TBR News August 25, 2016

Aug 25 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C.  August 25, 2016: “Given the rising number of unemployed and the increasingly fragile American economy, there has been very quiet talk inside the Beltway about doing a reprise of 1948 and concocting a situation that would require a draft to enlarge the already bloated military and an increase in American industrial output. This worked in 1948 and there are now those who think it could work again. There was an economic slump in 1938 and Roosevelt pulled us out of it by manipulating the Second World War. When that war was over and the inflated wartime production levels started to fall, business, and the military, wanted something to go back to the glory days of the war. The Russian threat was enlarged and pounded by the media and the Cole War indeed was a highly successful ploy. Now such moves are being quietly talked about at the Metropolitan and Cosmos Clubs, quietly but serious. Can the Russians be goaded into some kind of a threatening action? What about the North Koreans? China? Some business in the Middle East? When both the military and the business community desire an action, we have one.”

The Foreign Invasion of American Politics

Foreign free riders hate Trump and love Hillary – with good reason

August 24, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


As one of my Twitter followers put it so succinctly: “Globalization: Where leaders from any country get to pick US Presidents.” As the Clinton campaign’s Robby Mook tears a page out of Joe McCarthy’s book and smears Donald Trump as being “Putin’s puppet,” the irony is that this election has seen foreign interference in American politics to an unprecedented degree – on Hillary’s behalf.

In the past, foreign actors tried to hide such activities, rightly thinking that they might encounter resentment – or even legal consequences – for trying to meddle in affairs that are none of their damned business. Not anymore. Now that we’re a global empire, with our leaders proclaiming the supreme importance of exercising “US leadership” and sticking our noses in every petty squabble on earth, our client states are openly interfering in our internal affairs. After all, if we can engage in “regime change” campaigns, and dictate the terms and results of Lower Slobbovia’s elections, why can’t they interfere in ours? To this end they employ legions of publicists, lobbyists, and tame congressmen to pursue their national interests, mostly at our expense: the billions in “foreign aid” we ship overseas come back to our shores in the form of exorbitant fees paid to PR firms – a rare trade deal where American firms actually come out ahead!

Most of this is relatively subtle, and covert – or, at least, it has been up to now. However, the Trump phenomenon has changed the rules of the game, and foreign actors are now openly coming out of the closet – so to speak – and brazenly attacking the GOP candidate. I can’t recall a presidential contest where a foreign ambassador has written an op-ed piece attacking one of the candidates, but this election season has Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Valeriy Chaly, publishing a piece in the Ukrainian Weekly echoing the Mookarthyite charge that Trump is the Manchurian candidate. Trump’s comments on the Ukraine issue “have raised serious concerns,” we are told, as Chaly goes on to write that:

“Since the Russian aggression, there has been bipartisan support for U.S. sanctions against Russia, and for such sanctions to remain in place until the territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored. Efforts to enhance Ukraine’s defense capacity are supported across the aisle, as well, to ensure that Ukraine becomes strong enough to deter Russia’s aggression.

“Even if Mr. Trump’s comments are only speculative, and do not really reflect a future foreign policy, they call for appeasement of an aggressor and support the violation of a sovereign country’s territorial integrity and another’s breach of international law.”

Chaly doesn’t get it, but that’s not surprising – he’s a foreigner, after all. Trump doesn’t care about the “bipartisan” consensus that has ruled Washington and mandated US intervention in every two-bit border dispute. The whole point of the Trump campaign, and the reason for his overwhelming victory in the primaries, is that the bipartisan internationalism of the past is over, finished, kaput. Trump isn’t buying into the new cold war hysteria being drummed up by the political class: he has said he wants to get along with the Russians, and for that the Mookarthyites in the Democratic party and their journalistic camarilla are up in arms. Well, let them rant and rave all they want: the American people couldn’t give a sh*t about Ukraine – a ramshackle “nation” of corrupt oligarchs, neo-Nazi skinheads, and a national “cuisine” consisting of greasy dumplings and sour cabbage – and if that be “isolationism,” let Hillary Clinton and her neocon allies make the most of it.

The rest of the Ambassador’s tiresome screed excuses the Kiev regime’s vicious war on its own people – they’ve killed thousands of their own countrymen – on grounds similar to the Clinton campaign’s conspiracy theory: it’s all a Putinist plot. This ignores the indisputable fact that what’s happening in Ukraine is a civil war, pitting Ukrainian against Ukrainian, and has little to do with Russia. The fact of the matter is that the people of the Donbas region don’t want to be ruled by Kiev, perhaps because “President” Petro Poroshenko – who came to power by violently overthrowing the elected President – says things like this about them:

“We will have our jobs – they will not. We will have our pensions – they will not. We will have care for children, for people and retirees – they will not. Our children will go to schools and kindergartens… theirs will hole up in the basements. Because they are not able to do a thing. This is exactly how we will win this war!”

That the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign are embracing a thug like Poroshenko comes as no surprise: these are the same people who are in the pocket of the Saudis as they bomb helpless Yemenis in one of the worst atrocities in modern times

It’s very odd that the Clinton campaign is raising a fuss about Trump’s lack of support for Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist regime, which has some pretty unsavory characters in high office, especially considering that they and their friends in the media are trying mightily to tie the GOP candidate to racists and neo-Nazis here in this country. The Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament is one Andriy Parubiy, founder of the “Social-National Party of Ukraine,” an openly neo-Nazi political formation, which has understandably changed its name to the “Svoboda” (Freedom) Party. Neo-Nazis have been prominent in the “Maidan Revolution” from the very beginning

Kiev’s support for the Clinton campaign goes far beyond their Ambassador writing op-ed pieces. The Ukrainian government leaked documents looted from the offices of the opposition Party of Regions supposedly tying former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to illicit payments. One can only wonder how President Hillary Clinton will reward her allies in Kiev

The voices of foreign leaders raised against Trump have been quite loud: they haven’t been shy about expressing their contempt for the candidate who wants to put “America first.” And from their point of view as free riders who snark at us even as they huddle under the American defense umbrella, this is quite understandable. After all, if Trump should take the White House, they won’t be getting any more free stuff. They’ll actually have to pay their own way, and it’s only natural that they find this outrageous. But, guess what – the American people don’t find it at all outrageous. In fact, they are delighted by the prospect.

“In Europe,” says Olli Rhen, Finland’s minister for economic affairs, “we are concerned about the U.S. possibly turning toward a more isolationist orientation. That would not be good for United States, good for Europe, good for the world. We need the US engaged in global affairs in a constructive, positive way.”

To Mister Rehn I have this to say: Tough! We have had quite enough of being “engaged” in foreign wars, shipping our troops and treasure to overseas shit holes only to see both go down the drain for no good reason – and with little or no thanks from the recipients of our generosity. If Trump wins, the free ride is over, buster – so you had damn well better get used to it.

From the Saudi head-choppers to the socialist cranks of the European Union, every foreign parasite feeding off the Washington gravy train is rooting for the Clinton Restoration, and hating on Trump. What these ticks on the body politic don’t quite understand is that their loud jeers aimed at Trump don’t hurt him – they help him. So keep it up, boys – the louder the better!

Say what you want about Trump, he has revealed the extent to which America’s client states exercise their influence on our internal affairs

As for the Clinton campaign: their sickening attempt to label Trump a “Putin puppet” is designed to divert attention away from their candidate’s extensive ties to foreign governments. From the Middle East to Europe and East Asia, governments with business before Clinton’s State Department poured millions into the Clinton Foundation in a “pay for play” scheme so brazenly corrupt that it has no precedent in our history as a nation. No wonder they’re rooting for Hillary so openly – because if she wins, our Election Day will be their payday

This is what it means to be a global empire. The price we pay for claiming the “right” to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries is that this habit becomes reciprocal. We hold their fate in our hot little hands, and so it’s only natural that they should want to either stay that hand, or else force it this way or that. Interventionism is a two-way street

We need to put up a roadblock on that particular byway, and the only way to do that is by instituting a mutual nonaggression pact: we’ll stay out of your business if you stay out of ours. This requires nothing less than a 180-degree turn in our interventionist foreign policy, away from a reckless globalism and toward a mindset that puts America first.

Are the Clintons Israeli Agents?

Man who “ran the CIA” offers an entirely new perspective

August 23, 2016

by Philip Giraldi

The American Conservative

On August 5th, Michael Morell, a former acting Director of the CIA, pilloried GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, concluding that he was an “unwitting agent of Russia.” Morell, who entitled his New York Times op-ed “I Ran the CIA and now I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton,” described the process whereby Trump had been so corrupted. According to Morell, Putin, it seems, as a wily ex-career intelligence officer, is “trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities… In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

I have previously observed how incomprehensible the designation of “unwitting agent” used in a sentence together with “recruited” is, but perhaps I should add something more about Morell that might not be clear to the casual reader. Morell was an Agency analyst, not a spy, who spent nearly his entire career in and around Washington. The high point of his CIA experience consisted of briefing George W. Bush on the President’s Daily Brief (PDB).

Morell was not trained in the arduous CIA operational tradecraft course which agent recruiters and handlers go through. This means that his understanding of intelligence operations and agents is, to put it politely, derivative. If he had gone through the course he would understand that when you recruit an agent you control him and tell him what to do. The agent might not know whom exactly he is really answering to as in a false flag operation, but he cannot be unwitting.

Morell appears to have a tendency to make promises that others will have to deliver on, but perhaps that’s what delegation by senior U.S. government officials is all about. He was also not trained in CIA paramilitary operations, which perhaps should be considered when he drops comments about the desirability of “covertly” killing Russians and Iranians to make a point that they should not oppose U.S. policies in Syria, as he did in a softball interview with Charlie Rose on August 6th.

Morell appears to be oblivious to the possibility that going around assassinating foreigners might be regarded as state sponsored terrorism and could well ignite World War 3. And, as is characteristic of chickenhawks, it is highly unlikely that he was intending that either he or his immediate family should go out and cut the throats or blow the heads off of those foreign devils who seek to derail the Pax Americana. Nor would he expect to be in the firing line when the relatives of those victims seek revenge. Someone else with the proper training would be found to do all that messy stuff and take the consequences.

Be that as it may, Morell was a very senior officer and perhaps we should accept that he might know something that the rest of us have missed, so let’s just assume that he kind of misspoke and give him a pass on the “recruited unwitting agent” expression. Instead let’s look for other American political figures who just might be either deliberately or inadvertently serving the interests of a foreign government, which is presumably actually what Michael Morell meant to convey regarding Trump. To be sure a well-run McCarthy-esque ferreting out of individuals who just might be disloyal provides an excellent opportunity to undertake a purge of those who either by thought, word or deed might be guilty of unacceptable levels of coziness with foreign interests.

So who is guilty of putting the interests of a foreign government ahead of those of the United States? I know there are advocates for any number of foreign states running around loose in Washington but the friends of Israel in government and the media come immediately to mind largely because there are so many of them, they are very much in-your-face and they are both extremely well-funded and very successful. Now deceased former Congressman Tom Lantos and Senator Frank Lautenberg were, respectively, often referred to as the congressman and senator from Israel. And there are many more: Chuck Schumer, Chuck Grassley, Ben Cardin, Bob Menendez, Tom Cotton, Mark Kirk, Nita Lowey, Ted Deutch, Brad Sherman, Ileana-Ros Lehtinen and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to name only a few in the Congress. All are major recipients of Israel related PAC money and all are reliable defenders of Israel no matter what Benjamin Netanyahu does and no matter how it effects the United States.

And then there are the Clintons. One only has to go back to Bill’s one-sided pro-Israeli diplomacy at Camp David in 2000 to discern how the game was played. And then there was the widely condemned January 2001 last minute pardon of Mossad agent Marc Rich, whose wife Denise was a major contributor to the Clintons, to realize that there was always a deference to Israeli interests particularly when money was involved. The only problem is that the Clintons, relying on Morell’s formulation, might more reasonably be described as witting agents of Israel rather than unwitting as they have certainly known what they have been doing and have been actively supporting Israeli policies even when damaging to U.S. interests since they first emerged from the primordial political swamps in Arkansas. If one were completely cynical it might be possible to suggest that they understood from the beginning that pandering to Israel and gaining access to Jewish power and money would be a major component in their rise to political prominence. It certainly has worked out that way.

Trump’s crime, per Morell, is that he is disloyal to the United States because he is not sufficiently hostile to the evil Vladimir Putin, which somehow means that he is being manipulated by the clever Russian. Trump has indeed called for a positive working relationship with Putin to accomplish, among other objectives, the crushing of ISIS. And he is otherwise in favor of leaving Bashar al-Assad of Syria alone while also being disinclined to get involved in any additional military interventions in the Middle East or elsewhere, which pretty much makes him the antithesis of the Clintonian foreign policy promoted by Morell.

In comparison with the deeply and profoundly corrupt Clintons, Trump’s alleged foreign policy perfidy makes him appear to be pretty much a boy scout. To understand the Clintons one might consider the hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it from foreign sources,that have flowed into the Clinton Foundation while Hillary was Secretary of State. And there is the clear email evidence that Hillary exploited her government position to favor both foreign and domestic financial supporters.

The leading individual foreign donor to the Clinton Foundation between 1999 and 2014 was Ukrainian Viktor Pinchuk, who “directed between $10 and $25 million” to its Global Initiative, has let the Clintons use his private jet, attended Bill’s Hollywood 65th birthday celebration and hosted daughter Chelsea and her husband on a trip to Ukraine. Pinchuk is a Jewish oligarch married to the daughter of notoriously corrupt former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma. He is very closely tied to Israel, a supporter of regime change in his country, who was simultaneously donating money and also lobbying in Washington while Hillary was Secretary of State and promoting a similar agenda as part of her $5 billion program to “democratize” Ukraine. Clinton arranged a dozen meetings with substantive State Department officers for Pinchuk.

Hillary and Bill’s predilection for all things Israeli and her promise to do even more in the future is a matter of public record. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz asserted that of all the political candidates in the primaries “Clinton had the longest public record of engagement with Israel, and has spent decades diligently defending the Jewish state.” In a speech to AIPAC in March she promised to take the “U.S.-Israel alliance to the next level.” Hillary’s current principal financial supporter in her presidential run is Haim Saban, an Israeli who has described himself as a “one issue” guy and that issue is Israel.

Hillary Clinton boasts of having “stood with Israel my entire career.” Her website promises to maintain “Israel’s qualitative military edge to ensure the IDF is equipped to deter and defeat aggression from the full spectrum of threats,” “stand up against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS),” and “cut off efforts to unilaterally recognize Palestinian statehood outside of the context of negotiations with Israel.” In a letter to Haim Saban, Hillary declared that “we need to make countering BDS a priority,” which means she is prepared to support laws limiting First Amendment rights in the U.S. in defense of perceived Israeli interests.

As part of the Obama Administration Hillary Clinton at first supported his attempts to pressure Israel over its illegal settlements but has now backed off from that position, only rarely criticizing them as a “problem” but never advocating any steps to persuade Netanyahu to reverse his policy. Notably, she has repeatedly decried terroristic attacks on Israelis but has never acknowledged the brutality of the Israeli occupation of much of the West Bank in spite of the fact that ten Palestinians are killed for each Jewish victim of the ongoing violence.

Clinton supported Israel’s actions in the 2014 Gaza War, which killed more than 500 children, describing them as an appropriate response to a situation that was provoked by Hamas. On the campaign trail recently husband Bill disingenuously defended Hillary’s position on Gaza, saying that “Hamas is really smart. When they decide to rocket Israel they insinuate themselves in the hospitals, in the schools…” placing all the blame for the large number of civilian casualties on the Palestinians, not on the Israelis. When the media began to report on the plight of the civilians trapped in Gaza Hillary dismissed the impending humanitarian catastrophe, saying “They’re trapped by their leadership, unfortunately.”

Earlier, as a Senator from New York, Hillary supported Israel’s building of the separation barrier on Palestinian land and cheer-led a crowd at a pro-Israel rally that praised Israel’s 2006 devastation of Lebanon and Gaza. She nonsensically characterized and justified the bombing campaign as “efforts to send messages to Hamas, Hezbollah, to the Syrians, to the Iranians – to all who seek death and domination instead of life and freedom…” More than nine hundred civilians died in the onslaught and when a vote came up subsequently in Congress to stop the supply of cluster bombs to countries that use them on civilians Hillary voted against the bill together with 69 other pro-Israel senators.

Hillary enjoys a particularly close relationship with Netanyahu, writing in November, “I would also invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House in my first month in office.” She has worked diligently to “reaffirm the unbreakable bond with Israel – and Benjamin Netanyahu.” She has boasted of her being one of the promoters of annual increases in aid to Israel while she was in the Senate and Secretary of State and takes credit for repeatedly using America’s Security Council veto to defend it in the United Nations.

So I think it is pretty clear who is the presidential candidate promoting the interests of a foreign country and it ain’t Trump. Hillary would no doubt argue that Israel is a friend and Russia is not, an interesting point of view as Israel is not in fact an ally and has spied on us and copied our military technology to re-export to countries like China. Indeed, the most damaging spy in U.S. history Jonathan Pollard worked for Israel. In spite of all that Israel continues to tap our treasury for billions of dollars a year while still ignoring Washington when requests are made to moderate policies that damage American interests. Against that, what exactly has Moscow done to harm us since the Cold War ended? And who is advocating even more pressure on Russia and increasing the rewards for Israel, presumably in the completely illogical belief that to do so will somehow bring some benefit to the American people? Hillary Clinton.

US election: Hillary Clinton met 85 Clinton Foundation donors while secretary of state

The Clinton Foundation was set up to address global health issues but has become a lightning rod for criticism

August 24, 2016

by Andrew Buncombe

The Independent/UK

New York-The foundation established by Bill and Hillary Clinton is at the centre of fresh controversy after it was revealed that half of the people who met her when she was secretary of state gave money to the organisation.

In the latest twist to a saga that has seen Republican candidate Donald Trump call for an independent investigation of the foundation, an analysis by the Associated Press has revealed that 50 per cent of private individuals who got to see her – at least 85 of 154 – donated money either personally or through a company. Combined, the 85 donors contributed as much as $156m.

The Clinton Foundation was established in 1997 by former president Bill Clinton improving global health, increasing opportunity for women and girls, and reducing childhood obesity. Yet as Ms Clinton has made her bid for the White House, the foundation has been the target of allegations of that it accepted donations in exchange for political access. The foundation has raised more than $2bn in donations and currently has 2,000 employees.

Mr Trump has been at front of those alleging impropriety.

“Hillary Clinton is totally unfit to hold public office,” he said at a rally Tuesday night in Austin, Texas. “It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office.”

The Clintons have both denied that there has ever being anything like the process of “pay-for-play” that Mr Trump has alleged. Yet as with many things relating to the couple’s political endeavours, the optics of the arrangement are not good.

Aware of how things may look bad – while insisting nothing unethical has transpired – Mr Clinton said that if his wife were to win, he would step down from the foundation’s board and stop all fundraising for it.

The foundation has said would also accept donations only from US citizens and what it described as independent philanthropies, while no longer taking gifts from foreign groups, US companies or corporate charities.

The AP analysis found that among those granted time with Ms Clinton included Muhammad Yunus, an internationally known economist who asked for her help as the Bangladesh government pressured him to resign from a nonprofit bank he ran,  a Wall Street executive who sought her help with a visa problem, and Estee Lauder executives who were listed as meeting with Ms Clinton while her department worked with the firm’s corporate charity to counter gender-based violence in South Africa.

The meetings between the Democratic presidential nominee and foundation donors do not appear to violate legal agreements Ms Clinton and her husband signed before she joined the State Department in 2009.

But it said the frequency of the overlaps shows the intermingling of access and donations, and fuels perceptions that giving the foundation money was a price of admission for face time with Ms Clinton.

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Ms Clinton, said the nature of some of her meetings was being misrepresented.

“It is outrageous to misrepresent Secretary Clinton’s basis for meeting with these individuals,” he said. “This is a distorted portrayal of how often she crossed paths with individuals connected to charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation.”

Inside Facebook’s (TotallyInsane, UnintentionallyGigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine

How a strange new class of media outlet has arisen to take over our news feeds.

August 24, 2016

by John Herrman

The New York Times

Open your Facebook feed. What do you see? A photo of a close friend’s child. An automatically generated slide show commemorating six years of friendship between two acquaintances. An eerily on-target ad for something you’ve been meaning to buy. A funny video. A sad video. A recently live video. Lots of video; more video than you remember from before. A somewhat less-on-target ad. Someone you saw yesterday feeling blessed. Someone you haven’t seen in 10 years feeling worried.

And then: A family member who loves politics asking, “Is this really who we want to be president?” A co-worker, whom you’ve never heard talk about politics, asking the same about a different candidate. A story about Donald Trump that “just can’t be true” in a figurative sense. A story about Donald Trump that “just can’t be true” in a literal sense. A video of Bernie Sanders speaking, overlaid with text, shared from a source you’ve never seen before, viewed 15 million times. An article questioning Hillary Clinton’s honesty; a headline questioning Donald Trump’s sanity. A few shares that go a bit too far: headlines you would never pass along yourself but that you might tap, read and probably not forget.

Maybe you’ve noticed your feed becoming bluer; maybe you’ve felt it becoming redder. Either way, in the last year, it has almost certainly become more intense. You’ve seen a lot of media sources you don’t recognize and a lot of posts bearing no memorable brand at all. You’ve seen politicians and celebrities and corporations weigh in directly; you’ve probably seen posts from the candidates themselves. You’ve seen people you’re close to and people you’re not, with increasing levels of urgency, declare it is now time to speak up, to take a stand, to set aside allegiances or hangups or political correctness or hate.

Facebook, in the years leading up to this election, hasn’t just become nearly ubiquitous among American internet users; it has centralized online news consumption in an unprecedented way. According to the company, its site is used by more than 200 million people in the United States each month, out of a total population of 320 million. A 2016 Pew study found that 44 percent of Americans read or watch news on Facebook. These are approximate exterior dimensions and can tell us only so much. But we can know, based on these facts alone, that Facebook is hosting a huge portion of the political conversation in America.

The Facebook product, to users in 2016, is familiar yet subtly expansive. Its algorithms have their pick of text, photos and video produced and posted by established media organizations large and small, local and national, openly partisan or nominally unbiased. But there’s also a new and distinctive sort of operation that has become hard to miss: political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed. These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook, and you’ve probably never heard of them. They have names like Occupy Democrats; The Angry Patriot; US Chronicle; Addicting Info; RightAlerts; Being Liberal; Opposing Views; Fed-Up Americans; American News; and hundreds more. Some of these pages have millions of followers; many have hundreds of thousands.

Using a tool called CrowdTangle, which tracks engagement for Facebook pages across the network, you can see which pages are most shared, liked and commented on, and which pages dominate the conversation around election topics. Using this data, I was able to speak to a wide array of the activists and entrepreneurs, advocates and opportunists, reporters and hobbyists who together make up 2016’s most disruptive, and least understood, force in media.

Individually, these pages have meaningful audiences, but cumulatively, their audience is gigantic: tens of millions of people. On Facebook, they rival the reach of their better-funded counterparts in the political media, whether corporate giants like CNN or The New York Times, or openly ideological web operations like Breitbart or Mic. And unlike traditional media organizations, which have spent years trying to figure out how to lure readers out of the Facebook ecosystem and onto their sites, these new publishers are happy to live inside the world that Facebook has created. Their pages are accommodated but not actively courted by the company and are not a major part of its public messaging about media. But they are, perhaps, the purest expression of Facebook’s design and of the incentives coded into its algorithm — a system that has already reshaped the web and has now inherited, for better or for worse, a great deal of America’s political discourse.

In 2006, when Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to run his rapidly expanding start-up, Mark Provost was a student at Rogers State University in Claremore, Okla., and going through a rough patch. He had transferred restlessly between schools, and he was taking his time to graduate; a stock-picking hobby that grew into a promising source of income had fallen apart. His outlook was further darkened by the financial crisis and by the years of personal unemployment that followed. When the Occupy movement began, he quickly got on board. It was only then, when Facebook was closing in on its billionth user, that he joined the network.

Now 36, Provost helps run US Uncut, a left-leaning Facebook page and website with more than 1.5 million followers, about as many as MSNBC has, from his apartment in Philadelphia. (Sample headlines: “Bernie Delegates Want You to See This DNC Scheme to Silence Them” and “This Sanders Delegate Unleashing on Hillary Clinton Is Going Absolutely Viral.”) He frequently contributes to another popular page, The Other 98%, which has more than 2.7 million followers.

Occupy got him on Facebook, but it was the 2012 election that showed him its potential. As he saw it, that election was defined by social media. He mentioned a set of political memes that now feel generationally distant: Clint Eastwood’s empty chair at the 2012 Republican National Convention and Mitt Romney’s debate gaffe about “binders full of women.” He thought it was a bit silly, but he saw in these viral moments a language in which activists like him could spread their message.

Provost’s page now communicates frequently in memes, images with overlaid text. “May I suggest,” began one, posted in May 2015, when opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership was gaining traction, “the first 535 jobs we ship overseas?” Behind the text was a photo of Congress. Many are more earnest. In an image posted shortly thereafter, a photo of Bernie Sanders was overlaid with a quote: “If Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more provide tuition-free college,” read the setup, before declaring in larger text, “we should be doing the same.” It has been shared more than 84,000 times and liked 75,000 more. Not infrequently, this level of zeal can cross into wishful thinking. A post headlined “Did Hillary Clinton Just Admit on LIVE TV That Her Iraq War Vote Was a Bribe?” was shared widely enough to merit a response from Snopes, which called it “quite a stretch.”

This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.

While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.

From a user’s point of view, every share, like or comment is both an act of speech and an accretive piece of a public identity. Maybe some people want to be identified among their networks as news junkies, news curators or as some sort of objective and well-informed reader. Many more people simply want to share specific beliefs, to tell people what they think or, just as important, what they don’t. A newspaper-style story or a dry, matter-of-fact headline is adequate for this purpose. But even better is a headline, or meme, that skips straight to an ideological conclusion or rebuts an argument.

Rafael Rivero is an acquaintance of Provost’s who, with his twin brother, Omar, runs a page called Occupy Democrats, which passed three million followers in June. This accelerating growth is attributed by Rivero, and by nearly every left-leaning page operator I spoke with, not just to interest in the election but especially to one campaign in particular: “Bernie Sanders is the Facebook candidate,” Rivero says. The rise of Occupy Democrats essentially mirrored the rise of Sanders’s primary run. On his page, Rivero started quoting text from Sanders’s frequent email blasts, turning them into Facebook-ready memes with a consistent aesthetic: colors that pop, yellow on black. Rivero says that it’s clear what his audience wants. “I’ve probably made 10,000 graphics, and it’s like running 10,000 focus groups,” he said. (Clinton was and is, of course, widely discussed by Facebook users: According to the company, in the last month 40.8 million people “generated interactions” around the candidate. But Rivero says that in the especially engaged, largely oppositional left-wing-page ecosystem, Clinton’s message and cautious brand didn’t carry.)

Because the Sanders campaign has come to an end, these sites have been left in a peculiar position, having lost their unifying figure as well as their largest source of engagement. Audiences grow quickly on Facebook but can disappear even more quickly; in the case of left-leaning pages, many had accumulated followings not just by speaking to Sanders supporters but also by being intensely critical, and often utterly dismissive, of Clinton.

Now that the nomination contest is over, Rivero has turned to making anti-Trump content. A post from earlier this month got straight to the point: “Donald Trump is unqualified, unstable and unfit to lead. Share if you agree!” More than 40,000 people did.

“It’s like a meme war,” Rivero says, “and politics is being won and lost on social media.”

In retrospect, Facebook’s takeover of online media looks rather like a slow-motion coup. Before social media, web publishers could draw an audience one of two ways: through a dedicated readership visiting its home page or through search engines. By 2009, this had started to change. Facebook had more than 300 million users, primarily accessing the service through desktop browsers, and publishers soon learned that a widely shared link could produce substantial traffic. In 2010, Facebook released widgets that publishers could embed on their sites, reminding readers to share, and these tools were widely deployed. By late 2012, when Facebook passed a billion users, referrals from the social network were sending visitors to publishers’ websites at rates sometimes comparable to Google, the web’s previous de facto distribution hub. Publishers took note of what worked on Facebook and adjusted accordingly.

This was, for most news organizations, a boon. The flood of visitors aligned with two core goals of most media companies: to reach people and to make money. But as Facebook’s growth continued, its influence was intensified by broader trends in internet use, primarily the use of smartphones, on which Facebook became more deeply enmeshed with users’ daily routines. Soon, it became clear that Facebook wasn’t just a source of readership; it was, increasingly, where readers lived.

Facebook, from a publisher’s perspective, had seized the web’s means of distribution by popular demand. A new reality set in, as a social-media network became an intermediary between publishers and their audiences. For media companies, the ability to reach an audience is fundamentally altered, made greater in some ways and in others more challenging. For a dedicated Facebook user, a vast array of sources, spanning multiple media and industries, is now processed through the same interface and sorting mechanism, alongside updates from friends, family, brands and celebrities.

From the start, some publishers cautiously regarded Facebook as a resource to be used only to the extent that it supported their existing businesses, wary of giving away more than they might get back. Others embraced it more fully, entering into formal partnerships for revenue sharing and video production, as The New York Times has done. Some new-media start-ups, most notably BuzzFeed, have pursued a comprehensively Facebook-centric production-and-distribution strategy. All have eventually run up against the same reality: A company that can claim nearly every internet-using adult as a user is less a partner than a context — a self-contained marketplace to which you have been granted access but which functions according to rules and incentives that you cannot control.

The news feed is designed, in Facebook’s public messaging, to “show people the stories most relevant to them” and ranks stories “so that what’s most important to each person shows up highest in their news feeds.” It is a framework built around personal connections and sharing, where value is both expressed and conferred through the concept of engagement. Of course, engagement, in one form or another, is what media businesses have always sought, and provocation has always sold news. But now the incentives are literalized in buttons and written into software.

Any sufficiently complex system will generate a wide variety of results, some expected, some not; some desired, others less so. On July 31, a Facebook page called Make America Great posted its final story of the day. “No Media Is Telling You About the Muslim Who Attacked Donald Trump, So We Will …,” read the headline, next to a small avatar of a pointing and yelling Trump. The story was accompanied by a photo of Khizr Khan, the father of a slain American soldier. Khan spoke a few days earlier at the Democratic National Convention, delivering a searing speech admonishing Trump for his comments about Muslims. Khan, pocket Constitution in hand, was juxtaposed with the logo of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “It is a sad day in America,” the caption read, “where we the people must expose the TRUTH because the media is in the tank for 1 Presidential Candidate!”

Readers who clicked through to the story were led to an external website, called Make America Great Today, where they were presented with a brief write-up blended almost seamlessly into a solid wall of fleshy ads. Khan, the story said — between ads for “(1) Odd Trick to ‘Kill’ Herpes Virus for Good” and “22 Tank Tops That Aren’t Covering Anything” — is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood and a “promoter of Islamic Shariah law.” His late son, the story suggests, could have been a “Muslim martyr” working as a double agent. A credit link beneath the story led to a similar-looking site called Conservative Post, from which the story’s text was pulled verbatim. Conservative Post had apparently sourced its story from a longer post on a right-wing site called Shoebat.com.

Within 24 hours, the post was shared more than 3,500 times, collecting a further 3,000 reactions — thumbs-up likes, frowning emoji, angry emoji — as well as 850 comments, many lengthy and virtually all impassioned. A modest success. Each day, according to Facebook’s analytics, posts from the Make America Great page are seen by 600,000 to 1.7 million people. In July, articles posted to the page, which has about 450,000 followers, were shared, commented on or liked more than four million times, edging out, for example, the Facebook page of USA Today.

Make America Great, which inhabits the fuzzy margins of the political Facebook page ecosystem, is owned and operated by a 35-year-old online marketer named Adam Nicoloff. He started the page in August 2015 and runs it from his home outside St. Louis. Previously, Nicoloff provided web services and marketing help for local businesses; before that, he worked in restaurants. Today he has shifted his focus to Facebook pages and websites that he administers himself. Make America Great was his first foray into political pages, and it quickly became the most successful in a portfolio that includes men’s lifestyle and parenting.

Nicoloff’s business model is not dissimilar from the way most publishers use Facebook: build a big following, post links to articles on an outside website covered in ads and then hope the math works out in your favor. For many, it doesn’t: Content is expensive, traffic is unpredictable and website ads are both cheap and alienating to readers. But as with most of these Facebook-native pages, Nicoloff’s content costs comparatively little, and the sheer level of interest in Trump and in the type of inflammatory populist rhetoric he embraces has helped tip Nicoloff’s system of advertising arbitrage into serious profitability. In July, visitors arriving to Nicoloff’s website produced a little more than $30,000 in revenue. His costs, he said, total around $8,000, partly split between website hosting fees and advertising buys on Facebook itself.

Then, of course, there’s the content, which, at a few dozen posts a day, Nicoloff is far too busy to produce himself. “I have two people in the Philippines who post for me,” Nicoloff said, “a husband-and-wife combo.” From 9 a.m. Eastern time to midnight, the contractors scour the internet for viral political stories, many explicitly pro-Trump. If something seems to be going viral elsewhere, it is copied to their site and promoted with an urgent headline. (The Khan story was posted at the end of the shift, near midnight Eastern time, or just before noon in Manila.) The resulting product is raw and frequently jarring, even by the standards of this campaign. “There’s No Way I’ll Send My Kids to Public School to Be Brainwashed by the LGBT Lobby,” read one headline, linking to an essay ripped from Glenn Beck’s The Blaze; “Alert: UN Backs Secret Obama Takeover of Police; Here’s What We Know …,” read another, copied from a site called The Federalist Papers Project. In the end, Nicoloff takes home what he jokingly described as a “doctor’s salary” — in a good month, more than $20,000.

Terry Littlepage, an internet marketer based in Las Cruces, N.M., has taken this model even further. He runs a collection of about 50 politically themed Facebook pages with names like The American Patriot and My Favorite Gun, which push visitors to a half-dozen external websites, stocked with content aggregated by a team of freelancers. He estimates that he spends about a thousand dollars a day advertising his pages on Facebook; as a result, they have more than 10 million followers. In a good month, Littlepage’s properties bring in $60,000.

Nicoloff and Littlepage say that Trump has been good for business, but each admits to some discomfort. Nicoloff, a conservative, says that there were other candidates he preferred during the Republican primaries but that he had come around to the nominee. Littlepage is also a recent convert. During the primaries, he was a Cruz supporter, and he even tried making some left-wing pages on Facebook but discovered that they just didn’t make him as much money.

In their angry, cascading comment threads, Make America Great’s followers express no such ambivalence. Nearly every page operator I spoke to was astonished by the tone their commenters took, comparing them to things like torch-wielding mobs and sharks in a feeding frenzy. No doubt because of the page’s name, some Trump supporters even mistake Nicoloff’s page for an official organ of the campaign. Nicoloff says that he receives dozens of messages a day from Trump supporters, expecting or hoping to reach the man himself. Many, he says, are simply asking for money.

Many of these political news pages will likely find their cachet begin to evaporate after Nov. 8. But one company, the Liberty Alliance, may have found a way to create something sustainable and even potentially transformational, almost entirely within the ecosystem of Facebook. The Georgia-based firm was founded by Brandon Vallorani, formerly of Answers in Genesis, the organization that opened a museum in Kentucky promoting a literal biblical creation narrative. Today the Liberty Alliance has around 100 sites in its network, and about 150 Facebook pages, according to Onan Coca, the company’s 36-year-old editor in chief. He estimates their cumulative follower count to be at least 50 million. Among the company’s partners are the former congressman Allen West, the 2008 election personality Joe the Plumber, the conservative actor Kirk Cameron and the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Victoria Jackson. Then there are Liberty’s countless news-oriented pages, which together have become an almost ubiquitous presence on right-leaning political Facebook in the last few years. Their names are instructive and evocative: Eagle Rising; Fighting for Trump; Patriot Tribune; Revive America; US Herald; The Last Resistance.

A dozen or so of the sites are published in-house, but posts from the company’s small team of writers are free to be shared among the entire network. The deal for a would-be Liberty Alliance member is this: You bring the name and the audience, and the company will build you a prefab site, furnish it with ads, help you fill it with content and keep a cut of the revenue. Coca told me the company brought in $12 million in revenue last year. (The company declined to share documentation further corroborating his claims about followers and revenue.)

Because the pages are run independently, the editorial product is varied. But it is almost universally tuned to the cadences and styles that seem to work best on partisan Facebook. It also tracks closely to conservative Facebook media’s big narratives, which, in turn, track with the Trump campaign’s messaging: Hillary Clinton is a crook and possibly mentally unfit; ISIS is winning; Black Lives Matter is the real racist movement; Donald Trump alone can save us; the system — all of it — is rigged. Whether the Liberty Alliance succeeds or fails will depend, at least in part, on Facebook’s algorithm. Systemic changes to the ecosystem arrive through algorithmic adjustments, and the company recently adjusted the news feed to “further reduce clickbait headlines.”

For now, the network hums along, mostly beneath the surface. A post from a Liberty Alliance page might find its way in front of a left-leaning user who might disagree with it or find it offensive, and who might choose to engage with the friend who posted it directly. But otherwise, such news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable. It’s an environment that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to traditional media brands; but for this new breed of page operator, it’s mostly upside. In front of largely hidden and utterly sympathetic audiences, incredible narratives can take shape, before emerging, mostly formed, into the national discourse.

Consider the trajectory of a post from August, from a Facebook page called Patriotic Folks, the headline of which read, “Spread This: Media Rigging the Polls, Hiding New Evidence Proving Trump Is Winning.” The article cited a litany of social-media statistics highlighting Trump’s superior engagement numbers, among them Trump’s Facebook following, which is nearly twice as large as Clinton’s. “Don’t listen to the lying media — the only legitimate attack they have left is Trump’s poll numbers,” it said. “Social media proves the GOP nominee has strong foundation and a firm backing.” The story spread across this right-wing Facebook ecosystem, eventually finding its way to Breitbart and finally to Sean Hannity’s “Morning Minute,” where he read through the statistics to his audience.

Before Hannity signed off, he posed a question: “So, does that mean anything?” It’s a version of the question that everyone wants to answer about Facebook and politics, which is whether the site’s churning political warfare is actually changing minds — or, for that matter, beginning to change the political discourse as a whole. How much of what happens on the platform is a reflection of a political mood and widely held beliefs, simply captured in a new medium, and how much of it might be created, or intensified, by the environment it provides? What is Facebook doing to our politics?

Appropriately, the answer to this question can be chosen and shared on Facebook in whichever way you prefer. You might share this story from The New York Times Magazine, wondering aloud to your friends whether our democracy has been fundamentally altered by this publishing-and-advertising platform of unprecedented scale. Or you might just relax and find some memes to share from one of countless pages that will let you air your political id. But for the page operators, the question is irrelevant to the task at hand. Facebook’s primacy is a foregone conclusion, and the question of Facebook’s relationship to political discourse is absurd — they’re one and the same. As Rafael Rivero put it to me, “Facebook is where it’s all happening.”

5-finger discounts galore! Most major thefts no longer a felony in Missouri

August 25, 2016


In what is sure to set an interesting precedent, a woman’s multiple felony convictions for firearm theft were reduced to misdemeanors after the Missouri Supreme Court decided the state’s criminal code was too vague to designate certain crimes as felonies.

The ruling in State v. Bazell could be the best news some criminal defense attorneys have received since Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was appointed to a public defender’s case. The state’s Supreme Court looked at the case of Amanda Bazell, a woman who had received two felony convictions that stemmed from a burglary. However, Bazell was lucky enough to have a lawyer that noticed the state’s criminal code that designates thefts as felonies was unclear.

“Under section 570.030.1,1 a person commits the crime of stealing when she appropriates the property or services of another with the purpose to deprive the owner thereof,” the Supreme Court wrote.

It’s this section that determines whether or not theft becomes a class C felony, but “the definition of stealing in section 570.030.1 is clear and unambiguous, and it does not include the value of the property or services appropriated as an element of the offense.”

In layman’s terms, a stealing crime can be enhanced to a felony in cases “in which the value of the property or services is an element,” according to an amendment in subsection 3. However, that is not the definition in subparagraph 1.

It wasn’t just Bazell who got lucky with this ruling. Her public defender, Ellen H. Flottman, told Talking Points Memo that the opinion ruling is broad enough to not only apply to firearms but other stealing crimes defined as felonies in the aforementioned section.

“Those are going to be misdemeanors as well,” she said.

The poorly worded amendment was added in 2002 and has flown under the radar until now. However, now that the cat is out of the bag, its effects are already being seen.

“We’ve got several [appeals] in our office that we’re looking at really quickly to fix that,” Flottman said.

A memo sent by the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office and obtained by Talking Points Memo acknowledged the accomplishment, but encouraged attorneys to curb their enthusiasm.

The Public Defender’s Office noted that not all stealing felonies could be reduced to misdemeanors. However, the memo encouraged defenders to stop encouraging clients to plead guilty to felony charges of theft – but only if it is directly related to.

The celebration may be short-lived, however. The Missouri legislature took on rewriting its criminal code in 2014 and stripped the language that created the loophole. The new code goes into effect on January 1, 2017. “The problematic language is not in the new statute, so it does have an end,” Flottman said.

No Need to Build The Donald’s Wall, It’s Built

Trump’s America Already Exists on the Border

by Todd Miller


At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he can explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as “illegal entry” and is about to receive a prison sentence. On either side of him are eight men in the same predicament, all still sunburned, all in the same ripped, soiled clothes they were wearing when arrested in the Arizona desert by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once again, the zero tolerance border enforcement program known as Operation Streamline has unfolded just as it always does here in Tucson, Arizona. Close to 60 people have already approached the judge in groups of seven or eight, their heads bowed submissively, their bodies weighed down by shackles and chains around wrists, waists, and ankles. The judge has handed out the requisite prison sentences in quick succession — 180 days, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.

On and on it goes, day-in, day-out. Like so many meals served in fast-food restaurants, 750,000 prison sentences of this sort have been handed down since Operation Streamline was launched in 2005. This mass prosecution of undocumented border crossers has become so much the norm that one report concluded it is now a “driving force in mass incarceration” in the United States. Yet it is but a single program among many overseen by the massive U.S. border enforcement and incarceration regime that has developed during the last two decades, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

Sarabia takes a half-step forward. “My infant is four months old,” he tells the judge in Spanish. The baby was, he assures her, born with a heart condition and is a U.S. citizen. They have no option but to operate. This is the reason, he says, that “I’m here before you.” He pauses.

“I want to be with my child, who is in the United States.”

It’s clear that Sarabia would like to gesture emphatically as he speaks, but that’s difficult, thanks to the shackles that constrain him. Rateau fills her coffee cup as she waits for his comments to be translated into English.

Earlier in April 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, still in the heat of his primary campaign, stated once again that he would build a massive concrete border wall towering 30 (or, depending on the moment, 55) feet high along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexican border. He would, he insisted, force Mexico to pay for the $8 billion to $10 billion barrier. Repeatedly throwing such red meat into the gaping jaws of nativism, he has over these last months also announced that he would create a major “deportation force,” repeatedly sworn that he would ban Muslims from entering the country (a position that he regularly revises), and most recently, that he would institute an “extreme vetting” process for foreign nationals arriving in the United States.

In June 2015, when he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential campaign, among his initial promises was the building of a “great” and “beautiful” wall on the border. (“And no one builds walls better than me, believe me. I will do it very inexpensively. I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”)  As he pulled that promise out of a hat with a magician’s flair, the actual history of the border disappeared. From then on in Election 2016, there was just empty desert and Donald Trump.

Suddenly, there hadn’t been a bipartisan government effort over the last quarter-century to put in place an unprecedented array of walls, detection systems, and guards for that southern border. In those years, the number of Border Patrol agents had, in fact, quintupled from 4,000 to more than 21,000, while Customs and Border Protection became the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country with more than 60,000 agents. The annual budget for border and immigration enforcement went from $1.5 to $19.5 billion, a more than 12-fold increase. By 2016, federal government funding of border and immigration enforcement added up to $5 billion more than that for all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

Operation Streamline, a cornerstone program in the “Consequence Delivery System,” part of a broader Border Patrol deterrence strategy for stopping undocumented immigration, is just one part of a vast enforcement-incarceration-deportation machine. The program is as no-nonsense as its name suggests. It’s not The Wall, but it embodies the logic of the wall: either you crossed “illegally” or you didn’t. It doesn’t matter why, or whether you lost your job, or if you’ve had to skip meals to feed your kids. It doesn’t matter if your house was flooded or the drought dried up your fields. It doesn’t matter if you’re running for your life from drug cartel gunmen or the very army and police forces that are supposed to protect you.

This system was what Ignacio Sarabia faced a few months ago in a Tucson court.  His tragedy is one that plays out so many times daily a mere seven blocks from where I live.

Before I tell you how the judge responded to his plea, it’s important to understand Sarabia’s journey, and that of so many thousands like him who end up in this federal courthouse day after day. As he pleads to be with his newborn son, his voice cracking with emotion, his story catches the already Trumpian-style of border enforcement — both the pain and suffering it has caused, and the strategy and massive build-up behind it — in ways that the campaign rhetoric of both parties and the reporting on it doesn’t. As reporters chase their tails attempting to explain Trump’s wild and often unfounded claims and declarations, the on-the-ground border reality goes unreported. Indeed, one of the greatest “secrets” of the 2016 election campaign (though it should be common knowledge) is that the border wall already exists.  It has for years and the fingerprints all over it aren’t Donald Trump’s but the Clintons’, both Bill’s and Hillary’s.

The Wall That Already Exists

Twenty-one years before Trump’s wall-building promise (and seven years before the 9/11 attacks), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to replace the chain link fence that separated Nogales, Sonora, in Mexico from Nogales, Arizona, in the United States with a wall built of rusty landing mats from the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. Although there had been various half-hearted attempts at building border walls throughout the twentieth century, this was the first true effort to build a barrier of what might now be called Trumpian magnitude.

That rusty, towering wall snaked through the hills and canyons of northern Sonora and southern Arizona forever deranging a world that, given cross-border familial and community ties, then considered itself one. At the time, who could have known that the strategy the first wall embodied would still be the model for today’s massive system of exclusion.

In 1994, the threat wasn’t “terrorism.” In part, the call for more hardened, militarized borders came in response, among other things, to a never-ending drug war.  It also came from U.S. officials who anticipated the displacement of millions of Mexicans after the implementation of the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which, ironically, was aimed at eliminating barriers to trade and investment across North America.

And the expectations of those officials proved well justified. The ensuing upheavals in Mexico, as analyst Marco Antonio Velázquez Navarrete explained to me, were like the aftermath of a war or natural disaster. Small farmers couldn’t compete against highly subsidized U.S. agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland. Mexican small business owners were bankrupted by the likes of Walmart, Sam’s Club, and other corporate powers. Mining by foreign companies extended across vast swaths of Mexico, causing territorial conflicts and poisoning the land. The unprecedented and desperate migration that followed came up against what might be considered the other side of the Clinton doctrine of open trade: walls, increased border agents, increased patrolling, and new surveillance technologies meant to cut off traditional crossing spots in urban areas like El Paso, San Diego, Brownsville, and Nogales.

“This administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders,” President Bill Clinton said in 1996. “We are increasing border controls by fifty percent.”

Over the next 20 years, that border apparatus would expand exponentially in terms of personnel, resources, and geographic reach, but the central strategy of the 1990s (labeled “Prevention Through Deterrence”) remained the same. The ever-increasing border policing and militarization funneled desperate migrants into remote locations like the Arizona desert where temperatures can soar to 120 degrees in the summer heat.

The first U.S. border strategy memorandum in 1994 predicted the tragic future we now have. “Illegal entrants crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border can find themselves in mortal danger,” it stated.

Twenty years later, more than 6,000 remains have been found in the desert borderlands of the United States. Hundreds of families continue to search for disappeared loved ones. The Colibri Center for Human Rights has records for more than 2,500 missing people last seen crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In other words, that border has become a graveyard of bones and sadness.

Despite all the attention given to the wall and the border this election season, neither the Trump nor Clinton campaigns have mentioned “Prevention Through Deterrence,” nor the subsequent border deaths. Not once. The same goes for the establishment media that can’t stop talking about Trump’s wall. There has been little or no mention of what border groups have long called a “humanitarian crisis” of deaths that have increased five-fold over the last decade, thanks, in part, to a wall that already exists. (If the people dying were Canadians or Europeans, attention would, of course, be paid.)

Although wall construction began during Bill Clinton’s administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) built most of the approximately 700 miles of fencing after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. At the time, Senator Hillary Clinton voted in favor of that Republican-introduced bill, along with 26 other Democrats. “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in,” she commented at one 2015 campaign event, “and I do think you have to control your borders.”

The 2006 wall-building project was expected to be so environmentally destructive that homeland security chief Michael Chertoff waived 37 environmental and cultural laws in the name of national security.  In this way, he allowed Border Patrol bulldozers to desecrate protected wilderness and sacred land.

“Imagine a bulldozer parking in your family graveyard, turning up bones,” Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., of the Tohono O’odham Nation (a Native American tribe whose original land was cut in half by the U.S. border) told Congress in 2008. “This is our reality.”

With a price tag of, on average, $4 million a mile, these border walls, barriers, and fences have proven to be one of the costliest border infrastructure projects undertaken by the United States. For private border contractors, on the other hand, it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. In 2011, for example, the DHS granted Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, one of our “warrior corporations,” a $24.4 million upkeep contract.

In Tucson in early August, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence looked out over a sea of red “Make America Great Again” caps and t-shirts and said, “We will secure our border. Donald Trump will build that wall.”  He would be met with roaring applause, even though his statement made no sense at all.

Should Trump actually win, how could he build something that already exists? Indeed, for all practical purposes, the “Great Wall” that Trump talks about may, by January 2017, be as antiquated as the Great Wall of China given the new high-tech surveillance methods now coming on the market.  These are being developed in a major way and on a regular basis by a booming border techno-surveillance industry.

The twenty-first-century border is no longer just about walls; it’s about biometrics and drones. It’s about a “layered approach to national security,” given that, as former Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher has put it, “the international boundary is no longer the first or last line of defense, but one of many.”  Hillary Clinton’s promise of “comprehensive immigration reform” — to be introduced within 100 days of her entering the Oval Office — is a much more reliable guide than Trump’s wall to our grim immigration future. If her bill follows the pattern of previous ones, as it surely will, an increasingly weaponized, privatized, high-tech, layered border regime, increasingly dangerous to future Ignacio Sarabias, will continue to be a priority of the federal government.

On the surface, there are important differences between Clinton’s and Trump’s immigration platforms. Trump’s wildly xenophobic comments and declarations are well known, and Clinton claims that she will, among other things, fight for family unity for those forcibly separated by deportation and enact “humane” immigration enforcement.  Yet deep down, the policies of the two candidates are far more similar than they might at first appear.

Navigating Donald Trump’s Borderlands Now

That April day, only one bit of information about Ignacio Sarabia’s border crossing to reunite with his wife and newborn child was available at the Tucson federal courthouse. He had entered the United States “near Nogales.”  Most likely, he circumvented the wall first started during the Clinton administration, like most immigrants do, by making his way through the potentially treacherous canyons that surround that border town.

If his experience was typical, he probably didn’t have enough water or food, and suffered some physical woe like large, painful blisters on his feet. Certainly, he wasn’t atypical in trying to reunite with loved ones. After all, more than 2.5 million people have been expelled from the country by the Obama administration, an average annual deportation rate of close to 400,000 people.  This was, by the way, only possible thanks to laws signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 and meant to burnish his legacy. They vastly expanded the government’s deportation powers.

In 2013 alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out 72,000 deportations of parents who said that their children were U.S.-born. And many of them are likely to try to cross that dangerous southern border again to reunite with their families.

The enforcement landscape Sarabia faced has changed drastically since that first wall was built in 1994. The post-9/11 border is now both a war zone and a showcase for corporate surveillance.  It represents, according to Border Patrol agent Felix Chavez,  an “unprecedented deployment of resources,” any of which could have led to Sarabia’s capture. It could have been one of the hundreds of remote video or mobile surveillance systems, or one of the more than 12,000 implanted motion sensors that set off alarms in hidden operational control rooms where agents stare into large monitors.

It could have been the spy towers made by the Israeli company Elbit Systems that spotted him, or Predator B drones built by General Atomics, or VADER radar systems manufactured by the defense giant Northrup Grumman that, like so many similar technologies, have been transported from the battlefields of Afghanistan or Iraq to the U.S. border.

If the comprehensive immigration reform that Hillary Clinton pledges to introduce as president is based on the already existing bipartisan Senate package, as has been indicated, then this corporate-enforcement landscape will be significantly bolstered and reinforced. There will be 19,000 more Border Patrol agents in roving patrols throughout “border enforcement jurisdictions” that extend up to 100 miles inland. More F-150 trucks and all-terrain vehicles will rumble through and, at times, tear up the desert. There will be more Blackhawk helicopters, flying low, their propellers dusting groups of scattering migrants, many of them already lost in the vast, parched desert.

If such a package passes the next Congress, up to $46 billion could be slated to go into more of all of this, including funding for hundreds of miles of new walls. Corporate vendors are salivating at the thought of such a future and in a visible state of elation at homeland security tradeshows across the globe.

The 2013 bill that passed in the Senate but failed in the House of Representatives also included a process of legalization for the millions of undocumented people living in the United States. It maintained programs that will grant legal residence for children who came to the United States at a young age and their parents. Odds are that a comprehensive reform bill in a Clinton presidency would be similar.

Included in that bill was, of course, funding to bolster Operation Streamline. The Evo A. DeConcini Federal Courthouse in Tucson would then have the capacity to prosecute triple the number of people it deals with at present.

After taking a sip from her coffee and listening to the translation of Ignacio Sarabia’s comments, the magistrate judge looks at him and says she’s sorry for his predicament.

Personally, I’m mesmerized by his story as I sit on a wooden bench at the back of the court. I have a child the same age as his son. I can’t imagine his predicament.  Not once while he talks does it leave my mind that my child might even have the same birthday as his.

The judge then looks directly at Sarabia and tells him that he can’t just come here “illegally,” that he has to find a “legal way” (highly unlikely, given the criminal conviction that will now be on his record).  “Your son,” she says, “when he gets better, and his mother, can visit you where you are in Mexico.”

“Otherwise,” she adds, he’ll be “visiting you in prison” — not exactly, she points out, an appealing scenario: seeing your father in a prison where he will be “locked away for a very long time.”

She then sentences the nine men standing side by side in front of her for periods ranging from 60 days to 180 days for the crime of crossing an international border without proper documents. Sarabia receives a 60-day sentence.

Next, armed guards from G4S — the private contractor that once employed Omar Mateen (the Pulse nightclub killer) and has a lucrative quarter-billion-dollar border contract with Customs and Border Protection — will transport each of the shackled prisoners to a Corrections Corporation of America private prison in Florence, Arizona. It is there that Sarabia will think about his child’s endangered heart from behind layers of coiled razor wire, while the corporation that runs the prison makes $124 per day for incarcerating him.

Indeed, Donald Trump’s United States doesn’t await his presidency. It’s already laid out before us, and one place it’s happening every single day is in Tucson, only seven blocks from my house.

Instagram scam preys on bank followers

August 24, 2016

by Dave Lee

BBC News

A new report suggests thousands of Instagram users are falling for a scam that targets followers of financial institutions on the image-sharing platform.

So I began following Bank of America’s official account to see what would happen. Sure enough, the first message arrived in moments.

“Hey are you interested ib [sic] making some extra cash.”

To you and I, this message – which, let’s be honest, lacks any real salesmanship – seems highly dubious.

But be it because of gullibility, recklessness, or, most likely, desperation, others have been lured in.

ZeroFox, a security company specialising in social media, says it has found more than two million public Instagram posts that push this kind of scam, known as money-flipping.

The term refers to a con in which criminals convince their victims to hand over access to funds with the promise that they will multiply their value via a trick they know, in return for a share of the profits. They then abscond with the sum, leaving their target out of pocket.

The firm estimates that for every such account Instagram closes, three more appear in its place.

Messages like the one I received begin a to-and-fro chain of messages, which can cost the banks dear – they often end up compensating affected customers and swallowing the cost of the fraud.

Such is the level of concern, ZeroFox told the BBC that one of its clients, a major US bank, had put in place a six-person team to deal with money-flipping on Instagram after reportedly losing more than $1m to the crime.

‘110% legit’

In one variation, designed to reassure the victim, the scammers say it doesn’t matter if the account is empty or even in negative credit. In these cases, the criminal uses the bank details to cash a fraudulent cheque and then deposits the cash before the bank spots the ruse.

Great lengths are gone to in order to look and sound genuine. As well as profiles full of images of flashy watches and piles of cash, scammers concoct elaborate back stories. After I followed the Chase Bank’s account, one told me: “I’m a claim manager for Chase Bank but I have access to other banks.

“What I do is find people who has an active bank account and the account can be negative 0 and what happen is after that I’ll look into the computer and fine some extra cash that someone hasn’t claimed and I’ll transfer it into your account.”

For his trouble, all he asked was that of the $15,000 (£11,350) I’d make, he’d like to take $3,000. In another message, I was assured it was “110% legit”.

‘Spreading scams’

ZeroFox recommends institutions use machine learning technology to weed out the problem. That’s not a surprising conclusion given that it is in the business of selling precisely that technology, and is using the report to advertise its services.

But even with that caveat in mind, the findings make interesting reading, not least because of the claim that the Facebook-owned service has a particular problem.

“It’s really easy to private message someone on Instagram,” explains John Seymour, a data scientist at ZeroFox.

“Someone can initiate a direct message without having followed the original person.”

Of the two million posts it analysed, 80% were more than 45 days old, suggesting few were being reported or detected.

Hashtags connected to 37 different financial institutions were being targeted by 1,386 unique accounts created by criminals.

Instagram, which did not see the report ahead of its publication, says scams are “pretty low volume” on the network. But it added that it would look at the report’s claims and recommendations.

“Generally speaking, it’s easy for security firms do a one-off analysis and build a model to catch a specific kind of abuse,” Facebook’s security spokeswoman Melanie Ensign explains.

“The challenge is doing it in a robust way so that it still works after bad actors change their approach a few times – and it’s almost impossible for external parties to prove their approach is this robust.”

Military opportunists

The scammers typically operate many accounts.

Some are used to approach potential victims, others to boost the illusion that their scam works.

“We saw these accounts engaging with each other and promoting and saying ‘This is legit!’ – and then trying to build up the credibility of specific scam posts,” explains Evan Blair, ZeroFox’s co-founder.

The firm says many of the accounts involved make references to the US military – an intentional, predatory tactic.

“Scammers are taking advantage of that predisposition to be willing to entertain offers that seem too good to be true,” Mr Blair said, referring to the types of offers and services companies give exclusively to military families.

“They say, ‘Yeah, this makes sense,’ because they’re used to that.”

One account I saw shows a woman posing in a military uniform.

In a direct message, “she” told me she was a “US army official”, adding: “I help people who need it.”

After telling her I was reporter writing about scams, she replied: “I believe you sweety.”

Location clues

It’s unlikely that I was having a conversation with an attractive model/soldier named Gina. But I was clearly talking to someone – the interactions were too human, too varied, to be some kind of automated bot or script.

As ever with cybercrime, it’s extremely difficult to pin down the source. But there are some clues.

ZeroFox attempted to turn the tables on scammers by getting them to click on links that would log their internet addresses.

“We were able to flip the switch and social engineer them right back,” says Philip Tully, a ZeroFox researcher.

“We saw different IP addresses coming out of Chicago, some out of Detroit and some out of California.”

However, IP addresses can be masked in order to evade detection – meaning the real locations of the scammers is difficult to prove.

ZeroFox says it has not passed its research to Instagram or law enforcement agencies. But it is providing it to its financial institution clients to follow up if they choose.

Trump, Russia, and the Washington Post: Reader Beware

There’s more hype than evidence in the paper’s claims that Moscow orchestrates politics in Europe and America.

August 24, 2016

by Philip Giraldi

The American Conservative

August 14’s Washington Post print edition featured news articles, op-eds, an editorial, and three letters to the editor all attacking Donald Trump. And the paper’s other bête noire, Vladimir Putin, was featured in the front-page lead story as well as in an op-ed. On the preceding Friday, Putin had been attacked in an editorial for allegedly seeking to start a war in Ukraine.

Trump is running for president and certainly has dropped enough verbal bombs to justify many of the attacks against him. But there is a certain danger inherent in the media’s slanting its coverage to such an extent as to be making the news rather than just reporting it. And when it comes to Russia, the way the stories are reported becomes critically important, as there is a real risk that media hostility toward Putin, even if deployed as a way to get at Trump, could produce a conflict no one actually wants—just as the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers’ yellow journalism, rife with “melodrama, romance, and hyperbole,” more or less brought about the Spanish-American War.

As a case in point, examine the aforementioned front-page story, entitled “Russia’s Tactics Roil Europe” in the print edition and “Alleged Russian involvement in DNC hack gives U.S. a taste of Kremlin meddling” online. It is credited to Michael Birnbaum, the Post’s correspondent in Brussels.

In its lead-in, the article claims that “Russia has tried hard in recent years to tug Europe to its side, bankrolling the continent’s extremist political parties, working to fuel a backlash against migrants and using its vast energy resources as a cudgel.” It goes on to relate that “Obama administration officials say that the Kremlin may now be engaging in similar trickery in the U.S. presidential campaign in an effort to boost Russia-friendly Republican nominee Donald Trump.”

The evidence cited regarding Trump and Putin evidently comes from unnamed members of President Obama’s team, which has pulled out all the stops to defeat the GOP candidate, including denouncing Trump as unfit to be president. Part of the anti-Trump drive orchestrated by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton has been to associate the candidate with Russia at every turn, implying that he is somehow disloyal or worse for seeking to establish friendly relations with Putin.

The article goes on to rely heavily on unnamed sources. “Officials and analysts say” or variations of the expression appear frequently, and when a source is cited by name, it is normally someone who is demonstrably anti-Russian. Peter Kreko, director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, finds “deepening ties” between the Kremlin and some European political parties. But even he concedes that Russia is exploiting unrest rather than creating it, that Russia’s influence is waning, and that its power to influence developments is clearly limited. The article cites a vote last spring in which French mainstream parties agreed to eliminate sanctions on Russia (imposed over Ukraine), yet the Post provides no evidence that Moscow had a hand in the producing the outcome. In any event, the European Union actually extended sanctions a month later, suggesting that if the Russians were interfering, they were not very good at it.

Another named source, Andrew Foxall, claims that a clever Russia “use[s] different approaches at different times and in different countries” to “achieve its goals,” which he doesn’t bother to define. Foxall is director of the Russia Studies Center at the Henry Jackson Society in London, named after former U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a noted Cold War hawk. The society is considered to be neoconservative in orientation, a point Birnbaum fails to note.

A further attempt to subvert European institutions cited by Birnbaum relates to the French anti-EU National Front’s having obtained a $10.4 million loan from a Moscow-based bank after “being shunned by mainstream lenders.” He also notes that right-wing parties in Greece and Germany are alleged to have suspicious ties with Russia because they have attended conferences in Moscow or have party-to-party relationships with Putin’s ruling United Russia. The article also claims, without providing any details, that “Russia has courted politicians from Germany to Hungary to Slovakia to France.”

Reverting to its anonymous sources, the article asserts that Eastern European “leaders suspect the Kremlin of funding environmental groups that opposed measures that would make their countries less dependent on Russian energy.” In most of the world, supporting environmental groups would be considered commendable.

Birnbaum throws in plenty of what must be his own analysis that Putin is building support for his “vision” of the world, seeking to “preserve his domestic power by favoring authoritarian leaders over democratically elected ones,” yet he provides no evidence that this is necessarily the case. Putin is, most would agree, highly pragmatic.

But while Europe provides the backdrop, the real thrust of the article is domestic. Birnbaum uses his largely unsubstantiated claim that Russia is covertly interfering in European politics to speculate that the “propensity to cause mischief in other nations’ political systems may be behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems, officials say.” Unnamed “officials” go on to elaborate that it remains “unclear whether the hacking was performed as part of routine foreign espionage or whether the DNC was specifically targeted to sway the election.” The article does not bother to note, presumably because it would weaken the argument, that even the Obama administration, which hacks the communications of friend and foe alike, has balked at blaming the cyber-intrusion on the Russian government—so the assumption that there was any kind of political objective behind it is little more than speculation.

So an article loaded with innuendo has appeared on the front page of a major U.S. newspaper, located in Washington, DC, stating that Russia is engaged in widespread subversion in Europe and is trying to do the same on behalf of Donald Trump in the United States. But the evidence presented in the story does not support what is being suggested, and spreading tales about foreign-government misbehavior can have unintended consequences. It is particularly shortsighted and even dangerous in this case, as a stable relationship with a nuclear-armed and militarily very capable Moscow should rightly be regarded as critical.

It is almost as if some journalists believe that deliberately damaging relations with Russia is a price worth paying to embarrass and defeat Trump. If that is so, they are delusional.

71 million youths don’t have a job: ILO

Youth unemployment remains stubbornly high around the world, the International Labor Organization has said. There are around 71 million people between the ages of 15 and 29 without work, and many earn less than $2 a day.

August 25, 2016


The International Labor Organization (ILO) said on Wednesday that the number of job-seeking youths would likely jump by half a million by the end of 2016.

The ILO, a special body of the United Nations, added that the prognosis for 2017 wasn’t much better and that the unemployment level was expected to remain steady.

The 71 million young people who are out work puts the global youth unemployment rate at around 13.1 percent, according to the ILO. To blame for the lack of gainful employment opportunities was sluggish economic growth the world over.

The ILO also said while many youths in developing countries may have jobs, 156 million of them live in poverty because they don’t earn more than $2 (1.78 euros).

German military mulls options if planes withdrawn from Turkish base

August 25, 2016

by Andrea Shalal


BERLIN-Germany still wants its military to use Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base for reconnaissance flights in the fight against Islamic State but is looking for alternatives due to a dispute with Ankara, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

A ministry spokesman said the armed forces were studying other basing options for six reconnaissance planes, a refueling plane and 250 soldiers if German lawmakers vote to end the use of the base over Ankara’s refusal to allow them to visit.

Turkey in June denied lawmakers access to the base, angered by a German parliamentary resolution that branded the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces as genocide.

Ties between the two NATO allies have also been strained by the thwarted coup in Turkey on July 15, with Ankara angry about what it called Germany’s sluggish response in condemning the action.

A parliamentary vote to end Germany’s use of Incirlik could come as soon as next month, depending on whether Ankara allows lawmakers to visit the base in October as planned. The current parliamentary mandate for the mission ends in December.

“The Bundeswehr (armed forces) would like to continue the joint fight against Islamic State from the NATO base at Incirlik,” Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland media group.

Such work was in the mutual interest of both countries, she said.

Asked if the military was ready for a rapid withdrawal from the base, von der Leyen said, “Smart military planning always looks at fallback options.”

Turkish officials last week said they would not approve the separate visit planned by members of the German budget committee in October, but German lawmakers say they have not received a definitive answer.

The ministry spokesman said alternative potential bases had been identified in the region, but gave no details.

Der Spiegel magazine reported on Thursday that the armed forces were studying whether they could move the planes and troops to Jordan or Cyprus. Such a move would interrupt the flights for at least two months, it said.

Rainer Arnold, defense spokesman for the Social Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, government, told Reuters his party would demand an end to use of the base if Turkey refused to allow parliamentarians to visit.

“We will only send our soldiers to countries where we can be certain that we can visit them,” Arnold told Reuters.

Without the SDP’s approval, the government cannot extend the mission when it expires in December.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Andreas Rinke and Hans-Edzard Busemann, Editing by Angus MacSwan)












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