Category Archives: Politics

On leaking intelligence reports and the intel community

WARNING: Another political rant forthcoming. Duck and cover if you prefer not to go down this rabbit hole. 

Apparently, the President is quite angry at all the leaks of intelligence information that ultimately led to the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn’s sin was that, according to many well-sourced news reports (i.e. not fake), he spoke to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about getting American sanctions removed.

In his anger, Trump has lashed out at both the news media for reporting on the leaks, calling it fake news, and at the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) for leaking sensitive information that, presumably, was not fake. Trump has also appointed an adviser to conduct a review of the IC to get to the bottom of the leaks.

I’ve been a reporter for The Associated Press, and I’ve done academic work on the IC (as well as a lot of research on it for my novels), so I thought I’d throw in my $0.02 here. Let’s break it down this way:

  • What did Michael Flynn do and why does it matter?
  • Where did the leaks come from and why does it matter?
  • What will Trump’s adviser do to plug the leaks, and why won’t it work?

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Debunking the myth of the paid protester

Warning: I’m about to commit math! And politics! TOGETHER IN ONE POST!

It’s now the lie du jour  for the Trumpist/Bannonist elements of the Republican Party — and let’s face it, gang, they don’t speak for the mainstream GOP anymore — to state that the protesters who have taken to the streets in the past few weeks are not, in fact, Americans like you and I who are exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and the like.

Nope, they’re paid protesters. Because Trump won the presidency and the globalist/elitist/Wall Street cabal behind Hillary Clinton and the Democrats simply cannot allow the real voice of the people to go unchallenged. See? Even the president has an opinion:

In all fairness — a quality not usually associated with the President or Mr. Bannon — this tweet was about protests near Oakland that got violent when an alt-right provocateur and demagogue went to go talk at Berkeley. Which…dude, you went to Berkeley to talk alt-right politics? OK, then.

But the myth of paid protesters goes far beyond one or two incidents, and the echo chamber is filled with all kinds of conspiracy theories. Apparently, the hardcore Trumpist/Bannonist folks think that the protests we’ve seen all around the country were funded by…someone. (George Soros is always a favorite bogeyman for such shenanigans, for some damn reason.) But whatever — deep pockets and irrational hatred of Trump equals paying to undermine him via protests.

I’m gonna tackle this utter fallacy in two parts. First, the actual costs and logistics of paying protesters, and second, the potential return on that investment. Here we go.

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They will try to silence our voices. They won’t.

churchillThe new regime in scared.

Reports coming in from Washington say the new administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are planning to shutter the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEA and NEH each had a budget of $146 million in 2015. That $292 million is less than the cost of three F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft, if you want to count beans about it. It’s a few hundredths of a percent of the total federal budget.

Oh, and they want to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which offers great shows on current events, science, culture and history. And let’s throw in all of the disparaging crap the nominee for Education Secretary has said about public education.

There are plenty of government-funded programs that are spiraling out of control in terms of costs, plenty of fat to trim. But they’re going for arts, the humanities, education, information. And already the U.S. lags well behind Canada and the U.K. in funding for arts and culture.

They’re doing it because they’re scared. They think they can silence artists and scholars, keep Americans dumb and complacent, lest they lose their funding, their perks, their comfy offices.

In five states, Republicans are working to pass bills that would utterly criminalize protest and civil disobedience. Jaywalk on your way to lunch? $50 fine. Join a protest that closes a street or highway? A year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

They’re scared. They don’t want to see thousands of people protesting as they strip away healthcare, de-fund commuity outreach programs, shut down initiatives against domestic violence. They want to silence us.

The new president was elected on a platform of “they,” rather than “us.” “They” are coming over the border to take our jobs. “They” are sucking up good citizens’ tax dollars with entitlement programs. “They” are artists who should only entertain, rather than use their voices for anything other than pretty pictures and mindless comedies.

And these cuts are designed to turn “they” against “us.” Because this regime is scared. Cowardly. These nouveau autocrats will not support a culture of critical thinking, artistic expression and freedom of speech, because deep down, they know that culture — that very American culture — will be fundamentally opposed to them.

Our heritage is rebellion. Our nation was born of rebellion, spurred by a government in which the colonies were not represented. But our heritage is also cooperation — E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. We are all Americans, no matter who we voted for. But they would silence those who disagree. They would divide the one America into many, turning brother against brother to make it easier to maintain their power and comfort, to divert money into tax savings for the wealthy.

They’ve been successful so far. But they’ll push their luck. They’ll go too far. And when they do, we will be ready for them.

Today we must raise our voices, and there are many more days to come. Today, it is incumbent upon all of us to become the artists, the scholars, the scientists and the protesters. This government will not protect our voices and preserve our culture of cooperation and rebellion against injustice. Because it scares them.

So it’s on us. It’s on use to create, to study and learn and become informed. And most importantly, it’s on us to use our voices to speak out against injustice, to speak for the Americans who will lose their health insurance, either through repeal of the ACA or through the rising premiums to come or through pre-existing conditions no longer protected. We have to speak out against violence against women, against people of color, against LBGTQ+ communities. Speak out against their efforts to divide “us” into “they.”

We are the artists and the scholars, the workers and the students, the people of the United States of America. We are many, and we are one. And no matter how scared they get, no matter what that fear of reproach or rejection drives them to do, they will not silence us.

Instead, we will show them the door.

Let’s get to work.

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On unverified intelligence reports

ciafloorI think there are enough posts on this blog for folks to quickly ascertain that I’m not a fan of our President-Elect, but in case you’re wanting for that bit of particular context, I’ll repeat: NOT A FAN.

With that said, I wanted to talk a little bit about the recent bombshell dropped on our nation’s democracy — reports of financial and personal information about Donald Trump in the hands of the Russian government, and the possibility they may be used as leverage against him when he becomes President.

This is a Big Deal, about as big as it gets. And the details of the memos, published by BuzzFeed after CNN broke the story, are about as sordid as any spy thriller could come up with — alleged financial ties, alleged meetings between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, and Trump’s alleged unseemly sexual escapades with prostitutes. The latter, while kinda gross, is far less important than the former two, which could very well be impeachable offenses.

So why didn’t this stuff come to light earlier? Why is it being treated as “unverified” and “unsubstantiated” — or “alleged,” which I used three times in the last paragraph — when we were willing to take WikiLeaks’ emails hook, line and sinker? Why is the U.S. Intelligence Community treading softly here, including these allegations in an appendix rather than as part of its main report on Russian interference in the election?

Here’s why.  Continue reading

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Replace with what, exactly?

Warning! Political opinions ahead regarding the Affordable Care Act. If you’re not up for it, feel free to surf on by. I’ll be back to talking about SF/F and books and whatnot later. Promise. 

You have auto insurance, right? Of course you do. In fact, it’s required by law in 49 of the 50 states. (New Hampshire is all Live Free or Die on this one.) Why is it required? Because if you’re in an accident, you can cover the costs of the repairs without taking a massive financial hit — and you can cover the other guy if it’s your fault, which is even more important.

You have homeowners insurance as well, if you own a home, yes? There’s usually no legal requirement there, but your friendly neighborhood mortgage lender is gonna insist that you have it, of course. And let’s face it, your home is a major investment. If something happens, you don’t want to be out six figures or more. Plus, if there’s a fire or something, it ensures you’ll be able to rebuild, rather than leaving a smoking ruin on your block that endangers public safety and drives down property values.

Insurance is both a financial and social contract. Obviously, it covers your costs should something bad happen to you. Moreover, your monthly payments help cover other folks’ misfortunes — and that’s especially important if you played a part in that misfortune or that misfortune affects your neighbors or fellow drivers.

Insurance is, in essence, pooled responsibility. The more people buy in, the more there is to cover your misfortune and insulate you from the misfortune of others. It’s enlightened self-interest. Yet when it comes to health insurance, we immediately lose sight of this.  Continue reading

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Journalism in the Trump era

For the first fifteen years of my professional career, I was a journalist for a variety of publications, most notably three different stints with The Associated Press in Albany, Seattle and New York. Journalism is a tough, unforgiving career — low pay, long hours, soul-crushing deadlines and heaping helpings of disrespect from nearly every quarter. I admit, it totally burned me out, which is why I left.

Yet it’s an absolutely critical part of American society. The problem is, at a time when it’s more important than ever, the Achilles heel of American journalism has been exposed.

Get both sides. That’s been the mantra of journalists for more than a century now, when the notion of an impartial Fourth Estate began to take shape. This was, in large part, due to the growth and importance of The Associated Press. Back in the 19th century, newspapers were unabashed in their political views in reporting. But when five New York papers created a cooperative service to report on far-flung areas, there was a need for the AP to be impartial, so that a conservative paper and a liberal paper could use the same dispatch.

This grew into a general belief that news should be impartial, and that editorializing should be the purview of the editorial pages only. I genuinely believe this to be a Good Thing, and it transformed journalism into an active challenger of the status quo, no matter who was in power and who was on the outside.

Over time, though, the get both sides mantra has become bastardized. It’s allowed folks on the very margins of reasonable discourse — anti-vaxxers, climate change deniers, all manner of conspiracy theorists — a seat at the table. And with the advent of social media, these fringe voices can find each other, organize and boost their signal, giving journalists a sense that the beliefs in question are more widespread than perhaps they realized.

And so here we are today, when we see journalists writing normalizing articles on the so-called Alt-Right and CNN has a ticker that says “Alt-Right Founder Asks If Jews Are People,” as if this can even be debated. (Meanwhile, you have The Atlantic, saving face for the rest of the Fourth Estate, covering an Alt-Right event where participants are giving the Nazi salute and shouting “Heil Victory! Heil Trump!” and calling it like it is.)

So where does get both sides end and the media begins to take a stand for the nation?

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A quick non-post

So basically I don’t have anything new to say, but I recognize that I’ve left the blog fallow for a week, and well, I feel somewhat obligated to at least say hello. Hi, there!

I’m crunching on the final revisions to MJ-12: Shadows, the sequel to this year’s MJ-12: Inception. You won’t get to see it until late next summer, of course. For whatever reason, this one was a tougher nut to crack, story wise. Or maybe it was just writing it on top of an unusually busy year for me. Hard to say. But I’m liking how it’s turning out. Hope you will too.

I’m also resisting the urge to work on something super-shiny that the Muse is incredibly excited about. Actually, she’s shrieking in my ears about it constantly, and I’m excited about it too. It only exists in about ten pages of notes at the moment. It’ll need to stay that way for a few more weeks yet. Shut up, Muse. I got stuff to do.

The whole election thing…yeah. Still sitting poorly with me, and it’s not like the incoming administration is inspiring confidence with its various gaffes and horrible appointments. If you’ve seen my Twitter feed, you’ve seen I’ve been more political of late. That’s not likely to change. As I explained to my kid, this is our time to stand up, just like the suffragists in the ’20s and the civil rights activists in the ’60s. And I’m gonna do that.

And otherwise? Planning a quiet Thanksgiving, then a work trip to Los Angeles in early December, followed by Christmas in a warm place with a beach. (Not Los Angeles, because who wants to vacation in a place you visit for work all the time?)

That’s where I’m at.


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My 12-year-old daughter was pretty wrecked this morning when we told her about the election results. Like many, we had told her that while Donald Trump was a bully who had leveraged people’s fears — fears about the economy, their values, the Other — but that there were many good people out there. We didn’t think he would win.

He did.

All the conventional wisdom and outdated polling methodologies told us he wouldn’t, but he leveraged those fears far better than we expected. The fact that more Americans voted against him than for him remains a comfort, and that isn’t a small comfort, at least to me. It means we’re not alone.

So what do you tell a crying 12-year-old?

You remind her that this nation was created with checks and balances, so that the Presidency does not become a monarchy. You remind her that many conscientious Republicans took a stand with us, and we need to support them in the fights to come, even if we don’t agree on everything. You remind her that we have freedoms unparalleled in the world, and that our voices and time and effort can make a difference.

And you promise to do better.

For the most part, I’ve avoided politics on this blog and in my public persona — whatever that is. I believed that others did a far better job, and that the backlash wouldn’t be good for me or my family, or that the time and effort wasn’t worth the potential return. But let’s face it…that was complacency. I wrote a check here or there and voted, and that was fine, right? Nope. It was not.

I am not a woman or a person of color or LBGTQ+, but I want to support everything that they’ll be doing. My friend and fellow scribe Mike Underwood said it best on Twitter:

In fact, Mike’s whole thread is pretty good and worth a read. Point is, folks like me can’t be Frodo. It’s not our job to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom. But we can help. We’re the Fellowship. We go to where we’re needed and say, “You have my bow. And my ax. What do you need?”

And so I’m going to try to do that. For starters, check out this post from Jezebel about organizations that need your help. I also encourage you to use the comments below to throw some links out there to worthwhile organizations and efforts, and to find folks in your area fighting the good fight.

And I’m going to continue to write. The MAJESTIC-12 series most certainly has relevant political undertones, and I may hit those a little harder in the books to come. Another idea, far more overtly political but still fantastical, may very well have jumped to the front of the to-be-written pile. You’ll see more thoughts on this blog in the days and weeks to come.

This election is hard, man, but there are reasons to be hopeful. The civil rights and womens’ rights movement began in the Eisenhower years and were cemented in the Nixon era. My hope — and I believe it to be a grounded, realistic hope — is that this election will result in a similar wave of progress in the years to come. But it’s on us to make that happen.

So I told my kid that’s what I’m gonna do. I want her to enjoy being 12, and to sew and draw and to create as she does so well already. I want her to focus on school, and to have fun with her friends. And I want her to know that I’m working for her future, not just by giving her individual opportunities, but by creating opportunities for everyone and to make the world a kinder place.

I have hope. Let’s do this.


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