lazy and too ill-equipped to untangle the truth from the mass of alternative facts, intentional disinformation.  It happens because we each maintain a personal belief system that obstructs real knowledge through a delusional confirmation of our beliefs when flattered by liars who manage our beliefs for their private ends. “Pride cometh before the fall.”

It’s one thing to be disappointed in our leaders but to look back and ask “how did this happen” without recognizing our own part in making it so, like that of the German people before the war, is truly the biggest disappointment of all.

And so here we find ourselves with Trump.

Trump, who admires Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un as strong leaders. Trump, a documented liar and self proclaimed sexual deviant and pervert, a narcissist who believes himself to be above the law and has weaseled his way into the one office that keeps him above the law and any reasonable oversight, especially regarding his financial entanglements with questionable foreign banks, foreign communist governments and criminal business entities. Trump who seeks to exempt Muslims from the protections offered by religious freedom that we all enjoy.  Trump who promotes nationalism.  Trump whose main advisor is a Leninist who seeks to demolish the establishment in order to rebuild it anew.  Trump who floated the Idea of jailing his campaign opponent after the election. Trump who has shown clear animosity for every minority with shameless, abusive rhetoric.  Trump whose policies move wealth from the lower classes to the extremely wealthy.  Trump who dismantles federal agencies and policies designed to protect us and our environment from physical and financial harm.  That Trump.  That is who we have looked the other way for.  That is who we have given a free pass to play the lottery with our money for his benefit. Why?  Because he’s made a lot of money for himself, that’s why.  So why should we expect it to be any different because by all visible signs, it is happening here?

The answer is because for the moment we can still exercise our freedoms.  We can protest, as we have been doing and we must continue to do. We ended the war in Vietnam.   With a free press we brought down Nixon.  Let’s not forget that.

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Just Questions, No Answers

March 14, 2017

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Just questions, no answers.  That’s the sum and substance of the Trump administration.  Ask them anything and get nothing in return.  Press conferences are a sham, a veil of noncommittal responses cloaking both action and intention.

Take for example the Russian connection to Trump which grows with each passing day. Now we learn that the Russian bank, Alfa, sent 2800 requests from their server to Trump’s server during July of the campaign year.  Additionally a similar number was sent to Spectrum Health’s server.  That’s the company run by Dick Devos, husband to Betsy Devos, our new Secretary of Education.  Combined requests to those two servers alone constituted 99% of those made by Alfa Bank.  What’s up with that?  Who knows, but it doesn’t look good?  Right now the news services are calling it “odd.”  Maybe not so odd, considering the tangled web of Trump surrogates’ Russian contacts, Trump’s repeated campaign emphasis on improved Russian  relations, Tillerson’s Russian oil development objectives and the confirmed Russian hacking used against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to influence the election.

So how about the long trail of Trump campaign advisers and staffers meeting with Russians, ranging from the “Sure looks and sounds like a New Jersey gangster-thug” Paul Manafort; disgraced foreign agent Michael Flynn; the informal advisor and uncanny “mystical-seer-into-the-election-future,” Roger Stone; Trump advisors J.D. Gordon and Carter Page; to son-in-law Jared Kushner and finally perjurious Jeff Sessions.  Despite repeated and continual denials that staffers and advisers ever met with the Russians, solid evidence to the contrary continues to leak and each contrite innocent in turn does the dance of  “Oh I thought you meant,”  Sessions going so far as failing to answer the question asked by giving the answer to a different question not asked, thus creating a storm of controversy around his answer.  It’s as if he couldn’t wait to enter a denial to a potential issue that could or should come up, had anyone thought to ask about his role in meeting with the Russians. If you think this is just business as usual for a candidate, or regard it as coincidence then think again and consider the timing and optics.  What does it get you?  Just more questions, no answers.

Given the limits of the information at hand, it’s not surprising that we have only questions.  But it’s not as if anyone with real knowledge offers answers.  Asked direct questions, Republican spokesperson after Republican spokesperson refuses to give direct answers, rather answering a question of their own choice, related to the topic but not the specifics of the question, one that allows for favorable framing to avoid an undeniably, unfavorable answer.  Faced with the coming failure of the “Trumpcare” act, loyally supported with an impressive mastery of non-answering by Paul Ryan, Trump has rallied his team of co-conspirators to supply the only answer he can come up with… “blame the Democrats for its failure.”  Now there’s a novel idea!  And with some 2,000 job vacancies still unfilled in the administration, as the government slows to a halt, Trump returns again to his only answer, “blame it on the Democrats. Where is the legendary “dealmaker” hiding?

Each day, as it appears that it cannot get any worse, any more absurd, new fantasies are created by the “dealmaker” to magically distract our attention from real issues, and further saddle investigators with new, unresolvable objectives, diluting meaningful work with nonsense. His willingness to go where demons fear to tread knows no limits. Trump’s claim that Obamas wiretapped Trump Tower has no basis in fact and has been widely refuted by every intelligence agency tasked with wiretap approval and oversight.  Trump who knows that he can get the answer to his claims in one phone call has, nevertheless, refused to do so, shifting the responsibility to the investigative committees.  Why is this? Well first, because he already knows the answer and second because it sends the committee on a wild-goose-chase siphoning resources from the Russian investigation, and thirdly, it serves his propaganda needs for fresh bull-dookey for his 44% base of devout sycophants.

Meanwhile as Korean and Russian challenges mount with escalating acts of aggression, “Mr. Bluster” remains silent, leaving us with more questions without answers.

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Plugging The Leaks

March 1, 2017

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Plugging The Leaks

February 28, 2016  Day 40 of the Trump Whitehouse

Fox news, a leading source for Right Wing propaganda, continues to broadcast Trump’s rants about leaks in his administration. Just a few days ago Sean Spicer, the Chihuahua that barks like a Pitt Bull, acting with Trump’s approval reacted in full fascist mode by seizing the cellphones of staffers in search of evidence of a breach, specifically looking for encryption software or any communications by text, voice or email that would compromise Trump’s official positions and public statements. These revelations  are otherwise known as leaks because they come from insiders, staffers who know the secret truths and are  willing and able to make it available to the American public who have a right to know in order to make informed decisions. Leaks are not necessarily information that requires security clearances, but can be.  Trump would have us believe that all leaks threaten national security when in point of fact they strengthen it.

But just what is a leak?  First, a leak cannot be a lie because if it were fabricated it would not be a release of information that was supposed to be kept in confidence. It would not be a leak but a slur. No, a leak is factual information revealed by an insider source, usually regarding negative behavior on the part of an entity acting in a manner against the trust placed in it. The entity will feel betrayed, because there is usually a non-disclosure agreement in place or the insider has made a pledge or taken a loyalty oath or the like.  It is only when an entity violates the trust placed in it by lying, that insider sources acting on behalf of the people holding the trust, feel compelled to reveal the truth and become whistleblowers and “leak.”  Leakers choose right over wrong, justice over injustice, and truth over lies and they put themselves in jeopardy to support their convictions. They are in fact whistleblowers behaving honorably .

Lacking the wisdom to foresee the effect that such searches will have on staffers, Trump has created an environment that demands loyalty at the expense of integrity.  The effect will be only a more widespread use of leaks as a means to enable the management of a government gone berserk. So what’s next?  Strip searches?

Meanwhile, once the truth is out, there is little to do but deny it.  Spicer was quoted recently as saying, “How many people have to say there’s nothing there for people to realize there’s nothing there?” The answer to that Sean, is only one, an honest one.  Truth is not a numbers game.  All the surrogates in the West Wing, all the hypocrites in the GOP, the entire right wing news media chanting lies in unison do not have the power of a single leaker telling the truth.

There’s really only one way to stop leaks and that is to act honorably so that there is no reason to leak.  It’s just another form of supply and demand. Cut off the supply.  There will be no demand.