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TBR News March 17, 2018

Mar 17 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. March 17, 2018:” When the legitimately elected leader of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbanez Guzmán, who was certainly not a communist, attempted after his election in November of 1950 to nationalize United Fruit Company holdings in his country, it took only a call from the directors of that company to launch a CIA-controlled internal revolt by the usual well-bribed military dissidents to topple the government. The reason given for this action was that the government was now in the hands of the dreaded communists and no doubt Mexico would fall next. The nationalization projects immediately stopped but when the CIA-designate government head, Castillo Armas, began to view them with some favor, he was immediately assassinated and the matter was permanently shelved.

While United Fruit Company was secure, the same could not be said of the general population of Guatemala which was subsequently plunged into a state of virtual anarchy. Units of the CIA-supported Guatemalan armed forces spent decades slaughtering anyone who even looked as if they could disagree with them. The legions of slaughtered peasants, which included women and children, were listed as communist agents in official reports to Congress which was then asked to vote higher appropriations to continue protecting the lives and sacred honor of their constituents.”


Table of Contents

  • Trump consultants harvested data from 50 million Facebook users: reports
  • How The New York Times Is Making War With Iran More Likely
  • Stormy Daniels threatened with $20m in damages by Trump attorney
  • The CIA’s Solution to an Inconvenient Problem
  • AIPAC is suddenly getting a lot of bad press, in Jewish papers and ‘Washington Post’
  • Miami bridge: Meeting over crack held hours before collapse
  • Was Bavaria’s rosy Virgin Mary another fish-stick Christ?
  • Nearly half of Americans will retire broke
  • How Cambridge Analytica turned Facebook ‘likes’ into a lucrative political tool
  • Russian “Researchers” Claim They Have Proved This Is An Alien Mummy


Trump consultants harvested data from 50 million Facebook users: reports

March 16, 2018

by David Ingram and Peter Henderson


(Reuters) – Data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from more than 50 million Facebook users in developing techniques to support President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, the New York Times and London’s Observer reported on Saturday.

The Massachusetts attorney general said her office was launching an investigation after the news reports.

“Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” Maura Healey said on Twitter in a post that linked to a Times report.

Facebook on Friday said it was suspending Cambridge Analytica after finding data privacy policies had been violated.

The newspapers, which cited former Cambridge Analytica employees, associates and documents, said the data breach was one of the largest in the history of Facebook Inc.

The Observer said Cambridge Analytica used the data, taken without authorization in early 2014, to build a software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

The newspaper quoted whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who helped set up Cambridge Analytica and worked with an academic at Cambridge University to obtain the data, as saying the system could profile individual voters to target them with personalized political advertisements.

The more than 50 million profiles represented about a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential U.S. voters, at the time, the Observer said.

“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis that the entire company was built on,” Wylie told the Observer.

The New York Times said interviews with a half-dozen former Cambridge Analytica employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, revealed it not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of it.

The Observer said the data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University.

Through Kogan’s company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use, the Observer said.

However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong, the newspaper said. It said Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends data to improve user experience in the app and barred it from being sold on or used for advertising.


Facebook said on Friday it had suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent group Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) after receiving reports they did not delete information about Facebook users that had been inappropriately shared. bit.ly/2FZU1Ir

A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica said GSR “was contractually committed by us to only obtain data in accordance with the UK Data Protection Act and to seek the informed consent of each respondent.”

“When it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR in line with Facebook’s terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR,” he said.

“We worked with Facebook over this period to ensure that they were satisfied that we had not knowingly breached any of Facebook’s terms of service and also provided a signed statement to confirm that all Facebook data and their derivatives had been deleted,” the spokesman said.

He said “no data from GSR was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.”

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Facebook did not mention the Trump campaign or any other campaigns in its statement.

“We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior,” Facebook said, adding that it was continuing to investigate the claims.

In a Twitter post, Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos called the news reports “important and powerful” but said it was “incorrect to call this a ‘breach’ under any reasonable definition of the term.”

“We can condemn this behavior while being accurate in our description of it,” he said.

Acknowledging an episode as a data breach can carry legal significance, as companies face a patchwork of state and federal requirements to notify customers and regulators when they detect that information has been compromised.


Trump’s campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in June 2016 and paid it more than $6.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission records.

On its website, Cambridge Analytica says it “provided the Donald J. Trump for President campaign with the expertise and insights that helped win the White House.”

Brad Parscale, who ran Trump’s digital ad operation in 2016 and is his 2020 re-election campaign manager, declined to comment on Friday.

In past interviews with Reuters, he has said Cambridge Analytica played a minor role as a contractor in the 2016 campaign, and that the campaign used voter data from a Republican-affiliated organization rather than Cambridge Analytica.

Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, said the case was “more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West” and showed the need for Congress to pass legislation to bring transparency and accountability to online political advertisements.

A source close to the congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign said the Trump campaign likely will need to address whether it was aware of Cambridge Analytica’s methods for obtaining its data or if the data was leveraged during the election.

The suspension means Cambridge Analytica and SCL cannot buy ads on the world’s largest social media network or administer pages belonging to clients, Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook vice president, said in a Twitter post.

Cambridge Analytica says it uses “behavioral microtargeting,” or combining analysis of people’s personalities with demographics, to predict and influence mass behavior. It says it has data on 220 million Americans, two-thirds of the U.S. population.



How The New York Times Is Making War With Iran More Likely

March 17, 2018

by Robert Wright

The Intercept

It’s not easy to say which country America will fight in its next ill-advised war. Iran? Or, assuming President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un don’t hit it off at their summit, North Korea? Maybe even Venezuela or Russia?

It’s easier to say what one of the major causes of the war will be: the failure by many Americans — notably politicians, journalists, think tankers, and other elites — to employ a specific mental power that we’re all capable of employing.

That power is called cognitive empathy, and it’s not what you might think. It doesn’t involve feeling people’s pain or even caring about their welfare. Emotional empathy is the kind of empathy that accomplishes those things. Cognitive empathy — sometimes called perspective taking — is a matter of seeing someone’s point of view: understanding how they’re processing information, how the world looks to them. Sounds unexceptional, I know — like the kind of thing you do every day. But there are at least two reasons cognitive empathy deserves more attention than it gets.

First, because the failure to exercise it lies behind two of the most dangerous kinds of misperceptions in international affairs: misreading a nation’s military moves as offensive when the nation itself considers them defensive, and viewing some national leaders as crazy or fanatical when in fact they’ll respond predictably to incentives if you understand their goals.

The second reason cognitive empathy deserves more attention is that, however simple it sounds, it can be hard to exercise. Somewhat like emotional empathy, cognitive empathy can shut down or open up depending on your relationship to the person in question — friend, rival, enemy, kin — and how you’re feeling about them at the moment.

And, to make matters worse, there’s this: In Washington, lots of money is being spent to keep us from exercising cognitive empathy. Important institutions, most notably some we misleadingly call “think tanks,” work to warp our vision. And the reality-distortion fields they generate can get powerful when the war drums start beating.

Consider, as a case study, a recent piece about Iran in the New York Times.

It was a front-page story — the lead article in the physical edition of the paper — written by Ben Hubbard, Isabel Kershner, and Anne Barnard. The headline, in the top-righthand corner of the front page, read, “Iran Building Up Militias in Syria to Menace Israel.”

Just about any expert on Iran would agree that, strictly speaking, this headline is accurate. However, a number of experts would add something that these three reporters failed to add: From Iran’s point of view, the purpose of menacing Israel may be to prevent war; having the capacity to inflict unacceptable damage on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv can be a way of keeping both Israel and the U.S. from attacking Iran.

You may have trouble understanding why Iran would fear an unprovoked attack. Most Americans don’t think of their country as wantonly aggressive and most Israelis don’t think of their country that way, either. But Israel has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran — and eight years ago assassinated Iranian scientists on Iranian soil. And America, for its part, has repeatedly signaled that it reserves the right to bomb Iran and that it would stand by Israel in the case of war with Iran.

Against the backdrop of Iranian history — including America’s support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, which produced hundreds of thousands of dead Iranians — it’s hardly surprising that Iran views both Israel and America as forces to be deterred; or that Iran sponsored anti-American Iraqi militias after a massive American military force invaded and occupied neighboring Iraq in 2003; or that when America and its allies armed Syrian rebels, thus turning a probably doomed insurrection into a full-scale civil war, Iran sent forces into Syria to save its longstanding ally, Bashar al-Assad’s regime, rather than see it toppled possibly by pro-American forces.

If you want this kind of insight into Iran’s perspective, I recommend avoiding the New York Times and checking out the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. There you’ll find a piece by Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, called “Iran Among the Ruins.”

Nasr writes that “the Israeli and U.S. militaries pose clear and present dangers to Iran.” He explains how this threat, along with hostile Arab neighbors and other perceived threats, has given rise to Iran’s policy of “forward defense.” He writes: “Although Iran’s rivals see the strategy of supporting nonstate military groups” — in Syria and Lebanon — “as an effort to export the revolution, the calculation behind it is utterly conventional.” Iran’s foreign policy, Nasr explains, is driven by national interest more than revolutionary fervor and “is far more pragmatic than many in the West comprehend.”

The New York Times reporters don’t seem to have consulted Nasr, or any of the other respected analysts who have similar views of Iran’s strategic perspective. The result is unbalanced reporting.

The Times piece tells us that Israel and the U.S. “fear Iran’s growing influence,” that Israel “fears that it could face a threat” from Iranian proxies in Syria, that “many Israelis” sense “danger,” and that Iran’s behavior “worries Israel.”

All true. But there’s no mention of Iranian “fears” or “worries” or perceived “danger.” There’s also no mention of what, from an Iranian perspective, is a glaring asymmetry: Iranians and Iranian proxies in Syria are there with the permission of Syria’s government. But when Israeli jets routinely enter Syrian airspace to bomb those proxies, Israel doesn’t have the government’s permission and so, is violating international law. So too with the American troops that are stationed in Syria without the government’s permission and that have fought against pro-Assad forces; this is illegal under any but the most tortured reading of international law.

Far from highlighting this asymmetry, the Times story could give the casual reader the idea that the asymmetry points in the other direction. The story opens with this sentence: “When an Iranian drone flew into Israeli airspace this month …” No mention of the fact that this incursion, apparently by a surveillance drone, not an armed drone, was such an aberration that some observers think it was accidental. And no mention of the many Israeli violations of Syrian airspace that had preceded it, sometimes with lethal consequences. (And, at the risk of getting too picky, no mention of the fact that the “Israeli airspace” the Times said was violated was actually over the Golan Heights, which under international law is Israeli-occupied Syrian territory.)

This unbalanced presentation isn’t surprising in light of the Times reporters’ choice of sources. They quote an American official and an Israeli official and a former Israeli official, but no Iranian officials or former officials. And their selection of D.C. think tanks to rely on for analysis doesn’t exactly skew to the left.

The first Washington think-tank expert quoted in the piece is Amir Toumaj from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. As John Judis noted in a Slate profile of this think tank several years ago, back when the Iran nuclear deal was taking shape, FDD’s “positions have closely tracked those of the Likud party and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — not just on the Iran deal, but on the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the desirability of a two-state solution.” In its original application for tax-exempt status, FDD — then called EMET, the Hebrew word for ‘truth’ — said its mission was “to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America and the public’s understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.” FDD has gotten funding from various far-right, “pro-Israel” donors, including Sheldon Adelson, who once seriously proposed dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran — just in the desert, he emphasized, to convey that “we mean business.”

So, naturally, when the New York Times is assembling a story about a conflict between Israel and Iran, it turns for impartial guidance to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

FDD does an impressive job of cultivating experts who can give journalists useful and sometimes hard-to-find information — and who, in return, get quoted a lot in the media. Almost invariably, the quotes strike a balance: They don’t overtly editorialize — and indeed are often defensible observations insofar as they go — yet they carry a subtle slant. The FDD quote in the Times piece is a good example: “The ultimate goal is, in the case of another war, to make Syria a new front between Israel, Hezbollah and Iran. They are making that not just a goal, but a reality.”

It’s no doubt true that if there’s a war with Israel, Iran would rather it not take place in Iran. But nowhere in the New York Times piece is there even consideration of the possibility that from Iran’s point of view the main point of robust proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon is to reduce the chances of war by deterring Israeli and American aggression.

I’m not saying we know that’s the case; I’m just saying this possibility is taken seriously by enough experts to warrant, say, 20 or 30 words in the course of a 1,700-word piece whose headline says Iran aims to “menace” Israel. Yet the Times piece never suggests that Iranian strategy could be aimed at reducing the threat to Iran by any means other than pushing the arena for war away from Iran’s borders.

The Times piece includes a powerful visual aid: a map of Syria showing lots of “long-term positions held by Iranian forces or their allies.” I have no idea how this data was gathered, so I guess we’ll have to trust the source. But if you look at the credit line, you’ll see that the source is the Institute for the Study of War, another D.C. think tank whose objectivity is dubious at best.

The Institute for the Study of War’s ideological profile is clear: Its board members have included various neoconservatives, such as Bill Kristol, and it has gotten money from neoconservative and otherwise hawkish donors (including, in fact, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies), as well as from defense contractors. The institute’s founder and president has argued for U.S.-backed regime change in Syria because, as she put it, the “security of the United States and its allies would be significantly enhanced if Assad fell and Iranian influence over Syria were removed.”

The Times piece does mention one D.C. think tank that isn’t ultra-hawkish. Near the end there’s a quote from an expert at the vaguely centrist Atlantic Council. But it turns out that this particular expert, Ali Alfoneh, was until 2016 at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and before that was at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute.

Alfoneh’s quote is: “Iran has realized that it is actually possible to maintain a front against Israel where there is no war but also no peace.” No mention of the fact that virtually all violent encounters between Israel and Iranian proxies in Syria — the incidents that have meant there is “no peace” — have been initiated by Israel, not the proxies.

The New York Times famously helped get America into the Iraq War with reporting, by Judith Miller and others, that relied heavily on neoconservative and other hawkish sources. This reporting helped keep us from understanding what was going on in Saddam Hussein’s head: He was trying to hold onto power in Iraq and save as much face as possible, not hide a secret weapons of mass destruction program.

This misreading was abetted not just by the Times, but by various media outlets and various think tanks, ranging from the American Enterprise Institute to the “liberal” Brookings Institution.

And now we’re repeating the exercise with Iran. Reporters from the Times and other media outlets are, like Miller, relying for “analysis” on sources that, in some cases, seem intent on drawing the U.S. into military conflict with Iran. And it’s not as if these sources are keeping their agenda hidden. A week before the Times piece ran, Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted in support of the idea that the U.S. military should attack “vulnerable Iranian forces” in Syria.

One reason the reality distortion field surrounding Iran has gotten so amped up is that Washington’s traditional source of funding for specifically anti-Iran talking points — far-right, “pro-Israel” donors — has increasingly been supplemented by money from Sunni Arab states that are Iran’s regional rivals. Another is that various players in the Trump administration have various reasons for favoring anti-Iran policies.

Still, Iran isn’t the only case of a media-abetted perceptual distortion that could bring war. The extent to which both North Korea’s and Russia’s behavior is defensively driven tends to get underplayed, and the craziness of their leaders — particularly in the case of Kim Jong-un but occasionally in the case of Russian President Vladimir Putin — tends to get overplayed.

In all of these cases — Iran, Russia, and North Korea — the problem is a lack of cognitive empathy, a failure to understand what’s going on inside the heads of adversaries. The good news is that cognitive empathy is often not as hard to muster as emotional empathy; you don’t have to try to feel sorry for leaders who have done horrible things. The bad news is that cognitive empathy is harder than it seems and can be impeded by activating such emotions as fear.

For that reason, it’s understandable that Israelis wouldn’t extend much cognitive empathy toward Iran. Given Israel’s history and the hostility it faces from various neighbors — and the way some Iranian leaders spout anti-Zionism talking points — it’s only natural that many Israelis and many of Israel’s most ardent American supporters dismiss as hopelessly naïve the idea I’ve put forth: That Iran, too, has deep fears about its security and these may explain some of its seemingly threatening behavior. By the same token, it’s understandable that people in Gaza and Lebanon who have endured massive and deadly Israeli military campaigns doubt the Israeli claim that these are motivated defensively, to preserve a security that feels tenuous.

“Think tanks” that actually deserve that name should help us transcend these and other tribal perspectives, not reinforce them; help strengthen, not impede, cognitive empathy. And so should journalists — even if impeding cognitive empathy is good for traffic and conveniently streamlines the reporting process.


Stormy Daniels threatened with $20m in damages by Trump attorney

Lawyer claims porn actor, who alleges affair with Trump, violated nondisclosure agreement as many as 20 times

March 17, 2018

by Edward Helmore in New York

The Guardian

Donald Trump’s lawyers are seeking $20m in damages from Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actor whose professional name is Stormy Daniels and who claims to have had an affair with the future president in 2006 and 2007.

A lawyer representing Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, claimed in federal court on Friday that Clifford had violated a nondisclosure agreement as many as 20 times.

Clifford has said she was secretly paid $130,000 to keep quiet. Cohen, who has said he was not reimbursed by the Trump Organisation or the Trump campaign for making the payment, has not explained what the payment was for or whether Trump was aware of it.

According to Friday’s filing with the US district court for the central district of California, Cohen now plans to force the dispute from state to federal court and into closed-door arbitration.

Trump has also obtained a restraining order against Clifford.

Clifford’s counsel, Michael Avenatti, said the threat to pursue his client for millions and efforts to force the matter under the cover of anonymity amounted to bullying.

“To put it simply – they want to hide the truth from the American people. We will oppose this effort at every turn,” Avenatti said.

“The fact that a sitting president is pursuing over $20m in bogus ‘damages’ against a private citizen, who is only trying to tell the public what really happened, is truly remarkable. Likely unprecedented in our history. We are not going away and we will not be intimidated by these threats.”

The latest turn in the dispute trails what promises to be an explosive CBS 60 Minutes’ interview with Clifford, scheduled for broadcast next Sunday.

This week, Avenatti claimed six other women had similar stories to tell, two of whom were similarly under nondisclosure agreements. He also said Clifford had been threatened.

Avenatti has claimed the nondisclosure agreement signed by his client is invalid because Trump failed to sign it too. If the courts determine the NDA is valid, the actor could face a penalty of $1m for each violation.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has rejected the notion that Trump approved the payment to Clifford. The White House has also denied Trump had an affair with Daniels.


The CIA’s Solution to an Inconvenient Problem

March 17, 2018

by Christian Jürs

William E. Colby, the son of an army officer, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on 4th January, 1920. He attended Princeton University graduated in 1940.

On 4 September 1973 President Richard Nixon appointed Colby as director of the CIA. When in 1975 both houses of Congress set up inquiries into the activities of the intelligence community, Colby handed over to the Senate committee chaired by Frank Church details of the CIA’s recent operations against the left-leaning government in Chile. The agency’s attempts to sabotage the Chilean economy had contributed to the downfall of South America’s oldest democracy and to the installation of a military dictatorship.

His testimony resulted in his predecessor, Richard Helms, being indicted for perjury. Colby was attacked by right-wing figures such as Barry Goldwater for supplying this information to the Frank Church and on 30 January 1976, President Gerald Ford replaced him with Admiral Stansfield Turner.

In retirement Colby published his memoirs ‘Honorable Men.’ This resulted in him being accused of making unauthorized disclosures, and was forced to pay a $10,000 fine in an out-of-court settlement.

According to his family and friends, William Colby was an extremely orderly man and thus the last moments of his life are out of character. The AP first misquoted Mrs. Colby as having spoken to her husband on the day of his death, stating he was not feeling well but was going canoeing anyway. Inital press reports ran “presumed drowned” from an “apparent boating accident” Colby’s wife rebutted the AP report The AP later reported that Mrs. Colby had said her husband was feeling fine and never mentioned any plans to go canoeing.

What he had done that evening was call his wife, said he planed to eat dinner, take a shower then go to bed.

Investigators suggest that he left his dinner (clams and white wine) went out in his canoe in the middle of the night on a rough and windy river without a lifejacket (not his usual routine) then had a heart attack, slipped into the water and drowned.

His body surfaced in the marsh near his home 1 week after he disapered. An autopsy suggested he drowned as a result of a heart attack or stroke…

Do you think the medical examiner had been spoken with?


AIPAC is suddenly getting a lot of bad press, in Jewish papers and ‘Washington Post’

March 16, 2018

by Philip Weiss


One pleasurable surprise of the AIPAC policy conference in early March — the leading Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — was how much bad press the organization got. It’s becoming almost fashionable to criticize the lobby for its enforcement of lockstep political support for Israel in Washington, and for its Soviet-style policy on access to the press.

These criticisms are finally showing up in the mainstream press. Reporters have been licensed by the injury mere high school students have done to another powerful lobby, the National Rifle Association. So maybe AIPAC is on the same path-to-pariah status, more than a decade after Walt and Mearsheimer published their book The Israel Lobby.

Here are a few items. Notable among them is a report in the Washington Post of all places saying that AIPAC was born to rally American Jews to stand shoulder to shoulder behind Israeli “lies” about a massacre of Palestinians, back in 1953. And two angry pieces in the Jewish press decrying AIPAC’s blackout policy on coverage of its gatherings.

First off, Gershon Baskin reports in the Jerusalem Post that a Maryland insurgent Democrat, Dr. Jerome Segal, is taking on Senator Ben Cardin, who voted against the Iran deal, because he is so pro-AIPAC. Baskin paints AIPAC as the NRA.

An interesting aspect of [Jerome] Segal’s candidacy is not only that he is challenging Senator Cardin, but that he is taking on AIPAC. Cardin is a kind of AIPAC “poster boy,” not only representing what AIPAC wants, but being on the front line of acting on behalf of AIPAC in the Senate. Segal believes that he will take the votes that supported Bernie Sanders (35% of the Democratic voters) and gain many other votes because the broad flow of American Jewish opinion is toward his Jewish Peace Lobby’s ideas and away from AIPAC’s blind support of Israel….

Segal presents himself as David to Cardin and AIPAC’s Goliath. Segal’s slogan is “if we beat AIPAC in Maryland, we can beat the NRA [National Rifle Association] in America.”..

Baskin is frank about AIPAC’s power (though he says, mistakenly imho, that the NRA is more powerful (Dems run against the NRA)):

Many members of Congress are simply afraid to ever challenge AIPAC, not because AIPAC puts so much money in the campaigns of everyone it supports, but because AIPAC’s strategy is also to target candidates that it doesn’t like and put huge amounts of money into their challengers’ campaigns. The candidates that AIPAC wants out usually don’t stand a chance.

And AIPAC is vulnerable because it has become the Trump lobby.

The AIPAC show of last week does not reflect the majority view of American Jewry. I believe that most of the thousands of participants at AIPAC were in fact Trump supporters.

Peter Beinart also says AIPAC is vulnerable, in a piece at the Atlantic site saying that AIPAC faces a “struggle to avoid the fate of the NRA.” Beinart says young Dems are alienated by AIPAC’s achievement: blocking criticism of the occupation. While rightwing Republicans are alienated by its lip service to the two-state solution.

AIPAC is conducting a remarkable experiment. It’s doubling down on bipartisanship and ideological diversity even as tectonic shifts in American politics and culture make that harder and harder…

It’s fascinating to watch, and it’s likely to fail…. It will fail because the thing about Israel that young liberals admire least is its half-century long policy of denying Palestinians in the West Bank basic rights like free movement, due process, and citizenship in the country in which they live—and entrenching that denial by building settlements where Jews enjoy rights that their Palestinian neighbors are denied. [AIPAC CEO Howard] Kohr’s endorsement of the two-state solution notwithstanding, AIPAC remains the most powerful force in American politics opposing pressure on Israel to end the occupation. Thus, young liberals can only embrace AIPAC if they place their support for Israel ahead of their opposition to its occupation.

There’s more of the NRA theme at Truthdig. Maj. Danny Sjursen, a former West Point instructor, laments on the death of the antiwar Democratic liberal congressperson, and rightly sees the lobby’s role in that transformation.

I nearly spit up my food the other day. Watching on C-SPAN as Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., gleefully attended a panel at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, I couldn’t help but wonder what has happened to the Democratic Party. The worst part is I like her, mostly. Look, I agree with Sen. Klobuchar on most domestic issues: health care, taxes and more. But she—a supposed liberal—and her mainstream Democratic colleagues are complicit in the perpetuation of America’s warfare state and neo-imperial interventionism. Sen. Klobuchar and other Democrats’ reflexive support for Israel is but a symptom of a larger disease in the party—tacit militarism.

AIPAC is a lobbying clique almost as savvy and definitely as effective as the NRA. Its meetings—well attended by mainstream Democrats and Republicans alike—serve as little more than an opportunity for Washington pols to kiss Benjamin Netanyahu’s ring and swear fealty to Israel. Most of the time, participants don’t dare utter the word “Palestinian.” That’d be untoward—Palestinians are the unacknowledged elephants in the room.

Sjursen laments Israel’s shadow over the U.S. image in the world.

The far right-wing Israeli government of Netanyahu, who is little more than a co-conspirator and enabler for America’s failed project in the Middle East, should be the last group “liberals” pander to…. For 50 years now, the Israeli military has divided, occupied and enabled the illegal settlement of sovereign Palestinian territory, keeping Arabs in limbo without citizenship or meaningful civil rights.

This is, so far as international law is concerned, a war crime. As such, unflinching American support for Israeli policy irreversibly damages the U.S. military’s reputation on the “Arab street.” I’ve seen it firsthand. In Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds and thousands of miles away from Jerusalem, captured prisoners and hospitable families alike constantly pointed to unfettered U.S. support for Israel and the plight of Palestinians when answering that naive and ubiquitous American question: “Why do they hate us?”

Speaking of war crimes, The Washington Post published an important piece on “The dark roots” of AIPAC, by Doug Rossinow, a teacher of history at the University of Oslo. Rossinow says that AIPAC has its origins in the 1953 effort by American Jews to explain away a massacre of Palestinians.

Rossinow describes AIPAC as “a huge factor in U.S. policy” and endorses Gideon Levy’s picture of the group as a “Jewish lobby” — it “welded a united front of American Jews in support of Israel, a unity that politicians have had to respect.”

The original leader of the lobby group, I.L. “Si” Kenen, found most of his political friends among liberal Democrats, Rossinow writes. Truman had of course endorsed the Jewish state, pushed by major Zionist donors; but Eisenhower bucked Israel on several occasions, including during the famous Qibya massacre in the West Bank in 1953 — when Ariel Sharon’s troops killed “more than 60 civilians indiscriminately in retaliation for the murder of a Jewish woman and her two children in Israel.”

Back then, Israel didn’t get away with human rights violations.

The outcry was sharp and wide.

Time magazine carried a shocking account of deliberate, even casual mass murder by Israeli soldiers at Qibya — “slouching . . . smoking and joking.” The New York Times ran extensive excerpts from a U.N. commission that refuted Israeli lies about the incident.

Qibya was the genesis of AIPAC, Rossinow asserts, as Israel supporters prepared “for any future shocks coming out of Israel.”

Aware Israel’s reputation in the United States had been tarnished, American Jewish supporters of Israel scrambled to mount a damage-control effort in late 1953 and early 1954.

And Jewish solidarity was key. Stalinist orthodoxy needed to be enforced. AIPAC’s predecessor did what the lobby does today, redlines the Jewish community (and even Americans for Peace Now marches along with its mouth shut).

Even before AZCPA [AIPAC predecessor, American Zionist Council for Public Affairs] appeared, Kenen and others labored to construct a united front among American Jewish groups in support of Israel amid the Qibya controversy. AZCPA strengthened that Jewish united front, which was impressively broad. ..

It showed that there was nothing Israel might do that would jeopardize American Jewish support. Indeed, to some in the Jewish community, the more disturbing Israeli behavior was, the more Israel needed their ardent advocacy….

The perception that AIPAC represents a consensus among American Jews has always been a key to its political influence, which explains the group’s sometimes seemingly outsized opposition to Jewish dissent from its line. “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” born in awful knowledge, has always existed to make Israeli realities and priorities palatable to Americans.

The worse things got, the louder were the Jewish voices. Denying “awful knowledge.” Imagine, that was in the Washington Post!

More dissent. The editors of the Jewish Week, angered by AIPAC’s stiffnecked policy on the press attending the most interesting sessions at the policy conference, refused to attend the conference. From “Why We Won’t Be at the AIPAC conference.”

Lobby leaders said that speakers and panelists at the conference may feel inhibited in expressing their views if members of the press were in the room. We countered that a conference with 20,000 attendees, and dozens of sessions with many hundreds of delegates, is by nature not conducive to keeping secrets, especially in the age of instant tweets and texts. If members of the press agreed to the ground rules of attending “off the record” sessions, it would allow the media to get a sense of the important give-and-take that takes place in these informative sessions without violating journalistic or AIPAC boundaries….

AIPAC has a long history of being wary of and less than friendly toward the press. Members of the press enter the AIPAC convention through a separate entrance and must be accompanied by staff to proceed to the main area where sessions are held — and even accompanied to the rest rooms at times. Such treatment doesn’t foster trust and mutual respect. AIPAC officials say the press is overly critical in its coverage of the lobby….

The editors also say that Israel is under fire, and so “AIPAC’s mandate of promoting bipartisan support for Israel is more vital than ever.” But the press policies are hurting that goal.

The Atlanta Jewish Times chimes in, deploring AIPAC’s policy and saying it was unable to cover an AIPAC gathering in Atlanta because it was off the record.

The perfect image of AIPAC’s wrongheaded attitude emerged Sunday, March 4, the first day of the Washington conference. Outside a session titled “Free Speech and Freedom of the Press in Israel” was this sign: “THIS SESSION IS OFF THE RECORD AND CLOSED TO THE PRESS.”

Sign outside a panel on press freedom at AIPAC, foto in Atlanta Jewish Week.

…AIPAC recently held its annual Atlanta community event at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens of The New York Times speaking. But you didn’t see any coverage in the AJT because everything AIPAC does locally is off the record.

It’s particularly aggravating when the speaker is a fellow member of the press, such as Stephens…

We suspect AIPAC just likes to maintain a sense of mystery that brings an aura of power and perhaps increases people’s desire to pay to see what’s inside.

In sum, the atmosphere is changing for AIPAC. People are more willing to criticize it in the press. A sea change in establishment attitudes is under way, I believe, though it will take a while…


Miami bridge: Meeting over crack held hours before collapse

March 17, 2018

BBC News

Florida officials were told “there were no safety concerns” about a crack in a Miami university bridge, hours before it collapsed killing six people.

Florida International University (FIU) said a meeting on Thursday morning involved the engineering and construction companies, as well as Florida’s transport department.

University officials say they were told that the crack “did not compromise the structural integrity” of the bridge.

It later fell on eight vehicles.

In a statement, the university said the “engineer of record” from the contractor FIGG gave a technical presentation regarding the crack.

‘Obviously the cracking is not good’

The 862-tonne, 174ft (53m) pedestrian bridge had been newly built the previous Saturday in just six hours. “FIU is about building bridges and student safety. This project accomplishes our mission beautifully,” the university had said in a press release.

On Thursday afternoon, it collapsed on top of an eight-lane motorway.

The following day it emerged that lead bridge engineer Denney Pate had warned of a crack in the structure in a voicemail left with the state’s department of transport two days before the disaster.

But the employee was away on assignment, and did not hear the message until after the bridge had fallen.

In his voicemail, Mr Pate had said there was no concern “from a safety perspective”.

But “obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done”, he said.

The voicemail made headlines when it was released by the transportation department – but there was no mention until Saturday of the meeting held on the morning of the collapse.

Cause of collapse still unclear

The US National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and has not yet determined what led to the bridge coming down.

“A crack in the bridge does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe,” Robert Accetta, an NTSB investigator, told the Miami Herald.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that workers had been tightening cables supporting the bridge at the time it collapsed.

The number of victims is thought likely to rise as workers clear the rubble from the 862-tonne structure, which was erected days before as a walkway for university students.

On Saturday, police said the bodies of three of the victims had been recovered from two cars and taken away for identification.

One other person died earlier in hospital, and several vehicles remain under the destroyed bridge.

Eight people were taken to hospital in the immediate aftermath of the incident.

Speaking on Saturday, police said they had “an idea of who is in the vehicles” but the victims had to be formally identified by medical examiners.

Students at FIU are planning a memorial vigil to be held on Wednesday


Was Bavaria’s rosy Virgin Mary another fish-stick Christ?

The Virgin Mary on an underpass wall? The face of Jesus on a fish stick? True believers have pointed out such “miracles” in unlikely places, but religious authorities say to treat holy apparitions with skepticism.

March 17, 2018

by Darko Janjevic


Pilgrims flocked to the Bavarian village of Unterflossing on Saturday to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary, whose 4:30 p.m. (1530 UTC) appearance had been foretold by the self-appointed prophet Salvatore Caputa. According to the Sicilian-born mystic, the mother of Christianity’s central figure had already visited the private chapel of St. Laurentius in Unterflossing last September. Those in attendance said they sensed her presence by the strong smell of roses.

The owner of the chapel, Otto Masszi, told the media that one woman even saw the Holy Mother and described her brown hair and blue velvet robe.

The Catholic Church has advised its clergy to stay away from Saturday’s event.

Even without the Vatican’s approval, many Catholics across the world visit sites that they believe to be graced with mysterious powers. Under the impression that the Virgin Mary had appeared in a salt stain on the wall, thousands of pilgrims worshipped at an underpass in Chicago in 2005. From 1996 to 2004, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to a stained-glass window that some saw Mary’s image in in Clearwater, Florida.

Only a handful of apparitions have been formally acknowledged by the Catholic Church’s officials. Most notably, the Vatican claims that Mary appeared in Mexico in the 16th century; in Lourdes, France, in the 1800s; and in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

In recent years, many internet users have also reported seeing the face of the Virgin Mary or Jesus in more mundane objects — such as their food. Some shared pictures of sandwiches, ice cream, tortillas and even potato chips. In Ontario, Canada, Fred Whan said a fish stick he cooked in 2003 showed the likeness of Christ.

Similarly, the Florida resident Diana Duyser believed that a piece of bread she toasted in 1994 had the face of Virgin Mary on it. In 2004, she sold the slice to the online casino GoldenPalace for $28,000.

The Catholic Church has procedures to probe whether sightings of the Virgin Mary are genuine. The Vatican advises bishops to set up commissions in their dioceses that include clergypeople, psychologists and doctors to investigate such incidents. The commissions were created after multiple reports of sightings of the Virgin Mary in the German town of Marpingen in 1999. After a six-year investigation, church officials said there was “justified doubt” about the sightings’ “supernatural character” and refused to officially confirm the apparitions.


Nearly half of Americans will retire broke

March 17, 2018


Some 42 percent of elderly US citizens have less than $10,000 put aside for their golden years, according to the report by a personal finance resource GoBankingRates, which polled over 1,000 adults last month.

The survey, carried out for the third consecutive year, suggests that a lack of planning and savings, along with a longer life expectancy, may shatter people’s retirement dreams. The California-based financial advisor also found out that the percentage of Americans with no savings at all had increased from 2016 through 2017.

Low salaries or lack of opportunities to earn more is identified as the key factor for 40.1 percent of the surveyed, while 24.9 percent told the personal finance site that they were already struggling to pay bills. Adults 65 and older annually spend almost $46,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 10.3 percent do not stash away money, as they don’t need any retirement savings.

The researcher commonly polls American adults, which are roughly divided into three groups: millennials, Generation X and baby boomers. The respondents are required to answer how much money they may save for retirement by their best estimate, choosing one of the suggested answers.

The latest poll reveals that at least 18 percent of millennials aged 18 to 34 have zero savings for retirement. Another 39 percent of respondents in this age group have less than $10,000 put aside.

However, the total number of millennials with nothing or less than $10,000 saved has reportedly dropped to 57 percent this year, from 71 percent in 2017. The percentage of this generation with $300,000 or more saved has increased to nine percent from five percent last year.

Respondents at the age of 55 or over comprise the highest percentage of those who have saved more than $300,000— 23 percent, but about one-third of them have less than $10,000 in savings. At the same time, Gen Xers, aged 35 to 44, are less likely to save, while people over 65 are the most likely to say they don’t have retirement savings because they used the money for an emergency.


How Cambridge Analytica turned Facebook ‘likes’ into a lucrative political tool

The algorithm used in the Facebook data breach trawled though personal data for information on sexual orientation, race, gender – and even intelligence and childhood trauma

March 17, 2018

by Carole Cadwalladr and Emma Graham-Harrison

The Guardian

The algorithm at the heart of the Facebook data breach sounds almost too dystopian to be real. It trawls through the most apparently trivial, throwaway postings –the “likes” users dole out as they browse the site – to gather sensitive personal information about sexual orientation, race, gender, even intelligence and childhood trauma.

A few dozen “likes” can give a strong prediction of which party a user will vote for, reveal their gender and whether their partner is likely to be a man or woman, provide powerful clues about whether their parents stayed together throughout their childhood and predict their vulnerability to substance abuse. And it can do all this without delving into personal messages, posts, status updates, photos or all the other information Facebook holds.

Some results may sound more like the result of updated online sleuthing than sophisticated data analysis; “liking” a political campaign page is little different from pinning a poster in a window.

But five years ago psychology researchers showed that far more complex traits could be deduced from patterns invisible to a human observer scanning through profiles. Just a few apparently random “likes” could form the basis for disturbingly complex character assessments.

When users liked “curly fries” and Sephora cosmetics, this was said to give clues to intelligence; “Hello Kitty” likes indicated political views; “Being confused after waking up from naps” was linked to sexuality. These were just some of the unexpected but consistent correlations noted in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in 2013. “Few users were associated with ‘likes’ explicitly revealing their attributes. For example, less than 5% of users labelled as gay were connected with explicitly gay groups, such as No H8 Campaign,” the peer-reviewed research found.

The researchers, Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell and Thore Graepel, saw the dystopian potential of the study and raised privacy concerns. At the time Facebook “likes” were public by default.

“The predictability of individual attributes from digital records of behaviour may have considerable negative implications, because it can easily be applied to large numbers of people without their individual consent and without them noticing,” they said.

“Commercial companies, governmental institutions, or even your Facebook friends could use software to infer attributes such as intelligence, sexual orientation or political views that an individual may not have intended to share.”

To some, that may have sounded like a business opportunity. By early 2014, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix had signed a deal with one of Kosinski’s Cambridge colleagues, lecturer Aleksandr Kogan, for a private commercial venture, separate from Kogan’s duties at the university, but echoing Kosinski’s work.

The academic had developed a Facebook app which featured a personality quiz, and Cambridge Analytica paid for people to take it, advertising on platforms such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

The app recorded the results of each quiz, collected data from the taker’s Facebook account – and, crucially, extracted the data of their Facebook friends as well.

The results were paired with each quiz-taker’s Facebook data to seek out patterns and build an algorithm to predict results for other Facebook users. Their friends’ profiles provided a testing ground for the formula and, more crucially, a resource that would make the algorithm politically valuable.

To be eligible to take the test the user had to have a Facebook account and be a US voter, so tens of millions of the profiles could be matched to electoral rolls. From an initial trial of 1,000 “seeders”, the researchers obtained 160,000 profiles – or about 160 per person. Eventually a few hundred thousand paid test-takers would be the key to data from a vast swath of US voters.

It was extremely attractive. It could also be deemed illicit, primarily because Kogan did not have permission to collect or use data for commercial purposes. His permission from Facebook to harvest profiles in large quantities was specifically restricted to academic use. And although the company at the time allowed apps to collect friend data, it was only for use in the context of Facebook itself, to encourage interaction. Selling data on, or putting it to other purposes, – including Cambridge Analytica’s political marketing – was strictly barred.

It also appears likely the project was breaking British data protection laws, which ban sale or use of personal data without consent. That includes cases where consent is given for one purpose but data is used for another.

The paid test-takers signed up to T&Cs, including collection of their own data, and Facebook’s default terms allowed their friends’ data to be collected by an app, unless their privacy settings allowed this. But none of them agreed to their data possibly being used to create a political marketing tool or to it being placed in a vast campaign database.

Kogan maintains everything he did was legal and says he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Facebook denies this was a data breach. Vice-president Paul Grewal said: “Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do, and we require the same from people who operate apps on Facebook. If these reports are true, it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”

The scale of the data collection Cambridge Analytica paid for was so large it triggered an automatic shutdown of the app’s ability to harvest profiles. But Kogan told a colleague he “spoke with an engineer” to get the restriction lifted and, within a day or two, work resumed.

Within months, Kogan and Cambridge Analytica had a database of millions of US voters that had its own algorithm to scan them, identifying likely political persuasions and personality traits. They could then decide who to target and craft their messages that was likely to appeal to them – a political approach known as “micro-targeting”.

Facebook announced on Friday that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform pending information over misuse of data related to this project.

Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by GSR and Cambridge Analytica was a data breach. It said in a statement that Kogan “gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels” but “did not subsequently abide by our rules” because he passed the information onto third parties.


Russian “Researchers” Claim They Have Proved This Is An Alien Mummy

March 13, 2018

by Alfredo Carpineti

IFL Science

Here we go again. Since it must not have had enough publicity last year, a Russian “research” team are rolling out their three-fingered alien mummy again. If you missed this clear-as-day hoax previously, let me summarize it for you.

A group of questionable scientists with a long history of pulling mummy hoaxes (such as this) discovered a mummy covered in a mysterious white powder with an elongated skull, six fingers, and six toes near the Nazca lines in Peru. Oh, and the mummy is definitely female since it is missing a Y chromosome. Because although it is an alien, their sex chromosomes are just like ours.

“Right now we are making a detailed analysis to see if the shape of the position of all the chromosomes, of all the amino acids, coincides with ours,” Konstantin Korotkov, a professor at the Russian National Research University, told website Sputnik. “It is a humanoid being, meaning that she also has 23 chromosomes like us.”

Where do we even start?

First of all, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes so each human has 46 chromosomes in total. Secondly, having 23 pairs doesn’t make you humanoid. The sable antelope and the Reeves’s muntjac both have the 23 pairs and they don’t look like us.

Next: Korotkov’s academic claims. He’s allegedly a professor at the prestigious National Research University. Too bad that a quick online search shows that he doesn’t work there. And this isn’t even a smear against him, it’s by his own admission. Although on his research profile, he also claims to be a professor at ITMO in the Department of Computer Engineering and Design, which doesn’t have him listed as an employee there either. But don’t worry about his livelihood, Korotkov also has a business selling cameras that can photograph souls for $850. Bargain.

The team claims the mummy is either 6,500 years old or 4,000, and Korotkov believes that the alien civilization it originated from was almost completely wiped out by either great floods or a comet. The evidence for it? Oh, don’t make me laugh. Where we’re going we don’t need any evidence.

“A handful of those who survived met savage tribes of prehistoric men and taught them handicrafts and farming. They mated with local women. They were three-fingered and this genetic feature could make itself evident in future generations,” Korotkov explained.

Ah, the classic “the proof will reveal itself in a few years (after I’ve made a quick buck) and I will be proved right then”.

No. If you were thoroughly debunked last time, don’t try and wheel out your hoax again.

And now an appeal. If you are planning a future similar alien hoax, please can you make sure your spokesperson is someone with a basic grasp of genetics? My blood pressure and I would appreciate tha

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