Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Roots of America's Political Polarization

While we might draw a reasonable conclusion that the political divide in America is the worst that it has been in our collective lifetimes and that much of the divisive hysteria began with the 2016 election of Donald Trump, history shows us that this conclusion isn't entirely valid.  If we look back 25 years, we can track the genesis of the partisan hyperbole that infects Washington and the greater United States.

Back in 1990, then Republican Whip and future Speaker of the House Newt Gingerich was the general chairman (with former president Gerald Ford as Honorary Chairman) of a conservative Republican group, GOPAC, a combination of G.O.P. for the Grand Old Party and P.A.C. for political action committee even though it was not legally a political action committee and, under law, was not supposed to be engaging in federal election campaigns. GOPAC was touted as a "new citizens' movement in America" and took significant steps to ensure that Republican members would be elected in the next general election, resulting in a governing majority that would result in a United States that was formed around conservative principles.

Here is letter dated May 31, 1990 from Newt Gingrich to Tim Robertson of the Family Channel, then owned by Pat Robertson of the conservative Christian ideology, who was donating one hour of airtime per month to GOPAC under the auspices of the "American Citizens' Television" or ACTV, a project of the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation (a 501(c)3 organization):

Here is a copy of a mailout that explains ACTV and how American voters could get involved:

Here is a copy of a letter from Newt Gingerich drumming up support for GOPAC:

Here is an excerpt from a GOPAC focus group research project from July 1990:

The conclusion of the focus group stated that younger voters are the right target group for a majority strategy and that "political theory and language needs to be effective with them if it is to be effective at all".

In 1992, GOPAC started a project called "Change Congress NOW!"  Here is an excerpt from a memo dated October 26th, 1993 from Newt Gingerich regarding GOPAC, addressed to new members of his staff:

We are going to renew American civilization

We are going to replace the welfare state

We are going to elect a Republican majority in the House.

Here are the notes for a speech that Newt Gingerich gave to the National Review Institute on January 23, 1993:

Now, most importantly and the main point of this posting, here is an excerpt from a GOPAC memo entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" that was distributed to Republican candidates across the nation for the 1996 election:

"As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that "language matters." In the video "We are a Majority," Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt."

   That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.

  This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.

  While the list could be the size of the latest "College Edition" dictionary, we have attempted to keep it small enough to be readily useful yet large enough to be broadly functional. The list is divided into two sections: Optimistic Positive Governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community (your message) and Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic party.

  Please let us know if you have any other suggestions or additions. We would also like to know how you use the list. Call us at GOPAC or write with your suggestions and comments. We may include them in the next tape mailing so that others can benefit from your knowledge and experience."

Let's focus on the words (i.e the "contrasting words" that were recommended to define Democrats, their legislative record, their proposals and their party as a whole:

abuse of power
anti- (issue): flag, family, child, jobs
"compassion" is not enough
criminal rights
failure (fail)
permissive attitude
punish (poor ...)
red tape
status quo
urgent (cy)

In case you were curious, here are screen captures showing all four pages of the original GOPAC document

GOPAC was quite aware that language, particularly inflammatory language, had a significant impact on the voting public.  As you can see, many of these words are divisive, particularly a word like "traitor".  Mr. Gingerich's goal was to characterize his political opponents as enemies, a strategy that ultimately ended up undermining public trust in Congress and making it difficult for both sides of the political spectrum to meet in the middle and actually accomplish important legislative matters.

In today's "win at any cost" politics, Mr. Gingerich and GOPAC's tactics look positively tame.  That said, the political tactics adopted in the early- and mid-1990s set the stage for the political polarization, partisan divisions and hyperbole that are plaguing American political theatre today.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Mike Pompeo on Latin America - Waging Peace?

In a recent interview with Christina Londono of Telemundo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clearly showed America's "cards" when it comes to Venezuela and Nicaragua, two nations that are part of John Bolton's Troika of Tyranny as outlined here:

"Yet today, in this Hemisphere, we are also confronted once again with the destructive forces of oppression, socialism, and totalitarianism.

In Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, we see the perils of poisonous ideologies left unchecked, and the dangers of domination and suppression.

This afternoon, I am here to deliver a clear message from the President of the United States on our policy toward these three regimes.

Under this administration, we will no longer appease dictators and despots near our shores.

We will not reward firing squads, torturers, and murderers.

We will champion the independence and liberty of our neighbors.

And this President, and his entire administration, will stand with the freedom fighters.

The Troika of Tyranny in this Hemisphere—Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua—has finally met its match." (my bold)

Here are some key excerpts from the Telemundo interview with Mr. Pompeo:

"I truly hope that the Maduro regime is listening, that they’re going to allow the Venezuelan people to receive food – I mean, it’s just crazy to be talking about a government, a leader who would deny food for his own people and medical care, and I hope he changes his mind. I hope he permits this to move forward. It’s a desperate need, one that has now begun to be met by the world. And what happens if he doesn’t I think the Venezuelan people will ultimately decide." (my bold)

Here is a brief very recent video showing the propaganda being fed to us about Venezuela and the real world situation on the ground according to Max Blumenthal:

Here is another one showing a government subsidized market:

One might almost think that CNN has drunk deeply from Washington's special flavour of Koolaid.

When asked if the United States was ready to give Venezuela an ultimatum or a time table for getting rid of their democratically elected President Maduro, here is what he had to say:

"One of the things the Trump administration’s been very clear about is we don’t show our hand. We don’t tell others what we may do. But I think the Maduro regime completely understands that America is committed to supporting President Guaido and the popular will of the Venezuelan people, and we’re going to be hard at it, not only today and tomorrow as this aid begins to move across the borders, but in the days and weeks and months that follow. This is an objective that we have set to help the Venezuelan people succeed, and we’re determined to achieve that outcome." (my bold)

Actually, to me, that pretty much looks like "showing our hand".

When asked about American assistance for the other two nations in Bolton's Troika of Tyranny, here is the exchange:

"SECRETARY POMPEO: President Trump’s administration has done so and will continue to do so not just in Venezuela but certainly Nicaragua and Cuba as well. And you see that. You see that in the policies. They’re very different from the previous administration. They recognize that these governments are treating their people harshly, presenting real risks, security risks to the people, privacy risks, denying them basic liberties. And these are not the kind of things that ought to happen in the Western Hemisphere, and the United States under President Trump is working diligently in not just Venezuela but each of those two countries to achieve good outcomes for those people. The people need to lead those efforts. I’m convinced that they are determined to do it as well. The American people will support them.

QUESTION: So you’re hoping for a domino effect?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I hope that each of those countries, that the citizens of those countries understand that the yoke of authoritarianism that has been foisted upon them is not necessary, that the corruption of those regimes is not necessary, that the bad behavior and difficult living conditions that those people find themselves in today is not necessary, that they can have a different life and that they’ll contribute their efforts, their goodwill, and their humanity towards achieving a better political situation, both in Venezuela and Nicaragua and Cuba as well." (my bolds)

If you happen to be interested, here is the video of the interview in its entirety.

In a January 2019 speech at The American University in Cairo, Mike Pompeo proudly made the following comment:

"In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word, and The Truth."

I guess he's conveniently forgotten this verse:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."  Matthew 5:9

Interestingly, the word "peace" is found 91 times in the New Testament.  But then again, I guess it all depends on your definition of "peace", doesn't it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Americans Biggest Problems

recent survey by Gallup looks at what Americans feel is the most important problem facing their nation, a question that Gallup has been asking Americans since 1939.  Let's take a look at the results which may not be a surprise some of my readers.

Here are the top ten problems facing the United States according to Americans:

1.) The Government/Poor Leadership/Politicians - 35 percent

2.) Immigration - 19 percent

3.) Healthcare - 6 percent

4.) Race Relations/Racism - 5 percent

5.) Unifying the Country - 4 percent

6.) Poverty/Hunger/Homelessness - 4 percent

7.) Environment/Pollution - 3 percent

8.) Ethics/Morals/Religious/Family Decline - 3 percent

9.) Federal Budget Deficit/Federal Debt - 3 percent

10.) Economy in General - 3 percent

According to Gallup, Americans have been increasingly likely to name the government and its leadership as the greatest problem facing the United States over the past ten years as shown on this graphic:

When breaking down the verbatim responses from the 35 percent of respondents who felt that government was the biggest problem, we find the following specific problems:

1.) Government gridlock and lack of cooperation - 18 percent

2.) Donald Trump - 11 percent

3.) Democrats/Liberals - 5 percent

4.) Congress - 1 percent

Since Gallup began asking respondents about the most important problem facing America back in 2001, few other issues have exceeded the 35 percent of Americans who currently feel that their government is the biggest problem facing their nation.  In fact, here three of the issues that have exceeded the 35 percent figure:

1.) After the attack of September 11, 2001, 46 percent of Americans believed that terrorism was the greatest problem (October 2001).

2.) During and after the financial crisis in 2008, 58 percent of Americans believed that the economy was the greatest problem (November 2008).

3.) In the aftermath of the Great Recession, 39 percent of Americans believed that unemployment/jobs were the greatest problem (September 2011).

Despite the political polarization that has gripped Washington and the nation as a whole, both Republicans and Democrats are likely to name government as America's biggest problem as shown here:

Some of the problems mentioned most frequently are Donald Trump (by Democrats and independents), Democrats/Liberals (by Republicans) and roughly half of both Republicans, Democrats and independents that point to the government as the biggest problem cite gridlock and a lack of bipartisanship and cooperation.

Unfortunately, the current occupiers of the hallowed halls of Washington believe that it is in the best interest of both themselves personally and their political party to ramp up the political rhetoric and further divide an already politically polarized nation.  Until Washington makes significant changes in its approach to the voting public, there will continue to be growing dissatisfaction with how politicians are playing the political game and growing distrust in the state as a whole.

Monday, February 25, 2019

YouTube Censorship in the Post-Truth Era

Recent developments from YouTube are particularly pertinent given that we live in a post-truth era.  On January 25, 2019, the following missive was posted on YouTube's official blog:

Note this paragraph:

"We’ll continue that work this year, including taking a closer look at how we can reduce the spread of content that comes close to—but doesn’t quite cross the line of—violating our Community Guidelines. To that end, we’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11." (my bold)

While the author of the posting makes this version of censorship seem rather benign by invoking the "earth is flat" and other conspiracy themes, it is quite clear that Google is taking steps to ensure that the narrative on its YouTube product follows its own, internal guidelines to which the rest of us are not privy.  According to YouTube, the videos that will fall off of its "recommended" list will be "selected" based on both human and artificial intelligence (machine learning).  With YouTube's recommendation algorithm generating more than 70 percent (700 million human  hours) of YouTube's video views every day, its recommendations are extremely influential on its users.   According to Guillaime Chaslot, the Ex-Google engineer who helped to build the artificial intelligence that is used to curate the recommended videos and one of the people behind AlgoTransparency, YouTube's artificial intelligence is designed to increase the amount of time that people spend on the YouTube site because it leads to more ad clicks, Google's almost exclusive source of billions of dollars in annual income.  Here is Guillaume Chaslot's Twitter thread regarding the subject:

Here is quote from an article that he wrote for Medium in March 2017:

"YouTube search and YouTube recommendation algorithm yield surprisingly different results in these examples, despite both algorithms using the same data. This shows that small differences in the algorithms can yield large differences in the results. Search is probably optimized more towards relevance, whereas recommendations might take watch time more into account.

Surprisingly, one can notice that “likes” and “dislikes” on a video have little impact on recommendations. For instance, many videos claiming Michelle Obama was “born a man” have more dislikes than likes, but are still highly recommended by YouTube. YouTube seems to put more weight in maximizing watch time than likes.

Hence, if “the earth is flat” keeps users online longer than “the earth is round”, this theory will be favored by the recommendation algorithm.

Once a conspiracy video is favored by the A.I., it gives an incentive to content creators to upload additional videos corroborating the conspiracy. In turn, those additional videos increase the retention statistics of the conspiracy. Next, the conspiracy gets recommended further.  Eventually, the large amount of videos favoring a conspiracy makes it appear more credible. 

The point here is not to pass judgement on YouTube. They’re not doing this on purpose, it’s an unintended consequence of the algorithm. But every single day, people watch more than one billion hours of YouTube content.  And because YouTube has a large impact on what people watch, it could also have a lot of power in curbing the spread of alternative news, and the first step to finding a solution is to measure it." (my bolds)

Note the use of the word "alternative news", a rather interesting turn of phrase in this "fake news" era.        

Note that this new process will currently only affect a "very small" number of videos in the United States but that Google plays to cool this change out to more countries over time.  Using Google's own "less than one percent of the content on YouTube" claim and given that, according to Omnicore, there are over 5 billion videos shared on YouTube, one percent is still a roughly 50 million videos that will still be available to users but will not appear on its recommended list meaning that it will be far less likely that they will be viewed, truthful or not.

Truth really is in the eye of the beholder and even more so in this post-truth era.  In this case, truth is defined by Google.  Given that over 1.9 billion logged-in users visit YouTube every month and that every day, people watch more that a billion hours of video, YouTube's narrative on what is "borderline content" and "alternative news" is highly influential.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Saudi Arabia and American Nuclear Technology - Another Tale of Unintended Consequences

This press release recently appeared on the website for the Committee on Oversight and Reform:

Here is the letter from the Committee that was sent to the White House regarding the matter:

It turns out that a number of anonymous whistleblowers came forward to warn the Committee about the apparent rush by some members of the White House staff to transfer highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia which may have been in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.

Here is the cover page of the Interim Staff Report for the Committee:

In the Executive Summary, we find these paragraphs:

"Within the United States, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia—a potential risk to U.S. national security absent adequate safeguards. These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia—and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his Administration to the present day."

It is important to keep in mind that under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act you will find this:

"No cooperation with any nation, group of nations or regional defense organization pursuant to section 53, 54a., 57, 64, 82, 91, 103, 104, or 144 shall be undertaken until–

a. the proposed agreement for cooperation has been submitted to the President, which proposed agreement shall include the terms, conditions, duration, nature, and scope of the cooperation; and shall include the following requirements:

(1) a guaranty by the cooperating party that safeguards as set forth in the agreement for cooperation will be maintained with respect to all nuclear materials and equipment transferred pursuant thereto, and with respect to all special nuclear material used in or produced through the use of such nuclear materials and equipment, so long as the material or equipment remains under the jurisdiction or control of the cooperating party, irrespective of the duration of other provisions in the agreement or whether the agreement is terminated or suspended for any reason;

(2) in the case of non-nuclear-weapon states, a requirement, as a condition of continued United States nuclear supply under the agreement for cooperation, that IAEA safeguards be maintained with respect to all nuclear materials in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of such state, under its jurisdiction, or carried out under its control anywhere;

(3) except in the case of those agreements for cooperation arranged pursuant to subsection 91c., a guaranty by the cooperating party that no nuclear materials and equipment or sensitive nuclear technology to be transferred pursuant to such agreement, and no special nuclear material produced through the use of any nuclear materials and equipment or sensitive nuclear technology transferred pursuant to such agreement, will be used for any nuclear explosive device, or for research on or development of any nuclear explosive device, or for any other military purpose." (my bolds)

Under Section 123, the United States government may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress.

As background and to help put this story into perspective, we have to look at a company called IP3 International (International Peace, Power and Prosperity) which is mentioned in the Committee's report.   Here is the company's mission statement:

IP3's goal is to revitalize America's flagging nuclear industry by exporting its expertise around the world.

Here are three screen captures showing the heavy involvement of former United States military personnel in the leadership of the company:

Can we say "Deep State"?  Mike Rogers is a former Congressman from Michigan's Eighth District and was an officer in the U.S. Army and FBI special agent.  John Tanner is a former Congressman from Tennessee's Eighth District and served in the Tennessee Army National Guard where he achieved the rank of Colonel.  According to the Committee report, over the period from June 2016 to December 2016, General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor was also serving as an "advisor" to one of IP3's subsidiaries, IronBridge Group Inc.  Frances Fragos Townsend whose name you will see later in this posting served as an Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and chaired the Homeland Security Council from May 2004 to January 2008. She served as Deputy National Security Advisor for Combatting Terrorism from 2003 until 2004. Prior to serving the President, she was the first Assistant Commandant for Intelligence for the U.S. Coast Guard.

In documents released with the Committee report, we find two very interesting emails.  The first one was emailed from Frances Fragos Townsend at IP3 to staff at the National Security Council on March 28th, 2017 and appears to be an overview of the Middle East Marshall Plan that is proposed by IP3, keeping in mind that the original Marshall Plan was a U.S. program that provided aid to Europe following the devastation wrought in Europe during Second World War:

You will note two interesting points:

1.) America's Middle East allies have a sense of abandonment by the U.S.  Russia has been moving aggressively to fill the void through military aggression, security dependence and energy cooperation.

2.) The JCPOA (nuclear agreement with Iran) has set into motion a new arms race where Sunni nations (Iran is Shia) will seek equivalency with Iranian nuclear capability.  Left unchecked, the potential for a "Mutually Assured Destruction" scenario could develop in the next ten years.

One of the key goals of the plan is to "Make America Great Again in Nuclear Energy" (an appeal to Donald Trump) and reestablish U.S. commercial nuclear supplier base.  The authors claim that the Middle East Nuclear Marshall Plan will create 500,000 highly skilled jobs for workers in the Middle East and will create 200,000 jobs and $350 billion jobs in revenue in the United States.  It will also reposition the United States as the preeminent partner in the Middle East, countering the expansionist plans of Russia and China in the region.

Here is the second emailed document which was emailed from Bud McFarlane at IP3 to Micheal Flynn on January 28, 2017 that has been reformatted as a memorandum for Donald Trump:

In case you were wondering, the American companies involved in this project include Excelon Corporation, Toshiba Energy, Bechtel Corporation, Centrus, GE Power and Siemens USA according to this emailed document to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from Frances Fragos Townsend at IP3: 

Let's close with this final quote from the Committee report:

"However, experts worry that transferring sensitive U.S. nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman conceded this point in 2018, proclaiming: “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” (my bold)

Even though IP3 is touting the project as a "prosperity project" for the Middle East as a whole and as a part of Donald Trump's plan to Make America Great Again and given that Washington's global agenda is almost always accompanied by a wide range of unintended consequences, we can pretty much be assured that the transfer of America's nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia will result in the creation of yet another nuclear power, Saudi Arabia.  This will further upset the delicate balance that has kept the Middle East from ending up in a widespread regional war since the 1973 conflict in Israel.