by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
[The following post was re-edited on 2/24/18, mostly to shorten and improve readability]
There have been at least seven school shootings during school hours so far this year where children have been killed or injured. This includes 17 students recently killed in Parkland, Florida. We can’t normalize this. Mass casualty shootings are a public health crisis.
We don’t really know much about what triggers a young person to start shooting his peers. Part of the reason we don’t know is that the shooters don’t always live to tell their story. But there are also “don’t ask, don’t tell” government policies surrounding gun violence. The NRA has gotten the US Congress to block the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) from collecting data on gun violence or from studying the problem.
What we know is that these mostly young male assailants are not terrorists in a formal sense. Terrorists are motivated by politics and oppression. They commit horrible acts against soft targets to draw attention to their views. Sometimes terrorists do act out of vengeance while hiding behind politics or religion.
Tentative Profile of the Shooters
School shooters like Nikolas Cruz in Parkland seem to be motivated by internal fantasies that stem from a social pathology. They have troubled histories with symptoms of odd behaviors and emotional disturbances that are not clearly tied to a specific underlying mental illness. For example, they have no brain-chemical imbalance, no obvious thought disorders or don’t hear voices telling them to do these things. As a result, they often aren’t diagnosed as “mentally ill” in a strict clinical sense. This diagnostic ambiguity complicates their interactions with mental health systems and the law, and parents find it difficult to get effective help.
Instead, these loners become increasing self-isolating. They have weak social relationship and poor social skills. They may have a history of been shunned or bullied by peers, perhaps because they act so differently. They can appear passive or unpredictably aggressive. They excessively engage in solitary activities such as video games or social media. Some come to feel powerless and insecure on many levels and may then develop an active inner fantasy life to help them cope with their short comings.
A percentage of these socially troubled youth may become fascinated with military style assault weapons for several reasons. These weapons look “cool” and powerful, like the military hardware they see on TV and in their video games. They develop a strong desire to own these weapons. and owning them makes them feel powerful, more in control and perhaps more manly. By contrast, their actual cross-gender relationships are often either absent or very dysfunctional. Once they own these weapons their inner fantasies begin to evolve around the weapon and how they might use them.
This probably describes a large group of cohorts of youth. Most don’t become a mass murderers. Why a few flip is anyone’s guess. Was Cruz’ expulsion from school a triggering event for him? We shall see.
In all cases, young people who exhibits these sort of histories and behaviors are seriously in need of help. Current mental health screening protocols, treatment methods, treatment accessibility and mental health laws are not adequate to identify and help this population. The efforts needed to identify and treat potential mass shooters will take time. If we started today to study, identify and treat these kids it might take a years to bring the present crisis under control.
Guns and Gun Culture Factors
A much faster, direct way to curb the violence would be take these murderous military style weapons out of the hands of civilians, and young people in particular. A key concept here is “style”, as in fashion. It isn’t the technical capability of an AR-15 that attracts these kids, but it’s looks.
Gun enthusiasts will tell you the AR-15 is semi-automatic and therefore it isn’t an assault weapon. This definition is a distinction without a difference. The design is such that a large magazine clip and a bump stock is all it takes to turn them into fully automatic assault weapons. Moreover, they have three times the muzzle speed of a handgun which gives their small bore bullets more kinetic energy and much greater killing power.
More importantly, the perception of the AR-15 as a military style assault style weapon is very powerful. It impacts the attitudes and behaviors of everyone who owns them and this has an especially powerful impact on socially vulnerable youth. And as we know, what is real in its perception is real in its consequence.
Below is a picture of two rifles with almost identical capabilities. In both models, a bump stock and a large capacity magazine would turn either into an assault weapon.
It is obvious from the captions that this comparison is used by gun rights advocates, but just consider the visual impact. The Ruger Mini looks like a regular hunting rifle. The AR-15 stands out. It looks the military grade hardware depicted in Hollywood movies and just about every video game kids play. What child would prefer the Ruger Mini to an AR-15?
Perceptions matter. Perceptions alter behavior and cultural. The advertizing impact of these weapons in games and movies is a powerful force in a developing mind. It’s a marketers paradise.
Along with there, there is an overall militarization of our culture in recent times. Police training is being turned over to companies that also train our solders. A government program sells excess military equipment (initially set up in the 1990’s by Dick Cheney) to local police departments who are trained in their use. This alters the culture of our domestic police forces and creates an “us vs. them” militia mindset. And a growing fervency in patriotic adulation for our soldiers and police officers, (as opposed to the due respect and appreciation they deserve) has an impact on our children’s cultural development and values. We are all blurring the lines between military culture and a more peaceful minded civil society.
A General Framework for Action
There are at least two main, interdependent parts to the mass school shooting problem. One is the increased proneness of certain children towards gun violence, and the other is the ready availability of highly lethal assault weapons that play into their fantasies. The first part is complex and difficult to change quickly. The second part can change quickly but for strong political and cultural opposition. The parts are interdependent steps take in each can have an effects on the other. For example, changes in the prevalence of assault weapons can impact the gun culture and how guns are perceived by children. Conversely, detection and interventions for socially at risk children in eliminate violence incidents and improve the overall milieu and learning environment, in schools. A healthy child in a healthy environment is a more responsible gun owner, if they choose to own a gun.
What can politicians do to end these mass casualty episodes?. What can parents do to help their children who get caught in a web of social failure?
A Public Health Emergency
The most immediate actions we can take on the mental health side is to untie the hands of the NIH and the CDC. Let them do their job. For too long Congress has tied our hands so that the gun industry won’t be encumbered by inconvenient truths. The NRA has blocked gun violence research for over 20 years. Congress won’t even let the CDC collect data on gun violence. This is not acceptable.
Let our public health institutions treat gun violence and gun deaths is a public health crisis. Give them the funding they need bring science to bear on the issues. Make mass shootings at our children’s schools a national emergency. Set up task forces to study the issue. Let them identify better screening protocols and intervention strategies that can be introduced at the local level so parents have the help they seek. Provide community based strategies to help communities prevent these children from falling between the cracks. We need healthier social environments in our schools and our communities. For that we need stronger national leadership. We have a significant public health crisis and the champions in the best position to help us with it have been sidelined.
Gun Control and Changing Gun Culture
The quickest way to curb mass shooting episodes by socially dysfunctional students is to simply make ownership or possession of military style weapons illegal. These weapons are the objects of their murderous fantasies. Take them away.
High velocity, rapid fire weapons with large magazines are not appropriate for hunting game. They are killing machines of war. Banning them is also a step towards reestablishing a cultural separation between weapons of war and a more wholesome respect for guns in a peaceful society.
Current marketing forces are at work to make military hardware sexy and desirable to boost profits, but this campaign has negative impacts on children who are culturally developing. The proliferation of ultra lethal weapons, even among local law enforcement and criminal, foster a more aggressive militancy. Nobody wants this. The Ruger Mini 14 (above) has all the same capacity and a higher muzzle velocity than the AR-15 but it doesn’t convey the same messaging. Perceptions matter especially for the young. Maintaining a distinction in weapons of war and peace doesn’t violate a person’s right to bear arms. It sets reasonable limits on that right, as is true with every other constitutional right. It sends a cultural message.
Making all weapons less lethal should be part of the strategy to curb mass gun violence. Bump stocks and trigger cranks easily turn any semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic killing machine. Banning them should be the message our cultural heritage conveys. And we should limit the size of a magazines capacity for semi-automatic weapons. Comprehensive background checks, ending gun show loopholes and all the rest of the other standard fixes that are offered after horrendous shooting incidents are all worthy considerations as well. They convey the message that gun ownership is a serious business and is not every member of society can be trusted to own a gun.
We are in the midst of a public health crisis and we have to do whatever it takes to prevent further tragedy. We should stand up with the students and parents of Parkland, and New Town and Columbine and everywhere these events have taken place. We have to come together as a country, find our compassion and make whatever sacrifices are necessary to end gun violence in our schools and communities. I welcome anyone who reads this to offer their own comments and perspectives.
Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 1 of 37
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
[The following is a six page summary of highlights of the 37 page Mueller Indictment of thirteen Russian nations and the organizations they worked for to interfere with our public elections. It was prepared by me, Brian T. Lynch, MSW, to condense the facts related to Russia’s criminal interference in our elections. The full document is here: https://www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download %5D
Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC (“ORGANIZATION”) is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.
3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
4. Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences… Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts.
6. Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton… Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.
The ORGANIZATION employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support.
The ORGANIZATION’s annual budget totaled the equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars.
The ORGANIZATION was headed by a management group and organized into departments, including: a graphics department; a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization (“SEO”) department; an information-technology (“IT”) department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the ORGANIZATION’s operations; and a finance department to budget and allocate funding.
The ORGANIZATION sought, in part, to conduct what it called “information warfare against the United States of America” through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media. (emphasis mine)
By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the “translator project.” This project focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project.
By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”
Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.
CONCORD funded the ORGANIZATION as part of a larger CONCORD-funded interference operation that it referred to as “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.
By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.
Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post.
For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts.
32. Defendants and their co-conspirators, through fraud and deceit, created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to develop certain fictitious U.S. personas into “leader[s] of public opinion” in the United States.
33. ORGANIZATION employees, referred to as “specialists,” were tasked to create social media accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons… Specialists were instructed to write about topics germane to the United States such as U.S. foreign policy and U.S. economic issues. Specialists were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”
34. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. ORGANIZATIONcontrolled pages addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.
35. Starting at least in or around 2015, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to purchase advertisements on online social media sites to promote ORGANIZATION-controlled social media groups, spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month.
36. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them. For example, the ORGANIZATION created and controlled the Twitter account “Tennessee GOP,” which used the handle @TEN_GOP. The @TEN_GOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TEN_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers.
39. To hide their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, Defendants and their coconspirators—particularly POLOZOV and the ORGANIZATION’s IT department—purchased space on computer servers located inside the United States in order to set up virtual private networks (“VPNs”).
40. Defendants and their co-conspirators also registered and controlled hundreds of web-based email accounts hosted by U.S. email providers under false names so as to appear to be U.S. persons and groups.
41. In or around 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, possessed, and transferred, without lawful authority, the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons’ knowledge or consent. Using these means of identification, Defendants and their co-conspirators opened accounts at PayPal, a digital payment service provider; created false means of identification, including fake driver’s licenses; and posted on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts using the identities of these U.S. victims.
42. By approximately May 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators discussed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants and their co-conspirators began to monitor U.S. social media accounts and other sources of information about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. [Humm, who were these co-conspirators?]
43. By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.
44. Certain ORGANIZATION-produced materials about the 2016 U.S. presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “#Hillary4Prison.” Defendants and their co-conspirators also established additional online social media accounts dedicated to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the Twitter account “March for Trump” and Facebook accounts “Clinton FRAUDation” and “Trumpsters United.”
46. In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their ORGANIZATION-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.
47. Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to further promote the allegations…
On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP. ..
On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”
48. From at least April 2016 through November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while concealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation through false personas, began to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton.
51. Starting in approximately June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States.
53. In or around late June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “United Muslims of America” to promote a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” held on July 9, 2016 in the District of Columbia.
54. In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.
55. In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016.
57. After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
58. In order to avoid detection and impede investigation by U.S. authorities of Defendants’ operations, Defendants and their co-conspirators deleted and destroyed data, including emails, social media accounts, and other evidence of their activities.
76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided 27 Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 28 of 37 Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, email@example.com, to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:
Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida. The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”
85. On or about September 22, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for a series of rallies they organized in Pennsylvania called “Miners for Trump” and scheduled for October 2, 2016. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
88. The conspiracy had as its object the opening of accounts under false names at U.S. financial institutions and a digital payments company in order to receive and send money into and out of the United States to support the ORGANIZATION’s operations in the United States and for selfenrichment.
89. Beginning in at least 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons without their knowledge or consent. Using these means of stolen identification, Defendants and their coconspirators opened accounts at a federally insured U.S. financial institution (“Bank 1”), including the following accounts: [snip]
92. On or about the dates identified below, Defendants and their co-conspirators obtained and used the following fraudulent bank account numbers for the purpose of evading PayPal’s security measures: [snip]
93. Additionally, and in order to maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver’s licenses. Some false identification documents obtained by Defendants and their co-conspirators used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons, including U.S. persons T.W. and J.W.
95. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
The Post. What a fantastic movie on so many levels!
I saw it recently with my family and, except for someone who kept falling asleep and snoring behind us, we really enjoyed this truly inspiring movie. The actual events surrounding the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam conflicts here at home all flooded back to mind (yes, I am that old). But the movie brought in more detail and information than I ever knew. It filled the theater with suspense despite knowing the ultimate outcome. It reminded me again of just how vulnerable our First Amendment rights are, and how easy it is for an administration of government to take them away.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t actually grant us our rights, it is just a slip of paper. Rather, it challenges us to physically inhabit those rights for ourselves. It lays the framework for an active civic process. Each generation must secure their rights anew under our Constitutional framework.
It was twice said in the movie that the right to publish the news is secured by publishing it, not by arguing about it. Our rights can wither in debate but can only strengthen when exercised. That is a lesson we must pass along to every generation.
Two present day examples of this principle come to mind. NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem is an actual exercise of our First Amendment rights, while the ensuing debate did little to strengthen our right to protest. A second example comes from a local news story of a lawyer who was stopped in her car by a police officer. The officer asked her if she knew why he had stopped her. She said she refused to answer the question, but otherwise cooperated and gave him her documents. The officer was so upset that she wouldn’t answer his question that he arrested her for not following a “legal” command. As he put her in the back of his police car he read her that familiar Miranda warning, which says in part, “You have a right to remain silent…” She remained under arrest for hours before being released. She later won a modest settlement in a suit brought against the Department for her unlawful arrest. The story generated a lot of debate while her actions helped secure our actual rights.
But back to the movie. I also came away with a profound appreciation for the incredible heroine depicted so well by Meryl Streep.
Katharine Graham was a socialite and heiress to the Washington Post, which was a local newspaper at that time. Her father founded the paper and left her husband in charge. Then her husband died suddenly leaving all of this crushing responsibility for the newspaper on her.
Ms. Graham was ill prepared for her role as publisher in most aspects. But she had an incredibly noble character and somehow managed to summon enormous strength to do the right thing under threats of disaster. She was a woman alone in a man’s world, yet she rose to meet the challenges. Her courage saved the Post and helped save the First Amendment for a generation to come. Her decision to publish the stolen, top secret Pentagon Papers exposed decades of government lies about Vietnam and helped bring that war to an end. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the freedom of the press in publishing that information set the stage for journalism’s victory in holding the Nixon administration accountable to the rule of law following the Watergate break in.
Contrast that with how the government is acting in the Edward Snowden matter today, for example, consider the public good Snowden has done in exposing illegal, unconstitutional government activities. His decision to selectively reveal classified information to the press has lead to strong government reforms designed to protect our privacy rights, yet he is considered a criminal, just as Daniel Ellsberg was a generation ago.
At a time when our current President openly lies to us, disparages the free press, calls it “fake news” and encourages citizens to distrust not only legitimate journalism but many trusted government institutions, this story about Publisher Katharine Graham, her Editor-in-Chief, Ben Bradley and the Washington Post is a timely tale of caution and inspiration for us all.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
I liked this humorous bit (below) because it highlights the fact that racism is used to maintain the growing income and wealth gap enjoyed by the wealthy. If poor whites and poor minorities joined in common cause it would spell trouble for wealthy elite. They would be forced to share more of their wealth.
Dr. ML King came to understand this before he was murdered. He was never a greater threat to the established order than when he began his work to unite the races in a fight against poverty and the wealthy elite who structure societies to favor themselves.
There is only one source of social power in human society, and that is the power of coordinated actions. Whether you are building a house, a business, a movement or a government, it is the coordinated actions of people that get things done.
The converse is true when powerful interests want to block the competing interests of others. They block others by disrupting the ability to organize. They disrupt the ability of others to coordinate their actions. They diminish us by subversion, by creating or exploiting divisions among us, by creating distractions or confusion, by disparaging or arresting our protest leaders, by isolating us, by restricting our access to resources or by force of arms if necessary.
Forming social divisions is part of our human nature, but so is forming alliances and overcoming differences for mutual benefit. If the ability to work together was not greater than our tendency to “take care of our own,” we would still be a society of hunter gatherers, if not an already extinct species. Powerful people use their power to stay in power. They thwart our attempts to organize, to unionize, to communicate, to affiliate, to overcome our differences and even to vote in this republic.
And now a new layer has been added. Hostile foreign powers have infiltrated our government at the highest levels. They are using their military to conduct mass media propaganda attacks against us, attacks designed to disunite us as a nation. Their goal is to establish a global kleptocracy with unlimited powers to extract our wealth and control our behavior.
Against these coordinated attacks on America and our power of self-determination we must come together, unite in common cause and overcome the differences between us that they magnifying and exploit. It’s time to unite against all odds and move in unison against the forces that are pulling us apart.
Here, on Martin Luther King Day, are a few quotes and his last address before being assassinated.
“God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.”
“A second evil which plagues the modern world is that of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, it projects its nagging, prehensile tentacles in lands and villages all over the world. Almost two-thirds of the peoples of the world go to bed hungry at night. They are undernourished, ill-housed, and shabbily clad. Many of them have no houses or beds to sleep in. Their only beds are the sidewalks of the cities and the dusty roads of the villages. Most of these poverty-stricken children of God have never seen a physician or a dentist.”
“The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
Most people think about Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech today, but I want to leave this topic with another of his speeches: ” The last major speech Dr. King delivered, four days before his assassination, was on poverty at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Poverty
The full text of Dr. King´s sermon entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” containing the quotes below can be read here:
“There is another thing closely related to racism that I would like to mention as another challenge. We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia.
I remember some years ago Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India. And I never will forget the experience. It was a marvelous experience to meet and talk with the great leaders of India, to meet and talk with and to speak to thousands and thousands of people all over that vast country. These experiences will remain dear to me as long as the cords of memory shall lengthen.
But I say to you this morning, my friends, there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.
As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh no!” Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. And I started thinking of the fact that we spend in America millions of dollars a day to store surplus food, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store that food free of charge-in the wrinkled stomachs of millions of God’s children all over the world who go to bed hungry at night.” And maybe we spend far too much of our national budget establishing military bases around the world rather than bases of genuine concern and understanding.
Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. I have seen them here and there. I have seen them in the ghettos of the North; I have seen them in the rural areas of the South; I have seen them in Appalachia. I have just been in the process of touring many areas of our country and I must confess that in some situations I have literally found myself crying.
I was in Marks, Mississippi, the other day, which is in Whitman County, the poorest county in the United States. I tell you, I saw hundreds of little black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear. I saw their mothers and fathers trying to carry on a little Head Start program, but they had no money. The federal government hadn’t funded them, but they were trying to carry on. They raised a little money here and there; trying to get a little food to feed the children; trying to teach them a little something.
And I saw mothers and fathers who said to me not only were they unemployed, they didn’t get any kind of income-no old-age pension, no welfare check, no anything. I said, “How do you live?” And they say, “Well, we go around, go around to the neighbors and ask them for a little something. When the berry season comes, we pick berries. When the rabbit season comes, we hunt and catch a few rabbits. And that’s about it.”
And I was in Newark and Harlem just this week. And I walked into the homes of welfare mothers. I saw them in conditions-no, not with wall-to-wall carpet, but wall-to-wall rats and roaches. I stood in an apartment and this welfare mother said to me, “The landlord will not repair this place. I’ve been here two years and he hasn’t made a single repair.” She pointed out the walls with all the ceiling falling through. She showed me the holes where the rats came in. She said night after night we have to stay awake to keep the rats and roaches from getting to the children. I said, “How much do you pay for this apartment?” She said, “a hundred and twenty-five dollars.” I looked, and I thought, and said to myself, “It isn’t worth sixty dollars.” Poor people are forced to pay more for less. Living in conditions day in and day out where the whole area is constantly drained without being replenished. It becomes a kind of domestic colony. And the tragedy is, so often these forty million people are invisible because America is so affluent, so rich. Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor.
Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”
There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. It is true that one day a rich young ruler came to him, and he advised him to sell all, but in that instance Jesus was prescribing individual surgery and not setting forth a universal diagnosis. And if you will look at that parable with all of its symbolism, you will remember that a conversation took place between heaven and hell, and on the other end of that long-distance call between heaven and hell was Abraham in heaven talking to Dives in hell.
Now Abraham was a very rich man. If you go back to the Old Testament, you see that he was the richest man of his day, so it was not a rich man in hell talking with a poor man in heaven; it was a little millionaire in hell talking with a multimillionaire in heaven. Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich; Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.
And this can happen to America, the richest nation in the world-and nothing’s wrong with that-this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.
In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect. We are going to bring those who have come to feel that life is a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. We are going to bring children and adults and old people, people who have never seen a doctor or a dentist in their lives.
We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.
We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.
Why do we do it this way? We do it this way because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.
Great documents are here to tell us something should be done. We met here some years ago in the White House conference on civil rights. And we came out with the same recommendations that we will be demanding in our campaign here, but nothing has been done. The President’s commission on technology, automation and economic progress recommended these things some time ago. Nothing has been done. Even the urban coalition of mayors of most of the cities of our country and the leading businessmen have said these things should be done. Nothing has been done. The Kerner Commission came out with its report just a few days ago and then made specific recommendations. Nothing has been done.
And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.
Yes, it will be a Poor People’s Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor.
One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.
It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.
I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution. President Kennedy said on one occasion, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” The world must hear this. I pray God that America will hear this before it is too late, because today we’re fighting a war.
I am convinced that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.
It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. This day we are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every Vietcong soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.”
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Not long ago a dollar was backed by the promise that it could be exchanged for gold or silver. To back up that promise the US gold reserve was established at Fort Knox in Tennessee, for example. The confidence of our people, and of the rest of the world, in our currency was far less certain than it is today. The gold standard was perhaps a necessary step towards establishing the good faith of the US Government.
Look at a dollar bill and you will see that it is a Federal Reserve Note. Before the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, many banks issued their own currency, or “bank notes”. The worthiness of those bank notes wasn’t consistent. The Federal Reserve Bank standardized and stabilized our national currency. It’s important to remember that the word “note” is another word for an I.O.U. A bank note is a promise that a coin or a paper document can be exchanged for a stated amount of tangible value.
The important point for this discussion is that all currency is a form of debt. A U.S. Dollar is a government backed loan. Our trust in its worthiness has become an intrinsic faith in our government’s ability to guarantee its face value. (Which is why the Congressional Freedom Coalition’s talk of not raising the national debt ceiling is so dangerous.)
I recently saw “Junk” on Broadway. It is a play partially based on the story of Wall Street financier Michael Milken. It is a cautionary tale of money and corruption. Milken’s new approach to finance made him a billion dollars over just four years in the 1980’s. He was like a god on Wall Street and all the normal rules didn’t seem to apply to him, until he got caught breaking the laws he ignored.
More than that, Junk is the story of the paradigm shift Milken pioneered in how modern bankers and business leaders have come to understand wealth and power. It is a view of wealth that can be summed up by the slogan, “debt is an asset”. Specifically, any financial instrument that reliably conveys the promise of value to another person or entity can be used as a form of currency. Government regulated Federal Reserve Notes are no longer central to the exchange of wealth. Nor is any physical collateral or real estate necessary. It seems almost any promise of payment for money owed is sufficient to make financial transactions on Wall Street. These creative financial instruments often have cleaver name and deceptive structures. They are increasingly complex and difficult to understand or regulate. But they all have one thing in common, they are all based on debt. They all create wealth on a promise.
In Milken’s case, he began with generating cash by selling very high risk, but high yield bonds and then using those bonds as collateral to finance corporate takeovers. These “junk bonds” (as they are still called) were used like currency to finance “leveraged buyouts” of other businesses. Whole divisions within companies purchased in these buyouts often had to be chopped up and sold off to pay back these high interest bonds.
The charges brought against Milken were ordinary financial crimes, such as insider trading. But his creative financing lead to a whole new banking culture that upended how business was conducted around the world. It has lead to an economic environment where new methods for wealth extraction competes against more conventional methods of wealth creation on a global scale.
The growing methods and culture of wealth extraction transfers wealth but doesn’t create new wealth. It doesn’t grow or manufacture anything. It only creates more opportunities for the wealthy to grow richer while disadvantaging mid-sized businesses and manufacturers. It is one of the drivers leading us into the next gilded age, but it hard to see just where it is taking us. It is harder still to know what we can do make our economy work for everyone again.
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
President Trump and some Republicans in Congress want the Department of Justice to investigate Trumps political opponent, Hillary Clinton. Specifically they want a Special Counsel appointed to investigate her ties to the sale of US uranium to Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions squirmed under pressure to act from a GOP congressmen at a hearing on November 14, 2017.
A President calling for criminal investigations of his political opponents is abhorrent in any modern democracy. In this particular case a second Special Counsel investigation would also give Trump political leverage to further obstruct the efforts of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. But I suspect the biggest reason Jeff Sessions squirmed when pressed to appoint a Special Counsel was because there is simply no basis to investigate anything connecting Hillary to Uranium One sales. Here are the essential facts in a timeline format.
2005 – Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining financier with an interest in the UrAsia Mining Company, visit Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is an independent country that was once under the control of the former Soviet Union. Not long after the Guistra visit, UrAsia Mining receives a lucrative mining contract in Kazakhstan.
2006 – Frank Giustra donates $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation.
2007 – UrAsia Mining Company merges with South Africa Mining Company to become the Uranium One Company. Frank Giustra sells his financial interests in the company.
2008-2010 – During this period several active investors with an interest in Uranium One Company and a former investor (Giustra ) donate more than $8 million to the Clinton Foundation. Donation from just the active investors totaled just over $4 million. The Clinton Foundation omitted these active donors’ names in a US Government filing document, later admitting that information was omitted by mistake.
2009 – Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State. Later that same year, Rosetom, a Russian mining company, begins buying a stake in Uranium One.
2009-2013 – During this time Rosetom completes three separate transactions to gain a controlling interest in Uranium One. Announcement of plans to take over Uranium One invokes the need for the Uranium One sale to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). (Note: This sale of Uranium One only involved product mined in the US and sold only to private nuclear power generation companies within the US. CFIUS is an advisory committee. Only the President of the United States can stop the sale of this company to a foreign business entity.)
2010 – The CFIUS committee, comprised of the Secretary of the US Treasury Department and department heads at the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Consumer Affairs, the Defense Department, The State Department, the Energy Department, The office of US Trade Representatives and the Science and Technology Policy group, approve the sale a controlling interest in the Uranium One Company to the Rosetom company. At the time of the approval, the State Department’s CFIUS representative was the Assistant Secretary of State, Jose Fernando (not Hillary Clinton). Had any one of these agency heads objected to the sale the matter would have gone to the President to decide. The purchase of a controlling interest in Uranium One by Rosetom did not involve or allow the export of uranium to Russia.
2017 – President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress call for a criminal Investigation of Hillary Clinton’s connections to this uranium sale that took place seven years prior.
That’s it. If there was a quid pro quo arrangement between Hillary Clinton and Uranium One or Rosetom it isn’t apparent from the facts, as least not to me. There are other facts that advocates of a Hillary prosecution toss into the mix (speakers fees, etc.), but they have little apparent relationship to the essential accusation the Republicans are making. If Hillary Clinton could no, and did not, contribute anything of value to the parties involved in the sale of financial interests in Uranium One, then there was no quid pro quo, no bribery to investigate.
Even FoxNews’ Sheppard Smith called out his own company and the President on this one. https://youtu.be/f8wuFDs7xSA
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
I don’t mean to offend anyone who enjoys sports, but professional sports have become a primary distraction keeping us from our due diligence to be well informed and actively engaged in the level of civil discourse our democracy requires.(This doesn’t apply to everyone who likes sports). So when folks are upset that politics is infringing on sports, they affirm the role of sport as a means to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
Most Americans have developed a superficial relationship to politics (Including many in the media who cover it like a sport). Politics as sport is all process and insider intrigue. It is devoid of real substance or depth behind the reported facts. We lose sight of the real world consequences that bad policy decisions have on our lives.
Current events are forcing us to confront politics as we haven’t done in years. It’s a good development, but it will take time to get use to talking about politics with our neighbors again. It will take time to gather the essential facts we should have, facts that have been missing or withheld from us for years. And it will test our patience and tolerance as we begin to bridge the gaps that have come to divided us. So let’s hang in there and keep talking.