Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Washington isn't the only bullshit generator

(LP note: I taught for nearly 30 years in higher ed and, boy, does this ring true.)

Education Is Drowning in BS

By Christian Smith
Chronicle of Higher Education
JANUARY 09, 2018

Christian Smith is a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.

I have had nearly enough bullshit. The manure has piled up so deep in the hallways, classrooms, and administration buildings of American higher education that I am not sure how much longer I can wade through it and retain my sanity and integrity.

Even worse, the accumulated effects of all the academic BS are contributing to this country’s disastrous political condition and, ultimately, putting at risk the very viability and character of decent civilization. What do I mean by BS?

BS is the university’s loss of capacity to grapple with life’s Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.

BS is the farce of what are actually "fragmentversities" claiming to be universities, of hyperspecialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.

BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls — that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Sustainable finance: the year ahead

From Bloomberg:

Sustainable investing went global in 2017 and is poised to continue that momentum with greater investor demand and corporate disclosure out of Asia, and more ESG-focused funds launched in the U.S. and Europe, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Gregory Elders. In last year's bull market, ESG indexes that excluded fossil-fuel companies or used an ESG tilt strategy to emphasize companies with better sustainability metrics, such as the MSCI USA ESG Select Leaders Index, showed some of the strongest returns versus broad benchmarks.

(The article is here.)

Friday, December 15, 2017

If you think winters are getting warmer, it's because they are

Mankato has second-fastest warming winters in nation

By Tim Krohn tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com

MANKATO — If you needed more confirmation that our winters are increasingly wimpier, the nonprofit group Climate Central shows Mankato is the second-fastest warming city in the nation.

The report, released by the New Princeton, New Jersey-based group of scientists, found that winters have warmed the fastest in the Great Plains and the Great Lakes region.

Since 1970, Mankato winters have warmed by an average 6 degrees. That ties with Minneapolis. Only winters in Burlington, Vermont, have warmed faster, rising 7 degrees.

(Continued here. Note: This website — city-mankato.us — done years ago by an Minnesota State University Mankato professor to teach his students not to trust the internet, may now be prophetic.)

Friday, December 08, 2017

Climate change and the need for alternative energy

Address to the Mankato Area Lifelong Learners, Thursday, Dec. 7: These true American patriots get it!

On Thursday I addressed the Mankato Area Lifelong Learners at the Snell Motors Community Room. The notes on my address can be found at bigclimate.org.

Interesting note: When I asked how many drove hybrid vehicles, about one-third raised their hands. In the U.S. the number is less than five percent.

— LP

Monday, December 04, 2017

Save money, do good: What's not to like?

Many Minnesota homes would benefit from an energy audit

Many Minnesota homes still have lots of room for energy savings.

"Any home built before 1970, there's no guarantee that there's any insulation in the walls," said Stacy Boots Camp, outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Center for Energy and the Environment.

The group helps homeowners cut their energy use. She says a quarter of Minnesota homes still lack sufficient insulation. And many that have enough insulation may still leak a lot of air.

"There's still hundreds of thousands of houses that could be better insulated. Probably, the main issue we see is the potential for air sealing," she said.

Plugging leaks can add up to real savings. CenterPoint Energy, for instance, says customers can cut their natural gas bills by 10 to 30 percent with aggressive conservation efforts. The utility has some 800,000 residential customers in Minnesota. CenterPoint says those households could save enough gas to heat about a quarter million homes for a year if they maximized their homes' energy efficiency.

(Continued here.)

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Book recommendation: 'The Ends of the World'

Am reading Peter Brannen's The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions. Best book I've read about extinction and climate change since Anthony Barnosky & Elizabeth Hadly's Tipping Point for Planet Earth (also titled End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth).

This is scary stuff. It's also very real.

— LP

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Recommendation: Our World in Data

Just discovered "Our World in Data". Lots of good stuff, thanks to the University of Oxford. Check it out, especially when try to parse claims of "fake news".

— LP

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Where have we gone?

To the loyal followers of Vox Verax (all three of you):

You may have noticed that we haven't posted here for a while. The reason is that we have moved our efforts to Twitter and Facebook. The reasons: (1) It's easier and quicker to post. (2) Our work gets more eyeballs (we think).

That said, we will still be posting on Vox Verax from time to time when we have something original and noteworthy (earth shattering?) to say. Meanwhile, look for our comments and the articles we recommend here:
— LP

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Solar, wind less costly than fossil fuels

by Leigh Pomeroy

Leigh Pomeroy is a member of the executive board of the Southcentral Minnesota Clean Energy Council. In March, April, May and June of this year, his solar panels produced more energy than his home used, putting the excess back into the grid.

Minnesota has set its sights on reaching the goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. Naturally, some have wondered whether this is possible. It is, and here's why.

Historically it's been thought that fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas were cheaper than renewables like solar and wind. And they were, as long as one didn't take into account the costs that society bears for the pollution and health problems fossil fuels cause, and the government subsidies they require. Health costs from the burning of fossil fuels have now reached $2.76 trillion worldwide.

And government subsidies currently amount to $5.3 trillion worldwide — or $3.80 per gallon for gasoline, $4.80 per gallon for diesel, $.24 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity and $.11 per kWh for natural gas. In other words, the cheap gas for your SUV and the cheap electricity for your home are being subsidized by your own tax dollars.

Increasingly, solar and wind are being shown to cost less than fossil fuels when taking into account all costs. Further, renewable energy coupled with smart-grid technology can create a totally fossil fuel-free energy system, which has been detailed in research by Stanford University Professor Mark Z. Jacobson and others. (See "Stanford engineers develop state-by-state plan to convert U.S. to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050" and "100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) AllSector Energy Roadmaps for 139 Countries of the World".

Countries already approaching this goal are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Bringing this idea closer to home, what with depressed prices in agricultural markets, farmers are finding greater per acre income from leasing out their land for wind or solar. With wind, the land can also be farmed. With solar, the land underneath the solar panels is being used to provide pollinator habitat.
As far as we know, there is no coal, oil or natural gas in Minnesota, but we do have plenty of solar and wind. So why send our energy dollars and jobs outside of Minnesota when we can develop this economic resource locally?

Clean, renewable energy coupled with the smart grid, new energy storage technology and developments in energy efficiency (such as energy neutral buildings) are not just the future: The technology exists today to do all these things and for a cost far less than the real price we're paying for fossil fuels.

Iowa is already doing this, as noted by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds.

Just as we replaced wood with coal and whale oil with petroleum, thus creating a higher standard of living, so too will clean energy replace fossil fuels with the same result.

That future is here. It is now time to recognize it and act accordingly.

A version of this piece was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Evidence shows Trump, businesses connected to Russia

by Tom Maertens, Vox Verax

Tom Maertens worked on Soviet and then Russian affairs for a dozen years, inside the State Department, at the U.S. Consulate General in Leningrad, and as Minister-Counselor for Science, Environment and Technology at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The Trump administration continues to deny that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, including hacking 21 state voter databases; the campaign/White House issued at least 20 blanket denials of meeting with Russians, now shown to be lies.

The evidence is overwhelming that Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort knowingly conspired with Russia to alter the 2016 election. Trump Jr. was told explicitly that the June 9 meeting he accepted with several Russians was very sensitive because Russia was supporting his father.

His emails make the transactions clear: the Kremlin offered assistance, and subsequently left behind “compromising material” on Hillary Clinton; Trump Jr. willingly accepted it knowing it came from Russia and was intended to affect the election. The (eventual) quid pro quo involved “adoptions” (the Magnitsky Act), which imposed sanctions on 44 of Putin’s cronies linked to murder, corruption or cover-ups.

Besides the Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner meetings, Page, Flynn, and Sessions also met with Russian officials and lied about it.

The idea that these meetings took place without the knowledge and direction of Trump is laughable. Trump has consistently defended Russia, and denigrated his own intelligence community and the press, while impeding or obstructing investigations.

For his part, Trump had multiple private meetings with Putin at the Hamburg G20 meeting, with no Americans present. There was no American notetaker in the Oval Office meeting Trump had with Russians where he disclosed highly classified information. What else did Trump give away?

Why did Jared Kushner attempt to set up a secret back-channel communication with the Kremlin inside the Russian embassy to avoid detection by U.S. intelligence?

We already know that Roger Stone, a Trump campaign official, admitted to having contacts with Wikileaks, which the CIA director labelled a hostile intelligence service, (and which Trump professed to “love” over 140 times during the last 30 days of the campaign) and with Guccifer 2.0, a front for Russian military intelligence. Stone also betrayed his involvement by his foreknowledge that John Podesta’s email account would be hacked.

Several investigations are underway which should confirm who the culprits were and how they manipulated the elections.

What most Americans don’t understand is the connection between Putin, the KGB/FSB, and the Russian mob. Boris Yeltsin himself described Russia as “the biggest mafia state in the world.”

The connection dates back to the Communist Party’s rainy day slush fund — said to exceed $20 billion — in case Gorbachev’s reforms got out of control and they had to flee the country. The KGB was charged with exporting the money, which it subcontracted to the mob to launder and invest abroad.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, Yeltsin abolished the Communist Party, leaving the KGB/mafia with all that money, which they used to buy real estate abroad and distressed enterprises in Russia as their own insurance policies.

When Putin succeeded Yeltsin as president, he endorsed Russian intelligence connections with the country’s mobsters and oligarchs, allowing them to operate freely as long as they served his personal interests. Multiple sources make clear that Putin and the FSB/KGB essentially control the Russian mob.

According to James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey & Company, some $1.3 trillion in illicit capital has been sent out of Russia since the 1990s, parked mostly in real estate, like Trump’s. In fact, Trump Jr. said in 2008 that most of the Trump money was coming from Russia.

The Guardian has uncovered elaborate ties between the Trump family and Russian money laundering in New York real estate.

According to Craig Unger in The New Republic, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties over the past three decades. USA Today reported that “the president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.”

Unger cites multiple sources about hundreds of Trump units that were sold to “Russian-speakers” and concludes that, without the Russian mafia, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.

Trump is clearly running scared, desperate to stop the investigation; he fired Comey, he’s threatening to fire Mueller and is talking about presidential pardons, all intended to obstruct justice. As former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller said: “Trump looks ‘super guilty.’”

Trump continues to claim the Russia connection is a “hoax,” but it’s gotten the Trump crime family in deep trouble.

This article also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

If ignorance were only bliss

In January of this year I wrote a piece for the Mankato Free Press entitled "Electricity: The 21st century solution is here". It was a very noncontroversial article, I thought. Nevertheless, I received in the mail shortly thereafter an unsigned letter, to wit:

Aside from being factually incorrect — I didn't spend my whole life in government — and full of misspellings, this kind of letter shows a woeful ignorance of reality. Contrary to what this writer thinks, we all know that governments are heavily involved in energy markets, whether they be fossil fuel or renewable. And there is no argument that government policies have served to keep fossil fuel prices down since they first replaced wood and whale oil in the 19th century.

Ignorance may be bliss, but ignorance has also led us into the political quagmire based on a total disregard for facts we find ourselves in today.

— Leigh Pomeroy

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Killing Obamacare Softly

Thomas B. Edsall JULY 27, 2017, NYT

Unable — at least so far — to kill the Affordable Care Act outright, the Trump administration has conducted a sustained war of attrition designed to inflict fatal damage on Obamacare.

This war, often operating below the radar, entails the use of a quintessentially conservative strategy, and the cooperation of Congressional Republicans. In a way, it’s pretty simple: You cut the budget, impose debilitating regulations, track the subsequent missteps and then attack the program as a failure.

The political opportunism behind the Republicans’ determination to undo legislation that makes federally financed health care more broadly available has deep roots.

“Democratic legislation,” the conservative strategist Bill Kristol argued after President Bill Clinton proposed his health care plan in 1993, poses “a serious political threat to the Republican Party.”

If enacted, Kristol continued,
it will relegitimize middle-class dependence for “security” on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.
Sound familiar? The Kristol memo captures the reasoning and the philosophy behind the many covert (and overt) Republican attempts to eviscerate Obamacare.

(More here.)

Foxconn deal to build massive factory in Wisconsin could cost the state $230,700 per worker

By Danielle Paquette
July 27 at 2:40 PM, WashPost

President Trump hugs Vice President Pence, left, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after announcing the first U.S. assembly plant for electronics giant Foxconn at the White House on July 26. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post) Foxconn, the technology giant that supplies gadgets to Apple, Google and Amazon, has shown willingness to make a huge investment in Wisconsin — in exchange for a similarly hefty commitment from the state.

The Taiwanese company has agreed to build a factory that will stretch 20 million square feet, the size of 11 football fields, and Gov. Scott Walker has offered a set of financial rewards to seal the deal.
On the table is up to $3 billion in state tax breaks. The state legislature could approve the economic incentive package as early as August.

These payouts, Wisconsin officials said, come with lofty expectations. As long as Foxconn keeps hiring U.S. workers at the new flat-screen manufacturing facility, Wisconsin would cut the company $200 million to $250 million a year for up to 15 years.

That works out to a rough cost to the state of about $230,700 per worker, assuming the factory goes on to generate 13,000 jobs.

(More here.)

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
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
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

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.)

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


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


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


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


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.)