TBR News September 4, 2018

Sep 04 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 4, 2018: “Like the tropical storm now bearing down on New Orleans, political and legal winds are now beginning to gain strength in Washington in particular and the nation in general. Bombast, lies and threats from our sitting President have sown the seeds of discord and disbelief and he is now about to reap the whirlwind of mounting public disapproval. If, as expected, Congress falls into the hands of the Democats in November, Trump will indeed be nothing but the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness. Powerless, he can spend the rest of his term dreaming about groping women and alternatively, clogging Twitter with illiterate and meaningless rants.Sic transit Gloria mundi indeed.”



The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 13
  • Bob Woodward’s book details Trump’s chaotic and dysfunctional White House
  • ‘Good job Jeff’: Trump blames Sessions as Republicans charged before midterms
  • Kremlin dismisses Trump warning on Syria’s Idlib
  • Russia relaunches Idlib bombing campaign
  • Are We Making Elections Less Secure Just to Save Time?
  • Democrats protest as U.S. high court nominee’s chaotic hearing opens
  • The U.S. Military is Winning. No, Really, It Is!


Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 13

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018



  • May 28, 2017

“The massive TAX CUTS/REFORM that I have submitted is moving along in the process very well, actually ahead of schedule. Big benefits to all!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump hasn’t “submitted” anything on tax cuts or tax reform; his administration and Congress are trying to figure out a plan. It is not ahead of schedule: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged in April that they would not meet their original goal of passing a package in August. “It is fair to say it is probably delayed a bit because of the healthcare,” Mnuchin said.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times


“I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead – the Republicans will do much better!”

Source: Twitter

in fact: We allow Trump rhetorical license to call Obamacare “collapsing” and even “exploding,” though experts say neither is true. But it is plainly false to say the law is “dead.” While its marketplaces have problems, they are still functioning and providing insurance to millions; so is its Medicaid expansion.

Trump has repeated this claim 33 times



  • Jun 1, 2017

“Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: That estimate appeared to come from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study from before the Paris agreement was completed, according to an MIT publication; a coauthor of the study said it “also didn’t include all the eventual commitments to cut emissions by participating nations, or assume any continuation of those pledges beyond 2030,” the MIT Technology Review said. The same authors’ most recent study, which incorporated all of the pledges, offered an estimate of 0.6 degrees to 1.1 degrees Celsius, far higher than the 0.2 degrees Trump claimed.


“And exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The agreement does not create any legal liability, independent experts in environmental law have told various publications.


“Of course, the world’s top polluters have no affirmative obligations under the Green Fund, which we terminated.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: This is so misleading that we’re calling it false. The U.S. itself is one of the world’s top polluters, and nobody at all has any affirmative obligations under the Green Climate Fund. Trump creates the impression that the fund treats the U.S. more harshly than others though this is not the case.


“And nobody even knows where the (Green Climate Fund) money is going to. Nobody has been able to say, where is it going to?”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: There is a detailed list of funding recipients on the Fund’s very own website. Click the “Browse Projects” button and you can read all about them — a hydro project in Tajikistan, a flood management project in Samoa, a project to help farmers in Sri Lanka’s dry zone, and many more.


“…including funds raided out of America’s budget for the war against terrorism. That’s where they came. Believe me, they didn’t come from me. They came just before I came into office. Not good. And not good the way they took the money.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The Obama administration did not raid the anti-terror budget to make contributions to the Green Climate Fund. The Washington Post’s fact checkers report: “The U.S. contributions were paid out of the State Department’s Economic Support Fund, one of the foreign assistance programs to promote economic or political stability based on U.S. strategic interests. Republican lawmakers have criticized the use of this fund, saying Congress designated the money to prioritize security, human rights and other efforts unrelated to climate change. However, the payments were made with congressional notification and meetings with congressional staff.”


“The Green (Climate) Fund would likely obligate the United States to commit potentially tens of billions of dollars.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The Green Climate Fund, which helps poorer countries transition to cleaner energy, does not obligate the United States to do anything. The U.S. is free to determine its own voluntary contributions.


“Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: There is no tax bill at all. While Trump is seeking tax reform, no legislation has been written yet.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times


“The United States, under the Trump administration, will continue to be the cleanest and most environmentally friendly country on Earth.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The U.S. is not the cleanest country on Earth. For one, it is the world’s second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and the second-biggest per person among developed nations. It is not ranked first in variosus world rankings of air cleanliness.


“The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States wealth to other countries. At 1 percent growth, renewable sources of energy can meet some of our domestic demand, but at 3 or 4 percent growth, which I expect, we need all forms of available American energy, or our country will be at grave risk of brownouts and blackouts, our businesses will come to a halt in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: Experts say there is no grave risk of regular brownouts and blackouts if the U.S. remained in the Paris agreement and somehow achieved 3 per cent or 4 per cent economic growth; again, the agreement does not impose restrictions on the U.S. use of fossil fuels.


“We have among the most abundant energy reserves on the planet, sufficient to lift millions of America’s poorest workers out of poverty. Yet, under this agreement, we are effectively putting these reserves under lock and key, taking away the great wealth of our nation.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: Nothing in the Paris agreement prevents the U.S. from extracting fossil fuels.


“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020. Think of it: India can double their coal production. We’re supposed to get rid of ours. Even Europe is allowed to continue construction of coal plants.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: This is comprehensively false. The Paris agreement does not even mention coal, let alone prohibit the U.S. from building coal plants, or allow China to build hundreds of coal plants, or allow India to double coal production. Since the agreement lets each country voluntarily decide on its own targets for cutting emissions, each country gets to set its own coal policy. Moreover, China announced in January that it was cancelling its plan to build more than 100 additional coal plants. India has also been moving rapidly away from coal in favour of a government pivot to renewable energy.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times


“And the mines are starting to open up. We’re having a big opening in two weeks. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, so many places. A big opening of a brand-new mine. It’s unheard of. For many, many years, that hasn’t happened.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: Coal mining has been declining for decades, but it is false that no mines have opened “for many, many years”; one opened just in December in West Virginia. Also, while we’ll give Trump rhetorical license to call the upcoming Pennsylvania opening “big,” it is supposed to produce only about 70 to 100 jobs

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times


“Further, while the current agreement effectively blocks the development of clean coal in America, which it does…”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The Paris agreement does not even mention coal, let alone block coal development. The accord allows each country to set its own targets for reducing emissions.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times


“The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: There is just no evidence that any significant part of the world was cheering the deal because it damaged the United States. Diplomats cheered because it was a landmark accord on an issue widely regarded by most of the world’s governments as a serious problem.


“For example, under the agreement, China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years: 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. Not us.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The Paris accord does not give China any special permission to increase emissions for 13 years. The agreement allows every country involved to set its own targets for emissions reductions, so each country is given the same level of freedom. So where is Trump getting his “13 years” number? One of China’s voluntary targets was to hit peak emissions around 2030, 13 years from now. (Some data suggests China’s emissions are already declining.)

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times


“Not only does this deal subject our citizens to harsh economic restrictions, it fails to live up to our environmental ideals. As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States — which is what it does — the world’s leader in environmental protection, while imposing no meaningful obligations on the world’s leading polluters.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: All of this is incorrect. The Paris accord does not subject Americans to any “restrictions,” nor does it “punish” them: each participating country sets its own targets for cutting emissions, and there are no penalties for failing to meet those self-imposed goals. Nor does the deal privilege other leading polluters.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times


“Our attacks on terrorism are greatly stepped up — and you see that, you see it all over — from the previous administration, including getting many other countries to make major contributions to the fight against terror. Big, big contributions are being made by countries that weren’t doing so much in the form of contribution.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: There is no evidence that other countries have dramatically increased their contributions to the anti-terror fight since Trump took office


“I have just returned from a trip overseas where we concluded nearly $350 billion of military and economic development for the United States, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The economic agreements Trump concluded on his nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe will undoubtedly create some jobs, but there is no evidence that they might even possibly create hundreds of thousands. Most of the U.S. companies involved did not offer specific numbers; the Washington Post noted that “the only new jobs that have been announced will be in Saudi Arabia, where Lockheed Martin will employ 450 workers to manufacture Black Hawk helicopters.” Attempting to do the math, the New York Times could not figure out how the administration came up with its $350 billion figure.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times


“I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila.”

Source: Speech on Paris climate accord

in fact: The deadly Manila casino fire was not the act of a terrorist, according to the country’s authorities and relatives of the man. They said he was an indebted gambler.


Bob Woodward’s book details Trump’s chaotic and dysfunctional White House

‘Fear’ is based on hundreds of hours of conversations with key players according to the author, who uncovered the Watergate scandal

September 4, 2018

by Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian

The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, was so incensed by the behavior of Donald Trump that he privately described the president to other aides as an “idiot” and complained that they were in “Crazytown”, according to an incendiary new account of Trump’s presidency.

The unflattering portrait of Trump’s White House, in which the president is portrayed as being so gripped by paranoia over the ongoing Russian investigation that he is barely able to operate, is contained in ‘Fear’, the much-awaited book by Bob Woodward. A copy of the book was obtained days before its official release, by the Washington Post, which reported on several of its most arresting details on Tuesday.

Woodward’s depiction of the Trump administration strongly echoes the picture of chaos and pandemonium that was laid out earlier this year by Michael Wolff in his blockbuster, ‘Fire and Fury’. But given Woodward’s powerful journalistic brand from his seminal role in uncovering the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, through a series of insider portraits of a succession of presidents, ‘Fear’ is likely to carry an even greater punch.

The 448-page volume is based, Woodward said, on hundreds of hours of conversations with direct players, but only on an anonymous basis. Among the revelations was the way that Trump demeans his own senior advisers behind their backs. According to the Washington Post account of the book, the president used to mock his then national security adviser HR McMaster by impersonating him with a puffed-out chest.

Some insults were delivered to individuals’ faces. He apparently told the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, “I don’t trust you … you’re past your prime.”

Days after the nation mourned the death of the Arizona senator and Vietnam war hero John McCain, there are new bombshell disclosures about the depth of Trump’s disdain for the man. Woodward is reported to describe a dinner at which Trump told senior White House officials that McCain had been cowardly in getting himself released early from a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

The defense secretary, Jim Mattis, had to correct the president by pointing out that the truth was in fact the direct opposite – McCain had refused an offer of early release from his captors, out of solidarity with fellow prisoners.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of the Post’s rendition of Woodward’s book is the alarm it portrays among top national security officials about Trump’s lack of grip over world affairs. After one high-stakes meeting in January of the National Security Council over the North Korean missile threat, Mattis was so exasperated he told associates that the president had the understanding of a 10-year-old schoolchild.

Then there is the outburst attributed to John Kelly. Having called Trump an idiot, he is then said by Woodward to have lamented: “I don’t know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”


‘Good job Jeff’: Trump blames Sessions as Republicans charged before midterms

President says legal actions against ‘very popular’ congressmen have put victories in doubt

September 3, 2018

by Martin Pengelly in New York

The Guardian

Donald Trump has mounted another extraordinary attack on his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, blaming him for charges against two congressmen that he said jeopardised Republican chances in the forthcoming midterm elections.

On Monday afternoon, the president tweeted: “Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……

“….The Democrats, none of whom voted for Jeff Sessions, must love him now.”

In fact, one Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted for Sessions when he was confirmed as attorney general by a 52-47 vote in February 2017.

Trump did not name the congressmen he was talking about. But last month Duncan Hunter, a California representative, was charged with misuse of campaign funds while Chris Collins of New York was indicted for insider trading – over a share tip alleged to have been made in 2017, when Trump was in power.

The two men were Trump’s first supporters in the House. Hunter will run for re-election. Collins will step down.

Sessions, a former Alabama senator, was also one of the earliest supporters of Trump. But the president has attacked him repeatedly for his decision in March 2017 to recuse himself from oversight of the investigation into Russian election interference.

Sessions made that call after it was revealed he did not disclose to senators meetings with the Russian ambassador during the election campaign.

Trump indicated last week that he would fire Sessions after the midterm elections, a move some observers said might presage the firing of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, whose work on links between Trump aides and Moscow has circled ever closer to Trump’s inner sanctum.

Some senior Republicans have indicated they would accept a move against Sessions, which would echo the infamous “Saturday night massacre” carried out by Richard Nixon against top law enforcement officials during his downfall in 1973. Some have said they would not.

On Monday, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a frequent Trump critic, said: “The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice – one for the majority party and one for the minority party.

“These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began.”

Trump’s positive remarks about supporters charged with criminal wrongdoing echoed his comments about the case of Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who was convicted last month on eight counts of tax and bank fraud brought by Mueller’s team. Trump praised Manafort for not “flipping” to testify against him, and told Fox News he thought the practice, common in criminal cases, should “almost” be illegal.

The president has not spoken positively of Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and violating campaign finance law brought by federal prosecutors in New York. Cohen said Trump directed him to make payments to women who claim to have had affairs with him.

Trump’s implication that the Department of Justice runs politically motivated investigations is contrary to stated DoJ policy.

Sessions issued a rare response to Trump’s threats and abuse last month, saying in a statement: “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”

On Monday afternoon, Trump was at the White House after what appeared to be a trip to his golf course in Virginia was called off, with vehicles and secret service agents waiting. The Washington Post reported that he spent the day watching television.

He also tweeted about the FBI director he fired in May 2017, writing: “Same thing with Lyin’ James Comey. The Dems all hated him, wanted him out, thought he was disgusting – UNTIL I FIRED HIM! Immediately he became a wonderful man, a saint like figure in fact. Really sick!”

The firing of Comey, which led to the appointment of Mueller, is one aspect of the special counsel’s investigation of whether Trump has attempted to obstruct justice in the Russia affair. The attacks on Sessions are also under scrutiny.

Many election models predict that the Democrats will take back the House in November, with the votes of supporters eager to see Trump impeached.

Nonetheless, on Twitter later on Monday, Trump cheerfully anticipated a race for re-election in 2020 against a former Democratic presidential candidate.

“I see that John Kerry, the father of the now terminated Iran deal, is thinking of running for President,” he wrote, referring to the former secretary of state and 2004 nominee’s failure to deny such ambitions while being interviewed about his new memoir on CBS the day before.

“I should only be so lucky,” Trump wrote, “although the field that is currently assembling looks really good – FOR ME!”



Kremlin dismisses Trump warning on Syria’s Idlib

September 4, 2018

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin dismissed U.S. President Donald Trump’s warning to Syria not to launch an offensive in the rebel-held enclave of Idlib, saying on Tuesday that the area was a “nest of terrorism”.

Trump on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Iran and Russia not to “recklessly attack” the northwestern Syrian province, saying hundreds of thousands of people could be killed.

“Just to speak out with some warnings, without taking into account the very dangerous, negative potential for the whole situation in Syria, is probably not a full, comprehensive approach,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The presence of militants in Idlib was undermining the Syrian peace process and making the region a base for attacks on Russian forces in Syria, Peskov added.

“A fairly large group of terrorists has settled there and of course this leads to a general destabilization of the situation. It undermines attempts to bring the situation onto the track of a political-diplomatic settlement,” he said.

“We know that Syria’s armed forces are preparing to resolve this problem,” he added.

Russia resumed air strikes against insurgents in Idlib province on Tuesday after a hiatus of several weeks, according to a Syrian rebel and a war monitor.

A source has told Reuters that Assad is preparing a phased offensive to regain the province.

The situation around Idlib will be one of the main items on the agenda when the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey meet in Tehran this week, Peskov told reporters on a conference call, declining to elaborate further.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Katya Golubkova, Christian Lowe, Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean


Russia relaunches Idlib bombing campaign

With Tehran’s support, Moscow has renewed its airstrikes against the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. The UN told DW that the looming battle could create the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

September 4, 2018


The Kremlin restarted its bombing campaign on the Syrian city of Idlib on Tuesday, over objections from the United States. British-based watchdog the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported airstrikes against the city on Tuesday.

“Russian warplanes resumed bombing Idlib province after a 22-day pause,” said SOHR chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

The White House had warned that a “reckless attack” on one of the last rebel-held areas in the country would be a “grave humanitarian mistake” that could destabilize the peace process and kill thousands. Top US generals also cautioned that without more precise planning, Russia was risking the deaths of an untold number of civilians.

Iran, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it would also be helping remove militants from Idlib with the least amount of casualities possible.

“The situation in Idlib is sensitive,” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told state TV. “Our efforts are for…the exit of terrorists from Idlib to be carried out with the least human cost.”

Russia: US has no Syria strategy

Moscow responded by accusing the administration of President Donald Trump of lacking “a comprehensive approach” to the Syrian conflict and called Idlib a “a hornets’ nest of terrorists.”

In light of the strikes, Turkey announced that it was moving tanks to its border with Syria and reinforcing its observation posts near Idlib.

First seized from the government in March 2015, Idlib and the surrounding area is the last important chunk of territory in Syria held by rebels. Russia has been bombing the area intermittenly since September 2015.

‘The biggest catastrophe in decades’

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told DW that the looming battle for Idlib could prove to be the worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

“It could be the biggest humanitarian catastrophe we’ve seen for decades — certainly the biggest in the 21st century,” Lowcock said, having just returned from Syria.

Lowcock described how there are between 3 and 4 million people in the southwestern city, many of them refugees from other party of Syria, living in tents with no means of protection from shelling.


Are We Making Elections Less Secure Just to Save Time?

September 4, 2018

by Sam Biddle

The Intercept

Something strange happens on election night. With polls closing, American supporters of both parties briefly, intensely align as one: We all want to know who’s going to win, and we don’t want to wait one more minute. The ravenous national appetite for an immediate victor, pumped up by frenzied cable news coverage and now Twitter, means delivering hyper-updated results and projections before any official tally is available. But the technologies that help ferry lightning-quick results out of polling places and onto CNN are also some of the riskiest, experts say.

It’s been almost two years since Russian military hackers attempted to hijack computers used by both local election officials and VR Systems, an e-voting company that helps make Election Day possible in several key swing states. Since then, reports detailing the potent duo of inherent technical risk and abject negligence have made election security a national topic. In November, millions of Americans will vote again — but despite hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid poured into beefing up the security of your local polling station, tension between experts, corporations, and the status quo over what secure even means is leaving key questions unanswered: Should every single vote be recorded on paper, so there’s a physical trail to follow? Should every election be audited after the fact, as both a deterrent and check against fraud? And, in an age where basically everything else is online, should election equipment be allowed anywhere near the internet?

The commonsense answer to this last question — that sounds like a terrible idea — belies its complexity. On the one hand, the public now receives regular, uniform warnings from the intelligence community, Congress, and other entities privy to sensitive data: Bad actors abroad have and will continue to try to use computers to penetrate or disrupt our increasingly computerized vote. Just this past March, the Senate Intelligence Committee recommended that “[a]t a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability.” Given that a hacker on the other side of the planet will have trouble connecting to a box in Virginia that’s not connected to anything at all, it stands to reason that walling off these sensitive systems from the rest of the world will make them safer.

Tammy Patrick, a former Arizona election officer and current senior adviser at the Democracy Fund, which, like The Intercept, is funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, said that although she isn’t aware of a jurisdiction that “connects their voting equipment using Wi-Fi,” other wireless technologies are sometimes built in. Additionally, computers only one degree removed from the digital ballot boxes themselves will often connect to the internet, Patrick explained. “What does happen more frequently is that the vote storage unit may be removed [from the voting machine] and used to modem in results,” she said. Some election workers send vote tallies from tablets using Wi-Fi, while in other jurisdictions, poll workers come to centralized locations that have either hard-wired or wireless internet access. You can think of it as a sort of malware cross contamination, whereby a computer kept segregated from the internet is vulnerable nonetheless because of the internet-connected computers it comes into contact with. It’s the same basic concept that U.S. and Israeli hackers used to attack Iranian centrifuge computers that were technically walled off from the net.

Despite all these warnings, experts worry that wireless features — which could save a skilled hacker or other meddler the trouble of having to get physically close to the systems in question — are being pushed hard for reasons that just aren’t good enough, at a time when many other security issues remain unresolved. “At the local level, it is a serious struggle to get the basics right,” security researcher and cryptographer Kenneth White told The Intercept. “When we add in, for example, cellular or Wi-Fi connectivity to the actual voting equipment, it only makes security that much more difficult and the risk of compromise so much greater.”

According to one former federal election official who spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press, many states already employ wireless connections in one form or another and are loath to give them up now, even in the name of making the vote harder to hack. “Election officials do understand that it’s a security issue,” this person told The Intercept, “but this capability is already embedded into their election process and they rely upon it. Making that sort of logistical change to their process – during an election year – is arduous. This is especially true for results transmission on election night.”

Some voting machines allow preliminary results to be beamed to a county office using the same kind of modem found in smartphones, rather than being physically carried from each polling station. This means early results can be shared instantly — but it also means that the data is only as secure as the cellular company carrying it. Such connections, which not only transmit data but also receive it, provide yet another potential weak point that hackers could use to pry into a machine and compromise it. Wi-Fi skeptics like George Washington University computer science professor Poorvi Vora have argued that such vulnerabilities must be eliminated. “We have to reduce all opportunities for interference. Our systems are only as secure as their weakest links,” Vora wrote earlier this year on an election security email list maintained by NIST, the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

Modern voting systems — the equipment used to set up a ballot, cast votes, tabulate those votes, report them, and audit the entire process — are essentially just extremely specialized computers that, like your home laptop, run software, store inputs, and send outputs. As with any computer, it’s possible that some clever person can trick the machine into doing something it’s not supposed to, whether for a personal thrill or to serve a more sinister agenda.

Most methods of beefing up a computer’s security are accompanied by minor drawbacks: Putting a password on your phone means having to unlock it; anti-virus software on your computer will eat up some of its memory; and encrypting your email with PGP requires a small seminar on the fundamentals of cryptography. Securing the vote is a tradeoff like any other, and the wireless debate exposes a perennial tension: The easier we make it to run an election, the easier we may make it to meddle in that election.

Additionally, so much of the voting process, from registering voters to counting their ballots, now occurs digitally and across a patchwork of computers that rendering all these computers unable to talk to one another looks increasingly impractical. It’s also the case that many people involved in both the private-sector manufacturing and public-sector administration of elections want wireless connectivity for the same reasons you want it on your iPhone and laptop: It makes life a lot easier. Imagine you’re relying on wireless connections to administer an important vote, where delays and snags on Election Day could make your district the subject of humiliating headlines and local scorn.

“We don’t need to look far to see examples of what happens when a jurisdiction doesn’t report quickly,” Tammy Patrick cautioned. “When there are delays in reporting, it can jeopardize the reputation of the election official, their office, and call into question the legitimacy of the election itself — even when the delays are clearly documented and understood.” The former federal election official agreed, saying that the push for early results push is potentially perilous:

“In my opinion our nation is overly concerned with obtaining the results on election night. Election administrators will have already been putting in extreme overtime heading up to a larger general election. And now they must stay and continue to work after a 12-15 hour day to tabulate the results. These conditions can create an environment where corners are sometimes cut and mistakes made – although administrators work hard to prevent that from happening”

Disagreements over wireless electoral gear can get ugly. On the obscure email list run by NIST, where a diverse crowd of academics, private-sector executives, and voting officials are trying to hammer out voluntary election security guidelines, the wireless question is at an impasse.

In the exchange with Vora earlier this year, an executive at Votem, a company that sells smartphone voting software, scoffed at the demand for a blanket ban on election-related wireless as “lazy,” taking particular issue with “the idea that any of us in this discussion can possibly know enough about the future to say with certainty X technology should be banned or not.” (In a Votem blog post published a month earlier, the executive, David Wallick, wrote that the company’s “greatest challenge” was “pushing the envelope” with regard to technologies that make the public uncomfortable.)

Piling on, Bernie Hirsch, an executive at e-voting firm MicroVote, suggested that just like Wi-Fi, e-voting paper trails could be “hacked” by some malicious mailman — so why should one be forbidden while the other was left alone? Duncan Buell, a professor of computer science at the University of South Carolina, wasn’t amused, calling Hirsch’s response “at least hugely facetious and at worst a genuine troll.”

“Ballot corruption in a paper system involves complicit human actors on-site dealing with physical objects,” Buell noted. “As is well-known to all of us, corruption/disruption of electronic systems (ballot or otherwise) can be done without detection by almost anyone from almost anywhere on the planet.”

It’s not just vendors, loath to ban a feature today that they might be able to market tomorrow, who are pushing for wireless despite emphatic warnings against it. Running an election is an enormous, thankless undertaking, and being able to transmit data through the air means fewer steps required in person. On a recent conference call between NIST email list members, an election administrator in Texas argued that permitting wireless connections to their machines meant that they could turn them on remotely en route to the warehouse where they’re stored, saving everyone time spent standing around and waiting for computers to boot up, according call participants.

Although it’s possible to “harden” a wireless connection against an attacker for applications like this, doing so “is not child’s play and is the kind of thing that can be easily misconfigured,” cautioned Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist with the Center for Democracy & Technology and a scholar of voting insecurity. As with any kind of computer security, there are many, many opportunities for someone to quietly screw up. “There are stronger wireless protocols that could be used,” added cryptographer Kenneth White, “but they are considerably more difficult to administer and maintain.” Even the best security precautions on paper can be undone instantly by a single error, what White refers to as the “church basement volunteer problem.”

The desire to effortlessly beam unofficial election results “is definitely a real pressure” in the debate over wireless, agrees Hall. “Both voters and the press feel that there should be an almost immediate answer, when in fact the real answer takes 15 to 30 days in many places.” Patrick concurs, adding that “the pressure comes from all sides — media, candidates, parties, voters,” and that “no one is immune from wanting instant gratification, and perhaps catharsis.”

To White and many of his peers, there’s one simple takeaway: Get rid of as many of those screw-up opportunities as possible. “Do we want to assure the integrity of our votes or not? If we do, and we want it at scale, then paper-verifiable, electronic voting systems [are] our best path forward,” White said. “The less complex and connected we can make those systems, the more faith we can have that every citizen’s vote cast is recorded.”


Democrats protest as U.S. high court nominee’s chaotic hearing opens

September 4, 2018

by Lawrence Hurley


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, opened in chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats complained about Republicans blocking access to documents stemming from the nominee’s previous work in the White House under President George W. Bush.

News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh as he entered the hearing room. But moments after the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley opened the hearing, Democrats protested the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.

Several protesters also disrupted the opening of the hearing, with one shouting “this is a travesty of justice.” Security personnel removed a succession of demonstrators from the room.

“We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said, while Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity.”

“What are we trying to hide? Why are we rushing?” asked Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy.

Grassley ignored the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing, saying it was “out of order” and accused the Democrats of obstruction. Republican Senator John Cornyn accused Democrats of trying to conduct the hearing by “mob rule.”

Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating to the three years Kavanaugh, nominated by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. court, spent as staff secretary to Bush, a job that involved managing paper flow from advisers to the president. Kavanaugh held that job from 2003 to 2006.

“I think we ought to give the American people the opportunity to hear whether Judge Kavanaugh should be on the Supreme Court,” Grassley said.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal called the hearing a “charade” and “a mockery of our norms.”

Republicans also have released some but not all of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh’s two years as a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office prior to become staff secretary.

If confirmed by a Senate controlled narrowly by Trump’s fellow Republicans, Kavanaugh is expected to move the high court – which already had a conservative majority – further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block the confirmation of the conservative federal appeals court judge.

Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as audience members screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s senior Democrat, said 93 percent of documents from Kavanaugh’s White House tenure had not been given to senators and 96 percent not released to the public. “I really regret this but I think you have to understand the frustration” among Democrats,” she said.

Republicans have said that Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They have accused Democrats of seeking to delay the hearing for purely political reasons.

Republicans hold a slim Senate majority so they can approve Kavanaugh if they stay united. So far, there were no signs of defections, with the Senate likely to vote by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.

The hearing gives Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections.


“A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27. He is Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court. Trump last year appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch, part of his push to make the federal judiciary more conservative.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court’s liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Beyond social issues, Kavanaugh is also likely to face questions about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Kavanaugh spent four years working for Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who investigated former Democratic President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Kavanaugh also spent more than five years working for Bush.

As a judge, he has amassed a solidly conservative record since 2006 on the influential Washington-based appeals court.

With Senator John McCain’s death, the Republican Senate majority shrank to 50-49, but McCain’s replacement is likely be seated before a final vote on Kavanaugh, restoring the majority to 51-49 and providing the votes needed for confirmation.

Liberal activists have pinned their slim hopes to block Kavanaugh on two Republican senators who support abortion rights: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. So far, neither has indicated likelihood to oppose Kavanaugh.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Amanda Becker, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham


The U.S. Military is Winning. No, Really, It Is!

A Simple Equation Proves That the U.S. Armed Forces Have Triumphed in the War on Terror

September 4, 2018

by Nick Turse

Tom Dispatch

4,000,000,029,057. Remember that number. It’s going to come up again later.

But let’s begin with another number entirely: 145,000 — as in, 145,000 uniformed soldiers striding down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the number of troops who marched down that very street in May 1865 after the United States defeated the Confederate States of America. Similar legions of rifle-toting troops did the same after World War I ended with the defeat of Germany and its allies in 1918. And Sherman tanks rolling through the urban canyons of midtown Manhattan? That followed the triumph over the Axis in 1945. That’s what winning used to look like in America — star-spangled, soldier-clogged streets and victory parades.

Enthralled by a martial Bastille Day celebration while visiting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris in July 2017, President Trump called for just such a parade in Washington.  After its estimated cost reportedly ballooned from $10 million to as much as $92 million, the American Legion weighed in. That veterans association, which boasts 2.4 million members, issued an August statement suggesting that the planned parade should be put on hold “until such time as we can celebrate victory in the War on Terrorism and bring our military home.” Soon after, the president announced that he had canceled the parade and blamed local Washington officials for driving up the costs (even though he was evidently never briefed by the Pentagon on what its price tag might be).

The American Legion focused on the fiscal irresponsibility of Trump’s proposed march, but its postponement should have raised an even more significant question: What would “victory” in the war on terror even look like? What, in fact, constitutes an American military victory in the world today? Would it in any way resemble the end of the Civil War, or of the war to end all wars, or of the war that made that moniker obsolete? And here’s another question: Is victory a necessary prerequisite for a military parade?

The easiest of those questions to resolve is the last one and the American Legion should already know the answer. Members of that veterans group played key roles in a mammoth “We Support Our Boys in Vietnam” parade in New York City in 1967 and in a 1973 parade in that same city honoring veterans of that war. Then, 10 years after the last U.S. troops snuck out of South Vietnam — abandoning their allies and scrambling aboard helicopters as Saigon fell — the Big Apple would host yet another parade honoring Vietnam veterans, reportedly the largest such celebration in the city’s history. So, quite obviously, winning a war isn’t a prerequisite for a winning parade.

And that’s only one of many lessons the disastrous American War in Vietnam still offers us. More salient perhaps are those that highlight the limits of military might and destructive force on this planet or that focus on the ability of North Vietnam, a “little fourth-rate” country — to quote Henry Kissinger, the national security advisor of that moment — to best a superpower that had previously (with much assistance) defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan at the same time. The Vietnam War — and Kissinger — provide a useful lens through which to examine the remaining questions about victory and what it means today, but more on that later.

For the moment, just remember: 4,000,000,029,057, Vietnam War, Kissinger.

Peace in Our Time… or Some Time… or No Time

Now, let’s take a moment to consider the ur-conflict of the war on terror, Afghanistan, where the U.S. began battling the Taliban in October 2001. America’s victory there came with lightning speed. The next year, President George W. Bush announced that the group had been “defeated.” In 2004, the commander-in-chief reported that the Taliban was “no longer in existence.” Yet, somehow, they were. By 2011, General David Petraeus, then commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, claimed that his troops had “reversed the momentum of the Taliban.” Two years later, then-commander General Joseph Dunford spoke of “the inevitability of our success” there.

Last August, President Trump unveiled his “Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia.” Its “core pillar” was “a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions”; in other words, the “arbitrary timetables” for withdrawal of the Obama years were out. “We will push onward to victory with power in our hearts,” President Trump decreed. “America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out.”

The president also announced that he was putting that war squarely in the hands of the military. “Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles,” he announced. “They are won in the field drawing upon the judgment and expertise of wartime commanders and frontline soldiers acting in real time, with real authority, and with a clear mission to defeat the enemy.” The man given that authority was General John Nicholson who had, in fact, been running the American war there since 2016. The general was jubilant and within months agreed that the conflict had “turned the corner” (something, by the way, that Obama-era Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also claimed — in 2012).

Today, almost 17 years after the war began, two years after Nicholson took the reins, one year after Trump articulated his new plan, victory in any traditional sense is nowhere in sight. Despite spending around $900 billion in Afghanistan, as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction determined earlier this year, “between 2001 and 2017, U.S. government efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan mostly failed.” According to a July 30, 2018, report by that same inspector general, the Taliban was by then contesting control of or controlled about 44% of that country, while Afghan government control and influence over districts had declined by about 16% since Nicholson’s predecessor, General John Campbell, was in command.

And that was before, last month, the Taliban launched a large-scale attack on a provincial capital, Ghazni, a strategically important city, and held it for five days, while taking control of much of the province itself. Finally driven from the city, the Taliban promptly overran a military base in Baghlan Province during its withdrawal. And that was just one day after taking another Afghan military base. In fact, for the previous two months, the Taliban had overrun government checkpoints and outposts on a near-daily basis. And keep in mind that the Taliban is now only a fraction of the story. The U.S. set out to defeat it and al-Qaeda in 2001. Today, Washington faces exponentially more terror groups in Afghanistan — 21 in all, including an imported franchise from the Iraq War front, ISIS, that grew larger during Nicholson’s tenure.

Given this seemingly dismal state of affairs, you might wonder what happened to Nicholson. Was he cashiered? Fired, Apprentice-style? Quietly ushered out of Afghanistan in disgrace? Hardly. Like the 15 U.S. commanders who preceded him, the four-star general simply rotated out and, at his final press conference from the war zone late last month, was nothing if not upbeat.

“I believe the South Asia Strategy is the right approach. And now we see that approach delivering progress on reconciliation that we had not seen previously,” he announced. “We’ve also seen a clear progression in the Taliban’s public statements, from their 14 February letter to the American people to the recent Eid al-Adha message, where [Taliban leader] Emir Hibatullah acknowledged for the first time that negotiations will, quote, ‘ensure an end to the war,’ end quote.”

In the event that you missed those statements from a chastened Taliban on the threshold of begging for peace, let me quote from the opening of the latter missive, issued late last month:

“This year Eid­ al­-Adha approaches us as our Jihadi struggle against the American occupation is on the threshold of victory due to the help of Allah Almighty. The infidel invading forces have lost all will of combat, their strategy has failed, advanced technology and military equipment rendered useless, [the] sedition and corruption­-sowing group defeated, and the arrogant American generals have been compelled to bow to the Jihadic greatness of the Afghan nation.”

And those conciliatory statements of peace and reconciliation touted by Nicholson? The Taliban says that in order to end “this long war” the “lone option is to end the occupation of Afghanistan and nothing more.”

In June, the 17th American nominated to take command of the war, Lieutenant General Scott Miller, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee where Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grilled him on what he would do differently in order to bring the conflict to a conclusion. “I cannot guarantee you a timeline or an end date,” was Miller’s confident reply.

Did the senators then send him packing? Hardly. He was, in fact, easily confirmed and starts work this month. Nor is there any chance Congress will use its power of the purse to end the war. The 2019 budget request for U.S. operations in Afghanistan — topping out at $46.3 billion — will certainly be approved.


All of this seeming futility brings us back to the Vietnam War, Kissinger, and that magic number, 4,000,000,029,057 — as well as the question of what an American military victory would look like today. It might surprise you, but it turns out that winning wars is still possible and, perhaps even more surprising, the U.S. military seems to be doing just that.

Let me explain.

In Vietnam, that military aimed to “out-guerrilla the guerrilla.” It never did and the United States suffered a crushing defeat. Henry Kissinger — who presided over the last years of that conflict as national security advisor and then secretary of state — provided his own concise take on one of the core tenets of asymmetric warfare: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.” Perhaps because that eternally well-regarded but hapless statesman articulated it, that formula was bound — like so much else he touched — to crash and burn.

In this century, the United States has found a way to turn Kissinger’s martial maxim on its head and so rewrite the axioms of armed conflict. This redefinition can be proved by a simple equation:

0 + 1,000,000,000,000 + 17 +17 + 23,744 + 3,000,000,000,000 + 5 + 5,200 + 74 = 4,000,000,029,057

Expressed differently, the United States has not won a major conflict since 1945; has a trillion-dollar national security budget; has had 17 military commanders in the last 17 years in Afghanistan, a country plagued by 23,744 “security incidents” (the most ever recorded) in 2017 alone; has spent around $3 trillion, primarily on that war and the rest of the war on terror, including the ongoing conflict in Iraq, which then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld swore, in 2002, would be over in only “five days or five weeks or five months,” but where approximately 5,000 U.S. troops remain today; and yet 74% of the American people still express high confidence in the U.S. military.

Let the math and the implications wash over you for a moment. Such a calculus definitively disproves the notion that “the conventional army loses if it does not win.” It also helps answer the question of victory in the war on terror. It turns out that the U.S. military, whose budget and influence in Washington have only grown in these years, now wins simply by not losing — a multi-trillion-dollar conventional army held to the standards of success once applied only to under-armed, under-funded guerilla groups.

Unlike in the Vietnam War years, three presidents and the Pentagon, unbothered by fiscal constraints, substantive congressional opposition, or a significant antiwar movement, have been effectively pursuing this strategy, which requires nothing more than a steady supply of troops, contractors, and other assorted camp followers; an endless parade of Senate-sanctioned commanders; and an annual outlay of hundreds of billions of dollars. By these standards, Donald Trump’s open-ended, timetable-free “Strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia” may prove to be the winningest war plan ever. As he described it:

“From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

Think about that for a moment. Victory’s definition begins with “attacking our enemies” and ends with the prevention of possible terror attacks. Let me reiterate: “victory” is defined as “attacking our enemies.” Under President Trump’s strategy, it seems, every time the U.S. bombs or shells or shoots at a member of one of those 20-plus terror groups in Afghanistan, the U.S. is winning or, perhaps, has won. And this strategy is not specifically Afghan-centric. It can easily be applied to American warzones in the Middle East and Africa — anywhere, really.

Decades after the end of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military has finally solved the conundrum of how to “out-guerrilla the guerrilla.” And it couldn’t have been simpler. You just adopt the same definition of victory. As a result, a conventional army — at least the U.S. military — now loses only if it stops fighting. So long as unaccountable commanders wage benchmark-free wars without congressional constraint, the United States simply cannot lose. You can’t argue with the math. Call it the rule of 4,000,000,029,057.

That calculus and that sum also prove, quite clearly, that America’s beleaguered commander-in-chief has gotten a raw deal on his victory parade. With apologies to the American Legion, the U.S. military is now — under the new rules of warfare — triumphant and deserves the type of celebration proposed by President Trump. After almost two decades of warfare, the armed forces have lowered the bar for victory to the level of their enemy, the Taliban. What was once the mark of failure for a conventional army is now the benchmark for success. It’s a remarkable feat and deserving, at the very least, of furious flag-waving, ticker tape, and all the age-old trappings of victory.

No responses yet

Leave a Reply