Tag Archives: FBI

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Donald Trump’s Other Lies: His Campaign Promises

Image result for trump campaign

This week’s political coverage — probably next week’s too — will likely be dominated by deposed FBI director James Comey’s incendiary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Trump’s “lies, pure and simple” are limited neither to the president’s claim that Comey’s FBI was “in disarray, that it was poorly led” nor his litany of falsehoods — most recently, that the mayor of London doesn’t care about terrorism and that Trump’s First 100 Days were the most productive of any president in history.

Comey’s lucid, Hemingway-tight testimony feels like the beginning of the end for this administration. Anything could happen, of course. But it feels overly optimistic to imagine this circus lasting another year.

If and when the obituary for Trump’s political career is written, his admirers will record his historic, meteoric rise. Indeed, Donald Trump was the most effective presidential campaigner of my lifetime: repeated what lines worked, ditched the ones that didn’t, mastered social media, ignored outdated dogma, tapped into voters’ long-ignored resentments, nailed the electoral college map, and did it all for pennies on the Hillary Clinton donor dollar.

True, the brilliant campaigner can’t govern. But that’s a story for another time.

His critics’ postmortems will emphasize that Trump’s brightly burning campaign rallies were fueled by lies: Obama was Muslim, Obama wasn’t born here, global warming is a Chinese hoax, illegal immigrants are streaming across the border (years ago they were, no longer), police officers are the real victims (as opposed to the numerous black men they shoot).

These lies are scandalous. They ought to be remembered. But we shouldn’t let them overshadow Trump’s biggest lie of all: that he would be different, outside the ideological box of the two parties.

“Trump meets the textbook definition of an ideological moderate,” Doug Ahler and David Broockman wrote in the Washington Post last December. “Trump has the exact ‘moderate’ qualities that many pundits and political reformers yearn for in politicians: Many of Trump’s positions spurn party orthodoxy, yet are popular among voters. And like most voters — but unlike most party politicians — his positions don’t consistently hew to a familiar left-right philosophy.”

Whiff!

Trump promised a hodgepodge ideology, a “pick one from column D, pick one from column R” Chinese menu that appealed to many voters whose own values don’t neatly adhere to either major party platform. Who cares about doctrine? Let’s do what works.

As president, however, that turned out to be a lie.

Trump has governed to the far right. In fact, on just about every issue you can think of, Donald Trump has governed as the most extreme far-right politician of our lifetimes, and possibly in the history of the Republican Party.

Candidate Trump criticized North Carolina’s “bathroom law” and said Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. President Trump rescinded the right of transgender students to use the school restroom of their choice.

Flip, flop, from somewhat to right-wing conservative, over and over and over again.

Candidate Trump lit up the GOP (and relieved not a few Democrats) by criticizing the stupid Iraq War and promising to put America First. President Trump’s cabinet of generals is bombing the crap out of Syria and asking Congress for a 10% increase in Pentagon spending.

Candidate Trump was all over the place on abortion rights. President Trump is trying to defund Planned Parenthood and appointed Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, a right-wing extremist who will likely cast the decisive vote against Roe v. Wade.

Candidate Trump promised bigger, better and cheaper healthcare for all Americans. Trumpcare will leave tens of millions of patients with no insurance whatsoever.

He even welched on his most controversial promise: to improve relations with Russia. Within a few months, he allowed that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low.”

“Trumpism was never a coherent worldview, much less a moral code that anchors the president,” Graham Vyse wrote in The New Republic.

#Wrong!

Trumpism is extremely coherent and consistently extremist. Donald Trump turns out to be Ronald Reagan times ten, minus charm.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: FBI v. Apple Is Really About Edward Snowden

http://www.newsfoxes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/farooq.jpgThe fight between Apple and the FBI has been framed as an epic battle between big tech and big government. Apple, says the Obama Administration, is siding with “its business model and public brand marketing strategy” ahead of public safety. That’s not it, says Apple CEO Tim Cook. He says his company is “a staunch advocate for our customers’ privacy and personal safety.”

Donald Trump has weighed in on the controversy, ad-libbing a call for a boycott of Apple products including the iPhone, the device at the center of the debate. Two weeks ago, a federal court ordered Apple to write code that would allow the FBI to unlock an iPhone used by one of the gunmen in the San Bernadino mass shooting. Apple refused, saying the code could be used to unlock other iPhones as well, not just the one covered by the order. A Wall Street Journal report that the feds are currently going after a dozen or so iPhones in other cases seems to back up Apple’s argument.

What this is really about — but barely touched upon in corporate media — is Edward Snowden.

A few years ago, no one — left, right, libertarian — would have supported Apple’s refusal to cooperate with a federal investigation of a terrorist attack associated with a radical Islamist group, much less its decision to fight a court order to do so. If investigators hadn’t combed through the data on the phone used by Syed Farook before he slaughtered 14 people, it would have been seen as dereliction of duty. Obviously the authorities need to learn everything they can about Farook, such as whether he ever had direct communications with ISIS or if there were any coconspirators. Looking at evidence like that is what law enforcement is for.

Rather than face Uncle Sam alone, Apple’s defiance is being backed by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo — companies who suffered disastrous blows to their reputations, and billions of dollars in lost business, after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that they spent years voluntarily turning over their customers’ data to the spy agency in its drive to “hoover up” every email, phone call, text message and video communication on the planet, including those of Americans.

Most Americans tell pollsters Apple should play ball with the FBI. But Apple and its Silicon Valley allies aren’t banking on the popular vote. Their biggest customers are disproportionately well-off and liberal — and they don’t want government spooks looking at their personal or business information.

Another underreported aspect of this story is the same sort of interagency squabbling that contributed to the failure of counterterrorism officials to see the whole picture before 9/11, and was supposed to have been fixed by such Bush-era bureaucratic revamps as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and bringing America’s 16 intelligence agencies under a single director.

When you stop to think about this, it’s insane.

The NSA, specifically chartered to intercept signals intelligence that originates overseas — that is specifically prohibited from gathering data that is sent from one American to another American — continues to do so, probably at an even greater degree of efficiency than the period between 2009 and 2013, the era documented by the Snowden revelations leaked to the news media. Ignoring the anger of the American people, Congress did nothing to rein in the NSA. So they continue to break the law, and violate our privacy, on a massive scale.

Meanwhile, the FBI — the agency that is legally authorized to eavesdrop on American citizens as part of investigations authorized by judicial warrants, can’t get into a terrorist’s smartphone…something everyone agrees it ought to be able to do.

The NSA almost certainly has the contents of Farook’s iPhone — and yours, and mine — on a server at its massive data farm in Bluffdale, Utah. Thanks to a court order and inside-the-Beltway turf battles, however, the NSA can’t/won’t turn them over to the FBI.

This is what happens when government treats citizens with contempt. Citizens return the favor.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Snowden,” a biography of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. “Snowden” is on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Selma” and Hollywood’s Sleazy Perversion of History

Movies are the historical record.

Americans experience the Vietnam War by watching “Apocalypse Now,” slavery in “12 Years a Slave,” and D-Day through “Saving Private Ryan.” A lot more Americans watch historical movies than read history books. Which, when done well, is not a bad thing. I’ve read countless books about the collapse of Nazi Germany, but the brilliantly-acted and directed reenactment of Hitler’s last days in his Berlin bunker depicted in the masterful 2004 German film “Downfall” can’t be beat.

When a film purports to depict a historical event, it becomes the only version of what most people believe really happened. So, as we move further into a post-literate society, misleading historical filmmaking isn’t just a waste of 2-1/2 hours.

It’s a crime against the truth.

The Ava DuVernay-directed film “Selma” is at the center of controversy, both due to its semi-snubbing by the Oscars – viewed as backtracking from last year’s relatively racially diverse choice of nominees – and accusations that it plays loose with history.

Former LBJ aide and Democratic Party stalwart Joe Califano fired the first shot with a Washington Post op-ed. “Selma,” wrote Califano, “falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself.”

He’s right.

Robert Caro’s magisterial four-volume biography of Johnson portrays him as a deeply flawed man, but one whose passion to push for desegregation and an end to discrimination against blacks informed his political career throughout his life, though it wasn’t always obvious to his detractors.

It was only after JFK’s assassination brought him to power – actually, a movie portraying Kennedy as reluctant to support civil rights would have been accurate – that he had the chance to push through both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he did aggressively and quickly, despite what he famously predicted would be the loss of the South to the Democratic Party for a generation or more.

Johnson gave J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI too much latitude, which Hoover used to harass King, but there’s no evidence that, as the movie depicts, it was LBJ who ordered Hoover to send audiotapes of King having sex with other women to his wife. And let’s be clear: every important conversation in the Oval Office was being taped. We have the transcripts. We would know if that had happened.

Califano takes his defense of his former boss too far when he says “[the march on] Selma was LBJ’s idea.” Otherwise, the facts are on his side: the LBJ in “Selma” is not the LBJ King knew.

Fans of the film argue that it doesn’t matter.

“Did ‘Selma’ cut some corners and perhaps tilt characters to suit the needs of the story? Why yes — just like almost every other Hollywood biopic and historical film that has been made,” the media writer David Carr writes in The New York Times.

Yes, in a movie the story is the thing. It’s hard to imagine “The Queen” — about the inner workings of the British monarchy and its relationship to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana — working without a lot of made-up dialogue between the principals. However, the great detail of these obviously private conversations signals to the audience that they don’t come out of a transcript, and that we must be witnessing a fictionalized account.

There comes a point, on the other hand, where so many corners get cut and so many characters get tilted that a film ceases to resemble history and enters the territory of complete fabulism and, in the case of “Selma” and LBJ, retroactive character assassination.

The clash between MLK and LBJ – King pushing, Johnson resisting – isn’t merely some extraneous detail of the script in “Selma.” It’s the main plot of the film.

It didn’t go down like that, yet thanks to this BS film, a generation of Americans will grow up thinking that it did.

Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post repeatedly calls “Selma” “fiction.” As in: “film and other fiction.” To her, apparently, film is always fiction. But it’s not.

Like books, film is a medium.

Film can be nonfiction.

Film can be fiction.

“Califano’s approach,” she writes, “besides setting a [sic] odd standard for how fiction ought to work…suggests that we should check fiction for inaccuracies.”

As usual, the crux of the debate boils down to an inability to agree on definitions of terms. For those like Rosenberg who believe that everyone knows movies are just for fun, it doesn’t matter that “Schindler’s List” depicts showers at Auschwitz spraying water rather than Zyklon B — even though that never happened, and thus serves to understate one of the horrors of the Holocaust. To the all-movies-are-fiction crowd, “Zero Dark Forty” is cool despite its completely false claim that torture led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

“This is art; this is a movie; this is a film,” director DuVernay told PBS. “I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.”

That’s sleazy. Truth is, her film is being marketed as fact, as she knew it would be. And it’s doing better because of it.

Audiences need a ratings system to separate films that purport to recount actual historical events from those like “Selma,” which are fictional tales using historical figures as hand puppets.

I suggest that the MPAA institute the following ratings:

Rated H for Historical: a film that makes a good faith effort to recount history accurately.

Rated S-H for Semi-Historical: a film that relies on devices like made-up dialogue and encounters, but whose basic plot line reflects history to the best of our knowledge.

Rated H-F for Historical Fiction: a film in which anything, including the basic plot line, can be made up out of whole cloth.

If the movies are going to lie to me, I deserve to know before shelling out my $12.50.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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Sony Hackers: Was It Really N. Korea? Why Some FBI Folk Doubt It

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

If you were impressed by how fast the FBI placed the blame for the Sony entertainment hacks on North Korea, you weren’t alone. Internet forensics are notoriously complicated, so this was obviously the result of amazingly efficient detective work, right?

Perhaps not.

A number of security experts doubt the US government’s claim of certainty in their accusation.

“The FBI says the attack came from IP addresses — unique computer addresses — that trace back to North Korea,” NPR reports. But those could be spoofed.

“The fact that data was relayed through IPs associated with North Korea is not a smoking gun,” Scott Petry, a network security analyst with Authentic8, told the network. “There are products today that will route traffic through IP addresses around the world.”

The FBI also points to malware used in the Sony attacks. Strings of that code, the feds say, are identical to those used in previous attacks known to have been carried out by North Korean hackers. Perry says that doesn’t mean anything either. Malware gets recycled by hackers all the time. “It’s like saying, ‘My God, this bank robbery was conducted using a Kalashnikov rifle — it must be the Russians who did it!'”

US government officials told the media that they found communications between the hackers that indicated their language of origin was Korean, and other experts say that conclusion is tentative and premature at best.

“Although it’s possible that these messages were written by people whose native language is Korean, it is far more likely that they were Russians,” said Shlomo Argamon, computer science professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and chief scientist with Taia Global, after examining the writing style.

Finally, there’s the motive problem, as Wired puts it.

We’ve been told that the hacks were carried out on the order of a petulant dictator out to censor a film that disrespected his majesty, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s assassination comedy “The Interview.” But the demands of the hackers seem to align closer to a financial shakedown. Russians, then? In particular, the demands that Sony “pay proper monetary compensation” or face further attacks, points to someone other than a nation-state. Plus, for what it’s worth, North Korea has angrily denied involvement.

So if it wasn’t North Korea – or more accurately, if the US government isn’t 100% certain that it was North Korea – what are they saying that it was – or more accurately, that they are 100% certain that it was?

Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security, speculated to Wired that a political hack within the FBI “wanted it to be North Korea so much that they just threw away caution.” Once the Obama administration repeatedly told the media that they knew it was North Korea, that became an official narrative that could never be walked back. “There’s this whole groupthink that happens, and once it becomes the message, it’s really hard to say no it’s not this.”

We have seen government groupthink before.

Within hours after the first plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, network anchors and US government officials alike were openly jumping to the conclusion that Al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden had to be responsible. As with the Sony hacks, what began as pure speculation based on circumstantial evidence – the theatrical nature of the attacks, their simultaneity and so on – soon became an official narrative that no one ever dared question, even when bin Laden denied responsibility (he had, on the other hand, claimed to have been behind the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in East Africa).

There are two parts of the equation here: responsibility and certainty. Who did it? How sure are we?

The FBI appears to be playing fast and loose with the latter question, much in the way that the Bush administration claimed to have been certain that the government of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction during the 2002-2003 run-up to the invasion of that country. The lie was not in claiming that Saddam possessed WMDs. The lie was claiming to be sure.

Bin Laden may well have been the sole financier and leader of the 9/11 plot, just as the North Korean government could be responsible for the Sony hacks. In both cases, however, a rush to judgment in anticipation of the facts may prevent some or all of the truth from ever coming to light. In the 9/11 case, for example, considerable evidence points to Islamic Jihad, a radical organization based in Egypt, as well as Saudi financiers. Pinning the blame exclusively on bin Laden and Al Qaeda let those guilty parties escape investigation, and perhaps punishment.

Similarly, the FBI’s premature passing of blame on the government of President Kim Jong-un could be muddying the waters, thus allowing the actual responsible parties to continue their activities and setting the stage for their next hack attack. Not to mention, is it really a good idea to antagonize a paranoid, nuclear-armed adversary that is already convinced the US intends to invade and occupy it, by falsely accusing them?

It would be nice, though perhaps too much to ask, for the United States government to seek the truth in a calm, deliberative manner. The media can wait after an attack to learn who’s to blame. So can we.

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Bluster Bomb

The United States government claims that there’s a distinction between the NSA’s wholesale collection of information by and about individuals and governments overseas, versus the Chinese army unit charged with industrial espionage against American companies. The rest of the world, however, isn’t buying it.

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TALE Podcast: Ted Rall and Lynn Bixenspan

TALE is an awesome The Moth-like storytelling live show in New York City. If you know me personally, and you’ve seen me with beer inside me, you know I like telling stories. So anyway, TALE has launched storytelling podcasts! I’m in the first one, along with comedian Lynn Bixenspan and cohosts Harmon Leon and Alex Schmidt.

It’s about my personal experience as the target of post-9/11 government surveillance.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Bruised Egos in Sacramento

Bruised Egos in Sacramento

 

 

 

Anything can be a point of pride. Your local baseball team. The weather. Political corruption.

The genesis of today’s cartoon is a barroom argument I found myself having at least 20 years ago with a Chicagoan. “The Illinois state legislature,” he stated confidently, “is the most corrupt in the country.” I made cases for my home state of Ohio and my adopted home of New York. Overhearing us, a third man approached, loaded for bear, to make clear that anyone who challenged Harrisburg, home of Pennsylvania’s state house, as the stinkiest cesspool in all of American politics would have to deal with him and his voluminous knowledge of the Keystone State’s seemingly infinite list of dirty deeds.

There was never any doubt that this week’s piece would be about Leland Yee, the pro-gun control state senator accused of attempted arms smuggling. As they say, you can’t make these things up. To think that people still ask me where I get my ideas!

“[Yee] held press conferences denouncing violent video games and helped pass legislation in California prohibiting sales of such games to minors. And yet, secretly, he was living the life of a Grand Theft Auto character,” Scott Shackford writes in Reason. Me, I thought Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” Whatever. Hand slaps forehead, jaw drops.

But how do you cartoon a story whose central character is itself a cartoon? Exaggeration isn’t possible; it’s already too extreme.

You can go with straightforward editorializing. “Isn’t it just awful.” “One more reason people don’t trust politicians.” “What a hypocrite.” Trouble is, the ballpeen hammer to the skull approach disproves the cliché that “it’s funny because it’s true.” It’s true — Yee’s alleged misdeeds are awful and do nothing to help citizens feel good about government ­ — but it’s not funny. Nor interesting.

Instead I approached this story through the back door. Inspired by having recently watched the finale of “Breaking Bad,” a show in which viewers are simultaneously appalled by and admiring of a criminal character, I decided to turn the perspective around. Rather than single out Yee as a bad apple (whom, thanks to the FBI, we can feel happy has been extracted from the newly virtuous political gathering in Sacramento), I depict his corrupt colleagues bemoaning their own lack of ambition and scope compared to Yee’s staggeringly over-the-top perfidy. Given the string of recent scandals out of the state capital, from Roy Ashburn (the gay state senator who voted against gay rights, arrested for DUI) to Michael Duvall (the family values conservative caught bragging about his affairs over an open mic), Yee’s arrest does not likely signal a 99-44/100ths pure state assembly.

It makes a bigger point about a more important issue.

With a little luck, it might even make you laugh.

Bitterly laugh, but still.

Appeared originally at The Los Angeles Times.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Bruised Egos in Sacramento

Bruised Egos in Sacramento

 

Anything can be a point of pride. Your local baseball team. The weather. Political corruption.

The genesis of today’s cartoon is a barroom argument I found myself having at least 20 years ago with a Chicagoan. “The Illinois state legislature,” he stated confidently, “is the most corrupt in the country.” I made cases for my home state of Ohio and my adopted home of New York. Overhearing us, a third man approached, loaded for bear, to make clear that anyone who challenged Harrisburg, home of Pennsylvania’s state house, as the stinkiest cesspool in all of American politics would have to deal with him and his voluminous knowledge of the Keystone State’s seemingly infinite list of dirty deeds.

There was never any doubt that this week’s piece would be about Leland Yee, the pro-gun control state senator accused of attempted arms smuggling. As they say, you can’t make these things up. To think that people still ask me where I get my ideas!

“[Yee] held press conferences denouncing violent video games and helped pass legislation in California prohibiting sales of such games to minors. And yet, secretly, he was living the life of a Grand Theft Auto character,” Scott Shackford writes in Reason. Me, I thought Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” Whatever. Hand slaps forehead, jaw drops.

But how do you cartoon a story whose central character is itself a cartoon? Exaggeration isn’t possible; it’s already too extreme.

You can go with straightforward editorializing. “Isn’t it just awful.” “One more reason people don’t trust politicians.” “What a hypocrite.” Trouble is, the ballpeen hammer to the skull approach disproves the cliché that “it’s funny because it’s true.” It’s true — Yee’s alleged misdeeds are awful and do nothing to help citizens feel good about government ­ — but it’s not funny. Nor interesting.

Instead I approached this story through the back door. Inspired by having recently watched the finale of “Breaking Bad,” a show in which viewers are simultaneously appalled by and admiring of a criminal character, I decided to turn the perspective around. Rather than single out Yee as a bad apple (whom, thanks to the FBI, we can feel happy has been extracted from the newly virtuous political gathering in Sacramento), I depict his corrupt colleagues bemoaning their own lack of ambition and scope compared to Yee’s staggeringly over-the-top perfidy. Given the string of recent scandals out of the state capital, from Roy Ashburn (the gay state senator who voted against gay rights, arrested for DUI) to Michael Duvall (the family values conservative caught bragging about his affairs over an open mic), Yee’s arrest does not likely signal a 99-44/100ths pure state assembly.

It makes a bigger point about a more important issue.

With a little luck, it might even make you laugh.

Bitterly laugh, but still.

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