Friday, November 25, 2016

Last Call For Prav-duh

Whether r not you believe our good Russian friends had anything to do with the election itself, it's pretty obvious at this point that they used fake news sites and viral internet psy-ops to swing the election towards Trump.

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

Gotta admire old school Russian intel operations meeting social media America, and the collision gave us a frightfully misinformed and terrified undecided subset of the voting populace that decided to vote for Trump at the last minute, enough to give him the win in the Rust Belt states he needed, and let's not forget that the now strangely silent WikiLeaks was the main outlet for the Russian propaganda machine, one that has amazingly nothing to say about our president-elect or his cabinet selections.

The Russian campaign during this election season, researchers from both groups say, worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with “buzzy” content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events.

Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.

The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience. Some of the first and most alarming tweets after Clinton fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York, for example, came from Russian botnets and trolls, researchers found. (She was treated for pneumonia and returned to the campaign trail a few days later.)

This followed a spate of other misleading stories in August about Clinton’s supposedly troubled health. The Daily Beast debunked a particularly widely read piece in an article that reached 1,700 Facebook accounts and was read online more than 30,000 times. But the PropOrNot researchers found that the version supported by Russian propaganda reached 90,000 Facebook accounts and was read more than 8 million times. The researchers said the true Daily Beast story was like “shouting into a hurricane” of false stories supported by the Russians.

This propaganda machinery also helped push the phony story that an anti-Trump protester was paid thousands of dollars to participate in demonstrations, an allegation initially made by a self-described satirist and later repeated publicly by the Trump campaign. Researchers from both groups traced a variety of other false stories — fake reports of a coup launched at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stories about how the United States was going to conduct a military attack and blame it on Russia — to Russian propaganda efforts.

But hey, at least we didn't elect the con artist.

The Zombie-Eyed Granny Starvers Are Here

The biggest Washington DC fight of 2017 may not actually have anything to do with Trump at all, but with Paul Ryan and double crusade to end Obamacare and Medicare as we know it.  It's something that even the Democrats might be able to turn to their advantage in 2018.

For nearly six years, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has championed the new approach, denounced by Democrats as “voucherizing” Medicare. Representative Tom Price of Georgia, the House Budget Committee chairman and a leading candidate to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of health and human services, has also embraced the idea, known as premium support.

And Democrats are relishing the fight and preparing to defend the program, which was created in 1965 as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. They believe that if Mr. Trump chooses to do battle over Medicare, he would squander political capital, as President George W. Bush did with an effort to add private investment accounts to Social Security after his re-election in 2004.

Democrats will “stand firmly and unified” against Mr. Ryan if he tries to “shatter the sacred guarantee that has protected generations of seniors,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.

Republicans have pressed for premium support since Mr. Ryan first included it in a budget blueprint in 2011. As he envisions it, Medicare beneficiaries would buy health insurance from one of a number of competing plans. The traditional fee-for-service Medicare program would compete directly with plans offered by private insurers like Humana, UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The federal government would contribute the same basic amount toward coverage of each beneficiary in a region. Those who choose more costly options would generally have to pay higher premiums; those who choose plans that cost less than the federal contribution could receive rebates or extra benefits.

Supporters say this approach could save money by stimulating greater price competition among insurers, who would offer plans with lower premiums to attract customers.

Democrats say that premium support would privatize Medicare, replacing the current government guarantee with skimpy vouchers — “coupon care for seniors.” The fear is that the healthiest seniors would choose private insurance, lured by offers of free health club memberships and other wellness programs, leaving traditional Medicare with sicker, more expensive patients and higher premiums.

“Beneficiaries would have to pay much more to stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare,” said John K. Gorman, a former Medicare official who is now a consultant to many insurers. “Regular Medicare would become the province of affluent beneficiaries who can buy their way out of” private plans.

If all this sounds familiar, that's because Republicans literally want to apply the Obamacare model to Medicare coverage, after spending six years sabotaging that same model for Medicaid recipients and the individual coverage markets.  But as Democrats found out the hard way in 2010, if seniors even think you're messing with Medicare, they will end you at the ballot box.

Republicans say their proposal would apply to future beneficiaries, not to those in or near retirement. But the mere possibility of big changes is causing trepidation among some older Americans.

“I am terrified of vouchers,” said Kim Ebb, 92, who lives in a retirement community in Bethesda, Md., and has diabetes, atrial fibrillation and irritable bowel syndrome. “You get a fixed amount of money to draw on for your expenses. Then you are on your own.”

Charles R. Drapeau, 64, of East Waterboro, Me., said he was rattled by the Republican plans.

“I’m scared to death,” said Mr. Drapeau, who has multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, and takes a drug that costs more than $10,000 a month. “We don’t know exactly how it will work, but just the fact that they are talking about messing with Medicare, it’s frightening to me.”

These of course are the same folks I'm betting voted for Trump earlier this month.  Now that they're finding out what giving total control of the government to the GOP actually means, I'm betting the buyer's remorse factor in 2018 will be sky-high...high enough that even the inept Democratic party can find a way to win some seats back.

Because right now the deck is stacked against the Dems in the next mid-term about as much as it possibly can be.  We'll see.

General Disarray And Major Problems

The Trump administration's continuing cartoon cavalcade of crap continues as Dana Priest at the New Yorker gets Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn in the harsh spotlight, and it turns out that hey, there are reasons why the guy's nickname is "Mad Dog".

Flynn broke rules he thought were stupid. He once told me about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the “insane” required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden. There was also the time he gave classified information to NATO allies without approval, an incident which prompted an investigation, and a warning from superiors. During his stint as Mullen’s intelligence chief, Flynn would often write “This is bullshit!” in the margins of classified papers he was obliged to pass on to his boss, someone who saw these papers told me.

The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones. Stanley McChrystal, Flynn’s mentor, had tapped him for the job. They were both part of the self-described “Irish mafia” of officers at the Fort Bragg Army base, in North Carolina. In Afghanistan and Iraq, Flynn ordered JSOC commandos to collect and catalogue data from interrogations, captured electronic equipment, pocket trash—anything that could yield useful information. By analyzing these disparate scraps of intelligence, they were able to discover that Al Qaeda was not a hierarchical group after all but a dynamic network of cells and relationships. As I learned while doing research for my book “Top Secret America,” Flynn and McChrystal dramatically increased the pace of jsoc attacks on enemy hideouts by devising a system in which commandos on missions transferred promising data—cell-phone numbers, meeting locations—to analysts, who could then quickly point them to additional targets to hit. Multiple raids a night became common.

McChrystal, who was appointed to run jsoc in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief to help him shake up the organization. Flynn was one of the few high-ranking officers who disdained the Army’s culture of conformity. But McChrystal also knew he had to protect Flynn from that same culture. He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.

In mid-2007, Flynn returned home with three years of JSOC secrets in his head. He had witnessed close-quarters combat and killings. He had helped load the bodies of dead and wounded Seal Team 6 and Delta Force warriors into evacuation helicopters. Like his comrades, he had spent twenty hours a day, seven days a week, focused on killing the enemy. Sometimes women and children were killed, too. He wouldn’t even take a break to attend his son’s wedding, a moment of personal sacrifice he mentions often when reflecting on those days.

In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in charge of all military attach├ęs and defense-intelligence collection around the world. He ran into serious trouble almost immediately. I’ve spoken with some two dozen former colleagues who were close to Flynn then, members of the D.I.A. and the military, and some who worked with him in civilian roles. They all like Flynn personally. But they described how he lurched from one priority to another and had trouble building a loyal team. “He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”

Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true, like when he asserted that three-quarters of all new cell phones were bought by Africans or, later, that Iran had killed more Americans than Al Qaeda. In private, his staff tried to dissuade him from repeating these lines.

Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues. Soon, according to former associates, a parallel power structure developed within the D.I.A. to fence him in, and to keep the nearly seventeen-thousand-person agency working. “He created massive antibodies in the building,” the former colleague said.

Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go. Clapper said that he could stay for another nine months, until his successor was vetted and confirmed, according to two people familiar with their conversation. Flynn was livid.

And now this "unconventional operator" is the expert President Trump will turn to when it comes to dealing with ISIS, Syria, Russia, Turkey, and a whole host of national security issues.  If you were hoping for a cooler head to keep Trump in check with realpolitik, well, he picked the Delta Force version of Dr. Strangelove.

A new war isn't just a possibility under Trump, it'll be nearly guaranteed.
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