Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers

I have plowed through the entirety of the indictment, which is full of details about the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Campaign Committee and related bodies. I only have a few observations to offer.

First, the indictment makes clear beyond a doubt both the sophistication of the U.S. intelligence apparatus in discovering these remarkable details about the hacking operation. It also explains in part why the Mueller investigation is taking so long. An extraordinary amount of work must lie behind the allegations in the indictment.

Second, the indictment has no direct bearing on the issue that Trump and his enablers are so obsessed about – to wit, the issue of collusion. As a result, the assertions of the Republican National Committee and other Trump sycophants that it is now “clear” that there was no collusion by the Trump campaign is preposterous on its face. These repeated claims of innocence are candy for his base, but Trump shows every sign of someone deeply guilty of serious crimes.

Third, the indictment contains a remarkable statement in paragraph 43(a). I must have missed the reporting on it. It states that a “candidate for the U.S. Congress” asked for, and received, stolen emails from the Russia hackers posing as Gucifer 2.0. The information related to the candidate’s opponent. The indictment gives no hints whether this was a candidate for the House or the Senate, nor any other potentially identifying details. But, whoever it was, that person must be sweating bullets tonight. And deservedly so.

So, on this Friday the 13th, the scary stuff is over for now. But not for long. I suspect this is just one small part of the muck that Mueller’s people are exploring.

Pulling on the Right Rope – ACLU

We are coming up on a momentous event in the form of the 2018 midterm elections. They offer the real possibility of overturning the Republican control of Congress, and thus ending the subordination of Congress to the president and the return of the checks and balances that were expected by the Founders to prevail indefinitely.

The grand scheme of the Constitution was a tripartite balance of authority and power in which each of the three pillars of the republic — Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary – would interact is a way that prevented any one of the pillars from overpowering the others. The Founders were not, of course, expecting a situation to arise in which a single political party would gain control of all three branches of the federal government and in which the members of that party would place the interests of that party above the welfare of the country. But that’s what we have and it is that which threatens the continued existence of the democracy that makes the United States a country of unequaled achievement.

Of course, the journey of American democracy has not been straight and pure. We fought a bloody Civil War to end slavery, struggled to end Jim Crow, and struggled to establish racial equality and opportunity in education, voting, employment, human relations and all the rest. Then we elected an African American man to be president. Twice. Many of us thought we had, at long last, moved past our past. We were wrong. Trump’s ascendancy has exposed the ugly underbelly of the nation’s bigotry, fear and cruelty. You know the story or you wouldn’t be reading this.

So, what to do? We don’t want to fight another civil war. Obviously, everyone needs to vote and help someone else vote. I have harped on this repeatedly and I won’t repeat it here. Instead, I suggest an additional approach: look at this as an exercise in tug o’war.

On the other end of the rope is the Trump administration. We all await, with hope and apprehension, Special Prosecutor Mueller’s action on the core issue of Trump’s illegitimate election victory as a product of Russian interference in which Trump and his campaign actively conspired. There is also a large body of evidence that Trump has committed multiple “high crimes and misdemeanors” which would support his impeachment and removal from office.

None of that is going to be resolved by November and the pull on the other end of the rope is strong. Many Americans believe that Trump is an ideal executive, disregarding his serial lying, attacks on our allies and sucking up to dictators around the world. They seem to be untroubled by his attachment to Vladimir Putin and his amateurish, schoolyard bullying of private companies and foreign countries.

On our end of the rope, we have … the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU. Think about that name: Civil Liberties Union. Since its inception, preservation of civil liberties and enforcement of the Constitution have been the singular preoccupation of this group. Sometimes the ACLU defended the rights of genuinely and widely unpopular people or groups, but they persisted because they understood that if the rights of one are disregarded, the rights of all could be next. We simply cannot pick and choose who gets protected and who does not.

If you are like me and have at one time or another made a donation to some #RESISTANCE group, you are no doubt being bombarded by requests to sign petitions and, more importantly, to donate more. Many great organizations are doing important work to resist the Trump administration’s fear-based agenda. Common Cause comes to mind. And Everytown for Gun Safety. And many others. The question is: which rope are you going to pull on?

I suppose I am prejudiced in favor of an organization that directly and forcefully challenges the illegal conduct of the administration at every turn and that wins most of its cases. The ACLU has initiated or joined most of the major legal challenges to the Trump administration’s most outrageous acts and policies and has enjoyed amazing success.

The ACLU record is genuinely remarkable. As reported in a major article in the New York Times Magazine on July 8, in the 15 months following the Trump election “victory,” ACLU membership increased by more than four times! A huge increase in funding followed, leading to the hiring of more lawyers for the 54 affiliated offices (1 in each state with 3 in California and one each in Washington, DC and Puerto Rico). But, the article notes, there are 11,000 lawyers in the Justice Department.

Since Trump’s oath of office, the ACLU has initiated 170 Trump-related actions, including 83 lawsuits. The additional resources have enabled ACLU to start two new advocacy organizations: PeoplePower.org and Let People Vote. With the new threat to the independence of the Supreme Court, the ACLU will face even more challenges.

Therefore, I make this appeal: yes, support all political and charitable organizations whose values align with yours, but also make an additional contribution to the ACLU. ACLU enlists the aid of the third and most independent branch of government, the Judiciary, to fight the incompetence and cruelty demonstrated repeatedly by the Trump administration. So far, the administration has accepted judicial decisions as binding. If that changes, we will have entered a new and perhaps final battle for the salvation of the American democracy. Until then, and, hopefully, that day never comes, the ACLU’s direct legal actions may be the last best hope for effectively resisting the Trump administration until we can remove him from office.

 

 

Good News & Bad News in Hawaii

Good News & Bad News in Hawaii

No, this not about the volcano, but it is about the environment. The bad news, of course, is that the coral reefs are being destroyed all over the world by, among other things, a process called “bleaching.” According to the National Ocean Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. Department of Commerce:

When water is too warm, corals will expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white…. When a coral bleaches, it is not dead. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but they are under more stress and are subject to mortality. [A scientists way of describing “likely to die”]

In 2005, the U.S. lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event. The warm waters centered around the northern Antilles near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico expanded southward. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined.

Not all bleaching events are due to warm water.

In January 2010, cold water temperatures in the Florida Keys caused a coral bleaching event that resulted in some coral death. Water temperatures dropped 12.06 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the typical temperatures observed at this time of year. Researchers will evaluate if this cold-stress event will make corals more susceptible to disease in the same way that warmer waters impact corals. [That was 8 years ago – no update]

The NOS site also says: “If the stress-caused bleaching is not severe, coral have been known to recover. If the algae loss is prolonged and the stress continues, coral eventually dies.”

Quite.

Notwithstanding the optimistic views of NOS, the worldwide losses of coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, is progressing rapidly. Based on the best available climate change science, to depend on reversal of ocean water temperatures to save the corals is a fool’s errand. There are, however, other measures that can be taken and Hawaii has done so.

As reported in TravelMarketReport.com on July 5, https://bit.ly/2KYM2L6, Hawaii has banned, effective January 1, 2021, the use of two chemicals that contribute to coral bleaching. These obscure chemicals are used in many commercial sunscreens which, of course, are sold in huge quantities in Hawaii. One study found that, on average, more than 400 pounds of sunscreen a day fell on the reef at Hanauma Bay, an area on Oahu that attracts 2,600 snorklers a day. [Hanauma Bay shown in photo at top of post]

Not surprisingly, the legislation was opposed by the makers of commercial sunscreen. https://nyti.ms/2rdFsbR We can only hope that Hawaii’s model of aggressively protecting its reefs will spread rapidly to other states and countries. The oceans are getting warmer, notwithstanding the denials of the Republican science-deniers, and all the reefs are at risk.

While on the subject of Hawaii, I cannot resist the temptation to show a few of my favorite photos from some of the islands.These are typical of what you can see there.

Is a Non-Violent Solution to Trump Feasible?

Another outrage, another march. This time – Families Together. I marched again, from Foley Square in Lower Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge (yes, that one).  We dispersed quietly on the other side of the bridge and took the subway home.

The closest I can come to describing the feel of it is that it was like sitting through a baseball game in August, losing 1-0 at the end and slinking out of the stadium, exhausted and enervated by the heat and the futility and the sense of loss. The crowd was in a mixed mood, with the usual chanting but also some anger in the tone. At the same time everyone was buoyed up, cheering loudly, when cars would pass on the adjacent roadway, horns blasting and fists pumping out of windows in solidarity with the marchers. One or two gave us the finger; favor returned.

More to the point, at one spot on the bridge a young man was handing out slips of paper headed “STOP I.C.E. DEPORTATIONS,” The paper went on, “Starting now, we will be occupying space and interfering with deportations, not with court hearings or release of immigrants.” It includes the hashtag #OccupyICENYC,” among others. The Instagram account of that name, like many other social media sites, is a verbal battleground between those who see ICE as a military-type deportation force “following orders” from the Great Leader (recalling Nazi Germany) and people who appear to be terrified that the United States is being overrun by crazed hordes of lawbreakers and who support most forms of abuse of “lawbreakers,” regardless of their personal situation (fleeing MS-13, for example). Passions over these issues are running high and seem to be escalating as the “Abolish ICE” theme gained a foothold among the protesters and became a major point of counterattack by Trump’s supporters.

I was reminded of a scene from the late 1960s, during one of the largest of the protest marches against the Vietnam War. We were moving along on the National Mall, tens of thousands strong, when there appeared a small group of rough looking young men carrying Viet Cong flags and screaming at the protesters as they ran by “you’ll never end the war that way – come with us!”

The effort to recruit the protesters in a more aggressive posture failed at the time, although throughout the war protest period there were major incidents of violence inspired by the hatred and fear of what the United States was doing in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. For the most part the protesters believed that peaceful resistance was, in the long run, the only effective means of pressuring the government to change course. The conflict and passions ran deep, dividing families, neighbors and congregations.

In the end, the protests, I believe, had a lot to do with changing the “public mind” about the war, helped along by journalists who risked, and sometimes gave, their lives to reveal the lies the government was telling about body counts, strategy and pretty much everything about the war. In the end, the U.S. “strategy” became untenable. The United States, for the first time, was defeated.

The Trump administration, like the Nixon one, has the strong support of perhaps 30 to 40 percent of the voting population. Those people appear not to care that the President of the United States is a serial liar, corrupt to the core. He continues to feed on their ignorance. As Trump and his enablers in Congress and state governments work to strip social and economic support from the population while, like Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, continuing to enrich themselves, Trump’s supporters stick with him because of single issues that are at the core of their belief-systems. Issues like abortion. They are so sure that it is right for the government to intervene in the personal lives of women that they will accept any form of degradation to roll back the right to abortion. Their anger, fear and ignorance are so profound that they do not grasp the significance of the changes Trump is making to our government.

Trump, with his enablers at Fox News, Breitbart and other right-wing fantasy-news shows, continues to escalate the rhetoric, conspiracy theories and outright lies. His tweets are more personal and strident than ever. He attacks and threatens American companies that react unfavorably to his trade policies. He directly threatens long-standing U.S. allies with “you will do as I want or else.” I don’t believe any other president in American history has behaved this way. It sounds more like Adolf Hitler demonizing segments of German society than an elected leader of a democracy.

In discussions with conservative friends over the years, I have asked a hard question but never received a good response: how long do you suppose the American underclasses are going to accept the tilting of the economic and political system against them before they say “enough” and rise to challenge those who are oppressing them? No one seemed ever to believe such a thing is possible here in the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave.

The usual response was a form of whataboutism that I did not recognize as such at the time: if you work hard, you can get ahead; if not, too bad. My family came here legally so why should we let people who came here illegally become citizens? It’s our country — love it or leave it. And so on. Similar responses to those from Trump supporters. Don’t care what is happening to “them;” they’re not “us,” so to hell with them. Beneath Trump’s adoring masses are racism and xenophobia that we, foolishly, thought had finally been vanquished when Barack Obama was twice elected President.

Let me be clear that I do not believe violence is a workable response to the Trump despotism. My concern is that as Trump’s moral depravity, selfishness and egomania continue to degrade political discourse and threaten democratic institutions, including the right to equal counting of votes in elections, while he conspires with foreign powers hostile to the American way of life, we are going to cross a line of intolerance from which violent responses will seem to many the only viable response remaining. People in the right-wing already are talking of violent responses to any attempt to remove Trump from office, regardless of the evidence against him. ICE is arresting protesters, including elected officials, for purported interference with its deportation program that has, with direction and overt approval from the highest stations in the Trump administration, ripped apart families and shredded the oath of office he took to support the Constitution. Trump has overtly called for government coercive actions against people that will bypass the court system and ignore the clear mandates of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

Trump’s history as a corporate mogul is well documented. His behavior has been that of a bully who ordered underlings around at his whim, cheated many people and bankrupted many companies. It is therefore hardly surprising that a man who does not read, has no patience with facts that complicate his personal advancement and who has behaved with astonishing cruelty toward disabled people, women and non-whites, citizen and non-citizen alike, would behave like an ignorant bully in public life, catering only to those who show total obeisance to him. It seems entirely plausible that such a person would stop at nothing, including conspiring with enemies of the United States, to achieve his personal ambitions. It has happened elsewhere, and as many thoughtful scholars have documented, it can happen here.

As Trump’s conduct continues to degrade the office of the President, to undermine relations with important foreign allies, and to threaten the ability of the American political system to hold him accountable, the question lingers:  how long will this go on before desperation takes hold and desperate measures are taken? Even the Women’s March is growing impatient, as shown by this tweet: “Like we’ve been saying: marching is not enough. It’s time for direct action. It’s time to disobey. #WomenDisobey” The tweet referenced an opinion piece in the Guardian to the same effect. https://bit.ly/2KNvN3D

There is no clear answer to my question, I suppose. The question is, as it has always been, too hard. I believe that there is one, and probably only one, ray of hope that can forestall our descent into violent resistance: the elections of 2018. If you have read my posts before, you have no doubt seen my pleas regarding the importance of getting out the vote. As I reflect on our troubled past as a nation, not perfect but far from the worst, it seems to me that the election, the precious irreplaceable right, and obligation, to vote is the only path to salvation as a free democratic country.

In practice, however, it is not enough to just vote. The Trumpers are alarmed and engaged about the threat to their hero and they will be aggressive in voting too. And, of course, there are the numerous, documented cases in which legitimate voters have been rejected for various reasons at polling places around the country, particularly in red states. What is needed, I suggest, is for every voter in contestable precincts to take responsibility to (1) have all eligible members of the family registered to vote in November, (2) create an ironclad plan for how the family will get to the polls, and (3) identify one or more other people who may need help getting to the polls or actually voting and do what is necessary to get them there. Your country, your freedom is at stake here. One-party control of the government must be ended and this is the only way to do it.

For those interested, I have posted photographs from the New York City Families Together March in a separate post below this one.

Families Together March

The blog post that will shortly follow the posting of these photographs says all that I have to say about the march and the issues it raised. This is heavy stuff for the July 4 day of celebration but I think the times require a more serious reflection on what our independence means and what it requires us to do.

As Benjamin Franklin was leaving Independence Hall at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was asked: “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or a Monarchy? HIs answer: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

 

Something Amiss in AmazonLand

This may seem trivial in comparison with the latest Trump administration outrage, but given that he (and his right-hand grifter Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency) continues to do everything in his power, and not, to destroy the environment, it seems important to point out issues that can be solved by simple exercise of private willpower. When our leadership, with the apparent support of 90 percent of Republican voters, (per New York Times today) is committed to turning the world’s natural resources over to private exploitation, we must encourage every possible act of environmental offset as possible.

Thus, I note that I recently ordered from Amazon, my generally “preferred” online vendor of stuff, a set of five “button batteries.” They are each smaller than a dime, fit easily onto a small piece of cardboard, as shown in the featured photo above and hard to find now that Radio Shack is largely a thing of the past (the nearest “authorized dealer” is 66 miles from my apartment). They only cost $6.99 at Amazon so ….

The big deal here is that the card on which the batteries are set out measures 2.125 inches by 7.25 inches. The cardboard is thinner than the cardboard used in pressed and folded shirts (or used to be). As the photo shows, the box in which Amazon shipped this item was filled with 14 pockets of air-filled plastic to “protect” this piece of cardboard. The box in which it arrived, strapped with the usual Amazon-branded tape, measures 10.125 inches long by 7.125 inches wide by 5.25 inches high. That is, for those who have forgotten their math, is 378.74 cubic inches of container to hold a virtually indestructible item occupying just under .8 cubic inches of space.

Now, to be fair to Amazon, this item actually came from another supplier, like the bazillions of suppliers with which Amazon has contracts to provide its listed items directly to consumers. But, the costs of this excess packaging must inevitably be passed on to Amazon and thus ultimately on to the consumer. That’s bad enough, given the very limited choices I had to obtain this item, but the environmental costs of the waste inherent in this approach to distribution are also passed on to me and everyone else in ways we cannot detect but are necessarily quite real.

Amazon, as the big boy in this scenario, is responsible for the waste committed by its supplier community in fulfilling orders obtained by Amazon. There is a perverse incentive of some kind working here because it would be in the economic interest of the suppliers to save money on packaging. Amazon needs to decisively compel its suppliers to use the most efficient methods of packaging available. In the case of the button batteries, a small padded envelope would have sufficed.

Has the Police State Arrived?

Most everyone who has seen a World War II movie made before, say, 1980 (guessing) is familiar with the cliché-like scene in which a Nazi soldier demands, “show me your papers” or some variation. In the worst cases the soldier simply puts out his hand in a gesture well-understood that presentation of identification documents was demanded and not optional. That was the portrayal of Germany and conquered countries under the Nazis.

WWII ended in 1945. Now, 63 years later, we have arrived at a similar place. The video here ( https://bit.ly/2JUUFZZ) reported in HuffPost here (https://bit.ly/2t61NJh) shows an armed immigration officer asking passengers boarding a Concord Coach Lines bus whether they are U.S. citizens, followed by a Concord employee confirming (erroneously, per Concord’s tweet at https://bit.ly/2M0PtkK & Facebook post at https://bit.ly/2HWPVxG) that one must be a U.S. citizen to ride the bus. Concord Coach is an interstate passenger bus company.

What is going on here? Bangor is 130 miles from the nearest point in Canada. https://bit.ly/2JXI70o Fortunately, passengers in the video refused to answer, and no one was arrested. We can sympathize with the bus driver, who seemed to have been caught off guard by the patrolling Immigration & Customs Enforcement  officer looking over the boarding passengers. But, as the ACLU points out in the narrative with the video, this ICE interrogation practice is unacceptable.

It has no known demarcation. We are accustomed to answering questions about identity before boarding airplanes in what is a largely routine and orderly, if irritating, process. That process is in place because of the extraordinary threat posed by aircraft in the wrong hands.

Is the government now going to start hunting for aliens in our midst at bus stations and Amtrak stations? Car rental locations? How about bike rental kiosks? Subways? Local bus stops in Arkansas? Are we approaching the point at which the Trump-led government is going to require national identification papers on your person at all times and subject to inspection at any time by ICE or other officers? See https://bit.ly/2FmlvnY for some relevant history here and elsewhere if you think this is hysterical overstatement.

There is no plausible rationale for such government intrusion. No real-world demonstrable threat from illegal immigrants exists to justify this police-state tactic. Lengthy and thorough analyses of available data, which admittedly is not perfect (a problem that cuts both ways and so is really irrelevant), shows that the Trumpian claim that illegal immigrants bring crime to the United States is not supportable. https://wapo.st/2JUM4mT; https://nyti.ms/2GImBPa.

Of course, facts and truth have never had much sway in Trump’s world and his fan base accepts whatever he says simply because he says it. Nevertheless, it is vital to our democracy that we not allow false claims based on safety/security to undermine our basic freedoms. Trump and his advisors would do well to re-read the opening sections of the Declaration of Independence. So should everyone else. See https://bit.ly/2ldSeUj and the other materials cited there. Trump’s attempt to re-introduce Nazi-style measures to America will not be accepted quietly.