Lest we forget, the world has verged on apocalypse several times in recent history. One could argue that for the young men of Europe living in 1914, or the Eastern European Jews in 1939, the apocalypse already came. It’s human nature, perhaps, to turn away from unpleasant realities – God knows I’d rather enjoy my beer without Debbie Downer whispering in my ear. But there are times we need to get serious – be adults about it. Like when our President muses about “a major, major conflict with North Korea” in the next 100 days.
How do we conceptualize it? Here’s my thought. One of the great writers, thinkers, and humanists of the Twentieth Century was Nevil Shute Norway, an English aeronautics engineer who wrote under the name Nevil Shute. He was a fascinating man, a cutting edge engineer who worked on the first air ships, founded an aircraft construction company, designed numerous aviation innovations, and was intimately familiar with that century’s history of war and disaster. He also wrote, and was briefly famous for, a number of novels that capture the human dimensions of that era. Treat yourself to “A Town Like Alice” or, one of my favorites “The Trustee from the Toolroom”. Although something of a social conservative – he detested England’s post-war socialism – he had a particular respect for the individual – regardless of race or class – and was intent on understanding real world ways in which science and innovation could improve the human condition.
He was also a scientist and observer and he wrote the most compelling post-apocalyptic novel of that generation, “On the Beach“. The novel is set in Australia, after a major nuclear exchange in the Northern Hemisphere, and takes place as people adjust to the coming inevitability of death from radiation as the global weather patterns swirl the radiation southward. The novel is the act of a scientific imagination, a warning of what it might be like, and therefore has a particular immediacy. How indeed would the unthinkable occur? Nevil Shute Norway, who had seen it all, knew it could happen – he wanted us to think about it – he wanted us to save ourselves. Keep this in mind the next time you hear some mainstream shill normalize Mr. Trump as if he is a legitimate President.
Steve Friess in a Playboy article “Technology Will Destroy Democracy Unless This Man Stops It” provides insight into the world of computer hacking and security – an ongoing competition between computer experts seeking to ensure security and those demonstrating that any such security is an illusion. As I have blogged elsewhere, the power of the hackers means that absolute security in a computer world is unattainable. See On the Death of Privacy.. It is also apparent that computer technology was adapted by Robert Mercer and the Alt-Right for the 2016 election to “weaponize” social media information to target potential voters for misinformation or voter suppression. See Compute This. But most startling to me in following this inquiry is the realization that the modern technology employed in state and national elections is directly vulnerable to hacking. A motivated hacker need not bother with the voters themselves because the results of the machines can be directly hacked and manipulated. I noted this possibility in Hacking Voting Machines and Computer Programmer.
Steve Friess has explored the dangers of voter hacking in depth with Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor and computer expert, for the above-noted Playboy piece. Halderman has worked on all sides of the security issue, demonstrating how best to slow down the hackers of the NSA , how to work around government censorship, and, perhaps, most importantly, the vulnerability of state electioneering to direct manipulation. Halderman demonstrated that “hack proof” machines used in India were easily manipulated. He similarly weighed in on the vulnerability of a recent New Jersey election allowing voting by email. In 2006 he was part of the team showing how the Florida Diebold voting machines could be easily hacked. In 2010, he, with a team of grad students, manipulated the results in a Washington, D.C. trial internet election.
Read Friess for a fascinating tour of the brave new world of computer technology. Then work to ensure that our future elections are not vulnerable to malicious manipulation. And urge our election officials to engage computer experts to examine the results of the 2016 election for vote rigging by computer. Trump was insistent that the results were rigged. He’s been know to project a bit. Maybe we should listen to him.
Our democracy has been gravely injured by the election of the demagogue Donald Trump and the pandering of the Republican Congress to corporate and authoritarian interests. We still have the vote. It is imperative that we use our vote to restore a democracy devoted to public interest.
I recommend, as a start, that we draft Professor Robert Reich as the Democratic Party candidate for President in 2020. It’s important that we start now, before the field is co-opted by the usual suspects. There are good reasons why we need a fresh face unencumbered by baggage. Bob is the right candidate for the following reasons:
Reich has serious credentials. He is a former Secretary of Labor under the Clinton administration, is a renowned scholar in economics, and is a current professor at the University of California Berkeley.
You don’t have to guess where Bob stands because he has a long, scholarly record and has written numerous books detailing the necessity for a balance in corporate and public interests. Reich hosts his own web stream on FaceBook – pretty much every week day at 8:00 pm eastern time, The Resistance Report, where you can hear him live, doing his best to educate the rest of us. Because he is on live, you can hear him and judge for yourself – there’s even a segment where he answers questions from viewers. Follow him, listen up, trust your instinct. We can have an influence here.
Bob Reich has been outspoken in the need to get big money out of politics – to reduce the indebtedness to large campaign donors now owed by virtually every extant successful politician. We simply cannot restore a democracy of the people without addressing the way in which politicians are currently owned – corrupted if you wish – by big money.
Bob’s politics are progressive – but that means that he wishes to address the plight of the working man in the rust belt as well as the poor in the cities.
Everything I hear convinces me he is both an intellectual and a humanist – a man concerned for the human condition of us all. He exhibits presence, passion, and a level head. I can’t think of more important qualities.
I admire both Bernie and Elizabeth Warren but each carries considerable baggage and possible vulnerabilities. I will support either – I would support Hillary too – but I judge that the Democrats need a new face – one that is not the product of family dynasties or establishment politics. Bob’s the man.
David Remnick’s article in The New Yorker, “A Hundred Days of Trump“, provides an excellent overview of the Alice in Wonderland nature of Trump World as Trump pulls us into his rat hole. Remnick is a must read – the breadth of what is going is unprecedented and extraordinarily difficult to follow. Trump, in fact, is deliberately giving us a full court press – well aware that the public and the media can not effectively defend on all fronts. Where indeed should we focus? But Remnick provides a base, a summary, a perspective; read him to learn what you missed, to connect the dots, to understand that some of it is mindless or meaningless or both.
Here are three excerpts, taken almost at random – the article must be read as a whole but you might find a taste interesting:
“Trump has never gone out of his way to conceal the essence of his relationship to the truth and how he chooses to navigate the world. In 1980, when he was about to announce plans to build Trump Tower, a fifty-eight-story edifice on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-sixth Street, he coached his architect before meeting with a group of reporters. ‘Give them the old Trump bullshit,’ he said. ‘Tell them it’s going to be a million square feet, sixty-eight stories.’”
“Trump appears to strut through the world forever studying his own image. He thinks out loud, and is incapable of reflection. He is unserious, unfocussed, and, at times, it seems, unhinged. Journalists are invited to the Oval Office to ask about infrastructure; he turns the subject to how Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News, is a ‘good person,’ blameless, like him, in matters of sexual harassment. A reporter asks about the missile attack on Syria; he feeds her a self-satisfied description of how he informed his Chinese guests at Mar-a-Lago of the strike over ‘the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.’
“In 1814, John Adams evoked the Aristotelian notion that democracy will inevitably lapse into anarchy. ‘Remember, democracy never lasts long,’ he wrote to John Taylor, a former U.S. senator from Virginia, in 1814. ‘It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.’ As President, Donald Trump, with his nativist and purely transactional view of politics, threatens to be democracy’s most reckless caretaker, and a fulfillment of Adams’s dark prophecy.”
Remnick is writing to us as a warning. Our democracy has been failing. Nothing in the American disease of “exceptionalism” protects our institutions against a concerted attack by wealthy oligarchs and corporate enterprises who wish only for stable government slanted to protect their wealth and business interests. The 2016 election represented a major body blow. It is up to us to respond, to demand a restoration to the elevation of public interest.
If, like me, you smell the rot coming from the Trump, Mercer, Putin cabal, and the apparent global efforts to undermine the integrity of democracies, read this article by Carole Cadwalladr of The Guardian, “When Nigel Farage met Julian Assange”. Her article revolves around a meeting between Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit campaign and Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, on March 9, 2017 at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
The meeting was discovered by accident by a passerby who spotted Farage entering the embassy, As Cawalladr puts it, “And that was how the world found out, by accident, that the founder of WikiLeaks, the organisation which published Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails – a decisive advantage for Donald Trump’s campaign – and Farage, a friend of Donald Trump, were mutually acquainted.”
She writes further, “What did or didn’t happen on 9 March may perhaps reveal clues to understanding this. To unravelling the links between WikiLeaks, the UK and the Trump administration – an administration embroiled in ever deeper connections to the Russian state. Between Trump – whose campaign was funded by Mercer and who came to power with the help of the same analytics firm now under investigation for its work with Leave.EU – and Brexit.”
The point is that the meeting threw into the open the fact that channels and communications existed between like minded conspirators in the US, Britain, and Russia, all focused on hacking the internet and manipulating social media to control and undermine the integrity of democratic processes.
Cadwalladr’s article continues:
“David Golumbia, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in the US who has studied WikiLeaks, describes it as ‘the moment when the lines suddenly become visible’. He says: ‘It was like the picture suddenly came into focus. There is this worldwide, rightwing, nationalistic movement that is counter to the EU, and this is present in the US and Europe and Russia, and we are just starting to understand how they do all seem to be in communication and co-ordination with each other.’
In many ways, it wasn’t a surprise. There are clear ideological similarities between Assange and Farage. They have both been regulars on RT, Russia’s state-sponsored news channel. They have both been paid – indirectly by the Russian state – to appear on it. Ben Nimmo, a defence analyst with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, points out that Farage has voted systematically in favour of Russian interests in the European parliament. ‘There is very, very strong support for the Kremlin among the far right in Europe. And Farage is squarely in that bloc with the likes of the Front National in France and Jobbik in Hungary.'”
And so the proverbial noose tightens on Mr. Trump, who loved Wikileaks and invoked the assistance of Russia to find and release the 30,000 Clinton emails. As Cadwalladr states, we don’t yet know the full details. How could we? Trump was not going to publicly confess to his illegal Treasonous conspiracy with foreign powers to assist in his election. But if the details remain blurred, the fact of the conspiracy has been established, not just by Cadwalladr’s expose, but by the known pattern of contacts between Trump and his aides, Russian officials, and Julian Assange. The longer that Paul Ryan and the Republicans refuse to seriously investigate and act, the clearer it appears that they too have known and been complicit.
An April 20 Podcast, Episode 190 at DecodeDC, contains an interview of former FBI agent Clint Watts discussing the Russian disinformation campaign during the 2016 election. At least since 2015, Russian operatives have discovered, developed, and enhanced methods for disseminating “Russian spin”, largely targeting populations that have become alienated from the mainstream government. Russian operatives, using social media, cultivate relationships with target groups, then actively feed their targets misinformation, or at least spun information, with the goal of advancing Russian state interests. In particular, this information during the 2016 campaign was embraced by the alt Right and by Donald Trump himself, amplifying its effectiveness and undermining the access of the public to verifiable and honest news. Watts discusses this new and ugly phenomenon in depth and goes on to suggest potential remedies. The podcast is about a half hour long, a must listen that you need to fit into your day.
The broader theme is that our Democratic process is failing: in the 2016 election, with the election of the narcissistic demagogue Donald Trump, the process went into cardiac arrest.
The failure was hastened along by Russia – they have their own fish to fry and took advantage of our vulnerabilities to advance their interests through Mr. Trump. But on the broader scale, the process has been undermined by its vulnerability to influence peddling and big money – a problem that is devastatingly chronic. The catch 22 is that a majority of the representatives are elected by big money and those same representatives would have to vote to limit campaign spending and lobbying to get money out of politics. Of course, the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, by opening the flood gates to the money of corporations, accentuated the problem. Finally, the voting process itself has been increasingly corrupted by gerrymandering, voter suppression, and most recently by the use of computerized voting machines that are vulnerable to hacking. See earlier blogs at Computer Programmer, Going All the Way, Hacking Voting Machines, and Getting Money out of Politics.
Yet perhaps all is not lost. For the first time in generations, these weaknesses of the American system have become highly visible and increasingly recognized. Perhaps paradoxically, because the weaknesses are in the open, there is an opportunity to gather the critical mass of voters needed to restore our democracy. What we need is for a significant majority to demand that our system represent the public interest as promised and reject candidates who disenfranchise the voters. You want to gerrymander? You want money in politics? We will vote you out. Sounds simple. How about it?
On April 7 and 8, in two blogs, Hacking Voting Machines, and Going all the Way, I speculated that the 2016 election may have been flipped by direct hacking of voting machines. I came to that conclusion based on the known Russian cyber warfare conducted on Trump’s behalf by Russian cyber experts and the fact that direct hacking of election computers was a known possibility. See also the Palmer Report article noting that the surprise swing states were suspiciously won by almost identical margins. The possibility of election hacking throws doubt on the legitimacy of the vote count in the 2016 presidential election and under the circumstances requires Congressional action to review the election and to consider laws to ensure the integrity of future elections.
These concerns were emphasized yesterday when I learned that on December 13, 2004, a computer programmer, Clinton Curtis, testified before a Congressional Committee that he designed software for Florida Speaker of the House Tom Feeny to rig elections in Florida in 2000. This is the YouTube link. A second link from Twitter is here. Here’s the accompanying blurb to the YouTube link:
“Published on Feb 19, 2016
Clinton Eugene Curtis, a computer programmer from Florida, testified before a congressional panel that there are computer programs that can be used to secretly fix elections. He explains how he created a prototype for Florida Congressman Tom Feeny that would flip the vote 51%-49% in favor of a specified candidate.
This happened all the way back in 2001 but you might not have heard anything about this claim unless you searched for it. I’ve seen a Wired News report on this topic and a few local Florida newspaper stories but otherwise, no real media coverage has been provided. You’d think claims of election rigging software would be splattered all over the News yet as it turns out, our news media prefers to point out voting fraud in other nations but not here in THE UNITED STATES.
Mr Curtis a Software programmer who worked for NASA, Exxon Mobil & the US Department of Transportation in a sworn-oath deposition testifies that US elections are rigged by inserting software into the voting system. The timing of this deposition was just after George W Bush being re-elected president of the United States. We are not surprised that this never made it into the main stream media.
Mr Curtis goes on to name US Representatives who attempted to pay him to rig their election vote counts.
Transcript of sworn testimony by computer programmer Clint Curtis, before the U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Democrats of the Judiciary Committee, December 13, 2004, as seen on video above follows at the link below.
The bottom line is this. The election of the current President, Donald Trump, occurred in the face of election eve polling that predicted his defeat. He won the election based on anomalous results in several large swing states that defied the pollsters, and notwithstanding that Trump lost the popular count by almost three million votes. Those results alone should raise suspicion. We now also know that Russian operatives were active in the election, quite possibly with the cooperation of Trump and American computer analytics. In short, it is reasonable to question whether the US election was stolen. We can’t investigate sooner. Congressional action must begin now.
In 2002, Jenny Uglow, an English scholar and biographer, wrote The Lunar Men, following the 1760s exploits of a small group of men – the Lunar Society of Birmingham. The book details a slice of the English 18th Century Enlightenment, a period when the intelligentsia of England were discovering the power of science. This is from the book jacket, “Among them were the ambitious toymaker Matthew Boulton and his partner James Watt, of steam-engine fame, the potter Josiah Wedgwood; and the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, inventor, and the theorist of evolution (a forerunner of his grandson Charles). Later came Joseph Priestley, fighting radical and discoverer of oxygen…. Blending science, art, and commerce, the Lunar Men built canals, launched balloons; named plants, gases, and minerals; changed the face of England and the china in its drawing rooms; and plotted to revolutionize its soul.” Subtitled “Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World”, The Lunar Men is a testament to the power of curiosity and scientific method. It’s a great read if you are curious about the history of science – about how the amazing tools we use came to be.
I had the privilege to grow up in a family where science and knowledge were core values. My dad worked on the design of our nuclear submarines. My older brother was building radio receivers at 10 or 11 out in the workshop while I squandered Saturday mornings watching Cowboy shows. But enough of it rubbed off on me so that I and several other members of the family have amateur radio licenses. The night before last I talked with my brother 100 miles away over our own rigs – mine hooked up to a jury-rigged dipole antenna strung out in the back yard. What is fascinating is that it works, that we actually know how to do it, and, at least in a descriptive way, can tell you how it works. Because real science is power and because there is only one objective reality – a set of truths that one can discover and use.
Noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently released a four minute video podcast on the subject “Science in America”. Tyson’s video is a warning to us, a wake up call that too many of us take the science for granted, are smug in our own ignorance even as to what science means or how it works. Hence we have a puzzling juxtaposition. Right-wing Trump supporters believe blatant lies and deny the established science. The head of the EPA denies the science of global-warming, Mr. Pence argues that evolution should be taught as only a “theory”. Those same people benefit every minute from the products of modern science; they tweet on their IPhones, heat their bagels in microwaves, and head out to work in their BMWs. Logically these alternate realities should not coexist. But they do. And now Trump and his allies are dismantling the government protections of the Environmental Protection Agency and the impetus toward renewable resources, all the while publicly pondering whether Nuclear Weapons should be kept on the shelf or might not be so dangerous after all.
In short, we face an existential threat because, not only is the science real, but because ignorance of it, ignorance of what is true, can have consequences. If you haven’t seen it yet, also take a look at this Wally Shawn interview with Noam Chomsky; find the link at my blog My Dinner with Noam. Am I being too intolerant to suggest that willful ignorance deserves public contempt?
American mainstream media, Time, in an opinion article by James D. Zirin, “The Man Who First Fueled Donald Trump’s Paranoid Politics“, has finally pointed out the connection of Trump to red-baiting mob lawyer, Roy Cohn, the evil genius behind Joe McCarthy and consigliere to New York crime families. Publicizing Trump’s origins would have been useful during the primary campaigns and presidential election. Instead, public ignorance about Trump and Cohn enabled the current unfathomable reality where the country installed a crime family in the White House.
A couple excerpts from Zirin: “…I don’t mean to suggest that Trump, is a certifiable lunatic. This would be beyond my expertise. I would only argue that his political approach of demonizing his enemies; fabricating claims out of whole cloth; relying on conspiracy theories; expressing suspicion that others are out to get him, including the intelligence agencies, the FBI, Obama (with unsupported allegations of wiretapping), and the media; pandering to anger and fear in the populace; gross exaggeration, and distortion; xenophobia, racism, and let’s not forget misogyny, resonates with a paranoid style sadly seen all too often in American history.
In modern times, besides Trump, leading exponents of the paranoid model have been Joseph McCarthy and Richard Nixon. All these men did political battle in a paranoid style. And connecting the dots between these complicated men was a corrupt lawyer named Roy Marcus Cohn, who never held elective office, but was close to all of them.”
And further on, “As McCarthy’s consigliere, Cohn mastered the art of the smear, the lie, and the counterattack. Cohn, a willing handmaiden, sat at McCarthy’s side at the nationally televised Senate hearings. He rocketed to national prominence just as Trump did with The Apprentice. As Cohn later wrote, ‘people are bored; they want entertainment.’ Entertainment would prove to be the vehicle for both men to achieve political power.”
For more on the Cohn connection, see among my other blogs, Donald Trump and Organized Crime and Sidney Blumenthal’s Short History of the Trump Family. Note also that Trump’s oldest key operatives, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Arthur J. Finkelstein, were also associates of Cohn, schooled in the arts of political manipulation.
We need to do more than bemoan the present. The election of Trump exposed serious weaknesses in the American democratic model. Trump was elected with a minority of the votes, pursuant to a media campaign of slander and innuendo, supported by the intervention of a foreign power. He is so contemptuous of our democratic processes that on Monday he phoned Turkish President Erdogan to congratulate him on a referendum vote that gave Erdogan uncontested power for life – in a country that a decade ago was a model for the establishment of democracy in the Middle East.
The short of it is that when we finally rid ourselves of the curse of Trump, serious reforms are necessary – to get money out of politics, to ensure election by majority vote, and to find ways to provide objective information to an educated voting public. We must not settle for less.