• Archive of "Post-Constitution America" Category

    Social Media vs. Conservative Thought; Who is a Publisher?

    March 14, 2024 // 12 Comments »

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in late February on the fate of conservative thought in mainstream social media. It doesn’t look good for our side.

    The Court expressed skepticism about Florida and Texas laws (Moody v. NetChoice, NetChoice v. Paxton) enacted in response to social media platforms censoring conservative views after the January 6 Capitol riot. The state laws restrict social media companies’ choices to cancel user-generated content and require individualized explanations for editorial choices. Media trade groups challenged the laws, with the 11th Circuit blocking Florida’s enforcement while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the Texas law. The Texas law is not currently in effect, however, because in 2022 the Supreme Court barred the state from implementing it with the challenge ongoing.

    During the oral arguments, the Justices suggested the laws may violate the First Amendment by infringing on companies’ editorial decisions.

    The deeper questions are whether or not social media are publishers or conveyers (common carriers), and whether or not they are bound by the First Amendment not to censor thought. The first issue tries to draw out the question of whether say Facebook (Google, et al, we’ll use “Facebook” as a proxy) are publishers in the same sense The American Conservative magazine and web site are. A publisher by definition has a First Amendment right to select which authors to include/exclude and what topics to write about. It is literally what a publisher does. A conveyance is closer to the phone company; they provide the means of communication fully independent of what is being communicated. The phone company, for example, could care less whether you are talking to mom about Aunt Sally’s apple pie recipe or organizing to burn the flag to protest an over-emphasis on mom and apple pie.

    More issues to resolve: the First Amendment prevents government from suppressing speech and has never been applied to private companies however large and dominant in the marketplace, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says Facebook and others are not publishers (technically, the Act shields tech companies from liability for content published by others, i.e., Facebook is not liable for crazy postings.)

    Nonetheless, Florida and Texas passed laws that prohibited social media from editorially eliminating (conservative) thought. For example, the Florida law bars social media platforms from banning candidates for political office, as well as from limiting the exposure of those candidates’ posts. The Texas law prohibits companies from removing content based on users’ viewpoints. The laws also would have forced the platforms to explain each decision to delete, shadow ban or otherwise block a specific example of thought. The social media giants claim such regulation violates their First Amendment rights. They claim the Florida and Texas laws are unconstitutional if they apply at all, independent of who is or is not a “publisher.” The states maintain their laws do not “implicate the First Amendment at all, because they simply require social media platforms to host speech [a conveyance], which is not itself speech but instead conduct that states can regulate to protect the public. The business model for these platforms, the states say, hinges on having billions of other people post their speech on the platforms – something very different from, say, a newspaper that creates its own content and publishes it.”

    Justice Elena Kagan was one of several justices to question the constitutionality of the Florida and Texas laws, asking “Isn’t this a classic First Amendment violation?” [of Facebook’s rights] when the state is preventing the platforms from making their own editorial judgments. Justice Brett Kavanaugh also appeared unconvinced. He noted that the First Amendment protected against the suppression of speech “by the government” (same for Chief Justice John Roberts) not private companies and that the Supreme Court had a history of cases “which emphasize editorial control [such as Facebook’s] as being fundamentally protected by the First Amendment.” Justice Amy Coney Barrett said “it all turns on” whether the social media platforms are exercising “editorial control,” acting as a publisher, when they remove or deprioritize content. Justices also voiced concern the Florida law was quite broad, potentially applying not only to large social media platforms but also to other sites like Gmail, Uber, and Etsy. Texas law on the other hand specifically excludes standard web sites and tools such as Gmail.

    The justices pressed for a discussion of the interaction between the Texas law and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Justice Neil Gorsuch stated there is a tension between the idea that a tech company can’t be held liable for its users’ speech and the idea that moderating that content is the tech company’s speech. Is it speech for purposes of the First Amendment, he asked, but not for purposes of Section 230? “Just as Florida may not tell the New York Times what opinion pieces to publish or Fox News what interviews to air, it may not tell Facebook or YouTube what content to disseminate,” the tech companies emphasize. Is content moderation just a euphemism for censorship? Justice Samuel Alito pressed tech companies to define the term “content moderation.” “If the government’s doing it, then content moderation might be a euphemism for censorship,” said a company representative. “If a private party is doing it, content moderation is a euphemism for editorial discretion.”

    The Biden administration filed a “friend of the court” brief against Florida and Texas supporting the tech groups.

    A decision by the Supreme Court is expected this summer. The Court is likely to prevent Florida and Texas from implementing laws restricting social media from removing conservative thought or controversial posts, even as they express concern about the power platforms wield over public discourse. That does not end the debate, however. The interplay between the First Amendment and Facebook is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    NYT v. Sullivan Unfortunately Lives to Fight Another Day

    October 27, 2023 // 8 Comments »

    Justice Clarence Thomas said it “comes at a heavy cost, allowing media organizations and interest groups ‘to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.’” It is New York Times v. Sullivan, America’s defining defamation law and it unfortunately lives to fight another day. Or mess one up.

    Thomas, along with others on the Supreme Court, declined earlier this month to revisit the landmark First Amendment decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, rebuffing a request (the case involved a man falsely accused in the press of being a felon) to take another look at decades-old precedent that created a high bar for public figures to claim defamation in civil suits. Since 1964 the media relied on the case to fend off costly defamation lawsuits brought by public figures. The ruling established the requirement that public figures show “actual malice” by the press before they can succeed in a libel dispute.

    Defamation is untruths commonly referred to as libel if in print. Five standards have to be met when the defamation takes places between the media and a public figure: 1) the defamatory words have been published; 2) The person being defamed was identified by the statements; 3) The remarks had a negative impact on the person’s reputation; 4) The named Defendant wrote the defamatory remarks; 5) The published information is demonstrably false or was published with a reckless disregard for the truth. That means it was published without investigating whether it was accurate.

    New York Times v. Sullivan held the First Amendment protects media even when they publish false statements, as long as they did not act with actual malice. What happened in the case was civil rights leaders had run a full-page fund raising ad in the Times, describing “an unprecedented wave of terror” by the police against peaceful demonstrators in Montgomery, Alabama. Not all the bad things they accused the cops of doing were true, and made the police look worse then they were. So L.B. Sullivan, in charge of the cops in Montgomery, sued the New York Times for libel, claiming they printed something they knew was false to harm his reputation. After losing in a lower court, the Times appealed to the Supreme Court and won.

    The Times argued if a newspaper had to check the accuracy of every criticism of every public official, a free press would be severely limited, and that the 1A required the margin of error to fall on the side of the media in the cases of public officials. In short, mistakes were going to be made even with good intentions by the media. The Court created a new standard for libel of a public figure, “actual malice” defined in short as having the knowledge that something was false or published with “reckless disregard” for truth. Justice William Brennan asserted America’s “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” Free and open debate about the conduct of public officials, the Court reasoned, was more important than occasional, factual errors that might damage officials’ reputations. The standards laid out in Sullivan are why The New York Times has not lost a libel case in America ever since.

    In the recent case the Court just refused to hear (Thomas still wants to review Sullivan but said the current case is not the right vehicle for that), Don Blankenship v. NBC Universal, local media labeled Blankenship a felon, causing him to lose a run for the West Virginia Senate, he maintains. The truth is that Blankenship committed a misdemeanor and was sentenced to one day less than if the case had involved a felony charge. In arguing for Blankenship to a lower court, his attorneys wrote “The actual malice standard poses a clear and present danger to our democracy. New York Times v. Sullivan and its progeny grant the press a license to publish defamatory falsehoods that misinform voters, manipulate elections, intensify polarization, and incite unrest.”

    Attorneys for the media outlets successfully urged the justices not to take up the case, arguing the reporting mistakes were honest ones. “There is good reason why the actual malice standard of New York Times has been embraced for so long and so often,” the media organizations told the justices. “At its essence, the standard protects ‘erroneous statements honestly made.’ While it permits recovery for falsehoods uttered with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth, it provides the ‘breathing space’ required for ‘free debate.’ A free people engaged in self-government deserves no less.”

    Those are the standard Sullivan arguments. It’s just that Justice Thomas does not agree. The Sullivan ruling and ones elaborating on it, he wrote, “were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law” with “no relation to the text, history or structure of the Constitution… the actual-malice standard comes at a heavy cost.” His colleague Justice Neil Gorsuch, in an earlier statement, wrote “What started in 1964 with a decision to tolerate the occasional falsehood to ensure robust reporting by a comparative handful of print and broadcast outlets has evolved into an ironclad subsidy for the publication of falsehoods by means and on a scale previously unimaginable.”

    It may indeed be time for a change. Sullivan was written for a different media world, one dominated by a handful of huge companies like the New York Times which could be held to high standards. They were assumed to be honorable in their work, and if a mistake was made it was most likely an accident. Reporting was just that, news, reported out to the people are accurately as possible. Not so in 2023. The media is a splintered mess, with teenage YouTube influencers reaching vast audiences, challenging the giants of yesterday to a share of the market. These micro-outlets have no fact checking staff, are typically run by people with no journalistic training and maybe not even a high school diploma, and are gloriously, joyfully not trying to be fair and accurate. They traffic instead in gossip and innuendo, smearing together fact and fiction because that attracts eyeballs to their work, their only standard.

    This sort of competition affected the mainstream media, which became more and more partisan and less concerned about the truth if a story brought in readers. One need only look at the embarrassing bits of what passed for journalism as major should-know-better outlets like the Times and the Washington Post reported falsehood after falsehood throughout Russiagate and indeed the entire Trump administration. Given the freedom to make mistakes in the name of the First Amendment, these organs instead took that as license to play at the line of reckless disregard for the truth. How else could a Pulitzer prize be awarded in part of placing Trump fixer Michael Cohen in Prague to meet with Russian spies, or claim a Trump Organization email server was instead a secret communications portal to the Kremlin via Alfa Bank? How could the standard in Sullivan meant to promote robust debate end up protecting a serious column in the Washington Post headlined “Here are 18 reasons Trump Could Be a Russian Asset” without the retort of a defamation suit available?

    Sullivan was meant to protect the underlying value of debate even in the face of product of carelessness and substandard journalistic methods. Its era has passed, wasted by the modern media on confections like YouTube and frauds like Russiagate. The Times of 1964 earned the right to make mistakes in service to a greater good; the Times of 2023 would embarrass its earlier self in how it has exploited such a gift.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Court Moves to End Govt Censorship by Proxy in Social Media

    September 30, 2023 // 9 Comments »

    If you think your social media is being edited and blocked to press a certain point of view, it is. If you think the government is trying to get you to think a certain way, it is. There’s no more hiding this behind dummy allegations of conspiracy theories.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled the Biden White House and the FBI violated the First Amendment by improperly driving social media companies’ decisions to remove or suppress posts on Covid and election topics. The ruling is a step toward bringing social media under the umbrella of the First Amendment and ending proxy censorship, and sets up a major Supreme Court battle over the censoring free speech as demanded by the Biden administration.

    Specifically, the appeals judges wrote the “White House, the CDC, the FBI, and a few other agencies urged the platforms to remove disfavored content and accounts from their sites. And, the platforms seemingly complied. They gave the officials access to an expedited reporting system, downgraded or removed flagged posts, and deplatformed users. The platforms also changed their internal policies to capture more flagged content and sent steady reports on their moderation activities to the officials. That went on through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 congressional election, and continues to this day.”

    The judges wrote the White House “coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences.” They also found the White House “significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making processes, all in violation of the First Amendment.” The decision found although the platforms stifled the speech, it was government officials who “coerced, threatened, and pressured social-media platforms to censor” through private communications and legal threats,” i.e., censorship by proxy.

    The appeals court decision includes emails from White House officials showing pressure on the social media companies to address “misinformation.” Things reached a boiling point in July 2021 when President Biden accused Facebook of “killing people.”

    In one email, a White House official told a platform to take a post down “ASAP,” and instructed it to “keep an eye out for tweets that fall in this same genre.” In another, an official told a platform to “remove [an] account immediately”—he could not “stress the degree to which this needs to be resolved immediately.” The decision notes “White House officials did not only flag content; they started monitoring the platforms’ moderation activities, too. In that vein, the officials asked for and received frequent updates from the platforms. Those updates revealed, however, that the platforms’ policies were not clear-cut and did not always lead to content being demoted. So, the White House pressed the platforms. For example, one official demanded more details on Facebook’s internal policies at least twelve times, including to ask what was being done to curtail ‘dubious’ or ‘sensational’ content, what ‘interventions’ were being taken, what ‘measurable impact’ the platforms’ moderation policies had, ‘how much content [was] being demoted,’ and what ‘misinformation’ was not being downgraded.”

    The platforms did not fight back. As the judges wrote, from the beginning, the platforms cooperated with the White House. One company made an employee “available on a regular basis,” and another gave the officials access to special tools like a “Partner Support Portal” to “ensure” their requests were “prioritized automatically.”

    Once White House officials began to demand more from the platforms, they stepped-up their efforts to appease officials instead of pushing back. When there was confusion, the platforms would call to “clear up” any “misunderstanding[s]” and provide data detailing their moderation activities. They met with officials, “partnered” with them, and assured them that they were actively trying to “remove the most harmful COVID-19 misleading information.” When Facebook did not take a [unnamed] prominent pundit’s “popular post” down, a White House official asked what good is the reporting system, and signed off with “last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection.”

    In another example, one official emailed Facebook a document recommending changes to the platform’s internal policies, including to its deplatforming and downgrading systems. In another example, one platform sent out a post-meeting list of “commitments” including a policy change “focused on reducing the virality” of anti-vaccine content even when it “does not contain actionable misinformation.” On another occasion, one platform listed “policy updates… regarding repeat misinformation” after meeting with the Surgeon General’s office and signed off “[w]e think there’s considerably more we can do in partnership with you and your teams to drive behavior.” The platforms obliged the censorship requests in every instance cited and were “keen to amplify any messaging you want us to project.” At times, the judges wrote, their responses “bordered on capitulation.”

    In an escalation, the platforms began taking down content and deplatforming users more broadly. For example, “Facebook started removing information posted by the ‘disinfo dozen’—a group of influencers identified as problematic by the White House, despite earlier representations that those users were not in violation of their policies. In general, the platforms had pushed back against deplatforming users in the past, but that changed. Facebook also made other pages that ‘had not yet met their removal thresholds more difficult to find on our platform,’ and promised to send updates and take more action. A month later, members of the disinfo dozen were deplatformed across several sites.” Specifically mentioned as a victim of these actions was Gateway Pundit.

    The judges also focused on the FBI interaction with social media platforms in the run-up to the 2020 elections, which included regular meetings with the tech companies. The judges wrote that the FBI’s activities were “not limited to purely foreign threats,” citing instances where the law enforcement agency targeted posts originating inside the United States. The judges said in their rulings the platforms changed their policies based on the FBI briefings, citing updates to their terms of service about handling of hacked materials, following warnings of state-sponsored “hack and dump” operations. The latter was used as justification initially by Twitter (now X) in blacklisting articles about the Hunter Biden laptop, suggesting its contents had been obtained via hacking and/or the contents were created as disinformation by the Russians. Neither was true but both were used, via the FBI, to step roughly on Americans’ First Amendment rights and influence the 2020 presidential election.

    The current appeals court decision follows a July injunction in response to a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri. They alleged government officials went too far in their efforts to demand social media companies address posts that they worried could contribute to vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic. The state attorneys general accused the Biden administration of enabling a “sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise’” to encourage tech giants to remove politically unfavorable viewpoints and speakers. In their filings, the attorneys general alleged the actions amount to “the most egregious violations of the First Amendment in the history of the United States of America.” The judge wrote the attorneys general “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.” The injunction starts by non-ironically citing the famous quote “I may disapprove of what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.”

    The answer to all this from the July injunction was to create a wall between social media and state. This affected a wide range of government departments and agencies, and imposed ten specific prohibitions on government officials. The more recent appeals court decision threw out nine of those and modified the 10th to rejoin the government from seeking to “coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech.” That will likely be tested before the Supreme Court.

    During times when unbiased information was badly needed — on vaccines, for example — the government of the United States egregiously violated the First Amendment to pressure social media companies to amplify certain points of view and do away with others. This censorship at the request of the White House targeted both broad ideas (“anti-vax”) and individual American citizens. It shows how the administration conducted an end run on the First Amendment, using the social media companies as proxies. It was done by the Biden administration to politically drive the American people toward its point of view. Its goal was nothing short of shutting down the marketplace of ideas so necessary in a democracy.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Never Again? DeSantis and Torture

    June 2, 2023 // 13 Comments »

    During a press conference at the Museum of Tolerance in West Jerusalem in April, Ron DeSantis was questioned about a former detainee’s claim that as a naval attorney at Guantanamo DeSantis watched as the prisoner was force fed, something the UN regards as torture. “Do you honestly believe that’s credible? It’s 2006, I’m a junior officer, do you honestly think that they would’ve remembered me?” DeSantis responded angrily.

    Mansoor Adayfi, a Yemeni citizen, was held at Guantanamo Bay for 14 years, and has told news outlets that DeSantis witnessed him being force fed during a hunger strike in 2006. Adayfi in an op-ed for Al Jazeera said “As I tried to break free, I noticed DeSantis’ handsome face among the crowd at the other side of the chain link. He was watching me struggle. He was smiling and laughing with other officers as I screamed in pain.” Two former detainees, as well as defense lawyers and base officials, have told The Washington Post DeSantis had a “close up views” of disturbing incidents at the camp during his time there.

    What might DeSantis have seen? In addition to Adayfi’s account, we have Imad Abdullah Hassan’s more detailed rendition, from a man who spent twelve years in Guantanamo in a cage without ever being charged with anything. A judge cleared Hassan for release, finding there was not enough incriminating evidence to justify keeping him imprisoned (779 men were held at Guantanamo since it opened in 2002, with 12 ever charged with crimes. Only two have been convicted.) Hassan’s clearance came, yet he remained at America’s off-shore penal colony without explanation or hope of release. He went on a hunger strike in 2009 in protest (the U.S. military refers to it as a “long-term non-religious fast”), and was force-fed.

    Hassan unsuccessfully sued the president of the United States, claiming the conditions under which he is being force-fed at Guantanamo are torture. The lawsuit Hassan filed describes his treatment. His description matches Adayfi’s on key details. See if you’d remember things like this:

    Prisoners are strapped to a hospital bed or special restraint chair for feeding.

    A funnel or bag was used to channel large amounts of liquid into the tube to feed him faster. So much liquid was forced through that the second time Hassan underwent this procedure, he lost consciousness and spent two days in critical condition.

    Prisoners were simultaneously force-fed laxatives causing them to defecate on themselves as they sat in the chair being fed. “People with hemorrhoids would leave blood on the chair and the linens would not always be changed before the next feeding,” said Hassan in the lawsuit. Prisoners would be be strapped down on top of others’ stool and blood for up to two hours at a time.

    Hassan was at times forcibly sedated so he could be force-fed more easily. If Hassan vomited on himself at any time during the procedure, the force-feeding would restart from the beginning.

    Air-conditioning was sometimes turned up and detainees were deprived of a blanket. This was particularly difficult for the hunger strikers, as they felt the cold more than someone who was eating.

    Guards would bang hunger-striking prisoners’ cells every five minutes day and night to prevent sleep. Another detainee reported when he was brought back to his cell, the guards laid him on his stomach and cause him to vomit by pressing forcefully on his back.

    It was all something a young naval officer would not easily forget seeing.

    But bringing up the possibility that a young Ron DeSantis witnessed some of this is disingenuous. Whether DeSantis was present or not is only of interest given his likelihood of running for president. But if he was not present, he would have heard about the torture while at Gitmo, and issued legal opinions in line with it. But whether or not DeSantis wrote such opinions is of little consequence, given the number of military and civilian personnel who certainly not only witnessed torture but performed it. Their numbers stand shallow next to their bosses who created the torture regimes, legalized them, and promulgated them, men like Bush, Obama, Cheney, and Biden. If DeSantis supported torture in his role as naval attorney at Gitmo, he was among the smallest of wheels in a very large machine to do so.

    Not a single American has been punished for what happened at Guantanamo, and the first should not be Ron DeSantis.

    But DeSantis is not just anyone, he is one man out of hundreds of millions in the U.S. who says he wants to be president and has a decent chance of achieving just that. So instead of speculating on what DeSantis saw, let’s instead demand from him as a candidate a statement on torture itself. Knowing what he knows now, was torture the right thing post-9/11? As president, would he support torture in the future? As president, would he seek to close Guantanamo and set the thirty prisoners still there free? We know what Trump thinks about torture, know Biden as president has made no real efforts to close Gitmo or reduce its headcount. We know what a young naval officer named DeSantis did, more or less, when faced with torture by the United States of America in the name of justice for the Republic.

    Later, at various points in his career DeSantis repeatedly argued that the United States was correct in imprisoning detainees outside the legal system, and after joining Congress in 2013, he became a leading voice to keep the prison open, even though few of the detainees there were ever charged and most have been released. He has described the hunger strikes as part of a jihad against the United States, and characterized claims of abuse from detainees and their lawyers as attempts to work the system. Asked about the hunger strikes, DeSantis said in an interview in 2018 that “what I learned from that… is they are using things like detainee abuse offensively against us. It was a tactic, technique, and procedure.”

    DeSantis saw what he saw; with the passing of time does he still believe in what happened in Guantanamo? Vying to be Commander-in-Chief, “I was only following orders” will not be enough. In the name of never again, we need to know what would President DeSantis do.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Final Durham Report: Democracy’s Horror Show

    May 26, 2023 // 11 Comments »

    Hillary knew. She knew her campaign paid for Russian disinformation (including the alleged pee tape accusations) to be washed through a report by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. She knew the information was false but could potentially allow her to win the election. Hillary lied to the FBI about all this, and lied to the American public. Such was her appetite.

    The FBI knew. They knew none of the information in the Steele Report could be corroborated, and they knew most of it was false. They turned a blind eye, purposefully and with the intent to defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 election, to basic investigative and tradecraft rules to use the corrupt information to surveil the Trump campaign via the FISA court. When Trump won the election anyway, the FBI continued to use this information to assault the loyalty and viability of President Trump and ultimately tried to use the information via the Robert Mueller investigation to impeach or indict Trump.

    Only one person went to jail for all this, a minor player named Kevin Clinesmith for provided false info to the FISA court. No changes are planned for the FBI. No charges are to be brought against Hillary Clinton. The Deep State came within an eyelash of bringing down an unwanted president as surely as they are believed to have done in Dallas ’63. Words were the weapon this time, not bullets.

    These are the conclusions of the final Durham Report released last week.  The report was written by former Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was chosen in 2019 to examine the FBI probe known as “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  Durham provides the only comprehensive review of what came to be called Russiagate, and shows how close to the edge our democracy came to falling into the abyss at the hands of the Deep State. It all sounds dramatic, as those terms have been bandied about so often and in so many contexts they may have lost some of their meaning. But make no mistake about it — the FBI tried to shape the 2016 election and failing, tried to run Trump out of office. If you thought the “Hunter Biden Letter,” the one signed by dozens of intelligence professionals calling the Biden Diaries potential Russian disinformation was just wrong, you should find the conclusions of the Durham report a horror show.

    There was nothing true in the Steele Report, for example, this key paragraph: “Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, whom President PUTIN apparently both hated and feared.”

    The FBI had no intelligence about Trump or others associated with the Trump campaign being in contact with Russian intelligence beyond Steele. Despite being unvetted and uncorroborated and coming from a single source with direct political ties to Trump’s opponent, the FBI used such accusations to justify a full-spectrum surveillance operation against the Trump campaign, the first known such operation in American history. The FBI omitted the fact from its FISA application that Carter Page was in fact not a Russian agent but a paid source for the CIA who had been vetted by the Agency as loyal and reliable. They just lied and even when the lie could not be ignored the FBI lied more times to keep the surveillance application alive before the FISA court.

    Durham found investigators “ignored exculpatory evidence, put too much stock in information provided by Trump’s political opponents, and carried out surveillance without genuinely believing there was probable cause to do so.” “Throughout the duration of Crossfire Hurricane, facts and circumstances that were inconsistent with the premise that Trump and/or persons associated with the Trump campaign were involved in a collusive or conspiratorial relationship with the Russian government were ignored or simply assessed away,” Durham wrote. The FBI acted “without appropriate objectivity or restraint in pursuing allegations of collusion or conspiracy between a U.S. political campaign and a foreign power.”

    It could not be more clear. The FBI knew what it was doing was wrong and did it anyway because the ends, defeating Trump, appeared to justify the means. No surprise, that has been the slogan behind every democratic election U.S. intelligence agencies have overthrown overseas, so why not follow the same logic when the tools of war came home to attempt to drive the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton.

    We now know that almost all of the disinformation in the Steele Report came from one man, Igor Danchenko (whom the FBI had until 2011 investigated as a Russian spy.) Danchenko also fed disinfo to a Clinton supporter and registered foreign agent for Russia, Charles Dolan (who was known to but never interviewed by the FBI) to pass on the Steele to further obscure its origin. But according to the Durham report “The failure to identify the primary sub-source [Danchenko] early in the investigation’s pursuit of FISA authority prevented the FBI from properly examining the possibility that some or much of the non-open source information contained in Steele’s reporting was Russian disinformation (that wittingly or unwittingly was passed along to Steele), or that the reporting was otherwise not credible.”

    Everyone knew. The Durham Report confirms on August 3, 2016, the Russiagate allegations were briefed to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and FBI Director James Comey by CIA Director John Brennan at an Oval Office meeting. None of the men briefed, and none of the agencies involved, did anything to intercede in the FBI’s efforts alongside the Clinton Campaign to manufacture collusion between Trump and Russia. Indeed, everyone allowed the falsehoods to linger into the Mueller Report and when that document concluded publicly there was no collusion between Trump and the Kremlin, pivot the same pile of falsehoods to claim Trump somehow obstructed an investigation which actually exonerated him, concluding without indictment as it did.

    As for the FBI, the Durham report brutally tells us “the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law.” That they “displayed, at best, a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and completeness.” That the Bureau “disregarded significant exculpatory information that should have prompted investigative restraint and re-examination… there were clear opportunities to have avoided the mistakes and to have prevented the damage resulting from their embrace of seriously flawed information that they failed to analyze and assess properly.” And that “senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor towards the information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities.” That “important aspects of the Crossfire Hurricane matter were seriously deficient.” The Report concludes “although recognizing that in hindsight much is clearer, much of this also seems to have been clear at the time.” As for recommendations, the Report states “more training sessions would likely prove to be a fruitless exercise if the FBI’s guiding principles of Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity are not engrained in the hearts and minds of those sworn to meet the FBI’s mission of “Protect[ing]the American People and Uphold[ing] the Constitution of the United States.”

    Without the help of the FBI Russiagate would have been nothing but a flimsy Clinton campaign scam. Thus the Durham Report offers one over-arching implied conclusion: Be skeptical of the FBI and watch accusations of collusion and foreign interference closely around the 2024 election. Treason is indeed a twisty path.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Fixing the Security Clearance Process

    May 5, 2023 // Comments Off on Fixing the Security Clearance Process

    How do you fix the security clearance process?

    The security clearance process is not a real-time, ongoing endeavor. Instead, someone applies for a government or contractor job that requires a clearance, some sort of background check is done, and a clearance decision is adjudicated. Next case, please. Most clearances are only reviewed every five years and then investigators lean heavily on anything new or changed, and especially on the subject’s performance those five years. Even agencies that use the polygraph employ an abbreviated version of the test when renewing a security clearance. There is no 365/24/7 continuous reevaluation process. Of course records checks are done, a felony arrest properly documented might pop up, and many agencies yearly run standard credit checks and conduct random drug tests. But overall, absent something self-reported or too obvious to ignore, a clearance rides for five years, sometimes literally with no questions asked. How could it be otherwise with over five million active cleared Americans strung across the globe?

    It doesn’t always work out. As happened following the process’ failure with people like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, now with Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, much noise will be generated about “doing something” to fix the clearance process. But what?

    Dramatically increasing the number and scope of on-the-street investigations as part of background checks will spiral wildly into crazy expenses and even longer waiting periods to complete clearances. It could bring the hiring process to its knees, and spawn more and more “temporary clearances,” a self-defeating act. This all with no assurance of better results due to both limitations on the whole concept (past behavior in a wholly different environment like high school may not be indicative of future intent under real-world pressures, as in the Teixeira and Manning cases) or simply human judgment errors. If done properly, such changes might even catch a few of the Teixeira’s out there, but to be honest, there are few Teixeira’s out there to begin with and most of them will be sending up obvious danger signals at work for a long time if anyone would pay attention before a clearance review catches up.

    In the interest of never letting a good crisis go to waste, the Biden Administration is now reportedly planning to increase its surveillance of social media and online chatrooms, as if not understanding the internet is a very big place. It is certain that many more in government will call for more aggressive “monitoring” of employees, having them sign away basically all of their civil rights in return for a job. The government will turn its vast intelligence gathering tools further inward and end up pointlessly compiling CIA officers’ credit card receipts from Applebee’s, the web browsing habits of diplomats’ children, and so forth. In truth, a lot of that is probably already going on now anyway (the CIA and other intel agencies have had for years robust counterintelligence operations designed specifically to spy on their own spies.) But you just can’t see into a person’s head, or his heart, via his bank account.

    In addition to a huge waste of money and resources, these measures will inevitably lead to more mistrust and paranoia inside government. Lack of sharing (the CIA believes things it shares with State get leaked, the Army won’t give things away to the Navy, the FBI hoards info so as to not let another part of the Department of Justice get credit for a bust, the NSA doesn’t trust anyone, and so forth) is already an issue among agencies, and even inside of agencies, and helped pave the way for 9/11.

    In addition, handing even more power to security teams will also not work well in the long run. Hyper-scrutiny will no doubt discourage more decent people from seeking government work, unwilling to throw their lives open for a job if they have prospects elsewhere. The Red Scare of the 1950s, and the less-known Lavender Scares, when labeling someone gay inside government would see him fired, show what happens when security holds too many cards. James Jesus Angleton’s paranoid mole hunting at CIA, which ruined many careers, is still a sore point at Langley. No, unleashing the bullies won’t help.

    As a wise man once said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you. The only answer to the clearance problem is to simply require fewer cleared people inside government.

    This will require the tsunami of document classification to be dammed. In FY2009 alone, 54 million U.S. Government documents were classified. Every one of those required cleared authors and editors, system administrators and database technicians, security personnel, and electronic repair persons. Even the cafeteria personnel who fed them lunch needed some sort of vetting.

    With fewer people to clear because there is less classified material to begin with, always-limited resources can be better focused. Better background checks can be done. Corners need not be cut, and unqualified people would not be issued clearances out of necessity. Processing time would be reduced. Human judgment, always the weak link, could be applied more slowly and more deliberately, with more checks and balances involved.

    More monitoring won’t help and will very likely hurt. In a challenge as inherently flawed as the clearance process, the only way forward is less, not more.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Why Hasn’t the U.S. Arrested WaPo Journalist for Publishing Classified Documents?

    April 28, 2023 // Comments Off on Why Hasn’t the U.S. Arrested WaPo Journalist for Publishing Classified Documents?

    Why hasn’t the U.S. government arrested WaPo journalist Shane Harris for publishing highly classified documents related to the war in Ukraine and U.S. spying on its allies? The ones leaked by Air national Guardsman Jack Teixeira?

    The documents contain significant revelations.  Among other secrets, they show the CIA recruited human agents privy to the closed-door conversations of world leaders, reveal eavesdropping that shows a Russian mercenary outfit tried to acquire weapons from NATO ally Turkey to use against Ukraine, explained what kind of satellite imagery the United States uses to track Russian forces, and made clear U.S. and NATO have special forces on the ground inside Ukraine.

    Why Shane Harris is not in jail has a long history, and a complex answer. In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret U.S. government-written history of the Vietnam War, to the New York Times. No one had ever published such classified documents before, and reporters at the Times feared they would go to jail under the Espionage Act (the same law under which Jack Teixeira is charged.) A federal court ordered the Times to cease publication after initial excerpts were printed, the first time in U.S. history a federal judge censored a newspaper via prior restraint. In the end, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and handed down a victory for the First Amendment in New York Times Company v. United States. The Times won the Pulitzer Prize. Ever since media have published national security secrets as they found them.

    Law professor Steve Vladeck points out “although the First Amendment separately protects the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, the Supreme Court has long refused to give any separate substantive content to the Press Clause above and apart from the Speech Clause. The Supreme Court has never suggested that the First Amendment might protect a right to disclose national security information. Yes, the Pentagon Papers case rejected a government effort to enjoin publication, but several of the Justices in their separate opinions specifically suggested that the government could prosecute the New York Times and the Washington Post after publication, under the Espionage Act.”

    The Supreme Court left the door open for the prosecution of journalists who publish classified documents by focusing narrowly on prohibiting prior restraint. Politics and public opinion, not law, has since kept the feds exercising discretion in not prosecuting the press, a delicate dance around an 800-pound gorilla loose in the halls of democracy.

    The closest an American journalist ever came to being thrown in jail was in 2014, when the Obama administration subpoenaed New York Times reporter James Risen. They then accused former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling of passing classified information to Risen. After a lower court ordered Risen to testify and disclose his source under threat of jail, the Supreme Court turned down his appeal, siding with the government in a confrontation between a national security prosecution and an infringement of press freedom. The Supreme Court refused to consider whether the First Amendment implied a “reporter’s privilege,” an undocumented protection beneath the handful of words in the Free Press Clause.

    In the end, the Obama administration, fearful of public opinion, punted on Risen and set precedent extra-judicially. Waving a patriotic flag over a messy situation, then-attorney general Eric Holder announced that “no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” Risen wasn’t called to testify and wasn’t punished for publishing classified material, even as the alleged leaker, Jeffrey Sterling, disappeared into prison for three and a half years. To avoid creating a precedent that might have granted some form of reporter’s privilege under the Constitution, the government set a different precedent and stepped away from the fight. That’s why Shane Harris of the Washington Post isn’t under arrest right now. For traditional media American journalists like Shane Harris, the Risen case was a turning point.

    Meanwhile Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is under arrest, rotting away in his fifth year in a UK prison fighting extradition to the United States. There are complex legal questions to be answered about who is a journalist and what is publishing in the digital world — is Assange himself a journalist like Risen or a source for journalists like Sterling was alleged to be? There is no debate over whether James Risen is a journalist and whether a book is publishing. Glenn Greenwald has written about and published online classified documents given to him by Edward Snowden, and has never been challenged by the government as a journalist or publisher.

    Assange isn’t an American, so he is vulnerable. He is unpopular, drawn into America’s 21st-century Red Scare for revealing the DNC emails. He has written nothing alongside the primary source documents on Wikileaks, has apparently done little curating or culling, and has redacted little. Publishing for him consists of uploading what has been supplied. The government would argue Assange is not entitled to First Amendment protections simply by claiming that a mouse click and some web code isn’t publishing and Assange isn’t a journalist. The simplest interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 793(e) of the Espionage Act, that Assange willfully transmitted information relating to national defense without authorization, would apply. He would be guilty, same as the other canaries in the deep mine shaft of Washington before him, no messy balancing questions to be addressed. And with that, a unique form of online primary source journalism would be made extinct.

    And that really, really matters. Wikileaks sidestepped the restraints of traditional journalism to bring the raw material of history to the people. Never mind whether or not a court determined disclosure of secret NSA programs which spied on Americans disclosure was truly in the public interest. Never mind the New York Times gets a phone call from the President and decides not to publish something. Never mind how senior government officials are allowed to selectively leak information helpful to themselves. Never mind what parts of an anonymous technical disclosure a reporter understood well enough to write about, here are the cables, the memos, the emails, the archives themselves. Others can write summaries and interpretations if they wish (and nearly every mainstream media outlet has used Wikileaks to do that, some even while calling Assange and his sources traitors), or you as an individual can simply read the stuff yourself and make up your own damn mind about what the government is doing. Fact checks? There are the facts themselves in front of you. That is the root of an informed public, through a set of tools and freedoms never before available until the internet created them.

    Allowing these new tools to be broken over the meaning of the words journalist and publishing will stifle all of what’s left of the press. If Assange becomes the first successful prosecution of a third party under the Espionage Act, the government can then turn that precedent into a weapon to aggressively attack the media’s role in national security leaks. Is a reporter, for example, publishing a Signal number in fact soliciting people to commit national security felonies? Will media employees have to weigh for themselves the potential public interest, hoping to avoid prosecution if they differ from the government’s opinion? The Assange case may prove to be the topper in a long-running war of attrition against free speech.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    I’m Disgusted with the Trump Indictment

    April 20, 2023 // 1 Comment »

    The sheer pleasure ordinary Democrats, never mind MSM personnel, got from seeing Donald Trump in court was disgusting. The “Ah, jeez, why not?” reaction when it was announced he would not be paraded as a captured curiosity, a circus freak, through a perp walk. The t-shirts that wouldn’t be made out of his mug shot, all the disappointment leavened with the glee that years of investigations finally yielded Trump in court facing criminal charges, the fruition of #TheResistance. To hear MSNBC, you’d think we were days away from the Orange Man being thrown into a van with no windows for his last ride upstate, the Orange tan and orange jumpsuit, with Orange is the New Black jokes echoing behind him, the last things he hears before being violated in the prison showers while multitudes cheer.

    I’d seen all this before, in post-military dictatorship Korea where prosecuting one’s political enemies is a popular blood sport. Former President Roh Moo-hyun faced corruption allegations after leaving office in 2008, but he died by suicide before he could face trial. Former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office in 2017, and she was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were investigated for corruption after leaving office. Overall, whether a former South Korean president goes to jail after their term depends on various factors, occasionally such as the evidence against them, and more significantly, the political climate surrounding them. That’s no rule of law, it is revenge. That’s the new America you’re cheering for?

    And yet for all the schadenfreude turned up to 11, we’re left staring blankly at the TV and asking: is this all there is? After eight years of intense judicial and media scrutiny, after two impeachments, the January 6 coven of elders committee, Russiagate and even after the state of New York and the House finally did get his tax documents, this is it? The Teflon Don is going down over… falsification of business records? Never mind the 34 counts, that’s just stacking, an old DA trick to turn one “crime” into many and make things look more dramatic. It just seem impossible that after all this there is no debt to Putin, no tax scam, no KGB handler, just a bookkeeping error. And spare us the “Al Capone went to jail over tax returns.” Capone was a known mobster, a murderer, a man who left a long string of broken bodies alongside his wholly criminal business (and he only served eight years.) Trump may have committed a bookkeeping error. He’ll pay a fine at worst.

    When you blow away the smoke, Trump is charged with only one minor crime. That stems from the allegation that money Trump paid to his lawyer Michael Cohen (continuing the call him a “fixer” just prolongs the awful Godfather references and is sooooo 2021) to in turn legally buy silence from Stormy Daniels, and for Karen McDougal’s and other stories. Trump supposedly purposely mislabeled this legally spent money as “legal fees.” The indictment instead claims it a violation of business records law because the primary purpose was to influence an election. The supposition by the DA that that was true allowed him to upgrade a misdemeanor, false business records, into multiple felony accusations. Backing all this up is the word of disbarred felon Michael Cohen, and former National Inquirer honcho David Pecker (you just can’t make this stuff up, folks) both of whom are going to swear it is all true. That Pecker supposedly was granted immunity to testify and Cohen himself has multiple law suits and a huge chip on his shoulder pending against Trump has nothing to do with nuthin’.

    The problem is DA Alvin Bragg (who actually ran for his office on the promise of prosecuting Trump for… something… and is now paying off his promise to his backers) has to win the case, and that is going to be as legally tough as the case itself is legally soft.

    In short, the DA has to prove a crime not even charged (the unspecified campaign finance laws, or maybe something to do with taxes, the so-called “core crime”), show a misdemeanor for everyone else is actually a felony if you’re Trump, demonstrate Trump’s criminal state of mind when this all happened (intent to defraud… who? The Trump Organization?) and do all that based primarily on the testimony of Michael Cohen and a pseudo-journalist named Pecker. Otherwise, Trump is acquitted. And while the news is chock full of articles on the threat to our democracy if Trump is found guilty, no one has been saying much about how he will be empowered if he wins. It is said if you go after the king, you should not miss.
    There is nothing in this case which will stop Trump from running for president, even if somehow found guilty or even serving time. His affair with Stormy, which may be offensive to some voters, has sadly been part of the public conversation around Trump for years. If the standards being applied in New York hold, then while this is the first indictment of a former president it will not be the last. Every local prosecutor in the country will now feel that he has a green light to criminally investigate and prosecute presidents after they leave office (remember Jim Garrison and the JFK assassination.) Perhaps over the Hunter Biden case?
    Could things get to the point where the “rule of law” misinterpreted as a “rule of revenge” means a Republican candidate will need to stay out of blue states to avoid prosecution and vice-versa for Dems? Trump went to New York and surrendered himself voluntarily; imagine if he had stayed in Florida and fought any extradition attempt to force him to Manhattan. Democrats salivating over the charges against Trump will feel differently when a prominent Dem ends up on the receiving end of a similar effort by any of the thousands of prosecutors elected to local office, eager to make their bones by taking down a president of the other party. Now imagine an ageing Joe Biden a virtual prisoner of a Democratic safehouse in Delaware.
    It is easy to brush this off as exaggeration, but Trump’s opponents react to his provocations and grandstanding by escalating the erosion of legal norms (see the Mueller investigation, and the impeachments.) Ask Mitt Romney, who said “The prosecutor’s overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system.” And don’t forget Alvin Bragg’s predecessor had almost a year to bring this case after Trump left office, but did not do so, and the Department of Justice also declined. Historians will call this all the Bragg Rule.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Third World Politics: Details of the Trump Indictment

    April 8, 2023 // Comments Off on Third World Politics: Details of the Trump Indictment

    The rule of law, which seems so precious to holier-than-thou Democrats these days, depends above all on one thing: a belief among the majority of us that while no one is above the law, the law will also be applied fairly to all those it does affect. Whether you loathe Trump or love him, you know this: what is happening now in Manhattan is unfair and inconsistent with a nation that once prided itself on believing in the rule of law. Who is still a believer today?

    The previously sealed indictment shows Donald Trump was charged with 34 felony counts for falsification of business records, the only crime actually charged. The falsification of business records is normally prosecuted in New York as a misdemeanor. But Bragg’s office apparently bumped up all the charges to felonies on the grounds that the conduct was intended to conceal another underlying crime, violating election finance law (“with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof.”) There is more smoke than fire; no wonder the DA wanted to keep this mess sealed as long as possible and the judge won’t allow cameras in the courtroom. But specifically, how is this unfair?

    Overcharging and stacking charges. Two basic prosecutorial transgressions. If anything, Trump should have been charged with a simple misdemeanor, the so-called falsification of business records for his seemingly characterizing money legally paid to Stormy Daniels and others as part of a nondisclosure agreement as “legal expenses” as well as payments to the National Enquirer to “catch and kill” a story about Trump’s alleged affair with Karen McDougal and other stories.

    The overall case has no victim of Trump’s “crime,” and is basically a tempest over bookkeeping. Bumping all this up to felony charges based solely on Bragg’s supposition that the error was made with the intent to cheat on campaign finance laws is just overcharging, trying to make this all seem more important than it is.

    Stacking, the second basic prosecutorial transgression, refers to a DA’s attempt to break one “crime” into as many pieces as he can (34 counts, one for each check cut to lawyer Michael Cohen allegedly for Stormy, et al) to also exaggerate the importance of it all and justify the felony upgrade.

    Ignoring precedent cases to “get him.” Alvin Bragg ran for office on prosecuting Trump. He is fulfilling a campaign promise and paying off his backers. Bragg, in the words of law professor Jonathan Turley, had a “very public, almost Hamlet-like process where he debated whether he could do this bootstrapping theory [bumping misdemeanors up to felonies.] He stopped it for a while and was pressured to go forward with it. All of that smacks more of politics than prosecutorial discretion.” Indeed, if Bragg were to have looked fairly at precedent he would have run right into the John Edwards case. Edwards, a former United States Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was indicted in 2011 on charges of violating campaign finance laws during his 2008 presidential campaign. The charges stemmed from allegations Edwards used nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to conceal an extramarital affair during his campaign.

    The government alleged Edwards received money from two wealthy donors and used it to support his mistress and their child in return for their silence. The government claimed this constituted a violation of campaign finance laws, which limit the amount of money that individuals can contribute to a campaign and require that such contributions be disclosed. Edwards maintained the payments were gifts and not campaign contributions, and therefore not subject to campaign finance laws. A jury acquitted Edwards on one count of violating campaign finance laws and deadlocked on the remaining five counts. The government ultimately decided not to retry Edwards.

    Creating New Political Precedent. If this is all they found in years of obsession with destroying this man, he must be the cleanest person to ever hold office. As former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson observed decades ago about unfairness, “It is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it; it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books or putting investigators to work to pin some offense on him,” something that is inherently unfair.

    The law applied equally. For the nation’s sake any action against Trump must preserve what is left of faith in the rule of law applied without fear or favor, or risk civil disenfranchisement if not outright civil unrest. To do this, someone will have to address the case of Hillary Clinton, who maintained an unsecured private email server processing classified material. Clinton destroyed tens of thousands of emails, potential evidence, as well as physical phones and Blackberries. She operated the server out of her New York (!) kitchen. Her purpose in doing all this appeared to have been avoiding Freedom of Information Act requests (a crime with the intent to commit another crime) ahead of her 2016 presidential run. The Hillary campaign and the DNC also did something naughty in paying for the Steele dossier as “legal expenses” and not campaign expenditures, and got off with only an Election Commission fine for their bookkeeping “error.”

    In addition, those who claim Trump’s indictment is not unfair will also have to account for the fact that Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 were not found to have violated campaign finance laws and no charges were even levied. During the 2008 campaign donors were able to make contributions using fictitious names, such as “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck,” and the campaign was criticized for not doing enough to prevent fraudulent donations. Another controversy involved the Obama campaign’s use of untraceable prepaid credit cards, which raised concerns about the possibility of illegal foreign contributions. No charges were ever filed.

    Unequal prosecution. This concern extends past presidential politics. On Sunday, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy tweeted “DA Alvin Bragg is abusing his office to target President Trump while he’s reduced a majority of felonies [in NYC], including violent crimes, to misdemeanors. He has different rules for political opponents.” The DA’s tactics have led to a surge in crimes committed in Manhattan as prosecutions have fallen. Bragg claims equity demands he selectively prosecute; Bragg reduced 52 percent of all felony charges to misdemeanors, opposite of what he did to Trump.

    The Future. If the standards being applied in New York hold, then while this is the first indictment of a former president it will not be the last. Every local prosecutor in the country will now feel that he has a green light to criminally investigate and prosecute presidents after they leave office. Democrats salivating over the charges against Trump will feel differently when a prominent Dem ends up on the receiving end of a similar effort by any of the thousands of prosecutors elected to local office, eager to make their bones by taking down a president of the United States (remember Jim Garrison and the JFK assassination.) Perhaps over the Hunter Biden case? Could things get to the point where the rule of law means a Republican candidate will need to stay out of blue states to avoid prosecution and vice-versa? Trump went to New York and surrendered himself voluntarily; imagine if he had stayed in Florida and fought any extradition attempt to force him to Manhattan. Now imagine an ageing Joe Biden a virtual prisoner of a Democratic safehouse in Delaware. Historians would have to call it the Bragg Rule.

    If you’re curious about how that might work, just have a look at post-military dictatorship Korea where prosecuting one’s political enemies is a popular blood sport. Former President Roh Moo-hyun faced corruption allegations after leaving office in 2008, but he died by suicide before he could face trial. Former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office in 2017, and she was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were investigated for corruption after leaving office, but they were not convicted. Overall, whether a former South Korean president goes to jail after their term depends on various factors, such as the evidence against them, and more significantly, the political climate. Is this America’s future? Ask Alvin Bragg.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    What is Section 702 and Why Should You Fear It

    March 11, 2023 // 7 Comments »

    You’ve been warned — a fight over the U.S. government’s ability to spy on its own citizens is coming to Congress. Section 702 is up for renewal again in December.

    Section 702 grew out of an illegal post-9/11 program called Stellarwind exposed by NSA whistleblower Tom Drake. It refers to a provision of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that was enacted in 2008. It authorizes the U.S. government to collect the communications of non-U.S. persons located outside of the United States for the purpose of obtaining foreign intelligence information. But the program also allows for the incidental collection of information about U.S. persons who may be communicating with the targeted foreigners. Section 702 was renewed by Congress in 2018 with the passing of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act. This reauthorization extended the authority for Section 702 for another six years, through December 31, 2023, hence the looming fight.

    The reauthorization included some modifications to the program, including new reporting requirements and limitations on the use of information obtained under Section 702 in certain types of legal proceedings. The law also included some new privacy protections, such as the requirement for a warrant to search for and use information related to U.S. persons in certain cases. The latter only applies to the FBI, which is required to obtain a court order to review anything that comes up in response to queries using American identifiers that are purely for a criminal investigation with no link to national security. Oh yes, that’s right: Section 702, which was written to stop another 9/11, is widely used by domestic law enforcement as part of regular police work.

    But the most controversial aspect of the law remains the “Three Hops Rule.” If you are speaking with a foreigner outside the U.S. by phone, then that makes everyone else you speak with, American or not, eligible for monitoring. That’s one hop. Everyone they talk to is also eligible, that’s two hops, and so forth. The number of people subject to legal surveillance under Section 702 thus grows geometrically every time someone sends an email, like some sick version of the old game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Suddenly one communication sweeps in many, often unrelated, persons, and the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy is reduced to dryer lint because no warrants are generally needed and little if any oversight is applied. The scooping up of American communications is now (who says the Feds have no sense of humor) referred to as “incidental collection” even though it is quite purposeful.

    The two things, three hops and Section 702, were never intended to be used together but certainly are. Technological advances, primarily the internet and fiber-optic lines, made foreigners’ messages available on domestic U.S. networks — the routing of a communication from Beijing to London passes through America. Since the Reagan years, the NSA, with the help of communications companies, has been able to vacuum up in bulk, without targeting anyone, messages that both originate and terminate abroad as they travel across American networks.

    The potential for abuse is underscored by the scale of all this in an age when almost all of our communications are electronic (including phone calls) and when hubs of communication (Google and email providers, most of whom cooperate directly with the government to collect and hand over your data, as exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden) concentrate more and more of what we say, read, watch, and buy into fewer nodes to tap. In 2021, there were more than 230,000 foreign targets of Section 702 warrantless surveillance (that number multiplied by the three hops rule, of course.)

    In contrast, the government obtained FISA court warrants to eavesdrop on about only 300 Americans or noncitizens on domestic soil. Proponents of Section 702 argue obtaining warrants for all those foreigners would sharply curtail the intelligence the government is able to gather. Applying for court orders requires time and resources, and then there are those nasty legal and evidentiary standards to be met. Because everything is highly classified, absent whistleblowers, public oversight is limited. One declassified audit showed the FBI misused the system for routine employment checks and other unauthorized sneak peeks. The FISA court, in an example of what passes as oversight, criticized the FBI for “widespread violations” of rules intended to protect Americans’ privacy but still signed off on the program’s continuance.

    “Section 702 allows mass warrantless surveillance of individuals’ communications, including Americans. It embodies a long history of government overreach and abuse, including the most recent oversight report released in December 2022, which found that the FBI conducted numerous unlawful searches for Americans’ information,” Kathleen McClellan of ExposeFacts.org told The Spectator.

    One idea being floated is to separate the collection of raw material from the query process, i.e., actually using the material. A revised Section 702 would continue to allow mass monitoring, but before the NSA or FBI, et al, could search that collected date for Americans by identifier (name, Social Security number, etc.) they would need a warrant to show probable cause. Something like this change might be the key to seeing Section 702 reauthorized, as House Judiciary Committee members focus on civil liberties while members of the Intelligence Subcommittee tend to be more supportive of surveillance powers. The fear-mongering ducks are already being lined up. General Paul Nakasone, head of the NSA and Cyber Command, said 702 powers have helped the U.S. government stop planned terrorist plots and cyber espionage campaigns before they happen. “702 provides a critically important capability to the intelligence community as we face rising challenges from China and Russia, as well as threats from terrorism, cyber actors, and others,” Senate Intelligence Chair Mark Warner claims.

    Congress is expected to rely heavily on the advice of the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent executive branch agency led by a bipartisan group of five presidentially nominated and Senate-confirmed Board Members. The Board is examining significant changes to the operation of the 702 program since their Report on the Surveillance Program Operated Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (2014) in order to provide an accurate description of the current program. The Board’s review covers selected focus areas for investigation, including but not necessarily limited to, U.S. person queries of information collected under Section 702, and ‘Upstream’ collection [data handed over from communication providers.] The Oversight Project also includes reviewing the program’s past and projected value and efficacy, as well as the adequacy of existing privacy and civil liberties safeguards. The changes made to Section 702 on the last renewal go-round in 2018 drew heavily from this report, a good indicator the PCLOB may influence the 2023 renewal process as well.

    The bad news is most of the Fourth Amendment protections of Americans’ privacy disappeared in the aftermath of September 11, all in the name of fighting terrorism. There seems no question Section 702, one of the Fourth Amendment-busting laws, will be renewed. The hope for civil libertarians and privacy advocates alike in salvaging some rights lies in marginal changes to the law along the line of PCLOB recommendations to limit use of Americans’ identifiers as query terms and to force NSA and others to disclose more of the extent of the program’s use. 

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Orwell’s Mistakes

    November 28, 2022 // 2 Comments »

    Under the gathering dark clouds of today, a reread of 1984 showed how the otherwise prescient George Orwell was wrong to think people were going to have to be tortured into submission; half of America (still psychologically locked down, vexed and vaxed, of course) wouldn’t want it any other way.

    The world of 1984 is grim in a way 2022 would understand. The people of Orwell’s future want to be controlled. They have come to prefer it. Freedom from choice makes them feel safe. People accept being monitored, and their media being censored. They think of it all with a sense of the inevitable, the only way to stay safe, if they think of it at all. The all-seeing telescreens in their homes, the snitches and spies embedded in their lives, are just the way of it, for the better, really. Language itself is changed not to just stifle dissent but to make it impossible.

    In 1984 it is the government which controls and modifies all media, sending events from the past no longer politically correct down the memory hole. Today we have the legacy media which do that for us. We can no longer read a newspaper or watch a documentary with any expectation any part of it is true. Americans relish fake news. In only one example, the truth is there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. It was all made up, doublethink, embellished with lurid “details” like the pee tape so absurd they wouldn’t make it into a B movie script. Michael Cohen never went to Prague. The FBI had to lie to obtain FISA permission to spy on Trump associates. Yet vast numbers of Americans still believe it all to be true, and seek out media which clings to the edges of the story. Indeed 2+2 can equal 5 if you believe it does.

    In another example, Hunter Biden financially benefited trading off his father’s position. He made millions from China and Ukraine selling influence. The media acted collectively with the full support of about half of Americans to disappear the story and influence the 2020 election. Once pushed underwater, the story never came back in time for the 2020 election, maybe not for the 2024 one. When I Google Hunter’s name I find sympathetic replacement stories about his battles with various addictions. Most Americans welcome the sleight of hand. They don’t want another scandalous administration. They want censorship to clean that up. The government doesn’t have to police it; in America, journalists demand the suspension of other journalists’ 1A rights based on ideology if things go off message.

     

    Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate was when the public was told to express hatred toward enemies of the state whether it made sense or not. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings were a widely welcomed version of this, using the confluence of mediagenic victims, politicians, and MSM whipping up the crowd. Social media, particularly Twitter, serves the same ongoing purpose; we loved Cuomo as the anti-Trump until told to hate him as a sexual harasser. Is Dr. Fauci a good guy or a bad guy this week? Your own family is also a target as white allies are told “Text your relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives.”

    In 1984 criticism of The Party was the worst sin, punishable by loss of status, loss of work, loss of self — cancellation. Though America so far does not include the physical torture portion (in Newspeak, enhanced interrogation) of 1984-style cancellation, the rest of the tools are active. Party orthodoxy is replaced by the sin of criticizing diversity and being denounced as a racist. Whole industries — academia, media, entertainment — are controlled by the issuance of double plus good anti-racist badges.  Most all the media we consume, and what our kids learn in school, is filtered, judged, and censored by an ideological mob as convinced of their own rightness as any Nazi ever was.

    If you want to keep your job in those fields and more you must embrace Big Diverse Brother, and most are more than happy to do so. Those who fall out of favor with the Party in 1984 become “unpersons,” disappearing with all evidence of their existence destroyed. In 2022 they are deplatformed. Institutions don’t punish dissent per se as much as seek to make enough examples to make dissent impossible.

     

    Orwell envisioned the need for a massive Ministry of Truth to enact societal control when in fact all it took was some silliness about whether calling COVID “Chinese flu” was racism, and a dash of sky-is-falling articles. Make fear the problem and empowering protectors becomes the solution. The message worked: You have to give things up for a safe society. If you don’t, you’re selfish; you’ve committed a crime against your neighbors.

    When Orwell wrote 1984 he could not envision any entity more powerful than government, backed up by secret police and the army itself. Orwell could not imagine global media and its running dog companion social media screening what we read, and providing the tools of cancelation. He did not foresee the end point of global capitalism, a handful of people with almost all the money who could buy the laws and societal changes they wanted.

    Instead of adapting to this reality and pushing back, progressive Americans cheer it on. They roll like dogs in mud over the idea that while the government can’t censor Dr. Seuss, a corporation can. They enjoy the ignorance of pretending such censorship is not censorship because, for now at least, only things they don’t like are being censored. They enjoy pretending it doesn’t matter if it is done by a private entity. They refuse to imagine the same tools turned against an idea they support. They want to believe Big Brother knows best. They do not want dissenting opinions and call greedily on corporations to scrub them from their lives.

    In 2022 America we not only voluntarily accept surveillance, we want more of it because it makes shopping easier. We spend thousands of dollars to buy and maintain 24/7 devices on our person that track our location, record our communications, study and analyze our personal habits from porn preferences to fashion choices, all so Amazon can recommend products to us. Tracking us was sold first as a way to keep us safe from terrorist attacks that never came, then to catalog our associations to keep us safe from a COVID crisis kept on the boil as long as possible. We want Big Brother to know where we’ve been so he can warn us not to associate with the “diseased” people there. Vaccine passports to label and reward the compliant? Yes, please, if it means we can go to ball games.

    We love surveillance technology when it helps arrest the “right” people. So with the Capitol riots we fetishize how cell phone data was used to place people on site, coupled with facial recognition run against images pulled off social media, aided by loved ones snitching, to arrest them. There is even a do-it-yourself version of facial recognition progressives used to help law enforcement ID rioters. The goal was to jail people if possible, but most loyalists seemed equally satisfied if they could cause someone to lose their job.

    In America my society thinks I am so stupid I have to be warned a thing called “Hot Coffee” is hot. I must click accept to multipage legal agreements to use a household appliance. I must on a daily basis subordinate myself to an ever-growing army of private guards, inspectors, stewardesses, waiters, and store clerks who have the power to harm me, or at least mess up my plans for their own amusement. I have to live under laws based on no science or sense. I have to believe history that is not true. I have to keep in mind race does not matter except when it does to select the proper amount of each color into a job or college in pursuit of a lofty goal no one can show really helps. I have been told to judge the fairness of elections based on who wins. I have had to learn to live in a society that hates me simply because I was born a white heteronormative male. After national, state, and local governments, plus my condo board and the local grocery store added layers of Covid laws, rules, and regulations, to hug my adult children last year I had to break laws.
    As a young man I visited Soviet Eastern Europe. I lived in China, and in Taiwan under dictatorship. I spoke to survivors of the Cultural Revolution, and torture victims from Seoul’s years of military control. I’m much older now, and know when I’ve seen a thing before. I know increasingly in my American life my thoughts are increasingly no longer my own. Orwellian? Orwell was an amateur.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Nike, Wokeness, and Thomas Jefferson

    October 8, 2022 // 9 Comments »

    They want to take down Thomas Jefferson’s statue at the university he founded.

    Why not? A thought experiment, one where in the near-enough future of say 2030 the word Nike comes to mean the same as today’s N-word, a new N-word. Calling someone a nike (maybe the derogatory grew out of the popular shoes, or some hip-hop song about them) is a fighting word if you’re white, possibly a sign of brotherhood is you’re, well, the right kind of nike.

    With the word nike firmly established as the most hateful term in the language, imagine the problem of all those people who for many years in the pre-woke era worn Nike T-shirts and showed off their Nike shoes. What about the sports stars who endorsed Nike products? Are they all racists? Do we in 2030 expect them to have known years earlier what was perfectly acceptable in 2021 would be a hate crime in 2030? Under the rules of wokeness, yes we do. We judge people from years in the past by the standards (or the standards of a minority liberal group) of today. If that makes no sense, my nike, then you may be close to seeing how thin the intellectual ice is under wokeness.

    So we would then have to cancel basketball great Michael Jordan, a traitor to his fellow nikes, whose sneaker brand was sold by Nike, a company founded by a white capitalist who profited well off the nikes. Maybe it would be time to take Jordan out of the Hall of Fame, his presence a daily insult to all nikes in the room who didn’t sell out. The old Space Jam would never see Netflix again. Schools would need to protect students by removing texts about the Greek gods from libraries, as in mythology Nike was the goddess of victory. It is unlikely she is mentioned in the Tom Sawyer stories, but someone should definitely check. There’s even a Nike Elementary School in Missouri which would have to be renamed (and wouldn’t you know it, that actual school has 114 white students and only one nike kid.)

    As to the argument that every kid who wore a Nike t-shirt in his high school yearbook photo or the people in Missouri who misnamed that school did not — could not — have known in 2022 the word nike would come to be a terrible racial slur, well, they should have. Certain words are evil, no matter when or where they take are spoken and “everybody did it” and “it was acceptable then” are just the kind of thing a racist would say.

    Which is why the “statue wars” make no sense. In the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd killing and BLM protests, tearing down statues became America’s signature sport. While in one glance it appears to have tapered off (San Francisco seems to have grown weary of the more radical elements of the new racial-justice movement and given up on efforts to destroy a mural of Slave Owner George Washington in one of its schools) Cornell University more recently removed a statue of Slave Freer Lincoln and a copy of the Gettysburg Address from its library. Things don’t make sense.

    In particular it makes no sense the statue of Thomas Jefferson was removed from City Hall in New York City, where it stood for 187 years. The unanimous vote to dump Jefferson was the work of the city’s Public Design Commission, which deemed the Founder (who lived a street or two away from City Hall for a time) unfit because over 250 years ago he owned slaves. “It makes me deeply uncomfortable knowing that we sit in the presence of a statue that pays homage to a slaveholder who fundamentally believed that people who look like me were inherently inferior, lacked intelligence, and were not worthy of freedom or right,” declared city council member Adrienne Adams, co-chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus. Jefferson was indeed unaware blacks were people, and likely thought much the same of anyone who was not an educated, white, land owning, man. He was born that way and little in his intellectual world would have challenged that. Of his time, Jefferson would have also been unaware of the principles of flight, electricity, evolution, penicillin, germ theory, and many other things modern men understand as birth right. From the perspective of a high school science student today, Jefferson was downright stupid.

    So should Jefferson have known about nike? In 1776 slavery was legal not only across the American colonies, but in England, the source of most American legal precedence and common law (England only abolished slavery in 1833 even as the American Civil War was brewing. It, along with other Europeans, kept its hand in the lucrative Atlantic slave trade for many more years.) Slavery was endemic across the classical world, woven deeply into the economies of the Romans and Greeks (Jefferson read both Latin and Greek), never mind those of the Middle East. Slavery in Brazil, at the hands of the Portuguese, existed until 1888, long after Jefferson’s death and the Civil War. Neither America nor Thomas Jefferson invented slavery, racism, or discrimination.

    In addition to Jefferson the slaveholder (alongside most of the Founders; even Hamilton, reborn as the “good founder” at the hands of woke historical sugar coater Lin Manuel Mirada, traded in slaves) it is all too convenient to forget Jefferson the political founder. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to which, as Christopher Hitchens put it in his biography of Jefferson, “established the concept of human rights, for the first time in history, as the basis for a republic.” It was Jefferson himself who created the first nation built on human rights and while not prescient enough to include blacks from the beginning, did include in the founding documents the means to later amend blacks into the already existing framework. To demand Jefferson should have done this from the get-go in the 18th century (alongside using neutral pronouns!) is about as realistic as demanding Michael Jordan have realized when he made Space Jam nike was going to be a no-go word down the line.

    In modern parlance Jefferson wrote the code running underneath the United States matrix. In stating “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” he got it almost all right, missing only the broader inclusion of blacks (and women) into the category. If you want to expand the computer analogy, Jefferson wrote the code right, he simply defined his variable wrong. Doing that despite the world of slavery around him in the 18th century is beyond prescient, it is an achievement that changed the world. Dr. Martin Luther King got it, calling Jefferson’s work  a “promissory note” to all Americans. The extraordinariness of Jefferson being able to see beyond his own world was summed up by President Franklin Roosevelt in dedicating the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, when he said Jefferson “lived in a world in which freedom of conscience and freedom of mind were battles still to be fought through—not principles already accepted of all men.”

    The people running the city council in New York have no understanding of who Jefferson was or what he did. In their childish game of racism gotcha, they claimed another statue, their own one of Jefferson. Did they in any way advance the cause of freedom? No, but Jefferson did. Is there any expectation someone will erect a monument to their taking away the statue in 250 years’ time? No, because insignificant changes do not add up to anything. Changing the name of a school, or tearing down a statue, does not change history. That is why everyone is still “raising awareness” about the same problems after decades.

    What we see in wokeness is the difference between a small mind and a great mind, between people who ignore their own flaws to pick at others’ out of time and out of context. We see the difference between people who whine to tear things down and people who can see beyond their own world to a better one. Wokeness cannot see enduring, magnificent, world changing ideas separate from the personal flaws of their creators. It is unable to see what Jefferson saw, the possibility of men greater than him building on his work to create that more perfect union. Leonardo had sex with men and for a while we didn’t care for that in our society but we never stopped understanding, speaking of statues, David was a miracle. Same for the Founders.

    To sit in 2022 and demand Jefferson could have written a document declaring blacks equal is about as realistic as expecting him to have sprouted wings. He was the prime mover, the thing that lead to the next thing. That is worthy of a statue.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Ashley Biden Problem

    October 7, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    It used to be called the “New York Times Problem.” It asks at what point does the First Amendment stop protecting journalists against the receipt of stolen property, particularly classified documents. It stems originally from the Pentagon Papers, a classified history of the Vietnam War stolen by Daniel Ellsberg and handed over to the Times and later others. The government sought prison time for reporters and editors but failed. What once threatened the New York Times has now been turned directly against Project Veritas, Ashley Biden’s diary, and perhaps Julian Assange.

    The goal out of the tangled case outlined below is to create two standards for applying the 1A, one for journalists and one for “journalists” ostensibly based on skill and reputation but in reality based on politics. It is a direct challenge to freedom of the press by Biden’s DOJ.

    In June 2020, a woman and a man moved into a Delray Beach, Florida house where Ashley Biden, President Joe Biden’s daughter, previously resided and where she’d left several items, including a diary. The diary mentioned, among other things, “inappropriate” showers taken together by daughter Ashley and Joe (whom Hunter Biden at one point appeared elsewhere to refer to as “Pedo Pete.”) Potentially important stuff, though the woman who found them failed to interest the Trump campaign. She then tried Project Veritas. Veritas paid for the diary holder to meet with their staffers in New York, inspected the diary and paid for it, only to ultimately decide not to publish it. Veritas turned the diary over to law enforcement as unverified (the diary was eventually published by a less-well known site.)

    Though Veritas never published the diary, the New York Times Problem came into play — does the 1A protect media outlets who receive or even pay for stolen property, i.e., the Pentagon Papers and Ashley Biden’s diary? Obviously taking in stolen goods, say a diamond watch or purloined car, is a crime. But with snatched or stolen documents of public interest, in steps the First Amendment, which has been held to protect journalists in these cases. This is also why the New York Times Problem has more recently been called the Julian Assange Problem in that Assange never stole any documents himself — that was Chelsea Manning — and only published what he was handed. Any prosecution of Assange would be as a publisher, a clear rub against the 1A and the key issue in any trial that someday may be held.

    That’s where the Veritas case should have ended, with the feds doing nothing. Plenty of stolen documents (there is also the open question about whether finding Biden’s diary left behind in an rental house constitutes theft at all) are published all the time by American media outlets, including Trump’s tax returns in the Times and Edward Snowden’s bombastic NSA source materials in the Washington Post. It is an essential part of a free press and protected by the 1A.

    But DOJ did not stop with Veritas, who after all did not even publish any of the allegedly stolen documents. The FBI instead conducted a predawn search in November 2021 against Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe’s home and similar raids on two associates to take possession of their cell phones and journalistic notes. The raid warrants cited concerns over the stolen Biden diary. In response, University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley, a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said “I’m not a big fan of Project Veritas, but this is just over the top. I hope they [the FBI] get a serious reprimand from the court because I think this is just wrong.”

    O’Keefe’s lawyers complained the raid unfairly denied him the legal protections afforded to journalists. “The Department of Justice’s use of a search warrant to seize a reporter’s notes and work product violates decades of established Supreme Court precedent,” O’Keefe’s lawyer wrote. The search also appears to violate the Privacy Protection Act, prohibiting searches and seizures of “any work product materials possessed by a person [person is undefined which gets around the issue of who is a “journalist”] reasonably believed to have a purpose to disseminate to the public a newspaper, book, broadcast, or other similar form of public communication.”

    Court papers provided to the Project Veritas founder when his phones were seized indicate that his devices were taken as part of an investigation that prosecutors are conducting into potential conspiracy to traffic stolen goods across state lines — the Biden diary. This should send chills through First Amendment advocates because the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that media outlets cannot be held liable for publishing information that may have been obtained illegally, as long as they themselves obtained the material legally.

    The Supreme Court case in question is 2001’s Bartnicki v. Vopper. A person intercepted and recorded a cell phone conversation between a union negotiator and the union president. Vopper, a radio commentator, played a tape of the intercepted conversation on his public affairs talk show. Petitioners filed a damages suit under wiretapping laws, alleging their conversation had been surreptitiously intercepted by an unknown person and the radio station repeatedly published the conversation even though they had reason to know that it had been illegally intercepted. The court ultimately held the First Amendment protected the disclosures and the radio station did not violate the law. “A stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern,” concluded Justice John Paul Stevens in Bartnicki v. Vopper. So why not the same with Project Veritas?

    Loose in the Veritas case is a charging Department of Justice, who said the two people who tried to sell Veritas the diary were guilty of moving stolen property across state lines. More importantly the DOJ a) got the two to plead guilty to moving stolen property and b) contended Veritas paid them $40,000 and told them to go back into the house and look for more Ashley Biden materials (Veritas says they did not do this.) The latter point is key, because the protections of Bartnicki v. Vopper require the media to be passive. It cannot help “steal” things to later publish. FYI, the latter could form the bulk of any prosecution against Julian Assange, i.e., the claim he assisted Chelsea Manning by providing technical advice in stealing (“procurement”) all the classified documents she did. Such assistance, as alleged in the Veritas case, could eliminate the 1A protections (see Peavy v. WFAA-TV.)

    What does it all mean? Project Veritas is being punished for practicing journalism and its 1A rights are being violated. Veritas met with sources who had obtained Ashley Biden’s diary. It was irrelevant whether they did so legally. Veritas’ journalists’ homes were searched, its sources charged with an interstate federal crime, and Veritas itself is being set up for procuring “stolen” material. If DOJ is successful in its efforts, this would see a double-standard emerge for the New York Times Problem, one liberal standard that allows major new outlets like the Times and Post the freedom to publish stolen documents and one more conservative which restricts that type of publishing when the outlet is more amateur and less well know, like Veritas.

    As James O’Keefe’s lawyer stated a“ journalist’s lawful receipt of material later alleged to be stolen is routine, commonplace, and protected by the First Amendment.” This all has the makings of a clear First Amendment violation by the Biden Administration and in light of the pending case against Julian Assange, also has long-reaching consequences.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    China vs. U.S.: Privacy for Whom?

    September 13, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    The New York Times ran an article on the use of surveillance tech in China. One wishes they would do the same for the U.S.

    The NYT article came to some scary conclusions about autocratic China. Chinese authorities implement facial recognition tech everywhere they can, the police seek to connect electronic activity (making a call) to physical location, biometric information such as fingerprint and DNA is collected on a mass scale, and the government wants to tie together all of this data to build comprehensive profiles on troublesome citizens. The latter is the Holy Grail of surveillance, a single source to know all there is known about a person.

    Should the Times (or China) wish to expand its review of invasive government surveillance technology, particularly those technologies which integrate multiple systems, it need look no further than its hometown police force, the NYPD, and data aggregated into the little-known Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) by the U.S. State Department.

    Prior to 2021, when the New York City Council passed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, citizens were left to piece together the various technologies used to surveil them based on scattered media reports. We know now the NYPD deploys facial recognition surveillance (and can retroactively employ facial recognition against video saved from one of 20,000 cameras), x-ray vansStingraysShotSpotters, and drones, among others, equipment all originally deployed in the Iraq and Afghan wars. But we still don’t know how many of these technologies are used in coordination with each other, and, as in China, that is the key to understanding their real effectiveness.

    POST reporting and other sources offer some clues. The NYPD uses the smartphone-based Domain Awareness System (DAS), “one of the world’s largest networks of cameras, license plate readers, and radiological censors,” all created by Microsoft with video analytics by IBM. DAS also utilizes auto­mated license plate read­er (ALPRs) devices attached to police cars or fixed on poles to capture the license plates of all cars passing by. ALPRs can also capture photo­graphs of cars, along with photos of the driver and passen­gers. This inform­a­tion is uploaded to a data­base where it can be analyzed to study move­ments, asso­ci­ations, and rela­tion­ships. Facial Iden­ti­fic­a­tion can then run photos, includ­ing from data­bases of arrest photos, juven­ile arrest photos of chil­dren as young as 11, and photos connec­ted to handgun permits. The system analyzes an image against those data­bases and gener­ates poten­tial matches in real-time.

    Included in DAS is a translator application which helps officers communicate with community members who do not speak English, while of course also recording and storing their remarks. DAS ties in to ShotSpotter, a technology developed for the Iraq War which pinpoints the sound of gunfire with real-time locations, even when no one calls 911. This technology triangulates where a shooting occurred and alerts police officers to the scene, letting them know relevant information, including the number of shots fired, if the shooter was moving at the time of the incident (e.g., in a vehicle), and the direction of the shooter’s movement. DNA data can also be accessed, so wide-spread collection is a must. One area of activity outlined in Chief of Detect­ives Memo #17 instruc­ts on how to collect “aban­doned” DNA samples from objects such as water bottles, gum, and apple cores. For example, police officers are taught to wait for the suspect to take a drink or smoke, and collect the sample once a suspect throws the cup or butt away.

    What is deployed in New York to aggregate sensor and bio data (including social media monitoring and cell phone locator services, which when tied to facial recognition can identify individuals, say who attend a protest, visit an AIDs clinic, etc.) will no doubt be coming soon to your town as the weapons of war all come home. The next step would be to tie together cities into regional and then state-wide networks. The extent to which inform­a­tion obtained from DAS is shared with federal agen­cies, such as immig­ra­tion author­it­ies, remains unknown. What we do know is the phrase “reasonable expectation of privacy” needs some updating.

    Perhaps the largest known data aggregator within the Federal government is the innocent-sounding Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) administered by the U.S. Department of State. Originally a simple database created in the 1990s to track visa and passport issuances, the CCD is now one of the largest global databases of personal information, growing at a rate of some 35,000 records a day. The system collects data from both foreign visa applicants and American citizens to include but not limited to imagery for use with facial recognition, biometric data such as ten-fingerprint samples, home/business addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, financial information, race, gender, social security and alien registration numbers, passport information, certain Federal benefits, medical information, legal information, education information, family information, travel history, arrests and convictions, and social media indicators.

    The CCD is especially valuable in that it is a database of databases, pulling together information collected elsewhere including abroad, as well as from some commercial databases and public records, and making the aggregate available both for individual search by identifiers like name, social security number or facial recognition, but also for very large scale analytic searches to identify patterns and trends. This massive pool of data is then made accessible to the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Office of Personnel Management, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and “other interagency partners” to include potentially intelligence services. In addition to the State Department, information is regularly input into the CCD by the FBI, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, DEA, ICE, IRS, DOD, Treasury, Health and Human Services (HHS), DHS, Interpol, and U.S. Marshal Service (USMS.)

    Numbers of records held by CCD are not available, with the last public tallies documented in 2016 showing 290 million passport records on American citizens, 25 million records pertaining to American citizens living abroad, 184 million visa records of foreigners, and over 75 million photographs. Some 35,000 records are added to the CCD daily, so do the math given the existing tallies are up to 13 years old. As a point of comparison, Google’s database of landmark photos holds only five million records. The Library of Congress database lists 29 million books.

    The New York Times article about surveillance in China is scary, showing what a vast, interconnected system is capable of doing in exposing a person’s life to scrutiny. The Chinese authorities are, however, realistic about their technological limitations. According to one bidding document, the Ministry of Public Security, China’s top police agency, believed one of their biggest problems was data had not been centralized. That Chinese problem appears well on its way to resolution inside the United States, and that is also quite scary.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Mueller Report, January 6, Mar-a-Lago, and the Abyss

    August 26, 2022 // 12 Comments »

    Dear Merrick Garland:

    One of the problems with the Abyss is you often don’t realize how close you are to falling in until too late in the game. Watching the seemingly endless January 6 hearings and Mar-a-Lago search throw mud against the political wall in hopes something sticks, it is easy to forget how close we came to impeaching or prosecuting a president based on false information, and in that process wrecking our system of rule of law. Remember what was at stake — the President of the United States was accused of being a Russian agent. Then there was a backup plan to get Trump, an indictment for obstruction of justice based on obstructing a case which could only have exonerated him, based on false info as it was. It is all worth revisiting as the January 6 Committee and the FBI contemplate empty but politically juicy criminal referrals.

    As we look at gaps in the January 6 story, older questions remain: why didn’t the Mueller Report say the obvious, that the Steele Dossier and all that flowed from it via Crossfire Hurricane, was based on bogus information created by a politicized FBI, that there was no Russiagate? And why didn’t Trump say the same thing, explicitly (he did deny the allegations) and call the Democrats’ bluff, exposing Russiagate in real time for what it was, a Hillary Clinton paid-for smear exercise that was allowed to get out of control? Imagine the Constitutional issues of an impeachment based on false information, especially if it had been upheld by the Senate or Trump otherwise driven from office?

    Special Counsel Robert Mueller, portrayed as the dogged Javert, presented his report on Trump-Russia ties to the public in April 2019. The report tackled two broad questions: did Trump work with Russia to get elected in 2016, and did Trump obstruct justice as the FBI, the Special Counsel, and Congress sought to investigate the first question? Mueller answered questions upon presenting his report to Congress, and then disappeared from public eye. No Late Night, no memoirs, no high brow interviews.

    As to the first question, Mueller was very clear “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election… the report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.”

    But the second question, obstruction, was left open for many of the hopeful. Mueller wrote in Footnote 1091, “A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgment Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an official’s conduct, distinct from the political remedy of impeachment… Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment.” Mueller also mentioned “the conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Heard that again recently?

    Just about everyone sitting left of political center read that clearly as saying even if Congress could/would not impeach and convict Trump (as the Senate was Republican controlled) they could open a case against him with DOJ that would pend during his term while he had immunity and then whack! come down on Citizen Trump the day he left office. A cardinal rule for prosecutors is to not publicize negative information that does not lead them to indict someone — “the decision does the talking.” James Comey was criticized for doing this with Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Yet most of the Report’s Volume II is just that, descriptions of actions by Trump that allegedly contain elements of obstruction. Some say Mueller wanted to draw a “road map” for a prosecution that would have to take place years separate from his Report.

    Following Mueller was an amazing amount of smoke and noise regarding obstruction, but ultimately Trump was not impeached nor after he left office did anyone (SDNY, DOJ) seek to prosecute him as a private citizen for connections to Russia or obstruction. It all just faded away as impeachment over something-something Ukraine was ginned up in a hurry based on a bogus whistleblower and a non-issue quickly forgotten when the Senate righteously failed to convict Trump. We will never know how close the U.S. got to impeaching Trump for obstruction or a prosecution for the same. We do know the temptation was there.

    What we know now that we did not know then is that there was no Russiagate. All the stuff of the Steele Dossier, the pee tape, the Moscow meetings, Michael Cohen in Prague, was simply made up. Everything investigated by Steele, Mueller, and the FBI never happened. It was all paid for by Clinton operatives for the purpose of smearing Trump during the campaign and after he won, in an attempt to destroy his administration and possibly drive him to resign or be ridded by the 25th Amendment.

    We know know Christopher Steele, paid by the Clinton campaign (after Clinton’s denial, it took a year for congressional investigators to uncover that the dossier was commissioned by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, working for the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, paid through the Perkins Coie law firm), seems to have done no investigative work. Instead, his reputation as a former British intelligence officer was purchased to validate a dossier of lies and then traffic them to the FBI and journalists. One of Steele’s key “sources” is the now-arrested Igor Danchenko, a Russian émigré living in the United States whose trial for perjury is scheduled for this autumn (Steele was introduced to the Russian by Fiona Hill, then of the Brookings Institution. Hill would go on to play a key role in the Ukraine impeachment scam.) Danchenko completely made up most of what he told Steele about Trump-Russian collusion.

    When he did not make up stuff himself, Danchenko was spoon-fed lies by Charles Dolan, a Clinton campaign regular (Fiona Hill introduced Dolan to Danchenko). Ironically, Dolan had close ties not only to the Clintons but to the Russians as well; he and the public relations firm where he worked represented the Russian government and were registered as foreign agents for Russia. Dolan is credited with, among other things, making up the pee tape. Dolan also fed bogus info to Olga Galkina, another Russian who passed information to Danchenko for inclusion in the Dossier. Galkina noted in e-mails that she was expecting Dolan to get her a job in the Hillary administration.

    Mueller mentioned the Steele Dossier in his own Report numerous times, and was well aware the Dossier played a major role in the FBI investigation of Trump. Did Mueller also come to know it was bogus, fake, a fraud, campaign fodder paid for by Clinton? If so, Mueller remained silent and so much for the rule of law. Why? The FBI, internally we now know dubious of many of the Dossier and other claims handed to it by various Clintonites working undercover, stood by its justification for the full investigation. And so much for the rule of law.

    “The fact pattern that John Durham is methodically establishing shows what James Comey and Andrew McCabe likely knew from day one the Steele dossier was politically-driven nonsense created at the behest of the Clinton campaign,” said Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former intelligence chief. “And yet they knowingly ran with its false information to obtain legal process against an American citizen. They defrauded not just a federal court, they defrauded the FBI and the American people.” The 2019 Horowitz Report, a look into the FBI’s conduct by the Justice Department Inspector General, also made clear the FBI knew the dossier was bunk and purposefully lied to the FISA court.

    What would have happened had some entity brought charges against Trump for obstructing an investigation itself based entirely on false information and false pretenses? At the very least all hell would have broken loose in Washington. For example, would an FBI whistleblower have emerged, concerned his beloved Bureau was about to throw its reputation away on a political assassination while the Bureau et large remained mum co-conspirators?

    Would Trump have revealed the mountain of information he for some reason still holds close today? For example, Trump, knowing exactly what he ever did or did not do vis-a-vis Russia, knew the Dossier to be bogus but stuck simply with short-form denials. At what point in a Trump trial would it have come out that nearly 100 percent of the information against him came from the Clinton camp as campaign smear material? Is it even legally possible to be found guilty of obstructing an investigation that could have only found you guilty by employing fraud against you? Obstruction requires a showing of intent and how could Trump intend to obstruct an investigation he knew could not lead to anything because all the basic facts are false?

    A prosecutor need also look deeply to ensure he can prove intent as necessary, that an act — perjury, for example, was done with the intent to mislead and was not simply a mistake. That’s the difference between a mistake, error, misstatement and a true lie, what it was intended to accomplish, a crime. The act is easy to prove, the thought pattern, what was in someone’s head, the mental objective behind an action, much less so. Imagine those issues being debated in a divided America during say a presidential election campaign? Rare is the challenge to peoples’ belief in the rule of law. Was the Deep State ready to go that far?

    That’s the Abyss. Perhaps future historians of January 6 and Mar-a-Lago will tell us how close we really got to it.

    Respectfully,

    Peter

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Hiroshima and Ukraine

    August 9, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    If you think the lies spilling out of Ukraine about casualties and atrocities are shocking, on the August 6, 77th anniversary, of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and death of some 140,000 non-combatants, meet the greatest lie of modern history. The only nation in history to employ a weapon of mass destruction on an epic scale, against an undefended civilian population, shrugs off the significance of an act of immorality.

    Beyond the destruction lies the myth of the atomic bombings, the post-war creation of a mass memory of things that did not happen. This myth has become the underpinning of American policy ever since, and carries forward the horrors of Hiroshima as generations of August 6’s pass.

    The myth, the one kneaded into public consciousness, is that the bombs were dropped out of grudging military necessity, to hasten the end of the war, to avoid a land invasion of Japan, maybe to give the Soviets a good pre-Cold War scare. Nasty work, but such is war. As a result, the attacks need not provoke anything akin to introspection or national reflection. The possibility, however remote, that the bombs were tools of revenge or malice, immoral acts, was defined away. They were merely necessary and because we won in the end, justified. That is the evolved myth, but it was not the way the atomic bombings were first presented to the American people.

    Harry Truman, in his 1945 announcement of the bomb, focused on vengeance, and on the new power to destroy at a button push – “We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city,” said Truman. The plan put into play on August 6 — to force the Japanese government to surrender by making it watch mass casualties of innocents — speaks to a scale of cruelty previously unseen. It was fair; they’d started it after all, and they deserved the pain. Imagine that idea cut loose in Ukraine.

    The need to replace that justification to one of grudging military necessity, a tool for saving lives, grew out of John Hersey’s account of the human suffering in Hiroshima, first published in 1946 in the New Yorker. Owing to wartime censorship, Americans knew little of the ground truth of atomic war, and Hersey’s piece was shocking enough to the public that it required a formal response. Americans’ imagined belief that they’re a decent people needed to be reconciled with the indecency of what had been done. With the Cold War getting underway, and with American leadership fully expecting to obliterate a few Russian cities in the near future, some nuclear philosophical groundwork needed to be laid.

    And so the idea the bombing of Hiroshima was a “necessity” appeared in a 1947 article, signed by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, though actually drafted by McGeorge Bundy (later an architect of the Vietnam War) and James Conant (a scientist who helped build the original bomb). Dr. Conant described the article’s purpose as countering Hersey’s account at the beginning of the Cold War as “You have to get the past straight before you do much to prepare people for the future.”

    The Stimson article was the moment of formal creation of the Hiroshima myth. A historically challengeable argument was recast as unquestionable — drop the bombs or kill off tens of thousands, or maybe it would be millions (the U.S. regularly revised casualty estimates upwards), of American boys in a land invasion of Japan. It became gospel that the Japanese would never have surrendered, though of course surrender was in fact exactly what happened. Nonetheless, such lies were created to buttress a national belief that no moral wrong was committed, and thus there was no need for introspection by the United States.

    No later opportunity to bypass reflection was missed. American presidents from Truman to Bush chose not to visit Hiroshima. The 50th anniversary of the bombing saw a moderately reflective planned exhibit at the Smithsonian turned into a patriotic orgy that only reinforced the “we had no choice” narrative. When Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima in 2016, his spokespeople went out of their way to make it clear he would be looking only forward with ally Japan, the mushroom cloud safely out of sight.

    American foreign policy thus proceeded under a grim calculus that parses acts of violence to conclude some are morally justified simply based on who pulls the trigger, with much of the history of the next 77 years a series of immoral acts allegedly servicing, albeit destructively and imperfectly, the moral imperative of saving lives by killing. America’s decisions on war, torture, rendition, and indefinite detention could be explained in character as the distasteful but necessary actions of fundamentally good people against fundamentally evil ones. Hiroshima set in motion a sweeping, national generalization that if we do it, it is right.

    We are, in fact, able to think we are practically doing the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia… a favor by killing some of them, as we believe we did for tens of thousands of Japanese that might have been lost in a land invasion of their home islands had Hiroshima not be killed for their prospective sins. There is little discussion because debate is largely unnecessary; the myth of Hiroshima says expediency wipes away concerns over morality. And with that neatly tucked away in our conscience, all that is left is pondering where to righteously strike next. Donbas perhaps?

    America’s deliberate targeting of civilians, and its post-facto justifications, are clearly not unique, either in World War II, or in the wars before or since. Other nations, including Japan itself, added their own horror to the books, without remorse. But history’s only use of nuclear weapons holds a significant place in infamy, especially on this August 6. America’s lack of introspection over one of the single most destructive days in the history of human warfare continues, with 21st century consequences.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Negotiations Continue on Guns and Abortions

    August 1, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    We don’t really negotiate much in the U.S. and so we’re bad at it. Even when we are forced to “haggle,” we employ rituals, like the salesperson at a used car dealership “checking with his manager” on our offers, or the dance between real estate agents that goes along with buying a house. Car offers come back from the mysterious manager as impossible, and offers on a house are just refused, no chance to talk because two layers of agents stand in the way. That’s why we cannot find any common ground on abortion and gun control. We do not know how to be reasonable.

    The American style of negotiating is to demand everything and settle for nothing less. So we’re taught to make our first offer the final offer (it works a little different when the issue is simply money, then we ask for an outrageous amount and “bargain down” after the other side offers an equally outrageous small amount. Starting anywhere near your actual price is considered a sign of weakness.) We don’t like gray areas and we don’t like to feel we’ve lost out on something. So being asked to support something on its face reasonable like allowing two people in love living together in a home they co-own to marry means buying into a whole LGBTQIA2+ agenda that somehow includes forcing kids to listen to drag queens read stories aloud about sexually ambitious caterpillars and their same-sex tadpole pals. Seeking restrictions on abortion ends up cruelly forcing rape and incest victims to carry to term.

    We do the same thing in broader swathes, when reporters who misuse pronouns or support the Harry Potter author are not just sidelined or argued with, but canceled, deleted, defunded, disenfranchised, literally thrown down the memory hole to just take their opinion and go away, leaving only your opinion standing. The presumption is even on the most ideological of arguments there is a clear right and wrong only. We have evolved speech to match this mindset, things like “my way or the highway,” “all or nothing,” and “in or out.”

    Back in the day when I worked for the State Department every summer embassies abroad had to ask for funding for summer hires to help us catch up on clerical work. There was only so much money around and not everyone could get all they wanted. At first I did what was standard, ask for ten people knowing I only needed five, with all sorts of silly justifications I had to eventually walk back. One year I played it different. I wrote in detail what five people would do, what would not get done with only four, and why six would be a waste of personnel. That year and the ones that followed were the easiest ever; Washington and I jumped right to the meat of the problem and nobody was forced to belittle the other on the road to negotiating a compromise.

    That’s what did not happen recently in overturning Roe v. Wade. Though Roe was poor jurisprudence and Constitutionally hilarious, it was the product of negotiation. First trimester abortions were basically allowed, second term were generally allowed, and third was more or less up to the states.  Roe produced a workable solution to a very complex problem, uniquely American as it combined religious, moral, and Red and Blue thought into what was often falsely presented as a binary decision — abortion was legal or not. The compromises in Roe were far from perfect or widely accepted, simply the output of a beleaguered Court willing to talk about something the rest of America would not.

    The problem was Roe’s supporters and opponents almost from day one set about trying to take a compromise solution and make it an absolute. States latched on to their freedom to dictate third semester rules by gleefully promoting gory end term abortions where a viable baby was aborted. There can be good medical reasons to consider this, but the issue was not presented that way, it was “a woman’s right.” Same on the other side. Clever legal tricks were deployed so that, sure, you can get a first trimester abortion, only not where clinic regulations and hospital affiliations were manipulated to make it near impossible to meet the standards. As was intended. No one was going to sit back and allow compromise to stand.

    The Court itself is not immune; in combination with the gutting of Roe (another all or nothing type decision) Judge Clarence Thomas opened the door to ending Federal law allowing for same sex marriage. If you can’t have all the rights you should have none of them he seems to be saying to the Left. Specifically, Thomas was threatening Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision that declared married couples had a right to contraception; Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case invalidating sodomy laws and making same-sex sexual activity legal across the country; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case establishing the right of gay couples to marry. How again are those directly related to the hyper-complex issue of abortion?

    More importantly, has anything changed in society that requires a new look, something gone amiss? No, the only thing that has changed is a different side now holds a majority on the Court and wants to run with it. They have no more interest in compromise than the demonstrators massing around Justices’ homes in hopes of harassing them into compliance with the mob, or AOC on TV screaming people are going to die.

    Same for gun control, the other recent Supreme Court decision. In New York State Rifle v. Bruen, the Supreme Court again swung widely. The existing law, basically saying the right to bear arms in the 2A did not automatically mean a right to openly carry arms in public, had been misused by anti-gun states. In Hawaii, for example, every single open carry permit had to be approved personally by the chief of police. Multiple chiefs over a period of recent years found no reason to approve even a single permit and in the past 22 years there have been four open carry permits issued in Hawaii; all or nothing, as if somehow not one applicant in recent memory was capable of safely openly carrying a weapon. So the response from the now-conservative Supreme Court was to do away with provisions governing carrying a weapon. The counter-response from those states who are anti-gun, such as Hawaii, is to promise to jerry-rig their laws with outrageous training requirements or exorbitant fees to somehow get around the Court’s perceived free-for-all, and to cite recent mass shootings (which had nothing to do with handguns or open carry laws) as fear-inducing excuses. Nobody sees any of the middle ground of reality.

    And that is why the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion and gun carry law resolve nothing. In the extreme progressives will simply wait it out until it is 1973 again, and the Court will have turned over to a more liberal group of jurists who will reinstate black to replace white or vice-versa. The real answer on abortion, a rough and robust debate in Congress followed by a set of compromises, or an equally rough and robust debate at the state level, will never come. Americans are not very good at negotiating and so usually pay more at the car dealer than they should. The same problems plagues us on much more serious issues regarding abortion and the Second Amendment and that ends up costing us a lot more.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Was There a Coup Attempt on January 6?

    June 25, 2022 // 10 Comments »

    Was there a coup attempt on January 6? To answer yes, there had to have been some realistic path by which some action on that day could have resulted in Donald Trump remaining president of the United States.

    Watching the show trial on television and the saturation coverage of the same across all media, you could just believe it might have been possible. The TV show is dedicated to convincing a lay audience they came “that close” to tossing away their democracy as some mechanism almost clicked into place to leave Trump in power. It would be easier to take the Dems much more seriously if they would just coolly and in detail outline just how Trump could have stayed in office without the military, who were clearly not taking a partisan stance on January 6. Absent that, you had political theatre and a riot, not a coup attempt. Think back to the 1960s and imagine how occupying the administration building on campus was going to stop the Vietnam War in its tracks. This is politically much ado about not much except Democratic Party 2024 election engineering.

    So here it is in a sentence: Democrats, take two minutes from your hate telethon and tell us how it would have worked. How was Trump going to stay in power?

    The answer is there is no answer, and that should end the matter. Anything that has zero pathway to success is not a coup attempt. To stage a coup you need tanks on the White House lawn, and America again instead transitioned peacefully from one administration to another. That, that hard reality, is what is wholly missing from the Democratic January 6 Committee hearings and all the frou-frou that accompanies them.

    Could Trump have used the Capitol riot to declare martial law and stayed in power? No. The president cannot use the military domestically in a way Congress does not agree with. The “web of laws” Congress enacted to govern the domestic activ­it­ies of the armed forces — includ­ing the Posse Comit­atus Act, which prohib­its the use of federal troops to execute the law without express congres­sional author­iz­a­tion — would stop Trump cold. Accord­ing to well-settled prin­ciples of consti­tu­tional practice, the pres­id­ent cannot act in a way Congress has forbid­den unless the Consti­tu­tion gives the pres­id­ent “conclus­ive and preclus­ive” power over the disputed issue. Martial law has been declared nine times since World War II and, in five instances, was designed to counter resistance to Federal desegregation decrees in the South. Although an uneasy climate of mutual aid has always existed between the military and civilian law enforcement, Department of Defense personnel are limited in what they can do to enforce civil law. They can’t extend a presidential term. So that business about putting tanks on the White House lawn? Somebody has already thought it through.

    The Insurrection Act of 1807 is the one stat­utory excep­tion to the Posse Comit­atus Act that does allow the pres­id­ent to deploy the milit­ary domest­ic­ally, but by precedent they can be used to suppress armed insur­rec­tions or to execute the laws when local or state author­it­ies are unable or unwill­ing to do so. Their role is limited and in no way puts the milit­ary “in charge” or suspends the normal func­tions and author­it­ies of Congress, state legis­latures, or the courts. More importantly, troops in the streets have nothing to do with what votes are already in the ballot boxes. Same for seizing voting machines or ballots; they were already counted by January 6. The president has no authority to simply “suspend” the Constitution.

    Anything Trump might have tried to do required the military to play along, something there is no evidence to support. Just the opposite. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley took a number of steps in the final days to ensure any dramatic orders out of the White House would be confirmed, checked, and likely delayed indefinitely.  While some of Milley’s concerns raise Constitutional issues of their own, particularly his right-to-the-edge-of-the-line actions to interfere with the nuclear chain of command, clearly Milley was in no way priming his forces to participate in any sort of coup.

    Lastly, it is critical to point out how deeply the idea of legal civilian control of the military, and the separation of powers, is drummed into America’s officer corps. Unlike many developing world situations, America has a professional officer corps well-removed from politics, and which sits atop an organization built from the ground up to respond to legal, civilian orders. Like a religion. If Trump had ordered the 82nd Airborne into the streets of Pittsburgh their officers would have most likely said no.

    With martial options well off the board, Trump’s coup would have needed to rely on some sort of legalistic maneuver exploiting America’s complex electoral system. The biggest issue is the 20th Amend­ment, which states unambiguously the pres­id­ent’s term ends after four years. If Trump some­how succeeded in prevent­ing Joe Biden from being inaug­ur­ated, he would still have ceased to be pres­id­ent at noon on Janu­ary 20, and Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, would have become pres­id­ent. There is no mechanism to stop that succession, ironic as it would have been.

    That said, the most quoted Trump plan ran something like this: “Somehow” even though the Electoral College had met on December 14 and decided Biden was to be president, Republican-friendly legislatures in places such as Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would “ignore” the popular vote in their states and appoint their own pro-Trump electors. The law (the 19th century “Electoral Count Act“) does allow legislatures to do this in some never-used extreme situation if states have failed to make a choice by the day the electoral college meets (no matter that date had passed by January 6.) Never mind the details; the idea was to introduce enough chaos into the system to force everyone in the whole of the United States to believe the only solution was to force the election two months after voting into the House where Vice President Pence himself would vote the tie and choose Trump for another term.

    In addition to every other problem with that scenario, Pence had no intention of doing any such thing. Trump maintained “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors” when in fact Pence’s January 6 role was entirely ceremonial, presiding over the House and Senate as they receive and certify the electoral votes conveyed by the states, and then announcing the outcome. Location did not matter; although the riots delayed the final announcement, which still occurred at the Capitol, there is nothing in the Constitution which requires the receipt and certification to take place there. Pence could have met with Congress at a Starbucks in Philadelphia and wrapped up business. Pence, in a 2022 speech, said “I had no right to overturn the election. Frankly, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

    To imagine a dystopian fiction where one state legislature blows past the vote to chose pro-Trump electors is difficult. To imagine several doing so simultaneously to gin up enough Trump electors, and then to imagine the Electoral College changing its mind, is beyond possibility. There was no indication Republicans in these important states considered going along with this anyway. Pennsylvania’s top state Repub indicated his party would follow the law and award electors to the winner of the popular vote. He stated the state legislature “does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election.” Besides, the borderline states all had Democratic governors who would have refused to approve after-the-fact Trump electors.

    To be fair, such goofy schemes were also in the wind in 2016, when Trump was elected and many progressives were looking to little-known Electoral law for some sort of fail-safe. They failed, too. Despite the many claims about how close we came to democracy failing, in reality the complex system proved at least twice in recent years to be made of stiffer stuff.

    There were a few left-overs that were far-removed from January 6, specifically a very unclear plan to weaponize the Department of Justice to declare something, nearly anything, about the election invalid enough to provoke a Supreme Court fight. The details matter and did not really exist, plus the Constitution is very clear the election of the president is primarily a state matter and absent a good reason (as in 2000 where  the problem was one state and urgency begged) needs to be decided at that level. There was also the matter of Attorney General Bill Barr refusing to cooperate with Trump and resigning, followed by his successor refusing to cooperate, followed by threats by a whole raft of senior Justice Department officials threatening to resign. And for the record, there was no incitement by Trump. For all the talk of sedition and coup no charges will ever be filed.

    What is missing most of all from the Great January 6 Democratic Telethon is a statement the system worked. The Constitution held. Officials from Vice President Pence on down did their jobs and stood up for the democratic system. All the fear mongering, all the what-ifs Dems now hope will distract Americans from their own party’s failings at governing — war, inflation, gas prices, gun and crime violence, a growing despair — miss the most important point of all. In the end, no legal mech­an­ism was ever going to allow Trump to continue being pres­id­ent. There was no attempted coup.

    The real problem is the Dems can’t win in 2024 on what they have to offer. Most of their domestic agenda is shot. They have no clear plan for the economy. With all the efforts to prosecute Donald Trump for something (including January 6) having failed, their sole strategy is to make people believe Trump tried to overturn the last election, and having not succeeded, chose the odd path of re-embracing the electoral process. There is room to judge Trump’s actions. But that judgment must not come from a kangaroo court, if you want to talk about preserving the rule of law. We were never even close to losing our democracy. The system worked is the real message echoing from January 6.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    The Specific “Why” Behind Russiagate

    June 4, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    Show of hands? How many still believe Trump and Russia colluded? That Trump is somehow beholden to Russia? That Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with “Russiagate?” Anyone? In the back, Bueller? And we’ll get to the large group chanting “it doesn’t matter” and “but Trump did, too…” in a moment, so stick around.

    Hillary Clinton lied about Russiagate. The latest information shows Hillary paid experts to create two data sets, one purportedly showing Russian cellphones accessing Trump WiFi networks, and another allegedly showing a Trump computer pinging an Alfa Bank server in Russia. The latter was supposedly how Trump communicated incognito with his handlers in Moscow Center. We’ve seen the lipstick on the collar before but how do we know for certain this time?

    Because former Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias on May 18, 2022 during the trial of his former partner, Michael Sussman, swore to it under oath. Special Counsel John Durham brought Sussman to trial for allegedly lying to the FBI, perjury, claiming he was not working for a client when he was actually surreptiously representing the Clinton campaign. Elias admitted he briefed Clinton campaign officials about the fake information, including Hillary herself, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri, and policy director Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security adviser. Elias also personally briefed campaign manager Robby Mook.

    In a bombshell during the Sussman trial, Mook testified Hillary Clinton signed off on the plan to push out the information about the link between Trump and Alfa Bank despite concerns the connection was dubious at best. Mook’s testimony is the first confirmation Clinton was directly involved in the decision to feed the Trump-Alfa story to journalists. It explains some of her later actions.

     

    Here’s the timeline which reveals the specific “why” behind Russiagate:

    — On July 5, 2016, FBI Director James Comey issues a statement clearing Hillary Clinton of any wrong doing in connection with her private email server. This removes what was thought to be her last major hurdle to nomination.

    — Wikileaks releases information taken from the DNC servers which showed, inter alia, the Clinton campaign’s efforts to disparage Bernie Sanders. The leaks break during the Democratic Convention (July 25-28) and threaten to split the party, with the Sanders wing considering walking away from Hillary. This development means crisis time for the Democrats.

    — Clinton’s sign off to begin the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign (as Mook testified to, Smoking Gun One) had to have been in late-July (likely concurrent with the Wikileaks disclosure and the Democratic National Convention 2016, which would have created a sense of panic inside the campaign) because on or about July 28, 2016 CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama on Hillary Clinton’s plan to tie Candidate Trump to Russia as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server. A highly-redacted document states “We’re getting additional insight into Russian activities from [REDACTED]. Cite alleged approved by Hillary Clinton on July 26 a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisers to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by the Russian security service.”

    — The FBI then opened its omnibus investigation into all things Trump-Russia, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016, a Sunday, coincidentally only four days after Clinton initially approved the dirty tricks campaign and as the DNC ended with Clinton’s nomination. Crossfire was ostensibly opened based on information on Trump campaign member George Papadopoulos relayed by an Australian diplomat. Many believe the timing of the investigation suggests it was based on disclosures to the FBI of the Steele Dossier from inside the Clinton campaign, not diplo gossip about Papadopoulos. Many believe a cut out like Sussman, or Steele himself, ran the dossier data to the FBI the same way Sussman ran the Alfa Bank data to the FBI.

    — Brennan may have been personally tipped off by Jake Sullivan, now Joe Biden’s national security advisor and then the most likely “foreign policy adviser” inside the Clinton Campaign running the Russiagate caper, as Brennan as CIA Director briefed Obama on Clinton’s July 26 sign-off (Smoking Gun Two) on the dirty tricks campaign while his own agency would not come to the same conclusions until September 2016, when it forwarded to the FBI an investigative referral about Hillary Clinton approving “a plan concerning U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections in order to distract the public from her email scandal.” If not a tip off, then how did Brennan, always a public Hillary supporter, know before his agency did?

    — Aiming for an October Surprise (i.e., a major, game-changing political event breaking in late October, early enough to influence the election but too late for the opposition to effectively rebut), Sussman then meets with the FBI to lay out the Alfa-Bank and smartphone story on September 18, 2016.

    — The FBI (via fraud) on October 21 obtains the first FISA warrant against a Trump team member.

    — Following a press release by Jake Sullivan, Hillary tweeted on October 31, 2016 Trump had a secret server and it was communicating with Russia (Smoking Gun Three.) She knew her campaign paid to create that information and push it into the public eye via Sussman (to the FBI) and a woman named Laura Seago.

    Seago was an analyst at Fusion GPS, the people who commissioned the infamous Steele dossier on behalf of Clinton. Seago testified at the Sussman trial she, Fusion co-founder Peter Fritsch and another Fusion staffer went to journalist Franklin Foer’s house to pitch the story, telling him it had been vetted by “highly credible computer scientists” who “seemed to think these allegations were credible.” Foer ran the story on October 31, 2016 strongly suggesting the server connecting Trump with Alfa Bank was used as a clandestine communications tool, a smoking gun in the world of espionage. The story stated “the knee was hit in Moscow, the leg kicked in New York.”

    Need it even clearer? Comey cleared Clinton of legal trouble over her emails. The last barrier to nomination was breached. Then Wikileaks disclosures threatened to derail the convention. A distraction was needed. Mid-convention Hillary signed off on the Russiagate dirty tricks campaign per Mook and Brennan and then just days later the FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane based on either flimsy foreign gossip and/or the Clinton paid-for Steele Dossier.

     

    “The trial is the vehicle that Durham is using to help bring out the truth, to tell a story of a political campaign that in two instances pursued information that was totally fabricated or at least misinterpreted with the Alfa Bank connection to Trump and use that disinformation to mislead the American voter,” Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former assistant director for intelligence, said. The Sussman trial shows if nothing else Hillary Clinton herself was personally the start and the end of Russiagate’s false story. As dirty tricks go, this was a helluva tale she sold to a gullible public and ready media.

    But so what? Politicians approve dirt being spread on their opponents all the time. But not outright, fabricated lies, which is fraud/defamation, that’s the short answer. And Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, played a still-hidden role in all of it. And what kind of president would Hillary have made if she was willing to lie like this to get elected? She is all appetite, still active in her party, still a dangerous animal. The spiteful Clinton still maintains Trump has ties to Russia and through surrogates like Brennan kept Russigate alive to defang the Trump administration even after she lost, the real insurrection.

    Twitter has still not removed the Clinton/Sullivan Russiagate tweets from 2016 as “disinformation.” That silence allows the lie a second life, important because of course Trump is running again for president and polls show almost half of Americans still think he colluded with Russia.

    It is easy enough to still say “so what?” at this point. Most people who did not support her concluded long ago Hillary Clinton was a liar and untrustworthy. Her supporters know she’ll never run for public office again, hence the claims that none of this matters, right?

    Wrong. What matters in the end is less the details of Hillary’s lie than that as someone close to being elected as her would lie about such a thing, claiming her opponent was working for Russia against the interests of the United States he would soon swear an oath to. This week’s revelations and the way they fill in “motive” in the timeline are bombshells if you blow the smoke away.

    No doubt in many minds Clinton and the intel community’s manipulations are being measured alongside whatever transgressions are attributable to Trump himself. Those who think that way may have missed the day in kindergarten when everyone else was taught how two wrongs don’t make a right, and in high school where good and bad were shown not to be a zero sum game. Trump did not win to absolve Hillary of her sins. And those who worry about the 2024 election being stolen over simple vote miscounts are thinking way too small.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    What I Missed on Twitter

    May 17, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    After almost a four-year lifetime suspension, Elon Musk let me back on Twitter, with a new account @PeterMVanBuren, and the promise of once again being privy to the world’s opinion. I could again read the “takes” of people smart enough to have a Blue Check (I do not) including those whose points of view I usually don’t share. Here is what I learned.

    Progressives are insane. They have lost their minds. They are certain every event which they do not personally support is the End of Times.

    I started back on Twitter the week after Justice Alito’s draft opinion overthrowing Roe was leaked, and right away was blasted by Blue Anon stuff like “The Supreme Court is a Tool of Tyrants” or “Time for Canada to Offer Gender Asylum to American Women.” But at least those tweets started life in the actual media, where editors wiped some of the spittle away. Tip to Elon: never mind banning people on Twitter, shut down MSDNC, et al. We’ll be fine without their hemophilia of journalism.

    But when I write the collective “we” I must exclude the once-sentient Lawrence Tribe (@tribelaw) who could not be more sure of himself if he saw the code behind the Matrix. He tweeted: “Three-fifths of the Supreme Court justices who joined that Alito abomination were nominated by a serial abuser of women, Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.9 million votes and were confirmed by Senators representing a minority of the U.S. population.” The Founders must have been drunk when they wrote Article I!

    Tribe speaks for his generation, which at least on Twitter has a longing for Hillary that would border further on the creepy only if they started posting Photoshopped images of her in a Princess Leia bikini. Many Twitter celebrities re-cycle memes along the lines of “What if she’d won?” with some clever image of Mrs. Clinton smirking that “I told you so” look that so endeared her to non-deplorable people. She is the behind-the-scenes smiter of Trump in one wrinkled body.

    There was no actual Tweet saying President Hillary would have raised Ruth Bader Ginsberg from the dead and reappointed her to the court, but it was implied. David Weissman (@davidmweissman) felt the need to write “Since the Clintons are trending, I will say that after learning the truth about Hillary Clinton and seeing how right she was about everything, I stood with her. Even a few years later, I continue standing with the Clinton family.” Mollie Katzen (@MollieKatzen) “Imagine where we’d be now had more people listened to Anita Hill, Hillary Clinton, and Christine Blasey Ford.”

    To be honest, I had to look up that last name. Ford was the woman who testified a clothed Brett Kavanaugh laid on top of her in 1982 and would then go all Handmaiden’s Tale on the Supreme Court because she could just tell. As you read these Tweets, patterns like that emerge. If a handy glossary existed for conservatives, it would include sketch bios of Ford, RGB, and that one woman artist with the unibrow, and entries for popular vote, electoral college (why sucks) and fan fiction about a 45 member Supreme Court to help understand what all the Tweets are about. some topics, like Michael Cohen, need their own glossary for terms like fixer, Fredo, and consigliere.

    But things only got worse, much worse, when I got deeper into the personal Twitter accounts of the Blue Checks (the term sounds like a Dr. Who villainous force,) the places where they usually slither about without an editor and say what they really think. What they really think is that America is almost cooked and done. They imagine we just barely survived the Trump years without putting Beelzebub on our coins, and face the likely prospect of Candidate Trump returning to the White House with the anticipation of a colonoscopy done by a doctor nicknamed “knuckles.” Look:

    Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) “Are we up to democracy? …I worry we are entering the darkest period.”

    Malcolm Nance (@MalcolmNance) “WARNING: 62 days before 1/6 I warned that Trump would start a political/paramilitary insurgency to seize American democracy. It has begun.”

    Rob Reiner (@robreiner) “The reason Republican lawmakers are refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 Committee couldn’t be more obvious. They were part of the Seditious Conspiracy to violently overthrow the Government. Period.”

    Progressives seem to have their own vocabulary, things like ending an emphatic Tweet with Period.  End of Matter. Full stop. They like to say they are standing with someone or something a lot. The only historical events they know are Munich, the Reichstag fire, and Weimer.

    Tweetmaster Reiner later managed to get three issues into one Tweet (economy of prose is prized on Twitter and when shouting on a street corner wearing only a shower curtain) saying “There is only one way to save a woman’s right to choose, our Democracy, and our Planet. Vote for Democrats.” He also wrote “You cannot reason with a Trump supporter. They believe a Lying Criminal who doesn’t give a flying f*** about them was sent to them by God. Don’t try to reason. Just Vote. Vote like our Democracy depends on it. Because it does. It couldn’t be more simple. A vote for Republicans is a vote to destroy Democracy.”

    But how will Trump pull this off? His last coup resulted in exactly nothing happening except him breaking up with Mike Pence right before prom. Twitter knows:

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat (@ruthbenghiat) “I’ve been warning Americans for months that the GOP is replenishing its political ranks with criminals who have the skill set and character to support autocratic rule. Fascists in Italy and Germany brought thugs and murderers into party and state bureaucracy.” Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) has the nuts and bolts figured out “Republicans in Michigan have replaced election officials who certified Joe Biden’s win.” Anyway, you heard it here first, says Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) “If (when?) Trump steals or tries to steal the 2024 election, don’t say we weren’t given plenty of advance warning that it was coming.”

    Spending time on Twitter convinces you journalism today is basically cramped somewhere between bad opinion making and simple propaganda. It mostly fails the most basic test of being interesting. That should finish it off as a profession in a couple of years, and we can all watch it slide into the sea on Twitter.

    And then out of nowhere came a moment of clarity from none other than CNN’s master journo Jim Acosta (@Acosta) who for no reason whatsoever felt the need to write “Ran into an Afghan refugee in the elevator today. He was delivering groceries. Didn’t know which buttons to push so I helped. Must have been new. As he got off the elevator, he thanked me and said ‘I am Afghan.’ I said good luck and welcome to America. He smiled. He’s on his way.” So there’s that. Bill Kristol tweeting for blood in what he hopes is the Google dialect of Ukrainian was a close second.

    Four years for me without Twitter was a long time. I am glad I am back, and feel smarter already because all of the Tweets above came in only one afternoon. Twitter is once again my guide, and I look forward to sniffing some old airplane glue and joining in.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Dear Elon Musk:

    May 7, 2022 // Comments Off on Dear Elon Musk:

    Dear Elon:

    Big fan. I cheered to finally see an African-American like yourself rising to the top, owning one of America’s largest media companies, Twitter. I’m also a big fan of free speech, which is why I am writing to you to ask that my lifetime ban on Twitter be rescinded.

    See in August 2018, Twitter banned me for life for a tweet which “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.” I was on Twitter telling some journalists they had allowed the government to lie to them about the Iraq war. I said I once worked for the U.S. State Department, and I was one of the ones who lied to them. It was actually part of my job to lie to them, to give them the false impression our reconstruction programs in Iraq were coming along just nicely. I could name several journalists I lied to directly but what’s the point in that? They all still have jobs and Twitter accounts and it’s not exactly a secret what they wrote about the reconstruction programs was false and wrong. I told the truth on Twitter and lost my account.

    The truth is one night on Twitter I was explaining about my lies, a kind of atonement, and several journalists ganged up on me to begin criticizing my writing and the work that I have done as a journalist since leaving the government. It was all kind of rude (one said I was a “garbage human being” and another claimed I was a Russian stooge) but within the schoolyard boundaries of the scrappier side of Twitter.

    It never occurred to me to report them for harassment or bullying. I happened to have the television on with the Walking Dead playing in the background and I cranked off a tweet, as many of us do, that I’m not particularly proud of. I said to one of the pack “I hope a MAGA zombie eats your face.” You can read all my offending tweets hereWithin about five minutes of posting I was given a lifetime ban on Twitter. It says on my Wikipedia page by someone who continually hacks it, that I was removed from Twitter for threatening someone or something along those lines.

    Anyway I can’t help but thinking my real lifetime ban had something to do with the fact that I had previously promoted free-speech without boundaries on Twitter and other social media. Yes, yes, I’m aware the First Amendment does not cover social media, that these are private companies, but like you I believe they play such an enormous role in the tapestry of our speech that they deserve the protections of the 1A. I understand Jefferson and Madison wrote the Bill of Rights long before the Internet, and think they would be on board with expanding the 1A to companies that have grown to be more powerful censors than the government ever could be. BTW, that’s U now, LOL.

    I hasten to add that there is no such thing as MAGA zombies and so my tweeted threat to have one of them eat someone’s face was actually a bit of a jest. You see since there are no zombies the threat was not real, sarcasm at worst, and so I’m hoping that you can forgive me where are your predecessor @jack was unable to do so. He never even answered my inquiries.

    To be fully honest, what bothers me is not the scolding per se, or (most of the time) the inability to tweet. Yeah, I know, it can be a big time sink. I think the thing that bugs me is I feel I was rounded up and sent off because I wrote true things, albeit critical things, about the media on what they consider their turf, your new acquisition, Twitter. I obviously meant no one harm with the silly zombie remark, but it was used as a very thin excuse to send me down the Memory Hole (you remember, from Orwell’s 1984, a place where facts and ideas could be disappeared in service to the powers that be.)

    My cancellation took place late on a Friday night, which leads me to wonder how the journalist I was engaging got through to Twitter’s censoring staff so quickly. I certainly don’t have that access. It felt kind of more like a set up than a gatekeeper protecting someone against whatever hate speech is (and you know there is no such crime as hate speech, and whatever people insist on calling “hate speech,” including things like the N-word, is fully protected by the First Amendment.) So what’s up with the lifetime ban for one tweet? It seems pretty heavy. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind when I say it did not feel fair.

    I don’t think anyone needs protecting from my ideas, but I guess I can figure out why they’d be frightening to charlatans, pols, and grifters. That’s why I guess a journalist whose livelihood depends on the 1A wrote to you “for democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”  Robert Reich, veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, argued you’re putting us on a fast track to fascism. He thinks an uncontrolled Internet is “​​the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron.” On of your other critics nearly exceeded Twitter’s character limit writing “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”  While I am not fully comfortable with billionaires deciding the fate of free speech, they’re downright terrified of you, Elon. If you want to scare them more, reinstating me (and yeah, Trump, too) would be excellent for that purpose.

    It’s funny/not funny because I have experienced their version of the Internet. When I was in Iran, the government there blocked Twitter and many other sites, effectively deciding for an entire nation what they cannot read. In America, Twitter decides for an entire nation what they cannot read. It matters little whose hand is on the switch: government or corporate, the end result is the same. This is the America I always feared I’d see, where Americans not just tolerate, but demand censorship.

    Now if you really want to shake things up (you’re that kinda guy, right?) just flat-out acknowledge the interplay between the First Amendment and corporations like your Twitter is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated. The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness. The rules are their, er, your rules, and so we see the permanent banning of a president for whom some 70 million Americans voted from tweeting to his 88 million followers (ironically the courts earlier claimed it was unconstitutional for the president to block those who wanted to follow him.) Then there was that game-changing ban on news about Hunter Biden just ahead of the election. Let someone take Twitter to the Supreme Court and see if they’ll extend the 1A in some form to the new public square. The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been clearer. It represents a stunning centralization of power.

    Speech in America is an inalienable right, and runs as deep into our free society as any idea can. Thomas Jefferson wrote it flowed directly from his idea of a Creator, which we understand today as less that free speech is heaven-sent so much as it is something that exists above government. And so the argument the First Amendment applies only to the government and not to private platforms like Twitter is both true and irrelevant—and the latter is more important.

    So Elon, thank you very much for your consideration. I realize as a billionaire super villain you have many things on your mind but I hope you find time to at least delegate this to someone in hopes that they could reinstate me to Twitter to prove a point. The old Twitter sold censorship as a product, a dissent-free zone for libs. You can do something important freeing ideas, and I’d like to be a part of that.

    Love, Peter

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    New Durham Finding Reveals CIA Info on Michael Sussman, Alfa Bank/Yota Phone

    April 23, 2022 // 5 Comments »

     

    If you still dismiss “Russiagate,” the Dossier, Alfa Bank, and the Yota Russian smartphone events surrounding Donald Trump, the 2016 campaign, and the Mueller investigation, you may want a second cup of coffee. The latest filing by Special Consul Robert Durham suggests the rabbit hole goes a bit deeper. I hate to sound like Rachel Maddow, but it is just that much more likely the walls are closing in.

    Durham filed a new, 34-page motion on April 15, 2022, in answer to defendant Michael Sussman’s request to dismiss the case against him. Durham accused Sussmann of lying to the FBI about his working for the Clinton Campaign while he was trying to sell the Bureau on opening an investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, focusing on alleged Internet pings between a Trump server and the Russian Alfa Bank. Sussmann’s claims included a number of pings against Trump Tower WiFi and later White House WiFi by a Russian-made Yota cellphone. Sussmann’s motion basically called Durham case garbage, which pressed Durham to explain to the court why the case needed to proceed, hence the new motion (the court subsequently ruled against Sussmann and the trial will commence soon.)

    But as he has done in the past, Durham used the required motion filing as a chance to tip over a few of the cards he is holding. It looks like aces.

    Durham previously established CIA knew about what we’ll call “Russiagate” as of at least July 2016 and briefed President Obama on the same only five days before the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane full-spectrum investigation into Trump/Russia began. The new filing adds the next chapter. Sussmann met with unknown persons at CIA to tell them a Russian Yota cellphone seemed to be following Trump around, attempting to log into the WiFi network wherever he was. This included Trump Tower and later the White House. At January and February 2017 CIA meetings Sussmann claimed the phone “appeared” in April 2016 (coincidentally right around the time the DNC hack supposedly took place) and even “appeared with Trump in Michigan” when he was interviewing a future Cabinet secretary. Sussmann went on to disingenuously claim to CIA the Yota smartphone model used is often gifted to Russian officials. He also claimed his client was a Republican.

    The problem was the information Sussmann passed to the FBI was fake. Phony. Made -up. Fabricated, much like the Dossier. CIA “concluded in early 2017 Russian Bank-1 data [Alfa] and Russian Phone Provider-1 [Yota] data was not “‘technically plausible,’ did not ‘withstand technical scrutiny,’ ‘contained gaps,’ ‘conflicted with [itself]’ and was ‘user created and not machine/tool generated.’” Reuters‘ own tech people also said they could not authenticate the data and passed on the story. While CIA declined to open an investigation based on such data, the FBI did, leaving open additional questions on whether or not the FBI was technically unschooled, or in on the greater conspiracy.

    This new information also begs the question of why Robert Mueller or DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not ask why the FBI was so easily fooled when their cousins across the river (and some journalists) saw through the grift. The FBI were warned — on September 7, 2016 the CIA sent FBI Director James Comey and Peter Strzok a warning Hillary Clinton approved a plan to tie Trump to Russia to distract from her email scandal. Then only 12 days later Sussmann approached the FBI, who despite the heads-up, took the hook. About a month later the courts issued the first FISA warrant. Hillary Clinton tweeted “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”

    This would also raise questions about Michael Sussmann and his role representing the Democratic National Committee and the DNC server hack. Careful research by retired NSA persons suggested the server was accessed from inside the U.S., not hacked from Russia as widely alleged. If there is truth to that, would the same people who fabricated complex DNS and WiFi log data (i.e., good enough to fool the FBI) have been capable of making a local hack look international? One hates to go down the conspiracy road, but is Julian Assange, whose Wikileaks released some of the DNC emails, imprisoned in part because he could prove his source for the hacked emails was not Russian, as he has claimed?

    Who knows, right? Maybe Researcher-2 (identified elsewhere as David Dagon of Georgia Tech, whose research focus is Botnets.) Dagon previously bragged of using a “bag of tricks” to prove Trump-Russia collusion.) Durham granted Researcher-2 immunity to “uncover otherwise-unavailable facts underlying the opposition research project.” Durham also granted immunity to someone at Fusion GPS, the front organization that moved money from the DNC/Clinton Campaign to both Dossier author Christopher Steele and Alfa/Yota pitchman Michael Sussmann. The Fusion person is likely Laura Seago. Seago helped sell the fake Alfa data to Slate.

    Earlier articles established the Alfa/Yota conspiracy mirrored the Dossier conspiracy in style, funding, and execution. This new information from Durham adds now as with the Dossier, the Alfa/Yota data was faked. The commonalities between the two as yet legally unlinked conspiracies strongly suggests a common backstage element. We spoke with a former U.S. intelligence officer about what would be involved in managing an operation this size, Alfa, Yota, Dossier, etc., liaison with the FBI, all the media planted bells and whistles, but just the admin side, not the actual spy work. She said it would be a very large job, likely bigger than many overseas stations would take on, something that would need its own working group in Washington. She said keeping the finances clean but covert alone would be a near full-time job.

    So what does it all mean? Special Counsel Durham is revealing a relentless effort by Democrats to sell the Russia collusion narrative across the U.S. government from CIA to the FBI, to the point where in the absence of derogatory information they created it. The Democrats then enlisted (to date…) Christopher Steele and Michael Sussman to peddle the false information across Washington in hopes of stirring someone in the intelligence community to turn their vast resources on Trump to find actual dirt. The whole venture failed in the initial sense — Trump was elected and completed his term — but large numbers of Americans still believe in whole or in part Trump is somehow allied with the Russians, a hangover likely to last into the next election.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Tradecraft: Why Spies Knew the Hunter Biden Emails Were Not Russia Disinfo

    April 12, 2022 // Comments Off on Tradecraft: Why Spies Knew the Hunter Biden Emails Were Not Russia Disinfo

    Hunter Biden just paid over a million dollars in back taxes for income he never claimed, but which was found in his emails, the ones from his laptop that had been dismissed by the MSM as Russian disinformation.

    The FBI is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation into Hunter’s business activities based on the contents of the laptop. It was only the FBI’s use of the laptop as evidence which finally forced the New York Times this month to admit what it said was bull last year.

    See, as the NY Post broke the story that a laptop full of Hunter Biden’s files indicated a potential pay-for-play scenario involving then-candidate Joe Biden just ahead of the 2020 presidential election, almost in real time more than 50 former senior intelligence officials signed a letter claiming the emails “have all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” The signers said their national security experience made them “deeply suspicious the Russian government played a significant role in this case. If we are right this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.”

    The letter played off prejudices from 2016 that the Russians manipulated an American election. In fact, most of the letter’s signatories — James Clapper and John Brennan among them — had played key roles in misdirecting public opinion around the DNC server hack and later the whole of Russiagate. In the hands of the MSM the meme quickly morphed into “the laptop is fake, ignore it.” Twitter and Facebook quickly banned all mentions of the laptop, and the story disappeared in the MSM. Until now.

    In my 24-year State Department career I was exposed to foreign disinformation and as a journalist today I read the Hunter Biden emails. There is no way experienced intelligence officers could have mistaken the contents of the Biden laptop for fake, produced, material.

    The most glaring reason is most of the important emails could be verified by simply contacting the recipient and asking him if the message was real. Disinfo at this level of sophistication would never be so simple to disprove.

    In addition, the laptop contents were about 80 percent garbage and maybe 20 percent useful (dirty) information, a huge waste of time if you are trying to move your adversary to act in a certain way. Such an overbearing amount of non-actionable material also risks burying the good stuff, and if this is disinfo you want your adversary to find the good stuff. It is also expensive to produce information that has no take attached to it, and fake info of any kind is at risk of discovery, blowing the whole operation. Lastly, nothing on the laptop was a smoking gun. You need the disinfo to lead fairly directly to some sort of actionable conclusion, a smoking gun, or your cleverness will be wasted.

    Compare the alleged Russian disinfo of the Biden laptop to the real disinfo of the Christopher Steele “Russiagate” Dossier. To begin, Steele pastes fake classified markings on his document. That signals amateur work to the pros but causes the media to salivate, Steele’s goal (always remember who your target is, who you are trying to fool.) Steele never names his sources to prevent verification by the media (a major tell.) Steele also finds a way to push the important info up front, in his case a Summary. If Biden’s laptop was disinfo, the makers could have included an Index, or Note to Self where “Hunter” called out the good stuff. Or maybe even a fake email doing the same. Steele’s dossier is also concise, 35 typed pages. Hunter’s laptop is a pack rat’s nightmare of jumbled stuff, thousands of pages, receipts, info on cam girls, and the like.

    But the real give away is who was out there peddling the info/disinfo. Ideally you want the stuff to come from the most reliable source you can find to give it credibility. Steele, as a professional intelligence officer, used multiple, overlapping sources, including himself. The list included leaks to a selected patsy journalists, the State Department, John McCain, and even the Department of Justice (FBI and DOJ officials.) Steele not only planted the disinfo, he figured out a way to create “buzz” around it. Textbook work.

    For the Biden laptop, it is understood the whole messy thing was shopped all across the MSM by Rudy Giuliani, about the most mistrusted man available for the purpose. The source must be reputable for the gag to work and there is no way a full-spectrum Russian disinformation operation would use Rudy. That alone should have ended the discussion among those 50 letter signing intelligence officials.

    Lastly, everything on the laptop was verifiable in an hour or two by an organization like the NSA. They could have had an intern verify the emails, bank statements, wire transfers, etc. using about half of the capabilities Edward Snowden revealed they have. James Clapper and John Brennan knew this, and knew equally well the media, if they picked up the story at all, would not ask any such questions, and the NSA, et al, would never weigh in. It would be our little secret.

    So we’ll call that letter claiming the Biden emails were potential Russian disinfo a lie, a fabrication, made-up, fake stuff designed to influence an election. That’s disinformation by any definition, and evidence the only disinformation op run in 2020 was run against the American voters by their own intelligence community working with the media and on behalf of the Democrats. Almost half of Americans now believe Trump would have won a second term if the media had fully reported on the laptop’s revelations, so it worked. You know some of its hallmarks now, so keep a sharp eye out in 2024.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Russiagate: The Smoking Gun, Part II

    April 1, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    Part I of this article showed a conspiracy to smear Donald Trump with false allegations of collusion with Russia took place, with Hillary Clinton at its head. Part II today will show the FBI was an active participant in the conspiracy to destroy Trump. The facts are not in dispute. We are left only to decide if the FBI acted incompetently and unprofessionally, or as part of a conspiracy.

    The first part of the smoking gun may have been hiding in plain sight for some time now. In June 2018 Inspector General for the Department of Justice Michael Horowitz released his report on the FBI’s Clinton email investigation, including FBI Director Comey’s drafting of a press release announcing no prosecution for Clinton, written before the full investigation was even complete. In a damning passage, Horowitz found it was “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors… for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same.”

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Comey’s boss, is criticized for meeting privately with Bill Clinton as the FBI investigation into Hillary unfolded. “Lynch’s failure to recognize the appearance problem… and to take action to cut the visit short was an error in judgment.” Lynch then doubled-down, refusing to recuse herself from the Clinton case, creating “public confusion.”

    The report also criticizes FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts disparaging Trump before moving from the Clinton email to the Russiagate investigation. Those texts sowed public doubt about the investigation, including one exchange that read, “Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Another Strzok document stated “we know foreign actors obtained access to some Clinton emails, including at least one secret message,” thought that was never prosecuted.

    Page and Strzok also discussed cutting back the number of investigators present for Clinton’s in-person interview in light of the fact she might soon be president, and thus their new boss. Someone identified only as Agent One went on to refer to Clinton as “the President” and in a message told a friend “I’m with her.” The FBI also allowed Clinton’s lawyers to attend her interview, even though they were also witnesses to  possible crimes committed by Clinton.

    If that does not add up to a smoking gun that the FBI conspired pre-dossier to help Hillary Clinton, how about this?

    Following Hillary’s exoneration over her emails and mishandling of classified information, the FBI launched its Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Trump-Russia, based in whole or large part on the infamous Christopher Steele dossier. The public now knows the dossier was paid for and stocked with falsehoods by the Clinton campaign. The unanswered questions from that investigation themselves comprise a second smoking gun of FBI conspiracy. For example:

    — Why did the FBI not inquire into Steele’s sources and methods, which would have quickly revealed the information was wholly false? Why was the FBI unable to discover Steele (and later, Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann, who gave false info to the FBI about Trump and Alfa Bank) were double agents working for and paid by the Clinton campaign?

    — When the FBI found the target of its first FISA warrant out of the dossier, Carter Page, was actually a paid CIA asset, why did they hide this information from the FISA court instead of dropping Page? Why did this not cause them to question the credibility of Steele, a master spy who couldn’t even identify his source was actually a CIA asset? Steele claimed the Russians offered Page an insanely huge bribe, billions of dollars, to end U.S. sanctions if Trump became president. Page clearly could never have played a significant role in ending sanctions. Why did the FBI find those statements credible enough to pursue the warrant?

    — Why did the FBI cite an open-source press article by Michael Isikoff claiming Trump had Russian ties as part of its FISA warrant application against Page without finding out who Isikoff’s source was? The source of course was Christopher Steele, who was interviewed in a hotel room booked by Fusion GPS who was paid by Clinton. The FBI nonetheless claimed an article from Yahoo! corroborated the dossier, a cite unlikely to pass muster on an undergrad term paper. Were they really fooled?

    — Why did the FBI not discover the dossier’s false claim Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague to meet with Russians? Robert Mueller was able to conclusively dismiss the report. Confirming Cohen in Prague would have been a cornerstone of the FBI’s larger case, but the matter was left open until Mueller.

    — Why did the FBI not question Sussmann about the source of his DNS data, some of which came directly from inside the White House? Why would a private citizen have such information?

    — When Sussmann, claiming to be a concerned citizen with White House DNS data, first approached the FBI, why was he assigned to meet with the FBI’s General Counsel, its lawyer, and not a case agent? Was something other than his information, such possibly FBI collusion with fraud, being validated?

    — Why was the CIA investigation referral saying Hillary was behind Russiagate ignored by the FBI? The memo was addressed to Director James Comey, who claims he has no knowledge of it, and Peter Strzok, who should have been the action officer but did nothing?

    — Why did Kevin Brock, the FBI’s former intelligence chief, say “The fact pattern that John Durham is methodically establishing shows what James Comey and Andrew McCabe likely knew from day one, that the Steele dossier was politically-driven nonsense created at the behest of the Clinton campaign. And yet they knowingly ran with its false information.”

    — Despite the investigation being run by the FBI, why was it CIA Director John Brennan who briefed (LINK) Obama on the Hillary connection in July 2016 and not Comey?

    If any of those questions seem kind of obvious, that is the point. The cover stories only had to hold for a short time, enough to infect the media, enough to make things seem plausible for the FBI. Team Clinton and its co-conspirators were so certain they would win the election they felt none of their tricks needed to stay hidden much past victory. The story is waist-deep rotten.

    At this point you can believe the multiple ops paid for and run by Clinton people were uncoordinated events, or that they were part of the broad campaign Hillary was an active participant in, and about which John Brennan warned Barack Obama, and which the CIA warned the FBI, not knowing they were in on it. You can believe the FBI acted incompetently and unprofessionally (yet consistently, no breaks went Trump’s way), or as part of a conspiracy.

    What you cannot do any more is pretend this did not happen, and that the person most involved came close to being elected president because of it. If you worry about democracy, worry about that.


    In preparing this article, it was fascinating to review the many shameful articles written in 2016 and 2017, the crazy days when every hinted rumor was worth a Breaking! designator. But one piece stood out, from Forbes in 2017. Hillary denied paying for the dossier, and the truth — the campaign paid the law firm Perkins and Coie who paid Fusion GPS who paid Orbis who paid Steele — was not known. The Forbes journalist wrote “If ordered and paid for by Hillary Clinton associates, Russia Gate is turned on its head as collusion between Clinton operatives (not Trump’s) and Russian intelligence. Russia Gate becomes Hillary Gate.” The article went on to say how James Comey refused to comment on Fusion GPS and the dossier in May 2017. Comey by then knew the real story and remained silent, even as the press was still running with the idea the dossier had been paid for by anonymous Democratic donors. If only we’d known.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Liz Cheney and Her 14th Amendment Comedy Show

    February 5, 2022 // 9 Comments »

     

    The Democrats’ newest champion (Michael Avenatti did not return calls) Rep. Liz Cheney just about said the quiet part out loud: her January 6 Committee has the singular goal of pre-defeating Trump ahead of any voting in 2024. As it becomes clearer the Committee is failing in its propaganda campaign to get Republican Party powerbrokers to dump Trump, and as it is near crystalline the Committee will not find evidence leading to formal prosecution of Trump for sedition, treason, or insurrection, they are getting desperate. The latest? Purposefully misinterpreting an obscure phrase from a post-Civil War Constitutional amendment.

    Cheney said “I think one of the really important things that our committee has to do is lay these facts out for the American people, so that they inform us in terms of our legislative activity going forward.” Cheney is talking about one phrase from the 14th Amendment, no doubt presented to her by an intern applying a Control + F search for “insurrection” to an online text of the Constitution. This is a familiar strategy for the Democrats, having purposefully taken phrases out of context from the 25th Amendment and the Emoluments Clause trying to force Trump from office for four years.

    While the 14th Amendment was written primarily to grant citizenship and rights to freed slaves, it also created the “equal protection clause” which cornerstoned landmark cases including Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, and Bush v. Gore. But tucked away in Section 3 was a bit of post-civil war housekeeping, the phrase “No person shall hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” The 14th also provides for Congress to enforce the provisions via legislation, and Cheney thinks that’s the key to Democratic success. Seriously.

    The intent in 1868 was to prevent Confederate leaders from returning to power. But the January 6 Committee is in 2022 so lacking in substantive content that they are considering some sort of legislation labeling Trump an insurrectionist, and thus prohibiting him from taking office again, even if he were to win the election. Cheney is not alone; Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin has also called the use of the 14th a “live proposition.”

    Section 3 does not have a particularly glorious history. Reconstruction Era prosecutors brought civil actions in court to oust officials linked to the confederacy, and Congress in some cases took action to refuse to seat Members. Section 3 was last used in 1919 against a socialist congressman accused of having given aid and comfort to Germany during WWI. The congressman was eventually seated after the Supreme Court threw out his espionage conviction. Currently the only criminal punishment left on the books dates to 1870 and makes it a misdemeanor to run for office when ineligible to do so under Section 3. So while the Constitution does specifically refer to legislative action by Congress as a way to enforce Section 3, precedent clearly shows due process and litigation would step in. Imagine Cheney or anyone trying to label someone who controls the loyalty of roughly 50 percent of Americans an insurrectionist through a show of hands.

    Such legislation would also have to pass both houses and be signed by the president, something beyond a non-starter. The question of whether Section 3 is actually an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder is also not fully resolved. A Bill of Attainder in simple terms is a piece of law designed solely to punish one person, an argument the Democrats of 1868 themselves used to try and prevent Section 3 from even becoming part of the Constitution. The question was left largely unsettled as old Confederates died off and the use of Section 3 effectively ended in 1919 except in the fevered brains of people like Cheney.

    There is also the open question of whether use of Section 3 against Trump would represent an unconstitutional ex post facto law. The drafters of Section 3 were clear their intent was precautionary, looking not to punish Confederates for the past but to prevent them from taking power again in the future. It was not a measure of punishment, but a measure of self-defense, and the bar was set very high: participating in actual warfare against the United States that took the lives of millions in pursuit of breaking up the Union. In Trump’s case, given that his offense would be being voted an insurrectionist over a year after making a speech to keep him from the White House, it would be very hard not to see it as punishment.

    More problems? Section 3 prohibits someone from taking office, not from running for election. Imagine Trump conducting a three year campaign, winning the race, and then being prohibited from taking office over a clever interpretation of some words from 1868 clearly meant for a wholly different purpose.

    The use of the 14th Amendment to end Trump is the kind of thing non-experts with too much Google time can convince themselves is true. Given that there is no realistic possibility of preventing Trump from taking office in 2024 under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, what is this all about? Most superficially it is a chance for a trog like Liz Cheney to get on TV spouting some quasi-legalistic garbage. It will be diluted through CNN as “Trump’s election is barred by the Constitution” and “Trump is in violation of democracy” and repurposed into Lincoln Project Facebook memes.

    But more substantively, silliness like Cheney’s is a sign of increasing desperation by the Democrats, three full years before the election. Increasingly sure they will lose at the ballot box, the Dems strategy is to prevent Trump from ever reaching the ballot box. Failing to be able to prosecute him, they have only left to persecute him, across tax courts in New York, the January 6 Committee, endless manhunts for Capitol trespassers, and the like. For a party that cries continuously that democracy is in danger, the Democrats act increasingly like thugs in a banana republic trying to bring down their opponents extra-electorally.

    Political prosecutions are not new in America. Political pogroms are. It is sad to watch the Democratic Party embrace such third-world practices as policy.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Seeing the Future: The 2024 Presidential Campaign

    December 13, 2021 // 3 Comments »


     
    I punched Elon Musk in the nose. I figured, why not, he’s a jerk. Little did I know my punch would dislodge a chunk of artisanal tofu he was in the process of choking on and save his life. To say thanks, he offered to pay for a private Spice Girls reunion (minus Posh) for me on the next Space X flight. I hesitated, and he smiled wickedly and said “Or you could be the first man to test my time machine…”

    I landed right in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign.

    It had been a hard run for the Democrats. After a harrowing primary season with several hundred candidates confused voters, the Party simply started listing them on the ballots as the black one, the gender-ambiguous one, Beto, the guy who looked like Beto but was from Ohio, and no-chance Governors I, II, and III. Even this proved too much, and in the end Democrats nominated a visibly intubated Joe Biden for a second term. There was no attempt to hide the fact that Joe might be technically dead, with various medical devices animating him. Dr. Jill would always be at his side and catching her lips moving while Joe “talked” was a popular Tik-Tok meme. Kamala was listed for legal purposes as the VP but made no public appearances. It was unclear she still lived in North America.

    Biden’s problems had accumulated over the last three years like a bad Sunday night snowfall. The Biden infrastructure plan, once called Build Back Better and priced at $3.5 trillion, had been ground down after years of debate to just offering free parking at some sporting events. A Dem plan to turn chanting of “F**k Joe Biden” into a joke fake Tindr profile proved embarrassing, as did suggesting America’s next aircraft carrier be named the USS George Floyd. Finally, after the Great 2022 Midterm Massacre, the Democrats gave up on actual legislation and stuck entirely to renaming Civil War memorials after modern day trans heroes. The final blow to Democratic power came when the Republican majority beat up the last Democratic senators in the cafeteria and stole their lunch money (“an attempted coup,” reported Maddow.) Colbert is still talking about it, threatening to tell a teacher on them all.

    Foreign policy-wise, Biden was further embarrassed when the Taliban legalized casino gambling and turned Afghanistan into a global celebrity mecca. The last Americans were finally evacuated on George Clooney’s private jet. Desperate, the Biden administration tried to pick a fight with China. Things got hot after a Chinese warship supposedly rammed an American one in the Gulf of Tonkin, but the nascent war was stopped by Jeff Bezos. Bezos, through quiet acquisitions, had secretly become the world’s largest arms dealer, and ended the fight before it really began by cutting off supplies to both countries. By summer 2024, the only thing left for Democrats to run on was the slogan “Red, White, Blue, Not Orange” and rumors Trump had plans for a new hotel-casino in Kabul.

    Candidate Trump had not yet chosen his running mate. Instead of the usual nominating convention setting, Trump planned an Apprentice: VP Edition live TV special. After vetting multiple candidates by blood type (“The 25th Amendment may require him to donate organs to me,” Trump tweeted. Yeah, that’s back, too) the candidate planned what the MSM dubbed “political-style Squid Games” to make the final decision. Behind his new signature slogan, I Won’t Tell Your Wife You Voted for Me, Trump filled stadiums. By the end of summer he had mostly abandoned actual speeches in favor of simply scowling from the podium and spitting. MSNBC claimed Trump was secretly messaging voters that his saliva contained magic powers, while CNN focused increasingly on videos of its reporters punching random Trump voters in the stomach under its new ownership by the Bill, Hillary, Chelsea, and Jeffrey Epstein Foundation.

    The real news from 2024 is that the actual voting process had changed so much no one was sure how a winner would be chosen. Championed by California, actual “mail-in” voting began a year before election day and allowed anyone to vote via Twitter RT for Democrats, while requiring Republican voters to solve a series of increasingly complex puzzles to reveal the one polling place open to them in-state. Texas on the other hand passed new legislation stating all voters would be assumed to vote Republican unless otherwise noted, and allowing citizens to sue anyone who voted Democrat outside of Austin. As the country approached November 2024, there were 51 distinct and radically different systems. Afghanistan, which had applied for U.S. statehood, was being allowed to vote in 2024 after Jeff Bezos’ personal intervention following his acquisition of 98 percent of its arable land. Bezos’ earlier suggestion, that all voting be done via Prime Points, was pushed forward to 2028.

    The future is grim. The once robust rumble-tumble political system had reached the point where the only viable candidates were two geriatric lab experiments. For the first time in history the sum of both candidates’ disapproval rating was over 100 percent. The voting process itself had devolved into something so crooked and complex the only thing left for the final fall from democracy would be to replace it with actual gladiatorial combat among Red and Blue voters. The absolute only thing American agreed on other than making AOC the permanent host of SNL was a bad idea was that no one believed any election results. The other thing generally understood was in the end who was elected president did not really matter much. No matter who was being kept alive in the Oval Office-ICU, nothing substantive was going to change. The real decisions were being made for sport and profit by the hyper-wealthy. Or it may be that we are just ungovernable. Seeing the future made the future looks hazier than ever before.

    As for the rest, I need to be careful about what I disclose but the new iPhone costs more than the last one. Mick Jagger’s pact with Satan for eternal life seems intact. The most popular movie of 2024 is Casablanca II with Lady Gaga playing the Bogart role, and the most popular job for recent grads is borrowing money from the patriarchy (your dad.) And don’t throw away those Covid masks, you’ll still be wearing them in 2024.

       

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)

    November 6, 2021 // Comments Off on Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimaggio? (Civility is Real Dead)


    Pre-Covid I walked into a café in Florence and said “Expresso, please.” The waitress replied “No, here we say buongiorno first, we smile, then we order. Try it, it is nice.” That is a civil place. America has become an uncivil place.

    Almost all of us are convinced this is a broken place; the problem is we differ violently over what is broken never mind how to fix it. Most of us are sure our schools are broken. This is a very fundamental thing for a society, as schools teach kids how to live with each others (“values.”) But we can’t even come close to agreeing which books to read in English class, never mind whether the whole education system is simply an expression of systemic racism, with racism baked into everything else from whose history to tell, to the role of demanding precision in math, to which historical figure’s name is on the school building.

    The result is schooling by ideology. The wealthy choose among private schools, neat because it also means their kids don’t have to mingle with the poor kids. You can find a private school based on ideology, religion, a grab-and-go set of choices. Outside urban areas, middle class families buy their homes based on the public school that comes with them. If a family can move interstate, they can choose between the most conservative Texas public school and the most liberal school in the Bay Area, assuming conservative and liberal mean something clear enough anymore to act on. American children now get very different content educations, never mind qualities of education.

    One thing schools used to universally try to do was teach “citizenship,” the role an individual plays in a democracy. The concept must have failed, because few of us believe our elections have much to do with democracy. Too many have simply given up to the point where if more than half of eligible voters show up for a presidential election it is newsworthy. The election outcome is only fair when our person wins, or when the winner is a woman or a POC not Dave Chappelle over a white man. The system for choosing has become so complex few of us fully understand it, from registering to vote to districting to the Electoral College. The result is a large number seeking ways to manipulate the system (some justifying modern manipulations because of past manipulations they find unjust), and a large number giving up and voting based simply on social media propaganda. That describes a dying democratic system.

    Nobody expects much and is even then disappointed interacting with government. The lines are long at the DMV, the software to sign up for government programs doesn’t work, pressing button one for a representative is a fool’s quest. The only thing that generally works in day-to-day life is buying stuff. But buying things requires you to be on full alert lest an unchecked box commits you to a subscription, or an extended warranty you don’t want, or some ridiculous convenience fee. Of course even when the buying is easy the ending is broken. Signing up for cell service is swift online; ending that service requires long phone calls preceeded by long waits followed by “errors” which keep billing you for months.

    Each of us at this moment is party to hundreds, maybe thousands, of legal agreements. We do have the choice of reading a multi-page contract in detail before renting a car, assuming of course we have the legal knowledge to actually understand the full implications of what we are agreeing to. We can refuse to sign, but find quickly living without a phone, car, home, or credit card in 2021 is borderline impossible. The choice is no choice.

     

    All of this bleeds over into how we interact with each other. Never mind the street fights over black lives matter or the now scrums at political rallies. We don’t know how to discuss things, never mind disagree because we don’t just hate ideas, we hate the people who hold those ideas dear. What were once sincere beliefs now come in packages conveniently labeled “progressive” or “conservative,” no substitutions please. Commentary is just name calling and junior high-level mocking.

    We’re often alone together. We avoid physical contact or even proximity with each other, even loved ones. We don’t share things. Our communal spaces like restaurants are divided up into mini-bubbles. We don’t speak to one another about small problems, we call the manager. When we run out of big issues we discover microaggressions. The range of topics of conversation closes down more and more for fear of offending someone, facing a summons to HR, or a lawsuit. People are more hesitant to give advice or discuss an opinion for fear of getting in some sort of trouble, or being canceled, or being told they are mansplaining. We casually discard real world friends on “social” media over the smallest thing.

    We got rid of landlines because their primary purpose morphed into demanding we listen to ads at inconvenient times. Our cell call screening is spoofed so the phone’s primary purpose is to force us to listen to ads. Email is a struggle to use because much of it is forced advertising. We don’t check our voicemail because most of it is just forced advertising. We’re afraid to click on an article about insurance for fear our web experience will be clogged for days with forced ads. We have come to understand there is no way to opt out. We can no longer civilly just ask to be left alone.

    I worked a minwage retail job that required getting used to women screaming at me because some item in the weekly ad wasn’t in stock. Previously, the last time anyone screamed right in my face was in high school, when a psychotic football coach thought it was the solution to a missed catch. We join in today classist sport testing how businesses care so little about their employees they’ll fire them if one of us makes a scene. We video everything in hopes of settling matters by embarrassing someone virally. People devote hours to digging through years of someone’s history to find something politically incorrect to destroy what’s left of their life. Complete strangers profanely yell at me because I wasn’t wearing a mask, or had the wrong mask, or wore it improperly in their opinion.  People I didn’t know accused me of wanting to kill their children with a virus I don’t have. Others accuse me of hating them, or wanting them dead, if I make a bad word choice (even with the best of intentions, it seems purposefully hard to keep up) to describe their gender or race. Everyone not only thinks this behavior is OK, they believe it to be righteous. They assume ill intent on my side.

    Force us together and we attack one another. Our masses of crazy people turn like the Walking Dead toward attacking Asians. Hate crime grows like mold. Road rage is our national sport. We refer endlessly to “communities” which are just anonymous associations of people online who claim to have been victims of something similar. Our discourse often begins with “As a…” to make clear the separateness of being one gender or another, or of having had the same disease. Our differences become the fuel of victimhood and we loathe solutions that make those victims feel less special. The most spoken sentence in America is now “You have no idea what it’s like to be me because I’m a…” despite some 300 million of us sharing the same living space.

    More often than not the conclusion is violence. In a typical year, the FAA sees 100-150 formal cases of bad passenger behavior. But in 2021 so far the number jumped to 1,300, ever more remarkable since the number of passengers remains below pre-pandemic levels. Fliers know cabin attendants have become less civil alongside their passengers. What they take in abuse they return in passive aggressiveness.

    The lack of civility spills over into communal living settings, like condo associations, which come up with increasingly complex rules on how to interact with each other as a stand-in to civility. Condo boards, elected to handle simple community business like renewing landscape contracts, have turned into bitchy little Vaticans. They respond to residents’ complaints with pages of rules about masks and gym use, never mind those multiple pages already in the handbook about pets and stuff hanging from the veranda railing. The answer always seems to try to quantify civility instead of asking for it. As the rules multiple the residents divide those with the vice principal’s voice backed up by the condo’s jailhouse lawyers versus those who stop reading after page 49 and just don’t care.

    I’ve always loved the line from the Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson” that asks “Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?” as the best example of what writers are supposed to do, show not tell. The line sums up a feeling in America that a more ordered time passed without demanding the listener chose if that was good or bad.

    The yield of our behavior is a place where people don’t talk to each other, cannot agree on what their mutual problems are never mind how to solve them, a violent place, an unfriendly place, an uncivil place. Who wants to live like this? Judging by our actions, Americans. Ciao!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Bad Times for the First Amendment

    October 23, 2021 // 8 Comments »

     

    These are bad times for the First Amendment.

    The very big picture is bad. Progressives woke up one morning to realize they controlled the media. People who thought like them made our movies, TV shows, and most importantly, owned the greatest propaganda tool ever invented, social media. They could significantly influence not only which breakfast cereal America liked best, but also which candidate America should vote for.

    And none of it fell under the First Amendment. That old saw only protects people from government censorship, not corporate censorship or propaganda. The Founders never conceived we the people would want to have our media censored, or that companies would grow more powerful than the government to be able to do so, or that the age-old remedy for misinformation – truth – would become so reviled and feared. Of all the Founders’ omissions of issues unimaginable in the 18th century, this is the one which may prove fatal to the Republic.

    The big picture is bad. Thanks to legal razzle-dazzle aimed at limiting corporate liability for the garbage they publish, Section 230 of the Communication Act was born. This removed the threat of libel to allow social media to become an even more powerful influence in our lives. They could shove anything up America’s nose or down the memory hole penalty free.

    The law reads “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In other words, online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what is on their platforms. So if Twitter wants to only include false happy news about Hunter Biden, it can. If Twitter wants to enable those who spew out out-and-out lies about Trump, it can. They ran amok with Trump and Russia, willfully promoting lies that were part of a professional disinformation campaign Goebbels would have looked at in awe.

    The Founders envisioned media as an essential element of democracy, affording it unique status in the Bill of Rights to inform the people. Social media repurposed that grace into an anti-democratic tool which works like this: a journalist “publishes” a falsehood on social media. The mainstream media then does a story about that tweet, cleverly using Twitter as the quoted source to cover themselves from any claims of libel or obligation to the truth. They are just reporting what was already on Twitter.

    This legal and moral sleight of hand allows places like the NYT to whore out their credibility to front page the most atrocious gossip – see, we’re not saying it’s true, only that it was on Twitter. The power of the 1A protects the NYT, which becomes a front for the partisan work of so-called non-publishers on social media. Think of it as an 1A reach-around.

    This willful journalistic malfeasance could not exist without the collaboration of the search engines to hide the truth. Search engines have become of the most politicized interactions of anyone’s day, shoving information and denying it in equal amounts, all driven by the views of, well, someone, no one is really sure who anymore.

    What we do know for sure is in the end the massive global media infrastructure was recruited to drive Trump from office. Where the effort failed with Russia, Ukraine, January 6, and all the sideshow acts of Emoluments and Stormy Daniels, it finally got enough traction to matter with Covid. Trump killed your grandma. Today the guns are all reloaded, and the media is already declaring 2024 stolen if Trump wins.

    The small picture is also bad. Journalists, who depend on the 1A for their jobs, no longer believe in its most foundational tenet: informing the public to enable them to participate more fully in our democracy. On a small scale, journalism is now a weapon to take 1A rights away from those deemed politically unsuitable. Here’s one case study to spoil breakfast.

    I don’t know Shawn McCaffrey or Christopher Mathias. I do know both of them believe in ideological purity. But one’s a threat to the 1A and one just likes to hear himself talk.

    Shawn belonged to Identity Evropa, which among other things played a role in the 2017 “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville. Chris meanwhile identifies as a journalist for Huffington Post and covers “far right, disinformation, and hate.” He believes Identity Evropa Shawn is dangerous because he is “racist, homophobic and hosts an anti-Semitic podcast.”

    Chris believes Shawn is so dangerous he devoted his own First Amendment rights as a journalist to stomp the wind out of Shawn’s First Amendment right to say hateful things, to the point where Chris and HuffPo stalked Shawn to discover he had enlisted in the Air Force. They turned over their 1A-protected “journalism” to a progressive-aggressive Congresswoman for weaponization, not unlike the two-step practiced by place like NYT and Twitter. The Congresswoman made the Air Force throw Shawn out.

    Why did Chris, HuffPo, and the Congresswoman go so far out of their way to get Shawn out of the Air Force? Because they believe people like Shawn join the military not to serve their country, but “to receive combat training they can use to inflict violence on civilian targets and can recruit other servicemen and servicewomen to their cause.” Journo Chris adds this is “a problem brought into focus by the prevalence of current and former military personnel taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.” At worst only 15 percent of those arrested had some vague “tie” to military service.

    This game is not new for Chris and HuffPo. They got an elementary school teacher fired for writing things on “extremist” sites they did not agree with. The teacher also wrote for The Atlantic, Vice, The Daily Caller, and The Weekly Standard, the latter two Chris tells us “let him make his racist sympathies clear in print.” In 2019 Chris and HuffPo “exposed” 11 racist servicemen. Evidence HuffPo amassed included a Facebook posting by one who wrote he likes “Tennessee because it is conservative and Christian, implicitly white.” That’s not even true; the state is almost 17 percent black but whatever.

    Chris the journalist also believes without evidence “many nameless fascists today lead double lives, hiding behind avatars to promote their noxious beliefs online while holding down respectable day jobs in education, military, law enforcement, medicine or government.” He works with whatever the hell the Anonymous Comrades Collective is “to expose Nazis, racists and fascists.”

    By the way, in case you haven’t guessed, paranoid Journo Chris is the threat and Racist Shawn is the one who just likes to hear himself talk.

    When so-called journalists judge ideological purism, we see in practice the same hatred and bigotry, backed up by self-granted righteousness, they claim to oppose. Shawn blathering out of his basement about how gays aren’t suitable for the military is no different than Chris standing atop HuffPo’s platform and saying people like Shawn aren’t suitable for the military.

    Like any good National Socialist of old, Chris is certain what he is doing protects the country in what he wrote is a moment of moral emergency. He and HuffPo are nasty ideologues who believe their ends – ideologically cleansing America – justify the means. Right now that cleansing is a version of cancellation but really, why stop there? Go full Inglorious Basterds and really take out some Nazis as a final solution to free speech, the threat to democracy that keeps electing Republicans.

    Things have moved beyond journalists sniping at each other in print, or even partisan reporting. The case with Chris and Shawn is repugnant because it involves a journalist who finds someone else’s exercise of a Constitutional right so distasteful that he used the full power of an international media organization protected by that same First Amendment to destroy the speaker. That’s far more distasteful than anything out of Shawn’s potty mouth. And, biggest picture of all, that’s what is left of journalism at this point.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Old Laws Never Die, A Tale of Covid and the DMV

    October 12, 2021 // 4 Comments »


    Two weeks to flatten the curve became 18 months of masks and vax mandates with no end in sight. New powers to regulate lives seized from the people by government. Rules which make no common sense dominate our lives, experiments in compliance not science. How do Covid restrictions end? They likely never will.

    I learned this at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV.) My re-education started when I was told to prove as an American citizen in an American state that I am “resident” here, not simply being an American in America. I’m a good sport and wanted to comply, just like I try to keep up with the latest rules and Purell my hands 600 times a day against an airborne virus. I knew threats weren’t inherently political, right, and you just can’t be too careful.

    For proof of residence the DMV wants some sort of olde timey paper trail, returned check stubs and paper utility bills. No one at the DMV seems aware all this stuff went to “the online” a while ago, and that it is sort of normal to reside in one state with an online bank in another state and no paper bills or statements from anywhere with only a cell phone from an area code from two moves ago and which banks still return cancelled paper checks each month anyway? They growled at me for even raising the question.

    Like the waitress who had no idea how to explain why I needed a mask to walk to my table but no mask when I sat at my table, the DMV clerk said she was not allowed to look at my phone screen or scroll through my apps to see evidence of me paying local condo fees, having a local address with a distant bank, etc. I was told to go home and print out everything and she’d take a look. And because of Covid, next available appointment is, let’s see… never. I will have to keep my old McLovin’ license a while longer. I timidly asked why?

    “Because of 9/11” the clerk said in that voice used with really stupid children. It was clear she did not know more than that about why she was demanding these things of me, so no point pressing it. It took me a moment to remember 9/11 as 9/11 was twenty years ago. I asked the clerk where she was on that fateful day and she said “In fifth grade.” I can easily imagine my children 20 years in the future having a similar conversation about why they had to prove their 35th booster shot to go bowling.

    I said a silent thanks that our vax passports are all electronic now, handy on the same phone my movements are tracked by so if I get lost someone can find me. Think how silly jokes like “Papers, bitte, mein herr!” will sound in the future when there’s no paper! LOL.

    The problem with old laws that once were enacted for our safety amidst an emergency is they never go away. They don’t adapt to new realities. Power taken is not returned. Fear becomes the standing justification for everything. I realized while threats aren’t necessarily inherently political, the responses sure are. It’s easy, and politically fun, the claim all the fears over Covid restrictions on our liberties are just conspiracy theories, deplorable gasping. It is easy for the media to ignore the many people opposed to masks are not anti-science but anti-politically charged public policy. The media forget once upon a time a driver’s license was just so you could drive not an excuse to gather personal information.

    The Real ID law was where my problems at the DMV started, the 2004 law a result of recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, who discovered 18 of the 19 hijackers obtained legit state IDs. Fun fact: the hijackers were all legally present in the United States, most fully resident and able to prove it, holding legitimately issued student visas for their flight schools and would have passed the Real ID speed bump had it existed then. Nonetheless, in the interest of safety Something Had to Be Done, albeit the equivalent of a cloth condom. Or a poorly fitting dust mask.

    So America’s 245 million license holders had to make an in-person visit to their DMV with all these bits of paper in order to obtain a Real ID compliant license. Your local DMV now gathers more information about you than your mother knows and stores it nationally accessible to, well, not sure who, but a lot of people, at an estimated implementation cost of $23.1 billion. But we’re safer, right, can’t put a price on that. Actually, we will be safer. Though proposed in the smoldering ruins of 2004, delays and rolling implementation mean Real IDs were not required for domestic flights until October 2020, and full enforcement does not begin until May 2023. Until then, keep an eye on your masked seatmates.

     

    The best part of all is the last time anyone actually tested my ability to drive was in 1976, when I drove my mother’s car around the block and then parallel parked it to the satisfaction of an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper. In getting my new driver’s license in 2021, no one actually checked if I could safely do the actual thing the license was in place to allow me to do.
    I can almost hear the voice of the Twilight Zone guy, saying “And therein lies our cautionary tale. Rules proposed, let’s allow, in good faith often fail to accomplish that what they were originally intended to. Rather, they empower small bullies disguised as clerks and waiters who in the name of safety taunt us to provide bits of paper from the scavenger hunt of our lives to entertain them. But that’s the least of our troubles. They are but background players in a bigger game: governments collecting more and more information, placing restrictions without accurate explanation, claiming it is for our own good when clearly it is actually for their own good. We’ll check back in 20 years, to see how many of the Covid restrictions still apply here, at the DMV, or elsewhere… in the Twilight Zone.”

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    COVID and the Minimum Wage: It Hurts

    September 20, 2021 // 11 Comments »

     

    Covid caused a very odd thing: the working poor got a raise.

    Via stimulus checks, federally-funded jumps in unemployment payments, and looser state-based unemployment qualifications (specifically including gig workers and independent contractors who weren’t before eligible for regular unemployment benefits) they all of a sudden had money that may still not have been much but which was closer to enough. People were not forced to work lousy jobs for lousy wages to enrich lousy people already wealthy enough to own spaceships.

    Then another odd thing. As people were allowed to return to work, many didn’t. They were making more not working, math simple enough that in 25 states the federal supplement to unemployment was dropped so that unemployment again paid less than minimum wage. State governments forced people at economic gunpoint to accept souless jobs. Meanwhile, in 21 states, the minimum wage is unchanged from ten years ago.

    There were briefly two completely different systems in America until the federal money ended in September, one which provided available funds and one which withheld them to force Americans into low-paying jobs. Forcing people to work for less money than what feeds them is akin to slavery but economists may have a more modern term today.

    Some misty years ago jobs that used to put minimum wage spending money into the hands of teenagers became a primary income source for adults. The sleight of hand was that it was impossible to actually earn a living that way, with the federal minimum wage at $7.25. Keeping Americans in a state of semi-poverty (the “working poor”) became a business model.

    In 2011 as a forcibly-retired older man I worked a number of minimum wage jobs, sweeping and stocking and silently accepting your abuse. I can assure you the famous “Karens” of 2021 demanding to speak to the manager were already well-established then in the wild. I was the victim of their economically entitled wrath nearly daily, with my Caucasianess no shield.

    I rolled those experiences under our apartheid of dollars into a book called The Ghosts of Tom Joad nobody read because Bernie had not yet told us it was okay to feel bad for the working white poor. Now, ten years later with our dual layered under-economy, it was time for me to take another look.

    In Hawaii where I live, restaurants and small businesses complained about a labor shortage even as the state, with the nation’s strictest lockdown, had the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 22 percent. Almost all of my applications were ghosted, meaning I never heard anything back. For the ones where I did learn more, here’s what I found.

    You need a hard shell against any notions of equality. One of the most expensive restaurants in town, where tabs run hundreds of dollars, offered $12 a hour for hosts to maintain their high standards for service and politeness while also maintaining the guest restrooms throughout the evening. Working there would not have been much different than looking out my window, where I can see a park that became a homeless encampment with a small harbor in the distance filled with superyachts the size of WWII destroyers.

    No one cares too much about equal opportunity. I was told tourists expect to see a “local boy” in a role, not a white guy. I fielded lots of probably illegal questions related to my age, as well as a large scoop of techno-aggressions about things like whether I had a smartphone. Some ads openly asked for a woman server, or an attractive female assistant. One offered a job called “Beach Babe.”

    Another ad said “We are looking for reliable, friendly, and customer service oriented hostesses to provide entertainment on our Adult Fun Boat . Individuals must be allowed of Fun (sic) and open minded nature. Compensation is commensurate of services provided.” Good to see, as in most third world nations, sex work is still an option. Your employer is also your pimp, just like OnlyFans!

    Some jobs were borderline criminal. One, selling timeshares, had a hyper-complex commission system such that I could actual close a sale and make no money. It was hard to tell if I’d be an employee, or just another mark. A doggy day care claimed I would get tips and so would be paid sub-minimum.

    Another required my first hour’s wages daily for parking. A customer service job required me to first buy a logoed T-shirt for $15 and a $20 battery-powered old-timey lantern to fit their theming. Having to pay to work was a new thing since 2011. I felt like I was thirsty and all that was offered was a spit cup from the dentist.

    One place said if I was a full-time student I would be paid only 85 percent of the minimum wage. A job at a tourist shooting range wanted two Asian languages, had eight hour shifts with no scheduled break, and required me to pick up lead. Another offer was minimum wage, but only half paid monthly. The other half was withheld for three months pending a manager’s decision it was deserved as a “bonus.” Unclear how much of this was legal, but what are you going to do, call 911?

    While I was asked to prove my vaccination status, not a single employer asked me to prove any claimed skills. The most common question if sometimes the only question was can you work Saturdays? And why not; the only real qualification was that I could do the job cheaper than a robot (three in 10 small businesses automated job tasks during the pandemic.)

    Some of the least attractive places to work were small owner-run restaurants. The expectation was that for low wages I would work like the entrepreneur himself, putting in the sweat equity. One owner complained about employees who whined over not being paid when closing ran late. He wanted me to subsidize his business with my free labor.

    To him hard work represented unlimited potential, without realizing he structured my job to specifically not include any chance for a raise. There was no reason to do a good job today, and less to be better tomorrow. You can’t work “harder” because your salary is capped. The goal was to work just enough not to get fired. The reward was not having to apply for a new job at the burger hut across the street.

    There were also some nice people seeking to hire, polite, with a whattya ya gonna do attitude. But the difference between the overseer who beat his charges with pleasure and the one who was just doing his job is slight.

    What Covid exposed is a terrible thing. The minimum wage allows employers of the under-economy to conspire to pay the same wage. If they fixed prices this way it would be illegal. Employers seem to have taken the bit, understanding how little choice workers have and seem determined to make their job offering more terrible than the other guy’s. They certainly showed no interest in how employees might affect their bottom line, attitude spilling over to customers. The sign on the door says “I’ll only pay for cheap labor, so deal with it, consumers. What choice do you have anyway?”

    It is hard to put into words how worthless you feel in this process. Your potential employer seems to hold you in contempt, if not see you as simply a john to be ripped off under the guise of hiring you. They understand and expect to be allowed to exploit labor, backed by the government holding down wages. Half the states embraced this a step further, cutting off supplements to assist in impoverishing their own citizens. That’s why the government controls the minimum wage, to force you back in now that the Covid fat times are over.

    Minimum wage” has become maximum wage for a whole layer of our society. Businesses have little pressure to raise salaries because they hold all the aces – the government has their back with designated wages to ensure they don’t have to get into bidding wars for talent, and the labor market is rigged so that a large number of Americans have no choice but to take these jobs.

    Want to know what happens next? The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) which takes into account all government aid, fell to 9.1 percent in 2020, the lowest it has been since record keeping of the SPM began. Without taking government pandemic aid, now history, into account, poverty would have risen 11.4 percent.

    Imagine the fun when you visit our paradise here in Hawaii knowing the person serving at your all-you-can-eat luau is hungry. And don’t forget to tip your waitress, she needs it.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America