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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – March 6, 2017

Wrongo’s investment in popcorn futures is looking better all the time. The circus surrounding whether Trump’s people had, or didn’t have a secret relationship with Russia has a life of its own. Now that Trump has accused Obama of wiretapping his campaign, it is time to sit back and watch what’s gonna happen next.

As the WSJ’s Peggy Noonan said in 2000, it would be irresponsible not to speculate: While the story is moving fast, and new players pop up almost daily, Trump’s inopportune tweet opens the door for Republicans to investigate Obama, and that’s exactly what the Trump administration has done:

Republicans are of course happy to enable Trump’s fantasy, vowing to investigate this “latest Obama scandal:

A Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee says he believes President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations that his predecessor ordered wiretaps of Trump Tower will become part of the committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton says, “We’re going to follow the facts wherever they lead us. And I’m sure that this matter will be a part of that inquiry.”

This is more likely than not to lead to more damaging revelations about Trump’s associates’ ties to Russia. Then, in mock sorrow, the GOP will have to go after Trump, or else look like they ignored evidence in order to get a few Right Wing policies enacted.

Wrongo’s guess is that the GOP will start preparing the Proletariat for Trump’s departure, and the investiture of President-in-Waiting, Michael Pence. Sadly, Trump doesn’t see two moves ahead:

  • FBI gets a warrant to wiretap a target, via the ordinary FISA procedures.
  • The reaction of a normal person when they learn of that should be: “There must be something going on
  • The reaction of any normal target would be: “I’d better start covering-up (or come clean)”
  • But not Trump: “They wiretapped me! That’s an illegal crime, and I will investigate/prosecute!

When the Overlord learned that the FBI was using a FISA warrant to look at Trump Tower emails and phones, he didn’t see an arm of the US government legitimately investigating a possible crime. He didn’t think “if they find anything, I could be in trouble“.

No, he doubled down, saying, “Obama attacked me, with wiretaps! That’s illegal!” Even though it’s not even remotely illegal, as any 21st Century Republican knows full well, because they wrote the legislation that made it legal.

In the meantime, Jeff Sessions is in damage control mode. He was the butt of the joke on Saturday Night Live this weekend. Republicans who support Sessions need to wake up and remember that it is never the action, it is always the cover-up that kills members of the political class. Here is Lynyrd Skynyrd doing their monster hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, the redneck national anthem, in honor of native son, Jeff Sessions:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Key Lyric:

Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

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February 15, 2017

The Daily Escape:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The Philology library at Berlin’s Free University. Designed in the shape of the human brain)

Trump’s National Security Adviser Mike Flynn is out. His lies or charitably, his misremembering whether his communications with the Russian ambassador included discussing the sanctions that had recently imposed by the outgoing Obama administration, were too much even for the fact-challenged Trump administration. That became patently obvious after the WaPo dropped the bombshell that Trump was warned about Flynn’s ties by the Justice Department before the inauguration.

Who notified them? Then-acting attorney general Sally Q. Yates. You remember that Yates was later fired by Trump for advising the President that his Muslim ban was unconstitutional.

She informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the US, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

When she notified the White House that the FBI had Flynn on tape talking with the Russian Ambassador, she also told then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-CIA Director John Brennan.

So the Trumpets had more than enough of Ms. Yates by the time she advised them that the Muslim ban wouldn’t fly.

Flynn resigned Monday night. Most Republicans say there is nothing more to see here, and that we should move along. Democrats want an independent investigation.

Whether this issue is over or not probably depends on whether you believe that Flynn was a rogue actor, operating without any cooperation or involvement by others in the Trump administration. Was something larger at work? Was it just Flynn lying to Pence, and then Flynn lying to Trump?

That’s possible, but considering the character of some of the people in this administration, from Trump to Bannon, to Miller and Conway, it seems unlikely that Flynn was acting alone.

And on Tuesday, Trump tweeted, after accepting Flynn’s resignation, that:

The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?

We all know that isn’t the real story. Thank you Sally Yates!

Here is The Who with “Behind Blue Eyes” from their album, “Who’s Next”. It was recorded in March, 1971. It describes the Orange Overlord to a “T”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

No one knows what it’s like
To be a rich man
It’s a bitch, man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be baldpated
Telling only lies

No one knows what it’s like
To be the bad man
To be the sad man
Behind blue eyes

No one knows what it’s like
To be hated
To be fated
To telling only lies

But my dreams
They aren’t as empty
As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely
My love is vengeance
That’s never free

No one knows what it’s like
To feel these feelings
Like I do

And I blame you

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Saturday Soother – February 11, 2017

Tons of moving parts this week. Jeff Sessions and Tom Price were confirmed; the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed Trump a setback in his plan to keep most Muslims out of the country, making our Overlord 0-2 vs. the justice system. The tweets continued; Elizabeth Warren was told to shut up, and Kellyanne was shut down for pumping Ivanka’s merch on a Fox news show.

But the big news for Wrongo was hearing on the BBC about National Security Advisor Michael Flynn: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

[Flynn] couldn’t be certain that he didn’t discuss sanctions with Russia’s Ambassador [Kislyak] to the US on December 29, 2016.

In December, it was rumored that Gen. Flynn had done exactly that, which brought denials from the Trump transition team. You may remember that Mike Pence said in an interview with CBS News that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence said there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the [Trump’s] candidacy.

Of course, December 29, 2016 was not during the campaign. Now, the WaPo has a blockbuster story indicating that Flynn did talk to the Russians:

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn privately discussed US sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former US officials said.

More from WaPo:

Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

All of those officials said Flynn’s references to the election-related sanctions were explicit. Two of those officials went further, saying that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president.

MoJo reports that on Friday, the Trump administration confirmed that Flynn did speak to the Russians about sanctions.

This means that Flynn was working against established US policy. He was telling Moscow not to worry about new sanctions imposed by Obama, and to stand by until Trump was inaugurated, which is what Russia did.

In some quarters, this is aiding an enemy. It also was dumb, since US intelligence routinely intercepts Russian conversations. The WaPo indicates that a transcript of Flynn’s conversation was passed among the intelligence community.

This is not the way a senior national security official should behave. He isn’t fit for the office he holds, he should be fired.

Gen. Flynn clearly needs a soothing something after the week he is having, and you do too. So grab a hot cup of cocoa, put your feet up and listen to “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt, composed in 1847 and performed here by Katica Illényi, a Hungarian violinist, with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra in 2011:

If you grew up with Saturday cartoons on the tube, this will sound familiar. It has been featured in Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Krazy Kat and Tom & Jerry cartoons, and in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

A Bonus Video: Illényi is one of the few people who plays the Theremin. Here she is playing “Only You” by the Platters:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 15, 2017

In a week filled with news that forces you to look at it, one thing stands out: The “Dossier” on Donald Trump which purports that the Russians have collected some things that could be used to blackmail our Orange Overlord. There are many things to “get”, in order to understand this story, but let’s focus on the blackmail element.

According to the 35-page Dossier, Russia (supposedly) has blackmail material on Trump but isn’t using it. OTOH, the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community (IC), and certain media players are using it, both by making sure we know that the Dossier exists, and that Trump and Obama were told about it.

The story, which had apparently been around DC since the summer, was retailed to the rest of us this week. Trump’s reaction was typical, blaming the IC, while saying it was more fake news. And it could be just that, no one seems to know.

Then, Trump was warned by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader, saying on MSNBC: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”

Wow! The president-elect threatened by the Senate Minority Leader, implying that the IC will get back at him if he doesn’t stand down. And there was no shock from Democrats, who have decided that they are the CIA’s best buddies, and that they love, love the rest of the IC.

Yet, when Clinton was being skewered for her emails, Dems protested loudly about the interference by the FBI. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece about the IC inserting itself into the US election, along with the Russians and others. As part of the story, he has this to say about the Democrats:

Did Russia attempt to interfere in the US election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Did the agents of the FBI et al attempt to interfere in the US election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Is the national security state today interfering in the outcome of a US election, by trying to destabilize and force its will on the incoming administration? Of course, and Democrats are cheering it.

The Dems are seeing just what they want to see, and that’s the (for now) flesh wound inflicted on Trump by the IC. They are not looking at what’s in plain sight. Which is the many efforts at false news stirring the pot of presidential illegitimacy, by domestic state actors as well as foreign.

Democrats should not support this; it’s dangerous…for them as well as for America. More about this next week.

The IC is far from happy with the Donald:

The GOP has started on their Repeal and Replace plan:

The GOP wants to take care of at least one pre-existing condition:

Trump’s cabinet nominees began their Senate hearings this week:

Secretary of State Nominee, Rex Tillerson, has to prove he’s not channeling Exxon:

Obama gave his farewell speech, and headed into the sunset:

 

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – Russian Hacking Edition, January 9, 2017

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” Saul Bellow

Trump had his briefing last Friday by the Intelligence Community (IC), about the Russian hacking. He then released this statement:

I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democratic National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines…

Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.

He denied nothing that the IC presented, and agreed with several points. His bottom line, that the hacking did not affect the outcome of the election, is important: Trump is all about meme creation and meme destruction. His goal is to prevent the “Russians elected Trump” meme from becoming the next birther movement. If his tweets stay on message, he’ll get by this moment.

For what it is worth, hacking isn’t noteworthy; it’s been going on for years, by the Russians, the Chinese, the US and just about everyone else. There is way more hacking now, since most management systems are online, and few corporations are willing to invest enough to insure real protection from it.

OTOH, disinformation is a big deal. Social media makes Russia potentially a potent force in opinion control in the US and Europe. Hacked information can now be fed into the disinformation machine to great effect. We ignore Russia’s ability to influence US public opinion at our own risk.

Trump’s reaction to the IC briefing is comforting, since there was no histrionics or name calling. He said in this tweet that he will continue to push for a good relationship with Russia:

Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only “stupid” people, or fools, would think that it is bad!

This makes him seem reasonable, so he can get on with the work of NOT going to war with Russia over the hack of the DNC.

When you look at the IC Report, it looks like Russian hackers were responsible for the phishing attack against John Podesta. The same accounts were used to hack into the DNC.

The next thing to know is whether it was the Russian hackers who shared this information with WikiLeaks. That appears to be the case, although we are taking it on faith, since the IC hasn’t shown us their work:

US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday.

We may never see more on how they identified them, since it may be a little too sensitive to divulge.

It pains Wrongo to say this, as a lifelong Democrat, but if Trump manages to beat back the neocon/pro-New Cold War crowd and work cooperatively with the Russians, the world will be a safer place.

Hillary would never had gone there as president.

This is perhaps the silver lining to a Trump presidency, possibly avoiding what looked to be a showdown with Russia and potentially, WWIII.

From a domestic policy perspective, however, the odds have increased that we tear this country apart by 2020.

So, today everybody needs a Wake-Up. The hacking didn’t change the election result, instead, we got this outcome as the result of a successful campaign strategy by Trump, and a failed campaign strategy by Clinton.

No music today, instead, we will watch a short clip from the 1983 movie, “War Games”. Matthew Broderick hacks into a Pentagon computer, assisted by his sidekick, Ally Sheedy. He then plays “Global Thermonuclear War” with the computer, except it isn’t a game. Broderick plays the Russians and the computer plays the USA. Ultimately, the world is saved:

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Amazon’s Echo and Personal Privacy

Wrongo’s daughter gave him an Amazon Echo Dot for his birthday. Bob Lefsetz says that Amazon is becoming the new Apple: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Echo came with almost no instructions. Simple packaging. Not a work of art, like [Steve] Jobs’ creations, but far from the old Microsoft where there’s so much info you’re inundated.

Simple and slick, particularly when it comes to using Echo to listen to music on Spotify, (assuming that you have Spotify premium) because Alexa eliminates a step. Before the Echo, you navigated your PC or mobile to Spotify’s site, entered the artist or track you wanted to hear in Spotify’s clunky search engine, then waited for the track to pop up, and then clicked on it to play.

With Alexa, you say the name of the track and/or the artist, and tell Alexa you want to hear it on Spotify, and it begins playing. Very nice.

Alexa brought in yuuge sales numbers for Amazon this season. Bloomberg reported:

Sales for Echo speakers based on Alexa’s voice-recognition software were nine times more than the 2015 holiday season…Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year…

Sales were so good that Amazon sold out of its Echo speakers in mid-December. The Echo shortage shows voice-activated assistants have found a strong niche with consumers. But there’s a potential dark side to having an Alexa device: Alexa’s job is to listen to you speak, and then recognize and use those data.

This begs the question of whether you should have any expectations of privacy if Alexa is plugged in. If you think this is an academic question, consider that police in Arkansas want to know what an Amazon Echo device may have heard during a murder:

Authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Sound Orwellian to you? Your hot new Xmas gift may be the Trojan horse that kills your privacy.

Police say Bates had several other discoverable smart devices, including a smart water meter. The water meter shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1 AM and 3 AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates’ hot tub. The police think all that water was used to wash away evidence of what happened that night.

The data from the water meter, and the request for stored Echo information raise questions about what constitutes individual privacy in the internet of things (IoT). Due to the “always on” nature of the Echo, authorities want any saved audio the speaker may have picked up that night. The Echo is supposed to be only activated by certain words, but it spoke random answers to Wrongo, when not asked a question, if the room it was in was filled with people over the holidays.

What’s more, Echo captures audio and streams it to the cloud when the device hears a wake word, such as “Alexa.” What the owner says are called “utterances” by Amazon, and they are stored in the cloud until a customer deletes them either individually, or all at once.

Why does Amazon save your words? Probably because you can order items from them via the Echo. A record of the sale could be necessary in a dispute.

In the Bates case, Amazon would not provide the police with any information that Bates’ Echo had logged on its servers. It later released a statement:

Amazon will not release customer information without a valid and binding legal demand properly served on us. Amazon objects to overbroad or otherwise inappropriate demands as a matter of course.

So, Amazon just told the Bentonville police and police everywhere what they have to do to get your stored information: Your privacy is in play if you have an Echo, and you get arrested.

We have an expectation of privacy in our homes, but these devices listen to you, they talk to each other, and to companies like Amazon and Spotify, so the challenge to individual privacy seems very clear. Governments from city to federal, will try to develop any information they can about a criminal case. If those data are gleaned from a smart device in your home, it’s just another data point, and it will become your job to make the case that your Constitutional rights were violated.

The Constitutional question is whether the data you generate in your home through internet-connected devices are data that you own at all. Do you share ownership with corporate America?

Does the state have rights to your private information if they say they need it?

Tip: Alexa has a microphone off button. Use it. Its possible that Amazon can’t hear you then.

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Clinton Is (Not) The Issue

As we go down the stretch to Tuesday’s election, the political dynamic has switched from being a referendum on Donald Trump to a referendum on Hillary Clinton.

It seems fitting that in the final stretch of a presidential campaign that has been completely indifferent to policy issues, from Russia, China, and the Middle East, to jobs and income inequality at home. Our news outlets are now focused on an apparently impregnable story about the Pant Suit’s private e-mail server, and the Clintons generally.

Since FBI Director James Comey’s announcement, we’ve seen the drip, drip of musings by the cableistas about whether Clinton can hang on to her lead, or if Trump can win on Tuesday.

There have also been a series of leaks by the FBI that appear to be designed to damage Hillary Clinton and benefit Donald Trump. An anonymous source leaked to the Wall Street Journal that there was an FBI investigation  — including “secret recordings” —  into the Clinton Foundation.

Fox News reported on Wednesday that the FBI is intensifying an investigation into the Clinton Foundation over allegations that it traded donations for access to Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.

And there’s more. Judd Legum reports that the FBI’s Inspection Division is launching an investigation into why its FBI Records Vault Twitter bot re-released the files on Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

The FBI Twitter account was inactive from September 2015 until October 8th. Then there were a flurry of tweets, concluding with the Marc Rich tidbit. It has not been active since that tweet, so:

Candice Will, Assistant Director for the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, said she was referring the matter to the FBI’s Inspection Division for an “investigation.” Upon completion of the investigation, the Office of Professional Responsibility will be referred back to the Office of Professional Responsibility for “adjudication.”

According to Marcy Wheeler, the Inspection Division and the Office of Professional Responsibility doesn’t have statutory independence from the rest of the FBI, which means their investigation can be influenced (or quashed) by FBI executives. So, nothing will be done, despite the fact that Federal law and FBI policy prohibit employees from using the power of the department to attempt to influence elections.

Now, we read this in the Guardian:

Deep antipathy to Hillary Clinton exists within the FBI, multiple bureau sources have told the Guardian, spurring a rapid series of leaks damaging to her campaign just days before the election.

Current and former FBI officials, none of whom were willing or cleared to speak on the record, have described a chaotic internal climate that resulted from outrage over director James Comey’s July decision not to recommend an indictment over Clinton’s maintenance of a private email server on which classified information transited.

“The FBI is Trumpland,” said one current agent.

This was also confirmed to Wrongo recently by an in-law who used to work for the FBI. It’s as if the ghost of ole J. Edgar showed up early in October, and has decided to hang around for a while, even though Halloween is over.

The FBI has now entered parlous political territory. This is law enforcement trying to force its will on civil authority. We need to put a choke collar on this dog, before it tries to bite us all.

We all should care about how FBI’s apparent misconduct is affecting the election.And if the FBI is this politicized, it is an enemy of We the People, and will remain an enemy, even if Comey is ousted as Director.

Wrongo is now beginning to think of Comey as another John Boehner, a guy with decent instincts who is completely ineffective at controlling his team, with disastrous results for the country.

Imagine how The Donald as president, would use a vast public police force that is comprised of Trump true believers.

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The FBI and Omar Mateen

(Sorry for the lack of posts. We went straight from the trip to Santa Barbara to visit with my brother who is now in hospice. His story is a column for another day, but helping his wife has been our number one priority for the past few days.)

The Orlando killings are being covered exhaustively on all media outlets. There is no time yet for perspective, but Wrongo uncovered a few very interesting facts in researching a future column about the role of the FBI in domestic terrorism, and rather than hold them back, here they are for your consideration:

First, we learned today that Omar Mateen’s wife allegedly tried to talk him out of the Orlando attack. Apparently, his wife was with Mateen when he bought ammo AND she once drove him to Pulse “because he wanted to scope it out”, reports the NY Daily News. An Orlando Grand Jury will get her involvement to chew on.

Second, there are at least four data points that should have indicated to the FBI that Omar Mateen was gay, or at least, closeted:

  • He hung out with a friend from high school, who is a drag queen, and the friend’s lesbian co-worker friends
  • He asked out a fellow (male) student while in cop school
  • He used a profile on a gay dating site
  • He had been going to Pulse for at least 3 years

That all likely adds some doubt to the story that he killed at the Pulse solely on behalf of ISIS, which is the theory the FBI fed the media on Sunday. Some in the gay community think this attack was more about Mateen struggling with his own sexuality than with ISIS.

But, for now, terror “pundits” are working very hard to turn Mateen’s claims of affiliations with several Islamic groups (Hezbollah, al-Nusra, and ISIS, as well as the Tsarnaevs) into some kind of coherent world view that could explain his actions as Islamic terrorism.

The FBI says they had a 10-month tail on him, which you would think should have identified the many two hour-long round trips to Orlando Mateen took to hang out at Pulse, which according to witnesses, were taking place at the time of the investigation. Did the FBI know about these things?

That is not to say that Mateen didn’t have an attraction to Islamic extremism.

OTOH, it’s doubtful that the FBI’s checklist of things to look for when investigating someone making claims such as “I luv ISIS” or “I’m with Al Qaeda” includes a box for “closeted gay male having difficulties with his sexuality”.

Third, Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian has new details on what it was that got Omar Mateen on the FBI radar in 2013: He claimed to have a tie to the Tsarnaev brothers:

Omar Mateen…told co-workers at the private-security firm employing him that he knew Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev, according to a source close to the investigation who requested anonymity.

The FBI interviewed Mateen on two occasions in 2013 related to his purported connection to the Tsarnaev brothers, the first known time Mateen drew the attention of federal law enforcement.

At the time, the FBI was focused on a member of Orlando’s Muslim community, who was actually related to the Tsarnaev brothers, Ibragim Todashev. In May of 2013, the FBI killed Todashev in his own Orlando apartment, in the midst of interviewing him.

That’s not to say Mateen had a tie. Even though the Tsarnaevs lived in Boston, Todashev lived in Orlando at the time Mateen was making his claim about knowing the Tsarnaevs, and Mateen must have been aware of Todashev’s demise.

And finally, didn’t the FBI wonder at all about the shooter’s father, Siddiqi, who posted YouTube videos praising the Taliban (in Dari) and promoting Pashtun nationalism? Those seem like the sort of things that might be red flags.

It is true that Islamic extremists want to attack this country. If you’re a Muslim wanting media attention, the easiest way to get it is to say that word, “ISIS.”

That’s a guarantee law enforcement will give your case much more attention than it gives investigating the Bundy brothers.

That is, except in the case of Mateen.

We need to look closely at the FBI’s role in the lead-up to the Pulse shooting, if only to scope out the “lessons learned” for the future.

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We’ve Had Threats To Our Constitutional Rights Before

The Past Is Never Dead, It Is Not Even Past” – Faulkner

Does this sound familiar?

They called for imprisonment of Americans who came from a foreign country. They called for shutting down immigration from certain countries and deporting the immigrants already here. They were for stifling dissent against a looming foreign war by calling the anti-war protestors traitors. They passed laws that curtailed several rights granted in the Bill of Rights.

An administration worked hard to “sell” a war to the American people.

This is not America in the post-9/11 period, it was during World War I, not during Iraq, or our current battle against ISIS.

And it occurred while a progressive Democrat was in the White House.

On April 6, 1917, Woodrow Wilson delivered his war message to Congress. The US, Wilson said, was to embark upon a crusade to “make the world safe for democracy“. Unfortunately, Wilson’s administration gave rise to the greatest attack upon civil liberties (up to that time) since the passage of the Sedition Act in 1798.

Wilson had two problems. First, the citizenry had to be mobilized behind a war effort that did not involve a direct attack on the US. Second, he felt a need to guarantee our internal security against both real and imagined enemies. To solve the first problem, in April, 1917, Wilson established the Committee on Public Information (CPI), under the leadership of George Creel, a respected progressive. The Committee’s job was to convince citizens that the war was righteous, and to educate all Americans about American war goals.

Writers turned out “true” stories concerning what the Germans planned to do to America; speakers toured the nation delivering anti-German talks. Movie audiences thrilled to “Pershing’s Crusaders” and came by the thousands to hate the enemy by watching dramas such as “The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin.”

Congress also enacted laws that curtailed our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and press. Shortly after Wilson’s war message, in June, 1917, the Espionage Act was passed. This made it a crime to make false reports which would aid the enemy, incite rebellion among the armed forces, or obstruct recruiting or the draft. In practice, it was used to stifle dissent and radical criticism.

In October, 1917, another law required foreign language newspapers to submit translations of all war-related stories or editorials before distribution to local readers.

In May, 1918, the Sedition Act bolstered the Espionage Act. It provided penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment for the willful writing, uttering, or publication of material abusing the government, showing contempt for the Constitution, or inciting others to resist the government. Under this Act, it was unnecessary to prove that the language in question had affected anyone or had produced injurious consequences. In addition, the Postmaster General was empowered to deny use of the mails to anyone who, in his opinion, used them to violate the Act.

In October 1918, Congress passed the Alien Act, by which any alien who, at any time after entering the US was found to have been a member of any anarchist organization, could be deported.

Volunteer organizations sprung up, dedicated to discovering alleged traitors, saboteurs, and slackers. The volunteer groups were hyper-patriotic, and were often responsible for violations of civil liberties, although the government made no real attempt to discourage or limit their activities.

With the quiet consent of the Department of Justice, the American Protective League’s 250,000 civilian members—many of whom wore official-looking badges reading “Secret Service”—undertook vigilante actions against supposedly disloyal socialists, pacifists, and immigrants; they engaged in domestic surveillance operations; and raided businesses, meeting halls, and private homes in an effort to uncover pro-German sympathizers. As a result, force became the order of the day.

Somewhere during the fight to make the world safe for democracy, Americans lost their tolerance, compassion and mercy, and much of their democratic ideals.

Does this sound familiar?

The various Acts of 1917 and 1918 helped destroy what remained of the left wing in America. Victor Berger, the first socialist elected to Congress, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for hindering the war effort. Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison for making an anti-war speech.

On November 11, 1918, the Allies and Germany signed an armistice: the war was over.

The American public had shown a willingness to tolerate and even to participate in censorship, mugging, imprisoning, harassment, and forced deportation of Americans who didn’t agree with them.

Given where we are today, it could easily happen again.

Don’t bet against it.

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Los Estados Banditos

Today, let’s consider the bombshell dropped by the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the NSA spied on the efforts of the Netanyahu government to purchase win support in Congress when they were considering approval of the Iran Nuclear Deal. A US intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as:

How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?

There’s more. The Hill reported: The NSA helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential US briefings our government gave to the Israelis:

The NSA’s snooping allegedly found Netanyahu and his aides leaked details of the negotiations gained through Israeli spying, coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal and asked those lawmakers who were undecided on the deal how it could get their vote…

So, the WH knew that the NSA was spying on both Netanyahu and certain Congress critters. Some will say that the Executive Branch was spying on Congress. But there are two other ways to look at this.

• The NSA was spying on an ally, which we have done in the past (Merkel, Hollande).
• And that spying revealed that members of Congress were apparently working with Israel.

Either way, some in DC will be outraged. In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA) has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story. That is hilarious, since that spying is authorized by NSA procedures, procedures that Rep. Nunes has said are more than adequate to protect the privacy of US persons. You know, in his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. From Emptywheel:

If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal [the] FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored…tap placed on Bibi…

However, you could also return to the basic question from last fall: Why are members of Congress working to help a foreign government derail a major foreign-policy initiative of the US? And be outraged yourself.

This is the reason that allowing lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it inevitably collects details about the legislative process. That can also disclose an untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments to members of Congress. Finding that is within the purview of the Executive branch’s mandate.

Maybe more privacy protections, including for Members of Congress, are needed. But wiretapping the communications with foreign leaders is solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, even if it incidentally collects information about members of Congress. Congress itself has deemed these actions may sometimes be important to protect the US.

And didn’t Congress approve all of this spying to catch terrorists? Or, was it just to get intelligence to assist our drone attacks. Or, to assist in the war on drugs, so that we can play catch-and-release a few more times with El Chapo. The problem is, when you build an intelligence gathering system this big and this technologically capable, it will inevitably intrude into domestic politics. Or vacuum up not-so-innocent information that is incidental to its intended target.

As for surveillance of members of Congress, surely everyone in Congress knows how that game works, THEY VOTED TO IMPLEMENT IT!

There’s a substantive difference between direct surveillance of members of Congress, and surveillance of a foreign ambassador’s reporting back to his government about communications with those Members.

If Nunes, et. al were simply trying to hang on to the remnants of our Constitution like the rest of us poor schlub voters, maybe the poutrage would be understandable.

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