Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Blight of Billionaires

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

To quote a recent Newsweek article about our first elected billionaire to the Office of President:
"Anybody with $1 billion in net worth possesses a tranche of wealth greater than the gross domestic product of 60 nations. So what can a president give to these men who have everything? And what can they do for him and to the rest of America? The answer may be found in the most famous line from the Italian classic novel The Leopard, about the decaying Sicilian aristocracy: “Everything must change so that everything can remain the same.” The best gift Trump can give his rich friends from Manhattan is to appear to be shaking up the system while leaving their myriad tactics for manipulating and amassing capital unaffected by federal regulation and higher." NINA BURLEIGH, Newsweek 4/5/17
By the latest count there are 1,542 billionaires worldwide, 560 of whom live in the United States. There has never been a cohort of so many billionaires in the world before. It is a mistake to lump them in with the millions of ordinary millionaires that we think as being rich.

There is a huge difference between billionaires and millionaires in wealth, in power and in their world view. Consider this: Two stacks of $100 bills pilled as high as your knee equals a million dollars (each bill is .0043 inches thick). Two stacks of $100 bills pilled as high as the Empire State Building equals a billion dollars.

Most millionaires, on the other hand, start out as hard working folk on whom good luck has smiled. You can't accumulate a million bucks without good health, good timing and other matters of chance. 

Millionaires, however, will often say they don't believe in chance. They will say they earned what they have through persistence, hard work, education, bright ideas and going that extra mile, which is all true... so long as their good luck doesn't run out.

How many millionaires are there? In 2014 it was estimated that there were 920,000 new millionaires created, bringing the global total to 14.6 million. At that rate there would be no fewer than 18 million millionaires today.

The problem for the rest of us is that the more knee high stacks of $100 dollar bills millionaires have, the more they benefit from the tilted playing field created by the vastly wealthy billionaires. More importantly, the richer they get the more they begin to act as courtiers to the royally rich. The majority of our elected federal officials are just these sorts of millionaires.

Billionaires are immensely powerful. The majority of them inherited this wealth and power, much like royalty. And like royalty, most of them feel entitled and especially worthy of their rank and position. Many of them  think government and our social institutions should reward them , so they tilt the playing field to accelerate their capital growth.

People becoming millionaires is generally a good thing for the economy, for job growth and national GDP. The problem with millionaires arises when they fall under the influence of billionaires. The the more knee high stacks of $100 dollar bills millionaires have, the more they like the tilted playing field created for them by billionaires. More importantly, the richer they get the more they act as courtiers to the royally rich. It's more than a fascination, it becomes an addiction. The majority of our elected federal representatives are millionaires who engage in just these sorts courtier activity.

The world is rapidly approaching the point where a single multi-billionaire could control enough wealth to directly compete with national governments. We are already beyond the point where even loosely coordinated actions among billionaires can sway or defeat the popular will within nations. On example of their power is the "death tax" movement to eliminate the U.S. Estate Tax. As a percentage of the population, federal inheritance taxes affects very few families, just 0.2% of the population. The push to kill the death tax was created and funded by just a handful of super wealthy families. Billionaires want to secure their children's right to succession of their money and power. The Estate tax is the last bulwark our society has in defense of a democratic society. It is not sufficient when it can be so easily defeated by just a handful of billionaires

In his book, Capitalism in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty takes on these issues directly and in great detail. Among his conclusions is that the march towards wealth inequality can only quicken over time without significant democratic controls. His primary suggestion is a global, progressive tax on wealth ownership. The barriers to establishing that are formidable, as he discusses in his book. But the greatest obstacle to any social intervention to save our freedom and self-governance is our failure to even recognize the threat that billionaires and wealth inequality pose to our future. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

South Africa - A Canary in a Cage

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Having come of age in the 1970's, South Africa holds a special place in my heart.  Although I'd not been there before recently, the forced social separation by apartheid laws to reinforced White domination was a global disgrace, and I felt it. I signed petitions to get my college to divest from companies doing business there. Nelson Mandela's political imprisonment was an international affront to justice that bothered me.
The spontaneous street protests in Soweto by Black high school student in the 1980's was inspiring while the fact so many were shot dead shocked everyone.  
And so  I celebrated along with the rest of the world when Apartheid was finally dismantled, Mandela was freed and the first free elections were held. It was a triumph of the human spirit over oppression and it sent a message of love and freedom to the world.

When my wife and I recently  booked a trip to South Africa, we were excited by the prospect of viewing great African animals in their natural habitat, but equally interested to see how this iconic country had fared during their 27 years of freedom.  

The safari portions of our trip were spectacular, far exceeding our expectations. The landscapes, the plant life and geography were beautiful and so dramatic. All the people we met were friendly and welcoming. I felt I had come home to our mother continent where humanity itself was born. 

Yet it was sad to learn how difficult the transition to self-rule has been for the people in this developing nation. We learned a lot about South African culture and it's politics, much of which is just now seeping out to Western news outlets.

I can't begin to do this topic justice from just a 12 day tour, but I can highlight some of my impressions.

Our tour guide on the trip was a brilliant, very engaging "colored" man (his term) who self-identifies as being from the Khoi-San tribe. This is actually a joining of the names of two tribes indigenous to South Africa. The Khoi-San are genetically and linguistically among the oldest groups of humans on earth. It was they who Dutch settlers first encountered in 1656. Of course oppression and hardship followed the Khoi (or Khoe pronounced coy) and the San tribes throughout the colonial period under the Dutch, and then the English in the 1800's.
After three-hundred years of colonial rule our tour guide, like most colored people in South Africa, is bi-racial with some Dutch and English ancestry. Colored people were oppressed in colonial times and still are today, although less overtly. 

During apartheid, the designation of "colored" also applied to people from India who were brought there as slaves, and to any other group held in low esteem. If a black African wanted to appeal his designation as a colored person, a pencil was pushed through the person's hair and they were told to shake their head. If the pencil fell out they lost their appeal.

The hope of inter-racial harmony and social unity that animated the successful struggle against apartheid in the in the 1970's and 80’s has since given way to economic and political oppression by other factions. South Africa has among the greatest wealth inequality in the world.  In our guide's telling, it is the black African immigrants from the North who mostly hold the reins of power, Among these are certain dominate tribes, such as the Zulu for one example. There is a social hierarchy among these black African tribes while white South Africans are mostly caught in the middle and colored South Africans are at or near the bottom.

The degree to which society is stratified along tribal traditions is evident in the parliament where everyone insists on speaking in their own dialect or language despite the fact that virtually everyone speaks English. This means everything said in parliament has to go through interpreters and is fraught with misunderstandings. 

Not surprisingly, it is global corporations who appear to be pulling all the strings in South Africa. As we road in our bus for hours from one site to another we saw miles and miles of eucalyptus trees planted in perfectly straight rows awaiting lumber harvesting. We saw miles and miles of other single crop plantings as far as the eye could see. It was corporate industrial farming on a grand scale harvesting crops destined for international consumption. I couldn't help but wonder what native species were displaced by all this cultivated land. I wondered if beautiful giraffes or stately lions once roamed here. Does loss of habitat contribute more here to species decline than poaching? The only small farming we saw was tiny gardens between certain shacks in huge, crowded shanty towns that dotted the lands outside the major towns and cities. On one side of the roadway you might see a square mile or more of closely packed shacks made of corrugated tin or wood planks with electric wires extending down to them like ribbons from a maypole. Sanitation is provided by long rows of outhouses along the periphery of these villages.

On the other side of the road you might see large gated communities of small, brightly colored masonry houses with modest flower gardens and a little driveway. There is razor wire on top of all the walls surrounding these communities. These four or five room homes were described to us as middle class enclaves. Only in the township of Soweto did we see a community where rich, middle class and poor housing existed in proximity.

Poverty is rampant everywhere, even in the wealth city areas. The unemployment rate in South Africa is currently approaching 50 percent. Crime has become an essential activity for survival among some South Africans. We learned that the country has an affordable and extensive railway system which is now plagued by long delays because robbers steal the electric lines to sell the copper.

Evidence of corporate industrial farming and its impact was just as evident in Swaziland, which is an independent nation within the northern mountain region of South Africa.

Here lives the only remaining sovereign king on earth. He disbanded the constitution when he took power and is the sole law of the land. A Western educated man with 13 wives, his most recent wife is just 19 years old. He is also one of the top richest men on earth living in a land of great poverty and very inadequate health care. Many people here still rely on medicine men when they are ill.

As we road through a rural landscape we passed hectors after hectors of sugar cane planted in neat, endless rows. Our tour guide told us all this sugar cane belonged to Coca Cola. Asked if the land was owned by the company we learned that all the land is leased to Coca Cola by the government, which is the Swazi king. Still, every child goes to school and has a school uniform. Parents who can afford it buy their child's books and uniforms while poor parents apply for them from the government.

Back in South Africa the same is not always true. While every child is required to go to school and wear a uniform, in some rural farm areas there is a gap between sixth grade and eight grade. Parents who can afford it send their children to private 7th grade classes. Education stops at the 6th grade for those who can't afford a private school. In this way there is a steady supply of laborers to work the fields.

Water resources have recently become a huge issue in Capetown, a city of twelve million people who are expected to run out of water sometime in April. Water conservation signs are everywhere, starting at the airport. In our hotel a four minute hourglass egg timer was glued to the shower stall to help guests take shorter showers. (Currently the recommended shower time is two minutes, not four).

Almost all of Capetown's water comes from ground water reservoirs. So the environmental cause of this water shortage is a lack of rain due to five years of drought. But there are political causes behind the crisis as well. Endless squabbles and debates in the national government have resulted in years of delay in constructing a desalination plants.

I couldn't get a clear answer as to whether there were sufficient aquifers under the city to dig municipal wells, but an hour's drive south brought us to the wine district what water is abundant.

Here there were reservoirs filled with water as well as ground wells to irrigate the vineyards. There were lush fields of grapes in this fertile valley waiting to be picked and turned into that famous South African wine. Some of these vineyards are over 300 years old.

As my wife and I traveled around and observed all the contrasts and disparities, we got the sense we were not seeing South Africa backsliding towards it's past, but rather a glimpse into our own future here in the United States. South Africa, the cradle of humanity, is a place of awesome beauty and friendly, descent hard working folks. But the politics right now is frightening and the resources of this developing country appears to be more and more under private or corporate control. It is not unlike what we are beginning to experience here in the United States. So, these are among my cultural pictures that my camera couldn't capture.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Mass School Shootings - A Framework for Prevention and Change

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

[The following post was re-edited on 2/24/18, mostly to shorten and improve readability]

There have been at least seven school shootings during school hours so far this year where children have been killed or injured.  This includes 17 students recently killed in Parkland, Florida. We can't normalize this. Mass casualty shootings are a public health crisis. 
ABC News
We don't really know much about what triggers a young person to start shooting his peers. Part of the reason we don't know is that the shooters don't always live to tell their story. But there are also "don't ask, don't tell" government policies surrounding gun violence. The NRA has gotten the US Congress to block the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) from collecting data on gun violence or from studying the problem.

What we know is that these mostly young male assailants are not terrorists in a formal sense. Terrorists are motivated by politics and oppression. They commit horrible acts against soft targets to draw attention to their views. Sometimes terrorists do act out of vengeance while hiding behind politics or religion.

Tentative Profile of the Shooters
School shooters like Nikolas Cruz in Parkland seem to be motivated by internal fantasies that stem from a social pathology. They have troubled histories with symptoms of odd behaviors and emotional disturbances that are not clearly tied to a specific underlying mental illness.  For example, they have no brain-chemical imbalance, no obvious thought disorders or don't hear voices telling them to do these things.  As a result, they often aren't diagnosed as "mentally ill" in a strict clinical sense. This diagnostic ambiguity complicates their interactions with mental health systems and the law, and parents find it difficult to get effective help.

Instead, these loners become increasing self-isolating. They have weak social relationship and poor social skills. They may have a history of been shunned or bullied by peers, perhaps because they act so differently. They can appear passive or unpredictably aggressive. They excessively engage in solitary activities such as video games or social media. Some come to feel powerless and insecure on many levels and may then develop an active inner fantasy life to help them cope with their short comings.

A percentage of these socially troubled youth may become fascinated with military style assault weapons for several reasons. These weapons look "cool" and powerful, like the military hardware they see on TV and in their video games. They develop a strong desire to own these weapons. and owning them makes them feel powerful, more in control and perhaps more manly. By contrast, their actual cross-gender relationships are often either absent or very dysfunctional. Once they own these weapons their inner fantasies begin to evolve around the weapon and how they might use them.

This probably describes a large group of cohorts of youth. Most don't become a mass murderers. Why a few flip is anyone's guess. Was Cruz' expulsion from school a triggering event for him?  We shall see.

In all cases, young people who exhibits these sort of histories and behaviors are seriously in need of help. Current mental health screening protocols, treatment methods, treatment accessibility and mental health laws are not adequate to identify and help this population. The efforts needed to identify and treat potential mass shooters will take time. If we started today to study, identify and treat these kids it might take a years to bring the present crisis under control.

Guns and Gun Culture Factors
A much faster, direct way to curb the violence would be take these murderous military style weapons out of the hands of civilians, and young people in particular. A key concept here is  "style",  as in fashion. It isn't the technical capability of an AR-15 that attracts these kids, but it's looks.

Gun enthusiasts will tell you the AR-15 is semi-automatic and therefore it isn't an assault weapon. This definition is a distinction without a difference.  The design is such that a large magazine clip and a bump stock is all it takes to turn them into fully automatic assault weapons. Moreover, they have three times the muzzle speed of a handgun which gives their small bore bullets more kinetic energy and much greater killing power.

More importantly, the perception of the AR-15 as a military style assault style weapon is very powerful. It impacts the attitudes and behaviors of everyone who owns them and this has an especially powerful impact on socially vulnerable youth. And as we know, what is real in its perception is real in its consequence.

Below is a picture of two rifles with almost identical capabilities. In both models, a bump stock and a large capacity magazine would turn either into an assault weapon.

It is obvious from the captions that this comparison is used by gun rights advocates, but just consider the visual impact. The Ruger Mini looks like a regular hunting rifle. The AR-15 stands out. It looks the military grade hardware depicted in Hollywood movies and just about every video game kids play. What child would prefer the Ruger Mini to an AR-15?

Perceptions matter. Perceptions alter behavior and cultural. The advertizing impact of these weapons in games and movies is a powerful force in a developing mind. It's a marketers paradise.

Along with there, there is an overall militarization of our culture in recent times. Police training is being turned over to companies that also train our solders. A government program sells excess military equipment (initially set up in the 1990's by Dick Cheney) to local police departments who are trained in their use. This alters the culture of our domestic police forces and creates an "us vs. them" militia mindset. And a growing fervency in patriotic adulation for our soldiers and police officers, (as opposed to the due respect and appreciation they deserve) has an impact on our children's cultural development and values. We are all blurring the lines between military culture and a more peaceful minded civil society.

A General Framework for Action
There are at least two main, interdependent parts to the mass school shooting problem. One is the increased proneness of certain children towards gun violence, and the other is the ready availability of highly lethal assault weapons that play into their fantasies. The first part is complex and difficult to change quickly. The second part can change quickly but for strong political and cultural opposition. The parts are interdependent steps take in each can have an effects on the other. For example, changes in the prevalence of assault weapons can impact the gun culture and how guns are perceived by children. Conversely, detection and interventions for socially at risk children in eliminate violence incidents and improve the overall milieu and learning environment, in schools. A healthy child in a healthy environment is a more responsible gun owner, if they choose to own a gun.

What can politicians do to end these mass casualty episodes?. What can parents do to help their children who get caught in a web of social failure?

A Public Health Emergency
The most immediate actions we can take on the mental health side is to untie the hands of the NIH and the CDC. Let them do their job. For too long Congress has tied our hands so that the gun industry won't be encumbered by inconvenient truths. The NRA has blocked gun violence research for over 20 years. Congress won't even let the CDC collect data on gun violence. This is not acceptable.

Let our public health institutions treat gun violence and gun deaths is a public health crisis. Give them the funding they need bring science to bear on the issues. Make mass shootings at our children's schools a national emergency. Set up task forces to study the issue. Let them identify better screening protocols and intervention strategies that can be introduced at the local level so parents have the help they seek. Provide community based strategies to help communities prevent these children from falling between the cracks. We need healthier social environments in our schools and our communities. For that we need stronger national leadership. We have a significant public health  crisis and the champions in the best position to help us with it have been sidelined.

Gun Control and Changing Gun Culture
The quickest way to curb mass shooting episodes by socially dysfunctional students is to simply make ownership or possession of military style weapons illegal. These weapons are the objects of their murderous fantasies. Take them away.
High velocity, rapid fire weapons with large magazines are not appropriate for hunting game. They are killing machines of war. Banning them is also a step towards reestablishing a cultural separation between weapons of war and a more wholesome respect for guns in a peaceful society.

Current marketing forces are at work to make military hardware sexy and desirable to boost profits, but this campaign has negative impacts on children who are culturally developing. The proliferation of ultra lethal weapons, even among local law enforcement and criminal, foster a more aggressive militancy. Nobody wants this. The Ruger Mini 14 (above) has all the same capacity and a higher muzzle velocity than the AR-15 but it doesn't convey the same messaging. Perceptions matter especially for the young. Maintaining a distinction in weapons of war and peace doesn't violate a person's right to bear arms. It sets reasonable limits on that right, as is true with every other constitutional right. It sends a cultural message.

Making all weapons less lethal should be part of the strategy to curb mass gun violence. Bump stocks and trigger cranks easily turn any semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic killing machine. Banning them should be the message our cultural heritage conveys. And we should limit the size of a magazines capacity for semi-automatic weapons. Comprehensive background checks, ending gun show loopholes and all the rest of the other standard fixes that are offered after horrendous shooting incidents are all worthy considerations as well. They convey the message that gun ownership is a serious business and is not every member of society can be trusted to own a gun.

We are in the midst of a public health crisis and we have to do whatever it takes to prevent further tragedy. We should stand up with the students and parents of Parkland, and New Town and Columbine and everywhere these events have taken place. We have to come together as a country, find our compassion and make whatever sacrifices are necessary to end gun violence in our schools and communities. I welcome anyone who reads this to offer their own comments and perspectives.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Mueller's Russia Indictment - a condensed summary

Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 1 of 37


[The following is a six page summary of highlights of the 37 page Mueller Indictment of  thirteen Russian nations and the organizations they worked for to interfere with our public elections. It was prepared by me, Brian T. Lynch, MSW, to condense the facts related to Russia's criminal interference in our elections. The full document is here: ]

Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC (“ORGANIZATION”) is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.

3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

4. Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences... Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts.

6. Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton... Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.

The ORGANIZATION employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support.

The ORGANIZATION’s annual budget totaled the equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars.

The ORGANIZATION was headed by a management group and organized into departments, including: a graphics department; a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization (“SEO”) department; an information-technology (“IT”) department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the ORGANIZATION’s operations; and a finance department to budget and allocate funding.

The ORGANIZATION sought, in part, to conduct what it called “information warfare against the United States of America” through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media. (emphasis mine)

By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the “translator project.” This project focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project.

By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.

CONCORD funded the ORGANIZATION as part of a larger CONCORD-funded interference operation that it referred to as “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.

By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.

Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post.

For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts.

32. Defendants and their co-conspirators, through fraud and deceit, created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to develop certain fictitious U.S. personas into “leader[s] of public opinion” in the United States.

33. ORGANIZATION employees, referred to as “specialists,” were tasked to create social media accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons... Specialists were instructed to write about topics germane to the United States such as U.S. foreign policy and U.S. economic issues. Specialists were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”

34. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. ORGANIZATIONcontrolled pages addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.

35. Starting at least in or around 2015, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to purchase advertisements on online social media sites to promote ORGANIZATION-controlled social media groups, spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month.

36. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them. For example, the ORGANIZATION created and controlled the Twitter account “Tennessee GOP,” which used the handle @TEN_GOP. The @TEN_GOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TEN_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers.

39. To hide their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, Defendants and their coconspirators—particularly POLOZOV and the ORGANIZATION’s IT department—purchased space on computer servers located inside the United States in order to set up virtual private networks (“VPNs”).

40. Defendants and their co-conspirators also registered and controlled hundreds of web-based email accounts hosted by U.S. email providers under false names so as to appear to be U.S. persons and groups.

41. In or around 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, possessed, and transferred, without lawful authority, the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons’ knowledge or consent. Using these means of identification, Defendants and their co-conspirators opened accounts at PayPal, a digital payment service provider; created false means of identification, including fake driver’s licenses; and posted on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts using the identities of these U.S. victims.

42. By approximately May 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators discussed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants and their co-conspirators began to monitor U.S. social media accounts and other sources of information about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. [Humm, who were these co-conspirators?]

43. By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.

44. Certain ORGANIZATION-produced materials about the 2016 U.S. presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “#Hillary4Prison.” Defendants and their co-conspirators also established additional online social media accounts dedicated to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the Twitter account “March for Trump” and Facebook accounts “Clinton FRAUDation” and “Trumpsters United.”

46. In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their ORGANIZATION-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.

47. Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to further promote the allegations...

On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP. ..

On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

48. From at least April 2016 through November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while concealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation through false personas, began to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton.

51. Starting in approximately June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States.

53. In or around late June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “United Muslims of America” to promote a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” held on July 9, 2016 in the District of Columbia.

54. In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

55. In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016.

57. After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

58. In order to avoid detection and impede investigation by U.S. authorities of Defendants’ operations, Defendants and their co-conspirators deleted and destroyed data, including emails, social media accounts, and other evidence of their activities.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided 27 Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 28 of 37 Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona,, to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida. The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

85. On or about September 22, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for a series of rallies they organized in Pennsylvania called “Miners for Trump” and scheduled for October 2, 2016. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

88. The conspiracy had as its object the opening of accounts under false names at U.S. financial institutions and a digital payments company in order to receive and send money into and out of the United States to support the ORGANIZATION’s operations in the United States and for selfenrichment.

89. Beginning in at least 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons without their knowledge or consent. Using these means of stolen identification, Defendants and their coconspirators opened accounts at a federally insured U.S. financial institution (“Bank 1”), including the following accounts: [snip]

92. On or about the dates identified below, Defendants and their co-conspirators obtained and used the following fraudulent bank account numbers for the purpose of evading PayPal’s security measures: [snip]

93. Additionally, and in order to maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver’s licenses. Some false identification documents obtained by Defendants and their co-conspirators used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons, including U.S. persons T.W. and J.W.

95. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"The Post", A Tribute to the Fourth Estate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The Post. What a fantastic movie on so many levels!

I saw it recently with my family and, except for someone who kept falling asleep and snoring behind us, we really enjoyed this truly inspiring movie. The actual events surrounding the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam conflicts here at home all flooded back to mind (yes, I am that old). But the movie brought in more detail and information than I ever knew. It filled the theater with suspense despite knowing the ultimate outcome. It reminded me again of just how vulnerable our First Amendment rights are, and how easy it is for an administration of government to take them away.

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t actually grant us our rights, it is just a slip of paper. Rather, it challenges us to physically inhabit those rights for ourselves. It lays the framework for an active civic process. Each generation must secure their rights anew under our Constitutional framework.

It was twice said in the movie that the right to publish the news is secured by publishing it, not by arguing about it. Our rights can wither in debate but can only strengthen when exercised. That is a lesson we must pass along to every generation.

Two present day examples of this principle come to mind. NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem is an actual exercise of our First Amendment rights, while the ensuing debate did little to strengthen our right to protest. A second example comes from a local news story of a lawyer who was stopped in her car by a police officer. The officer asked her if she knew why he had stopped her. She said she refused to answer the question, but otherwise cooperated and gave him her documents. The officer was so upset that she wouldn't answer his question that he arrested her for not following a "legal" command. As he put her in the back of his police car he read her that familiar Miranda warning, which says in part, "You have a right to remain silent..." She remained under arrest for hours before being released. She later won a modest settlement in a suit brought against the Department for her unlawful arrest. The story generated a lot of debate while her actions helped secure our actual rights.

But back to the movie. I also came away with a profound appreciation for the incredible heroine depicted so well by Meryl Streep.

Katharine Graham was a socialite and heiress to the Washington Post, which was a local newspaper at that time. Her father founded the paper and left her husband in charge. Then her husband died suddenly leaving all of this crushing responsibility for the newspaper on her.

Ms. Graham was ill prepared for her role as publisher in most aspects. But she had an incredibly noble character and somehow managed to summon enormous strength to do the right thing under threats of disaster. She was a woman alone in a man's world, yet she rose to meet the challenges. Her courage saved the Post and helped save the First Amendment for a generation to come. Her decision to publish the stolen, top secret Pentagon Papers exposed decades of government lies about Vietnam and helped bring that war to an end. The Supreme Court's decision to uphold the freedom of the press in publishing that information set the stage for journalism's victory in holding the Nixon administration accountable to the rule of law following the Watergate break in.

Contrast that with how the government is acting in the Edward Snowden matter today, for example, consider the public good Snowden has done in exposing illegal, unconstitutional government activities. His decision to selectively reveal classified information to the press has lead to strong government reforms designed to protect our privacy rights, yet he is considered a criminal, just as Daniel Ellsberg was a generation ago.

At a time when our current President openly lies to us, disparages the free press, calls it "fake news" and encourages citizens to distrust not only legitimate journalism but many trusted government institutions, this story about Publisher Katharine Graham, her Editor-in-Chief, Ben Bradley and the Washington Post is a timely tale of caution and inspiration for us all.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Race, Social Divisions Sap Our Strength, but We Shall Overcome!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

 I liked this humorous bit (below) because it reminds us that racism is used by the powerful to maintain their wealth and status. If poor whites and poor  minorities joined in common cause it would spell trouble for wealthy elite. They would be forced to share more of their wealth.

Dr. ML King came to understand this before he was murdered. He was never a greater threat to the established order than when he began his work to unite the races in a fight against poverty and the wealthy elite who structure societies to favor themselves.

Click Here to see the brief video of Dave Chappelle: 

There is only one source of social power in human society, and that is the power of coordinated actions. Whether you are building a house, a business, a movement or a government, it is the coordinated actions of people that get things done. 

The converse is true when powerful interests want to block the competing interests of others. They block others by disrupting their ability to communicate and organize. They disrupt our efforts to coordinate the actions of others. They diminish us through subversion or by distorting or hiding the facts. They create and exploit divisions among us. They create distractions, sow confusion, disparage dissent, arrest organizers, isolate factions and restrict access to resources. They use force if all else fails.

President John F. Kennedy once said, "Those that make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable." 

The tendency to form social divisions is part of our human nature, but so is forming alliances and overcoming differences for mutual benefit.  If our capacity to work together was not greater than our urge to only "take  care of our own," we would still be a society of hunter gatherers. Powerful people use their power to stay in power. They thwart our efforts to organize, to unionize, to communicate, to affiliate, to overcome our differences and even to vote in this republic.

And now a new layer has been added. A hostile foreign power has infiltrated our government at the highest levels. It is using its military to conduct mass media propaganda attacks against us, attacks designed to disunite us as a nation. It is compromising our politicians with illegal campaign cash. Its goal is to establish a global kleptocracy with unlimited powers to extract our wealth and control our culture.

Against these coordinated attacks on America we must come together, unite in common cause and overcome the differences between us that they magnifying and exploit.  It's time to unite against all odds and move in unison against the forces that are pulling us apart. 

Here, on Martin Luther King Day, are a few quotes  and an excerpt of his last major address before being assassinated.

“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”
 “The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
Most people think about Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech today, but I want to leave you with another speech of his. Watch Lin Manuel deliver Dr. King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Restoring Democracy in the Democratic Party is Necessary to Save Our Republic

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Not long ago, Deborah Wassermann Shultz and the DNC boasted that Democratic super delegates buffer the Democratic Party leadership from capricious grassroots influence. Make no mistake, this was a boast, not an admission. Behind it is a fear that popular movement activists might upset the balance between wealthy donors who fund the Party and the needs of middle-class Americans, which is the largest voting bloc. But representing the middle-class leaves a lot of worthy American's without political representation.

Consider this, the U.N. is investigating poverty and civil right violations in areas of the United States that are on par with what can be found seen in 3rd world nations. Extremely insensitive GOP policies and attitudes are among the root causes of extreme systemic poverty. No where are the consequences more dire than in some red states in the South dominated by extreme conservative politics. In one poor neighborhood in Alabama under investigation by the United Nations, for example, ringworm is epidemic from contaminated drinking water. The reason is that waste water is being carried away in above ground PVC pipes that empty into open sewerage pits and even fields where children play. The Republican leaders don't seem to care about sanitation for these folks. In the eyes of many conservative politicians the poor have only themselves to blame. Leaders there allocate no money to help those who have no money to fix their septic tanks. These are the unworthy poor.

It is the GOP that does most of the dirty work of stripping the social safety nets and public services of government funding. The money saved pays for tax cuts and sweetheart deals to wealthy corporations and their owners. These perks for business are rewarded with campaign donations and sometimes other, more corrupt, remunerations.

Democratic leaders are mostly silent about the poverty conditions in red states, and have been for years. These poor people aren't registered Democrats. They can't help Democrats get elected and can't donate to the Party. This is how Democratic leaders feel about the poor in general. Party leaders have become ever more focused on races where the Party has the best chances of winning, and corporate donations are all that is needed to secure a victory. But these corporate donations also come with strings attached. Business interests must be served. Regulations and consumer protections must be rescinded to boost corporate profits. Tax breaks for the wealthy must be provided in exchange for their support, and government services must be cut to make up for lost revenue.

This is an aspect of party over people. It is neoloberalism in action. Neoliberalism is devoid of any compassion or social justice for those who cannot compete in the market place. Neoliberals ascribe human rights to business entities and work to free corporations from restrictive government rules designed to protect and empower actual human beings. Neoliberal Democrats have given lip service to the needs of the middle-class for decades without ever mentioning the deteriorating conditions of the poor and the working class over the past 30 years. They run on prosperity platforms that emphasize job creation rather than wealth creation for middle-class families. They stress ways to boost business profits to create good paying jobs, but then don't hold businesses accountable when those jobs never materialize. They turn a blind eye when the wealthy hide their profits in off shore tax havens, and the list goes on. Neoliberals in both parties continue to promote failed policy ideas because they can't offend their business donors. So for all of us, silence is consent! Our hands are just as dirty if we aren't willing to speak out and advocate for ourselves and for those who have no voice in government.

Right now, the Republican Party is a lost cause while the Democratic Party is too focused on the tic tock of strategic planning to hear the cries of the needy. Both parties are badly in need of reform. The over representation of business interests (ownership class) over civil interests is at the core of the destructive neoliberal philosophy shared by leadership in both parties. I am a life-long Democrat. It is clear that the DNC and the State Democratic Parties must come to accept that populism IS what democracy looks like. If you do right by all the people you have nothing to fear from populist activism. Don't just cut the number of super-delegates, eliminate them and restore democracy.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Promise Makers of Wall Street

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Not long ago a dollar was backed by the promise that it could be exchanged for gold or silver. To back up that promise the US gold reserve was established at Fort Knox in Tennessee, for example. The confidence of our people, and of the rest of the world, in our currency was far less certain than it is today.  The gold standard was perhaps a necessary step towards establishing the good faith of the US Government.

Look at a dollar bill and you will see that it is a Federal Reserve Note. Before the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, many banks issued their own currency, or "bank notes".  The worthiness of those bank notes wasn't consistent. The Federal Reserve Bank standardized and stabilized our national currency. It's important to remember that the word "note" is another word for an I.O.U.  A bank note is a promise that a coin or a paper document  can be exchanged for a stated amount of tangible value.

The important point for this discussion is that all currency is a form of debt. A U.S. Dollar is a government backed loan. Our trust in its worthiness has become an intrinsic faith in our government's ability to guarantee its face value. (Which is why the Congressional Freedom Coalition's talk of not raising the national debt ceiling is so dangerous.)

I recently saw "Junk" on Broadway. It is a play partially based on the story of Wall Street financier Michael Milken.  It is a cautionary tale of money and corruption. Milken's new approach to finance made him a billion dollars over just four years in the 1980's. He was like a god on Wall Street and all the normal rules didn't seem to apply to him, until he got caught breaking the laws he ignored.

More than that, Junk is the story of the paradigm shift Milken pioneered in how modern bankers and business leaders have come to understand wealth and power.  It is a view of wealth that can be summed up by the slogan, "debt is an asset".  Specifically, any financial instrument that reliably conveys the promise of value to another person or entity can be used as a form of currency.

Government regulated Federal Reserve Notes are no longer central to the exchange of wealth. Nor is any physical collateral or real estate necessary. It seems almost any promise of payment for money owed is sufficient to make financial transactions on Wall Street. These creative financial instruments often have cleaver names and deceptive structures. They are increasingly complex and difficult to understand or regulate. But they all have one thing in common, they are all based on debt. They all create wealth on a promise.

In  Milken's case, he began with generating cash by selling very  high risk, but high yield bonds and then using those bonds as collateral to finance corporate takeovers. These "junk bonds" (as they are still called) were used like currency to finance "leveraged buyouts" of other businesses. Whole divisions within companies purchased in these buyouts often had to be chopped up and sold off to pay back these high interest bonds.

The charges brought against Milken were ordinary financial crimes, such as insider trading. But his creative financing lead to a whole new banking culture that upended how business was conducted around the world. It has lead to an economic environment where new methods for wealth extraction competes against more conventional methods of wealth creation on a global scale.

The growing methods and culture of wealth extraction transfers wealth but doesn't create new wealth. It doesn't grow or manufacture anything. It only creates more opportunities for the wealthy to grow richer while disadvantaging mid-sized businesses and manufacturers. It is one of the drivers leading us into the next gilded age, but it hard to see just where it is taking us. It is harder still to know what we can do make our economy work for everyone again.