Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Where to get our news

With the growing popularity of Facebook and Twitter, editors Tom Maertens and Leigh Pomeroy have cut back on updating Vox Verax in favor of those easier-to-post-on and probably more popular social media venues. Thus, if you are a fan of Vox Verax, we suggest you keep current with these links.

Tom Maertens on Twitter

Tom Maertens on Facebook


Leigh Pomeroy on Twitter


Leigh Pomeroy on Facebook

For those who have been loyal supporters of Vox Verax, we will continue posting here from time to time. But if you are looking for up-to-the-minute — well, at least up-to-the-day — thoughts from Tom and Leigh, check out the Twitter and Facebook sites above…

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bibi's legacy

Israel to American Jews: You Just Don’t Matter

Thomas L. Friedman JULY 12, 2017, NYT

To the casual observer, Israel has never looked more secure and prosperous. Its Arab neighbors are in disarray. Iran’s nuclear program has been mothballed for a while. The Trump team could not be friendlier and the Palestinians could not be weaker. All’s quiet on the Tel Aviv front. …

Look again. In fact, the foundations of Israel’s long-term national security are cracking.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Israel is overstretching itself by simultaneously erasing the line between itself and the Palestinians — essentially absorbing 2.5 million Palestinians, which could turn Israel into a de facto Jewish-Arab binational state — and drawing a line between itself and the Jewish diaspora, particularly the U.S. Jewish community that has been so vital for Israel’s security, diplomatic standing and remarkable economic growth.

Netanyahu is setting himself up to be a pivotal figure in Jewish history — the leader who burned the bridges to a two-state solution and to the Jewish diaspora at the same time.

I won’t waste much time on Bibi’s deft manipulation of President Trump to shift all the blame onto the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the absence of progress in the peace process. Bibi masterfully distracted Trump with a shiny object — a video of extreme statements by Abbas (with no mention of extremist actions by Israeli settlers).

It worked perfectly to deflect the U.S. president from pressing the relevant questions: “Bibi, you win every debate, but meanwhile every day the separation of Israel from the Palestinians grows less likely, putting Israel on a ‘slippery slope toward apartheid,’ as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently warned. Where is your map? What are you going to do with 420,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank? Where is your imagination for how to reverse this trend that will inevitably lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish democratic state?”

(More here.)

If you can't beat 'em, just screw 'em over

3 Ways Republicans Have Already Sabotaged Obamacare

Health care markets are struggling in parts of the country. GOP politicians did that on purpose.

Patrick Caldwell Jul. 12, 2017 6:00 AM, MotherJones.com

Republicans are telling anyone who will listen that Congress needs to repeal Obamacare immediately because the program’s insurance markets are collapsing around the country. “The situation has never been more dire,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said this week. “Americans are continuing to lose what health coverage they have and are forced to choose from fewer options or pay the IRS for the right to go without.” President Donald Trump has even suggested that if Senate Republicans can’t pass a health care bill, they could simply let Obamacare fail.

Tales of Obamacare’s demise have been greatly oversold. In many states, the marketplaces are actually doing just fine, with moderate premium increases and healthy enrollment. There is no death spiral. An analysis released by the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this week examining the current state of Obamacare’s marketplaces found that “the individual market has been stabilizing and insurers are regaining profitability.”

Many of the law’s troubles can be traced back to opposition and sabotage by Republicans. But Obamacare’s marketplaces have certainly encountered problems in some areas. Premiums have quickly increased in other parts of the country. And Kaiser lists 38 counties—covering 25,133 enrollees—that are at risk of having no insurers selling coverage on the marketplaces in 2018. That’s a small subsection of the more than 10 million people who signed up for 2017 insurance, but it’s a severe problem for the people in those 38 counties, since the government subsidies they are entitled to are only available for insurance offered on the marketplaces.

(More here.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

'Living is easy with eyes closed' ― John Lennon

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." ― Isaac Asimov
"We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid." — Benjamin Franklin

Poll: Most Republicans say colleges have negative impact on US

By Rebecca Savransky - 07/10/17 01:49 PM EDT, The Hill

A majority of Republicans in a new survey think colleges and universities have a negative effect on the U.S.

The Pew Research Center poll finds 58 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think colleges and universities hurt the country.

Just 36 percent of Republicans think they have a positive effect.

In contrast, a large majority of Democrats, 72 percent, say colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country. Overall, slightly more than half of the public, 55 percent, thinks colleges and universities help the U.S., according to the survey.

(More here.)

The Remains of the Romanovs

The Russian Imperial family with army officers outside the Catherine Palace. Credit Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Anastasia Edel
RED CENTURY
JULY 10, 2017

On July 17, 1918, as the White Army advanced toward Red-held territory around Yekaterinburg in Siberia, 12 armed Bolsheviks ushered a group of 11 exiles into a basement of a merchant’s mansion once known as Ipatiev House, now the House of Special Purpose. The youngest in the party, a sickly 13-year-old named Aleksei, had to be carried by his father, who was known to his family as Nicky, and to me, subsequently, and millions of Soviet people as the “bloody tyrant” Nicholas II.

The deposed czar was accompanied by his young daughters, Anastasia, Maria, Tatyana and Olga; his wife, Alexandra; and their attendants. The man in charge of the soldiers, Yakov Yurovsky, read quickly off a sheet of paper: “The revolution is dying and you must die with it.” Then the night erupted in gunshots.

This was neither the end, nor the beginning, of the desperate plight of the Romanovs, the dynasty that had ruled Russia for over 300 years. A few weeks earlier, the czar’s brother, Michael, in whose favor Nicholas had abdicated in March 1917, was shot in another Siberian wood. The day after, Nicky’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth, an abbess; his cousin Sergei; and his nephews Ivan, Constantine, Vladimir and Igor were beaten and thrown down a half-flooded mine shaft in Alapayevsk, near Yekaterinburg. From the bottom of the shaft, some 60 feet down, those who survived the fall unnerved their Bolshevik guards by singing Orthodox prayers, until the soldiers tossed grenades after them. But autopsies later revealed that some of the Romanovs had taken days to die.

(More here.)

Spyware Sold to Mexican Government Targeted International Officials

Friends and relatives of 43 missing students at a protest in Mexico City in 2015 to commemorate the first anniversary of their disappearance. The students from Ayotzinapa had clashed with the police. Credit Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By AZAM AHMED
JULY 10, 2017, NYT

MEXICO CITY — A team of international investigators brought to Mexico to unravel one of the nation’s gravest human rights atrocities was targeted with sophisticated surveillance technology sold to the Mexican government to spy on criminals and terrorists.

The spying took place during what the investigators call a broad campaign of harassment and interference that prevented them from solving the haunting case of 43 students who disappeared after clashing with the police nearly three years ago.

Appointed by an international commission that polices human rights in the Americas, the investigators say they were quickly met with stonewalling by the Mexican government, a refusal to turn over documents or grant vital interviews, and even a retaliatory criminal investigation.

Now, forensic evidence shows that the international investigators were being targeted by advanced surveillance technology as well.

The main contact person for the group of investigators received text messages laced with spyware known as Pegasus, a cyberweapon that the government of Mexico spent tens of millions of dollars to acquire, according to an independent analysis. The coordinator’s phone was used by nearly all members of the group, often serving as a nexus of communication among the investigators, their sources, the international commission that appointed them and the Mexican government.

(More here.)

Self-Immolation, Catalyst of the Arab Spring, Is Now a Grim Trend

Adel Dridi recuperating from his self-inflicted burns on the floor of his family’s home in Tebourba, Tunisia. “I wanted to burn myself because I was burning inside,” he said. Credit Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times
By LILIA BLAISE, JULY 9, 2017, NYT

TEBOURBA, Tunisia — When Adel Dridi poured gasoline on his head and set himself on fire in May, his first thought was of his mother, Dalila, whose name is roughly tattooed on his arm. But another person was also on his mind: Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation in 2010 set off the Arab Spring uprisings.

Mr. Dridi, 31, is also a fruit seller, and, like Mr. Bouazizi, he snapped after the police spilled his apricots, bananas and strawberries on the ground in front of the city hall here in his hometown.

“I wanted to burn myself because I was burning inside,” Mr. Dridi said in an interview while lying on a mattress in his family’s home, where he was still recovering, his neck and chest scarred by burns. “I wanted to die this way.”

Seven years after Mr. Bouazizi’s desperate and dramatic protest helped start revolutions across the region, frustration at the failed promise of the Arab Spring is widespread. Authoritarian rule has returned to Egypt. Libya is a caldron of chaos. Syria and Iraq are torn by civil wars. The gulf monarchies are essentially unchanged. Neighboring Algeria is paralyzed.

Yet it is a paramount irony that in Tunisia — cradle of the Arab Spring and the one country that has the best hope of realizing its aspirations for democracy and prosperity — Mr. Bouazizi’s once-extraordinary act has become commonplace, whether compelled by anger, depression or bitter disappointment, or to publicly challenge the authorities.

(More here.)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Kremlin Would Be Proud of Trump’s Propaganda Playbook

The Donald is a master of these four techniques of misinformation.

Bryan Schatz
Nov. 21, 2016, MotherJones

On April 16, 2015, one month after Russian soldiers entered eastern Ukraine and joined Moscow-backed separatists in the slaughter of more than 130 Ukrainian troops in a town called Debaltseve, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to perpetuate a claim that was growing increasingly ludicrous. “I can tell you outright and unequivocally that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine,” he declared in a broadcast to the Russian people.

The denial was a classic propaganda move. “The first Russian approach to negative reporting or comment is to dismiss it, either by denying the allegations on the ground, or denigrating the one who makes them,” writes Ben Nimmo, a British-based analyst of Russian information warfare and strategy. Specifically, this approach is an example of dismissal, one of four distinct ways the Putin government tries to spin facts and misinform the public, as identified by Nimmo. He calls it the 4D Approach: dismiss, distract, distort, and dismay.

Though Putin has put these tactics to good use, he did not invent them. Nor is he the only image-conscious, scrutiny-averse world leader to employ them. Over the past months, President-elect Donald Trump has also proved adept at using the propaganda techniques Nimmo describes. “The fact that the Trump campaign is doing the same kind of thing does not necessarily mean that they got it from Russia. These techniques are pretty universal; it’s just there’s a commonality of approach,” Nimmo says.

Some examples of The Donald’s mastery of the four Ds of propaganda:

Dismiss: Dismissing uncomfortable allegations or facts is second nature to most politicians. When nine women accused Trump of groping or kissing them without their consent, he first accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of orchestrating the allegations. A day later, during the third presidential debate, he claimed, falsely, “Those stories have been largely debunked.”

(More here.)

Russian propaganda techniques

Friday, July 07, 2017

Petraeus on Trump's mental health: “It’s immaterial”

The greatest threat facing the United States is its own president

By David Rothkopf July 4

David Rothkopf is the author of “The Great Questions of Tomorrow.” He is a visiting professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Last week, at the Aspen Ideas Festival, I moderated a panel on U.S. national security in the Trump era. On the panel, former CIA director David H. Petraeus offered the most robust defense of President Trump’s foreign policy that I have heard. Central to his premise were two facts. First, he argued that Trump’s national security team was the strongest he had ever seen. Next, he argued that whereas President Barack Obama was indecisive to the point of paralysis, such as in the case of Syria, Trump is decisive.

Toward the end of the conversation, we turned to Trump’s erratic behavior and I noted that for the first time in three decades in the world of foreign policy, I was getting regular questions about the mental health of the president.

I asked Petraeus, a man I respect, if he thought the president was fit to serve. His response was, “It’s immaterial.” He argued that because the team around Trump was so good, they could offset whatever deficits he might have. I was floored. It was a stunningly weak defense.

(More here.)

How Ex-Spies Think Putin Will Sucker ‘Sociopathic Narcissist’ Trump

KGB, CIA, and FBI veterans say Russia’s leader is well-positioned to dominate America’s president in their one-on-one meeting.

Spencer Ackerman, Daily Beast
07.06.17 2:27 PM ET

Foreign ministries around the world are filled with anticipation over what will happen when Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet for the first time at the G20 summit. But veteran U.S. spies who’ve studied manipulation tactics, particularly from their Russian counterparts, are confident they know what’s going to unfold.

Putin, a former KGB operations officer, will not just be practicing interpersonal diplomacy, they say. He’ll be putting his tradecraft as a spy to work. His main asset: Trump’s massive, delicate ego.

It won’t just be the expected flattery, from the spies’ perspective, though flattery is key to dealing with the “sociopathic narcissist” tendencies one ex-CIA interrogator sees in Trump. Putin is likely to stoke Trump’s ire, encourage him against his perceived enemies and validate his inclinations – particularly the ones that move U.S. policy in the directions Putin wants.

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in Moscow. The Trump-Putin meeting, say Russian politicians and Putin’s former KGB colleagues, is an overdue opportunity to equalize the Washington-Moscow relationship.

(More here.)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Hannity and Spicer must have the same person pick out their ties

Sean Hannity of Fox News, left, with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, in January. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Want to Get Rid of Trump? Only Fox News Can Do It

By ROBERT LEONARD, JULY 5, 2017, NYT

KNOXVILLE, Iowa — President Trump’s administration is in crisis, consumed by fears of what Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russia’s meddling in the election, might find. Everyone’s lawyering up — even the lawyers have lawyers.

But here in rural Iowa you might never hear about any of that. What I do hear from my conservative friends — most still ardent Trump supporters — is a collective yawn at the Washington maelstrom. Few care about his tweets — even about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough and the CNN body slam. The whacking of James Comey? About time. President Obama’s appointee anyway. Mr. Trump’s asking if Mr. Comey could drop the Michael Flynn investigation? It was a simple question, not obstruction of justice. The Comey testimony? Vindication for Mr. Trump! Mr. Comey is a leaker, he lied under oath, and he’s going down. He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t serve prison time.

No, the big stunner in that testimony was Mr. Comey’s statement about former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton — that’s where the real obstruction of justice lies.

Here, conservatives celebrate the successes in Mr. Trump’s short time in office: a conservative Supreme Court justice now seated; Mexico and Canada back to the trading table; red tape cut; the E.P.A. hamstrung; climate change nonsense tossed aside. It’s exactly what they elected him to do — victory after victory in a bigger battle than just policy, a battle for America’s soul.

(More here.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

'Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company'

Justice Department's Corporate Crime Watchdog Resigns, Saying Trump Makes It Impossible To Do Job

BY DAVID SIROTA @DAVIDSIROTA ON 07/02/17, IBT

One of the Justice Department’s top corporate crime watchdogs has resigned, declaring that she cannot enforce ethics laws against companies while, she asserts, her own bosses in the Trump administration have been engaging in conduct that she said she would never tolerate in corporations.

Hui Chen -- a former Pfizer and Microsoft lawyer who also was a federal prosecutor -- had been the department’s compliance counsel. She left the department in June and broke her silence about her move in a recent LinkedIn post that sounded an alarm about the Trump administration’s behavior.

“Trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome," Chen wrote. “To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts. Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it.”

(Continued here.)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Yep, we've been used — Facebook

Facebook, for the first time, acknowledges election manipulation

REUTERS

Without saying the words "Russia," "Hillary Clinton," or "Donald Trump," Facebook acknowledged Thursday for the first time what others have been saying for months.

In a paper released by its security division, the company said "malicious actors" used the platform during the 2016 presidential election as part of a campaign "with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets."

"Facebook is not in a position to make definitive attribution to the actors sponsoring this activity....however our data does not contradict the attribution provided by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence in the report dated January 6, 2017," the report's authors wrote, referring to the U.S. Intelligence Community's assessment that Russia waged an information campaign with the goal of harming Clinton and helping Trump.

The paper, by two members of Facebook's threat intelligence team and its chief security officer, noted that "fake news" has been incorrectly applied as a catch-all for a variety of techniques used to influence users of the platform. The company now divides these techniques into four specific groups:
  • "Information (or Influence) Operations - Actions taken by governments or organized non-state actors to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment."
  • "False News - News articles that purport to be factual, but which contain intentional misstatements of fact with the intention to arouse passions, attract viewership, or deceive."
  • "False Amplifiers - Coordinated activity by inauthentic accounts with the intent of manipulating political discussion (e.g., by discouraging specific parties from participating in discussion, or amplifying sensationalistic voices over others)."
  • "Disinformation - Inaccurate or manipulated information/content that is spread intentionally. This can include false news, or it can involve more subtle methods, such as false flag operations, feeding inaccurate quotes or stories to innocent intermediaries, or knowingly amplifying biased or misleading information."
(More here.)

Friday, June 30, 2017

For the benefit of the country, Trump must go

LP note: This subject came up in a discussion I had with a millennial today. He noted, "If a CEO had sent such a tweet," referring to Trump's tweet about Mika Brzezinski's so-called facelift, "he would be gone in a minute. But I guess," he added, "the president isn't held to the same standard." 

Unbelievable that the president of the United States should be held at a lower standard than the CEO of a corporation. What has become of this country that we should accept such behavior? Imagine if President Obama had tweeted such a comment.

It is time for Mr. Trump to be removed from office. He is an embarrassment to the nation. The fact that the Republicans continue to allow him to hold the presidency only weakens our country. Whether they choose impeachment, or if the 25th Amendment is invoked, for the well-being of our nation and the integrity of the Constitution, action needs to be taken.

Donald Trump is not well

By Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough

President Trump launched personal attacks against us Thursday, but our concerns about his unmoored behavior go far beyond the personal. America’s leaders and allies are asking themselves yet again whether this man is fit to be president. We have our doubts, but we are both certain that the man is not mentally equipped to continue watching our show, “Morning Joe.”

The president’s unhealthy obsession with our show has been in the public record for months, and we are seldom surprised by his posting nasty tweets about us. During the campaign, the Republican nominee called Mika “neurotic” and promised to attack us personally after the campaign ended. This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.

The president’s unhealthy obsession with “Morning Joe” does not serve the best interests of either his mental state or the country he runs. Despite his constant claims that he no longer watches the show, the president’s closest advisers tell us otherwise. That is unfortunate. We believe it would be better for America and the rest of the world if he would keep his 60-inch-plus flat-screen TV tuned to “Fox & Friends.”

(More here.)

Politicians in St. Paul and Washington could learn from Mankato

By Leigh Pomeroy and Joe Sullivan

Leigh Pomeroy is a former educator and soccer referee. Joe Sullivan is a lawyer who works for the Center for Energy and Environment. Both live in Mankato, Minnesota.

A few weekends back we were honored to participate in the Mankato SoccerFest, a gathering of youth soccer teams from throughout southern Minnesota for a day of fun and friendly competition. Joe participated as a coach and Leigh as a referee mentor.

Organized by Mankato United Soccer, the gathering took place on dozens of fields in North Mankato. Literally hundreds of young soccer players, parents and fans, coaches and referees played, cheered, encouraged and officiated at the event.

There were scores of volunteers that made this event happen. But they were not the only ones who deserve accolades for its success. For SoccerFest and the Caswell fields on which it was played are a product of a cooperation that we too often take for granted in the greater Mankato region, and indicative of our governments, nonprofits and businesses working together to make our area a special place.

Case in point: The Caswell soccer fields came about through a partnership between Mankato United Soccer Club and the City of North Mankato, the club providing the funds and the city supplying the land. Further, there was no conflict between Mankato and North Mankato as the two cities have agreed that they would not compete with each other to put up athletic fields for soccer, baseball, softball and football; rather, they were going to coordinate.

Upon stepping onto the fields, we were greeted with numerous small signs indicating the businesses who were proud to support the event, providing the third leg of the three-legged stool: nonprofits plus governments plus businesses working together to make our community great.

There are many examples of such cooperation in our area. For example, Leigh is a member of the A.M. Exchange Club, the group that supplies the animal feed machines in Sibley Park. From the machines, the group raises about $10,000 per year to parcel out to nonprofits in the community. The nonprofits speak to the club, each once a year, to apprise the club members of their activities. To a one, an underlying theme always emerges: the theme of cooperation with other nonprofits, with governments, with the business community.

Another example: Our area is honored to have Greater Mankato Growth to represent area businesses. In too many other communities, business groups fight city hall and oppose bonding measures for schools. Not so Greater Mankato Growth, which actively works with our city and county governments, supports our schools and partners with our nonprofits.

It's easy to go on: the success of our United Way; the active engagement of our churches, community organizations and service clubs; the many projects of our schools and the YMCA; the services provided by the Minnesota Valley Action Council and MRCI — all these are dependent upon cooperation.

If our greater Mankato region can do this, why not the politicians in St. Paul and Washington, DC? Why can't they show the same spirit of cooperation for the betterment of us all?

It is anathema that too many state and federal elected leaders expend so much time and effort — and so many taxpayer dollars — catering to dissent and conflict instead of encouraging cooperation.

Let these leaders come to the Mankato region and spend time here. Perhaps they could learn something from us and take that knowledge back to their respective seats of power. And hopefully then realize that it's better for everyone to work together.

This opinion piece was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Trump Is China’s Chump

President Trump with President Xi Jinping of China in April. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman
JUNE 28, 2017, NYT

HONG KONG — Having just traveled to New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that more than a few Asia-Pacific business and political leaders have taken President Trump’s measure and concluded that — far from being a savvy negotiator — he’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in this region and helping make China great again.

These investors, trade experts and government officials are still stunned by an event that got next to no attention in the U.S. but was an earthquake out here — and a gift that will keep on giving America’s allies pain and China gain for years to come. That was Trump’s decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal in his first week in office — clearly without having read it or understanding its vast geo-economic implications.

(Trump was so ignorant about TPP that when he was asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015 he suggested that China was part of it, which it very much is not.)

Trump simply threw away the single most valuable tool America had for shaping the geo-economic future of the region our way and for pressuring China to open its markets. Trump is now trying to negotiate trade openings with China alone — as opposed to negotiating with China as the head of a 12-nation TPP trading bloc that was based on U.S. values and interests and that controlled 40 percent of the global economy.

(More here.)

Tom Maertens: Trump uninterested in Russian hacking crime

By TOM MAERTENS

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He is co-editor of Vox Verax.

The U.S. is in the midst of the most serious counterespionage case in its history, a conspiracy to rig an election, possibly aided by the Trump campaign. The U.S. intelligence community concluded unanimously, with high confidence, that the Russians tried to rig our elections, including hacking 21 state voter registration databases. Russia’s interference was the “crime of the century,” wrote the Washington Post.

Jeh Johnson, the last secretary of Department of Homeland Security, recently told a congressional committee that “Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on the U.S. election. Plain and simple.”

U.S. intelligence has documented at least 18 meetings and communications between Trump associates and Russian Intelligence officials prior to the inauguration. At least five Trump campaign officials have lied about those contacts, including Michael Flynn.

Flynn made five calls to the Russian ambassador in one day — the day sanctions were announced against Russia. Those calls were recorded and apparently show that Flynn was negotiating about sanctions, which would be a violation of the Logan Act.

The State Department subsequently revealed that “panicky” Trump reps came to State immediately after the inauguration and practically begged them to recommend lifting sanctions, without any reciprocal actions from Russia.

The Washington Post reported that Jared Kushner tried to set up a secret communications backchannel inside the Russian embassy between the Trump transition team and Moscow. A career officer would be fired and probably indicted for this; Kushner hasn’t even lost his security clearance.

Trump has attempted repeatedly to quash the FBI investigation into his Russia ties. In the nine times Trump met with or called Comey, it was always to discuss how the investigation into Russia’s election interference was affecting him personally, not about the security of the country.

Trump confirmed in his interview with Lester Holt that he fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin thinks the case is open and shut: “Comey’s statement establishes obstruction of justice by Trump,” he writes. “Period.”

Criminal allegations against Trump are nothing new. David Remnick of the New Yorker wrote that “Over the years, Trump has been the focus of investigations on housing discrimination, bribery, corruption, dealings with the mob, misleading earnings reports, fraud, and improper campaign contributions.” He has a record of over 3,500 lawsuits, and most recently paid $25 million over his fraudulent Trump University.

The IRS fined Trump’s Taj Mahal casino $10 million for violating anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation.

Human rights lawyer Scott Horton described in the Financial Times how funds from Russian crime lords bailed Trump out after all his bank lines of credit were cancelled following his seventh bankruptcy.

Trump’s record of questionable behavior has some commentators openly using the “S” word about him, expressed directly by a Foreign Policy magazine headline: “Trump is Proving too Stupid to be President.”

Unfortunately, Trump, who has an adversarial relationship with the truth, also has the dangerous delusion that he is “like, a really smart person” and doesn’t need advice from anybody. This is the guy who incriminated himself for obstructing justice and, separately, witness tampering on national TV; who repeats stupidities from Alex Jones and Infowars; has repeatedly claimed that he “loves” Wikileaks; and has suggested the National Enquirer should get a Pulitzer. He even spilled secrets to the Russians in the Oval Office, who then publicized his boasting about undermining Comey.

Many have also used the “L” word — Liar: The Washington Post Fact Checker reported that Donald Trump has made 669 false or misleading claims during his first five months in office. It is no coincidence that he has changed party affiliation five times since 1987; his only real loyalty is to himself.

We have a president who toadies to adversaries but trashes NATO and the EU; who withdrew from global agreements he almost certainly doesn’t understand (TPP and the Paris accord); he fired the FBI director; declared the free press an enemy of the state; and openly flouts the constitutional prohibition on personally profiting from his business while in office.

As Kevin Drum wrote in Mother Jones: “Trump has been suckered by China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. He has pissed off Mexico, Canada, Germany, France, Britain, Australia, and most of our other traditional allies. Nobody knows what his policy toward Israel is. Or his policy in Afghanistan. Or his policy in Syria. Or his trade policy toward anyone.” Or human rights.

What he hasn’t done is express any interest in investigating how the Russians hacked our election.

Also published in the Mankato Free Press here.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Trump’s Lies

Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump’s lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office.

By DAVID LEONHARDT and STUART A. THOMPSON JUNE 23, 2017

Jan. 21 “I wasn't a fan of Iraq. I didn't want to go into Iraq.” (He was for an invasion before he was against it.)

Jan. 21 “A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.” (Trump was on the cover 11 times and Nixon appeared 55 times.)

Jan. 23 “Between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.” (There's no evidence of illegal voting.)

Jan. 25 “Now, the audience was the biggest ever. But this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes. This crowd was massive.” (Official aerial photos show Obama's 2009 inauguration was much more heavily attended.)

Jan. 25 “Take a look at the Pew reports (which show voter fraud.)” (The report never mentioned voter fraud.)Jan. 25 “You had millions of people that now aren't insured anymore.” (The real number is less than 1 million, according to the Urban Institute.)

Jan. 25 “So, look, when President Obama was there two weeks ago making a speech, very nice speech. Two people were shot and killed during his speech. You can't have that.” (There were no gun homicide victims in Chicago that day.)

(More here.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

'I hope you're as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch'

Perry vs. Franken: Round 2 on climate change

By James Osborne
Thursday, June 22, 2017, Chron

Call it a battle of the showbiz politicians.

Comedian turned senator Al Franken and governor turned entertainer turned U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry are set to square off in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today over the Trump administration's plans to slash research funding at the Department of Energy.

This follows on from an uproarious confirmation hearing earlier this year, in which after a curious choice of words about a meeting in Franken's office the two engaged in a back and forth that had the usually staid committee room in stitches.

But the conversation quickly turned serious, with Franken picking at Perry's climate skepticism and urging him to take the issue seriously.

(More here.)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Money stolen by Russian mob linked to man sanctioned for supporting Syria's chemical weapons program

By Michael Weiss, CNN Investigates
Updated 7:50 PM ET, Fri June 16, 2017

An investment group that U.S. authorities say is run by Russian mobsters and linked to the Russian government sent at least $900,000 to a company owned by a businessman tied to Syria's chemical weapons program, according to financial documents obtained by CNN.

According to a contract and bank records from late 2007 and early 2008, a company tied to a state-backed Russian mafia group, according to U.S. officials, agreed to pay more than $3 million to a company called Balec Trading Ventures, Ltd — supposedly for high-end "furniture."

Wire transaction records seen by CNN confirm that at least $900,000 was transferred.

Both businesses are registered in the British Virgin Islands.

The company allegedly tied to Russian mafia was called Quartell Trading Ltd., and the U.S. Department of Justice claims it is one of the many vehicles into which millions of dollars of stolen Russian taxpayer money was laundered a decade ago in connection with the so-called "Magnitsky affair," perhaps the most notorious corruption case in Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Balec Ventures is owned by Issa al-Zeydi, a Russian whom the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in 2014 for his connection to the Scientific Studies and Research Center, the hub of Syria's nonconventional weapons program, including its manufacture of Sarin and VX nerve agents and mustard gas.

(More here.)

It’s Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster vs. Putin ally Valery Gerasimov

The New Cold War Pits a U.S. General Against His Longtime Russian Nemesis

By Nathan Hodge in Moscow and Julian E. Barnes in Pabrade, Lithuania, WSJ
June 16, 2017 10:37 a.m. ET

A quarter-century after the Cold War ended, U.S. and Russian tank formations are once again squaring off.

This spring, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization moved armored forces to the Russian border, where they are conducting daily drills from Poland to Estonia. Less than 100 miles away, Moscow’s forces are preparing for large-scale maneuvers in the autumn, a demonstration of the country’s revitalized might, including new equipment and improved tactics meant to keep the West guessing in the event of a clash.

Facing off behind these front lines and shaping each side’s grand strategy are two of this generation’s most influential officers in Washington and Moscow: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

The two men’s lives have evolved in parallel. Both began their careers as junior armor officers at the height of the Cold War. Both were tested in irregular warfare against separatists and militant groups. Both have coped with the rise of disruptive battlefield technologies including drones, precision bombs and sophisticated new forms of propaganda.

(More here.)

In Scandinavia, a major divestment

Swedish Pension Fund Sells Out of Six Firms It Says Breach Paris Climate Deal

By REUTERS, JUNE 15, 2017, 2:21 P.M. E.D.T.

OSLO — Sweden's largest national pension fund, AP7, has sold its investments in six companies that it says violate the Paris climate agreement, a decision environmentalists believe is the first of its kind.

AP7, which provides pensions to 3.5 million Swedes, said on Thursday it had sold out of ExxonMobil, Gazprom, TransCanada Corp, Westar, Entergy and Southern Corp, and would no longer invest in companies that operate in breach of the Paris climate accord.

"Since the last screening in December 2016, the Paris agreement to the U.N. Climate Convention is one of the norms we include in our analysis," the company said in a statement.

AP7 said ExxonMobil, Westar, Southern Corp and Entergy had fought against introducing climate legislation in the United States. It also criticised Gazprom for looking for oil in the Russian Arctic and TransCanada for building large-scale pipelines in North America.

(More here.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Minnesota's cities and counties have embarked on a rare kind of collaboration

How this Upper Midwestern State Doubled Its Solar Capacity

BY ELIZABETH DAIGNEAU | JUNE 2017 | governing.com

Americans love solar. Almost 9 in 10 adults favor expanding it, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. But not everyone can put panels on their homes. For one thing, the upfront cost of solar can be prohibitive. For another, some people don’t have the space, or their rooftops may be too shady or may face the wrong direction, or they don’t even own their rooftops because they rent.

That’s where community shared solar comes in. Here’s how it works: Third parties set up solar panels on a parcel of land or rooftop. Households and businesses then share the electricity it produces through subscriptions. Community solar’s primary purpose is to give people access to solar power even if they cannot or prefer not to install it on their property.

As it turns out, the same things that make community solar ideal for households and businesses are what make it ideal for governments, too. Minnesota proved that last year when it roughly doubled its solar capacity thanks to a group of local governments in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region. The solar boom in the state is largely the result of a 2013 law, which required Xcel Energy, the state’s largest electric utility, to create a third-party solar garden program. Inspired, a handful of cities and counties met in 2015 to discuss how they could take advantage of the program. The result was the Governmental Solar Garden Subscriber Collaborative.

For these localities individually, the cost of solar, as well as the time and staff needed to understand the financing and technology behind it, was a deal breaker. But as a collaborative, all the cities and counties had to do was subscribe. “They didn’t have to go through the hassle of managing an onsite installation,” says Trevor Drake, project manager at the Great Plains Institute, which provided organizing support to the group.

(More here.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

There are no jobs on a dead planet

Was President Trump right to withdraw from the Paris climate accord?

By: Dave Gardner and David Pico June 10, 2017 Colorado Springs Gazette

Dave Gardner directed the documentary "GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth" and hosts the syndicated radio series/podcast "Conversation Earth." David Pico is a published author and entrepreneur. Both live in Colorado Springs.

President Donald Trump's decision to renege on the Paris climate accord lets everyone down - U.S. citizens, the nations of the world and all our children.

It took the world a long time to take climate change seriously. It took the U.S. even longer. Getting 195 nations on board the Paris Agreement was a major milestone. The accord isn't enough to avoid significant climate disruption, but it is a step in that direction. Taking the next step is now a bigger leap.

Here, Trump cedes the very thing he wants - the U.S. being looked to as a leader. Failing to honor the accord, abdicating our responsibility, instead cements our place as a Third World country.

Around the world, many still prioritize economic growth ahead of ensuring a livable planet. Trump underscores that with every decision and pronouncement. His Paris announcement adds an exclamation point. This is not the path to a healthy economy. Healthy ecosystems are a fundamental requirement.

(Continued here.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Trump aimed to enlist top officials to have Comey curtail FBI investigation

Top intelligence official told associates Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey on FBI Russia probe

By Adam Entous June 6 at 8:05 PM, WashPost

The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe, according to officials.

On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.

(More here.)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election

Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle, Ryan Grim
June 5 2017, 2:44 p.m. -- the Intercept

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

NSA Report on Russia Spearphishing

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:
Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.
This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.” Putin, who had previously issued blanket denials that any such Russian meddling occurred, for the first time floated the possibility that freelance Russian hackers with “patriotic leanings” may have been responsible. The NSA report, on the contrary, displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU.

(More here.)

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Bots, malware and fake news … oh my!

How the Trump-Russia Data Machine Games Google to Fool Americans

By Roger Sollenberger | June 1, 2017

A year ago I was part of a digital marketing team at a tech company. We were maybe the fifth largest company in our particular industry, which was drones. But we knew how to game Google, and our site was maxed out. We did our research and geared the content for the major keywords that we knew people used most frequently when they were shopping for drones or researching drones or looking for drone video. We knew our audience: their buying habits, their interests, ages, geography, etc., and soon our Google results were up there with a company that was literally an order of magnitude bigger than we were. A few months later, we were beating them at Google.

Our sales reflected this nearly immediately, but perhaps more importantly, we were perceived as being much bigger and more influential than we actually were. It was unfair and fair at the same time. It’s just how that game is played, everywhere.

But then the giants wised up, poured a ton of people and money into it and squashed us.

Thing is, it doesn’t take all that much to do what we did. Ask any digital marketer. You just need a little experience and a whole lot of time and money. I’m not going to get into the weeds of SEO (search engine optimization). But I am going to say something that sounds completely insane, and warn you that we’re in the middle of something we’ve never experienced in America: a full-on psychological war. And Google, of all places, is a main battlefield.

I’m going to show you one specific weapon in this war that’s being used against you and me and the United States right now: Google. There are other information weapons, such as bots and fake news sites, but other stories have those pretty well covered. But before we get started, though, two things to keep in mind:

First, most of us don’t even know we’re in this war yet. You don’t know when you’ve been wounded, when you’ve been killed. And that’s the whole point: You’re not supposed to.

Second, the attacks in this war aren’t aimed at your enemies. You attack your own side.

(More here.)

'Before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump'

The great British Brexit robbery: how the UK democracy was hijacked 

A shadowy global operation involving big data, billionaire friends of Trump and the disparate forces of the Leave campaign influenced the result of the EU referendum. As Britain heads to the polls again, is the UK electoral process still fit for purpose?

by Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian

This article is the subject of separate legal complaints on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited, and Sophie Schmidt.
“The connectivity that is the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their aims.[…] The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty.” — Alex Younger, head of MI6, December, 2016
“It’s not MI6’s job to warn of internal threats. It was a very strange speech. Was it one branch of the intelligence services sending a shot across the bows of another? Or was it pointed at Theresa May’s government? Does she know something she’s not telling us?” — Senior intelligence analyst, April 2017
In June 2013, a young American postgraduate called Sophie was passing through London when she was called up by the boss of a firm where she’d previously interned. The company, SCL Elections, went on to be bought by Robert Mercer, a secretive hedge fund billionaire, renamed Cambridge Analytica, and achieved a certain notoriety as the data analytics firm that played a role in both Trump and Brexit campaigns. But all of this was still to come. London in 2013 was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. The world had not yet turned.

“That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”

Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”

(More Here.)

Putin's internet threat: It's worse than you think

Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America

Massimo Calabresi
Updated: May 18, 2017, Newsweek

On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of U.S. counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia's influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both D.C. and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia's multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new.

It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary email hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter. The report said the Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department. Depending on the interests of the targets, the messages offered links to stories on recent sporting events or the Oscars, which had taken place the previous weekend. When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow's hackers to take control of the victim's phone or computer--and Twitter account.

As they scrambled to contain the damage from the hack and regain control of any compromised devices, the spy hunters realized they faced a new kind of threat. In 2016, Russia had used thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. Now counterintelligence officials wondered: What chaos could Moscow unleash with thousands of Twitter handles that spoke in real time with the authority of the armed forces of the United States? At any given moment, perhaps during a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, Pentagon Twitter accounts might send out false information. As each tweet corroborated another, and covert Russian agents amplified the messages even further afield, the result could be panic and confusion.

(More here.)