TBR News March 14, 2016

Mar 14 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., March 14, 2016: We are on a trip and will return tomorrow. WS

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.
After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversations with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.




Conversation No. 59

Date: Saturday, January 11. 1997

Commenced:  2:23 PM CST

Concluded: 3:11 PM CST

RTC: Gregory, would you believe your nice present arrived here today? You mailed it on the fifteenth and it took almost a month to get here. Unbelievable. Symptomatic of the growing inefficiency in the entire bureaucratic structure. Nice book by the way. Who was Malaparte?

GD: Curzio Malaparte was the pen name of an Austrian journalist named Stuckert. A friend and adherent of Mussolini. The book is a classic study of the coup, as you will note. Dutton put this out in ’32, just while the Depression was getting a full head of steam, and it was decided by those in power that it ought not to be circulated so it was pulled. I got your copy from a Denver dealer and I got mine from my grandfather’s library. Very interesting, especially the business with Trotsky in Petrograd. Have you read any of it?

RTC: Yes, actually I have read the Trotsky section. Very perceptive.

GD: And be sure to read the chapter on Trotsky versus Stalin. The differences between the two are well-covered. Trotsky was brilliant but mercurial and Stalin was equally brilliant but thorough, methodical and far more deadly than Trotsky. In Josef’s case, patience was a real virtue.

RTC: At any rate, thank you for your gift. I can assure you I will read it.

GD: You are the only person I know that might appreciate it. I can just see Tom Kimmel with it. Never read it.

RTC: Corson might.

GD: Yes, that’s true.

RTC: I’m sure they have a copy at Langley.

GD: I don’t doubt that at all. But they remind me of a dog I had once. He loved to chase cars. I wonder what would have happened if he caught one?

RTC: Now, they’re not all that bad.

GD: Perhaps not when you were in harness, but some of the idiots they have working for them now certainly aren’t worth a pinch of sour owl shit.

RTC: I haven’t heard that one for years, Gregory.

GD: I’m not young either, Robert.

RTC: Are you working on anything interesting these days?

GD: Still trying to create a structure for the Kennedy business. I translated some wartime German documents last week dealing with their flying saucer program. Habermohl?

RTC: I know that the Krauts had one or two but the name means nothing.

GD: They made and flew at least one prototype, but the project was just one of many at the time.

RTC: Well, the U.S. built them after the war. Some place in Canada.

GD: AVRO. The Roe Company.

RTC: Doesn’t ring a bell.

GD: But that means we did have some examples.

RTC: Oh, yes, that we did. I told you that the Russians thought these were ours and we thought they were theirs. I did some sit-downs on this one. Russian Intelligence was one of my fields, as you know. And we did have some of these, but we used them for high-altitude reconnaissance and photographing. The U-2 replaced them, so we retired them. The Russians had at one working model, that I know.

GD: So all the sightings were of these planes, or whatever they called them?

RTC: No, not all. Most of the public sightings were basically wishful thinking or mass hysteria. But there certainly were other incidents that were not of ours or Russian construction.

GD: Where did they come from?

RTC: No one had any idea. Of course, Truman had all of that shut up to prevent another Orson Wells panic. The idea was to make the whole thing look like a hoax so that people spotting something would ignore it at the risk of being branded a fool.

GD: Know anything about the Roswell business?

RTC: Oh, indeed. Now that was the real thing, Gregory. And there were space cadets on board that one. They had to clamp down on the story and said it was a weather balloon. As I remember, they retrieved a lot of electronic gadgetry that was highly advanced. They reconstructed the thing, or did you know that?

GD: No, I did not. Did they fly it?

RTC: Too complex. Do you know about Groom Lake in Nevada?

GD: No.

RTC: We used it as a U-2 base. Out in the remote desert. They have several of these things there. One is a reconstruction and another one was fished out of a lake in Montana intact, crew and all. That one they did fly around, as I understand.

GD: Why keep it quiet?

RTC: As I said, panic. The Cold War was in full swing, Korea had happened and everyone was afraid of the Russians, so it was decided to play it all down. We got certified idiots on board and got them to set up Flying Saucer clubs to attract the brainless moths and kept the pot boiling. You understand that once the government decides on a program, they never change it. They never do. Poor Tom keeps thinking they will rehabilitate his grandfather over Pearl Harbor, but they never will. I told him that once, and I thought he’d weep. First off, no one cares these days about Pearl Harbor and secondly, once a policy has been set, no one will change it later. Same with the saucers.

GD: They have no idea where they came from?

RTC: Absolutely none. But there were no attacks from any of them and the best thinking was that they were doing what we were doing, and that is photo recon. They weren’t from us because no human could survive the speeds they could move at. Flatten them out. I hope to God you’re not going to get into that mess, Gregory.

GD: Intellectual curiosity only. What did ours photograph?

RTC: The same things the U-2 did. Military bases like airfields, missile launching areas, naval bases. They took some wonderfully clear pictures. They had a building down on Fifth and K streets where they processed and printed these. It was the Steuart or Seward Building. I was in there a couple of times. And some very interesting buildings out on Wilson Boulevard. Remind me to tell you about them some time. Anyway, I recommend you keep away from the saucer side. As much as they hate you around here that would all that would be needed to label you a certified lunatic.

GD: Oh, I know about the official stories about me. Once the Mueller book came out, they got Gitta Sereny to go after me. Do you know who she is?

RTC: She’s a friend of Wolfe. I looked her up once because he made it a point of shoving some piece of trash on me at the Archives about you she got published. A Communist dyke as I remember. She does not like you.

GD: (Laughing) Oh, I know that, and note that I do not like her. When I uncovered the fact that an SS concentration camp head had been declared dead and then put to work by the Brits and later by us, she came to see me in California, with the assistance of Wolfe, and with the sole intention of getting me to say something she could use to discredit me.

RTC: Well, they didn’t like it made public that this fellow worked for us. The same as your friend Mueller. What did she write?

GD: Long story.

RTC: I have plenty of time and you have the happy knack of making long boring stories interesting. Go on.

GD: She published a book in 1974 entitled Into That Darkness. This work purported to be based on an interview with Franz Stangl, an alleged SS officer who ran a camp in occupied Poland during the war where many prisoners were later stated to have been gassed. Stangl was not an SS man but Sereny never bothered to mention that unimportant fact. The book contains a lengthy section quoting Stangl, who according to Sereny’s version, fully admitted his part in the purported killings and asks for forgiveness from God and his victims. The balance of the work consists of various supplementary testimonies from former associates and family members, all attesting to the evil nature of Stangl’s activities and all clearly acknowledging his willing cooperation in a state-sponsored program of genocide. Of course, Sereny has carved out her niche as a holocaust writer, trashing all the Germans, and she has made a nice living out of it. But this particular book shows with great clarity the pitfalls that occur when a journalist, as opposed to a legitimate academic historian, produces a work which is not only entirely anecdotal in content, but ideological in thrust. There is no documentation, whatsoever, in this work which relies almost entirely on the author’s purported interviews with various people. Stangl died on the day following Sereny’s visit to him in prison where he was appealing his life sentence.

RTC: I agree. That makes no sense. This man was not an SS camp man?

GD: No. He is in none of the official SS personnel lists anywhere at any time.

RTC: Did he exist?

GD: Yes. He was an Austrian policeman. And she must have known it, because she is tied up with Wolfe who has ready access to all the official lists. And herein lies the key to the questionability of the entire book. Stangl had been sentenced to a life term in prison. He, through his attorneys, was appealing this sentence. It is highly doubtful if either Stangl or his attorneys would permit such a damaging interview to take place and to permit Sereny, whose extremist views were well known, free and unfettered access to the prisoner. There would appear to be no question that Sereny and her photographer husband, Don Honeyman, did indeed visit the prison and did see Stangl. Sereny’s husband took several photographs of him, photographs which are extensively reproduced in the book. The published pictures, however, do not support statements alleged to have been made by the former Austrian police officer, but merely prove that he permitted himself to be photographed by his visitors. By making such incriminating statements as Sereny placed, post mortem, in his mouth, Stangl would have irrevocably destroyed any chance he might have had in his pending appeal before the German courts. I think it is beyond reasonable belief that such statements were made under the circumstances indicated. A dead Stangl, however, could comfortably be alleged to have made any statement that the author chose to put into his mouth, and without the possible embarrassment to her or her publisher of an instant denial or possible legal proceedings.

RTC: These fabricators never use logic, do they. Lie like rugs, throw in a few fuzzy pictures of Hitler and, Bingo, a new Holocaust book. Well, they have made quite a business out of it.

GD: Oh, yes, and you dast not dare question them with inconvenient facts. If you have the time and the stomach to read the book, you can clearly see the author’s prejudice towards Stangl and the system he served, but also is entirely devoid of any facts to support her thesis. She notes that a number of witnesses died before the book was published, of course, including her main source, Stangl. Much of the anecdotal material Sereny had put together to support her case is of such a nature as to preclude its ever being introduced in a court of law. Several examples are set forth as illustration.  In one, Sereny claims that Stangl’s wife wrote her a letter following an interview Sereny had with the wife in Brazil. In this letter, which is not reproduced, Frau Stangl allegedly states that in 1945 she was interviewed by two members of the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence agency, and that they knew of her husband’s whereabouts in an American jail. “I examined their papers,” she is quoted as writing, “I have no doubt whatever that they were genuine.” The flaw in this scenario is obvious. It is simply not believable that the wife of an obscure police officer would have the slightest idea what “genuine” U.S. CIC identification papers looked like. But Sereny states that the woman would have no reason to invent the incident. Perhaps the invention did not originate with Stangl’s wife, but with the author herself. Robert, generations must pass before the fictive is eventually weeded out from the factual, and in the meantime an appellation which has been applied to the Sereny book, Dialogs with the Dead, could well be applied to other mendacious creative writing essays that people like Wolfe, who certainly will never be any kind of a successful writer or Sereny the ideological hack.

RTC: Maybe Sereny…what is that name, by the way?

GD: She’s a Hungarian Jewess, but the name was changed somewhere years ago to become more Aryan. Anyway, she published some libels about me in two major British papers. I got a solicitor in the UK to represent me and not only were the stories pulled but dear old Gitta was sacked. It was either sack her for free, or I would sue the papers for malicious defamation. There wasn’t any contest. One of the paper’s editors told me on the phone that she was a nasty old bitch and he was glad to be rid of her. Actually, she mumbled away about me for a little while more until I had to take certain actions that dissuaded her from future essays into more libels.

RTC: I don’t suppose…

GD: Not on the phone. Did I bore you?

RTC: No, and none of that surprised me. You ought to have heard old Wolfe screeching about how evil you are. He sounds like you have a picture of him humping the neighbor’s cocker spaniel.

GD: (Laughter) I think it was a sheep named Minnie he keeps in his garage. By God, sir, with mesh stockings and lipstick, she drives men mad with passion.

RTC: Why don’t you turn him into the Humane Society?

GD: I’d much rather turn him into a pumpkin. Speaking of that, do you know what happened to Cinderella?

RTC: No, I don’t. She married her prince?

GD: Maybe, but did you know what happened when the clock struck midnight?

RTC: Not offhand.

GD: Her tampon turned into a pumpkin.

RTC: (Laughter) Such an image!

GD: You see the connection in my imagination, at least, between Wolfe and a pumpkin?

RTC: It’ll give me something to think about over dinner, Gregory. Or are you equating Wolfe with a tampon?

GD: Pay your money, Robert, and take your choice.

(Concluded at 3:11 PM CST)

Vladimir Putin orders withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria

Russian president says soldiers should begin pulling out of country as military intervention has largely achieved its aims

March 14, 2016

by Patrick Wintour

The Guardian

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has declared that he is withdrawing the majority of Russian troops from Syria, saying the intervention had largely achieved its objective.

The news, relayed to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, personally, followed a meeting in the Kremlin with Putin’s defence and foreign ministers. He said the pullout, reducing an intervention that began at the end of September, is due to start from Tuesday.

Putin’s order came on the day that Syrian peace talks began in earnest in Geneva, and will be seen as a sign that Russia believes it has done enough to protect Assad’s regime from collapse.

The news will be a welcome surprise to the Syrian opposition, who will wait to observe the scale of the withdrawal and whether it means that the repeated Russian airstrikes on their positions will come to an end.

The Russian president said the country’s airbase in Hemeimeem in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia and a naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus will continue to operate.


Turkish warplanes strike northern Iraq after Ankara bombing blamed on Kurdish militants

March 14, 2016

by Orhan Coskun


Ankara-Turkish warplanes struck against Kurdish militant camps in northern Iraq on Monday after 37 people were killed in an Ankara car bombing that security officials said involved a female fighter of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Sunday’s attack, tearing through a crowded transport hub a few hundred meters (yards) from the Justice and Interior Ministries, was the second such strike at the administrative heart of the Turkish capital in under a month.

Security officials told Reuters a female member of the outlawed PKK, which has fought a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey’s southeast, was one of two suspected perpetrators. A police source said her severed hand had been found 300 meters from the blast site.

Evidence had been obtained that suggested she was born in 1992, was from the eastern city of Kars near the Armenian border, and had joined the militant group in 2013, they said.Violence has spiraled in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast since a 2-1/2 year ceasefire with the PKK collapsed in July. The militants have so far largely focused their strikes on security forces in southeastern towns, many of which have been under curfew.

But attacks in Ankara and in Istanbul over the last year, and the activity of Islamic State as well as Kurdish fighters, have raised concerns among NATO allies who see Turkey’s stability as vital to containing violence in neighboring Syria and Iraq. President Tayyip Erdogan is also eager to dispel any notion he is struggling to maintain security.

“With the power of our state and wisdom of our people, we will dig up the roots of this terror network which targets our unity and peace,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter.

The Turkish military said 11 warplanes carried out air strikes on 18 targets in northern Iraq early on Monday, including ammunition depots and shelters. The PKK has its bases in the mountains of northern Iraq, controlling operations across the frontier in Turkey.

A round-the-clock curfew was declared in three southeastern towns in order to conduct operations against Kurdish militants, local officials said. Many locals fled the towns in anticipation of the operations

Victims of Sunday’s attack included the father of Umut Bulut, a footballer who plays for Turkey and Galatasaray, the Istanbul club said on its website.


Turkey’s government sees the unrest in its southeast as closely tied to the war in Syria, where a Kurdish militia has seized territory along the Turkish border as it battles Islamic State militants and rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara fears those gains are stoking Kurdish separatist ambitions at home and says Syrian Kurdish fighters share deep ideological and operational ties with the PKK.

They also complicate relations with the United States which, while deeming the PKK to be a terrorist group, sees the Syrian Kurds as an important ally in battling Islamic State. Such is the complexity and sensitivity of alliances in the region.

The explosives were the same kind as those used in the Feb. 17 attack that killed 29 people, mostly soldiers, and the bomb had been packed with pellets and nails to cause maximum injury and damage, the source told Reuters.

The attack is the third in five months to hit Ankara, a government town dominated by ministries, parliament, embassies and the sprawling armed forces headquarters compounds. More than 100 people were killed in a double suicide bombing in October that has been blamed on Islamic State.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The militant group has been blamed for at least four bomb attacks on Turkey since June 2015, including the killing of 10 German tourists in Istanbul in January. Local jihadist groups and leftist radicals have also staged attacks.

(Additional reporting by Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler and David Dolan; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Ralph Boulton)


Facebook is a growing and unstoppable digital graveyard

At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.

March 14, 2016

by Brandon Ambrosino


The day after my Aunt’s passing, I discovered she’d written me a lovely note on the front page of the Shakespeare collection she’d given me. “I know how important the written word is to you,” it read, “this then is my gift to you.”

With all of my love, as always,

Aunt Jackie

Deeply moved, I opened my laptop and found my way over to her Facebook page. I thought it would be comforting to see pictures of her, and to read some of her witty posts, and to imagine her speaking them in her brassy, brazen, Baltimore screech. At the top of her Facebook feed was a video posted by my cousin showing two elephants playing in water. (My aunt loved elephants. She had thousands of pieces of elephant kitsch all over her house.) Below that were some tributes from former students, as well as the obituary posted by her sister-in-law.

I scrolled back up. According to Facebook, Aunt Jackie studied English Education at Frostburg State University, was a former English Department Head for Baltimore City schools, and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Lives? I thought.

She doesn’t live anywhere. She’s gone.

But if you happened to come across her profile on Facebook and didn’t scroll down to the obituary, then you wouldn’t know that.

She would still be, in some sense, alive. She would be … here. On Facebook.

I thought back to the night my family and I stood around Aunt Jackie, hooked to wires and machines, and watched her pass.

Observing that phenomenon is a strange thing. There she is, the person you love – you’re talking to her, squeezing her hand, thanking her for being there for you, watching the green zigzag move slower and slower – and then she’s not there anymore.

Another machine, meanwhile, was keeping her alive: some distant computer server that holds her thoughts, memories and relationships.

While it’s obvious that people don’t outlive their bodies on digital technology, they do endure in one sense. People’s experience of you as a seemingly living person can and does continue online.

How is our continuing presence in digital space changing the way we die? And what does it mean for those who would mourn us after we are gone?

The numbers of the dead on Facebook are growing fast. By 2012, just eight years after the platform was launched, 30 million users with Facebook accounts had died. That number has only gone up since. Some estimates claim more than 8,000 users die each day.

At some point in time, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones. Facebook is a growing and unstoppable digital graveyard.

Many Facebook profiles announce their owners have passed; they are “memorialised”. The profile is emblazoned with the word “remembering”, and they stop appearing in public spaces, like People You May Know or birthday reminders.

But not all Facebook users who have passed away are memorialised.

Kerry, one of my college dorm mates, committed suicide a few years ago, and his wife and family and friends regularly post updates on his page, and when they do, Kerry’s profile populates in my Facebook feed.

Neither Kerry nor my Aunt Jackie are memorialised, which means, for all intents and purposes, their deaths haven’t been recognised by Facebook, or by the unwitting users who chance upon them. Their digital identities continue to exist.

Social media has taught us about the power of the moment – connecting right now with people around the globe over awards show, television programmes, football games, social justice issues, and whatnot. But now it may be time to consider what comes after all that: our legacy.

It used to be that only certain prominent people were granted legacies, either because they left written records for their forebears, or because later inquisitive minds undertook that task. But digital technology changes that. Now, each of us spends hours each week – more than 12, according to a recent survey – writing our autobiographies.

As I’ve told my mother, my grandchildren may be able to learn about her by studying her Facebook profile. Assuming the social network doesn’t fold, they won’t just learn about the kinds of major life events that would make it into my mom’s authorised biography. They’ll learn, rather, the tiny, insignificant details of her day to day life: memes that made her laugh, viral photos she shared, which restaurants she and my father liked to eat at, the lame church jokes she was too fond of. And of course, they’ll have plenty of pictures to go with it. By studying this information, my grandchildren will come to know about their great grandmother.

We might think of our public social media record as some type of digital soul: those perusing my Facebook know my religious beliefs, my political reservations, my love for my partner, my literary tastes. Were I to die tomorrow, my digital soul would continue to exist.

In the past few years, several tech companies have extended the idea of a digital soul. Eterni.me, launched in 2014, promises to create a digital version of “you” that will live on after your death. Death is certain, admits the website — but what if you could live forever as a digital avatar, “and people in the future could actually interact with your memories, stories and ideas, almost as if they were talking to you?”

If programs like Eterni.me succeed, not only will my grandchildren be able to study my mother’s life, if they want they’ll be able to ask her avatar – their intelligent, digital “great grandmother” – questions and receive answers that my mother, before she passed away, would have probably given them.

You could take this process even further, as several futurists predict. Consider a robot that was commissioned by the entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt, called Bina 48. The robot is almost identical in appearance to Rothblatt’s wife, and contains a database of her speech and memories.

Rothblatt, author of Virtually Human and the CEO of United Therapeutics, is a transhumanist whose motto is “death is optional”. Rothblatt foresees a near-future world in which the dead can be reanimated thanks to mind clone software that can allow avatars to think and respond and be in an eerily similar way to those they’re cloning.

When asked about the concept of real, Rothblatt once said that these mind clones might end up being “truer” versions of ourselves than we are.

So, if the end-point is that a loved one carries on living, how does that change how we grieve?

One of the seminal texts on grief is Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s 1969 On Death and Dying, which outlines five steps of the grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Since its publication, modern experts have questioned and criticised its central claims, particularly the understanding that successful mourners let go of the departed and move on.

Today, many counsellors help mourners realise that their loved ones continue to be with them, in some sense, after they die. The relationship changes, but it is still there.

Still, part of the grieving process does necessitate moving on, and, well, forgetting in some sense. Not forgetting that our loved ones ever existed, but forgetting that they are in in this place with us.

That’s the catch of our brave new world: digital data does not allow us to forget.

In his 2009 book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger argues compellingly that central to the human condition is the ability to forget, which allows us to “act in time, cognizant of, but not shackled by the past”. Forgetting, he writes, lets us “live and act firmly in the present”.

Mayer-Schonberger refers to Funes, The Memorius, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges whose central character has lost the ability to forget after a tragic riding accident. Funes is able to perfectly recall every book he has ever read, and can recount in vivid detail all the days he’s experienced.

But his talent is also a curse: his memory, he admits, “is like a garbage heap”. His name, Funes, which translates as “ill-fated”, is a clue that Borges pities his character, who, as Donna Miller Watts writes, is “an involuntary hoarder, a junkman of the mind”. He ultimately becomes lost in the words in his mind, unable to generalise or to abstract, because “to think is to ignore (or forget) differences”.

To Watts, Funes’ mental state recalls “the vast amounts of information” that have been “exposed to digital nets,” never to be forgotten. The lesson, writes Mayer-Schonberger, is, “Too perfect a recall … may prompt us to become caught up in our memories, unable to leave our past behind.”

Digital technology forces us to remember the dead. This is their vengeance, who, as the sociologist Jean Baudrillard warns, haunt us in their absence.

In the past, remembering the dead had a physical element to it. You had to go somewhere to honour them: a graveyard, a church, a memorial. Or you had to take out a box of photographs or an album or an obituary clipping. You had to take some time from the present to think about your past, your history, your time with that person.

In Facebook, all places are present, all times are now. My Aunt Jackie exists in this medium just as I do. In a way, there is no moving on without her. There’s no moving on without any of the millions of dead Facebook users.

One of the eeriest stories I’ve ever heard was told to me by a circus clown named Dooby. Just before he went on stage for a performance, he listened to a voicemail from his dying grandfather telling him he loved him and that they’d talk later. The timing worked out such that by the time Dooby heard the voicemail, his grandfather was already dead.

A clown listening to a dead man’s voice – that’s perhaps the only way I know how to describe the feeling of coming across my Aunt Jackie’s Facebook profile. She’s in this space just as I am, but I know that she’s also dead.

There’s a word we have for feeling as if something bad is going to happen: premonition, from a word that means “warning.” Stumbling across a dead Facebook user is not unlike that feeling, but with one important difference: we remember that something bad was at one time about to happen. We might call this re-monition, the reminder that we’ve already been warned.

As of yet, there’s no good solution to the problem of dead data, of digital ghosts. The only hope is that the internet’s memory will at some point begin to fade.

“The truth,” writes Borges, “is that we all live by leaving behind.”


Stop eroding faith in gov’t: DOJ warns courts about fining & jailing poor people

March 14, 2016


The US Justice Department cautioned local courts that it is unconstitutional to jail someone for not paying fines without determining whether they are able to pay, and warned against using court fees to generate revenue for cities.

The warnings came as part of an effort to reform court practices that “perpetuate poverty and result in unnecessary deprivations of liberty,” the Justice Department said.

“The consequences of the criminalization of poverty are not only harmful – they are far-reaching,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement. “They not only affect an individual’s ability to support their family, but also contribute to an erosion of our faith in government.”

She added that abusive court practices that disproportionally affect the poor erode trust in the government. The legal system should treat all Americans the same regardless of their economic status, she said.As part of the notice, the Justice Department sent a letter to state and local courts reiterating multiple constitutional principles, including that courts must consider alternatives to jail when defendants cannot pay the appropriate fines and fees; that sufficient notice must be given when enforcing fee collection; that courts cannot require fee payments in return for access to judicial hearings, and that courts cannot suspend licenses or use arrest warrants as a means to coerce payments.

“Individuals may confront escalating debt; face repeated, unnecessary incarceration for nonpayment despite posing no danger to the community; lose their jobs; and become trapped in cycles of poverty that can be nearly impossible to escape,” the letter reads.

“In addition to being unlawful, to the extent that these practices are geared not toward addressing public safety, but rather toward raising revenue, they can cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal and erode trust between local governments and their constituents.”

These issues have made national headlines since protests in Ferguson, Missouri placed local police and court behavior under the microscope, particularly when it comes to their effect on minority communities and the poor. The Justice Department accused the city of disproportionally targeting African-Americans for fines, and of using that money to fill the municipal coffers.

According to the Washington Post, some towns in St. Louis County generated 40 percent of more of their annual revenue from fines and fees gathered by their court systems.

In order to tackle these problems, the Justice Department said Monday it will make $2.5 million in grants available to jurisdictions “to develop strategies that promote appropriate justice system responses, including reducing unnecessary confinement, for individuals who are unable to pay fines and fees.”

While the court system in the St. Louis area has been scrutinized most heavily, it’s not the only place in the country accused of behavior the federal government says is common across the US. Just last week, a judge in Michigan was ordered by a circuit court to stop jailing poor defendants because they couldn’t pay fees and fines. Now, he will have to consider their ability to pay before determining that incarceration is appropriate.

Meanwhile, a report from Illinois last year found that prisons would sue former inmates over their time behind bars in an attempt to recoup the cost of their “room and board” or medical fees.


The presidential campaign and the US middle class

Trump’s bluster is aimed at the aging Reagan generation while the young flock to Sanders. At the end of the day, the US middle class is the crucial electorate, writes James K. Galbraith.

March 13, 2016


It may be hard to convey to the citizens of a republic with a female chancellor the peculiar depths to which the campaign for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party have now sunk. But perhaps, on reflection, not so hard. Psychosexual references surface in insecure times, and with them the yearning for a big man. Calm, reassurance, consistency and honesty are not the values that matter; bluster, threat, opportunism and craftiness rise instead. And support swells for Donald Trump.

Insecurity in America today comes in two flavors: physical and economic. The flames of physical fear are, however, quite weak. The trauma of 9/11 has faded; the incidents at Boston and San Bernardino remain unfathomable with the alleged perpetrators mostly dead. Meanwhile Paris is remote, it is not the iconic city for Americans that it was, say, in 1950, when its liberation was a fresh memory. Apart from black citizens facing white police, most Americans today feel fairly safe. Still, Trump evokes Paris, San Bernardino and Boston when he can.

Economic insecurity is pervasive. And to the slipping victim of globalization, the now-aging Reagan generation unmoored in part by the policies of the president they were raised to revere, Trump is the last throw. His economic platform, so far as he has one, has three planks: tough negotiations with China and Mexico to close the trade gap – a ludicrous fantasy of course, but never mind; a massive tax cut to gun the economy; and crucially, like Reagan, Trump would largely leave Social Security and Medicare alone, at least for now. His message is crafted precisely to Reagan’s voters, now themselves living on Treasury checks. For the rest – the wall, the deportations, waterboarding – it’s racist bluster, to be sure. But Trump is a New York real estate man; truly capable of anything. Brace yourself; as soon as he’s nominated he’ll be in the black churches and at least one mosque.

Split over economics

By far more interesting are developments on the Democratic side. Here the party has two echelons. Both are socially liberal and racially inclusive; religious reactionaries and white supremacists defected to the Republicans long ago. It is on economics that the Democrats are split. One side is mildly meliorist, tied closely to the finance-driven model of growth, open to the business lobbies, favorable to trade deals, prone to compromise on Social Security, and to elevate con jobs like microfinance to the status of major public policy achievements.

On the other side is the “Democratic base” – a loose grouping of young and working people who have been, for the most part, shut out of the high reaches of a party that relies on them for votes, and who are acutely conscious of, and embittered by, the privileges of big finance. This faction has had in recent years no voice. But this year it has one, in the seemingly-improbable figure of Senator Bernie Sanders.

And Sanders is riding the crest, precisely, of his economic program, which has three major planks: a $15 minimum wage, tuition- and debt-free public higher education, and single-payer universal health insurance. These would be funded by taxes on the wealthy; Sanders is only an incidental Keynesian. His program would not have raised an eyebrow in 1960s Germany, but to young Americans, in today’s finance-infested United States, it has the true flavor of political revolution.

In Sanders they trust

So Bernie Sanders has caught fire among the young – among students, among parents with children who will one day reach university age, among low-wage working people and among those who still lack health insurance or find the burden of paying the premiums of Obamacare hard to handle. To this generation, the promise of Sanders’ program borders on a transformation.

As a result, there has opened up in the politics of the Democratic Party a generation gap not seen since the Beatles arrived here in 1964. Among voters under 45, Sanders’ margins typically approach or exceed 60-40, which pays off heavily in caucus states and university towns. Among older voters, and in the African-American community especially in the South, familiarity prevails and Clinton enjoys similar margins. Given the weight of Democratic officeholders at the convention, her nomination remains more likely than not.

But the future plainly lies with Sanders. Demography is destiny. It is he, not she, who has captured the young and redefined American politics for the next generation. He has set the agenda for the future. It is his mantle – not hers – that even now we observe ambitious and promising younger American progressives positioning themselves to claim. Even if she becomes president, in four years the party will belong to his people, and the country will belong to them, soon after that.

In the end, it is not Donald Trump who has captured the revolutionary spirit of Ronald Reagan this year and for the years to come. Whatever happens, there will be no Trump Revolution. No – the pace of the next revolution has been set by a figure at least as avuncular, as reassuring, and as clear in his call and message as Reagan was. A figure who happens to be a 74-year-old, non-observant Jewish socialist from Vermont.


Facebook, Google and WhatsApp plan to increase encryption of user data

Spurred on by Apple’s battles against the FBI, some of tech’s biggest names are to expand encryption of user data in their services, the Guardian can reveal

March 14, 2016

by Danny Yadron

The Guardian

San Francisco-Silicon Valley’s leading companies – including Facebook, Google and Snapchat – are working on their own increased privacy technology as Apple fights the US government over encryption, the Guardian has learned.

The projects could antagonize authorities just as much as Apple’s more secure iPhones, which are currently at the center of the San Bernardino shooting investigation. They also indicate the industry may be willing to back up their public support for Apple with concrete action.

Within weeks, Facebook’s messaging service WhatsApp plans to expand its secure messaging service so that voice calls are also encrypted, in addition to its existing privacy features. The service has some one billion monthly users. Facebook is also considering beefing up security of its own Messenger tool.

Snapchat, the popular ephemeral messaging service, is also working on a secure messaging system and Google is exploring extra uses for the technology behind a long-in-the-works encrypted email project.

Engineers at major technology firms, including Twitter, have explored encrypted messaging products before only to see them never be released because the products can be hard to use – or the companies prioritized more consumer-friendly projects. But they now hope the increased emphasis on encryption means that technology executives view strong privacy tools as a business advantage – not just a marketing pitch.

These new projects began before Apple entered a court battle with the Department of Justice over whether it should help authorities hack into a suspected terrorist’s iPhone. Apple is due to appear in a federal court in California later this month to fight the order.

Polling has shown public opinion is divided over the case. And any new encyrption efforts by tech firms put them on a collision course with Washington. Two US senators, the Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and the Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina, say they have written draft legislation that would create penalties for companies that aren’t able to provide readable user data to authorities. Barack Obama has also made it clear he thinks some technology companies are going too far. “If government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket, right?” he said 11 March at the SXSW technology conference in Austin, Texas.

WhatsApp has been rolling out strong encryption to portions of its users since 2014, making it increasingly difficult for authorities to tap the service’s messages. The issue is personal for founder Jan Koum, who was born in Soviet-era Ukraine. When Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in February that his company would fight the government in court, Koum posted on his Facebook account: “Our freedom and our liberty are at stake.”

His efforts to go further still are striking as the app is in open confrontation with governments. Brazil authorities arrested a Facebook executive on 1 March after WhatsApp told investigators it lacked the technical ability to provide the messages of drug traffickers. Facebook called the arrest “extreme and disproportionate”.

WhatsApp already offers Android and iPhone users encrypted messaging. In the coming weeks, it plans to offer users encrypted voice calls and encrypted group messages, two people familiar with the matter said. That would make WhatsApp, which is free to download, very difficult for authorities to tap.

Unlike many encrypted messaging apps, WhatsApp hasn’t pushed the security functions of the service as a selling point to users. Koum, its founder, has said users should be able to expect that security is a given, not a bonus feature.

It’s unclear if that will change. In the coming weeks, WhatsApp plans to make a formal announcement about its expanded encryption offerings, sources said.

The efforts come at a crossroads for Silicon Valley. Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter have all signed on to legal briefs supporting Apple in its court case. At the same time, some of the companies have shown an increased willingness to help the government in its efforts to fight the spread of Islamic extremist propaganda online – often using their services.

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, has talked publicly about how tech companies can help the west combat Isis online and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, recently joined a Defense Department advisory group on how tech can aid in future battles.

Those matters may seem separate, but US national security officials view the increasing availability of encryption technology as a major aid to Islamic State’s online recruitment efforts. At some point, tech firms may have to choose whether they care more about being seen as helping the west to fight terrorism or standing as privacy advocates.

Some technology executives think one middle path would be to encourage the use of encryption for the content of messages while maintaining the ability to hand over metadata, which reveals who is speaking to whom, how often and when. That is why the specifics of the new products will be key to determining both their security and Washington’s reaction to them.

The Guardian couldn’t immediately determine the specific details of Snapchat’s and Facebook’s projects. All the companies declined to comment.

In 2014, Google announced a project called End to End, which would make it easier to send encrypted emails in such a way that only the sender and recipient could decode them. The project, once a collaboration with Yahoo, has been slow-going.

That appears to have changed in recent months, though, sources familiar with the project said, and other Google employees have shown in renewed interest in the idea. At a February internal town hall at Google, one engineer stood up and asked vice-president of security and privacy engineering Gerhard Eschelbeck why Google wasn’t doing more to support encrypted communications, according to two people familiar with the exchange.

Gerhard countered the company increasingly was putting effort behind such projects. Some Google employees are discussing whether the technology behind End to End can be applied to other products, though no final determinations have been made.

“This has been an ongoing effort for a long time at Google,” one person briefed on the project said. One of the challenges for the search giant is that there are some types of data for which it remains challenging to offer end-to-end security, both for usability and business model reasons.

Google sells targeted ads by scanning users’ email, a process that gets tricky if the contents remain encrypted. Many consumers also use Gmail accounts, which include large amounts of free storage, as a sort of online file system, sometimes dating back more than a decade.

“There are lots of difficulties at Google that aren’t same at Apple,” the person briefed on the project said. “The business models are just different.”

In the meantime, WhatsApp’s encryption is based on code developed by a well-known privacy evangelist, Moxie Marlinspike, whose secure messaging app Signal is used by security hawks. One advantage of Marlinspike’s encryption tools is that they have been tested repeatedly by outside security experts.

Apple, the company behind the two-year debate over encryption, is also taking steps to beef up privacy. The company has been in discussions with outside security experts about ways to make it technically harder still for investigators to force the company to hand over data from customers’ iPhones, according to sources. The New York Times earlier reported on those conversations.

Last month, Frederic Jacobs, an accomplished cryptographer and one of the coders behind Signal, announced he had accepted a job at Apple. It’s a summer internship with the security team for the iPhone’s core software.


The Rise of Trump Shows the Danger and Sham of Compelled Journalistic “Neutrality”

March 14, 2016

by Glenn Greeenwald

The Intercept

As Donald Trump’s campaign predictably moves from toxic rhetoric targeting the most marginalized minorities to threats and use of violence, there is a growing sense that American institutions have been too lax about resisting it. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan on Sunday posted a widely cited Twitter essay voicing this concern, arguing that “Trump’s rise represents a failure in American parties, media, and civic institutions — and they’re continuing to fail right now.” He added, “Someone could capture a major party [nomination] who endorses violence [and] few seem alarmed.”

Actually, many people are alarmed, but it is difficult to know that by observing media coverage, where little journalistic alarm over Trump is expressed. That’s because the rules of large media outlets — venerating faux objectivity over truth along with every other civic value — prohibit the sounding of any alarms. Under this framework of corporate journalism, to denounce Trump, or even to sound alarms about the dark forces he’s exploiting and unleashing, would not constitute journalism. To the contrary, such behavior is regarded as a violation of journalism. Such denunciations are scorned as opinion, activism, and bias: all the values that large media-owning corporations have posited as the antithesis of journalism in order to defang and neuter it as an adversarial force.

Just this morning, NPR media reporter David Folkenflik published a story describing the concern and even anger of some NPR executives and journalists over a column by longtime NPR commentator Cokie Roberts — the Beacon of Washington Centrism — that criticizes Trump. “NPR has a policy forbidding its journalists from taking public stances on political affairs,” he wrote. For any NPR reporter, Roberts’s statements — warning of the dangers of a Trump presidency — would be a clear violation of that policy.

An NPR vice president, Michael Oreskes, published an internal memo to NPR staff this morning highlighting Roberts’s non-reporting and non-employee role as a reason she would not be punished, but he pointedly noted, “If Cokie were still a member of NPR’s staff we would not have allowed that.” And in an interview that Oreskes “directed” Roberts to do this morning with Morning Edition host David Greene about the matter, the NPR host chided Roberts for expressing negative views of Trump, telling her:

Objectivity is so fundamental to what we do. Can you blame people like me for being a little disappointed to hear you come out and take a personal position on something like this in a campaign?

Imagine calling yourself a journalist, and then — as you watch an authoritarian politician get closer to power by threatening and unleashing violence and stoking the ugliest impulses — denouncing not that politician, but rather other journalists who warn of the dangers. That is the embodiment of the ethos of corporate journalism in America, and a potent illustration of why its fetishized reverence for “objectivity” is so rotted and even dangerous. Indeed, Roberts herself agreed that it was justified for her to speak out only because she’s in the role of NPR commentator and not reporter: “If I were doing it in your role” as a reporter, Roberts told Greene, “you should be disappointed.”

This abdication of the journalistic duty inevitably engendered by corporate “neutrality” rules is not new. We saw it repeatedly during the Bush years, when most large media outlets suppressed journalistic criticism of things like torture and grotesque war crimes carried out by the U.S. as part of the war on terror, and even changed their language by adopting government euphemisms to obscure what was being done. Outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR refused to use the word “torture” to describe techniques long universally recognized as such — which were always called torture by those same media outlets when used by countries adversarial to the U.S. — because to do so would evince “bias,” lack “neutrality,” and “take sides” in the torture debate.

Contrary to what U.S. media corporations have succeeded in convincing people, these journalistic neutrality rules are not remotely traditional. They are newly invented concepts that coincided with the acquisition of the nation’s most important media outlets by large, controversy-averse corporations for which “media” was just one of many businesses.

Large corporations hate controversy (it alienates consumers) and really hate offending those who wield political power (bad for business). Imposing objectivity rules on the journalists who work for their media divisions was a means to avoid offending anyone by forcing journalists to conceal their perspectives, assumptions, and viewpoints, and, worse, forcing them to dishonestly pretend that they had none, that they float above all that. This framework neutered journalism and drained it of all its vitality and passion, reducing journalists to stenography drones permitted to do little more than summarize what each equally valid side asserts. Worse, it ensures that people who wield great influence and power — such as Donald Trump — can engage in all sorts of toxic, dishonest, and destructive behavior without having to worry about any check from journalists, who are literally barred by their employers from speaking out (even as their employers profit greatly through endless coverage).

This corporate, neutrality-über-alles framework is literally the exact antithesis of how journalism was practiced, and why it was so valued, when the U.S. Constitution was enacted and for decades after. As Jack Shafer documented in 2013, those who claim that journalism has always been grounded in neutrality demonstrate “a painful lack of historical understanding of American journalism.” Indeed, “American journalism began in earnest as a rebellion against the state”: citizens using journalism to denounce in no uncertain terms the evils of the British Crown and to agitate for resistance against it. He cites Judith and William Serrin’s anthology, Muckraking: The Journalism That Changed America, which “establishes the primacy of partisan, activist journalism from the revolutionary period through the modern era.” That is the noble journalistic tradition that has been deliberately suppressed — outright barred — by our nation’s largest corporate media outlets, justifying their meek and impotent codes under the banner of an objectivity and neutrality that are as illusory and deceitful as they are amoral.

As a result, nobody should be looking to our nation’s largest media outlets to serve as a bulwark against Trumpism or any other serious menace. The rules they have imposed on themselves, by design, ensure their own neutrality even in the face of the most extreme evils.

The debate over “objectivity” and “neutrality” in journalism has been, as I noted, quite relevant and pressing since long before the emergence of Donald Trump.

Regarding whether “neutrality” and “objectivity” are new journalistic concoctions, note that the two most revered figures in American broadcast journalism history – Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite – would have been fired from NPR and multiple other contemporary media outlets for their most notable moments: Murrow when he used his nightly news broadcast to repeatedly denounce Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and Cronkite when he did the same about the Vietnam War


It Can’t Happen Here… Can It?

Trump’s Storm Troopers and the Possibility of American Fascism

by Bob Dreyfuss


Can it happen here?

That’s the question circulating now that Donald Trump, the nativist, rabble-rousing xenophobe, and billionaire, is threatening to capture the Republican nomination for president of the United States — and it’s a question that isn’t being asked only on the left.  It’s been raised by a New York Times editorial, which claimed that Trump has brought the GOP “to the brink of fascism,” and by Republicans, ranging from neoconservative pundit Max Boot to Virginia’s centrist former Governor Jim Gilmore. Conservative Times columnist Ross Douthat was reasonably typical in a piece headlined “Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” While he allowed that The Donald may not be Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, he added, “It seems fair to say that he’s closer to the ‘proto-fascist’ zone on the political spectrum than either the average American conservative or his recent predecessors in right-wing populism.”

For figures ranging from comic Louis C.K. to right-wing commentator Glenn Beck, making direct Hitler-Trump comparisons has become the fashion of the moment.  I must admit, however, that “proto-fascist” sounds about right to me.  Certainly, the rise of Trump has caused many voters to take notice — the question being whether the real estate mogul (who further stirred the pot recently by retweeting a quote from Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini) could cobble together enough of a coalition of nationalists, Angry White Men, “poorly educated” working-class backers, the disaffected religious right, Islamophobes, immigrant-bashers, and others to wield the figurative pitchforks in a march to victory in November.

If indeed Trump is a mere “proto-fascist,” then what ingredients, if any, are still needed for the emergence of an authentic twenty-first-century American fascist movement? To think about that question, I recently read Richard J. Evans’ book, The Coming of the Third Reich. It spans the era from 1871 to 1933, describing in exquisitely painful detail the gestation and growth of the Nazi party. If you decide to read the book, try doing what I did: in two columns in your head draw up a list of similarities and differences between the United States today and Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s.

In this edgy moment in America, the similarities, of course, tend to jump out at you. As Trump repeatedly pledges to restore American greatness, so Hitler promised to avenge Germany’s humiliation in World War I. As Trump urges his followers, especially the white working class, to blame their troubles on Mexican immigrants and Muslims, so Hitler whipped up an anti-Semitic brew. As Trump — ironically, for a billionaire — attacks Wall Street and corporate lobbyists for rigging the economy and making puppets out of politicians, so Hitler railed against Wall Street and the City of London, along with their local allies in Germany, for burdening his country with a massive post-World War I, Versailles Treaty-imposed reparations debt and for backing the Weimar Republic’s feckless center-right parties. (Think: the Republican Party today.)  As with Trump’s China-bashing comments and his threats to murder the relatives of Islamist terrorists while taking over Iraq’s oil reserves, Hitler too appealed to an atavistic, reckless sort of ultra-nationalism.

The Second Amendment Society

But don’t forget the differences, which are no less obvious. The United States has a long-established tradition of democratic republicanism, which 1920s Germany did not. The economy of the planet’s last superpower, while careening into a near-depression in 2008, is incomparably too strong to be put in the same category as the hyperinflation-plagued German one of that era.

There is, however, another difference between Donald Trump of 2016 and Adolf Hitler of 1921 (when he took over the leadership of the fledgling National Socialist German Workers Party) that overshadows the rest.  From the beginning, Hitler wielded the support of a brutal, thuggish armed paramilitary wing, the notorious Sturmabteilung (SA), the Storm Detachment (or storm troopers). Also known as the Brown Shirts, the SA often used violence against its opponents in the streets of Germany’s cities, and its sheer presence intimidated Germans across the political spectrum.

And that got me thinking. Would it be possible for Donald Trump or some future Trump-like figure to build an armed following of his own? Frighteningly enough, the answer is certainly: yes. And it might not even be that hard.

Bear with me a moment here.  Back in 2010, in Alexandria, Virginia, radical partisans of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, bolstered by Virginia’s egregiously anything-goes open-carry laws, held a Restore the Constitution Rally in Fort Hunt Park on the Potomac River — and they came armed. The event was, by the way, scheduled for April 19th, the anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. At the time, I lived a mile or so from that park, and the combination of fear, anger, and disgust that such a weapons-displaying political demonstration could happen in the virtual shadow of the Capitol was palpable.

Admittedly, only about 50 armed people took part, though 2,000 others held an unarmed, parallel rally in Washington, D.C., where carrying weapons is forbidden. Think about how many more might turn out today in a country where there have already been a number of armed rallies and demonstrations by Second Amendment activists, and in 2016, thanks to effective lobbying by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the majority of states have enacted complete or partial open-carry laws. Meanwhile, all 50 states now have concealed-carry laws, meaning that pistol-packing is lawful in most public places other than Washington, D.C.

So imagine this scenario for a moment: Donald Trump (or a future Trump-esque demagogue) announces that he’s convening a rally in a state where open-carry is permitted — say, in Dallas, at the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium — and adds that he wants his supporters to come armed. (Trump has loudly defended the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment during the primary season and on his website there’s a plank called “Protecting Our Second Amendment Will Make America Great Again.”) Under Texas law, it would be perfectly legal for his supporters in the thousands to attend such a rally armed with semi-automatic weapons. And there, at the podium, looking out over the crown of gun-wielding militants would be The Donald, smiling broadly.

It doesn’t take much to imagine the instant backlash this would engender, from near-apoplectic television talking heads to scathing editorials in the New York Times and other newspapers to sputtering denunciations from liberal and moderate politicians, especially those from urban areas. But it’s also easy to imagine Trump’s vitriolic disdain for the naysayers, while the NRA’s pet Republicans tut-tutted over Trump but defended his right to organize such an event.

Imagine then that he repeated the event in other stadiums in, say, Denver, Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Miami — and then announced that he’s establishing the Donald Trump Second Amendment Society? He might even issue specially designed baseball caps emblazoned with the name. How far might we then be from armed marches by the new organization in the streets of American cities, its name, of course, soon abbreviated to the Trump SA (for Second Amendment) Society?

To some, this may sound like an outlandish, near-doomsday scenario. (“It can’t happen here.”) But developments in this country in recent years suggest that the path is open to just such a possibility, and that the question is less “if” than “when.” The groundwork is already potentially being laid.  According to the latest report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 2015 saw a significant increase in hate groups in this country, with militias and anti-government “patriot” groups growing last year from 874 to 998, having fallen precipitously in the previous two. Of these, says the SPLC, at least 276 were anti-government “militias.” It adds: “Generally, such groups define themselves as opposed to the ‘New World Order,’ engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, or advocate or adhere to extreme antigovernment doctrines.”

In early January, the nation watched in shock as a band of “dozens of white, armed American militants stormed a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon seeking to take a ‘hard stand’ against federal government ‘tyranny.’” The action thrilled militia and “patriot” groups across the country, while, oddly enough, the mainstream media was reluctant to apply the obvious word — “terrorism” — to this armed rebellion by political radicals led by the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. (Juliette Kayyem, a Harvard expert on terrorism and a former assistant secretary of homeland security, was a rare exception in writing for CNN, “The men, heavily armed, urging others to come support their cause, and claiming somehow that, while peaceful, they will ‘defend’ themselves whatever it takes, are — by any definition — domestic terrorists.”)

The occupation was eventually suppressed, but in the present overheated atmosphere expect other provocative actions by some of the 200-plus militias that the SPLC has identified. Though Trump himself expressed mild disapproval of the Oregon militia, calling for “law and order,” Gerald DeLemus, a co-chair of Veterans for Trump in New Hampshire, praised the action as a “great success,” insisting in an interview with Reuters that the militia’s cause was “peaceful” and “constitutionally just.”  He was later arrested “as a ‘mid-level leader’ and organizer of a conspiracy to recruit, organize, train, and provide support to armed men and other followers of rancher Cliven Bundy.”

Trump, of course, has repeatedly played with fire when it comes to violence, intimidation, and the role of white supremacists, the radical right, and others. His dog-whistle refusal to instantly disassociate himself from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries in the Deep South was widely condemned even by Republican officials. But in at least one case, an actual neo-Nazi, Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party, used physical force against protesters at a Trump rally in Louisville.

Uniquely American Fascism

However reprehensible Trump’s dalliance with the far right may be, however disturbing the actions of figures like Heimbach, we’re still a significant way from the birth of a true national fascist movement, even if the Times’s Roger Cohen can already write a column headlined “Trump’s Weimar America.” (“Welcome to Weimar America: It’s getting restive in the beer halls. People are sick of politics as usual. They want blunt talk. They want answers.”) As of yet, Trump has not tried to fuse his far-right allies into a genuine movement — though he has started using the term “movement” — or a party, nor has he made any real effort to rally the country’s gun-owning right-wing militants into his own version of the SA. And he may never do so.

Keep in mind as well that an American-style fascist movement would hardly be a precise copy of either the German or the Italian models, or even of the parties currently building far-right movements in France, Hungary, Greece, and elsewhere. Nor would it copy the proto-fascist coalition of ultra-nationalists and religious zealots being courted by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. It would undoubtedly be a uniquely American creation.

Though Trump has managed to bring together disparate elements of what an American fascist movement might roughly look like, he may not, in the end, be quite the right messenger for its development, nor may this be quite the right moment for it to fully develop. Among other things, for such a movement and the armed militias that would go with it to coalesce, you might need another 2007/2008-style economic meltdown, a crisis long and profound enough for such a movement to seize the moment. In that case, of course, it’s also possible that a Bernie Sanders-like leftist or socialist — or maybe Sanders himself — would emerge to capture the ensuing political and economic unrest in a very different manner. But in The Donald’s America, don’t rule out the possible emergence of an even more formidable and threatening Trump-like figure, one unburdened by his clownish persona, Trump University, and the rest of his billionaire’s baggage.

Whether or not Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination or is elected president, for the gathering members of his grassroots coalition, he’s certainly shown what can, indeed, happen here.


Labor Protests Multiply in China as Economy Slows, Worrying Leaders

March 14, 2016

by Javier C. Hernandez

New York Times

GUANGZHOU, China — For nearly seven years, Li Wei rose before dawn for his 10-hour shift at the steel plant, returning home each night soaked in sweat, the clank of heavy machinery still ringing in his ears. But last month, the 31-year-old welder stood outside the plant with hundreds of co-workers, picketing against pay cuts and singing patriotic battle hymns.

Within a week, the authorities declared their strike illegal, threatening fines and imprisonment. The police descended on the plant by the hundreds, tearing down signs and ordering the protesters to go back to work. “I’ve sacrificed my life for this company,” Mr. Li told officers as they sought to disperse the workers. “How can you do this?”

As China’s economy slows after more than two decades of breakneck growth, strikes and labor protests have erupted across the country. Factories, mines and other businesses are withholding wages and benefits, laying off staff or shutting down altogether. Worried about their prospects in a gloomy job market, workers are fighting back with unusual ferocity.

Last week, hundreds if not thousands of angry employees of the state-owned Longmay Mining Group, the biggest coal company in northeastern China, staged one of the most politically daring protests over unpaid salaries yet, denouncing the provincial governor as he and other senior leaders gathered for an annual meeting in Beijing.

China Labor Bulletin, a labor rights group based in Hong Kong, recorded more than 2,700 strikes and protests last year, more than double the number in 2014. The strife appears to have intensified in recent months, with more than 500 protests in January alone.

Most demonstrations have refrained from political attacks and focused on grievances such as wage arrears, unpaid benefits like pension contributions and unsafe working conditions.

President Xi Jinping, concerned about challenges to the ruling Communist Party, has responded with a methodical crackdown, quashing protests, dismantling labor rights organizations and imprisoning activists. But his government has also sought to placate workers, putting pressure on businesses to settle disputes and making billions of dollars available for welfare payments and retraining programs.

The approach underlines the political dilemma that labor unrest poses for the Communist Party, which has continued to portray itself as a socialist guardian of worker’s rights even as it has embraced capitalism and welcomed tycoons into its ranks.

The tide of protests appears to be cresting as Mr. Xi contemplates a tremendous downsizing of China’s bloated state industries, which are producing much more steel, cement and other goods than the market needs. According to a recent study, more than three million workers could lose their jobs in the next two years if the cuts go through. The government has already announced plans to lay off 1.8 million steel and coal workers.

China trimmed the state sector of more than 30 million workers during a wave of privatization and restructuring during the late 1990s and early 2000s. But the economy was booming then, creating millions of jobs in new industries. It is still growing today, but at its slowest pace in a quarter century.

At the same time, Mr. Xi is grappling with a labor force that is better informed and more easily organized because of social media, and also more assertive, in part because of grass-roots rights groups that have emerged.

“This is probably the thing that keeps Xi Jinping up at night,” said Eli Friedman, a scholar at Cornell University who studies Chinese labor issues. “Governments are not swimming in money the way they used to be, and there’s less room to compromise.”

Here in the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China, several hundred workers at the state-owned Angang Lianzhong steel plant went on strike last month in response to a plan to decrease wages by as much as half and extend the workday to 12 hours for some employees.

“Toward the sun, toward freedom!” the workers chanted one morning as they demonstrated outside, reciting a World War II-era army song.

They used WeChat, a popular messaging app, to rally support and raise money to buy protest banners. In one widely shared post, they described how the authorities had tried to stop them from playing the national anthem on a loudspeaker. (Its first line is, “Rise, we who refuse to be slaves!”)

After the police broke up the strike, the plant promised to delay its planned wage cuts. But several workers said they had returned to work only because they feared punishment.“I lost hope that anything would change,” said Mr. Li, the welder, adding that he was anxious about finding a new job to support his wife and son.

Officials at the steel plant did not respond for requests for comment.

Guangdong, which manufactures much of the world’s toys, shoes, clothes and furniture, has been a hotbed of worker discontent. In recent months, many foreign-invested factories here have relocated to central China or Southeast Asia. Some have moved without making severance or pension payments, in violation of Chinese law. Last year, the province averaged more than one labor dispute a day, according to China Labor Bulletin.

Protests have been reported in every part of the country, with the strife most pronounced in the manufacturing and construction industries, which accounted for two-thirds of the demonstrations.

Most of the protests last year were against private employers. But the demonstrations last week in Shuangyashan, a mining town near the Russian border in Heilongjiang Province, suggest the unrest could spread to government-owned businesses if Mr. Xi pushes ahead with efforts to overhaul the economy by reining in state industries.

Miners and others there took to the streets complaining of unpaid wages after the provincial governor held up their company, Longmay, as an example of how state firms could be restructured without hurting workers. He made his remarks at the annual session of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress.

Longmay said in September that it planned to lay off 100,000 workers, eliminating about 40 percent of the work force at 42 mines.

Despite rising discontent, there have been few signs that a national labor movement might emerge.

The authorities have worked assiduously to block workers from joining forces.

The government prohibits workers from establishing independent labor unions, instead requiring they join only the party-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions. It is supposed to mediate labor disputes, but management usually chooses the workers who sit at the bargaining table.

The authorities have also clamped down on social media, shutting down accounts of labor activists, deleting news reports on strikes and monitoring chat forums for signs of collective action.

In recent years, a proliferation of nonprofit labor rights groups has sought to help workers negotiate contracts and maintain solidarity during strikes. The authorities had been mostly tolerant and sometimes treated them as allies in enforcing labor laws.

But as worker protests have become more frequent, bold and sophisticated, state security forces have tightened their grip. In December, the authorities arrested Zeng Feiyang, one of China’s most prominent labor organizers, accusing him of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” Three other activists were detained as well.

Mr. Zeng, 41, had orchestrated successful campaigns against influential factories and state-owned firms in Guangdong and tutored a generation of labor activists. After his arrest, state news outlets began a smear campaign, accusing him of hiring prostitutes, stealing from workers and conspiring with hostile foreign forces.In interviews, several activists said they had gone into hiding and were not taking up new cases. Mr. Zeng’s center here, once a bustling meeting place for workers, now sits empty with a new security camera above its front door.

Wu Guijun, a labor activist in nearby Shenzhen, said he had started warning workers against holding demonstrations, for fear that they might be arrested, too.

“The environment has changed,” he said. “We need time to grow up. We can’t just die in the cradle. We have to change our strategy.”




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