• Archive of "Democracy" Category

    Freedom’s Just Another Word

    December 10, 2016 // 28 Comments »



    Here’s what’s left of democracy in America.


    We had an election, and the candidate favored by Washington, media, and many business elites did not win. Here’s what happened next.

    — CIA unambiguously but without documentation or evidence presented says, via anonymous leaks, that Russia interceded in the election to help elect Donald Trump.

    — Democratic Congresspeople, alongside several media outlets, have called for investigations into whether or not Trump colluded with the Russians to influence the election. That would be an impeachable offense, a criminal offense, treason.

    — The underlying message is that the Russians believe Trump as president will so favor them (for some reason) that they risk war, or a cyber version of war, to see him in power. Trump’s legitimacy is now undermined, and his every action toward the Soviet Union Russia will be tainted.

    — Though this “information” was known in Washington since at least the election, it was only released 10 days ahead of the Electoral College vote.


    — Meanwhile, Jill Stein, as proxy for Hillary Clinton, raised $7 million over a long weekend after claiming the vote count in three key states was wrong and/or the counting machines (not connected to the web) were hacked and cannot be trusted. A recount could have sent Clinton to the White House.

    — Clinton supporters continue to try and get the Electoral College to do something it has never done in some 220 years, select a candidate who did not win the most electoral votes.

    — Hillary Clinton has re-emerged, making speeches and public appearances, concurrent with all of the above.

    — Democrats as a group continue to insist winning the popular vote entitles Clinton to… something.

    — Clinton supporters earlier claimed the FBI interceded in the election to defeat Clinton.

    — Candidate Clinton claimed during a debate the now president-elect is a stooge working on behalf of Putin, literal treason.

    This is banana republic crap, people, that looks to negate the votes of some 62 million Americans. We no longer believe in our own system. When the candidate many people did not support wins, the response is to seek to negate the democratic process, via accusations that make McCarthy in the 1950s look like a sad amateur.

    What we have are anonymous voices at an intelligence agency supposedly dedicated to foreign intel saying the Russians helped elect our next president. That says the process is flawed and cannot be trusted, and that Trump will owe a debt to the Russians and can’t be trusted. It will keep alive the idea that Clinton should have won if not for this meddling and undermine for his term the legitimacy of Trump. Via the classification process, the CIA will only need to make public the snippets of info that support its contention.

    This is an attempted coup as sure as it would be if there were tanks on the White House lawn. The CIA might as well have tried to shoot Trump during his next trip to Dallas.

    To date, all of these accusations have been based on anonymous sources and leaks. The president of the United States remains silent.

    And we are so easily manipulated — liberals/progressives who have rightly attacked the CIA for decades for domestic spying, WMD lies, overthrowing foreign governments, torture, drones, renditions, etc., overnight now believe and support every word the Agency says.

    America, our goose is cooked. You worry about an autocracy? It doesn’t have to be in one man. It can be via an Agency.



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    Requiem for the Obama Administration, Trump Edition

    December 7, 2016 // 78 Comments »

    obama_burns_constitution

    The problems many are now predicting under the Trump administration did not start on November 8. The near-unrestrained executive power claimed by the Obama administration will be transferred to the president-elect. Here’s what that means.


    Torture

    Obama did not prosecute, fire or discipline anyone for torturing people on behalf of the people of the United States. He did not hold any truth commissions, and ensured almost all of the government documents on the torture program remain classified. He did not prosecute the CIA official who willfully destroyed video tapes of the torture scenes. He has not specifically disavowed secret prisons and renditions, just suspended their use.

    As with the continued hunting down of Nazis some 70 years after their evil acts, the message that individual responsibility exists must stalk those who would do evil on behalf of a government. “I was only following orders” is not a defense against inhuman acts. The purpose of tracking down the guilty is less to punish and more to discourage the next person from doing evil; the purpose is to morally immunize a nation-state.

    Because of these failures President Trump can, as he has proposed, restart the torture program at any time. Some claim the CIA won’t participate. Some always will of course, and if not at CIA, then a contractor will be found. And if another terror attack or two take place, then people at CIA and elsewhere in government will be lining up to conduct the torture as they did last time. They know they will never be held accountable. Indeed, Trump is apparently considering the CIA official who destroyed the torture tapes, Jose Rodriguez, to head up the agency.


    Assassinations

    Obama legalized, formalized, and normalized drone assassinations on a global scale, including the killing of American citizens without due process in direct violation of the Fifth Amendment, on the president’s order alone. The only real restraint he codified is self-restraint. When you leave a door open, you never know who will walk in.

    Because of this President Trump can do the same thing. Trump is unlikely to blow up the entire world with the nuclear codes, but please do not act surprised when his choice of American citizen targets may not match up with yours.


    Guantanamo

    Obama never closed Guantanamo as he promised. He could have, simply by depopulating it regardless of what Congress might have said. In 2014 when Obama needed to trade five Taliban from Gitmo for U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, Obama simply ordered those Taliban freed. He could do the same with anyone else there. He could have applied the full pressure of the U.S. on various countries to accept freed prisoners. He could have ordered the show trials to be conclude.

    Obama did not do these things. He instead normalized indefinite detention as a policy of the United States, and alongside that, as with torture and drone assassinations, the use of secret, convoluted legal opinions to justify such executive powers.

    So if President Trump choses to start refilling the cells at Guantanamo, and reminding the world of the lengths a frightened America is willing to go to imprison a single man, it should not be a surprise. And with the “legal” opinions, including ones still secret, behind such policies, stopping Trump will require years of counter-litigation never even begun under the Obama administration.


    Espionage Act

    Obama prosecuted more federal whistleblowers as spies under the Espionage Act than all previous U.S. presidents combined. He sent to jail people who exposed torture, and people who allegedly leaked information to journalists showing American complicity in dangerous acts abroad. He had Chelsea Manning prosecuted for exposing war crimes in Iraq. He used the Espionage Act to destroy the lives of others who under any definition except his own would be considered political heroes.

    Obama and his Justice Department created the playbook for how to use the hereto obscure Espionage Act to do these things.

    So if President Trump, perhaps with an attorney general Rudy Giuliani, uses that playbook to lock up whistleblowers, journalists, and people you might call dissidents and political prisoners, remember to again look the other way.


    Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

    The Obama administration set a record for redacting government files or outright denying access to them in fiscal year 2014 – some 77% of FOIA requests were redacted or denied outright. More than any previous administration, Obama took longer to turn over files, said more often it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over newsworthy files quickly absent lawsuits brought to force the government’s hand. In the case of Hillary Clinton, files considered “unclassified” in one context were redacted in whole in another.

    Though the backlog of unanswered requests grew by 55%, the administration cut the number of full-time FOIA employees by nine percent. Despite the critical nature of the documents, the State Department was allowed to do its FOIA screening of the Clinton emails largely with an ad hoc crew of retirees. The impact on journalists, and the right of the people to know, was immeasurable.

    So don’t be surprised if the Trump administration does not end up as the most transparent one ever.


    NSA

    Obama never realistically reigned in the NSA after the Bush-era Patriot Act allowed the agency to turn its surveillance tools on the Homeland. Absent a few cosmetic changes, NSA continues to gather the full spectrum of Americans’ communications in violation of the Fourth Amendment, abetted by the secret FISA court and vaguely Constitutional tools such as National Security Letters and parallel reconstruction. Information lives forever, and the NSA is building bigger data warehouses to keep storing it.

    President Trump will have that information about you at his disposal. And so all who bleated “they had nothing to hide and thus have nothing to fear” during the Obama (and Bush) administration, out of trust for a president or fear of terror, well, now you can join the rest of us who have been terrified for a very long time.



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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    Trump and Social Media: Welcome to the New World

    December 5, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    trump


    Did you see what Trump just tweeted out? Buzzfeed’s got it, and some guy over at Daily Kos is totally losing his mind replying. It’s Donald Trump’s Internet, and we’re allowed to watch. And retweet.

    Trump has done more than become the most prolific social media communicator in political history. He has discovered the Holy Grail of presidential-media relations: the ability to ignore the whole damn Fourth Estate. This is a new paradigm for political power, one that at a minimum pushes the media another circulation drop closer to irrelevancy. Oh well, they’ll always have the weather and sports to report. Craigslist already took the classifieds away.

    The latest online thrust by Trump has been a series of tweets directed personally against a reporter who said the president-elect claimed without evidence his popular vote total suffered because of extensive voter fraud. Jeff Zeleny, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, said Trump was a “sore winner,” adding the president-elect had “zero evidence” to back his claim he won the popular vote. Commentators agreed with Zeleny, saying Trump’s ego couldn’t accept the insult of losing the popular vote.

    Trump responded with a series of tweets and retweets condemning Zeleny. All of the tweets saw “likes” in the tens of thousands, and endless websites excerpted and embedded them out to an even larger audience. Just another episode in the Trump reality show, right?

    Wrong.

    As the media missed the overall populist appeal of Trump right up until election night, so are they missing the populist power he is wielding and likely will continue wield via social media for the next four years.

    While Obama claimed the title of first “Internet president” by virtue of his online fundraising, brilliant datamining, and seeding of the 24-hour news cycle, the bulk of his efforts were essentially repurposing technology to do the traditional things politicians have always done, albeit faster and better. Evolution, not revolution.

    Trump has discovered something much, much bigger: he does not need to depend on the media to communicate to the electorate. As the once-upstarts such as HuffPo, Buzzfeed, and the Daily Beast pushed the TV networks into the background, so now is social media Trump-style stepping forward.

    Sure, OK, the Internet is a powerful tool for global communication, social media blah blah blah, Kanye something something Instagram, this stuff’s taught now in Communications 101: The Modern Age at community college.

    But social media for Trump is not simply a display board to pin policy statements to as Obama has used it. Social media is a tool that first allows Trump to bypass everything and speak to individual citizens/voters, and then force the traditional media to amplify what he says as part of its own thirst for “content.” There really isn’t any news anymore when Trump has it on Twitter as his own scoop. Ignore the tweets so as to starve the beast? The worry is more that the audience will ignore you because they can read the tweets themselves.

    Every president who’s left a record has expressed some level of disdain for the media of his day, and a desire to circumvent it. But no president could afford to ignore them, or to truly anger them. Influence them, of course: presidents would leak juicy stuff to one reporter, cut off another, but at the end of the day media and the president needed each other to do their respective jobs. A president would once upon a time have had to be careful chiding a columnist for the New York Times to her face for fear of being slaughtered on the editorial page. President Lyndon Johnson, after hearing CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite had spoken out against the War in Vietnam, famously said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.”

    Access now only has to be courted one way. Trump can afford to insult reporters because he no longer has any real need for them, except perhaps as foils for his anti-establishment rhetoric. He treats them with contempt because in his mind, all they really do is retweet him. Who cares what CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, thinks of you? How many followers on Twitter does he have anyway? Zeleny = 135k. Trump = 16.3 million.

    Trump has also mastered, via social media, the art of Internet logic. His tweets often read like the “Comments” section on some political blog. Make a bold statement unsupported by facts. When challenged, demand the challenger provide proof you’re wrong (often meaning to prove the negative) and then mock them if they don’t respond. Dispute sources, not facts — X can’t be true because it was reported by a media outlet that favored Clinton. Attack ad hominem, and goad others into doing the same. The enemy isn’t just CNN, it is Jeff Zeleny himself. Then stand back and disavow what happens, up to and including death threats. And, for the triple score, issue an appeal for calm with a conspiratorial wink.

    Social media Trump-style also offers the unprecedented ability to control the agenda. Should a troublesome story appear, a handful of bombastic tweets changes the conversation. If no one seems to be listening after some rude remarks about the musical Hamilton run their course, just yell louder — flag burners should lose their citizenship! All in real, real time; Trump is no stranger to sending out 140 characters of white noise at 3 am.

    With its reliance on “friends” and “followers,” social media also creates a personal bond between Trump and individual Americans not really experienced since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era fireside chats. As those radio broadcasts brought Roosevelt into the living room, Trump’s tweets put his policies, opinions and rants into the same feeds as Aunt Sally talking about Christmas plans. It creates intimacy, and by association (who doesn’t like Aunt Sally), may increase trust.

    And make no mistake about it; unlike most politicians’ social media, which sounds like robotic ad-speak, Trump’s tweets come from Trump. It’s him talking to you. Look at many of the responses to Trump on social media; people are writing back to him in the first person, using the informal language of the web. This is a personal connection. He is part of your world and part of your day. And unlike TV, you can speak back to him, and maybe get an answer of sorts; Trump has been known to retweet messages from his followers.

    While many will advise him to tone it down, or perhaps switch his Twitter to a more “presidential model,” it seems unlikely Trump would set the whole thing aside when the clock strikes midnight on inauguration day. These are very powerful tools. They played a significant role in electing Trump. They will allow him for four years to pick and choose how and when, or if, he wants to engage with the traditional media. With that on one side of the scale, and with Trump being both the president, and, well, being Trump, who is going to make the argument that pulling back is in Trump’s interest?



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    A Brief History of the Election OMG PUTIN IS TAKING CONTROL OF THIS ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!!

    November 27, 2016 // 48 Comments »

    russianbear

    Media ignore Clinton’s weaknesses and Trump’s strengths for 18 months to epically blow election predictions.

    No calls for recounts.

    Clinton concedes.

    No calls for recounts.

    Despite over 200 years of the electoral college system, and this being the fifth presidential election where the winner did not receive the majority of the popular vote, Clinton supporters begin bleating about her winning the popular vote so, whatever, she should become president. Many seem surprised to learn of this “electoral” system;

    No calls for recounts.

    Clinton supporters hold street protests.

    No calls for recounts.

    Effort made to talk electors out of voting for Trump fails to gain traction.

    No calls for recounts.

    Two weeks after the election in the midst of the Trump transition OMG the Russians hacked the election Putin is controlling America with RT.com thought waves and fake news so we gotta recount it but only so faith in American democracy is restored.

    Jill Stein, who received zero electoral votes and has absolutely nothing to gain from a recount somehow raises more money in a few days than in her entire previous campaign.

    We gotta have a recount!

    Clinton campaign joins in demand for a recount.

    (Standby for cries that the recount, which will show Clinton still losing, is itself crooked as it was done by the same local election officials under the same mind control of the Soviet Bear)

    BONUS:
    My point is nowadays (i.e., 1950) any criticism of the Clinton is taken as de facto “evidence” of Russian agency. The Catch-22 is that if it cannot be shown that you work directly for the Russians, it is said you are a “useful idiot” too dumb to realize you are secondarily under their influence. Everybody is thus part of the Soviet global threat.


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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    A Media Blacklist, Courtesy of WaPo: Now I’m Afraid for Our Democracy

    November 26, 2016 // 51 Comments »

    firstamendment_0


    In most third world societies, when people don’t like the results of an election, they take to the streets. In America, we take to the Internet.


    But the end result is the same. The system is undermined because we do not like the results it yielded. Accusations of something unfair having happened are slung around, usually either unsupported by facts, based on faux “statistical anomalies,” or via a small data set that is blown up into something general to prove “the system is unfair/corrupt/wrong/inaccurate” to people who already believe that to be true but need talking points for their Facebook pages.

    This is the thought process that is driving the wishful thinking behind the recount efforts, and campaigns to push the Electoral College into voting Hillary Clinton into the White House.

    Of course a nice tag-along is if this can all be blamed on an outside third party. Dissatisfied people have little interest in blaming themselves, their flawed candidate, or acknowledging the strengths of the opponent among a large segment of voters. Nope, easier to blame someone else. For that, a person who has been molded into a one-word symbol of, well, everything and anything Americans fear, Putin.


    And so a recent article in the Washington Post terrifies me. It is at a level of journalism that previously was reserved for conspiracy theories on Geocities’ style web sites. Here’s a selection from the article:

    The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy.

    Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.

    So: Clinton lost because Russia wanted Trump to win because Trump will favor Russia so Russia created fake news which influenced over 62 million Americans to overlook Trump’s flaws and vote for him. Got it.


    Proof? Stuff on Facebook. Main source of that proof? A group of unknown origin, financing, and makeup (“an independent team of concerned American citizens”) called PropOrNot, i.e., propaganda or not. The group also “strongly suspects that some of the individuals involved have violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and other related laws.”

    A second source quoted by the Washington Post is Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (which has been around in one form or another since the 1950s, dedicated to the Cold War), who says of the Russians “They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests.” Watts’s report on his work appeared on a blog this month as Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy. That piece claims without any real evidence at all that “Russia is actively trying to put Donald Trump in the White House… And the evidence is compelling.”

    I encourage everyone to read some of the linked articles. This is seriously scary Cold War paranoia stuff.


    And guess what? The ProporNot group has created a (black)list of websites that it claims are controlled/influenced by the Russians. While — dammit — this website in not included, I take some solace in noting that I have written for or been reprinted by 11 of them.

    “They use our technologies and values against us to sow doubt,” said Robert Orttung, a George Washington University professor who studies Russia, quoted in the article.

    And that sounds dangerously close to saying our First Amendment’s freedom of speech provisions seem to be the root of this threat to American democracy.



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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    By the Numbers: The Recount Scenarios (It is a Long Shot)

    November 24, 2016 // 41 Comments »

    DC: Green Party Presidential Nominee Jill Stein Makes Announcement On 2016 Race


    Green Party candidate Jill Stein (Disclosure: I voted for Stein) is calling for a recount in key states, and has raised some $3 million for that purpose. Her funding page estimates the total cost, including lawyers, will be $6-7 million.

    There is a lot of media being generated by all this, but I haven’t found anyone who did some math. Here it is.



    Deadlines

    The deadlines in the three key states Stein is seeking recounts for are fast approaching. This Friday, November 25, is the deadline for requesting a recount in Wisconsin, where Trump’s winning margin stands at 0.7%. In Pennsylvania, where his margin is 1.2%, the deadline falls on Monday. In Michigan, where the Trump lead is 0.3%, the deadline is Wednesday, November 30.

    Because of the numbers (below) if Stein fails to file in all three states for a recount, there is no way for Clinton to win.

    To date, no other candidate has publicly called for a recount. It has been over two weeks since the election.



    The Numbers

    As for electoral votes, Pennsylvania has 20, Michigan 16, and Wisconsin 10. Trump won 290 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232. If all three states’ votes went fully to Clinton, and all electors voted “faithfully,” Trump would lose the electoral vote.

    A recount could yield more votes for candidates other than Clinton; the presumption is that any “hacking” unfairly favored Trump. Scenarios, such as Wisconsin only going to Clinton, would not change the final election outcome. If Michigan and Wisconsin alone went to Clinton, neither candidate would have the required 270 electoral votes to win.

    Current vote counts show Trump leading by about 27,000 votes in Wisconsin, over 68,000 in Pennsylvania, and more than 10,000 in Michigan. In some ways not massive leads, but they’d all have to go Clinton’s way.

    If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the three Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. Thus a tie is technically possible. In reality, the state-by-state party tilt is decidedly Republican.

    There are clearly scenarios through which Clinton could win, but they seem long shots.



    The Outcome?

    So for the recount to change the results of the presidential election, the only reasonable scenario would be for all three contested states to shift their vote totals from advantage Trump to advantage Clinton. That would almost certainly trigger additional calls for re-recounts, as well as possible Supreme Court actions as with Bush v. Gore in 2000, or perhaps simply mass chaos across the U.S. It is unclear how long all this would take.


    BONUS:
    Recounts are not free.

    Wisconsin states that if the vote difference is less than 2% (as it is), then the fee is $5 per ward. There appear to be 70 wards in the state, meaning the filing fee is $350, not the $1.1 million Stein is requesting for the state without legal fees. I cannot account for the discrepancy.

    The fees for the Michigan and Pennsylvania recounts are $500,000 and $600,000, respectively. These match with the amount requested.


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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    Acts of Quiet Desperation: Wisconsin Recount Edition

    November 23, 2016 // 21 Comments »

    trump-clinton

    It is quite sad to see so many well-meaning and otherwise intelligent Americans embarrassing and deluding themselves that Hillary Clinton didn’t lose the election held over two weeks ago.

    I hear many using words like mourning, markers of the kind of feelings that follow an actual death. If that is the case, then it is time to move on into some form of acceptance.

    In addition to the clueless bleating about the electoral vote not matching the popular vote (you win at baseball with more runs, not more hits), Hillary Clinton is now being urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump. The story, somehow, despite the scientists not speaking on record and only to the Clinton team in private, has gone viral across the same media (HuffPo, Vox, you know them) that never saw the flaws in Candidate Clinton and still doesn’t.

    The group believes they’ve found “persuasive evidence” results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked. Let’s take a look at that.


    The sole evidence presented so far, according to New York magazine, which broke the story is (emphasis added):

    In Wisconsin, Clinton received seven percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots.

    Based on this statistical analysis [NOTE: this is not a statistical analysis, just counting], Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.



    So let’s unpack that:

    — Assuming the counting is accurate, there is no known connection between the vote tally and anything else. At best this is a correlation, in likelihood it is just a tally. There is no evidence of any suspicious pattern. Ballots are not “patterns.” They’re just ballots.

    — There is no evidence of any hacking or manipulation. Even if it is true (a big if given the lack of evidence) that someone connected with Russia hacked the DNC, that does not in any way connect to a handful of voting machines in Wisconsin reviewed as a very small sample.

    — Though pitched as a “Save Hillary” effort, there is no evidence to suggest any recount would favor Clinton.

    — The reporting on this says the scientists have shared the information only with the Clinton campaign. Why not the Justice Department? If they really have something, it is evidence of a grave felony. Why not share it with the people who can really do something about that? Put up or shut up time.

    — Are these otherwise intelligent scientists really, truly, claiming that Russian hackers reached into individual voting machines in Wisconsin somewhere to throw a small number of votes Trump’s way?



    Bottom Line: Some people didn’t like the election results so they are throwing themselves on the ground like a soccer player trying to claim a faux foul.

    Disclaimer: I hate Trump. I hate racism and sexism and nazis. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a racist, or sexist, or nazi. This is not a pro-Trump article just because it criticizes Clinton in part. Stop acting like *ssholes. Please.




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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    The War on the First Amendment Didn’t Start Last Week

    November 22, 2016 // 43 Comments »

    HMH_programcover_v1.indd


    For those who woke a week ago to discover the First Amendment is under attack, I lost my job at the Obama/Clinton State Department in 2012 for writing We Meant Well, a book the government did not like, and needed the help of lawyer Jesselyn Radack and the ACLU to push back the threat of jail.


    My book was critical of actions in Iraq under both the Obama and Bush administrations. One helped protect the other.

    Braver people than me, like Thomas Drake, Morris Davis, and Robert MacLean, risked imprisonment and lost their government jobs for talking to the press about government crimes and malfeasance. John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and Jeff Sterling went to jail for speaking to/informing the press. The Obama administration tried to prosecute reporters from Fox and the New York Times for stories on government wrongdoing.

    Ray Maxwell at the State Department went public with information about Clinton’s email malfeasance before you had even heard of her private server. The media called him a liar, an opportunist, and a political hack and he was pressed into retirement.


    Indeed, Obama prosecuted more federal whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous United States presidents combined, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

    The Obama administration also set a record (77%) for redacting government files or denying access to them in fiscal year 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act.

    More than any previous administration, Obama took longer to turn over files, said more often it could not locate documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over time-sensitive files quickly, requiring years-long legal actions to be brought to force the government’s hand. In the case of Hillary Clinton, files considered “unclassified” in one context were redacted in whole in another.

    Though the backlog of unanswered requests grew by 55%, the administration cut the number of full-time Freedom of Information Act employees by 7.5%. Despite the critical nature of the documents to the election, the State Department was allowed to do its Freedom of Information Act screening of the Clinton emails largely with an ad hoc crew of retirees. The impact on journalists, and the right of the people to know, was immeasurable.


    So spare me. The war on our freedoms was well under way before last week. Where the hell were you and your safety pins then?




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    Apocalypse Then, and Now, Cracker Revolution Edition

    November 16, 2016 // 26 Comments »

    hillbilly
    Chris Hedges just wrote this about the Trump Era:

    “The repression of dissents will soon resemble the repression under past totalitarian regimes. State security will become an invasive and palpable presence. The most benign forms of opposition will be treated as if they are a threat to national security. Many, hoping to avoid the wrath of the state, will become compliant and passive… exonerating militarized police forces for the indiscriminate murder of unarmed citizens, while he unleashes the fossil fuel industry and the war industry to degrade and most probably extinguish life on earth.”

    Um, Chris, your verb tenses are all wrong.

    These things have been ongoing for the past 15 years. Obama prosecuted more dissidents, er, “whistleblowers,” than all previous presidents combined, and he did by calling them spies under the 1917 Espionage Act. The NSA as state security has been monitoring you under two administrations.

    Militarized police forces received their tanks and other weapons from two presidents. All of the terrible events that lead to Black Lives Matter took place before the election, and the killers were for the most part left unpunished by both the judiciary for criminal murders, and by the Federal-level Department of Justice for violation of civil rights. Unlike during the 1960s when the Feds stepped in and filed civil rights charges to bust up racism among local and state governments, the last two administration have not.

    When people do bad things and know they’ll get away with them, that is “normalization,” not just some hate words we have sadly all heard before.

    As for war and fracking, um, the U.S. has been engaged in global wars for 15 years, and set the Middle East on fire. Fracking has been destroying our nation for years, and oil dumped into the Gulf back in 2010.

    Fascism did not start on November 8. We have been living in a police state of sorts for some time before you all discovered it will start next year.

    BONUS: As for the idea that Trump was elected by dumb white men, here are some statistics from the New York Times on the vote count. Yes, yes, most are above 50%, but really not that much above half that the claim that this is some sort of cracker revolution holds up.

    For Trump, 58% of all whites, 53% of males, 50% of suburbans of all flavors and, yes, 67% of whites without college.

    As for this election being a vote for misogyny, can you at least allow for the possibility — just that, the possibility — that people were not opposed to a woman president, they were opposed to one specific person who happened to be a woman, and that opposition was not based on gender but on a range of issues? Just maybe?

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    Let’s Get Uncomfortable, Election Edition

    November 15, 2016 // 43 Comments »

    pin


    For the people now protesting, good for you to make your views known. It is important.


    May I also suggest you use the remaining time to protest Obama’s refusal to prosecute torture, curtail the NSA, fail to close Gitmo, his jailing of whistleblowers, his decision not to use his Justice Department to aggressively prosecute police killers of young Black men under existing civil rights laws, his claiming of the power to assassinate Americans with drones, and his war on journalists via gutting of FOIA?

    Because silence on those issues means Trump inherits all of that power.


    May I also suggest volunteering for some of: homeless shelters, LGBTQ and vet’s crisis lines, Planned Parenthood, Congresspeople who will work for these causes, ACLU, Occupy (who addresses the economic inequality that drove many Trump voters) and the like?

    And make a long term commitment, because many of those groups are used to people showing up for a few days after some bad event happens and then disappearing soon after.

    Please also unsubscribe from media that fed you false narratives for 18 months about those damn emails, the Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, etc., leading to the election “surprise.” Check the election results. Apparently they all did matter and you should seek out new information sources so you are not fooled again.

    To educate yourself during the coming years, consider foreign media. Look at the range of choices and start reading. Many present a much more dispassionate and balanced view of America than our own corporate infotainment. FYI, the “Daily Show” is satire and comedy, light commentary at best. It is not news. A warning, though, that some of what you read will be challenging and make you think outside your own bubble.

    Stop embarrassing yourselves by claiming “well, Hillary won the popular vote.” True but irrelevant. We’ve had the albeit imperfect electoral college system for some 220 years. The fact that you recently discovered it when your preferred candidate lost does not impress. This election is the fifth time in U.S. history a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election.

    May I also suggest you read the full text of Roe v. Wade (not just Wikipedia!) so you are prepared to rebut in detail the various state-allowed restrictions, particularly the balancing tests, because that is where the attacks may likely come.


    Nothing wrong with “solidarity” and “raising awareness,” but stopping there, like wearing safety pins, like changing your Facebook profile photo, feels good, but working for real change hurts.

    ‘Cause talk is cheap.




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    American Exceptionalism, Under God: Pledging Allegiance to the Homeland

    November 12, 2016 // 51 Comments »

    pledge


    Among the exceptional things about America is that, along with North Korea, we are one of a very few nations that have our schools begin the day with a pledge of allegiance.

    Unlike North Korea, however, our pledge also includes a reference to God. We do enjoy pretending all of this is optional because of “rights,” just as we pretend that the reference to God is perfectly “OK” in a nation that claims it is secular.


    (Fun Thing: Have your child substitute “Allah” for “God” in the pledge at school and see what happens!)



    Under God

    The pledge is a short expression of allegiance to the United States. Originally written in 1887, Congress formally adopted it as the official pledge in 1942 as the U.S. was entering WWII. On Flag Day 1954 the words “under God” were added, in time of the Cold War and McCarthyism.

    In signing the words “under God” into law, President Dwight Eisenhower said:

    “From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty… In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

    The pledge is recited out loud, typically with one’s hand over one’s heart. Want an example of how the pledge is used as a vehicle for a whole range of “patriotic” indoctrination? Here.


    The Right Not to Pledge

    The most common place for reciting the pledge is in public schools. Teacher’s are not required, and in most cases do not, inform little kids they have a right to not participate.

    Most schools’ policy does allow students who otherwise learn about their rights outside of class to refrain from participating as long as they don’t interfere with other kids from doing so, generally interpreted as not protesting or acting in an affirmative manner and just standing with their damn mouths shut. There is a wide dollop of leeway on what constitutes “disruptive behavior,” as seen recently in the fury over some people’s decision to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem, another American ritual.


    This is all more or less in line with the landmark 1943 Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, where the justices voted 6-3 on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing to stand for the pledge on religious grounds. The Court held that expelling the students, as was done in a West Virginia school, violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

    Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote the opinion, didn’t believe the government, including school officials, was constitutionally allowed to use punishments to make people say things they don’t mean:

    “To sustain the compulsory flag salute, we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual’s right to speak his own mind left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind.”

    Not every justice on the court agreed, however, Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote in dissent “freedom of religion did not allow individuals to break laws simply because of religious conscience… Otherwise each individual could set up his own censor against obedience to laws conscientiously deemed for the public good by those whose business it is to make laws.”

    And an exceptional free nation certainly could not have citizens running amok acting on their consciences.

    So How’s That Working Out for Ya?

    In late October, only 73 years after the Supreme Court decision, word apparently has not yet reached Florida, because a middle schooler in Tampa was kicked out of the classroom after refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Mark Dawson was yelled at by his teacher and made to leave the classroom after he refused to stand for the daily pledge at the ironically-named Liberty Middle School. A school spokesperson quickly admitted the teacher didn’t know the school district’s policy — as well as the actual Constitution of these United States — allowed for Dawson’s behavior.


    Or did they?

    Florida state law actually requires students to get written permission from parents if they want to abstain from the pledge.

    Although the Supreme Court holds that the Bill of Rights applies to minors, Florida says well, it sort of doesn’t. Florida state courts have upheld the local law by technically treating the matter as an issue of parental authority, as granted or withheld by the state legislature. The law operates under the assumption parents would make their kids stand for the pledge if they happened to be in the classroom at the time.

    Florida’s actions have not yet been tested before the Supreme Court.

    Do Other Countries Say Some Sort of Pledge of Allegiance in School?

    Despite America being “the essential nation” who serves as that “shining city on the hill” (we do have a lot of those kinds of expressions, don’t we?), America more or less stands alone in sort-of, kind-of, compelling/pressuring kids into stating out loud in the presence of their peers allegiance to the nation.

    North Korea also has its school kids say a daily pledge, but that’s a bad thing. The Guardian described the scene as:

    “They are barely seven years old, but these glum-looking children are already being drafted into a tyrannical regime hell bent on waging nuclear war with the world. Standing in arrow-straight rows, their faces are hardly the picture of happiness as they are forced to pledge their allegiance to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and call him ‘father’.”

    Yeah, yeah, I get it, different words, but basically the same idea: a stated pledge to a national symbol. Only kids in North Korea aren’t happy because, whatever, like the U.S., their country has nuclear weapons.

    Fun Fact: South Korea has a pledge, too. But not Canada, Britain, France or the other democracies of Europe.


    Exceptional Homeland!



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    How Did Donald Trump Win?

    November 9, 2016 // 22 Comments »

    unemployment

    It’s not about left and right anymore, not about Black and White. It is all about up and down. And it elected Donald Trump via a bumpy road. The next candidate to really figure it out will sweep into power.


    And what it is is stated succiently by former McCain campaign chief strategist Steve Schmidt: jobs, specifically the loss of jobs to technology and globalization, and the changes to our society that that is causing.

    The defining issue of our times, says Schmidt, is the displacement of workers, particularly those who traditionally held working class roles. America is watching a leveling down unprecedented in its history, a form of societal and economic devolution.

    “I think that’s going to be the new fault line in American politics,” Schmidt said. “And the voters, the Bernie Sanders voter and the Trump voter — like fish netting, the fish can swing through the netting from left to right very, very easily.”

    Schmidt focuses on Silicon Valley. “Let’s look at the Silicon Valley wing of the Democratic party and be clear about the partisan nature of all of these companies. We have these arguments about minimum wage — $12, $15. We’re 18 months away in this country from a robot in the window at the McDonald’s handing you your cheeseburger.”

    “The number one job for not-college educated men in America is driving something somewhere. So when we talk about an era now of driverless trucks, driverless cars, where do those jobs go? Where’s that displacement?” Schmidt continued.

    In essence, the growing irrelevance of American workers.

    What started with the globalization of the 1980s, the literal export of jobs to places abroad chasing cheaper labor, is transitioning into its next phase, the “export” of jobs into the hands of automation. Traditional employment once considered secure (albeit low paying) that cannot be physically exported because it needs to happen at a specific geographic location, such as with service tasks, is doomed as sure as those jobs that used to be done by steelworkers in Ohio but now are performed in Shenyang.

    Of course someone reading this will be mumbling something about to hell with those workers, let them get an education, retrain, whatever Darwinian crossed with dystopian curse they can conjure. The problem is long after you take away the jobs the people are still going to be there.

    And while no one in Washington really cares about what happens to those workers per se, as long as they can vote they will matter to politicians.

    It takes a special kind of demagogue, one with even more cynicism than usual, to fully exploit those workers’ literal fears for their lives, but s/he will emerge. Think of Trump as version 1.0, a kind of beta test. Trump likely never knew what he had within grasp, and spoke to this displaced group largely cluelessly and without the sophistication of a proper strategy.

    But the next Trump will have the “advantage” of another four years of economic displacement, a slicker media profile undistracted by Trump’s crude buffoonery, as well as advisors like McCain campaign chief strategist Steve Schmidt, whispering lines in his or her ear that sound like bastardized versions of Springsteen lyrics. The hate mongering, racism, and name calling will be toned down for wider appeal.

    Now there’s something to be afraid of.



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    The Day After: How to Renounce Your American Citizenship

    // 15 Comments »

    flag


    Well, sure, it is an extreme course of action, and not one to be considered with the same hangover I have this morning, you may want to keep your options open. So, here is a basic guide to renouncing your American citizenship.

    It seems like the most basic of things: the ability to give up one’s American citizenship. But it’s not; the American government must approve your renunciation of citizenship and can say NO, no matter how loudly you say YES. Of course, there are forms to be filled out.

    And taxes. Potentially lots of taxes.

    The Very Basics

    You have to be an American citizen. If you only think you might be, no matter that the Swiss authorities say you are, or what grandma told you, you have to be a full-fledged, documented American, or the renunciation process stops. You can only renounce while overseas. You must have another nationality, and be able to prove it, because the U.S. government will not take part in something that will render you stateless. Only an adult can renounce, and no one can renounce on behalf of someone else, including children.

    You can’t renounce your citizenship for the explicit purpose of avoiding U.S. taxes, or to try and skip on an arrest warrant, go AWOL from the military, or otherwise evade the law. You also can’t be of unsound mind.

    The Other Basics

    Despite what you may see on TV or in the movies, there is only one way to voluntarily renounce citizenship. You can’t do it by tearing up your American passport, or writing a manifesto. It’s done by appointment only.

    You start by making an appointment at the nearest American embassy or consulate. You technically can complete the renunciation procedures anywhere a properly-empowered American diplomat will meet you abroad, but in reality it is unlikely s/he will drop by your villa, or come by your prison cell.

    At the embassy (the rules are the same at a consulate) you’ll fill out some forms. You can Google and complete, but not sign them, ahead of time if you wish: DS-4079, DS-4080, DS-4081, and DS-4082. Have a look; most of the requested information is pretty vanilla stuff, and is largely to make sure you understand what you are doing and the consequences of doing it.

    The reason for making sure of all that making sure stuff is two-fold.

    One, the State Department, who handles all this, has been sued by people in the past who claim they were tricked or mislead and did not know what they were doing, and want their citizenship back. The other reason is that barring certain highly-specific situations, renouncing citizenship is a one-way street. The U.S. government considers it a permanent, unrecoverable, irrevocable, decision. You gotta get it right the first time.

    At the embassy, one or more staff will go over everything with you, you’ll swear to everything and sign everything. You can usually (but not always, practices vary from embassy to embassy) have a lawyer with you, but often all of the interaction is between you and the embassy people, and is pretty straightforward.

    At larger embassies, particularly at the American embassies in places like Canada and the UK, renunciations are frequent, regular parts of a day’s business, and are handled in most cases almost mechanically. Expect them to have to look stuff up and maybe call you back the next day if you try this in some remote African post.

    That’s why some Americans suggest more cumbersome processing has taken place at smaller consulates unfamiliar with the process. Persons far from home, such as an American resident in Japan seeking to renounce in Portugal while on vacation, may encounter difficulties. The overall feeling most renunciants encounter is that of a bureaucrat more concerned with getting his paperwork in order than really caring about your life-altering decision. It is rare that the embassy official will actively try to dissuade you, though some may poke at it. Just smile and say thanks.



    Who Decides?

    After your brief appointment at the embassy, all the paperwork goes off to Washington, where your renunciation is approved or denied. The embassy can but is not required to write a memo regarding your case. Those memos, when written, usually argue against approval. In an extreme version, such a memo might say “Mr. Roberts appeared unorganized in thought, and was unable at times to focus on the documents in front of him. He referred often to a Swedish dog who was guiding his actions, and stated his goal in renunciation was to assume the Swedish throne.” It happens.

    No one at the embassy can approve or deny your application to renounce. That is done by someone you will never meet, located in Washington, DC. Without that approval, you remain an American citizen. Approval is formally made by issuing a DS-4083, called the CLN, Certificate of Loss of Nationality. Think of this document as an “un-birth certificate.”

    CLNs are processed slowly; it can several months or more for yours to be approved or denied. They are usually mailed out to you.

    Oh, yes, one more thing.

    You have to pay a fee for all this. Note it is a “processing fee,” meaning you pay it whether or not your renunciation is ultimately approved. As the world’s exceptional nation, the U.S. also has the highest fees in the world to renounce citizenship, a cool $2,350 per case, with no family discounts. By comparison, Canada charges it’s soon-to-be-former citizens only $76; for the Japanese and Irish it is free.

    Despite these hurdles and costs, in 2015, 4,279 Americans bid Uncle Sam farewell, up 20% from 2014. That’s the third year in a row that’s set a new record. While the U.S. government generally states that every case is a unique, heartfelt choice, the not-so-secret reason behind most renunciations is America’s rapacious tax laws.

    Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

    If you are a high-wealth individual, this stuff gets complicated, and expensive, very quickly.

    After losing your American citizenship, you file a final tax return for your time as a citizen for the period January 1 through the day your renunciation is approved. In addition to all the other tax forms needed for your situation, you must also include IRS Form 8854, the Expatriation Information Statement, otherwise known as the exit tax form. Almost no one files this without help from a tax professional.

    Form 8854 is targeted at “covered expatriates,” former American citizens who have a large net worth, certain tax burdens or owe back taxes. The numbers vary from year-to-year and are subject to all the manipulations the U.S. tax code is full of, so actual figures can be slippery. As a very rough guide, while net worth for this purpose is measured in the millions, a yearly tax burden of about $160,000 can trigger things.

    There are many, many websites and forums discussing taxes for former American citizens. Many of those sites are well-meaning, some even accurate to an extent. One of the oldest is run by the non-profit group American Citizens Abroad.

    But taxes in the American scheme are very much based on an individual’s personal situation, so anything short of specific advice from a competent tax professional is sort of just a way to pass time waiting for your CLN to arrive.

    Other Things

    A good way to think of the process of renunciation is that you need to exit two American systems — passports and taxes — and join another set of foreign ones. Miss a step and trouble will follow. This is not a quick process. Patience and good legal/tax advice are requirements.

    After you have successfully renounced your American citizenship, you are, well, no longer an American.

    That means (for example) as Swede you must follow all the U.S. immigration laws applicable to Swedes visiting, working or otherwise in the U.S. You suddenly become a Swede in the eyes of wherever in the world you do live, whatever that means for say, a Swede living in Mongolia. So if your working visa for Mongolia was in your U.S. passport, you may not have a valid visa anymore. Some former Americans instantly become eligible for a military draft in their “new” country.

    And dammit, you may still have tax obligations in the U.S. depending on what you own there in terms of investments and property and…



    Renunciation of citizenship is an extremely significant decision, with life-changing social, economic and other considerations. This article is for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice. Persons considering renunciation should consult an attorney and financial-tax planner. Any opinions expressed here are the author’s personal beliefs and do not represent those of any former employer.


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    Why I’m Voting Third Party

    November 8, 2016 // 28 Comments »

    third-party



    I’m going to vote for a third party candidate on November 8. I don’t think I’m alone in my decision, and I don’t think it is the wrong one. Here’s why: I’m looking past Clinton or Trump.


    I am pretty sure most people considering third party candidates are/were potential Clinton voters. I’m guessing that because I don’t hear a word from the Republican side chastising me for my choice, or anyone right of center claiming a vote for a third party candidate is a de facto “vote for Clinton.”

    I do hear loud and clear Democrats, from Obama on down, along with independent Bernie Sanders, telling me in various ways I am wrong to vote third party, maybe naive, clearly a closet Trump supporter.

    Trump, if president, will have the nuclear codes, so I will literally be responsible for Armageddon. I guess one vote does matter.

    In one of the most horrible of the ten presidential elections I have been eligible to vote in, I guess one vote does matter. At least eventually, because after months of ignoring issues that matter to many now voting third party, the Democrats are down in the polls and suddenly very interested in my one vote.


    I am not casting a protest vote. I am not voting for Hillary Clinton because she has not earned my vote.

    She has refused to substantively explain her private email server and what to anyone who has held a security clearance (as I did for 24 years) are clear violations of national security. She has refused to substantively address the tangled relationship among many State Department decisions, access to her as Secretary of State, and the Clinton Foundation. She refuses to substantively address the vast sums of money she earned from the Wall Street firms she promises to reign in. She has not explained the hypocrisy of accepting large sums of money from foreign governments in general, and in the specific how her claimed support for the rights of women and girls can coexist with millions of dollars of Foundation donations from Arab nations with some of the worst human rights records toward women.

    Her core argument — none of that was illegal — ignores the more important questions of what kind of honesty, ethics, and transparency I want to vote in favor of. I believe I should judge a candidate not just on examples of past competency, but with an eye toward the core things of character, values, honesty, humility and selflessness. “I am not a crook” as a core excuse went out of style with Nixon.

    I’m as cynical as the next person, but this election instead of even nominally selfless public servants who care about our country, we instead find a government, Republicans and Democrats equally, full of self-serving men and women who exist only as appetite. They see “public service” only as a stepping stone for their own advancement, either in terms of money, power, prestige, or all of the above. The most significant cause they support is themselves. They are cynical about it, openly mocking the democratic process with flip-flops, fact-free personal attacks, and shoddy fundraising.

    Clinton has set up a loss scenario that involves Putin hacking our election systems to the benefit of the other candidate. And each major candidate is supported by patrons who have so, so much money already but somehow still want more.


    Choosing the lesser of two evils means I am still choosing evil. That seems a limp thing to do in a democracy.

    I would not look forward to a Trump (or Clinton) presidency. But America having survived other dangerous and unqualified presidents in office (you pick your favorites, I have mine, the argument beyond the scope of this article), I worry more about the longer term than the medium one.

    This election cycle makes clear that our system is broken. A global-record setting long primary season produced the two most disliked major party candidates in modern history. A significant number of voters see both as dishonest. The campaign since the nominating conventions has been flooded with mud slinging, literal name calling and personal attacks. Money from a very small number of Americans dominates the process.

    The first debate devoted less than two minutes to climate change, no minutes to America’s longest war (15 years and more in Afghanistan), no solutions to Islamic State other than bomb more, and little specific about creating jobs, confronting racism, militarized police, and fixing the developed world’s only health care and education systems where money determines how smart/healthy you can afford to be. These are critical issues of our time and neither major party appears ready to address them.

    I have heard “A vote for Hillary is a vote for Trump.” Well, let’s try “A vote for Hillary or Trump is a vote against the possibility of ever having a viable third party.”


    Like many, I would prefer stronger third party candidates for 2016, and why Bernie Sanders chose not to run as an independent will be a topic of undergrad poliSci classes for many years to come.

    A strong showing for third party candidates will be a wake up call to both the Democratic and Republican establishments they have to deal with real desire for change, not ignore voters, or try to scare us into abandoning our conscience and principles by trading (again) short term goals for long term progress.

    For those who truly support Clinton, please, vote that way. But don’t disparage the rest of us for believing we can do better, even if that road is a long. Too many have accepted, election after election, the long con of no third party.



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    A Tale of Three Foundations: Carter, Clinton and Trump

    November 7, 2016 // 18 Comments »

    carter

    Seen the latest front-page Jimmy Carter Center scandal? Hear about the six figure fees speaking former president Jimmy Carter pulls in from shady companies and foreign governments? An oil painting of himself he bought with charity money? Maybe not.


    Take a moment to Google Jimmy Carter. Now do the same for Bill Clinton. The search results tell the tale of two former presidents, one determined to use his status honorably, the other seeking exploitation for personal benefit. And then throw in Donald Trump, who of course wants to someday be a former president. Each man has his own charitable foundation. Let’s compare them.

    Three charitable organizations enter, only one emerges with honor. Let’s do this!



    Carter

    Carter’s presidency carries an uneven legacy. Yet his prescient but unwelcome 1979 warning that the country suffered a crisis of confidence, preventing Americans from uniting to solve tough problems, anticipated the faux bravado of Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

    Many feel Carter has been a better ex-president than he was a president. His Carter Center focuses on impactful but unglamorous issues such as Guinea worm disease. When Carter left office, the disease afflicted 3.5 million people, mostly in Africa. Now it’s expected to be only the second disease, after smallpox, to ever be eradicated worldwide.

    Carter, 90, still donates a week of his time each year to Habitat for Humanity. Not a photo-op, Carter goes out without the media in tow and hammers nails. Carter also tirelessly monitors elections in nascent democracies, lending his stature as a statesman to that work over 100 times already. Summing up his own term in office, Carter said “We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war.”

    He is the last president since 1977 who can make that claim.



    Clinton

    Bill Clinton pushed the NAFTA agreement through, seen now by many as a mistake that cost American jobs. He pointlessly bombed Iraq and sent troops into Somalia (see Blackhawk Down.) Clinton’s legacy most of all is his having an oral affair with an intern, then fibbing about it, and then ending up one of only two American presidents ever impeached as a result.

    As a former president, Clinton is nothing if not true to his unstatesman-like form. Bill makes six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning as much as $50 million during his wife’s term as secretary of state alone. He used a shell company to hide some of the income.

    His own charity, humbly known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, is a two billion dollar financial tangle. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. Instead of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Bill takes his big donors on executive safaris to Africa. Many of those same donors also give generously to the Hillary Clinton campaign and its constellation of PACs.



    Trump

    Trump refuses to be very specific about who his charity donates to. We know its off-shoot, the Eric Trump charity, donated to a wine industry association, a plastic surgeon gifting nose jobs to kids and an artist who painted a portrait of Donald Trump. Trump-owned golf resorts received $880,000 for hosting Trump charity events.

    Reports show Trump donated money from his foundation to conservative influencers ahead of his presidential bid, effectively using funds intended for charity to support his own political ambitions. The New York Attorney General ordered Donald Trump’s charity to immediately halt fundraising in the state, following reports that it had not submitted to routine audits.



    Voters should judge a candidate not just on examples of past competency, but with an eye toward the core things that really matter: character, values, honesty, humility and selflessness. Perhaps this tale of two presidents and a wanna be has a lesson in it for 2016.




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    Will the Media Reset After the Election or Are We Stuck With This Tabloid Stuff?

    November 3, 2016 // 42 Comments »

    edward-r-murrow

    The venerable New York Times ran a story saying Donald Trump lies about the height of his buildings.


    For no apparent reason, the Times resurrected some information from 1979 saying Trump insisted on counting the basement levels of his signature Trump Tower in the overall count of how many floors the building has. The Times compares this lie to “reports” that Trump adds an inch to his actual body height in his bio materials, and also repeated the gag line that he boasted about how long his penis is (no word on whether it is or is not actually longer than expected.)

    You have to wade down to paragraph 12 to learn other New York developers use the same count-the-basements levels gimmick to be able to advertise their buildings as taller. There is absolutely no news.



    The Russians

    Head over to Slate, which published an “investigative piece” alleging a Trump computer server was secretly communicating with a Russian bank. The story had previously been debunked by the New York Times and The Intercept, but Slate ran it as if they had uncovered the smoking gun proving Trump is under the control of the Russians.

    At Mother Jones, another article alleged that an anonymous, former intelligence officer provided the FBI with information on a Russian scheme to help Trump win the presidency.

    “There’s no way to tell whether the FBI has confirmed or debunked any of the allegations contained in the former spy’s memos,” the story said. “But a Russian intelligence attempt to co-opt or cultivate a presidential candidate would mark an even more serious operation than the hacking.”

    One more example, from Vox, which wrote without even bothering to source it at all “There is basically conclusive evidence that Russia is interfering in the US election, and that this interference has been designed to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There is strong evidence linking Trump’s foreign policy advisers to Russia, and Trump’s stated policy ideas are extremely favorable to Russian interests.”

    Journalism Much?

    I’ve chosen these examples because they are from publications that have in the past enjoyed decent reputations for reporting, and because these stories were run as “news,” not opinion columns, where the standards go right through the floor. Even Mother Jones, which clearly works left-of-center, used to do so with some solid journalism.

    Not any more.

    These places (never find fringe publications) are now working with the same standards once reserved for reporting on aliens at Roswell, Elvis sightings and the Illuminati New World Order. It is apparently now within the bounds of mainstream journalism to build a story out of, well, nothing, such as a factoid from 1979, or essentially accuse a presidential candidate of treason based on a single, anonymous source, or claim the Russians have taken over our electoral process based on no sources at all.



    And Clinton…

    On the other side, reporting on Clinton by many of these same publications swerves between hagiography and poo-pooing away anything unfavorable. Emails? Who cares! Questions about what her accomplishments as Secretary of State really were? If you ask, you hate women. Pay-for-Play with the Clinton Foundation? Hah, everybody does it, it doesn’t matter. The standard seems to be absent a notarized receipt for a donation matching an arms sale, or a criminal conviction, nothing matters.



    Next?

    So be it. The media has fully sh*t the bed this election. That’s where we find ourselves.

    But what’s next? Will the media reset itself after November 8, or will they run President Trump is Putin’s dog stories for the full term? Will President Clinton be given a pass on, well, everything, for four years, with apologists and explainers on the front page of the Times, never mind in editorials?

    At what point will the media dig themselves out of this and start real reporting again?



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    Why It All Matters for Hillary

    October 27, 2016 // 53 Comments »

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    With the new information about the new emails that may involve Hillary Clinton, found via Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s spouse Anthony Weiner’s sexting with an underage girl (jeez, what a sentence…), let’s resolve this tonight. The emails appear to be between Hillary and Huma, which means both of them have the messages. We know Weiner did. So Huma and/or Hillary can release everything tonight and America can see for itself. No delays, no filters, just get those messages out. I offer to host them here on my blog if that helps.

    Or, if Hillary and/or Huma or Weiner wants to issue a statement that 100% of the emails have nothing to do with her business, and have no classified whatsoever in them, then that’ll be fine also. Close the door on this before bed time.

    Occam’s Razor, simplest answer is best. And if that does not happen, why not?


    The arguments of “everybody does it” and “well, it wasn’t illegal” in regards to the email server, the Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, donor access, dirty tricks against Sanders, the many well-timed coincidences of Trump revelations, and more, are strawman logic.

    Leaving aside the idea that people usually say “everybody does it” and “well, it wasn’t illegal” only when their own candidate gets caught doing something, what was done matters.

    It really does.



    Everyone in the world knew from the day she dropped out in 2008 with Secretary of State as a consolation prize that Hillary Clinton was running for president in 2016. Simply because she played coy is a very weak place to make a stand that her’s and Bill’s actions up to the official announcement of her candidacy didn’t matter from that day forward.

    The reason this all matters is that Hillary will be president, and Bill will be arguably the second most powerful person in the United States (please don’t try and argue that a popular ex-President back in the White House will just be arm candy.) That there exists even the appearance that the president of the United States and Bill are for sale is to the detriment of the United States. Many of the world’s governments are corrupt, and people seeing the same in America puts us in league with Nigeria or Pakistan, not other First World democracies.

    We can hide behind the semantics that donations to a self-named foundation, and excessive fees for speeches, are not bribes. We can pretend that nations like Saudi Arabia, which thrive on some of the worst records for women’s rights and treatment of LGBTQ people, donate millions of dollars to an organization like the Clinton Foundation which promotes women’s rights and better treatment of LGBTQ people, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    Sure.


    To expose to the world even the appearance of such impropriety is a disgrace. The president has as one of her roles setting the example for the federal workforce. Is the example that as long as it skirts the edge of legality it is fine behavior? If I was a contracts officer in the Social Security Administration and allowed a vendor to donate crazy amounts of money to my spouse’s non-profit as I was considering a contract award, would that too be OK?

    What about if I was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a speech to that organization? What if I would not let anyone know what I said? All OK? Does everyone really do that?


    We can imagine Bill Clinton having a private meeting with the Attorney General just days before her agency exonerates Hillary Clinton is OK. We can pretend the State Department slow-walking the release of Clinton emails is keeping within the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. We can pretend Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an FBI official who later became involved in the investigation into Clinton’s email use because he simply supported her candidacy.

    It is also OK for the federal government to prosecute one U.S. Army private for documents found on Wikileaks while claiming there is no evidence that the documents about Hillary Clinton now on Wikileaks are authentic or unaltered. We can pretend the Russian intelligence services hacked John Podesta’s email to rig the election while saying those same services did not touch Hillary Clinton email server?

    And do you really, really believe this is all a right-wing conspiracy, and that it has been, continuously, since the Clinton’s entered public life decades ago? That is an ingenious plot by Putin? That it is all driven by misogyny?

    It all matters. It matters who we put into the White House because if you think all of this will cease just because Inauguration Day comes around, you really are a foolish. Hell, you’ll believe anything.



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    A Government is Seizing Control of Our Election Process, and It Is Not the Russians

    October 8, 2016 // 72 Comments »

    Reichstag fire


    There is an attempt underway for a government to take control of our election process and throw the election to Hillary Clinton. It is not the Russian government. Mark this day — it is when we came to understand that the American government decided to elect a president.


    (Note: I understand in the minds of the mass media the most important issue in America today is Trump’s crude remarks, but there are indeed real things to be concerned about otherwise.)


    Here’s how:

    — Two days before the second presidential debate, the government of the United States officially accused Russia of a hacking campaign aimed at interfering in the U.S. election. In a joint statement, absent any specifics or technical details, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence stated “the recent [hacked email] disclosures… are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts… based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

    — The statement goes on to detail how only Democratic servers were attacked, meaning the American government is claiming that Russia is trying to throw the election to Donald Trump, plain and simple. It is left unsaid why the Russians would risk cyberwar with the United States to do this, as many have suggested Trump is a neocon in spirit whose loose finger will be on the nuclear button from day one. Clinton is much more of a political realist, comfortable with the business-as-usual of the past eight years that has gone in Russia’s favor in the Ukraine and Syria. She in fact seems like the stable known known, always a preference.

    — Though the first “Russian” hacks were reported in July, it is only 48 hours before the second presidential debate that the statement was released. It could easily have been held until Monday, there is no national security urgency for this to come out Friday. However, with the timing, Trump, essentially tied with Clinton in the polls, will now spend much of the debate defending himself. Since the statement includes no details, only accusations, it is hard to see how anyone could defend themselves. It would be near-impossible for Trump to come out ahead Sunday night; this is a near-coup.

    — Despite the certainty with which the U.S. government has accused Russia of trying to influence the election by hacking into secured email servers, the FBI maintains there is no evidence the Russians or anyone else accessed Clinton unsecured, unencrypted email server laden with actual classified materials, including during Clinton’s first trip to Moscow when she sent and received encrypted email over the Internet and WiFi.


    — In the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton broadly speculated that Donald Trump had paid no taxes. Days later, several pages of Trump’s tax returns, documents that had been sought unsuccessfully by the media for over a year, arrive at the New York Times, who front pages a story. In the Vice Presidential debate which followed, Trump’s running mate spent time on the defensive defending his boss’ deductions.

    — Clinton sent and received classified material on an unsecured, classified server. That violated the most basic rule of information security. She lied about it. She deleted emails and “lost” both the majority of her devices and many, many emails. The FBI and the Department of Justice, ahead of the Democratic nominating convention, found she violated no law. The Department of Justice granted broad immunity to key Clinton staffers, and allowed two of them to destroy their devices. No further investigation will thus be possible.

    — The State Department aided and abetted Clinton for over four years in hiding her private server, and avoiding her responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Records Act. Only under court order has the Department stopped slow-walking its “review” process to release emails publically. There has been no investigation.

    — Emails released show a tangle of interests among State Department decisions, the Clinton Foundation and access to Hillary as Secretary of State (“pay for play”). Clinton sought Pentagon and State Department contracts for Chelsea’s friend. There has been no investigation.

    — The State Department and White House coordinated to “crush” Clinton’s email coverage.


    If you can add it up any other way than direct interference by the White House, the State Department, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the intelligence community, it would be interesting to hear how that works. The comments are open to make a benign case for these actions.



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    It’s Personal Now: Apologizing to My Daughter for the Last 15 Years of War

    September 30, 2016 // 24 Comments »

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    I recently sent my last kid off for her senior year of college. There are rituals to these things, and because dad-confessions are not among them, I just carried the boxes and kept quiet.

    But what I really wanted to say to her — rather than see you later, call this weekend, do you need money? — was: I’m sorry.

    Like all parents in these situations, I was thinking about her future. And like all of America, in that future she won’t be able to escape what is now encompassed by the word “terrorism.”


    Everything is OK, But You Should Be Terrified

    Terrorism is a nearly nonexistent danger for Americans. We have more of a chance of being hit by lightning, though fear doesn’t work that way. There’s no 24/7 coverage of global lightning strikes or “see something, say something” signs that warn about reporting thunderstorms. I felt no need to apologize for lightning.

    But terrorism? I really wanted to tell my daughter just how sorry I was she would have to live in what 9/11 transformed into the most frightened country on Earth.

    Want the numbers? Some 40 percent of Americans believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was in 2001, the highest percentage ever.

    Want the apocalyptic jab in the gut? Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said earlier this month the threat has not lessened. “Those people, those enemies, those members of that terrorist group, still intend – as they did on 9/11 – to destroy your freedoms, to kill you, kill your families, they still intend to destroy the United States of America.”

    All that fear turned us into an engine of chaos abroad, while consuming our freedoms at home. And it saddens me that there was a pre-9/11world her generation and all those who follow her will never know.


    Growing Up

    My kids grew up overseas while, from 1988 to 2012, I served with the State Department. For the first part of my career as a diplomat, wars were still discreet matters. For example, though Austria was a neighbor of Slovenia, few there worried the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s would spill across the border. Suicide bombers didn’t threaten Vienna when we visited as tourists in 1991. That a war could again consume large parts of the world and involve multiple nations would have seemed as remote to us vacationers that year as the moon.

    Even the big war of the era, Desert Storm in 1991, seemed remarkably far away. My family and I were assigned in Taiwan at the time, and life there simply went on. There was no connection between us and what was happening in the sand far away, and certainly we didn’t worry about a terror attack.

    It’s easy to forget how long ago all that was. Much of the Balkans is now a tourist destination, and a young soldier who fought in Desert Storm would be in his mid-forties today. Or think of it this way: either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump entering the Oval Office next January will be the fifth president in succession to bomb Iraq.

    On September 11, 2001, I was assigned to Japan, and like everyone, as part of a collective trauma, watched the terrible events on TV. Due to the time difference, it was late at night in Tokyo. As the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I made sandwiches, suspecting the phone would ring and I’d be called to the embassy for a long shift. I remember my wife saying, “Why would they call you in? We’re in Tokyo!” Then, of course, the phone did ring, and I remember running to grab it not out of national security urgency, but so it didn’t wake my kids.

    My daughter’s birthday falls on the very day that George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. I missed her celebration in 2003 to stay at work preparing for the embassy to be overrun by al-Qaeda. I missed her birthday again in 2005, having been sent on temporary duty to Thailand to assist the U.S. Navy in setting up a short-term base facility there. When the naval officers mentioned the location they wanted to use to the Thai military liaison accompanying us, he laughed. That’s taken, he said, but you didn’t hear it from me, better ask your own people about it.

    Later, I would learn the location was a CIA black site where the country I then represented was torturing human beings.

    Looking back, it’s remarkable to realize that, in response to a single day of terror, Washington set the Middle East ablaze, turned air travel into a form of bondage play, and did away with the best of our democracy.

    Nothing required the Patriot Act, Guantánamo, renditions, drone assassinations, and the National Security Agency turning its spy tools inward. The White House kept many of the nastiest details from us, but made no secret of its broader goals. Americans on the whole supported each step, and Washington then protected the men and women who carried out each of the grim acts it had inspired. After all, they were just following orders.

    Protocols now exist allowing the president to select American citizens, without a whit of due process, for drone killing. Only overseas, he says, but you can almost see the fingers crossed behind his back. Wouldn’t an awful lot of well-meaning Americans have supported an aerial drone killing in San Bernardino, or at the Pulse club in Orlando? Didn’t many support using a robot to blow up a suspect in Dallas?


    Back in the Homeland

    The varieties of post-9/11 fear sneak up on us all. I spent a week this summer obsessively watching the news for any sign of trouble in Egypt while my daughter traveled there to visit some old embassy acquaintances. She had to risk her life to see a high school friend in a country once overrun with tourists.

    So, I want to say sorry to my daughter and her friends for all the countries where we Americans, with our awkward shorts and sandals, used to be at least tolerated, but are now dangerous for us to visit. Sorry that you’ll never see the ruins of Babylon or the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq unless you join the military.

    Arriving back in the U.S., my daughter called from the airport to say she’d be home in about an hour. I didn’t mention my worries that she’d be stopped at “the border,” a new name for baggage claim, or have her cell phone confiscated for having traveled to the Middle East. She was, in fact, asked by an immigration agent her purpose in going there, something that even the Egyptians hadn’t bothered to question her about. We don’t yet say “papers, please,” but we do refer to America as the Homeland.

    I also wanted to apologize to my daughter because she will never really know what privacy is in our new surveillance world. I needed to ask her forgiveness for how easily we let that happen, for all those who walk around muttering they have nothing to hide, so what’s to worry about. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was that she’s now afraid of the police, not just for herself but especially for her friends of color. I wanted to tell her how badly I felt that she’d only know a version of law enforcement so militarized that, taking its cues from the national security state, views us all as potential enemies and so believes that much of its job involves repressing our most basic rights.

    I’m sorry, I want to say to her, that protesting Americans can be confined in something called a “free speech zone” surrounded by those same police. I want to tell my daughter the Founders would rise in righteous anger at the idea of the police forcing citizens into such zones outside a political convention. And that most journalists don’t consider such a development to be a major story of our times.

    As I sent her off to college, I wanted to say how sorry I was that we had messed up the world, sorry we not only didn’t defeat the terrorists the way Grandpa did the Nazis but, by our actions, gave their cause new life and endless new recruits. Al-Qaeda set a trap on 9/11 and we fell into it. The prison American occupiers set up at Camp Bucca in Iraq became a factory for making jihadis, and the torture chambers at Abu Ghraib remain, like Guantánamo, an infomercial inviting others to pick up a weapon.


    The New Normal

    My daughter is not naïve. Like most of her classmates, she is aware of most of these things, but she has no point of comparison. What fish truly sees the water around it? And it’ll be even harder for her kids to try and do so. Her adult life has been marked by constant war, so much so that “defeating the terrorists” is little more than a set phrase she rolls her eyes at. It’s a generational thing that is too damn normal, like Depression-era kids still saving aluminum foil and paper bags in the basement after decades of prosperity.

    I’m truly sorry that her generation copes with this by bouncing between cynicism and the suspension of disbelief. That allows many to accept the idea that invading Iraq was a reasonable response to an attack on America by a group of Saudis funded by Saudi “charity donations.” And by now, “well, it wasn’t actually a crime” is little short of a campaign slogan for acts that couldn’t be more criminal. That’s a world on a path to accepting 2+2 can indeed equal 5 if our leaders tell us it’s true.

    We allow those leaders to claim the thousands of American troops now stationed in Iraq are somehow not “boots on the ground,” or in the newest phraseology, “ground troops.” Drone strikes, we’re told, are surgical, killing only bad guys with magic missiles, and never on purpose hitting civilians, hospitals, children, or wedding parties. The deaths of human beings in such situations are always rare and accidental, the equivalent of those scratches on the car door from that errant shopping cart in the mall parking lot.


    Cleaning Up After Her Dad

    If anyone is going to fix this mess — I want to tell my daughter — it’s going to have to be you. And, I want to add, you’ve got to do a better job than I did, if, that is, you really want to find a way to say thanks to me for the skating lessons, the puppy, and for me not being too mad when you almost violated curfew to spend more time with that boy.

    After the last cardboard boxes had been lugged up the stairs, I held back my tears until the very end. Hugging my daughter, I felt I wasn’t where I was standing but in a hundred other places; I wasn’t consoling a smart, proud, twenty-something woman apprehensive about senior year, but an elementary school student going to bed on the night that would forever be known only as 9/11.

    Back home, the house is empty and quiet. Outside, the leaves have just a hint of yellow. At lunch, I had some late-season strawberries nearly sweet enough to confirm the existence of a higher power. I’m gonna really miss this summer.

    I know I’m not the first parent to grow reflective watching his last child walk out the door. But I have a sense of what’s ahead of her. Fear is a terrible thing to be sorry for. And that can be scary.


    (Photo is for illustration only; it is not my daughter)



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    Help Me Choose a Nominee for the Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award

    September 24, 2016 // 16 Comments »

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    The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards were established in 1979 to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to protect the First Amendment rights of Americans. They are looking for nominees for this year’s awards, and I’d like to send them a name.

    Who should it be?

    Nominees traditionally come from the fields of journalism, arts and entertainment, education, publishing, and law and government. They are honored at a reception at the Playboy Mansion, and receive $5,000 to continue their work. Readers here know some of the past awardees: Whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Morris Davis, Norman Lear, Michael Moore, Bill Maher — the whole list back to 1980 is here.

    I suspect Edward Snowden and those connected to him as journalists and lawyers will already have a long line of people ready to nominate them. Any would be people who deserve the honor. But let’s put our heads together and see if we can come up with someone not so much in the public eye, someone working for our rights who could really use the attention that even being nominated will bring.

    Ideas? Put them in the comments. If the person is not well-known, a link would be helpful.




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    Florida Forces Students Without Parent Note To Stand During Pledge, National Anthem

    September 21, 2016 // 14 Comments »

    pledge-resized



    Florida’s Orange County Public Schools announced this week students must have parental permission if they want to kneel during the national anthem at football games or otherwise silently protest, such as refusing the say the pledge of allegiance.

    The move comes after students in a single school district knelt in solidarity with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against social injustice in America.

    Exercising First Amendment rights in Florida now requires parental permission.



    As Unconstitutional as They Come

    The school announcement is so wholly unconstitutional as to be laughable, except that it is Florida, the state immune from reality.

    Previous decisions in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals already found the portion of Florida law requiring students to “stand at attention” during the anthem violates the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has long upheld not participating in the pledge, or remaining seating during the anthem, is protected speech under the First Amendment.

    West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), was the courageous wartime decision by the Supreme Court holding that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the pledge of allegiance in school. The Court stated constitutional rights are to be “beyond the reach of majorities and officials.” It held that the state did not have the power to compel speech for anyone.

    Barnette overruled a 1940 decision on the same issue, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which said dissent was to try to change a school policy democratically — i.e., through the same system that imposed the restraints being challenged.

    The Court has also upheld that the Bill of Rights applies to students in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).


    Florida, 2016

    Officials claim they are following a state law regarding the pledge of allegiance that requires participation in patriotic gestures (they are of course following the exact law the 11th Circuit has ruled unconstitutional, which makes it not really a law anymore, but whatever, Florida uber alles.)

    And so in sweaty Collier County one principal is telling students that they’ll be sent home if they don’t stand during the anthem at sporting events.

    “You will stand and you will stay quiet,” Lely High School Principal Ryan Nemeth announced. “If you don’t, you are going to be sent home and you’re not going to have a refund of your ticket price.”

    Ouch! No refund of the ticket price for you, commie ISIS terrorist students, unless you have a note from home.


    I want to read about the first student, who, when asked for his note giving him permission to remain seated during the pledge, hands over a copy of the Bill of Rights and says f*ck you, Florida.



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    Oliver Stone’s New Movie ‘Snowden’ Tackles the Myth

    September 14, 2016 // 40 Comments »

    snowden


    Snowden is a helluva movie, kicking an audience’s ass on a number of levels. I had a chance to see the film last night at a preview event; it opens everywhere on September 16. Go see it.


    On one level the film presents Snowden’s story as a political thriller. A brave but frightened man, certain he is doing the right thing but worried if he can pull it off, smuggles some of the NSA’s most secret information out of a secure facility. He makes contact with skeptical journalists in Hong Kong, convinces them of the importance of what he has to say, and then goes on the run from a U.S. government out to arrest, or, possibly assassinate, him. In interviews Stone has made clear that he has dramatized and/or altered some events, and that his film is not a documentary. It does keep you on the edge of your beliefs, watching a story you know as if you don’t.


    The next level of the film is a carefully constructed vision of the national security state, seen through Snowden’s eyes. For many Americans, this may be the first time they will react emotionally to the way our government spies on us. It is one thing to “know” the NSA can access webcams at will, it is another to watch a technician “spy” on a Muslim woman undressing in her bedroom.

    When Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) slaps a piece of tape over his own webcam before an intimate moment with his girlfriend (played by Shailene Woodley), he has the wool taken from his eyes, his trust in government shattered. He is all of us.


    The final level of Snowden is perhaps the most important.

    Director Oliver Stone is in the business of creating counter-myths at critical points in time, and his work is best understood in that context.

    Even as most Americans still believed the myth that while the Vietnam was bad, the warriors were not, Stone showed us the dark side in Platoon. In the 1980s, when making money was seen as the best of America, Stone gave us Wall Street, and turned the myth “greed is good” from an instructional line out of an MBA program to a condemnation of how we all suffered when the bubble broke in the financial markets.

    And so with Snowden, which makes clear the myth of a benign national security (“nothing to hide, nothing to fear,” they’re the good guys protecting us) is anything but. The NSA and other agencies want to vacuum it all up, every communication, everywhere. They then move on to controlling our communications; the movie illustrates the depth of NSA’s penetration into the Japanese electrical grid by imagining a black out of Tokyo, and shows us how an NSA technical mistake reveals how they could shut down the Internet across the Middle East.

    In what is the most Oliver Stone-like scene in perhaps any of his movies, Snowden’s CIA boss confronts him, suspicious of wrongdoing. Their video conference discussion starts with Snowden at one end of the table, the boss’ face on a monitor at the other. As the scene unfolds and the intensity increases, Snowden moves closer to the screen until his head is a small dot, and the boss’ face takes over the audience’s whole field of view. The government itself has morphed into Big Brother before your eyes.


    For many aware viewers, a lot of this may seem old hat — of course the NSA is doing all that.

    But imagine the impact of Snowden. Thoughts that have largely been laid out only on blogs and left-of-center, non-main stream media, are now in suburban multiplexes, all carefully wrapped inside a thriller Tom Clancy fans will enjoy.

    You can’t get much more radical than that.






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    U.S. Blocks Former British Ambassador From Entering America to Honor CIA Whistleblower

    September 5, 2016 // 24 Comments »

    craig murray



    The United States over the weekend denied travel to a former British ambassador, Craig Murray, who was also a British diplomat for some 30 years, and is the author of several books.

    Murray has stood twice for election to the House of Commons. He was “honored” by being thrown out of Uzbekistan by its repressive government after risking his life to expose appalling human rights abuses there. He is not a terrorist and is not a social media jihadi. He has no criminal record, no connection to drug smuggling, and does have a return ticket, a hotel reservation and ample funds to cover his expenses.

    He is however seen as a threat to the United States.

    Ambassador Murray was headed to the U.S. this week to be Master of Ceremonies at an award ceremony honoring John Kiriakou, the CIA torture whistleblower. Kiriakou was the only U.S. government official to go to jail in connection with the torture program, and all he did was help expose it to the media. The event is sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (of which I am a member.)

    Murray has also spoken in support of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. Hmm. Might have something to do with this visa problem.

    No one has told Murray why he cannot travel to the U.S., though he has been here numerous times over the past 38 years. Murray learned of his travel bar when applying for the online clearance the U.S. requires of all “visa free” travelers. Murray was electronically informed to contact the State Department to see if he might qualify otherwise.

    Ambassador Murray was stopped by what the State Department and Homeland Security calls “a hit.”

    What happens is dozens of American intelligence agencies pour names into a vast database, which includes everyone from Osama bin Laden (his name has allegedly never been removed in some sort of reverse tribute) to the latest ISIS thug to all sorts of others who have little or no actual reason to be there, such as Murray.

    The likely salient part of the database in Murray’s case is called CLASS, part of the Consular Consolidated Database. It is the largest known data warehouse in the world. As of December 2009, the last time information was available, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 records per day.

    When one of those persons labeled a bad guy applies for entry or a visa to the U.S., the computer generates a hit. A hit is enough to deny anyone a visa-free trip to the U.S. with no further questions asked and no information given. Technically, the traveler never even officially knows he was “a hit.”

    Bang, you’re dead.


    If Murray chooses to follow the process through and formally applies for a visa to the United States, the State Department in London will only then examine the hit. In 99.9999 percent of the cases, all the State Department official will see in their computer is a code that says “Contact Washington,” officially a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO.

    The State person abroad will most often have no idea why they are refusing to issue a visa, just that they can’t. They sign their name to a blank check of a refusal. They make a potentially life-altering decision about someone with no idea what the evidence against them, if any, is. The traveler of course has no chance to rebut or clarify, because they too have no idea what is being held against them. There is no substantive appeal process and of course everything in the files is likely classified.

    The “contact Washington” message triggers a namecheck process in DC that rumbles around the intelligence community looking for someone who knows why the U.S. government wants to keep Murray out of the United States next week. That process can take anywhere from weeks to forever, and taking forever is one strategy the U.S. uses when it just wants some troublesome person to go away. For politically motivated cases such as Murray’s, that is what is most likely to happen: not much. Murray may thus never learn why he cannot travel to the United States.

    That is what free speech (and free speech covers not only what people say, but what people, Americans in this case, in America may choose to listen to) is about in 2016.

    America is now afraid of people like Ambassador Craig Murray.


    BONUS: Murray has only been denied travel to one other country, Uzbekistan. Such is the company America now keeps.


    MORE BONUS: Those who think this is the first time the U.S. has used a visa denial to stop free speech, please see the case of scholar Tariq Ramadan, denied the opportunity to teach at Notre Dame. There have been many more such cases, albeit less mediagenic. This is policy now for America, not an exception.






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    Posted in 2016, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    Arrrgh! I Speak With the Pirate Party of Iceland

    August 19, 2016 // 5 Comments »

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    My thanks to the wonderful people at Iceland’s Pirate Party for allowing me to speak to a group of their supporters in Iceland last week.

    Special thanks to Member of Parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir (above), Sunna Ævarsdóttir, Sara Oskarsson, and to Icelandic state television Ruv for the interview (below).

    The audience was remarkably well-informed on whistleblower issues, with questions not only about high-profile folks like Ed Snowden and Chelsea Manning, but also important whistleblowers like Tom Drake, Bill Binney, John Kiriakou, and Jeff Sterling, who may not be as well known to many Americans.

    There was also among the people present an overt fear of the direction the United States continues to head, beyond the symptoms of Hillary and Trump. The endless wars of the Middle East progulated and/or encouraged and supported by the U.S., the global pestilence of the NSA, and the lashing out of America against Muslims and human rights were all of deep concern.


    As for Iceland’s Pirate Party itself, it is poised to gain control of the government this October. Recent polls suggest the Pirates lead with about 30 percent of the votes.

    Some attribute this success to Icelanders’ growing dissatisfaction with the political establishment, exacerbated when former Prime Minister Sigmunður Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign over the Panama Papers-money laundering scandal earlier this year. Among the Pirate Party’s platform are plans for greater use of direct democracy and Icelandic citizenship/asylum for Snowden.

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    I Do Jury Duty

    August 18, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    jury

    I just wrapped up a couple of days of jury duty.

    Note “jury duty,” which is very different than serving on a jury. I didn’t do that. Being on an actual jury involves making a careful judgment on someone’s life. I did jury duty, which involves waiting and sitting and waiting, while watching your last hopeful images of democracy fade away.



    You Are Summoned

    Jury duty starts with a summons. The government officially demands you show up at a courthouse on a specific day and time. Not asks, not invites, demands. You, with the big mouth all about rights and the Constitution and racism in the justice system, time to get real. So I showed up on the specific day and time, actually about 15 minutes early to allow for security.

    Security. Even more so than at the airport, people showed up with an impressive array of personal electronics, like the shipping computer at Amazon had a glitch that flung new products at them even as we stood in line. And we did stand in line. For 45 minutes, mostly outside on the sidewalk. And learned in the end there were two courthouses and many of us (me) were in line for the wrong one.

    To the end of a new line for you, Sparky. Freedom isn’t free.

    The Waiting Game

    I got to the jury room over an hour late only to learn that because so many people make the line mistake and because security is slow, the 8:45 stated arrival time with threats of fines if you are late is kind of an artifact from 1856. It was about 10:30 before a guy who said he’d been doing this exact same job for 34 years began speaking to us as if we were slow children or fairly smart puppies. The bulk of his explanation was about how most of us would get our $40 a day jury payment, and the many exceptions to that. It was then lunch.

    Several of us went out together. The only consistent topic of conversation was how each planned to avoid serving on a jury.

    After a nice lunch, we gathered to learn that about half of us would be siphoned off for jury selection. The other half would spend the next four hours in that room, enjoying listening to two lethargic window box air conditioners try and cool a room big enough for half court basketball. The other thing was a death struggle over the handful of electrical outlets, and to try and get on to the limited WiFi. Part of the problem was that there seemed to be no filters or restrictions, so the guy near me streaming Frozen sucked about more bandwidth than the entire row behind him trying to get to Gmail. Yeah, First World problems, but we were indeed in what was rumored to be a First World city.

    The hours ended. We were unneeded. We were dismissed until re-summoned tomorrow morning.



    Tomorrow is Another Day

    The next morning we all knew what line to be in and how security worked, so there was a hive mind decision to not come on time. Instead, the gang from the day before drifted in over the course of the morning. I got there early enough to open four simultaneous WiFi connections and begin downloading multiple torrents of movies I could care less about. I had a moment of pleasure hearing some guy say “Please God, I just need to log on to the trading site, London is closing.”

    And then for my sin I was given a mission. I got called to jury selection, along with about 20 other waiters.

    We were brought to an unventilated hallway to wait for 30 minutes before entering an actual courtroom. Behind the judge were gold metal letters about 10 inches high that read IN GOD WE TRUST, and many flags. We did an olde timey swearing in, and then were invited to visit the judge and explain any “issues” we might have that would prevent us from serving on a jury.

    It was pathetic.

    Nearly everyone bitched, whined, begged and complained that they could not do it. Who knew everyone in the courtroom had both a special needs child and a sick mother and had to work nights and took medications and felt they could not faithfully follow the law due to some special need, or conviction, or conscience, or whatever, please your honor, whatever will work. The judge turned down some, accepted some. If anyone needed some stock footage to hit on the search term “cynical,” this would do.

    I got bounced out of the jury selection in the next phase. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney asked us questions about our jobs, our thoughts on law enforcement (especially if we trusted police to testify honestly) and the like. I answered every question completely candidly and was thrown back to wait three more hours until “jury duty” was over. The only way I could have served would have been to lie. And I could have, and in what way does that make sense?



    This is a Mess

    So look, this system is a mess. I’m not sure how to fix it all, but here are some ideas.

    The 19th century notion that everyone simply must find a way to put their life on hold does not work. I’m really sorry and I get the civic duty part Jefferson and Madison intended, but telling single parents to just figure out child care, Wall Street brokers to just not care about millions of dollars, students to just miss class, and people who work freelance or hourly to just suck it up and lose their already limited income is not 2016.

    If assigned to an actual jury, you stay with the trial until it is done. Might be a few days, might be a few weeks, or if you pull a murder case or one of the many medical malpractice suits, it could be a month+. You don’t know. You just have to figure out how to be there. For $40 a day.

    That money thing is not a small deal. $40 a day, minus the minimum five dollars commuting to court and back costs, means you are getting about half the minimum wage in New York, and even that takes six to eight weeks to be sent to you by a check I am somewhat skeptical will ever arrive. If you are already living on the margins, you cannot afford to serve on a jury.

    It seemed that the better dressed and more educated a potential juror sounded, the better excuse s/he had for the judge on why s/he could not serve. Why, it was almost as if they prepped for this. Meanwhile, a lot of folks whose English was poor or who sounded as if they did not get much of an education had no excuse the judge would accept. There were magic words and some knew them and some did not.



    I Don’t Feel So Good

    And there was where democracy died. I had a hard time identifying anyone present who wanted to sit on a jury. It seemed almost everyone wanted out, though only some figured out how to do it successfully. I don’t feel good saying it, but my limited window into all of this suggests juries might just be made up of people who can’t get out of it. Hard to say how bitter that makes them feel listening to an actual case.

    I believe in this stuff. But it was very hard for me to give up a week or a month’s worth of income. I work 100% freelance and if I am not around to write I do not get paid. Half minimum wage is not helping me meet expenses. I hate that but it is true. I went home angry at myself. I don’t feel better now.




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    Trouble Follows When the U.S. Labels You a ‘Thug’

    August 16, 2016 // 13 Comments »

    hillary and putin.resized

    There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior U.S. official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.

    So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the U.S. sought a “reset” of relations with him.)

    While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.

    Putin the Thug

    Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”

    Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”

    Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”

    John McCain on Putin: “A bully and thug.”

    And for fun, Sir Peter Westmacott, Britain’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2014, on Putin: “A thug and a liar.”

    Thugs in American Military Adventurism

    That word, thug, seems to be a sort of dog whistle that when blown signals Americans and their media to psyche up for a new fight. For example:

    John Kerry on Bashar Assad: “A thug and murderer.”

    John Kerry on Islamic State: “Daesh [ISIS] is in fact nothing more than a mixture of killers, of kidnappers, of criminals, of thugs, of adventurers, of smugglers and thieves.”

    George W. Bush on al Qaeda: “If we let down our guard against this group of thugs, they will hurt us again.”

    George W. Bush on Saddam Hussein: “He is a thug.”

    Bernie Sanders on Gaddafi: “Look, everybody understands Gaddafi is a thug and murderer.”

    Madeline Albright found Somali thugs and thugs in the Balkans for her era’s wars.

    More Thugs

    There are also North Korean thugs, Iranian thugs and Ukrainian thugs. And Sudanese thugs and Panamainian thugs.

    But Why Putin, Now?

    Perhaps what we’re seeing here is a realignment for the next iteration of America’s perpetual war. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the conclusion of the Cold War (“the end of history”, as one author called it), there was no global enemy. No big nasty to spur weapons procurement, or to justify a huge standing military with hundreds of bases around the world, or to pick fights with to allow a boring president to morph into a superhero war president.

    A lot of people had a lot of power and money in play that demanded some bad guys. An attempt was made in the 1980s to make narco lords the new major bad guys, but they were too few in number and the popularity of drugs among Americans got in the way. Following 9/11, the bad guys were supposed to be “the terrorists.” The George W. Bush administration riffed off that theme, appointing Saddam a massive weapons of destruction threat and tagged on Iran and North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil, because, well, no one knows, things sound good in groups of threes.

    Saddam turned out to be a bust, and the Iraq War ultimately very unpopular. Bin Laden never launched a second attack on the U.S., and the Taliban were hard to picture, coming and going as they do. The U.S. made a good faith effort trying to label all sorts of others, Gaddafi, Assad, ISIS, et al, as global enemies worthy of perpetual war but they either were defeated, or are just plain are kicking American butt. Meanwhile, the Middle East in general turned into a huge, complicated, sticky clusterf*ck quagmire.

    A New Hope Emerges

    Like Batman, Washington needs an Arch Enemy, preferably one poster-child kind of guy who can be shown on TV looking like a Bond villain. With actual nukes (Washington spent years trying to convince us the terrorists were a 24/7 nuclear threat [smoking gun = mushroom cloud] and the damn terrorists never complied.)

    Enter Putin The Thug.

    Americans are already well-prepared by the old Cold War to see Russia as an evil empire, and Putin does look the part. A new Cold War with Russia will require lots of expensive military hardware, plus a large standing army and new areas of Europe to garrison. It might breathe new life into a NATO wondering why it still exists.

    For politicians, shouting about Muslim threats has proven to have a downside, as it has enflamed many Muslims and pushed them toward radicalization. It turns out also there are Muslim voters, and people who like Muslims, in the U.S. Putin doesn’t vote, only a handful of hippies think he’s a good guy, and he can be slapped around in sound bites relatively without risk.

    It is a political-military-industrial complex wet dream.

    And so I predict in the coming Hillary regime a tamping down of terrorism stuff and a ramping up of a new Cold War. After all, isn’t that what her mentor Henry Kissinger would do?

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    Apple Patents Remote ‘Kill Switch’ for iPhone Cameras

    August 10, 2016 // 16 Comments »

    apple


    What to do about all those darn videos showing cops murdering people?


    They make it much harder for law enforcement to lie about their own actions, and just get everyone all fired up. Why not ask Apple (for starters) to build in a “feature” on a future generation of iPhones that will allow cameras to be disabled remotely?


    A patent granted to Apple this month details technology that remotely disables iPhone cameras using infrared sensors. Someone you do not know and cannot see will be able, without your permission, to disable the camera on a phone you own and are legally using, perhaps to take video of your son’s Little League game, perhaps to take video of a police officer choking to death an innocent man.

    Apple’s patent application used the example of a rock band wanting to prevent audience members from recording a concert. Nasty bootleggers and their darn YouTubing!

    While the First Amendment, backed up by much case law, guarantees the right of citizens to record the actions of government employees, including the police, conducting their duties in public places, the Amendment does not guarantee corporate America has to sell you the technology to do so. It is Constitutionally unclear if a police force using such technology to block video would violate the First Amendment (hey, you could switch over to your Dad’s camcorder that’s in the basement), but knowing the way things work, the cops would try it first, worry about court cases later.


    And indeed you can hear the arguments terrorism, national security event, blahblahblah. Perhaps the police could designate First Amendment Video Zones outside any large event where citizens could shoot video of each other to their heart’s content?

    Another interesting legal question would be the effect of citizens using some other technology to disable the technology used by police to disable camera phones. Would that become illegal, the way some states have made the use of radar detectors in your car illegal?

    So as the cops like to say, “Hey, nothing to see here folks, move along.”



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    Let’s Understand Why We’re So Finished Economically

    August 3, 2016 // 26 Comments »

    krugman

    How ya’ doing? I mean money-wise. Too much? Maybe not enough?


    So let’s listen to economist Paul Krugman explain why we are so screwed. Not we will be screwed, or maybe things will go that way, or we will in the future. Nope, it already happened, though most of us haven’t yet figured it out.

    Krugman, and the economist he discusses, Thomas Piketty, paid attention in math class, and the other classes, too. That’s why they understand this stuff and I’m still trying to suss out why no matter how many hours I stay on the job and how much I save, it is never enough.

    In case you’re reading this on your 15 minute break at Target, I’ll try to summarize.



    The American Dream (Patrimonial Capitalism)

    The myth of the American Dream is the dominating factor in keeping people mostly complacent in the United States. You know it — work hard, and your life will improve. Well, maybe not your life, but your kids’, or at least your grandkids’. If that doesn’t work, it is the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the darn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders. Ask Donald Trump how it all works.

    The thing that makes the myth so powerful is that the tiny percent that is true sounds better than the 99 percent which is a lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to make the Dream seem real. It helped that a kindly media would promote the heck out of every exception, whether it was the shoeshine boy in the late 19th century who went to college, or the plucky guys who invented some new tech in their garage and became billionaires. See, you can do it too, just like if we run hard enough, everyone can be in the Olympics. It’s just a matter of wanting it, believing in yourself, having passion and grit, right?



    The Undeniable Reality of the Now

    The bulk of the industrial jobs are gone and never coming back; ask Detroit, or the people in Youngstown and Weirton. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest, and now they find themselves accepting whatever minimum of a wage they can get. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class users, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. Health care paid for by our own taxes is seen as a give away to lazy people. This is the stuff Bernie Sanders talked about.

    Like with gravity, the universe doesn’t care if you “believe” it or not; it is just true, independent of what you “think.” That you have been taught this all is something you can choose to believe or not is the weight that holds us all down.



    Drilling Down Into Our Miserable Lives

    In case you have a few more minutes on your break, or if you’ve been laid off since starting this article, here are some more things happening out there whether you believe in them or not. You can read more about all of this in Thomas Piketty’s book, Capital in the Twentieth Century.

    — Our income inequality rate is higher than it ever has been in our own history, is growing, and is higher than in countries in Western Europe and Canada.

    — The inequality is driven by two complementary forces. By owning more and more of everything (capital) rich people have a mechanism to keep getting richer, because the rate of return on investment is a higher percentage than the rate of economic growth. This is expressed in Piketty’s now-famous equation R > G. The author claims wealth is growing at six-to-seven percent a year, more than three times faster than the size of the economy.

    — Wages are largely stagnant, or sinking, driven by factors in control of the wealthy, such as automation that eliminates human jobs and the not-adjusted-for-inflation minimum wage more and more Americans now depend on for their survival.

    — All of this is exacerbated by America’s lower tax rate on capital gains (how the rich make their money) versus wages (how the 99 percent make their money.)

    — Because rich people pass on their wealth to their relatives, the children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into fast women and cocaine, will inevitably get richer. They can’t help it. The gap between the one percent and the 99 percent must grow.

    — Social reforms, such as increased education opportunities and low-cost health care, are incapable without tax changes significantly affecting income equality. The only people who can change society are those who profit from it not changing. That’s the big reveal on why we are in so much trouble.

    FUN FACT: Until slavery was ended in the United States, human beings were also considered capital, just like owning stocks and bonds today.



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    The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

    July 28, 2016 // 31 Comments »

    spy


    The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.


    Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

    So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.


    As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.

    The rules govern the FBI’s use of national security letters (NSL), which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. National security letters are themselves an anti-Constitutional outgrowth of the Patriot Act and its successors. The letters allow the FBI and other law enforcement agencies conducting a national security investigation to demand access to information without a warrant, and, in most cases, prohibit the organization required to supply the information (for example, a library asked what books you read) from even acknowledging the request was made.

    The FBI issued nearly 13,000 NSLs in 2015 alone. No one outside of government knows why they were issued, who was affected, and what information was gathered.


    The FBI’s secret rules in the specific cases of whistleblowers and leaks only require an additional couple of internal signatures. In addition, the rules specify any extra oversight layers do not apply at all if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” That will easily rope in any national media service, and most likely is broad enough to pull in quasi-national media outlets like the BBC or Japan’s NHK. And once again, it is the FBI itself defining who is and who isn’t whatever it wants them to be.

    In an era when our government conducts more and more of the “people’s business” in secret, the need for brave men and women to step and an provide information, and the need for brave journalists to report that information, is ever more urgent. Without men like Edward Snowden working with journalists, we would never have known the depths of the NSA’s spying, for example. And without the heroic efforts of the person who leaked these once secret FBI rules, we would never have known what new tools the government had granted itself to weaken the press freedoms that otherwise helped sustain this nation for centuries.




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    Did Russian Intelligence Hack the DNC Servers?

    July 26, 2016 // 42 Comments »

    russianbear

    Short answer: nobody knows, but the media is treating it as a fact based primarily on a single technical source employed by the Democratic National Committee. I read the source’s publically available explanation. Here’s what I found.

    A Quick Taste of Media Conclusions

    Despite a line in paragraph five saying “Proving the source of a cyberattack is notoriously difficult,” the New York Times offers the following statements.

    — “researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies;”

    — “Though a hacker claimed responsibility for giving the emails to WikiLeaks, the same agencies are the prime suspects;”

    — “Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”

    — “It is unclear how WikiLeaks obtained the email trove. But the presumption is that the intelligence agencies turned it over, either directly or through an intermediary. Moreover, the timing of the release, between the end of the Republican convention and the beginning of the Democratic one, seems too well planned to be coincidental.”

    There’s more, but you get the picture. The article also quotes Clinton staffers citing unnamed experts and researchers.

    Who Are These Experts?

    The only experts cited work for a company hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate the hack. There is no indication of any neutral third party investigation. The company, Crowdstrike, issued a publicly available report on what they found.

    The report title makes clear the company’s conclusion: Bears in the Midst: Intrusion into the Democratic National Committee.


    What Does the Report Say?

    The report has some technical explanations, but focuses on conclusions that seem to be at best presumptions, despite the media treating them as fact.

    — The key presumptive conclusion seems to be that the sophistication of the hacks points to a nation-state actor. “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities.”

    — The hackers, two separate entities Crowdstrike says worked independently, used techniques known to be used by Russians. Better yet, with no evidence at all presented, Crowdstrike concludes, “Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.” Also, for one of the alleged hackers, “Extensive targeting of defense ministries and other military victims has been observed, the profile of which closely mirrors the strategic interests of the Russian government.”

    — By the end of the report Crowdstrike is just plain out called the hackers “Russian espionage groups.”

    FYI: Fidelis, another cybersecurity company, was hired by Crowdstrike to review the findings. Fidelis worked exclusively and only with data provided by Crowdstrike (as did several other companies.) Fidelis They concluded the same two hackers, COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR APT, committed the intrusion, but made no comments on whether those two were linked to the Russian government.


    Um, Valid Conclusions?

    Despite the citing with certainty of experts and researchers by the media and the Clinton campaign, the only such expert who has made any findings public has basically thrown out little more than a bunch of presumptions and unsubstantiated conclusions.

    Left undiscussed are:

    — the commonality of hackers using “false flags,” say where an Israeli hackers will purposely leave behind false clues to make it seem that a Hungarian did the work. As one commentator put it sarcastically “The malware was written in Russian? It was a Russian who attacked you.
    Chinese characters in the code? You’ve been hacked by the Peoples Liberation Army.”

    — the question of if the hackers were “Russians,” can anyone tie them to the Russian government? Joe Black Hat breaking into some system in Ireland may indeed be an American person, but it is quite a jump to claim he thus works for the American government.

    — there is also a significant question of motive. For Putin to be the bad guy here, we have to believe that Putin wants Trump in power, bad enough to risk near-war with the U.S. if caught in the hack, and bad enough to really p.o. Clinton who will be nominated this week anyway, and hoping of course that evidence of dirty tricks by the DNC released in July will be enough to defeat her in November. That’s a real s-t-r-e-t-c-h, Sparky.

    — other than those private persons who hack for their own entertainment or personal political beliefs, most work for money. They steal something and sell it. Information from the DNC system would find an easy buyer.

    — Who might be intersted in buying these emails? Along the range of actors who would benefit from exposing these emails, why would the Russians come out on top? Perhaps the Republicans? China? Pretty much any of the many enemies the Clintons have amassed over the years? Hell, even Bernie Sanders, whose complaints about the DNC were validated by the email release. The suspects based on motive alone make up a very long list.



    Learning More

    For some intelligent analysis suspicious that the DNC hack was a Russian intelligence job, try this.

    For some more technical information on one of the alleged DNC infiltrators, here you go.




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