Loose Cannon Goes Off Again, Blows Up Part of White House

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Detroit  What’s that famous Hunter Thompson line? Something like, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn profession,” I think. But, there I was, like much of the rest of America, with a 3 AM wake-up for a 515 AM flight, but unable to not read one article on-line after another in the Times, Wash Post, and Journal about the latest meltdown of government, as we have come to know it in good times and even bad, as we watch with our mouths open, the devaluation of the United States to the level of a banana republic except with bombs and one of the largest armies in the world. OMG!

In one day, still reeling from the political obtuseness and self-delusion that Democrats and the country would applaud his firing of FBI Director James Comey in the middle of the FBI’s investigation of his own political campaign, which has been a story spinning around in one version or another so much we’re all dizzy, we find out that President Trump in his braggadocio has blurted out secret intelligence about ISIS. Boom, the loose cannon fires at the White House!

And, he doesn’t blurt this out to the White House custodial staff or in the White House kitchen where the chef is frying him up a big, fat burger to go. Oh, no, he does this foolish chest thumping to the Russian Foreign Secretary and the Russia’s US Ambassador in the Oval Office in an oval office meeting where he had even barred any photos from US-based media, but did allow the Russian foreign office to broadcast video and pictures far and wide. Why, was he meeting with them now, well, as he curiously explained, he was doing it at the bidding of Russian president Putin. Let’s hope Putin at least said “pretty please.” Of course this intel was given to us by a Mid-Eastern ally, that turned out to be Israel, and we hadn’t bothered to tell them we no longer could be trusted to keep secrets, and it involved ISIS, and it just goes down hill from there. Boom, another cannonball hits the West Wing!

And, of course President Trump also intimates that he may be taping conversations and phone calls, and it turns out, and according to Trump Organization sources, that has been his m.o. for years and standard operating procedure in his business. But, oh no, of course Comey had done a contemporaneous memorandum and shared it with other senior FBI staff after his early February meeting with Trump, on what he saw as an effort by Trump to try to persuade him to terminate the FBI investigation of former General and ex-NSA chief Mike Flynn and his extralegal contacts with the Russians before and after the election. Whoops, someone opened a big can of whip-ass there! The President must have confused Comey and the FBI with some small-time contractor desperate for work on one of his old Atlantic City casino dream machines. And, the bombs were bursting in air, but our flag is still standing…hopefully.

But, what else would we have expected? Bizarrely, I’m minding my own business and reading The Economist as a diversion flying between Houston and Detroit and there’s a small box on one page distilling some points from an audience they were given with the President. Trump is talking about the economy and his so-called plans. He mentions that he wants to “prime the pump,” and then goes off of a riff about how much he likes that expression, asks whether the reporters have heard it before, and then in his profound ignorance he takes credit for coining the expression, “priming the pump.” Why not, it’s only been in common use since 1932. Who’s to know? Who’s to care? Another bomb. Not even funny, just a huge dud.

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Bungled Comey Firing Ignites Firestorm and Fear

New Orleans  Make a note: running a television reality show where you get to fire people abruptly is NOT good training for how to fire big-time government officials! Make a couple of notes that when your administration is being investigated by the top cop in the government, it’s going to look bad, very, very bad if you fire him abruptly in the middle of his investigation, with or without cause.

I don’t want to write anything about this. I don’t even want to think about it. In fact I can’t believe it’s really happening.

How is it even possible that the White House was so inept and tone deaf. Reports, though possibly self-serving indicate that Vice-President Pence, son-in-law and confident Jared Kushner, and press czar Sean Spicer, all green-lit this calamitous move, although Spicer to small credit did so after raising some cautions. Stephen Bannon, chief strategist and resident flamethrower, seems to have been the only one consulted in his small circle who advised waiting before firing. How could that not have been a clue? If it’s too hot for former Breitbart Bannon, it’s a scalding firestorm coming.

What do we really know in average Joe Citizen land, but James Comey as head of the FBI seems to have been moving from one bad judgment to another. The fact that he indicated in recent Congressional testimony that thinking he may have thrown the election to Trump through his various inexplicable actions about emails and investigations had made him “slightly nauseous,” pales in comparison to the life-support level of illness much of the country still feels over the election.

There is just so much smoke flying around all of this, especially with these latest shenanigans, that, it is becoming harder and harder not to believe there’s a smoldering fire that could burst out at any time. The cover story is one that would embarrass young children caught with their hands in the cookie jar, especially given that the letter seems undoubtedly written by the President himself to claim that he had been assured on three occasions by his former employee that he was not personally under investigation. Who in their right mind would write that? Who would see the draft and not raise a flag that this was the trigger to a bomb that would blow up in the White House’s face.

This to will pass. There will be peace in the valley some day. There will be happy days again in the future.

In the meantime it’s clear Trump and his hapless crew have now guaranteed that there will have to be an even more serious investigation of the Russian ties to the campaign and his staff, whether through a special prosecutor or some other mechanism. Sadly, that’s little comfort. Even as we might disagree, we desperately need to believe that competent, sober souls have their hands on the wheel of the US government, and sadly the lack of any continuing evidence that that exists has all of us walking with the dread of total panic ever present.

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Please enjoy Santiago by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Thanks to KABF.

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Trump Militarization of Domestic Policies Is Getting Scarier

London   It is getting harder and harder to deny that there is a very scary, highly uncomfortable pattern emerging around Trump’s domestic policies, and it involves a steady effort to federally militarize policy and policing. These are not tendencies, but firmly expressed proposals. Coupled with his increasing attacks on the institution and independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the court system, this adds up to something dangerous, even if I hesitate to call its name.

First, of course, we have the Trump immigration and deportation policies. The familiar outlines are well-known in all of their horror, but critical to these efforts, particularly in the light of the unwillingness of not only sanctuary cities, particularly in heavily populated immigrant areas, and already strapped local police forces unable to stretch themselves even thinner on unfunded federal mandates, is his proposal to hire an additional 10,000 immigration enforcement agents to speed up captures and deportations.

A second proposal surfaced in a press briefing that Trump’s press secretary held last week about the loosening standards, as the White House sees it, of drug enforcement. Sean Spicer was careful to say that Trump supports the continued use of medical marijuana for the relief of patients in pain, but that there needed to be a crackdown on federal marijuana laws being ignored in many urban jurisdictions. He indicated that they were likely to propose beefing up the federally controlled police force to do this by many thousands of officers, presumably referring to the agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

And, then there’s the blatant attacks and bullying of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he is excoriating as a threat to the American people, rather than a critical protector of our safety. Some of this seems triggered by reports that Press Secretary Spicer had leaned on the FBI to deny a story in the Times that he asked them to refute a story about the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian operatives before the election. They were scuffling to deny that one of their top dogs had been the source of the anonymous leak, and the Trump team wanted them to go public with their obsequiousness, which they refused. Trump has also been unhappy that the FBI is continuing to investigate the Russian-Trump campaign ties. This is a Steve Bannon-Brietbart.com playbook exercise of attack and disruption meant to realign and control the department.

Fortunately, Congress hasn’t approved the appropriations for either of these expanded police forces for Trump policies, but the lack of independence of the transactional Republican Congress gives me pause that they will slam the brakes down as hard as needed.

Add two new federal police force expansions and one effort to take control over the formally independent federal police force, and what do you get? It’s not jack boots and Stormtroopers, but it is also nothing good for democracy and the American people.

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Mountains or Molehills, the Vote Goes On

cv3sc7jvyaaota0Grenoble   The FBI is suddenly getting almost more press than either of the candidates for president in the USA.

Let me see if I can piece this together.

First, FBI Director James Comey releases a letter to Congressional committee chairs and second-in-commands that he is reopening the investigation to look at some more emails to see if there are any other violations of secrecy clearances. No other details given.

Then it emerges that there was a fierce struggle within the FBI and between the Justice Department and FBI over Comey having breached FBI policy by releasing this no-detail letter and inserting the department smack dab into the middle of the last two weeks of the election.

It also trickles out that the investigation is not of Hillary Clinton and some perfidy on her part, but into one of her chief aides and the fact that the aide’s estranged husband might have had access to some of the electronic devices in their apartment like computers or whatever.

America, make note to selves: hide all electronics from partners and family members. Self, having never used any of my companera’s electronics, reclaim my backup computer that she has been using in case she may have some secret emails on there that could bring the FBIs to our door some fine day.

Then after all hell is breaking loose they get around to asking a judge for a warrant to actually take a look at Clinton’s aide’s electronics to see if her ex, former Congressman Weiner, had stumbled onto anything and forgotten to include it in any sexting message to a teen somewhere in America.

America, note to selves: take away texting devices from teens.

America, another note to selves: good luck with that!

They finally get a warrant with a week to go until the election and it turns out they have to go through 650,000 emails. No one in America except Donald Trump believes that they can go through 650,000 emails by Election Day. Turns out they have a machine, yes, a machine, for that which can roll through this mess of emails to find secrets.

Maybe, but eventually human lawyers and the like will have to go through whatever the machine digs up, and figure out if anyone has actually broken any laws, and if so what laws these are, and whether they add up to a mountain or a molehill. And, even if a mountain, it now seems to be a smallish one at the feet of the Clinton aide, not of Hillary Clinton herself except in the most indirect way. By the way have you heard about the NSA guy that walked out of the building with all the hacking codes for foreign government websites without so much as a never mind? Oh, you’re right, that’s probably small potatoes next to this private email server thing.

Meanwhile, more than 22 million have voted. Early returns are saying that Democratic voters are coming in high in battlegrounds like North Carolina and Colorado. Polls indicate that the slippage from Clinton may be no more than 2 points, which isn’t nothing, but isn’t the difference between winning and losing. Experts are noting a “wall of opposition” that seems still un-scaleable for Trump in Virginia and Pennsylvania as well. Clinton’s momentum may have stopped in Iowa and Ohio, but Trump is running around desperate to find openings in places like Michigan and New Mexico, which are hard to imagine going his way.

Oh, and the FBI also has reported that they have not found a link between Trump and Russian agents only a long distance love affair, but that’s not illegal either, so what the heck.

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Were We Conned by Apple in the Privacy versus Security Dispute?

iphoneLittle Rock    Apple and its products are ubiquitous. No matter how much I might dislike the company and its historically elite and overpriced values, begrudgingly I have to admit that the IPod and even the IPads are hard to beat, which means hard not to own. With Steve Jobs gone and a new sheriff now running the world’s most valuable company, it seemed like maybe things might change. Tim Cook, the new dominant voice for the company as its CEO now, stood tall around same sex marriage for example, and seemed willing to look the government in the eye on a facedown over whether it would protect IPhone users’ privacy or work with the FBI to hack its own phone. He even did so in a tactical situation he could not have relished since the phone was owned by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Right or wrong, it seemed like the company might be getting a values injection, and that had to be a good thing, so even when the government claimed it was just another Apple marketing ploy to help their global image, I was inclined to root for Apple as a surprising underdog in the fight.

Now I’m not sure. Now it’s looking a little bit more like Apple may be the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The grand lawsuit between the government and Apple may be collapsing because some hacker group, and believe me, there are hundreds of them, uncharacteristically approached the FBI saying essentially, “We can crack open the IPhone for you, chief.” Over the next week the FBI now has to see if they are all boots and no cattle, or can really get into the phone.

Something didn’t feel right when the story broke. It must be some kind of violation of a cardinal hacker rule of outlaw ethics to go to the government with a fix? What was up?

It turns out that Apple is one of the only big tech companies that refuses to deal with hackers when they find a bug in its software. Microsoft, Facebook, Uber and almost all of the other big companies routinely encourage, which means pay, hackers for finding a bug in their software so that they can improve the security and patch it up. Apple it seems does not. Instead it claims to have the world’s best security and encryption system, but that’s all marketing because while also claiming they don’t want to get into a financial “arms race” of paying more and more to hackers, instead they have implicitly created a black market where hackers who break their codes can be paid even more by the bad guys who exploit the bugs, while Apple markets security without really providing it.

This case between the government and Apple falls apart if the hackers are able to open the IPhone as they claim, because the more than 100-year old law that allows the government to compel the company to comply is a last ditch thing available only if there are no other alternatives. The hacker community has stepped up and provided the potential alternative, which would make the case moot on a number of fronts. If it works, the FBI, meaning the government, will now be able to have its own backdoor to all IPhone users’ data, because they are under no obligation, once they have paid the hacker company, to tell Apple how to lock them out.

It seems that arrogance and unaccountability may still be a fundamental part of the Apple corporate culture and DNA. New boss is just the same as the old boss. The more things seem to change, the more they may be staying the same when it’s all about the dollar, even when the company has more dollars than any other company in the world that doesn’t mean it will loosen its grip, even if it means protecting their devoted cult of customers.

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Eric Clapton Can’t Let You Do It. Thanks to KABF.

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Apple Takes a Stand among the Silicon Valley Pygmies

50470_1_fbi-orders-apple-build-iphone-backdoor-cook-explainsNew Orleans   I’ve never been a big Apple fan. Sure we started with Apple IIe’s and then Macs back in the day, but as they upgraded, they priced us out both organizationally and personally. They scream 1% around the world. Then there was Steve Jobs who I found hard to love for his abusive handling of his co-workers, whatever else might be said about him. I just didn’t want to be part of a cult.

But to modify the old saw, the sun shines on an a different old dog every day, we might say, and Apple deserves praise for standing tall in the face of government intrusion, while so many of the Silicon Valley giants prove themselves to be pygmies when it matters. Even better, they didn’t pick an easy time to draw a line as they said, “no,” to a judge’s order to crack the contents of the San Bernardino terrorist and mass murderer in order to help the FBI on its appointed rounds. Predictably, the Republican yahoos running for president went wild on this issue, accusing Apple of everything possible including aiding and abetting ISIS, and equally predictably, the Democratic candidates buttoned their lips to see how the whole valley would react to Apple’s courage since that is a field they harvest in this season for huge campaign contributions.

Some of this issue is deep in the weeds past all of us techno-peasants to sort out, but Apple is saying that the FBI is asking them to create a “backdoor” in hacker-speak to break the encryption, while the government is saying, hey, dudes, do us a favor on just this one phone. Many find it incredible that the government couldn’t hack the phone, but they claim that they had to ask because they were up to the limit of ten tries before the phone would shut down, almost Mission Impossible style, and be past the point of return. Having recently been forced to refile a visa application to India because their website cancels everything after three unsuccessful efforts to pay them money, I am fully ready to believe almost anything is possible.

The back story turns out to be that this push-and-shove between the feds and techies has been going on at Apple for over a year with one request after another on beefs from drugs to whatever until finally my guess is the government figured they had a game changer where they could claim that national security trumps corporate interests. Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, stepped in and posted a letter to I-phone phreaks explaining that the company had refused the judge’s order and would fight the mess.

Experts believe that Apple may lose this battle, but will win the war. Cynics, and count me as one here too, believe that Apple will make megabucks whether it’s heads or tails. Now their global market will be protected because they are sending a message they are not America’s bitch, so cha-ching. And, if they lose, trust me all of the next gazillion upgrades will transfer encryption breaks to customer controlled password protections, so that there will be no back door possibilities without the customer’s permission, thereby absolving Apple in the future, and transferring the problem and permission to the phone holder to protect or yield on their own privacy. Oh, and forcing Apple fans to buy one of these new up-to-date super-encryption protected phones as well. Cha-Ching!

As for the rest of Silicon Valley,Twitter and Google kinda-sorta sided with Cook and Apple without mentioning their names, and Facebook and Amazon, big boys with command-and-control issues decided to hide out and hoped that no one notices they are big fat chickens, cluck, cluck, clucking too afraid to cross or draw any line on the road.

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Please enjoy Lucinda Williams’ Dust. Thanks to KABF.

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