Thursday, January 5, 2017

Few Facts and Much Innuendo on Russian Election Tampering So Far

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

First, let me say from the start I have little doubt that Russia is capable of carrying out operations to mess with our elections. What I write here is not a defense of Russia, but a clarification of what the US government has released so far regarding the US intelligence agencies assessments, and press reactions. I see a tendency by the media to over state what has actually been said. It seems possible that the degree of Russian influence over the election is less significant than what we have been lead to believe.

For example, Russian hacking of the DNC, and the WikiLeaks publication of DNC emails, is linked together in the public mind. Google it all you want, however, and you won't find any "official" US government claim that documents published by Wikileaks were obtained from Russia or Russian sources. You can find a clear denial from Julian Assange that any of the emails published by WikiLeaks came from Russia or any other government source.

There is a steady stream of innuendo against Wikileaks and Julian Assange. The following is an explanations of how hacked emails got released to the public. Pay close attention to what The Hill is actually saying (I numbered the points for discussion below:

1) The Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence publicly blamed Russia for the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other political organizations this year. 
2) “The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” the [above referenced] statement read. 
3) Security experts have long believed that the previously-unknown hacker Guccifer 2.0 was a front for Russian interests, despite his claims to be a single Romanian hacker. He — or they — published the DNC and DCCC documents on a Wordpress blog set up shortly after the hacks.

4) DCLeaks.com, which published the Powell emails, claims to be American but is also thought to be a Russian intelligence front.

5) The anti-secrecy platform WikiLeaks also published the DNC emails, but would not reveal where it got them.

(http://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/299874-obama-administration-publicly-blames-russia-for-dnc-hack)

Beginning with the third statement above, it summarizes a case being made that Guccifer 2.0 has a direct connection with the Russians. You can read fairly compelling arguments for this claim elsewhere. The fourth statement ties DCLeaks.com to Russian intelligence with respect to the Colin Powell emails, a lesser know breach of a less relevant set of email. The fifth statement doesn't attempt to tie WikiLeaks to Russian directly, but manages to taunts Julian Assange by contrasting his "anti-secrecy platform" with his not revealing from where his DNC emails came.

The Hill's reporting in the first two statements above, however, is really misleading. There is general agreement that Russia is among those that hacked the DNC. Hacking political organizations is rampant. All governments do it all the time, including our own. But notice how the Hill worded their reporting of this joint statement. They say that the USIC statement blames Russia for "the hack of the Democratic National Committee." (emphasis mine)

Was there only a single hack of the DNC? Did the joint statement actually say this? This reporting gives a false impression. It has been widely reported, and confirmed, that the DNC  and the RNC were both hacked multiple times. Here below is an excerpt the actual language in the U.S. Intelligence Community's joint statement. Compare it to what The Hill reported:

" The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. "

https://www.dhs.gov/news/2016/10/07/joint-statement-department-homeland-security-and-office-director-national

What is and isn't being said here? You can read this joint statement in full and you will find no specific mention of the DNC. The compromised e-mails were clearly from various "institutions" and "people," both plural terms. You will see that "recent compromises" is also plural, not singular. You may notice that compromises seems to refers to the "disclosures" of allegedly hacked e-mails. It doesn't directly state that Russian intelligence was the actual hacker. Most importantly, the statement says that the release of these e-mails to websites "like" those mentioned is "consistent with" Russia's "methods and motivations." The statement doesn't directly accuse Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks or WikiLeaks of any complicity with the Russian government.

So, to restate the facts in this USIC joint statement, as I would report:

According to a joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on behalf of the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), e-mails from various U.S. political organizations and people were allegedly stolen by hackers. The contents of these stolen emails were publically release by websites such as Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks.com. The USIC believes that the manner in which these e-mails were allegedly stolen and publically released is consistent with the way Russia does things, and Russia has the motivation to do these thing. The USIC says it is "confident" that Russia directed this activity.

When you accurately report the facts released by the USIC statement, it becomes clear that little new information was actually provided. Furthermore, the implied logic of the statement is that because what Russia does looks like what happened, and because they wanted it to happen, the did it. This is seriously flawed logic.

Hopefully, the USIC , Congress and the President will do a better job in the future to present actual body of significant facts to support their allegations of Russian meddling in our elections. It is too serious an allegation to conceal evidence from the public. I am keeping an open mind, but the American people deserve to see the facts.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Illusionist in the White House

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I have had to work with people like Donald Trump before. Not folks as materially successful of course, but just as wily, and with very similar personalities. It was my job to extract accurate information from them to assess whether or not their children were at risk of harm. There was always a lot at stake, so simply taking them at face value was out of the question. These interviews were among the most difficult and exhausting of my career. It was like engaging in an emotional game of three-dimensional chess. Extracting even the most innocuous facts was challenging. The experiences, however, had the effect of inoculating me from the expert emotional manipulations that are their genius.

Donald Trump spoke directly to the emotions of many voters during his campaign. It was a campaign like no other, but I recognized him right away. He constructed an elaborate emotional tableau, devoid of factual distractions, that resonated with a frustrated, angry electorate. People read into him whatever they believed. Other candidates and the beltway press tried but could not penetrate his invisible cloak with facts, logic or reason. His burgeoning movement of follower would not be dissuaded. Eventually, enough people aligned their feelings about him with the well crafted self-portrait he created through his speeches. He got just enough votes in just the right places to win the Presidency.

So here we are, a people habituated to the ubiquitous marketing assaults we succumb to every day, unprepared to see through the marketing cloud of Mr. Trump. Now we have a new President about who we really know very little.

Donald Trump. The marketer-in-chief. Master illusionist. And because no one could pin anything on him during the campaigned, he is free to define his term in office any way he likes. 

But beware! His disdain for the press, verbal assaults on journalists and his thank-you rally's around the country are not short lived anomalies. They are harbingers of how he will maintain his power. The deflection of facts and the creation of strong, emotionally evocative impressions is how he operates.

Here is one way to help visualize what is happening. People like Donald Trump have the ability to do with language what a scrim does on a theatrical stage. A scrim is a special type of fabric that can be translucent, transparent, or opaque depending on how stage lights are directed. You can project any image you want on the front of it and it will mask everything from view behind it. When you only light the objects behind it, the scrim disappears like a pane of glass.

Donald Trump created a campaign, and is now building a Presidency behind a giant scrim. When he takes office we will only see what he chooses to project or to reveal. He will continue to divide us and play our emotions like the maestro that he is. My fear is that our only hope of revealing what he is up to will be either by taking control of the lighting board or storming the stage.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Of Poverty and Proverbs - An Excuse to Blame the Poor

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."


There is some wisdom in this old English proverb. It seems obvious that our survival instinct compels us to use our skills to meet our basic needs. The point being made by this proverb is that It is  more worthwhile to teach someone to do something for themselves than to do it for them.

As a nugget of wisdom, however, the expression is also insufficient. It assumes that resource and circumstances are otherwise favorable for the fisherman. The proverb shouldn't be taken too literally or applied too broadly, but it often is. This is especially the case when it is applied to social welfare.

Specifically, it becomes a problem when policy makers believe that all you have to do is give someone the skills they need and they can do the rest on their own. It's the notion that skills plus self-determination are sufficient for success. This reductive thinking forms the rationale behind the conservative politics of poverty. It's destructive corollary is a belief that when skills have been properly transferred, yet success remains elusive, the fault lies within the character of the person. It is a belief that fails to consider scarce resources or other barriers beyond a person's control.

To make this point, take the proverbial fisherman as an example and ask yourself the following question: What else, other than skills, might be required for the fisherman to catch his daily meal?

You won't get very far down your list before you see the point here. The fisherman's success still requires the right conditions, many of which are beyond his personal control. And some of the conditions are dependent on social factors, or environmental factors over which we have societal influence. Examples of these include having clean water, allowing public access, or requiring a fishing license.

The devil is always in the details. There are no simple formulaic ways to think about poverty. There is only the need to critically evaluate the impact of policies that influence everyone's well being, and to seek out, and overcome the barriers people face every day to putting food on their table. Do that and every able bodied person will act with self-determination.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fake News vs. Poor Journalism


by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

When journalists report on real events and get the facts wrong, or spin the facts to fit a point of view, that's bad journalism. When a non-journalist makes up a story about events that never even happened, that's fake news.

Fake news is a real phenomenon. It is a new phenomenon as well. It's fake news because it makes up totally fictitious stories from scratch and publishes it as news... to make a profit. These merchants of lies are not citizen journalists, but hucksters motivated by internet ad revenue. They do it for the hits and clicks that generate their income. Some may fall into the category of propagandists with an ideological agenda, but it hardly matters. Either way, the internet trolls pick up these fictitious stories and run with them, spreading the lies far and wide. The damage is done. Reputations are ruined. Public distrust is multiplied. Misconceptions are created, fears are stoked and ill conceived ideologies are reinforced. American's have become more hopelessly divided because we no longer form our opinions based on a similar sets of facts.

Business is brisk for the fake news scammers. They are filling a vast and pernicious need for the folks who no longer trust conventional journalism, corporate media, their government or the establishment. The creators of fake news are tapping into the anger, frustration and despair of millions of American's who have been cut adrift in our declining middle class. These are mostly good folks who feel forgotten and betrayed by the broken promises of politician's pretending to represent them. Establishment leaders have hidden the truth behind our economic and social decline. This opened the way for false and divisive narratives to fill the gap in our understandings about what is happening to us. It made us vulnerable to propaganda and exploitation to win our votes. And, it has created a financial opportunity for these unscrupulous fake news scammers.

Most of the fake news internet sites can't be traced to their original source or owner. It is hard sometimes to tell them from real news sites. Some of the sites have a URL address and a look of legitimacy, such as the ABcnews.com.co site that has no connection with ABC News. An explanation and list of the 58 most prominent fake news sites can be found at "Here are all the 'fake news' sites to watch out for on Facebook"  Some of the sites are well know satirical sites, like The Onion, which sometimes is mistaken for real news. Other sights, however, just make stuff with no higher literary purpose.



A recent investigation by NPR (National Public Radio) enlisted the help of an internet tech company to track down the owner of a fake news website called "Denver Guardian.com" and uncover just how the fake news industry operates. This is a brief excerpt explaining their reasons for this investigation:

" A lot of fake and misleading news stories were shared across social media during the election. One that got a lot of traffic had this headline: "FBI Agent Suspected In Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide." The story is completely false, but it was shared on Facebook over half a million times.

We wondered who was behind that story and why it was written. It appeared on a site that had the look and feel of a local newspaper. Denverguardian.com even had the local weather. But it had only one news story — the fake one."
More and more American's are getting their news from the internet, including you if you are reading this. The NPR report is a cautionary tale of what to expect as we move forward. Once these scammers get a taste for the profits to be made on fake news, there is no reason to believe the market for lies will dry up any time soon. And given the way our President Elect ran his campaign, the prospects for a private/public partnership between his administration and the budding fake news industry is frightening.

It is important to maintain a distinction between fake news and bad or biased news reporting. If we blur that distinction we completely undermine confidence in journalism, the only institution we have to investigate the real events that matter in our world. We need to hold journalists accountable for accurate, unbiased news accounts but we shouldn't confuse them with unscrupulous creative writers who publish pure fiction as if it were news in order to make money on their websites.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trump, the Marketer-in-Chief

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

If anyone seriously thought that Donald Trump was running for President out of high mindedness, you can give it up now. He was running to elevate his brand and market the Presidency for personal gain.

How so? 

Well, he just spent months on the campaign trail wearing a red cap with his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" on it. It became part of his campaign swag.

Every president in history, and any future president, would retire that cap and donate it to the Smithsonian Museum or feature it in their future presidential library. Not this guy. He fully intends to market the image and make a killing off of it. Expect to see some version of it for retail next Christmas while Donald Trump is sipping brandy in one of his Presidential palaces. Billionaires!

How much does this true-spirit-of-Christmas ornament go for this year?

It's yours for just $149 dollars and no "sense"! This is the sort of change I never expected, the selling of the Presidency by the President-elect himself. 

More than 45 million people, or 14.5% of all Americans, lived below the poverty line last year. I'm certain none of them can afford this overpriced campaign schlock. Perhaps the proceeds for this sale are going to fund food pantries or house the homeless over the holiday season?  Well, there is nothing mentioned in the advertising to suggest that.

Maybe this isn't really being marketed by President-elect Donald Trump. Maybe his business isn't really financially benefiting. Could it be that some other enterprising fool is cleaning up on his political success?

I thought of that, so I checked. According to the internet advertisement, the link to buy the "classic red MAGA hat" is DonaldTrump.com. It's his Trump store. To be sure there wasn't a mistake, I went to the Whois.com website and confirmed that the domain name is registered to THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION (see below). 


So there it is! "Get Yours" America! (If you can afford it.) Is this supposed to be our new normal? Do we really have a President who is a businessman for himself first and President for the people last? 

This Christmas you should grab a bottle of Trump wine and drown your sorrows, because no one at the highest reaches of government will be marketing your cares away. 
















Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) Failed the Party

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The following brief excerpt is from a recent Huffington Post article:

New Pre-Election Poll Suggests Bernie Sanders Could Have Trounced Donald Trump

by Ryan Grim and Daniel Marans

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would have beaten Donald Trump by a historic margin if he had been the Democratic nominee, according to a private pre-election pollprovided to The Huffington Post.



The national survey of more than 1,600 registered voters, conducted by Gravis Marketing two days before the general election, found that Sanders would have received 56 percent of the vote while Trump would have won 44 percent. The poll was commissioned and financed by outgoing Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, a Democrat who endorsed Sanders in the presidential primary.
The last election result that decisive was Ronald Reagan’s victory over Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984.

Of the result validity of these poll results I have no doubt. Bernie Sanders was to the Democratic Party what Ronald Reagan once was to the Republicans, except the DNC didn't allow a fair contest between him and their establishment pick. Instead the DNC made sure that the most establishment candidate the Democrats had would run against the most anti-establishment Republican candidate in history.

The twin phenomena of Trump and Bernie movements screamed its warning about the mood of the people, but the DNC thought it knew better. And if you think Hillary lost because she wasn't progressive enough, or effective enough, or because she was a woman, or because of the emails and FBI mess, then you still don't get it. Her problem isn't with her. It's much bigger.

Our government is far more broken than most of us are ready to admit. Many of the folks who voted for Trump know this in their heart. They feel it every day. They just don't know why government is broken and they have been lied to about it for years. Their frustration and anger was exploited by this demagogue who goes around blaming the wrong causes for our brokenness in order to divide us and gain power for himself.

We, the People, have long been dis-empowered. We have been rendered irrelevant by the wealthy elite and corporate power. This is the source of our broken government, and the road back to a healthy Republic just got a lot longer.

I do not disparage Hillary supporters at all. I love them for their ideals and courage. While I have differences of opinion with her, I respect Hillary Clinton as a person and a candidate. I agree she was the most qualified candidate on paper. Most of the terrible things people have said about her are nasty lies. I've been saying that for years now.

That said, she was still the wrong candidate to face Donald Trump this year. The difference between her and Bernie Sanders is not just by degrees of progressive policies. The real difference between them is a whole paradigm shift in governance. It is a paradigm that empowers citizens over businesses, power and wealth. This is what the pundits missed. This is what many Hillary supporters couldn't see. (New paradigms are difficult to imagine when our thinking is rooted in the context of an older paradigm).

One more point, if I may. A lot of Democrats defend the early actions of the DNC's loyalty to Hillary Clinton. They say she came so close the first time and deserved a second shot. But four years is a long time, and things change. It's like when military generals base their planning on the last war.

More importantly, loyalty is the opposite of democracy. Party loyalty to a "chosen" candidate is critical for a successful a presidential campaign, but democracy is still essential in choosing the right party candidate. That's why it is critical that the DNC always remain neutral and equitably support all candidates. Their role in the primary phase is to conduct a fair and free primary campaign, to let the people speak.

The DNC failed our party and we lost, not just the Presidency but many down ticket races. In fact, Democrats have been losing election cycle after cycle at every level because the DNC has been interfering in party democracy to effect a result that fits their ideology and keeps like-minded Democrats in power.

In short, the Republicans allowed a democratic process and nominated the democratically elected candidate, for which they have been rewarded. The Democratic Party interfered with democracy within the party and have been punished. The DNC's loyalty to Hillary Clinton was grossly premature.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Rural Republicans VS The Urban Bubble

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
If you superimposed the Democratic v. Republican Party Map over the US Population Density Map you clearly see that the more urban, the more Democratic and the more rural, the more Republican. This strengthens a case that has been made that our political tensions also line-up between city vs. county lines. Cities are the seats of power. They are the drivers of culture and the economy. People living in vast stretches or rural America are mostly marginalized and largely ignored, even by the establishment wing of their own party. All political promises have been empty for decades. No one is helping them understand what's really happening to them as their jobs disappear, their wages shrink, their homes are foreclosed and their family life is disrupted. No one is lifting a finger to fix things for them. 

It was these areas where Trump's messages resonated most. It was the folks in these areas that came out to vote for him in record numbers, against the backdrop of the lowest overall voter turnout in years. This year, the rural vote mattered. 

All establishment politics is urban centered, so the anti-establishment sentiment that swept Trump into power is a wake-up call from rural heartland of America. People living inside our urban bubbles take note: Political inclusion isn't just something that needs to happen inside the urban bubble.




Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Concise Analysis of Why Trump Won


By Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Donald Trump won because the GOP allowed their party’s popular choice to be nominated even though he wasn't the establishments choice. Democrats lost because of the anti-insurgency bias against a popular anti-establishment candidate, a bias baked into the Democratic primary process.

I blame the DNC for its epic failure to read the mood of the country, for thwarting Bernie Sanders at every turn and for fielding an historically unfavorable establishment candidate. It is clear that the DNC completely underestimated how much Hillary Clinton is disliked, or how well Trump resonated with so many citizens. The electorate clearly wanted to send a message to the establishment. Thanks to the DNC that message has been delivered in it's most virulent form possible.

You can say she lost because she is a woman, and you are be partly right. You can say she lost because President Obama is black, and you are be partly right. But mostly she lost because no establishment candidate could have won. She and the Democratic Party failed to see or understand the lives of so many struggling, marginalized and forgotten families living below the radar, especially in rural America. She lost because she represents the very establishment that let so many American's before, during and since the Great Recession.

I have more to say, but not now. It’s all still too damn depressing.

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