Abusing Science

Number 27 of a series

The above image is from an item posted to the Evolution 2.0 site. The page title is “Information Theory and the Trinity.”

Information Theory and the Trinity

Here is a transcription of the Facebook post.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb September 21, 2014

INFORMATION THEORY is the new central discipline. This graph was from 20y ago in the seminal book Cover and Thomas, as the field was starting to be defined. Now Information Theory has been expanded to swallow even more fields.

Born in, of all disciplines, Electrical Engineering, the field has progressively infiltrating probability theory, computer science, statistical physics, data science, gambling theory, ruin problems, complexity, even how one deals with knowledge, epistemology. It defines noise/signal, order/disorder, etc. It studies cellular automata. You can use it in theology (FREE WILL & algorithmic complexity). As I said, it is the MOTHER discipline.

I am certain much of Medicine will naturally grow to be a subset of it, both operationally, and in studying how the human body works: the latter is an information machine. Same with linguistics. Same with political “science”, same with… everything.

I am saying this because I figured out what the long 5th volume of the INCERTO will be. Cannot say now with any precision but it has to do with a variant of entropy as the core natural generator of Antifragility. [Revised to explain that it is not *replacing* other disciplines, just infiltrating them as the point was initially misunderstood…]

And that’s something to digest. You need to read the item, but here is the gist:

All communication systems that we know the origin of are designed. This suggests that consciousness comes first in the universe. Consciousness first, matter second. Not the other way around. (If anyone solves the Evolution 2.0 Prize, and I hope they do, they’ll solve it by starting with consciousness and working from there. My 2 cents.)

You cannot create messages or communication by blind material processes, so far as anyone knows thus far. Information always starts with consciousness. Which is the thesis of my Evolution 2.0 book.

What he is saying—see the diagram above—is that we marvel at the employment of DNA to encode and reproduce life forms, but DNA is merely the telephone line in a communication system. To explain the origin of the message (the structure of novel life forms) you need to invoke outside intelligence.

Perry Marshall is the author of the book and presumably the posting. He wants to stretch the analogy of an information transmission system into the Christian concept of the Trinity. It is a stretch too far.

The 6th Of June

Continuing from the 5th of June

The invasion of Normandy in 1944 was originally scheduled for 5 June. However, bad weather forced a one-day postponement. The HBO series Band of Brothers is based on the book by Stephen Ambrose. The series begins on 4 June 1944, and we see American troops of the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division, preparing to board their planes for the jump into France. Here is one getting a Mohawk haircut. They are scared but definitely in a fighting spirit.

One plays with his combat knife, twirling it about. He figures when he needs to use it some valuable instincts will kick in.

But Easy Company Commander First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan calls the men together and tells them to stand down for 24 hours.

The plot flashes back to 1942, when Easy Company forms up in basic training. One of the men from Easy Company, interviewed for the series, explains that bunches of people were signing up for military duty following our entry into the war, and nobody wanted any part of the Airborne when it was explained they would have to jump out of airplanes. But then it was explained there was $50 per month extra, and people clamored to get in. It has been explained the intense training was also a draw. People knew they were going into deadly combat and everybody wanted to know the person fighting beside him was trained and highly motivated.

But first they had to get past Lieutenant Sobel. The word martinet was coined for Sobel. Airborne troops needed tougher training and stricter standards, but we see Sobel applying discipline and retribution unnecessarily. He is shown as petty and vengeful. The men come to despise him.

He tricks his men into thinking they will have a day off, and he orders up a sumptuous meal. Halfway through the meal he orders the company to run the Currahee course, three miles up Currahee Hill and three miles back. A smudge on a gun sight costs a soldier his weekend pass. In fact, passes are canceled for entire company.

The men come out of training hating Sobel, but hardened. They make the required five jumps in one day and pin on their Airborne badges.

During field exercises Sobel’s lack of leadership ability shines through. He ignores the advice of cooler heads, such as Lieutenant Richard Winters, and orders his men forward, out of a concealed position. They are immediately confronted by “enemy” troops in ambush.

Then it’s to New York, where the men board a troop ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yards. At sea the men continue to discuss Sobel, and one observes Sobel is a Jew. Private Liebgott objects, noting that he is himself a Jew. The men of Easy Company are going to need to learn to get along.

In England intense combat training commences. The men are learning to kill.

Sobel, now a captain, continues to fail as a leader. Here the squad he is leading encounters a fence that is not supposed to be there. He is one grid square off his position. One of his men plays a cruel joke and shouts from concealment, imitating the voice of a commanding major. He orders Sobel to cut the fence, which Sobel does.

Winters’ squad reaches the the problem objective first, a T intersection in a road. Sobel’s squad comes trotting up late.

Sobel is reprimanded for cutting the fence. He is also informed the supposed major was in London at the time. His response is to take it out on Lieutenant Winters. He issues a change in schedule for a meeting, which change Winters does not receive. Then he prepares to discipline Winters for disobeying the order. Winters can lose a 48-hour pass in lieu of a court martial. Winters calls his bluff and prepares to confront Sobel in a military courtroom.

Non-commissioned officers in Easy Company rebel at this treatment, and they resign their ranks. It is an action that can earn them a firing squad. The 506th commanding officer, Colonel Sink, disciplines the rebels and expels one from the regiment.

But justice comes down like a hammer. Sink calls Sobel in and tells him he is being assigned to a jump training school.

Lieutenant Meehan assumes command of Easy Company, and jump training in England resumes. Winters returns from an exercise and brings Meehan into his confidence. He took a compass along in the previous exercise, and together the two plot the course of the flight. They figure the target, just a few days off, will be Normandy.

Sergeant Guarnere’s brother has been killed in fighting in Italy, and he learns about it on the night of 4 June. He develops an intense hatred for the enemy soldiers, a hatred that will spell out on invasion night.

It is the 5th of June, and in the fading light Lieutenant Winters helps each of his men in turn to their feet as they board the transport plane.

The sun sets late in England in June, and it is still daylight as the planes climb toward France.

Episode two of the series tells the story of the night parachute drop and the 6th of June. It begins with an interview with Richard Winters.

In the fading light the planes cross the Channel and into clouds over the target area. The men will jump just past midnight. Men who have never seen a shot fired in anger begin to witness shellfire coming up into the clouds.

Planes are hit and men die. Lieutenant Meehan’s plane is seen crashing into a hedgerow. There were no survivors.

We see Winters’ plane also hit, and the pilot switches on the green jump light to get the men out.

THEY JUMPED MUCH TOO LOW from planes that were flying much too fast. They were carrying far too much equipment and using an untested technique that turned out to be a major mistake. As they left the plane, the leg bags tore loose and hurtled to the ground, in nearly every case never to be seen again. Simultaneously, the prop blast tossed them this way and that. With all the extra weight and all the extra speed, when the chutes opened, the shock was more than they had ever experienced. Jumping at 500 feet, and even less, they hit the ground within seconds of the opening of the chute, so they hit hard. The men were black and blue for a week or more afterward as a result.

In a diary entry written a few days later, Lieutenant Winters tried to re-create his thoughts in those few seconds he was in the air: “We’re doing 150 MPH. O.K., let’s go. G-D, there goes my leg pack and every bit of equipment I have. Watch it, boy! Watch it! J-C, they’re trying to pick me up with those machine-guns. Slip, slip, try and keep close to that leg pack. There it lands beside the hedge. G-D that machine-gun. There’s a road, trees— hope I don’t [hit] them. Thump, well that wasn’t too bad, now let’s get out of this chute.”

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 95-96). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The first person Winters encounters on the ground is someone from another company.

Winters had come down on the edge of Ste. Mère-Eglise. He could see the big fire near the church, hear the church bell calling out the citizens to fight the fire. He could not find his leg bag. The only weapon he had was his bayonet, stuck into his boot. His first thought was to get away from the machine-gun and small arms fire in the church square. Just as he started off, a trooper landed close by. Winters helped him out of his chute, got a grenade from him, and said, “Let’s go back and find my leg bag.” The trooper hesitated. “Follow me,” Winters ordered and started off. A machine-gun opened up on them. “To hell with the bag,” Winters said. He set out to the north to bypass Ste. Mère-Eglise before turning east to the coast. In a few minutes, he saw some figures and used his cricket. He got a reassuring double click-clack from Sergeant Lipton.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 103). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Slowly the men of Easy Company come together. In the darkness they hear German soldiers approaching in a column with four horse-drawn wagons. Winters orders an ambush. But Guarnere, consumed by hatred, does not wait for the order to open fire. He rips into the unsuspecting Germans with his Thompson machine gun, and there is a melee of gunfire. No American troops are lost, but the attack takes a grim toll on the Germans.

“Good,” Winters answered. “I know where that is. I can take it from here.” He set out at the head of the group, objective Ste. Marie-du-Mont. They joined a bunch from the 502d. About 0300 hours they spotted a German patrol, four wagons coming down the road. They set up an ambush, and there Guarnere got his first revenge for his brother, as he blasted the lead wagons. The other two got away, but E Company took a few prisoners.

A German machine-gun opened fire on the group. When it did, the prisoners tried to jump the Americans. Guarnere shot them with his pistol. “No remorse,” he said when describing the incident forty-seven years later. “No pity. It was as easy as stepping on a bug.” After a pause, he added, “We are different people now than we were then.”

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 104-105). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The 6th of June was like any other day. Eventually the dawn breaks, and we see the men of Easy Company scouting about, dodging Germans, and looking to hook up.

The grim side of war comes to them, as they encounter the first dead American soldiers. There is no hesitating. They loot the bodies of weapons and ammunition, leaving the rest for graves registration.

We hear what sounds like freight trains passing overhead. These are shells from ships in the Channel. The beach invasion has started.

German soldiers are taken prisoner. One is from Eugene, Oregon. Don Malarkey is thunderstruck. He is from Astoria, about 100 miles away. How did a boy from Eugene wind up in the Wehrmacht? His family moved back to Germany, and he joined up in 1941.

Later we see Lieutenant Speirs walking back to where the prisoners were being held, and we hear machine gun fire. This is not something that is in the book.

With Meehan presumed dead, Winters takes over Easy company. We hear the sounds of heavy guns nearby. Just 200 yards away a German gun emplacement is pounding American troops on Utah Beach. Winters is to take a contingent and neutralize the guns.

It is an intense battle, and the first thing viewers are going to wonder is what was going on. Sixty Germans are manning a gun emplacement, gunners plus solders to mount guard. And nobody is sending out scouts to see if a company of American paratroopers is just beyond the trees? Anyhow, Winters positions his men, and they prepare to give the Germans a nasty surprise.

It is several intense minutes of close-quarter fighting. Americans are firing from behind bushes and from perches in trees, and machine gun fire from the Germans is stripping bark and twigs off the trees and kicking up dirt around the attackers. Winters draws first blood.

Winters placed his machine-guns (manned by Pvts. John Plesha and Walter Hendrix on one gun, Cleveland Petty and Joe Liebgott on the other) along the hedge leading up to the objective, with instructions to lay down covering fire. As Winters crawled forward to the jump-off position, he spotted a German helmet— the man was moving down the trench, crouched over, with only his head above ground. Winters took aim with his M-1 and squeezed off two shots, killing the Jerry.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 109). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Here the training paid off. “We fought as a team without standout stars,” Lipton said. “We were like a machine. We didn’t have anyone who leaped up and charged a machine-gun. We knocked it out or made it withdraw by maneuver and teamwork or mortar fire. We were smart; there weren’t many flashy heroics. We had learned that heroics was the way to get killed without getting the job done, and getting the job done was more important.”

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 110). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

But we see Malarkey in search of a Luger pistol. With bullets flying all over the place he dashes into open where a German soldier lies dead. No Luger. He makes it back to safety with bullets kicking up dirt around him.

It was here Winters lost his first man:

Pvt. John D. Hall of A Company joined the group. Winters ordered a charge on the third gun. Hall led the way, and got killed, but the gun was taken. Winters had three of his men secure it. With eleven men, he now controlled three 105s.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (p. 115). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

We see one of the unfathomable events that happen in combat. In the middle of the raging gunfight a luckless Andrew Hill stopped to ask directions.

Warrant Officer Andrew Hill, from regimental HQ, came up behind Lipton. “Where’s regimental HQ?” he shouted. “Back that way,” Lipton said, pointing to the rear. Hill raised his head to look. A bullet hit him in the forehead and came out behind his ear, killing him instantly.

Ambrose, Stephen E.. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (pp. 113-114). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

The 6th of June was like any other day. The sun came up, and the sun went down. The planet continued to spin on its axis oblivious of human foibles. That evening Lieutenant Winters gathered with some of his men in the back of a truck.

Utah Beach, unlike Omaha Beach, had seen few American casualties, less than 200. Shortly tanks, Jeeps, and trucks were rolling through. The fighting had just begun.

The series has ten episodes. Here are links to previous reviews:

Abusing Science

Number 25 of a series

Twenty-seven years ago I attended a presentation by health quack Charlotte Gerson. It was an interesting audience. I got into a conversation that came around to homeopathy. Homeopathy, it was explained, works by quantum mechanics. And that was it. Not many people understand quantum mechanics. In fact top physicists remind us that maybe nobody understands quantum mechanics. And that’s the allure. Something this dark and mysterious can be used to explain all manner of questionable proposals. One of these might be transubstantiation.For the uninitiated, transubstantiation is associated with the Eucharist of the Catholic faith. The little wheat wafers, presumably blessed by the church, literally become the body of Christ. How does this work?

According to the Magis Center, quantum mechanics is at the heart. I won’t recap the posting , but the headline catches my attention:

Quantum Mechanics and the Real Presence: What Reality Should We Believe?

After some background we get to the heart of the matter:

First, quantum mechanics is itself a mystery: as the great physicist Richard Feynman remarked, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

Second, the theory gives probabilities for alternative results of experiments, probabilities that are confirmed to a high degree of accuracy (much like actuarial results—one may not know when any given person may die, but one does know that among a large number of 70 year old men, a well-defined percentage will die in the coming year).   Even though quantum mechanics is deterministic in a statistical sense, this probabilistic character bothers many physicists. Einstein himself opposed the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, insisting that “God does not play dice with the universe.

Third, from the beginning of quantum mechanics, scientists have posited a connection between the conscious mind and the role of the observer in determining quantum mechanical outcomes in experiments. As d’Espagnat puts it, “The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.” The conscious mind of the observer plays a role in making a choice of experiments and what is to be observed.

This last part, “… scientists have posited a connection between the conscious mind and the role of the observer in determining quantum mechanical outcomes in experiments,” is problematic. While it is literally true that observation of an outcome, especially one involving quantum-level activity, does make the outcome irreversible, the notion that the observation must be human is imaginary. A classic case is the thought experiment involving “Schrödinger’s cat.” The experiment goes like this.

Put the cat in a closed box. Nobody can see in. Inside the box is a deadly poison, set to be released by a quantum event, e.g., alpha decay. Did the decay occur? If it did, then the cat is dead. If not, then the cat is alive. But until we open the box (as the protocol describes) the cat is in an undecided state. Until we observe the dead/alive cat, the alpha decay happened/did not happen.

The problem with this description is the requirement for human observation. Until we open the box, we may not know whether the alpha decay happened. But the cat does. Actually, any number of irreversible conditions can remove the alpha decay from the undecided state. The alpha decay happens, the alpha particle exits the nucleus. No matter how many cats are involved, the alpha particle is not going back into the nucleus. The outcome becomes final before any cat dies.

Religious hard cases become distressed at the failure of faith to accomplish anything material, anything of substance. Others perceive what is called science envy. If science can be invoked to substantiate religious conjectures, then wanderers can be coaxed back to the faith. Science is having none of that. The claims of the supernatural posited by religious zealots are never going to pass any sensible evaluation for merit. This kind of stuff is, at its base, an abuse of science.

The Magis Center post references the late French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat, who made contributions to this subject. An item I posted back in my college days commented on the so-called EPR paradox and referenced d’Espagnat’s work. Here is a link to a page that’s all about the mysteries of quantum mechanics. John Gribbin’s book In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat is a comprehensive read on the subject.

Abusing Science

Number 2 of a series

This series is inspired by Philip Kitcher’s book of the same name.

Back when Kitcher published this book, creationists were of the worst kind. They wanted to convince people that the story of Genesis was true, the universe and all life forms were created by the God of Abraham in the course of six days about 6000 years ago. Furthermore, the story of Noah and a worldwide flood was for them a part of world history. It was tough sledding.

Modern science, starting around 200 years ago, began to undercut these fables. The science of geology pointed to an ancient Earth. Darwin’s explanation of biological evolution abolished the human species’ special place among living things, and studies of radioactive elements in the earth’s crust pointed to a planet over four billion years old. Finally modern cosmology accounted for the formation of the universe over 13 billion years ago—and by natural causes.

In a landmark court case, Federal Judge William Overton ruled in an Arkansas case in 1982 that “creation science,” as creationists then called their theories, is not science. Rather, it is religious-based conjecture. Subsequent attempts to get around this finding terminated in a subsequent loss in Louisiana in a case termed Edwards v. Aguilard. A proposal to require teaching alternatives to the theory of evolution was found to be religiously motivated and in violation of the Constitution.

The response from the fundamentalist religious community was to usurp the Young Earth Creationists with a new breed of ecclesiastical scientists and a fresh approach. These creationists were, and still are, real scientists with valid Ph.D. degrees in related fields, and they largely avoided mention of biblical stories about the age of the earth and the God of Abraham. They revived William Paley‘s concept of Intelligent Design. They insist that the complexity of modern life forms is evidence of a higher intellect behind the world we see today. In future installments I will touch on the activities and the writings of the various individuals involved, but to get things going I will delve into something recent.

The organization in this country that most prominently advocates for Intelligent Design is the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle. More specifically, the DI’s Center for Science and Culture is the focus for ID, and they host a blog site titled Evolution News.

A principal talking point used to support ID is the source of novel information. The contention is that for novel life forms to develop, some additional information must be supplied. For illustration purposes, imagine an animal like a fish. It is generally agreed that the ancestors of present day land animals, lizards, for example, were fish. The proponents of ID will point out that fish have no legs, and for land animals to walk around, given that lizards evolved from fish, then new information about legs had to be supplied from somewhere. Or from somebody. Novel information cannot come out of thin air. There must be a supreme intellect behind the development of land animals with legs.

Novel information, and information in general, is a large part of ongoing arguments for Intelligent Design. The CSC person charged with developing and supporting this connection between is mathematician William Dembski. To illustrate how far the modern creationists buy into the relevance of Dembski’s work, he has been dubbed to be the “Isaac Newton of information theory.”

William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time. His “law of conservation of information” represents a revolutionary breakthrough. In Intelligent Design Dembski explains the meaning and the significance of his discoveries with such clarity that the general public can readily grasp them.He convincingly diagnoses our present confusions about the relationship between science and theology and offers a promising alternative.

[Robert C. Koons, Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin—from the dust jacket of Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, InterVarsity Press, 1999.]

Being compared to Isaac Newton is a dab of adulation that Dembski has never disavowed.

So we have it. Information theory continues to crop up in items aimed at supporting Intelligent Design, and that brings us to this:

Bacteriophages, Budding Yeast, and Behe’s Vindication

Ann Gauger is a senior research scientist at Biologic Institute. Her work uses molecular genetics and genomic engineering to study the origin, organization and operation of metabolic pathways. She received a BS in biology from MIT, and a PhD in developmental biology from the University of Washington, where she studied cell adhesion molecules involved in Drosophila embryogenesis. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in NatureDevelopment, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.”

Specified complexity is an argument proposed by Dembski and used by him in his works promoting intelligent design. According to Dembski, the concept is intended to formalize a property that singles out patterns that are both specified and complex. Dembski states that specified complexity is a reliable marker of design by an intelligent agent, a central tenet to intelligent design and which Dembski argues for in opposition to modern evolutionary theory. The concept of specified complexity is widely regarded as mathematically unsound and has not been the basis for further independent work in information theory, complexity theory, or biology. Specified complexity is one of the two main arguments used by intelligent design proponents, the other being irreducible complexity.
Abuse of science did not end with demise of the Young Earth Creationists. This series will continue to turn over such cases until I run out of ink.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 8 in a Series

 

Continuing a review of Robert Ingersoll’s collected works

He analyzes the route by which we create gods.

Man, in his ignorance, supposed that all phenomena were produced by some intelligent powers, and with direct reference to him. To preserve friendly relations with these powers was, and still is, the object of all religions. Man knelt through fear and to implore assistance, or through gratitude for some favor which he supposed had been rendered. He endeavored by supplication to appease some being who, for some reason, had, as he believed, become enraged. The lightning and thunder terrified him. In the presence of the volcano he sank upon his knees. The great forests filled with wild and ferocious beasts, the monstrous serpents crawling in mysterious depths, the boundless sea, the flaming comets, the sinister eclipses, the awful calmness of the stars, and, more than all, the perpetual presence of death, convinced him that he was the sport and prey of unseen and malignant powers. The strange and frightful diseases to which he was subject, the freezings and burnings of fever, the contortions of epilepsy, the sudden palsies, the darkness of night, and the wild, terrible and fantastic dreams that filled his brain, satisfied him that he was haunted and pursued by countless spirits of evil. For some reason he supposed that these spirits differed in power—that they were not all alike malevolent—that the higher controlled the lower, and that his very existence depended upon gaining the assistance of the more powerful. For this purpose he resorted to prayer, to flattery, to worship and to sacrifice.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 204-214). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

When people began to employ science to understand the natural world, the usefulness of religion started to become not only absurd, but embarrassingly foolish.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 7 in a Series

Continuing a review of Robert Ingersoll’s collected works

Ingersoll demonstrates additional proof that people have created their gods rather than the reverse.

Man has not only created all these gods, but he has created them out of the materials by which he has been surrounded. Generally he has modeled them after himself, and has given them hands, heads, feet, eyes, ears, and organs of speech. Each nation made its gods and devils speak its language not only, but put in their mouths the same mistakes in history, geography, astronomy, and in all matters of fact, generally made by the people. No god was ever in advance of the nation that created him.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 166-169). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

It brings to mind an old joke. Here is my version:

Herbie was born and grew up in Queens, more properly Queens Borough, New York. His friend Nathan from time to time pestered Herbie with wacky ideas. One day Nathan came in all excited.

“Herbie,” he exclaimed. You have got to come to see this woman I met yesterday. Her name is Miss Yarna, and she tells me fantastic things. She tells me things about myself that only I know.”

Herbie was nonplussed. He told Nathan that business was fake and nonsense. But Nathan was persistent. “Herbie, she can put you in contact with your grandmother, your Bubbe.”

Herbie figured he needed to get Nathan clued up, so he went along with him to visit Miss Yarna. Miss Yarna was properly impressive. She wore a long, flowing gown, and her hair was stacked almost to the ceiling. Nathan introduced Herbie, and he told Miss Yarna that Herbie wanted to communicate with his Bubbe, who had been dead five years.

Miss Yarna told the two she would enter a trance and would speak to them in Bubbe’s voice. She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth. Finally she began to speak. She reminded Herbie how she told him to always eat his vegetables and to not run around with fast women. And much more. Finally Bubbe asked Herbie if he had a question he wanted her to answer.

Herbie, obviously entranced, thought for a moment and then spoke. “Bubbe, when did you learn to speak English?”

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 6 in a Series

Continuing a review of Robert Ingersoll’s collected works

Ingersoll discusses the perceived influence of Jehovah and the devil with respect to human welfare. It is claimed that God has people’s best interest at heart, but his dealing with Adam and Eve is one of suppression and retribution, while the devil rewards the pair with knowledge, freedom, and advancement. Don’t take my word for it. Read the Bible. Ingersoll did.

The account shows, however, that the gods dreaded education and knowledge then just as they do now. The church still faithfully guards the dangerous tree of knowledge, and has exerted in all ages her utmost power to keep mankind from eating the fruit thereof. The priests have never ceased repeating the old falsehood and the old threat: “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” From every pulpit comes the same cry, born of the same fear: “Lest they eat and become as gods, knowing good and evil.” For this reason, religion hates science, faith detests reason, theology is the sworn enemy of philosophy, and the church with its flaming sword still guards the hated tree, and like its supposed founder, curses to the lowest depths the brave thinkers who eat and become as gods.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 150-156). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

He has a keen sense for picking out absurdities that should be obvious to the most casual of readers yet remain hidden in plane sight to the faithful. May Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 5 in a Series

Continuing a review of Robert Ingersoll’s collected works

His analysis of the Bible as the supposed work of an overarching intellect is keenly observant.

All that is necessary, as it seems to me, to convince any reasonable person that the Bible is simply and purely of human invention—of barbarian invention—is to read it Read it as you would any other book; think of it as you would of any other; get the bandage of reverence from your eyes; drive from your heart the phantom of fear; push from the throne of your brain the cowled form of superstition—then read the Holy Bible, and you will be amazed that you ever, for one moment, supposed a being of infinite wisdom, goodness and purity, to be the author of such ignorance and of such atrocity.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 112-116). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

A person would have to wonder how it would be possible to take advice from the Bible after reading it while leaving behind the prejudice from conviction. May Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 4 in a Series

Robert Ingersoll, writing in the 19th century,  was a notorious critic of the Bible, raising criticism that portended major issues that confront us today. From The Works of Robert Ingersoll:

The book, called the Bible, is filled with passages equally horrible, unjust and atrocious. This is the book to be read in schools in order to make our children loving, kind and gentle! This is the book to be recognized in our Constitution as the source of all authority and justice!

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 89-91). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 3 in a Series

Robert Ingersoll employed considerable energy picking apart the absurdity of religious faith. An example from The Works of Robert Ingersoll:

Few nations have been so poor as to have but one god. Gods were made so easily, and the raw material cost so little, that generally the god market was fairly glutted, and heaven crammed with these phantoms. These gods not only attended to the skies, but were supposed to interfere in all the affairs of men. They presided over everybody and everything. They attended to every department. All was supposed to be under their immediate control. Nothing was too small—nothing too large; the falling of sparrows and the motions of the planets were alike attended to by these industrious and observing deities. From their starry thrones they frequently came to the earth for the purpose of imparting information to man. It is related of one that he came amid thunderings and lightnings in order to tell the people that they should not cook a kid in its mother’s milk. Some left their shining abodes to tell women that they should, or should not, have children, to inform a priest how to cut and wear his apron, and to give directions as to the proper manner of cleaning the intestines of a bird.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 50-58). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

This series will continue to explore comments from this 19th century speaker. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

Number 2 in a Series

The first volume of The Works of Robert Ingersoll is titled “Lectures.” The first of these dissects “The Gods: An Honest God is the Noblest Work of Man.” Ingersoll stands aghast at how little the gods know about the realm they are credited with creating.

These gods did not even know the shape of the worlds they had created, but supposed them perfectly flat Some thought the day could be lengthened by stopping the sun, that the blowing of horns could throw down the walls of a city, and all knew so little of the real nature of the people they had created, that they commanded the people to love them. Some were so ignorant as to suppose that man could believe just as he might desire, or as they might command, and that to be governed by observation, reason, and experience was a most foul and damning sin. None of these gods could give a true account of the creation of this little earth. All were wofully deficient in geology and astronomy. As a rule, they were most miserable legislators, and as executives, they were far inferior to the average of American presidents.

Ingersoll, Robert Green. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (Kindle Locations 40-46). BookMasters. Kindle Edition.

Ingersoll concludes, as does any honest person, that God was created by man and suffers all of man’s shortcomings.

Deconstructing Robert Ingersoll

First in a Series

Robert Green Ingersoll was an American politician and orator of the 19th century, “noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism.” A collection of selected speeches is available in Kindle edition from Amazon for $2.99. This series will excerpt critical and noteworthy quotes, sometimes with analysis. Comment is invited.

The book is 4079 pages, so this series should run for several years, even if I post one quote a day. The opening paragraph is worth a view:

EACH nation has created a god, and the god has always resembled his creators. He hated and loved what they hated and loved, and he was invariably found on the side of those in power. Each god was intensely patriotic, and detested all nations but his own. All these gods demanded praise, flattery, and worship. Most of them were pleased with sacrifice, and the smell of innocent blood has ever been considered a divine perfume. All these gods have insisted upon having a vast number of priests, and the priests have always insisted upon being supported by the people, and the principal business of these priests has been to boast about their god, and to insist that he could easily vanquish all the other gods put together.
Ingersoll, Robert. The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, (Complete 12 Volumes) (First Page) Kindle Edition.

This is from Volume I, Lectures. It “is dedicated for the love of God and the use of man.”

Ingersoll’s insight is piercing, and his style strikes the heart of the disgrace that is religion. In another era he would have been burned at stake, after first being mistreated. Even a casual reading of his comments gives cause to acknowledge their truth. There is much more to come. Keep reading.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book. Posts follow by 80 years the time line of events.

From August to October 1938 Hitler’s demands on Czechoslovakia became increasingly bellicose. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the appearance of willing to commit to any of Hitler’s demands in order to stave off another European war. Hitler read the tea leaves correctly, and he played the Allied Powers as dupes to his designs. Excerpts from Shirer’s diary during this period give insight into the developing events.

PRAGUE, August 4

Lord Runciman arrived today to gum up the works and sell the Czechs short if he can. He and his Lady and staff, with piles of baggage, proceeded to the town’s swankiest hotel, the Alcron, where they have almost a whole floor. Later Runciman, a taciturn thin-lipped little man with a bald head so round it looks like a mis-shapen egg, received us— about three hundred Czech and foreign reporters— in the reception hall. I thought he went out of his way to thank the Sudeten leaders, who, along with Czech Cabinet members, turned out to meet him at the station, for their presence.

Runciman’s whole mission smells. He says he has come here to mediate between the Czech government and the Sudeten party of Konrad Henlein. But Henlein is not a free agent. He cannot negotiate. He is completely under the orders of Hitler. The dispute is between Prague and Berlin. The Czechs know that Chamberlain personally wants Czechoslovakia to give in to Hitler’s wishes. These wishes we know: incorporation of all Germans within the Greater Reich. Someone tonight— Walter Kerr, I think, of the Herald Tribune, produced a clipping from his paper of a dispatch written by its London correspondent, Joseph Driscoll, after he had participated in a luncheon with Chamberlain given by Lady Astor. It dates back to last May, but makes it clear that the Tory government goes so far as to favour Czecho ceding the Sudetenland outright to Germany. Before the Czechs do this,

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 120-121). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The involvement of Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford is recounted in an item posted to Wikipedia:

Runciman returned to public life when, at the beginning of August 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sent him on a mission to Czechoslovakia to mediate in a dispute between the Government of Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten German Party (SdP), the latter representing the ethnic German population of the border regions, known as the Sudetenland. Unknown to Runciman, the SdP, although it was ostensibly calling for autonomy for the Sudetenland, had instructions from Nazi Germany not to reach any agreement on the matter and so attempts at mediation failed. With international tension rising in Central Europe, Runciman was recalled to London on 16 September 1938.

His controversial report provided support for British policy towards Czechoslovakia, which culminated in the dismembering of the country under the terms of the Munich Agreement.

Further controversy arose from Runciman’s use of his leisure time in Czechoslovakia spent mostly in the company of Hitler’s Jewish spy and erstwhile lover of Lord Rothermere, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, and the pro-SdP aristocracy. Maria Dowling claims that Runciman spent most of his time in Czechoslovakia being entertained by German aristocrats and listening to complaints from Germans that had suffered from the 1920s land reform.

It is clear that Shirer’s assessment of Runciman’s mission is spot-on. With people such as Runciman dealing for Britain, there would be scant chance that Czechoslovakia’s interests would be protected. As close to the events as he was, Shirer often misread the action.

BERLIN, August 25

Some of the American correspondents, more friendly than others to the Nazis, laughed at me at the Taverne tonight when I maintained the Czechs would fight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 123). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In the end, the Czechs did not fight. Shirer saw, as did most others, the threat of war was real.

GENEVA, September 9

One last fleeting visit with the family before the war clouds break. In Berlin the best opinion is that Hitler has made up his mind for war if it is necessary to get back his Sudetens. I doubt it for two reasons: first, the German army is not ready; secondly, the people are dead against war. The radio has been saying all day that Great Britain has told Germany she will fight if Czecho is invaded. Perhaps so, but you cannot forget the Times leader of three days ago inviting the Czechs to become a more “homogeneous state” by handing the Sudetens over to Hitler.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 124). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer put down his musings at the time.

PRAGUE, September 10

All Europe waiting for Hitler’s final word to be pronounced at the wind-up of the Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg day after tomorrow. In the meantime we had two speeches today, one by President Beneš here; the other by Göring at Nuremberg, where all week the Nazis have been thundering threats against Czechoslovakia. Beneš, who spoke from the studio of the Czech Broadcasting System, was calm and reasonable—reasonable— too much so, I thought, though he was obviously trying to please the British. He said: “I firmly believe that nothing other than moral force, goodwill, and mutual trust will be needed…. Should we, in peace, solve our nationality affairs… our country will be one of the most beautiful, best administered, worthiest, and most equitable countries in the world….

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 125). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

That same day the Nazis were playing their propaganda game to the hilt

The other speech, Göring’s, as given out by Reuter’s here: “A petty segment of Europe is harassing human beings…. This miserable pygmy race [the Czechs] without culture— no one knows where it came from— is oppressing a cultured people and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew devil….”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 126). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This day shows Hitler at his most Hitler:

PRAGUE, September 12

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 126). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

I have never heard the Adolf quite so full of hate, his audience quite so on the borders of bedlam. What poison in his voice when at the beginning of his long recital of alleged wrongs to the Sudeteners he paused: “Ich spreche von der Czechoslovakei!” His words, his tone, dripping with venom.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 127). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer reports as events follow a pattern that was to become familiar.

PRAGUE, September 13– 14 (3 a.m.)

War very near, and since midnight we’ve been waiting for the German bombers, but so far no sign. Much shooting up in the Sudetenland, at Eger, Elbogen, Falkenau, Habersbirk. A few Sudeteners and Czechs killed and the Germans have been plundering Czech and Jewish shops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 128). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Runciman’s swan song.

PRAGUE, September 16

LATER.— Hoorah! Heard New York perfectly on the feedback tonight and they heard me equally well. After four days of being blotted out, and these four days! Runciman has left for London, skipping out very quietly, unloved, unhonoured, unsung.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 133). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Here is what a government can do when it controls the press and suppresses opposing speech.

BERLIN, September 19

The Nazis, and quite rightly too, are jubilant over what they consider Hitler’s greatest triumph up to date. “And without bloodshed, like all the others,” they kept rubbing it in to me today. As for the good people in the street, they’re immensely relieved. They do not want war. The Nazi press full of hysterical headlines. All lies. Some examples: WOMEN AND CHILDREN MOWED DOWN BY CZECH ARMOURED CARS, or BLOODY REGIME— NEW CZECH MURDERS OF GERMANS. The Börsen Zeitung takes the prize: POISON-GAS ATTACK ON AUSSIG? The Hamburger Zeitung is pretty good: EXTORTION, PLUNDERING, SHOOTING— CZECH TERROR IN SUDETEN GERMAN LAND GROWS WORSE FROM DAY TO DAY!

[Emphasis in the original]

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 134-135). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia’s neighbors were eager to join the feast, not realizing they were next on the menu.

ON THE TRAIN, BERLIN– GODESBERG, September 20

But there were no American correspondents. The platform was empty. At ten I started to chat away ad lib. The only news I had was that the Hungarians and the Poles had been down to Berchtesgaden during the day to demand, like jackals, their share of the Czech spoils.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 136). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Nazi fervor reaches a crescendo.

BERLIN, September 26

Hitler has finally burned his last bridges. Shouting and shrieking in the worst state of excitement I’ve ever seen him in, he stated in the Sportpalast tonight that he would have his Sudetenland by October 1— next Saturday, today being Monday. If Beneš doesn’t hand it over to him he will go to war, this Saturday. Curious audience, the fifteen thousand party Bonzen packed into the hall. They applauded his words with the usual enthusiasm. Yet there was no war fever. The crowd was good-natured, as if it didn’t realize what his words meant. The old man full of more venom than even he has ever shown, hurling personal insults at Beneš. Twice Hitler screamed that this is absolutely his last territorial demand in Europe.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 141). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And more from the same day.

I broadcast the scene from a seat in the balcony just above Hitler. He’s still got that nervous tic. All during his speech he kept cocking his shoulder, and the opposite leg from the knee down would bounce up. Audience couldn’t see it, but I could. As a matter of fact, for the first time in all the years I’ve observed him he seemed tonight to have completely lost control of himself. When he sat down after his talk, Goebbels sprang up and shouted: “One thing is sure: 1918 will never be repeated!” Hitler looked up to him, a wild, eager expression in his eyes, as if those were the words which he had been searching for all evening and hadn’t quite found. He leaped to his feet and with a fanatical fire in his eyes that I shall never forget brought his right hand, after a grand sweep, pounding down on the table and yelled with all the power in his mighty lungs: “Ja!” Then he slumped into his chair exhausted.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 142). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There are rumblings of war, but there would be no war for another year.

BERLIN, September 27 A motorized division rolled through the city’s streets just at dusk this evening in the direction of the Czech frontier. I went out to the corner of the Linden where the column was turning down the Wilhelmstrasse, expecting to see a tremendous demonstration. I pictured the scenes I had read of in 1914 when the cheering throngs on this same street tossed flowers at the marching soldiers, and the girls ran up and kissed them. The hour was undoubtedly chosen today to catch the hundreds of thousands of Berliners pouring out of their offices at the end of the day’s work. But they ducked into the subways, refused to look on, and the handful that did stood at the curb in utter silence unable to find a word of cheer for the flower of their youth going away to the glorious war. It has been the most striking demonstration against war I’ve ever seen. Hitler himself reported furious. I had not been standing long at the corner when a policeman came up the Wilhelmstrasse from the direction of the Chancellery and shouted to the few of us standing at the curb that the Führer was on his balcony reviewing the troops. Few moved. I went down to have a look. Hitler stood there, and there weren’t two hundred people in the street or the great square of the Wilhelmsplatz. Hitler looked grim, then angry, and soon went inside, leaving his troops to parade by unreviewed. What I’ve seen tonight almost rekindles a little faith in the German people. They are dead set against war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 142-143). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Allied Powers ended up selling out Czechoslovakia for false promises of peace. Notably, Winston Churchill stood alone against the tide.

MUNICH, September 30

Only Winston Churchill, a voice in the wilderness all these years, will say, addressing the Commons: “We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat…. Do not let us blind ourselves. We must expect that all the countries of central and eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power…. The road down the Danube… the road to the Black Sea and Turkey, has been broken. It seems to me that all the countries of Mittel Europa and the Danube Valley, one after the other, will be drawn into the vast system of Nazi politics, not only power military politics, but power economic

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 147-148). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia was sacrificed, ultimately for nothing. At Hitler’s direction, Europe slid relentlessly toward war during the following 11 months.

Quiz Question

Number 172 of a series

For this week’s Quiz Question I’m falling back on literary acumen. What have you been reading recently? Following is a list of unsavory characters from literature, not movies and video. For each give the title of the work in which the character originally appeared. Some characters show up in sequels and such.

  • Simon Legree
  • Shylock
  • Hannibal Lecter
  • Fagin
  • Injun Joe
  • Captain Queeg
  • Long John Silver
  • Kurtz

You can find answers to all of these using Google, but you need to take the quiz from memory. Highest number of right answers wins. Post your answers in the comments below.

Update and Answers

  • Simon Legree – Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Shylock – The Merchant of Venice
  • Hannibal Lecter – Red Dragon
  • Fagin – Oliver Twist
  • Injun Joe – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
  • Captain Queeg – The Caine Munity
  • Long John Silver – Treasure Island
  • Kurtz – Heart of Darkness

Red Dragon was a sneaky entry. Only die-hard fans and readers of this blog know that Thomas Harris shot to fame with Black Sunday and followed up with Red Dragon, the novel that introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter. The first was made into a blockbuster thriller, and the second formed the plot for Manhunter, about a conflicted former FBI agent sent to track down a serial killer. He enlists the aid of Hannibal Lecter, who previously tried to kill him. Of course, Harris went on to write the other books that feature Hannibal Lecter.

The Government You Paid For

Number 44 of a Series

People may wonder why I continue to post this series, because, seriously, everybody knows we have the government we paid for. As a reminder, the purpose here is to remind the un-remindable, to embarrass the un-embarrassable, and to shame the un-shamable. If this comes off as my coy way of rubbing it in for all those who voted for Donald Trump and for those who still support him after all that has passed these 19 months and more, then give yourself a star, because that is exactly my purpose. It’s a sorry sight to see a person of my supposed maturity gloat so shamelessly. But to you ignoramuses who bought Trump’s line of MAGA, take this and stick it where the sun don’t shine. I am having my day.

First there was Michael Wolff, who apparently wandered around the White House for weeks, taking notes and not making a lot of noise. He then published Fire and Fury, unleashing a flood of stuff like the  following.

Trump was impetuous and yet did not like to make decisions, at least not ones that seemed to corner him into having to analyze a problem. And no decision hounded him so much—really from the first moment of his presidency—as what to do about Afghanistan. It was a conundrum that became a battle. It involved not only his own resistance to analytic reasoning, but the left brain/right brain divide of his White House, the split between those who argued for disruption and those who wanted to uphold the status quo. In this, Bannon became the disruptive and unlikely White House voice for peace—or anyway a kind of peace. In Bannon’s view, only he and the not-too-resolute backbone of Donald Trump stood between consigning fifty thousand more American soldiers to hopelessness in Afghanistan.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 263). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Then there was Omarosa Manigault Newman, who left the White House and later released a bushel-full of gems from her own notes:

Lara Trump: It sounds a little like, obviously, that there are some things you’ve got in the back pocket to pull out. Clearly, if you come on board the campaign, like, we can’t have – we got to –

Next Tuesday Bob Woodward’s new book Fear: Trump in the White House will hit the stores.

Trump critters can push back against this line by passing off these revelations as gossip from grousing White House staff. The bombshell that The New York Times dropped this afternoon clears that hurdle by feet, not inches. An anonymous source, working at a high level in the White House has unloaded in no uncertain terms.

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Trump critters, and you know who you are, it’s time to saddle up and get out of town, or else be prepared to ride this dead horse into depths of ignominy. And if you happen to notice me sitting on a rail fence and gloating, then eat it up. You purchased this ticket, and now it is your ride to enjoy. You are getting the government you paid for.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book. Posts follow by 80 years the time line of events.

In 1938 Adolf Hitler began in earnest to solidify control of the Nazi state. His first outward thrust was the annexation of neighboring Austria. Hitler next moved on Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the German digestion of Austria began to become manifest at the lowest levels. On Shirer’s journey to Rome to cover Hitler’s visit there he met face-to-face with absolute rule:

ROME, May 2

Some time during the night S.S. Black Guards at the Austro-Italian border got me out of bed in my wagons-lits compartment and seized all my money. They argued a long time among themselves about arresting me, but finally desisted. Hitler arriving this evening at sundown. I’m broadcasting from the roof of the royal stables overlooking the entrance to the Quirinale Palace and have it timed for the moment the King and the Führer are due to arrive.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 114). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The continent of Europe was coming apart at the seams, yet Shirer’s bosses back in America felt the need for the mundane:

FLORENCE, May—?

Followed Hitler up here, but did not have to broadcast. New York wanted me to look up some singing birds— of all things!— for a broadcast, but could not find them. Spent the day at the Uffizi, but somehow the Leonardos, Raphaels, Titians, even the Botticellis, pale a little after the Grecos in Spain. Walked along the Arno. Remembered the magnificent view from Fiesole, an old Etruscan town five miles up in the hills from here, but no time to revisit it. Back to Vienna tomorrow.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 115). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It became urgent that Shirer get his wife and baby out of the hot zone and into neutral Switzerland. The fabric of society was unraveling—he encountered a Nazi spy, who had long posed as an anti-Nazi immigrant. Getting the flight Geneva was wrought with imperial entanglements and peril:

GENEVA, June 10

At the Aspern airport they behaved very suspiciously. I explained to the Gestapo chief that Tess was too weak to stand up and I would go over the luggage with him. I had laid Tess out on a bench in the waiting-room. He demanded that she stand up and explain things during the customs examination. Otherwise we couldn’t leave. I tried to hold her up. Then a police official led me away. I left the nurse to help as best she could. In a little room two police officials went through my pocket-book and my pockets. Everything was in order. They then led me into a side room. “Wait here,” they said. I said I wanted to go back to help with the baggage inspection, that my wife was in a critical state; but they shut the door. I heard the lock turn. I was locked in. Five, ten, fifteen minutes. Pacing the floor. Time for the airplane to leave. Past time. Then I heard Tess shout: “Bill, they’re taking me away to strip me!”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 117). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The world began to take notice of what was rapidly becoming the fate of Europe:

ÉVIAN-LES-BAINS, July 7

Delegates from thirty-two states here, on Roosevelt’s initiative, to discuss doing something about refugees from the Third Reich.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 119). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Coming up next, the relentless progression of events to sell out Czechoslovakia and to pray this awful mess will just go away.

Buyer’s Remorse

Number 32 in a series

1984-01

Opening scene for the movie 1984 (1984 version)

Aw! The party is winding down. The fun is coming to an end.. The time for poking fun is past. No more making the jokes. Matters are getting deadly serious. President Trump has proclaimed the end and has brought down the curtain, this at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City yesterday:

Donald Trump has launched a fresh attack on the “crap” news media, telling a military veterans’ convention that “what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening”.

In a meandering rant taking in “unfair” trade practices by the European Union, his policy of imposing tariffs on incoming goods and big companies “ripping off the United States”, the Republican accused a major US network of manufacturing an interview in cahoots with “lobbyists”.

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Are we now at that point? Is there no remorse?

Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to re-learn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.’

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 3548-3550). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Before it slips away, we need to examine that which is no longer true.

 

I am so glad all that is now settled. At last I can live in peace with my internal conflicts.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Orwell, George. 1984 (Kindle Locations 4230-4233). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Rest easy, my friends. The best is yet to come.

The Awful Truth

Number 6 in a Series

Earlier this month I reviewed a companion book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, by James Clapper. Here is another view along the same lines. It’s The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies by former NSA director General Michael Hayden. Both writers have long experience in public service, having served in the United States military and in national intelligence agencies. Both take a dim view of the administration of President Donald Trump. Both consider his persistent use of fabrication and his abuse of the intelligence agencies to be scandalous and (my interpretation) and also an abuse of his office.

I’m using the same approach here that I did with the previous review. I will illustrate with pertinent excerpts from the book and add context and elaboration where helpful. Start here:

Two months into the Trump administration, Jim Comey, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, were asked in an open congressional hearing if the president they were serving was misleading the nation with his claims that they or their British friends had wiretapped him while he was president-elect.

They said that he was.

It was a remarkable moment. That question doesn’t get asked very often in open parliamentary session in a democracy, let alone get answered—to say nothing of being answered in that way. It made me proud to have been associated with an intelligence community that felt free to do that.

But that was not the end of the matter, at least as far as the White House was concerned. The administration stuck to its alternate version—Obama wiretapped me—even after the FBI and NSA chiefs had confirmed that objective reality was clearly otherwise.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

General Hayden has concluded, as have a growing number of Americans, that the current President of the United States is a calculating liar who seeks to persuade his political base that truth is what he says it is, and that hard facts are distortions promulgated by opposing and disloyal sources. For General Hayden the threat to civilized society crystallized during his working intelligence tour in the former Yugoslavia during the events of the 1990s.

The veneer of civilization, I sadly concluded then, was quite thin—perhaps a natural thought for an intelligence officer, whose profession consistently trends pessimistic, whose work is consumed by threats and dangers, and who routinely travels to some of the world’s darkest, most troubled places.

Later I learned that intelligence officers were not so alone in their dark thoughts. Robin Wright, the American chronicler of the Middle East’s woes, told me that Israel’s Shimon Peres once despairingly lamented to her, “We’re so primitive. We’re so very primitive.”

Over the years it became clear to me that the structures, processes, and attitudes that protect us from Thomas Hobbes’s world of “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” lives are not naturally occurring things. They are inherently fragile and demand careful tending if they are to survive.

That brought me to the idea of this book, which is not that civil war or societal collapse is necessarily imminent or inevitable here in America, but that the structures, processes, and attitudes we rely on to prevent those kinds of occurrences are under stress, and that many of the premises on which we have based our governance, policy, and security are now challenged, eroded, or simply gone.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 2-3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He summarizes:

Deeply involved in this is the question of truth. It was no accident that the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Liberal British academic and philosopher A. C. Grayling characterized the emerging post-truth world to me as “over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data.” Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl predicted that the term could become “one of the defining words of our time.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The author bears down on the seriousness of our present situation:

We’re really breaking new ground when, at the six-month point of the new administration, the former head of CIA, John Brennan, and the former director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper—with more than seven decades of experience between them and a record of service for both political parties—spend a rainy afternoon in Aspen telling hundreds that they harbor deep concerns about Russian election interference, openly criticize President Trump for refusing to face that reality, and warn that “in some respects we are a government in crisis.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 6). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Like James Clapper, Michael Hayden is unable to escape that the Russian government is working to upend the American  political  process:

And it continues. A quick look at articles pushed by Kremlin-oriented accounts on Twitter in early January shows that attacks on Democrats and liberals comprised more than a quarter, with discrediting Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier at 14 percent, and pushing “deep state” narratives and conspiracies constituting 13 percent. Sound familiar? When Trump speaks, the Russians amplify.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 7). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Candidate Trump campaigned on a policy of “America First,” and the author traveled back to the place of his origins in Pittsburgh, where he connected with friends from his youth and other, like-minded people.

So I resolved to reengage the “America First” issue, in the back room of a Pittsburgh sports bar over some Iron City beer. I asked my brother to arrange for several dozen of his friends, all Trump supporters, to meet with me for a couple of hours.

I knew many of the participants, indeed had grown up with several. But we could have been from different planets. They are angry. They feel abandoned and disadvantaged even though they work hard, pay their taxes, and struggle to raise their kids. They hate Hillary Clinton, I mean really hate her. And for them, it is still midnight on November 8, 2016. Donald Trump is still their guy. “He is an American . . . He is genuine . . . He is authentic . . . He doesn’t filter everything or parse every word.” They don’t seem to be very interested in “facts,” either. Or at least not in my “facts.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 22-23). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hayden attempts to winkle out what is underlying the disconnect:

About two months after my Pittsburgh meeting, the New York Times’ David Brooks wrote that political partisanship in America had become what he called “totalistic.” It was no longer about better policies as it was with Eisenhower and Kennedy. Nor was it about better philosophy as it was with Reagan. Now “people often use partisan identity to fill the void left when other attachments wither away—religious, ethnic, communal and familial.”6

Around the same time as the Brooks article, conservative ethicist Peter Wehner told me that in today’s America, beliefs are really tied up with identities, and he pointed me to this: “If changing your belief means changing your identity, it comes at the risk of rejection from the community of people with whom you share that identity.” Wehner also reminded me that data is not particularly useful to argue a point that itself was not particularly data-derived (which is not quite the same distinction as true and untrue).

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 22-23). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Hayden saw what I often see when communicating with conservative acquaintances:

When I asked in that Pittsburgh back room if anyone really believed that Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, most hands shot up. I tried to explain how the relevant agencies (NSA and FBI) had said it wasn’t true. When I asked why they still thought it was so, they simply replied, “Obama.”

“Obama was against the country and did everything he could to undermine it,” concluded one participant.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 23-24). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The basis behind “America First” comes out:

It was also true that most in the room had spent their entire lives in or near Pittsburgh. National statistics say that Trump won by nine points among white voters who live within two hours of where they were born and by an overwhelming 26 percent among those who live in their hometown proper. Everybody in the room in Pittsburgh was white, too.

When I asked what they thought “America First” meant, the answer was pretty simple. It meant that someone was paying attention to them.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 24). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Observers of the 2016 presidential election point to the declining relevance of traditional left-right, Democrat-Republican, liberal-conservative divides in American politics. Technological change, the explosion of information, and the erosion of borders have smothered old dividing lines over the size of government, family values, and the national debt. Changes in technology, information, and borders have created winners and losers, and these folks are in that group of Americans who are feeling left behind.

Collectively they view themselves as disadvantaged in a globalized world and they catalog refugees and immigrants as threatening their safety, trade deals as taking away their jobs, and political institutions as wasting their money. Hence the surge of a populism that claims “to speak in the people’s place, in their name, and convey an undeniable shared truth on their

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 24-25). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He further analyses his impromptu focus group:

Reading the audience, I decided against asking the group a question I had formed during my preparation: “How many of you have passports?” It had been a pleasant evening and I don’t think they would have appreciated the tone of my question. I also suspect that I wouldn’t have liked their answer. They were polite, patriotic, sincere, and enthusiastic, but foreign affairs wasn’t a strong suit or strong interest.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 38-39). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He analyzes the Trump phenomenon in terms of Hamiltonian and Jacksonian views:

Famed American academic Walter Russell Mead broke down the whole dynamic for me in terms of his four paradigms of the American presidency. He reminded me that there were Hamiltonians, wedded to the tough realism of America’s first secretary of the treasury: America cannot be free unless America is prosperous, America cannot be prosperous unless America is strong. I had limited contact with Mitt Romney as an adviser during his 2012 campaign, but I suspect he would have trended Hamiltonian as president.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 27). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And then there was Andrew Jackson: man of the people, frontiersman, Indian fighter, war hero—the first democrat in the White House whether you write it with a big D or a little d. Jacksonian foreign policy is shaped by an intense patriotism to an America defined by blood, soil, and shared history, and it is largely uninterested in international affairs unless, of course, somebody really ticks us off (like Japan in 1941, or al-Qaeda in 2001). Only half-jokingly do I describe it as a security policy organized around Robert De Niro’s immortal line in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver: “You talkin’ to me?”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 28). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

America’s post–World War II internationalism has been largely shaped by Hamiltonian and Wilsonian concepts. In fact, the history of that era was often written as a struggle between the two factions, trying to balance American interests and American ideals in the conduct of our policy.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 28). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

That crowd in the back room in Pittsburgh was overwhelmingly Jacksonian…

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 28). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There is an analysis on the former president’s relationship with the intelligence community, ultimately to be contrasted with President Trump’s:

Over time the president, who came into office with a liberal Democrat’s distrust of an intelligence community around which multiple controversies had been swirling, grew more comfortable with both the institutions and the people who were serving him. Obama also came to office with little intelligence background, since he had not served on the Intelligence Committee while in the Senate. He had a steep learning curve, but gradually absorbed both the capabilities and the limits of the community. The PDB in the president’s second term was described to me as often a ten- to fifteen-minute tactical update for someone who was now quite familiar with the issues. Both John Brennan and Jim Clapper recall Obama as genuinely appreciative. Jim said the president was gracious and complimentary during his last meeting with him in the Oval Office.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 34-35). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In their comparative views, James Clapper’s book takes readers on a historical ride, bringing the shape of today’s intelligence community ultimately into view, while Michael Hayden’s work is rooted in the present and the recent past. Both heap condemnation on the current administration’s aversion to, and the destruction of, basic truth. I will finish out with some highlights on the author’s observations. First a 30,000-foot view:

Internationalist—nativist. Nuanced—blunt. Informed—instinctive. No drama—all drama. Studied—spontaneous. Fully formed paragraphs—140 characters. America as idea—America as blood and soil. Free trader—protectionist. And then there was the issue of truth. All candidates shape their message, but Trump just seemed to say whatever came into his head. Was he uninformed, lazy, dishonest . . . or did he simply reject the premise that objective reality even existed or mattered?

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 41). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Candidate Trump’s issues with the truth were early apparent:

My little email universe was steadily lit up in the spring and summer of 2016 with commentary on the Trump campaign. That universe comprised a lot of people with backgrounds like mine: intelligence, security, military, diplomatic, and related fields. We had lots of issues, but the key themes of truth, inclusion, and lawfulness quickly emerged.

The most intense buzz was about telling the truth, or, more specifically, about Donald Trump not telling the truth. Or at least not bothering to find the truth in order to speak accurately.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 43). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There follows a litany of Donald Trump’s obvious fabrications:

We had a long list of out-and-out lies, too, like the candidate’s claim that there were pan-Islamic legions celebrating wildly on the streets of New Jersey as the Twin Towers were aflame and collapsing. And then there was the moment Mr. Trump, hammering Obama-era political correctness, departed from prepared remarks to say that the neighbors of the San Bernardino terrorist couple, beyond seeing suspicious behavior, “saw bombs on the floor,” a claim for which there was absolutely no evidence.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 44). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I think it fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree, and when pressed on specifics it routinely tried to delegitimize those who would disagree with countercharges about the “lyin’ media,” “intelligence” (in accusatory quotation marks), “so-called

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 44-45). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Nichols credits a 1999 study by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, research psychologists at Cornell, with driving home this point. Nichols writes, “The lack of metacognition sets up a vicious loop in which people who do not know much about a subject do not know when they’re in over their head . . . and there is no way to educate or inform people who, when in doubt, will make stuff up.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 46). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Nichols is Tom Nichols, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College.

The concept came to mind again when after a year in office the president riffed on climate change with British journalist Piers Morgan: “There is a cooling, and there’s a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place. The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records. They’re at a record level.”2 For the sake of history and science, I should add that arctic sea ice levels were at record lows as the president spoke (a generally well-known and accepted fact regardless of your views on human-caused climate change).

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 46). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It really wasn’t clear that Mr. Trump actually wanted much advice anyway. He told MSNBC’s Morning Joe in March, “My primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff, I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain.”

He had earlier identified the source of his foreign policy thinking to Chuck Todd of NBC: “Well, I really watch the shows. You really see a lot of great, you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows, and you have the generals and you have certain people that you like.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 62). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

One of the complaints that we cataloged was that Mr. Trump “has shown no interest in educating himself. He continues to display an alarming ignorance of basic facts of contemporary international politics. Despite his lack of knowledge, Mr. Trump claims that he understands foreign

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 67). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The morning of the first Trump briefing on August 17, he was asked on Trump-friendly Fox News whether he trusted U.S. intelligence. He replied, “Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country. I mean, . . . look what’s happened over the years. I mean, it’s been catastrophic. In fact, I won’t use some of the people that are standards—you know, just use them, use them, use them, very easy to use them, but I won’t use them because they’ve made such bad decisions.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 68). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The candidate started well: “I have great respect for the people that gave us the briefings . . . they were terrific people.” Indeed, one of the IC participants later told me that the candidate walked into the September 7 meeting with a decidedly respectful air, the way a layman would walk into a conference of experts or specialists. But then Mr. Trump alleged that despite the great advice these professionals had given them, “President Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, who is another total disaster, did exactly the opposite.”

When pressed on how he knew that, the candidate responded, “In almost every instance. And I could tell you. I have pretty good with the body language [sic]. I could tell they were not happy. Our leaders did not follow what they were recommending.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 70). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Candidate Trump would have none of it: “I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are. . . . Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia is because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 72). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Rejecting a fact-based intelligence assessment—not because of compelling contrarian data, but because it was inconsistent with a preexisting worldview or because it was politically inconvenient—is the stuff of ideological authoritarianism, not pragmatic democracy. And for the American intelligence community, seeing that from someone who could be president would have been very discomfiting.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 72). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The president’s charge of “political hacks” at the head of the American intelligence community was part of a broader pattern. When the institutions of the American government refuse to kowtow to the president’s transient whim, he sets out to devalue and delegitimize them in a way rarely, if ever, seen before in our history. A free (but admittedly imperfect) press is “fake news,” unless, of course, it is Fox; the FBI is in “tatters,” led by a “nut job” director and conducting a “witch hunt”; the Department of Justice, and particularly the attorney general, is weak; the intelligence community, in addition to being led by political hacks, is “Nazi”-like; the courts are manned by “so called” judges. Even the National Football League and the Boy Scouts of America have had to defend their integrity against presidential attacks designed solely to protect the president’s brand.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 208). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In early December, McMaster was again called on to defend the president, this time over his retweeting of three videos purporting to show gruesome Muslim violence against innocents that had been originally produced and captioned by a fringe anti-immigrant British group whose leader had been convicted of a Muslim hate crime. The Dutch embassy in Washington said that one of the videos showing its citizens was patently false, and British prime minister Theresa May condemned all of them, at the same time rebuking Trump for endorsing them.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 213). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

That was clear in February when Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee approved a memo written for and signed by their chairman, Devin Nunes, charging the FBI and the Department of Justice with malpractice and politicization for using the notorious Steele dossier to get a FISA warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Most folks like me condemned the memo’s thin four pages, especially its injection of hyperpartisanship into what has historically been a matter between career intelligence or law enforcement professionals and the federal courts. The memo was also misleadingly silent with regard to other evidence presented to the FISA judge beyond the Steele dossier and was almost immediately contradicted by press reports that the judge had indeed been aware of the political motivation behind those bankrolling Steele.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 217). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A healthy skepticism teaches that theories (i.e., current truths) are only temporary tools, subject to inquiry and observation, but this is the only path to knowledge, which is—in the Nobel tradition—the only course to betterment. Hence the alarm was sounded at the beginning of the day by Lars Heikensten, executive director of the Nobel Foundation, that “knowledge and pure facts are being questioned.” Ebadi, the Iranian activist, later warned that “cruelty to man begins with cruelty to words”; she cited “Islam” as a code word for misogyny, “nationalism” for xenophobia, “globalization” for closed factories, but there could have been many other examples.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (pp. 221-222). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

That theme and the apparent bottomlessness of presidential behavior were borne out two weeks later when, as much of the country was embarking for holiday destinations and the president was landing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump pressed the narrative that the FBI was in “tatters,” the Russia plot was a “hoax,” and Bob Mueller’s investigation was a “witch hunt.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 227). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And this president at various times has signaled his distrust, questioned the credibility, risked the capabilities, and downplayed the value of his intelligence community and, after ten months in office, when asked about vacancies in various foreign policy positions that historically have advised the White House, famously responded that this shouldn’t be a concern because “I’m the only one that matters.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 244). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Coverage extends beyond an analysis of Donald Trump’s lies. Much is devoted to intelligence analysis of Russia’s (Vladimir Putin’s) grand campaign to influence the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and ultimately in support of candidate Trump. There is also coverage of fringe players who cooked up imaginative scenarios and the politicians, prior to Trump, who played into them. Famous are Jade Helm and the concoctions of Bill Binney.

Jade Helm has since become a focus of mirth here in Texas and something used to pummel Republican Governor Greg Abbott:

It’s over, readers and fellow Texans. The greatest attempted power grab and threat to civil liberties since the Civil war is over, and vigilant Texans have prevailed. Jade Helm 15, the contrived “military exercise” that flooded Texas and other states with federal troops, concluded on September 15th. And Obama lost, again.

I cautioned of The Gathering Storm a few weeks ago:

GOVERNOR GREG ABBOTT
April 28, 2015

Major General Gerald “Jake” Betty
Commander, Texas State Guard
Texas Military Forces
2200 West 35th Street
Austin, Texas 78763

Dear General Betty:

To address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe, secure and informed about military procedures occurring in their vicinity, I am directing the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm 15. During the Operation’s eight-week training period from July 2015 to September 2015, I expect to receive regular updates on the progress and safety of the Operation.

During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed. By monitoring the Operation on a continual basis, the State Guard will facilitate communications between my office and the commanders of the Operation to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect Texans.

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has assured Texas that each location selected for training exercises will pose no risk to residents or property and that they will coordinate with local residents via verbal and written communication.

Directing the State Guard to monitor the Operation will allow Texas to be informed of the details of military personnel movements and training exercise schedules, and it will give us the ability to quickly and effectively communicate with local communities, law enforcement, public safety personnel and citizens.

The action I take today comes with the recognition of Texas’ long history of supporting our military forces and our proud tradition of training, deploying and supporting our active-duty troops and returning veterans. As Governor, I have the utmost respect for the deep patriotism of the brave military men and women who put their lives en the line to fight for and defend out freedom. I remain certain that our military members will keep America the freest and strongest nation the world has ever known.

Binney is a former CIA official, more lately a hair’s-on-fire conspiracy theorist for conservative outlets:

Binney is known for making the claim that the NSA collects and stores information about every U.S. communication. Binney was invited as a witness by the NSA commission of the German Bundestag. On July 3, 2014 Der Spiegel wrote, he said that the NSA wanted to have information about everything. In Binney’s view this is a totalitarian approach, which had previously been seen only in dictatorships. Binney stated that the goal was to control people. Meanwhile, he said that it is possible in principle to monitor the whole population, abroad and in the U.S., which in his view contradicts the United States Constitution.

In August 2014 Binney was among the signatories of an open letter by the group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity to German chancellor Angela Merkel in which they urged the Chancellor to be suspicious of U.S. intelligence regarding the alleged invasion of Russia in Eastern Ukraine. In the open letter, the group said:

[A]ccusations of a major Russian “invasion” of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the “intelligence” seems to be of the same dubious, politically “fixed” kind used 12 years ago to “justify” the U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

And that should be enough to get you interested in reading the book. It’s fresh, out earlier this year, and the Kindle edition is $15 ($14.99 plus tax). General Hayden is a clean writer, and the narrative flows effortlessly. His experience is deep, and this is the book shows this.

The book touches on a number of issues, but one I found to be close to me:

One evangelical leader (Reverend John Hagee, pastor of a San Antonio megachurch) labeled support for Israel “God’s foreign policy”11 and personally lobbied President Trump to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 52). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Yes, I receive Reverend Hagee’s newsletter headed Christians United for Israel (CUFI), finding time to comment on occasion:

Hagee has pointed out the correct solution was right under our noses all along. What fools we were:

On his Hagee Hotline show, Pastor Matthew Hagee told his listeners that climate change is not man made, but was foretold in the Bible as a sign that the return of Jesus Christ is imminent, according to Right Wing Watch. Hagee points out that the reports by scientists indicating the climate change can attributed to man made causes should not be believed because “in another place in scripture it says, ‘let God be true, and every man be a liar’.” Citing Matthew 25, where the Bible says that “strange weather patterns” would emerge prior to the arrival of Jesus, Hagee says we must take the word of God over men, “who are wrong, in spite of their education, in spite of their expertise, in spite of their philosophy. Whomever, and whatever, contradicts the word of God, is not correct.” Hagee goes on to explain that man should not waste time trying to “make everything as clean in the air as possible,” and that time would be better spent telling people about the return of Jesus. “The Bible says that whenever we approach the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strange weather patterns,” Ha[g]ee explained. “Jesus said this in Matthew the twenty-fifth chapter. So we have a decision to make: do we believe what an environmentalist group says and choose to live in a world where we’re attempting to make everything as clean in the air as possible, or do we believe what the Bible says, that these things were going to happen and that rather than try to clean up all of the air and solve all of the problems of the world by eliminating factories, we should start to tell people about Jesus Christ who is to return?”

See? All these stupid scientists had to do was to read Matthew (no relation) 25. Actually, it is Matthew 24 that describes these events, but what’s a chapter or two among biblical scholars?

And there’s more. Use the Search box at the top of this page to read more fascinating stuff about wacked out Reverend Hagee.

The Awful Truth

Number 5 in a Series

The title of this series derived from that of an old movie, but I use it to highlight that for some people the truth is often sorry news. The topic today is not a movie but a recent book by James R. Clapper, retired Air Force lieutenant general and most recently Director of National Intelligence. The book is Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence. I obtained the Kindle edition from Amazon after catching an interview with General Clapper on CNN. It’s 431 pages, but it’s an interesting read, provided stuff like intelligence and truth are of interest.

It’s a story of a life, quite literally, in the national intelligence business. Clapper is about five months younger than I am, and his father was in the Army signal intelligence field. So Clapper grew up in that world, traveling with his parents as his father was posted to exotic places following the fall of fascism. An early memory was arriving with his mother in Cairo, a visit that terminated abruptly somewhat later when King Farouk made a pass at his mother, and his father took a swing at the king. Someday let me tell you about my exciting childhood growing up in Hood County, Texas.

Anyhow, young James showed great promise and naturally drifted into military intelligence and eventually into  Wasington  bureaucracy. The key to the book is Clapper’s perspective on the current tussle over fact and truth in the Donald Trump administration, viewed with the vision of a person who spent a long career learning how to sift fact from fiction. He leaves a grim reminder that fiction is on the ascendancy. I’m going to present this perspective by way of showing pertinent clips from the book and adding elaboration when available. Start here with Clapper’s reaction to the outcome of the 2016 election:

I was shocked. Everyone was shocked, including Mr. Trump, who’d continued on Election Day to cast doubt on whether he would accept the election results as legitimate. Having a few minutes alone, I kept thinking of just how out of touch I was with the people who lived in Middle America. I’d been stationed in heartland states repeatedly during my military career, particularly Texas, and I had traveled extensively as an agency director in the early 2000s and again during the past six and a half years as DNI, meeting with Intelligence Community employees outside of St. Louis, speaking at the University of Texas at Austin and with the Chamber of Commerce in San Antonio, and visiting many other places. I’d joked to audiences about just how out of touch people in Washington were, and I’d never failed to draw a laugh, sometimes applause. Working down in the “engine room” of our national security enterprise—“shoveling intelligence coal,” as I liked to say—I never recognized just how much frustration with and resentment toward Washington those communities had, and just how deep the roots of their anger went. But Donald Trump had, and he’d appealed to them more than I’d realized or liked.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 1-2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It came as a surprise to most right-thinking people that fact no longer mattered, being cast aside over a call to our basest impulses. This is from the Introduction, and there’s more from this section summarizing Clapper’s take on the situation.

I also thought about the warning on Russian interference in the election that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and I had issued to the American public a month earlier. We’d agonized over the precise wording of the press release and whether naming Russian president Vladimir Putin as the mastermind and puppeteer of the Russian influence operation would cause an international incident, drawing Jeh’s department and the Intelligence Community into the political fray. Reading responses to exit polls, I realized that our release and public statements simply hadn’t mattered. I wasn’t sure if people were oblivious to the seriousness of the threat we’d described or if they just didn’t care what the Russians were doing.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I wondered what President Obama was thinking and if he regretted his reticence to “put his thumb on the scale” of the election—as he put it—by not publicly calling out the Russian interference while Putin was effectively standing on the other end of that scale. At the same time, I was no longer sure it would have mattered to the people in Middle America if the president had presented everything we knew about Russia’s massive cyber and propaganda efforts to undermine American democracy, disparage former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and promote Donald Trump.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 2). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I didn’t realize it then, but the Russians were just as shocked as we were. They’d succeeded beyond their wildest imagination and were completely unprepared for their own success. The Russian propaganda network in the United States, formerly known as Russia Today and since rebranded as just “RT,” was jubilant in calling the election for Mr. Trump: “That’s what this is, a defining moment in global history, that America is willing to turn the page and possibly isolate itself from the rest of the world.” They declared, “The next speech that Donald Trump gives to the world will be one of the most important speeches in the history of the world.” As the anchors reveled in Trump’s victory, the crawl at the bottom of the screen continued running lines intended to delegitimize Clinton’s win, such as SEVERAL STATES REPORT BROKEN VOTING MACHINES. The Russian internet troll factory scrambled to stop its #DemocracyRIP social media campaign, set to run from its fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

After the election, the CIA and the FBI continued to uncover evidence of preelection Russian propaganda, all intended to undermine Clinton and promote Trump, and the Intelligence Community continued to find indications of Russian cyber operations to interfere with the election. At a National Security Council meeting on Monday, December 5, President Obama gave us more explicit instructions. He wanted the CIA, NSA, and FBI—each agency with the mission-specific tradecraft and capabilities to determine what the Russians had done—to assemble all their findings, encompassing the most sensitive sourcing, into a single report that he could pass on to the next administration and to Congress. He also asked us to produce a paper for public consumption with as much information from the classified version as possible. And critically, he wanted all of this done before he left office. The highly classified IC assessment that resulted was, I believe, a landmark product—among the most important ever produced by US intelligence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 3-4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

For me, there was no specific moment in that time, no flash of insight when I understood that our primary adversary for nearly all of my half century as a US intelligence professional was—without exaggeration—hacking away at the very roots of our democracy. That realization slowly washed over me in 2016 in a tide that continued to rise after the election, and even after I’d left government and the new administration had transitioned into power. My concern about what I saw taking place in America—and my apprehension that we were losing focus on what the Russians had done to us—is ultimately what persuaded me to write this book, to use what we had learned in our IC assessment to frame my experience and our collective experience as Americans.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

My hope is to capture and share the experience of more than fifty years in the intelligence profession, to impart the pride that intelligence officers take in their work, the care with which they consider the ethical implications of surveillance and espionage, and the patriotism and willingness to sacrifice that they bring to the job. And finally, I intend to show that what Russia did to the United States during the 2016 election was far worse than just another post–Cold War jab at an old adversary. What to us was a sustained assault on our traditional values and institutions of governance, from external as well as internal pressures. In the wake of that experience, my fear is that many Americans are questioning if facts are even knowable, as foreign adversaries and our national leaders continue to deny objective reality while advancing their own “alternative facts.” America possesses great strength and resilience, but how we rise to this challenge—with clear-eyed recognition of the unbiased facts and by setting aside our doubts—is entirely up to us. I believe the destiny of the American ideal is at stake.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

And that pretty much sums up the book’s introduction. Any more, and I would have pasted here the entire text. I will skip over much that details Clapper’s career in military intelligence, highlighting only a few excerpts. Then I will close out with events most of us recall from watching TV. First some career highlights. Here’s something that came up in another book I reviewed recently:

Many of the prominent code crackers of World War II had been women who’d stayed with the agency after the war, and NSA in the 1960s was appreciative of their contributions and more open to having them in leadership positions than the rest of government or corporate America. My dad had worked for several of these women in the 1950s, including Juanita Moody and Ann Caracristi, who in 1980 would shatter the glass ceiling as deputy director of NSA. Hearing him talk about these individuals as smart, capable leaders, without his making a big deal about their gender, made a bigger impression on my views of women than any feminist views my mother ever expressed.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 19). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

His years in military service encompassed historical transformations:

family. The most indelible experience I had was processing the dishonorable discharges of two airmen who were roommates in the barracks, and who had been “outed” (which was not a term used back then) as homosexual. In the day, there was—by regulation—no other recourse. They automatically lost their security clearances and were expelled from the service. At best, homosexuals were given general discharges; some received dishonorable. These two individuals were model airmen: superb Russian linguists, meticulous about their military responsibilities, and devoted to serving their country. I remember thinking what a waste of talent it was, in addition to being a profound injustice, and it viscerally bothered me that I was forced to play a part in their unceremonious dismissals.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 21). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In those days intelligence was largely historical, telling people what had happened, not what was happening and certainly not forecasting what was going to happen.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 22). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Because of the size of the Soviet Union and China, high-frequency Morse code was the primary way to effectively communicate across such vast distances, so the entire Eurasian landmass was ringed with SIGINT sites, stretching from Japan to Turkey to Britain. Each signals intelligence station employed hundreds of GIs—soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines—copying “dits and dahs” around the clock, day in and day out.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 25). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In February 1959, the Air Force attempted the launch of its first “overhead” collection capability—Corona. The first launch vehicle never left the pad. In assessing America’s early successes in space photoreconnaissance and just how much they changed the game against the Soviets, people tend to forget that in 1959 and 1960 our first thirteen attempts at Corona failed.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 26). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Tensions between North and South escalated, and US Air Force B-52s continued to fly patrols parallel to the DMZ. The North Koreans, in turn, put their air-defense systems on high alert, flew MiG fighters on frequent patrols, and dispatched their submarines out to sea. We intercepted communications indicating that Kim Il-sung might order an invasion into South Korea. I stayed in the office for about three days without going home, communicating via Teletype with an Army major who was my counterpart in South Korea. The sense of an imminent war was palpable through the crisis, and it took several weeks for the situation to stabilize enough for us to fall back into a regular rhythm.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 34). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I had not fully appreciated the consuming siege mentality that pervades North Korea until I visited and engaged directly with senior officials there. The leadership elites in the North work hard to maximize paranoia among the population. Portraying the United States as an enemy that’s constantly on the brink of invading it is one of the chief propaganda themes that’s held North Korea together for the past sixty years. They are also deadly serious about any perceived affronts to the Supreme Leader, whom they literally consider a deity. The DPRK is a family-owned country and has been that way ever since it was founded in the 1940s. Because of its history, the DPRK sees developing nuclear weapons as its insurance policy and ticket to survival. North Korea wants to be recognized as a world power, and its entire society, including their conventional military forces, suffers for the relentless, single-minded commitment to develop and field these weapons and delivery systems to threaten the United States. Neither they nor we really know if their weapons work, but in many ways, it doesn’t matter. They achieved nuclear deterrence long ago, because we have to assume that if they do launch an ICBM at the United States, it will reach our shores and detonate. They have effectively played their nuclear hand to the hilt, for without even proving they have the relevant capability, they’ve capitalized on nuclear deterrence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 49-50). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Reading the account of  his own career, which nobody will deny is factual, you have to conclude that James Clapper came to be knowledgeable about all facets of intelligence gathering and analysis. He gives the impression of one who values true and useful information, but he reemphasizes that the job of intelligence agencies is to present proper detail and the significance of intelligence but at the same time not to extrapolate and not to suggest consequences. Military, law enforcement, and politicians bear the responsibility for taking action.

His service in Washington provided Clapper with insight into  a number of personalities, insight that eventually became reflected in news headlines. One such person was two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When Clapper applied to head up the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (then NIMA), Secretary Rumsfeld had to sign off on his hiring:

Almost as soon as I sat down, Rumsfeld was off on a rant about Congress, complaining about partisan politics and how too many members catered to their constituents over the best interests of the nation.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 90). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper found the meeting uncomfortable, resulting in this exchange:

As my thirty-minute appointment extended to forty-five minutes, I thought that if I was a wagering man, I’d bet he’d be out of the job before Christmas. The interview came to a merciful end. He stood, shook my hand, and wished me luck. Outside, Staser saw my quizzical look and told me I had the job.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 91). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Staser” is “retired Vice Admiral Staser Holcomb, who had been Secretary Rumsfeld’s military assistant the first time he’d served as secretary of defense and who was now serving informally as Rumsfeld’s “executive headhunter,” recruiting people for senior positions in DOD.” [Page 87]

A subsequent encounter with Secretary Rumsfeld led ultimately to Clapper’s firing from head of NIMA.

At that lunch, Mike and I both advocated establishing a strong DNI, rather than creating a weak figurehead that would diffuse or confuse authority, and we told the secretary that he should back legislation that would align the three “national” agencies under a DNI. The agencies could still fulfill their combat support responsibilities, but they would produce better intelligence under an authority whose full-time focus would be on integrating their work. We appealed to him to support improving how intelligence functioned, rather than protecting the existing bureaucracy. Secretary Rumsfeld cut short the lunch and left, missing a good dessert. Mike would later say that my discourse that day was the reason my NGA directorship was ultimately terminated early.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 105). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“DNI” is Director of National Intelligence, and “NGA” is a subsequent abbreviation for the agency that was NIMA.

Another personality eventually to become notable is Lieutenant General Michael Flynn:

When I first went to Russia in 1992, I was taken aback, even disappointed, at seeing the run-down infrastructure and the plight of Russian citizens. It was graphic evidence that behind the formidable Soviet military power was a third- or fourth-rate economy. On a subsequent trip, I visited GRU headquarters—the Russian military intelligence agency that was DIA’s nominal counterpart, much as the KGB was CIA’s. (I don’t know if I was the first DIA director to visit GRU, but I do know that Lieutenant General Mike Flynn was not the first DIA director to visit there in 2013, as he claimed.) There we found Soviet military equipment being sold at bargain-basement prices to raise funds to keep the agency functioning, so DIA bought jets, tanks, guns, antiaircraft systems, and whatever else we thought would be useful to study and exploit, as well as anything we wanted to keep off the black market.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 79). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

General Flynn served briefly in the administrations of President Obama and President Trump. Prior to that he became noted for keeping his own facts, which facts have come to be called “Flynn facts.”

Mike had spent his career, particularly the decade since 9/11, on the tactical edge of battle. He had never directed a large organization before, and he made some of the same mistakes I’d made as a new DIA director in 1991, including not properly engaging the workforce before undertaking a major reorganization. He could have rectified the situation, but he didn’t address the civilian workforce’s concerns when they were brought to him, and he made matters worse by increasingly demanding that civilians behave like uniformed service members. Stories started leaking out of DIA that he was using analysts to chase down crazy conspiracy theories, which the workforce had dubbed “Flynn facts.” He also clashed with his boss in the Pentagon, Mike Vickers, and publicly criticized the president’s policy decisions, asserting that the president should refer to terrorists as “Islamic extremists.”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 331). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As General Flynn exited military life and entered politics, his persona became more flamboyant and his discourse more strident:

With the Trump team setting the agenda, the convention seemed to revel in pessimism about the state of the nation and the direction it was heading. On Monday, Mike Flynn led the crowd in chanting “Lock her up!” in reference to the Clinton email scandal. He seemed so consumed by partisan anger that I barely recognized the man I’d traveled the world with when he’d still been in uniform.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 341). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper notes with alarm Flynn’s actions as he entered the Trump administration:

Three days after candidate Trump released his December 7 anti-Islam statement, former DIA director and retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn appeared in Moscow at a gala for RT. He was seated beside Putin at dinner and was paid forty-five thousand dollars to speak. I knew Mike well, and it boggled my mind that he would so knowingly compromise himself.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 330). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

RT is the new name for Russia TV, a television network funded by the Russian government.

The book addresses the matters of Bradley Manning—an Army private—and Edward Snowden, both of whom filched classified information, eventually shared world-wide by WikiLeaks. For details of these episodes you might want to read the book or wait for separate blog postings that concentrate on these matters.

People who want to discredit our intelligence and law enforcement services have found a target in Clapper’s statements before a Senate “worldwide threat assessment hearing” on 12 March 2013. His response to a question from Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon has become fodder for a host of those seeking to avoid the embarrassment of Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and more. Senator Wyden posed a question during an open session:

And this is for you, Director Clapper—again, on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Of course, Director Clapper knew of the NSA program to track phone traffic related to conversations that included suspicious foreigners, and he knew that these conversations sometimes involved American citizens, people who might not be involved in illegal activity. The program was a closely kept secret, because it would not be a good idea for spies to know the NSA was doing this. Senator Wyden demanded a yes or no answer, which the question did not deserve. There was hardly any response Clapper could have made, even beyond a yes or a no. If he told the senator that he was unable to answer that question in an open meeting, that would have given a strong signal that the NSA was monitoring telephone traffic, and he would have been guilty of divulging classified information. But the senator referred to “dossiers” on Americans, something which the NSA was not compiling in the manner indicated. Clapper answered no to that question, which was technically correct, but which later turned out to be something used to torch him.

The theme of this book is the fading esteem for fact and truth in the new government, and I will finish with some pertinent quotes.

For the past several years, I’d watched as “unpredictable instability” instability” around the world had prompted angry populations to rise up against their governments and societies. It led to al-Qaida, ISIS, and their ilk proliferating from Afghanistan to Southwest Asia and into North Africa and Europe. It led to civil wars in Libya and Syria and a global refugee crisis unlike anything the world had seen since the end of the Second World War, which my dad had helped end. Unpredictable instability brought pain, war, and suffering to the world. In the United States, it gave us Donald Trump.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 357). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I was far from being the only person who was shocked by the outcome, and as the Russians scrambled to stop their #DemocracyRIP social media campaign, President-elect Trump’s circle seemed to have no strategy for shifting from campaign mode to administration-transition mode. Rather than working with the State Department, or even contacting it, Trump was taking calls from world leaders, apparently from whoever could get his personal cell phone number. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull famously obtained it from professional golfer Greg Norman and was one of eight world leaders to call Trump with congratulations on the day his victory was announced. With no State Department involvement, no one briefed the president-elect on bilateral issues or existing agreements, and the United States has no official record of what was said during those conversations.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 357-358). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

There was and remains no doubt the government of Vladimir Putin dreaded the possibility Hillary Clinton would be elected, and they worked against her candidacy from the get-go. When Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee they shifted their focus and worked toward his election. As seen from the foregoing, toward the end they feared Trump would lose and focused on discrediting the American election process.

During his final weeks employed by the government, Director Clapper had the opportunity to read the world’s response to Donal Trump’s election:

I traveled from Oman to Kuwait and then to Jordan, where I had lunch with King Abdullah on Friday. The king tried to hide his pique that there had been no communication between Trump’s team and his government. He ended the lunch early, and I watched wistfully as someone carried off my plate after I’d had only a couple of bites of a superb steak. The next day, I flew from Jordan to Israel, ending another trip to the Middle East with a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He seemed a different person, jubilant with the results of the election. He couldn’t stop smiling and noted that he’d had a terrific conversation with the president-elect within hours of Trump’s delivering his victory speech. I congratulated him, and he gave me another of his cigars.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 359). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The election of Donald Trump is one of the few joys shared by Putin and Netanyahu. There was valid concern the new administration would seek to minimize the actions of the Putin government.  Members of the intelligence community sought to forestall these efforts while they still had the directive to do so.

Regardless of our cooperation with the Trump transition team, we hadn’t forgotten what Russia had done. The FBI and CIA were coming across new evidence of Russian activities relating to the election every day, and I was starting to see that the scope and scale of their effort was much bigger than Jeh or I had understood when we’d released our statement in October.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 361). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The concerns of the intelligence agencies turned out to have merit. The words and actions of Donald Trump following the election make it clear he sees this Russian business as a threat to his legitimacy:

As we discussed those possibilities in the White House Situation Room, the public dialogue about Russian interference was heating up. Seeming to fear it called the legitimacy of his election into question, the president-elect responded defensively whenever the subject was raised. In an interview with Time magazine on November 28, he countered a question on Russian activities with, “I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point.” Asked who he thought had hacked the Democrats’ email accounts and IT systems, he responded, “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

We knew it was not someone in New Jersey, and I was fairly certain that President-elect Trump knew that as well. At an NSC meeting on Monday, December 5, President Obama told us he wanted CIA, FBI, and NSA to integrate all their relevant intelligence into a single report to pass on to the next administration and Congress. He also asked us to derive from it an unclassified document for public consumption with as much information from the classified version as possible. And critically, he wanted all of this done before January 20—the end of his administration.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 361-362). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

On Friday, December 9, unnamed “officials briefed on the matter” leaked the effort to the press, saying the CIA and FBI had reached the conclusion that Russia had helped Trump win. The leak wasn’t quite accurate, and certainly wasn’t helpful, but the immediate response from President-elect Trump’s transition team was even worse. Under the seal of “President Elect Donald J. Trump,” the team published a press release that—with no preamble—began, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’” It was stunning. Based on rumors from anonymous sources, the president-elect had lashed out reflexively to delegitimize the Intelligence Community—the same IC that would be serving him in forty-two days, that was already giving him President Obama’s PDBs. The attack was disturbing, as was its demonstrably false assertion that his victory was one of the “biggest” ever.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 362-363). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Fact was dying a quick death.

The president-elect seemed increasingly desperate to make the story of Russian interference go away, constantly denying there had been any impact on the election or any interference at all. On December 28, he said that it was “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things.” President Obama didn’t want to focus on the Russian issue during his final weeks in office, either, but he wasn’t simply going to “move on.” On December 29, he ordered new sanctions against Russia and declared thirty-five known Russian spies in the United States to be persona non grata and sent them home. He also closed the two Russian-owned facilities in Maryland and New York. I didn’t think that response was commensurate with what they’d done to us, but I also knew we weren’t prepared to take more drastic steps. We waited to see how Putin would respond, fully expecting a reciprocal retaliation.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 365-366). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The same day, as was confirmed when he later pled guilty to lying to the FBI about it, National Security Adviser-designate Mike Flynn called Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, assuring him not to worry about the sanctions and asking that Russia not retaliate. On the following day, Putin announced he would not expel anyone from Russia and would not respond in kind to the new US sanctions, saying he would wait to work with the next US presidential administration. Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)—I always knew he was very smart!”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 366). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper details the Russian propaganda successes:

We showed unambiguously that Putin had ordered the campaign to influence the election, that the campaign was multifaceted, and that Russia had used cyber espionage against US political organizations and publicly disclosed the data they collected through WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and the Guccifer 2.0 persona. We documented Russian cyber intrusions into state and local voter rolls. We described Russia’s pervasive propaganda efforts through RT, Sputnik, and the social media trolls, and how the entire operation had begun with attempts to undermine US democracy and demean Secretary Clinton, then shifted to promoting Mr. Trump when Russia assessed he was a viable candidate who would serve their strategic goals. We added historical context to show just how much of an unprecedented escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort all of this represented, and we assessed that the election operation signaled a “new normal in Russian influence efforts.” The Russian government had done all of this at minimal cost and without significant damage to their own interests, and they had no real incentive to stop.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 366-367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

As events moved toward the change in government, the president-elect became strident in his denunciation of truth:

On Tuesday President-elect Trump attempted to undercut our assessment before its release, tweeting, “The ‘intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 367). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

At 8:30 on Friday morning we were back on Capitol Hill, presenting our briefing to the “Gang of Eight”: the party leaders in the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Our presentation was fast-paced and terse, as we had to leave by 9:30 to stay on schedule. I departed the Capitol with the impression that the leaders of both parties were taken aback, both by the extent of the Russian operation and by the thoroughness with which we’d documented the facts and evidence.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 373). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The matter of the Steele dossier (think “Pee Pee Tape”) was first broached to :the president-elect at a briefing in Trump Tower:

As we closed the briefing, Jim Comey took advantage of a pause in conversation to address the president-elect. We’d agreed that one of the two of us would bring up “one additional matter,” a subject “best discussed on a one-on-one basis” with the president-elect. The additional matter was a dossier—a collection of seventeen “pseudo-intelligence” reports created by a private company—which I first learned about from John Brennan a week or so after we’d been tasked to conduct the IC assessment. I didn’t know until after my tenure as DNI that the dossier had begun as opposition research against Mr. Trump during the Republican primary race and then, sponsored by the Democrats, had continued to expand during the general election campaign. The memos covered a wide range of topics all related to long-standing interactions between Trump, his associates, and the Russians. It further alleged that the Russian government had compromising material on the president-elect and his team, which it had not disclosed during the course of the election or since.

Some details in the report were salacious, but in our professional opinions, the more ominous accounts alleged ties between members of the Trump team and the Russian government. Because we had not corroborated any of the sources used to generate the dossier, we had not included it as part of our IC assessment. We knew that at least two congressional members and some of the media had copies of the dossier, and that it could be published—in whole or in part—at any moment. While we could neither confirm nor refute anything in the document, we felt what I expressed as a “duty to warn” the president-elect that it existed and that it potentially could be made public. I wondered at the time—and have often done so since—what the reaction would have been had we not warned the president-elect about the existence of the dossier, and he later learned we had known about it and chosen not to tell him.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 375-376). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The Steele dossier and the matter of the “Pee Pee Tape” continues to roil the debate and to be a subject of attacks on the intelligence agencies. For me, it’s a never ending source of mirth;

During the course of briefing the incoming administration, Clapper received clear signs there was no plan to follow advice regarding the Russian government operations. He took action to ensure some pertinent facts would get out.

Before we cleared the conference room, the Trump team had already begun drafting their press release about our meeting. I overheard their first point, that the US IC had assessed that the Russian interference did not change the outcome of the election—which was very different from our acknowledgment that we hadn’t, and couldn’t, assess its impact. We had to let it pass. In the hallway I took the opportunity to engage Tom Bossert, who in turn introduced me to the vice president-elect. I spoke with them briefly, suggesting that the new administration consider asking Nick Rasmussen to stay on as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, which it did.

In the car on the way back to Newark Airport, I called Brian Hale (who only requested to be described as “tanned and rested” if we mentioned him in this book) and told him to publish the unclassified IC assessment immediately.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 376). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Clapper emphasized the word immediately.

The facts of the Russian operation continued to be a political football, in play by both parties.

For the next two hours, as the American public, the Russian government, and the rest of the world watched, we answered questions about the Russian cyber and influence operation. The senators, and simultaneously the media, sought to parse our every word, Democrats looking for collusion between Trump’s team and the Russians, Republicans for evidence of a conspiracy that the IC was attempting to undermine the president-elect.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 379). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

When I finally had the free time to check on world events, I found that all the contentiousness of the hearings and briefings had been completely overshadowed by other breaking news: BuzzFeed had published the now-infamous dossier on Trump, the one that Jim had warned the president-elect about five days earlier. In a classic case of “shoot the messenger,” Trump publicly blamed us for the publication of the dossier—yet another indication to me that his administration would not appreciate anyone’s speaking truth to power, particularly if the truth was politically inconvenient.

I woke Wednesday to find that Trump had tweeted another early-morning attack on us: “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” I was floored by the analogy, and Jewish communities in the United States and abroad called for him to apologize and retract the statement. That afternoon in my office, I watched the president-elect in a televised news conference, doubling down on his Nazi tweet, again alleging that US intelligence agencies had “allowed” the dossier to leak—as though we had any control over a document we’d discovered already “out in the wild.” He continued, “I think it’s a disgrace. And I say that, and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.” Not helping the situation, the New York Times quickly published a story apparently intended to clarify that he meant to refer to US intelligence as the Stasi, not the Gestapo.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (pp. 379-380). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Following his retirement, General Clapper watched unfolding events with a combination of humor and horror (my interpretation):

And I watched from the outside as the new administration struggled to govern while contending with the new president’s aversion to inconvenient facts.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Contrary to all the images and data, Sean Spicer berated the media for their coverage, announcing, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Telling them the White House would hold them responsible for misrepresentations, he took no questions.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

An hour and a half later, President Trump was on camera at CIA headquarters. When I’d heard the first place he would visit as president was the CIA, I naïvely wondered if my appeal to his higher instincts had somehow had impact. No. He took to the microphone and began rambling about the “dishonest media,” the size of his inauguration crowd, and his belief that military and law enforcement people had voted for him en masse, lumping the CIA into those categories and saying, “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me, but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did. But I would guarantee a big portion, because we’re all on the same wavelength, folks.” He expressed his support of the IC with “I want to say that there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump. There’s nobody.” He briefly interrupted himself to say, “The wall behind me is very, very special,” and then resumed his self-aggrandizing diatribe. The problem was that the sacred wall he was standing before—with its 125 stars representing fallen CIA officers—is the CIA’s equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, not a place for politics or boasting. I considered putting out a statement, but John Brennan expressed that he was “deeply saddened and angered” and that “Trump should be ashamed of himself,” and I felt that covered it.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 384). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Neither the book nor outside information identify James Clapper as a Democrat or a Republican. Throughout he comes across as holding decidedly progressive views, on the promotion of  women and on equal treatment of people of all kinds. He leaves no doubt he considers the current president as both corrupt and an enemy of the truth.

The Golden Shower

Number 33 of a Series

I recently finished reading James Clapper’s book, Facts and Fears, out last month and available in a Kindle edition for $15 ($14.99 plus tax). Clapper is a retired Air Force lieutenant general, more recently serving as Director of National Intelligence. His final day on the job was inauguration day for President Donald Trump, and during his long career in military intelligence and in the civilian intelligence system he had great opportunity to observe the workings of our government’s very expensive system for gathering information.

In his course he developed a great respect for fact and the telling of truth. As he observed the candidacy of Donald Trump he was dismayed at both the lack of regard for truth and at the same time the ever more obvious fact that Mr. Trump was under the influence of a foreign government. The later chapters of his book deal with his assessment of Mr. Trump and with the influence the Russian government exerted on the 2016 election.

To be clear, it quickly became obvious to American intelligence that Vladimir Putin’s government despised candidate Hillary Clinton, and it set its intelligence warfare apparatus to work with the aim to undermine her candidacy. When Donald Trump became the presumptive nominee, much of the Russians’ effort swung toward support for the Trump campaign. I will write a review of the book, but for now a few excerpts will illustrate James Clapper’s observations.

The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 352). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

We knew now that the Russians had thousands of Twitter accounts and tens of thousands of bots that posted more than a million tweets. They posted more than a thousand videos on YouTube with days of streaming content. Facebook has said Russian content reached 126 million of its American users—an astonishing number, considering that only 139 million Americans voted.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 395). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Most interesting was the extent to which members of Congress, dominated by Trump’s party, were eager to support the narrative pushed by Russian intelligence. Particularly, the Fox cable network, which never seems to find a right wing notion it will not support, diligently assisted in the Russian effort.

In April, Mr. Trump first used the phrase “lying, crooked Hillary” to refer to his likely opponent in the primary election. RT, Fox News, and paid and unpaid trolls across social media latched on to the moniker. Russia and the Trump campaign seemed to be quite in sync, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were colluding—coordinating their efforts behind closed doors. They may simply have had a lot in common: a strong dislike for both the Washington political establishment and Hillary Clinton personally; a proclivity for social media, particularly Twitter, which meant they’d end up sharing each other’s ideas on the internet [sic]; and a genuine delight in wallowing in conspiracy theories.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 334). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

If you are not familiar with the RT television network, an excerpt from Wikipedia will be helpful:

RT (formerly Russia Today) is a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government. It operates cable and satellite television channels directed to audiences outside of Russia, as well as providing Internet content in English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic and Russian.

Government intelligence agencies initiated an intense investigation into the activities waged against the election, and this effort continues to the present. Prior to the end of his term in office, President Obama ordered briefings on these intelligence findings and made them available to the new administration. With great dismay, the intelligence community found that rather than accepting these findings whole heartedly, the Trump administration pushed back with a vengeance. After Donald Trump assumed office FBI Director James Comey declined to put an end to the bureau’s investigation and President Trump fired him. Subsequently a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, was appointed to investigate and to bring criminal charges to those involved in criminal activity. That was 13 months ago, and during all this time the Trump administration, right-leaning members of Congress, and also conservative news outlets, have maintained an effort to end these investigations and, failing that, to undermine public confidence in the findings and in the people working the case.

With some surprise, I find amusement in all this. An element of my amusement is a stream  of imagery running across my TV screen almost daily. Most recently, there was John Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight.

Oliver claims this is one of a series he calls “Stupid Watergate.”

Regardless, it’s Oliver’s biting— and at the same time humorous—take, on the massive pushback against the Mueller investigation and on the simultaneous attacks against the American intelligence agencies. I streamed the TV episode on my computer and captured 59 screen shots to illustrate the story line, and I may not use all of them in this posting. Here’s the story.

Fox Network is particularly aggressive in casting the investigation as a witch-hunt. Sean Hannity, who has very close ties with the president, does not have enough time in a day to say all he wants relating to the matter.

Tucker Carlson is no less effusive.

Additionally, Fox has Sebastian Gorka, Roger Stone, Newt Gingrich, and even President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

At this time I need to apologize if somebody in these shots appears in bad form. Truth is I have to watch these stream live on YouTube, and I have to snag the Print Screen button at just the right moment, when nobody’s eyes are closed, or worse. Sometimes I am successful.

Anyhow, they are all calling the Mueller investigation a witch-hunt, prompting John Oliver to declare therefore there must be witches.

New indictment filed against Manafort names ally with Russian intel ties. “… 20 people and 3 companies have been charged.”

From The New York Times:

Mueller investigation enters year two: What comes next — and how it could end “Five guilty pleas.”

Oliver points out the objective of this jawboning the matter has the goal of reducing public confidence in the process and the people. Last July 62% of those polled thought the investigation should continue. By April of this year the level had dropped to 54%. The strategy seems to be working.

On another matter, it is being claimed by the president and his allies that federal authorities planted a spy in his organization back in 2016. This narrative is being pushed relentlessly, despite a complete lack of evidence.

Oliver outlines three tactics employed to deflect the investigation findings. The first is “redefine,” establish a alternate definition of what the investigation is about and attack that.

Here is a woman commenting on Fox News. Somebody please help me to identify her, because I have no clue. Anyhow, we hear her saying:

Mueller is there to show collusion between Russia and Trump, and there is [none] so far, so why not end it.

Hannity is saying:

Where is there any evidence of collusion? Show us. Nothing so far. Not a whiff.

Katrina Pierson, advisor for Trump 2020 campaign:

There is zero evidence of Russia collusion.

And Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway makes the ultimate case, and if anybody can explain it to me, then I will buy them a beer. And I will have one for myself.

Unkindly, Oliver reminds these good people that evidence of Russian collusion is not and never was a part of Mueller’s directive. His task, as originally directed by his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, was to [investigate]:

“… any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of  President Donald Trump …”

The second tactic is what Oliver calls “whataboutism.”

Yeah, what about all that stuff others do? Hannity points to our notorious two-tiered justice system, apparently one set of rules for his favorite president and another set for everybody else.

He informs us of the massive load of malfeasance perpetrated by those others.

These are all very bad people, and if anybody can tell me what they have done that warrants my attention, then there is another beer waiting.

Oliver counters with his own list, equally staked out. Almost anybody can put a bulletin board and a list of perps in bold white font.

He notes the utility of this approach. If you produce a movie, and it gets a bad rating, then you can point to the blockbuster hit From Justin to Kelly. “Look at how bad that was, so why am I not getting an Oscar?”

The logic is impossible to challenge.

Then there is the counter narrative.

I don’t watch Fox News much, so I missed out on some stuff. Apparently Hannity has a passel of conspiracy theory story boards that outline the Mueller and Clinton crime families.

Who would have suspected this stuff was going on? Possibly not Hannity, but definitely a basket full of deplorables, who bought into this line and voted for Donald Trump. Sadly, it turns out, there is one graphic which even John Oliver is unable to decipher. Explanation please, and another beer.

More or less echoing what James Clapper details in his book, Hannity has been on the air “night after night” pushing the theory that the investigation is one massive plot to take down President Trump, and it involves the Democrats, the FBI, the “deep state,” and “establishment” Republicans. Hannity repeats a favorite catch phrase, calling the Mueller investigation bigger than Watergate. He says again and again it makes Watergate look “like stealing a Snickers bar.” There follows a sequence of shots similar to the one below and showing Hannity invoking the Snickers comparison.

This gives Oliver the opening to have his own fun with a Snickers bar.

Two of the names on Hannity’s “Waiting to be Raided” board are Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. These were two government workers originally gainfully employed in the Mueller investigation. While so employed, they were also enjoying some sub rosa snuggle bunnies. They were humping on the sly while married to others. Worse, they were found to have exchanged disparaging remarks about Donal Trump, said exchanges being conveyed through their employer’s email system. Mueller dismissed both from the investigation upon learning this, and they have since left government service.

Gone from the taxpayers feed trough, the pair still provide grist for the Fox News mill. Gregg Jarrett does not pass up the opportunity to refer to them: “If these two cheating love birds, who were still married to other people at the time, have any opportunity to still do their jobs at the FBI …”

This is the opening for Hannity. He is ripe to unload on Page with choice characterization:

There she is. FBI love bird Lisa Page …

This is scandalous beyond the pale. I mean, Watergate comes off as filching a Snickers bar by comparison.

That stalwart of moral propriety, Mike Huckabee, joins the chorus. He goes full conspiratorial, cupping his hands to his mouth as he intones “and secret lover” when referring to Page. Hester Prynne somebody else need your A.

Appears to be the same Fox News mystery woman, dishing on Strzok and Page. They are getting off the hook for their misdeeds to keep the anti-Trump scheme on  oxygen.

The pair’s misdeeds are undisputed. From The Washington Post:

FBI officials’ text message about Hillary Clinton said to be a cover story for romantic affair. “… relied on work phones to try to hide their romance from a spouse …”

The views they exchanged were unworthy of government employees:

“God trump is a lothsome human.”

“God Hillary should win 1,000,000,000 – 0.”

Imagine what kind of person would say such a thing about Donald Trump. A possible description might be “sentient life form.”

The picture painted by those pesky facts is less than lurid. From The Wall Street Journal, which went to the trouble of reading the several thousand messages exchanged between the two:

Inside the FBI Life of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, as Told in  their Text Messages

The conclusion being “… show no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump.”

Introducing “Spy Gate,” a more recent Hannity brain storm, according to Oliver.

At this point I pause to weep for the English lexicon. Forty-six years ago the Democratic Party was headquartered in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. The etymology for this site has a local history, but at the time I was already acquainted with the need to apply spiffy names to mundane constructions, being acquainted with the newly-constructed Westgate building in Austin, Texas.

Anyhow, for the next two years the word Watergate was on the front page of about every American newspaper, and it got stuck in copywriters’ heads, filling that empty place from which originality is supposed to flow. Since the time it has become the custom to name a scandal of any scale by snagging a tag word and appending “gate.” Shortly there was Koreagate:

 … in 1976 involving South Korean political figures seeking influence from 10 Democratic members of Congress.

After that there was no holding back the flood, producing among many, Tunagate. Alas, “Spygate” was inevitable.

Despite Mr. Hannity’s deepest desires and despite what fuels the fever in his imaginative brain, Spygate is he stuff of yawns. From The New York Times:

F.B.I. Used informant to investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims

“… F.B.I. agents sent an informant to  talk to two campaign advisers [who] had suspicious contacts linked to Russia …”

Working at a cut above Alex Jones, Fox News relentlessly pumps the Spygate liturgy. Congressman Trey Gowdy, no stranger to investigative overreach, is seen telling panelists on CBS This Morning that the FBI was doing exactly what the FBI is required to do in such a situation. Not good news for Fox and Friends, and not so good for Congressman Gowdy, as well, his comments drawing immediate fire from Trump supporters.

Fox and Friends want us to know government investigators spooked the Trump campaign apparatus in a dark scheme to undermine the candidate. In a different world, where the sun comes up every morning, newspaper headlines read, “FBI Investigates Possible Crime.”

Oliver characterizes this as reporting that Domino’s delivers pizza. Who would have thought of that?

We see Lou Dobbs, commenting on Gowdy’s remarks:

I’m naming names here. I’m through with it. Trey Gowdy … is schizophrenic … He is absolutely in the service of the establishment. And the deep state, where they are consciously … purposely …

And that is so amusing, because “the establishment” is what left wing radicals used to call the Republican Party 50 years ago.

Oliver reminds us this is in  accordance with Conspiracy Theory 101 [my words]. Anybody speaking against the conspiracy theory is part of the conspiracy.

Something is obvious wrong here. We see Hannity making the case in a most queer way:

No evidence of Trump Russia collusion. Mueller, if you got it, come on the show and tell America. And by the way, if the media, if you have more proof that this is not a witch-hunt. OK. I don’t believe you.

Oh Jesus. They have reached the tipping point. No amount of counter evidence will convince them. This is Conspiracy Theory 101 §1.2. Take note, students. It’s going to be on the quiz.

Oliver cruelly reminds viewers of what is known. In June 2016 Donald Trump Jr. set up a meeting in  Trump Tower with a Russian agent who promised to provide dirt on candidate Clinton.

The hard facts available to us are not the result of any deep state intrusion into a political campaign, nor are they the result of an aggressive FBI investigation. We know these things because Donald Trump Jr., oldest son of the current president, tweeted this information out, from which it was picked up and published in a major newspaper.

Hannity has a masterful comeback to that bit of news.

He proudly reveals that a Russian-American lobbyist at the Trump Tower meeting reports knows Hillary Clinton and associates.

Score for Hannity! Not quite. Supposedly Hillary Clinton sent a Russian agent to a meeting with the aim of spilling incriminating evidence on herself. Oliver properly catalogs this response as the “shittiest conspiracy theory ever.” And I did not even realize this was supposed to be a contest.

Putting it all together, Hillary Clinton, her good friend Trey Gowdy, and the FBI, engaged in a dark  plot to sabotage the Trump campaign. Pardon me while I take a break and have another beer.

If this explanation is correct, then a massive conspiracy involved diverse people and agencies working diligently to cost Trump the election. Then came the time to implement it and they all took vacation. Yes, I believe that. I believe it. I think.

But wait! Please do not come at me with pitchforks and blazing torches, but I have horrendous news for you. It works. All this finagling with the truth and all this carpet bombing the airwaves with cockamamie conjectures actually convinces a large segment of the population. Clips from [apparently] an Emory University focus group study record remarks from adult American  citizens.

They call it a farce, created by the deep state.

It was a witch-hunt to overturn the election. All of this stuff that they say Trump did, they are finding out the Democrats did.

It’s been going on for a year and a half. They found nothing. She told … Oh, there’s something, there’s something. We’ll find it, we’ll find it. There’s nothing.

I hope you are sleeping better tonight. Don’t let me keep you awake.

Oliver likens it to the O.J. Simpson defense, which relied on discrediting parts of the state’s case and then convincing jurors the remainder of the case was similarly flawed. Trump supporters, including a major American news outlet, work with immense energy to keep the story alive while it gradually sinks in.

Oliver leaves us wondering whether, when it is all done, and Donald Trump skates free of any jail time, he will recapitulate O.J. and publish a tell-some book titled “If I Did It.” I will wait for the Kindle edition.

The intelligence community’s investigation continues, and Robert Mueller continues to bring charges and to prosecute people. Despite having President Trump and many others refer to this work as a witch-hunt, Mueller’s team continues to find offenses that require prosecution. At least one party so charged has already served his term in jail.

American intelligence has established credibility for their findings related to Russian efforts to undermine our electoral process and also to compromise the American president. The Steele dossier, which surfaced late in the 2016 election cycle, details Russian efforts to influence Donald Trump, and many of the allegations included in it have good confirmation. Other parts have not, including a humorous section after which this series is titled:

However, there were other aspects to TRUMP’s engagement with the Russian authorities. One which had borne fruit for them was to exploit TRUMP’s person  obsessions and sexual perversion in order to  obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him. According to Source D, where s/he had been present, TRUMP’s perverted) conduct in Moscow included hiring the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where he knew president and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) had stayed on  one of their official trips to Russia, and defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him. the hotel was known to be under FSB control  with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.

The vision of a future American President, paying to watch prostitutes pee on a bed in an upscale Moscow hotel would have been difficult to summon up scant years ago. Times have changed, and the Golden Shower is now a meme I promote at every opportunity. I hoist it as a banner against the oft-cited basket of deplorables that allowed themselves to be manipulated by a foreign government to elect the sorriest piece of humanity to ever lead our country. My fondest hope is that when these people close their eyes for the last time, this is the vision what remains burned into their retinas. And that’s just me being gracious.