Did Russia Interfere?

I’ve been writing this blog about a year and if you’ve been following along you know that I moderate all comments to be certain they are civil in nature. So far I’ve not rejected a single uncivil comment!

In recent months another good reason to moderate the comments has emerged; I get about ten spam comments each day generated by some computer program, and I’m really glad those don’t get posted automatically. Here is what’s interesting: In my unofficial estimate about 30% of these comments from non-subscribers are written in Russian, so somebody (or some bot) in Russia is trying to post comments to my blog.

This made me start paying closer attention to the accusation that Russia manipulated social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, in an attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. As with many news stories these days I assumed this one was exaggerated by the media.

I don’t think it was.

Twitter has now admitted that upwards of 50,000 fake accounts were created by Russians to post automated content, and about 3,800 of those accounts were traced back directly to Russian state operatives. Tweets would, for example, attack Hillary Clinton’s performance during the debates. Some of these fake tweets were then re-tweeted by Trump campaign folks such as Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump, Jr. who assumed they were legitimate.

Russians also created fake Facebook accounts that spread political propaganda, and they did so in such a way it appeared the post was being shared by real voters, especially in swing states that would determine the final outcome of the election. This political activity was verified by cybersecurity experts at George Washington University.

Here is one example:



Pretty subtle, huh?

Here is another post that received 13,000 Facebook “likes”:

Click to access stop_ai_burqa.pdf

Other fake Facebook posts did not specifically support a candidate but apparently were intended to further divide the American public.

Click to access blacktivist_oc_343308009345635.pdf

And yes, a few even attacked Donald Trump, again presumably attempting to divide the country.

Click to access 6056284937087.pdf

Click here to see a few other examples of fake posts traced to Russia.

In prepared testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall Facebook executives said that approximately 126 million American Facebook subscribers viewed Russian-generated content. Elliot Schrage, one of Facebook’s vice presidents, said “Most of the ads appear to focus on divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum, touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights,”

It appears that the Russian accounts were primarily supportive of Donald Trump’s bid for the Whitehouse but were also aimed at ultimately harming America’s already fractured society.

And using social media was not the only strategy employed by the Russians. As far back as October of 2016 the United States Intelligence Community accepted the conclusion that Russian operatives had hacked email accounts and stolen emails, later released by WikiLeaks and others, and that the theft was intended to influence and disrupt the American election. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded that it had “high confidence” that the hacked emails were shared with WikiLeaks and other organizations by Russia and that “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts in the United States and worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes”.

On Monday of this week Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s CIA Director, said he believes Russia will again try to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections.

There is no way to determine whether Russia’s activities actually influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. As I’ve said before both presidential candidates in that election were deeply flawed. But likelihood of success should not matter. What should matter is that another nation is doing everything it can to influence our democratic processes.

Russia is America’s most dangerous enemy and our number one adversary on the world stage. It is possibly the number one threat to our security, so why is this issue seemingly on the back burner? Well, there is another Russian probe under way (I’ll write about it in another post) that has sort of diverted America’s attention, and I can also think of countless other issues that have led us to focus elsewhere. Examples: North Korea, accusations that President Trump paid a porn star to keep quiet about an affair, constant diversionary Tweets by our President, Charlottesville, moving the American embassy in Israel, DACA, the tax overhaul bill, hurricane damage to Puerto Rico, reports of the President’s disparaging comments regarding poor countries, the Paris climate accords, firing James Comey, firing Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Anthony Scaramucci, repealing Obamacare, Roy Moore, stalled infrastructure legislation, our President attacking his own appointees, the wall (not to be confused with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”), attacks on the free press, the stock market, attacks on football players, controversy over President Trump’s frequent vacations and golf games (at his own resorts), attacks on our own intelligence community, repealing environmental policies, and much more.

It’s just hard to focus on our enemy’s attempt to control elections, but we should.



The Republican Party and Family Values

Every four years the two major parties publish their “platforms” which include all the issues, beliefs, and policy statements they will support through the next presidential election cycle. Here are all the bullet points from the current Republican platform which focuses on seventeen separate issues such as college costs, healthcare, safe neighborhoods, and combatting drug abuse.

At the very top of the Republican agenda the first two issues highlighted are:

You may click on these to see how the GOP specifically defines each, but what you will find is predictable if you know anything about the Republican Party. In recent decades that party has focused on “traditional” family values (one woman and one man), church, neighborhoods, God, and marriage. The current platform rejects the 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v Hodges guaranteeing same sex couples the right to marry and states a desire to reverse that decision. The platform also argues that businesses should be allowed to deny service to same sex couples if serving those couples violates the owners’ religious views.

The platform concludes that the decline of traditional values has led to a greater dependence on government because “families, schools, congregations, and neighborhoods” create “spaces where government should not intrude” and allow citizens to work together to solve their own problems “without government interference”.

Again, none of this is surprising to anyone familiar with the Republican platform in recent years. These views are consistent with contemporary “conservatism”.

Most Republicans today would call anyone “liberal” who believes government should ONLY interfere in people’s lives when individual actions might adversely affect others. This is the view that if my actions don’t harm anyone but myself I should be left alone, and that freedom would cover a host of activities from marriage to wearing seatbelts. If, for example, my marriage or relationship with someone doesn’t have a direct impact on you, it is none of your business. The truth is that those views are not liberal but are, in fact, libertarian (ultra conservative) and should on principle be shared by Republicans who argue for limited government. Remember that the current platform argues for less “government interference”?

In my opinion this is the major Republican Party inconsistency (and before you begin jumping to conclusions, remember that I absolutely am not a Democrat). The GOP doesn’t want government interfering in businesses, doesn’t want government providing healthcare, opposes many governmental efforts to protect our environment, and wants to limit individuals’ rights to sue doctors who engage in malpractice thus limiting the government’s role in resolving such disputes. Again, all of this is in the platform.

But the Republican Party DOES want the government involved in defining family and family values, and that definition would be one woman and one man with kids and a dog (preferably a Golden Retriever). The GOP’s platform offers valid data demonstrating that children raised by such a family are less likely to engage in questionable behavior, and it is true that children born out of wedlock are statistically more likely to live in poverty, use drugs and alcohol too early, and engage in criminal behavior. On those points I agree, but that’s only part of the story. It assumes that the only legitimate families are those involving two parents, a male and a female.

Same sex couples were given national marriage rights less than three years ago. That means those couples have been raising families in very small numbers, so there is no way to measure the success of such families raising children over time. Based on my own observations I would be willing to bet children raised by same sex couples will statistically be at least as healthy, happy, and  well-rounded as kids raised by “traditional” families. I know a good number of same sex couples who are wonderful parents and their children are lucky. I also know some “traditional” parents who should be nowhere near kids. I also assume that two loving and caring individuals of the same sex would be much better parents than the many dysfunctional “traditional” families children suffer through.

And I don’t disagree that children should ideally be raised by two parents (I cannot imagine walking that path alone!), but sometimes that just isn’t possible. Young men and women (or boys and girls) driven by hormones often have unprotected sex, committed couples may split up leaving only one full time parent, relationships may become abusive leading to divorce, and spouses sometimes die. Again, I know a good number of single parents who are raising or have raised very wonderful and successful kids. We should try to find ways to reduce unwanted pregnancies and then offer support rather than condemnation when it does happen or when children otherwise have only one parent.

It also seems that Republicans supporting traditional family values would oppose infidelity and divorce. However,  26% of Republicans have been divorced, only slightly fewer than the 29% of Democrats.

And what about infidelity? A couple of years ago Ashley Madison, a website that helps married people link up and have extramarital affairs, polled 105,000 of its members to determine who they were. In that poll 25.1% said they were “born again” Christian (only 1.4% claimed atheism). Again, this group would be mostly Republican. This is an unscientific poll and doesn’t necessarily reflect society, but the results are interesting nevertheless. And a 2009 poll found that 15% of Republicans admitted having at least one affair (again only slightly lower than the 19% of unfaithful Democrats).

It seems to me that a party truly supporting traditional family values would fight to pass laws banning divorce and would spurn those engaging in extramarital affairs, but the Republican Party:

  • Nominated and supported a Senatorial candidate from Alabama who was accused of stalking and molesting teenage girls (there was a great deal of evidence supporting those claims).
  • Continues to support the Missouri governor who admitted to an extramarital affair with his hairdresser.
  • Continued to support Newt Gingrich even after  he admitted having affairs on his first two wives.
  • Nominated and helped elect a serial philanderer who admitted cheating on his wives and bragged about grabbing women’s private parts and who is now accused by the very conservative Wall Street Journal of paying a porn star to remain silent about a sexual relationship (one that allegedly occurred after marrying his current wife).
  • And more.

Since 2000 3/4 of the political sex scandals involved Republicans.

And remember that I don’t like either major party and I believe it is time to throw them both out of office, but in my opinion the Republican Party’s hypocrisy on “family values” pretty much takes the proverbial cake. How can the party openly state that it supports traditional family values yet support its members who blatantly disregard those values?

Maybe it is time for the GOP to return to its truly conservative values and get government out of the private lives of American citizens. It is certainly time for that Party to stop claiming the moral high ground and once again begin focusing on the legitimate argument that government is too big.

Don’t worry. I’ll write about the Democratic Party’s problems sometime soon.


The Illusion of Security and Our Diverted Attention

My wife and I just returned from a week of vacation on a beach in Mexico. We travel as often as possible (well…as often as we can afford) because there are so many wonderful places yet to see and too few years in a lifetime to see them. Every time we tell friends that we are planning another trip someone (often several someones) will say “be careful, its a dangerous world out there”. Well…yeah, but getting behind the wheel of my truck is dangerous and I do so without thinking twice.

From the time we become self-aware we build a cocoon of invincibility around ourselves. Even when we see others die in automobile crashes, die from alcoholism, or die at the hands of a deranged 64-year old Las Vegas gambler, we convince ourselves that we, on the other hand, are secure. We aren’t. However, the things we tend to fear most are likely our least worries.

Here is my favorite example. About 84% of Americans consider terrorism a critical threat to our safety, and we become even more  focused on terrorism after attacks occur in France or other Western nations. I doubt most people know that in 2015 about 78% of deaths caused by terrorists resulted from attacks in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  It is easy to forget about the rest of the world. If you take out the 9/11 attacks, only 0.5% of terrorist attacks occurred in ANY Western nation between 2000-2015. In a ranked index of 39 countries suffering serious terrorist attacks the United States comes in at…drum roll…#35!.

And only 20% of terrorist attacks in the West were carried out by Muslim extremists meaning about 80% were perpetuated by other extremist groups. You might be interested to know that between 2008 and 2016 right-wing extremist groups were responsible for almost twice the number of American terrorist attacks as were Muslim groups, and they were often more deadly.  And yes, there were also left-wing terrorist attacks perpetrated by ecoterrorists and animal rights groups, but these were much more infrequent. Yet the only terrorist attacks our President or other governing officials ever acknowledge is the Islamic variety. And they use that incomplete information to justify public policy decisions such as “enhanced vetting” of refugees, building border walls, or banning certain people from our country.

Interestingly, research by the libertarian (ultra conservative) Cato Institute concludes that the number of terrorist attacks from people coming from the seven countries on which President Drumpf originally imposed a travel band was a whopping…zero! Cato also concluded that there was almost no national security benefit to the ban.  In fact, we are 253 times more likely to be killed by someone other than a foreign-born terrorist.

This focus on Muslim terrorists is another good example of politicians misdirecting or diverting our attention, a topic about which I posted several weeks ago. They keep us from focusing on  things that really matter by throwing red-meat (though often insubstantial) issues our way.

So what are the threats to our secure lives about which we should be worried? What are the ways we are likely to pass on into the next world? Here are a few interesting odds:

  • Heart disease: 1 in 7
  • Cancer: 1 in 7
  • Influenza/pneumonia: 1 in 70
  • Motor Vehicle Accident: 1 in 113
  • Assault by Gun: 1 in 358
  • Complications from medical procedure or surgery: 1 in 1,523
  • Force of Nature: 1 in 3,122
  • Choking on Food: 1 in 3,409
  • Bicycling: 1 in 4,337
  • Fall From a Building: 1 in 6,115
  • Exposure to Excessive Natural Cold: 1 in 7,399
  • Airplane or Spaceship Accident: 1 in 9,738
  • Heat Wave: 1 in 10,785
  • Animal Attack: 1 in 30,167
  • Death by Foreign Born Terrorist: 1 in 45,808
  • Shark Attack: 1 in 8,000,000
  • Death by a refugee terrorist:  1 in 46,192,893
  • Death by illegal immigrant terrorist: 1 in 138, 324, 873

In other words there are lots of things more likely to kill us than terrorists. Does that mean we should let down our guard and not worry about terrorist attacks? Absolutely not! If we can minimize ANY cause of death we should do so. However, it also seems reasonable to focus on other causes and try to minimize those as well, especially since they are more likely to result in our death. And it is time for politicians to dial back the rhetoric and focus on issues that have a greater impact on our lives than does terrorism.

  • The likelihood of dying by heart disease and cancer can at least be reduced by changing our exercise, eating, smoking, and other habits. Governmental policies reducing pollution, limiting smoking in public places, and requiring truthful labeling of food content can also have an impact.
  • We could reduce the number of motor vehicle deaths by increasing funding for infrastructure improvements (highways, rail systems, airports, bus systems)
  • We can impose reasonable restrictions on gun sales that might reduce the statistical likelihood of dying by gun shot. ( I read interesting research recently that argues otherwise, by the way).
  • We could protect folks from heatwave death by providing cooling centers for those capable of leaving their homes and air conditioners for those who cannot.
  • We minimize the likelihood of dying in plane (or spaceship) crashes by imposing safety regulations.

You get the idea. There are ways to prevent many unnecessary deaths although the chances are pretty darn good that something will eventually get us. However, it is easier for politicians to direct our attention toward terrorists or other less important issues than it is for them to, you know, actually GOVERN!