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LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 25, 2019 at 12:15 am

The gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been greater.

A May 1, 2018 article in Forbes—which bills itself as “The Capitalist Tool”—vividly documents this truth.

“In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, [2017] CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.”

The average CEO pay climbed six percent in 2017—while the average production worker earned just $38,613, according to Executive Paywatch.

The average wage—adjusted for inflation—has stagnated for more than 50 years. Meanwhile, CEOs’ average pay since the 1950s has risen by 1000%.

This would not have been news to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his masterwork, The Discourses, he observed the human condition as that of constant struggle: 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

It was a saying of ancient writers, that men afflict themselves in evil, and become weary of the good, and that both these dispositions produce the same effects. 

For when men are no longer obliged to fight from necessity, they fight from ambition, which passion is so powerful in the hearts of men that it never leaves them, no matter to what height they may rise.    

The reason for this is that nature has created men so that they desire everything, but are unable to attain it. Desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it. 

This causes the changes in their fortunes—for as some men desire to have more, while others fear to lose what they have, enmities and war are the consequences. And this brings about the ruin of one province and the elevation of another.

Author Walter Scheidel, Dickason Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University, has also given this subject a great deal of thought. And, like Machiavelli, he has reached some highly disturbing conclusions.

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Walter Scheidel

World Economic Forum [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D

He gave voice to these in his 2017 book, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century. His thesis: Only violence and catastrophes have consistently reduced inequality throughout history

According to the book’s jacket blurb: “Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality? To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

“Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully. Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

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“The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

“Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization. Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

“The ‘Four Horsemen’ of leveling–mass-mobilization warfare, transformative revolutions, state collapse, and catastrophic plagues—have repeatedly destroyed the fortunes of the rich.

“Scheidel identifies and examines these processes, from the crises of the earliest civilizations to the cataclysmic world wars and communist revolutions of the twentieth century.

“Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.”

Revolutionaries have known the truth of Scheidel’s findings from the gladiators’ revolt of Spartacus (73-71 B.C.) to the French Revolution (1789 – 1799) to the overthrow of the Czarist Romanov dynasty (1917).

But American politicians serenely ignore that truth. They depend on the mega-rich for millions of dollars in “campaign contributions”—which pay for self-glorifying ads on TV.

Thus, in 2016, American voters had a “choice” between two “love-the-rich” Presidential candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The result was that millions stayed home or voted in protest for third-party candidates who had no chance of winning.

In his 1975 book, The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Modern-day America, British historian Robert Payne warned that the predatory rich would not change their behavior: “Nor is there any likelihood that the rich will plow back their money into services to ensure the general good.

“They have rarely demonstrated social responsibility, and they are much more likely to hold on to their wealth at all costs than to renounce any part of it.

“Like the tyrant who lives in a world wholly remote from the world of the people, shielded and protected from all possible influences, the rich are usually the last to observe the social pressures rising from below, and when these social pressures reach flashpoint, it is too late to call in the police or the army.

“The tyrant dies; the police and the army go over to the revolutionaries; and the new government dispossesses the rich by decree. A single authoritative sentence suffices to expunge all private wealth and restore it to the service of the nation.”

LOVE THE RICH, IGNORE THE REST: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on June 24, 2019 at 1:21 am

Americans are used to Presidential candidates telling lies (euphemistically known as “campaign promises”) to get elected.

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. A pointed example:

On June 18, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joe Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. Money is, after all, the lifeblood of all political campaigns, and Biden wanted to guarantee he got more of it than any of his 23 Democratic rivals.

So the former vice president had a message he felt sure would appeal to his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

Addressing the 100 or so guests at a fundraiser at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City, Biden said that he had taken heat from “some of the people on my team, on the Democratic side” because he had said that rich people were “just as patriotic as poor people.

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Joe Biden

“The truth of the matter is, you all, you all know, you all know in your gut what has to be done. We can disagree in the margins but the truth of the matter is it’s all within our wheelhouse and nobody has to be punished. No one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change,” he said. 

And he added: “I mean, we may not want to demonize anybody who has made money.

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“When we have income inequality as large as we have in the United States today, it brews and ferments political discord and basic revolution. Not a joke. Not a joke … It allows demagogues to step in and say the reason where we are is because of the ‘other’….

“You’re not the other. I need you very badly. I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you. I have a bad reputation, I always say what I mean. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.”

Biden has talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he’s taken a moderate stance when it comes to taxation.

Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has attacked the ultra-rich as responsible for the ever-widening gap between themselves and the poor.

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March.

Instead, he proposes expanding tax credits for the poor and middle class, and making the tax code less friendly to rich investors. 

Robert Payne, the distinguished British historian, had a different—and darker—view of the rich.

Payne authored more than 110 books. Among his subjects were Adolf Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, William Shakespeare and Leon Trotsky.

In 1975, he published The Corrupt Society: From Ancient Greece to Present-Day America. It proved a summary of many of his previous works.

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Among the epochs it covered were the civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China; Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union; and Watergate-era America. And the massive corruption each of those epochs had spawned.

In his chapter, “A View of the Uncorrupted Society,” Payne warned: Power and wealth are the main sources of corruption.

“The rich, simply by being rich, are infected with corruption. Their overwhelming desire is to grow richer, but they can do this only at the expense of those who are poorer than themselves.

”Their interests conflict with those of the overall society. They live sheltered from the constant anxieties of the poor, and thus cannot understand them.  Nor do they try to.

They see the poor as alien from themselves, and thus come to fear and despise them. And their wealth and influence enables them to buy politicians—who, in turn, write legislation that protects the rich from the poor.

But Payne foresaw an even greater danger from the rich and powerful than their mere isolation from the rest of society: “The mere presence of the rich is corrupting. Their habits, their moral codes, their delight in conspicuous consumption are permanent affronts to the rest of humanity. Vast inequalities of wealth are intolerable in any decent society.”

Writing in 1975, Payne noted that a third of the private wealth was possessed by less than five percent of the population—while about a fifth of the populace lived at the poverty level. By 2000, he predicted, about five percent of the population would possess two-thirds of America’s wealth. And more than half the population would be near or below the starvation level. 

The result could only be catastrophe. The only way to halt this this increasing concentration of wealth by fewer people would be through law or violent revolution.

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

On December 8, 2017, the Seattle Times noted that the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned 40% of the country’s wealth.  They owned more wealth than the bottom 90% combined. 

From 2013, the share of wealth owned by the one percent increased by nearly three percentage points. Wealth owned by the bottom 90%, meanwhile, fell over the same period.

But this situation need not remain permanent.

POLITICAL INSULTS: IGNORE THEM OR RESPOND?—PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2019 at 4:01 pm

On the May 27, 2016 edition of the PBS Newshour, New York Times columnist David Brooks noted the ability of Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren to rattle Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

But he added that this presented a dilemma for candidates who wished to retaliate against Trump’s insults with their own:

“And so the tactics…is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor.” 

Humor has never been the strong point of Democrats generally. 

Tyrants are conspicuously vulnerable to ridicule. Yet Democrats have proven unable or unwilling to make use of this powerful weapon.

Donald Trump—as political candidate and President—has repeatedly assaulted the press as “fake news.” 

But no Democrat has dared to label him a “fake President.”

Similarly, Democrats have refused to capitalize on Trump’s often-publicized admiration for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin by calling him “Red Donald,” “Putin’s Puppet,” “Trumpy Traitor” or “Commissar-in-Chief.”

Had Democrats attacked him with such insults, the 2016 Presidential campaign might well have ended differently.

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Vladimir Putin

Kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D

Democrats and liberals (the two are often different) have similarly failed to produce funny anti-Trump jokes. Jokes are an effective weapon because they highlight traits that people are already familiar with—such as Trump’s dictatorial nature.

  • One day, while walking down a corridor, President Trump passes Hillary Clinton. “It’s so nice to see you,” says Trump. “I thought I had you shot.”
  • What’s the difference between Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler?  Nothing—but Trump doesn’t know it.  

Or his egomania:

  • Donald Trump dies—and, to punish his blatant greed and egotism, he’s returned to Earth as a mouse. He quickly tires of raping other, mere mice—and sets his sights on something he thinks worthy of his prowess: An elephant. He spots a female elephant chewing grass at a waterhole and shimmies up her leg. Then he crawls up her backside and starts pounding away. The elephant, having eaten too much grass, gives a loud grunt. And Trump-mouse stops for a moment and says: “Did I hurt you, sweetheart?” 

Or his crudeness: 

  • Trump is so furious that he can’t send the Air Force to bomb the New York Times building, he spits on a White House carpet. A staffer promptly rebukes him: “You can’t do that—this is where Abraham Lincoln once walked.” Trump: “Yes I can. Vladimir Putin himself gave me permission. When I visited the Kremlin, I spat on the carpet there, too. And Putin said: ‘You can do whatever you want in the White House, but you can’t do that here.'”   

Incredibly for this YouTube-obsessed age, Democrats have never assailed Trump with barrages of satirical musical videos.

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Donald Trump

Trump’s notorious “bromance” with Vladimir Putin could be satirized by converting the Beatles’ hit, “With a Little Help From My Friends” into “With a Little Help From My Vlad”:

What do I do when the bank calls me in?
(Does it worry you to be in debt?)
How do I feel when I need rubles fast?
(Do you worry Vlad might say “Nyet”?)

No, I get by with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, I can lie with a little help from my Vlad.
Mm, you’re gonna fry with a little help from my Vlad.

In the hands of a creative writer, the classic, “Love and Marriage,” could be turned into a searing attack on Trump’s infamous affair with porn “star” Stormy Daniels:  

Trump and Stormy
Trump and Stormy
When his wife’s away, Trump thinks, “Why worry?
Sex with sluts is kinky.
And they don’t mind I’m really stinky.”

Pay, pay, pay the porn star’s bill off
It’s a deduction.
Pay, pay, pay it off because for you
This is seduction.

Many Americans have wondered how so many millions of their fellow citizens could have voted for Trump.

“Springtime for Hitler,” the signature tune of the hit play and movie, The Producers, could become “Springtime for Trumpland”—and help mightily in clearing up that mystery:

America was having trouble
What a sad, sad story.
Needed a new leader
To restore its former glory.

Where oh where was he?
Who could that man be?
We looked around and then we found
The man for you and me.

And now it’s… 

Springtime for Trump goons and bigotry—
Winter for Reason and Light.
Springtime for Trumpland and infamy—
Come on, Trumpsters, let’s go pick a fight. 

Parody song-writers could easily attack the obvious racism of Trump’s hardcore base. Consider these revised lyrics for the classic folk song, “Little Boxes”:

And some go off to lynchings
Where they hang their black neighbors high.
And they all have stupid children
And the children flunk at school.
And the children go to Nazi sites
And learn their perversity.
Then they turn out like their parents
And they’re all scum just the same. 

For any of this to happen, Democrats would need to acquire two qualities they have all-too-often lacked: Creativity and courage. 

Fortunately for Trump, Democrats continue to lack both.

POLITICAL INSULTS: IGNORE THEM OR RESPOND?—PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 7, 2019 at 12:52 pm

Former Vice President Joe Biden has stepped into the nickname wars.

Since Biden launched his bid in late April, President Donald Trump has relentlessly insulted him, often referring to him as “Sleepy Joe.”

At a private fundraiser in Columbia, South Carolina, a supporter asked Biden if he would return Trump’s insults.

“There’s so many nicknames I’m inclined to give this guy,” Biden said to laughter in the room. “You can just start with clown.” 

Biden said he would respond to Trump if directly attacked. But he added that he believed it was part of Trump’s strategy to avoid dealing with serious issues.

“On every single issue and on every demeaning thing he says about other people, I have no problem responding directly,” Biden said. “What I’m not going to do is get into what he wants me to do. He wants this to be a mud wrestling match.” 

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Joe Biden 

The blunt truth is that neither Democrats nor Republicans have even tried to match—let alone top—Trump’s penchant for insulting his political opponents.

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks have noted this aspect of Trump’s character

On May 27, 2016, Shields—a liberal, and Brooks, a conservative—appeared on the PBS Newshour to review the week’s major political events.

With the business magnate having won the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, both columnists appeared increasingly dismayed. 

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

MARK SHIELDS: “Donald Trump gratuitously slandered Ted Cruz’s wife. He libeled Ted Cruz’s father for being potentially part of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of the president of the United States, suggesting that he was somehow a fellow traveler in that.  

“This is a libel. You don’t get over it….  

“I cannot figure out any possible advantage to Donald Trump when he’s got a problem with Latinos and with women to go into New Mexico, where the nation’s only Latina woman Republican governor sits, who has not said anything negative about him, who endorsed one of his opponents, but has not been an attack dog on Donald Trump, and absolutely goes after her and is abusive to her.  

“And I’m just saying to myself, what is the advantage to this?

“…I think this man may be addicted to the roar of the grease paint and the sound of the crowd, or however it goes, smell of the crowd.

“And those rallies bring out something in him, and he just feels that he has to—and it’s all personal….I mean, it’s not a philosophical difference. It’s not a political difference. It’s all personal.”

DAVID BROOKS: “Trump, for all his moral flaws, is a marketing genius. And you look at what he does. He just picks a word and he attaches it to a person. Little Marco [Rubio], Lyin’ Ted [Cruz], Crooked Hillary [Clinton].

“And that’s a word.  And that’s how marketing works.  It’s a simple, blunt message, but it gets under.

“It sticks, and it diminishes.  And so it has been super effective for him, because he knows how to do that.  And she [Hillary Clinton] just comes with, ‘Oh, he’s divisive.’

“These are words that are not exciting people. And her campaign style has gotten, if anything…a little more stagnant and more flat.”  

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton wasn’t the only Presidential candidate who proved unable to cope with Trump’s gifts for insult. His targets—and insults—included: 

  • Former Texas Governor Rick Perry: “Wears glasses to seem smart.”
  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush: “Low Energy Jeb.”
  • Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders: “Crazy Bernie.”
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich: “Mathematically dead and totally desperate.”

Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tried to out-insult Trump at the Republican Presidential candidates’ debate on March 3, 2016.

“I call him Little Marco. Little Marco. Hello, Marco,” said Trump.

And so Rubio retaliated with “Big Donald.”

Since Americans generally believe that “bigger is better,” this was a poor choice of insult.

So far, only one opponent has managed to verbally stand up to Trump: Massachusetts U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, whom Trump has called “goofy” and “Pocahontas.”  

On the May 27, 2016 edition of the PBS Newshour, syndicated columnist Mark Shields noted the ability of Elizabeth Warren to rattle Trump:

“Elizabeth Warren gets under Donald Trunp’s skin. And I think she’s been the most effective adversary. I think she’s done more to unite the Democratic party than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

“I mean, she obviously—he can’t stay away from her. He is tweeting about her.” 

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Elizabeth Warren

JUDY WOODRUFF (moderator): “But whether it’s Elizabeth Warren or not, doesn’t Hillary Clinton need to come up with some approach that works, that is as effective comeback?”

DAVID BROOKS: “Yes. Well, I think she does, not that anybody else has managed to do this….

“And so the tactics…is either you do what Elizabeth Warren has done, like full-bore negativity, that kind of [get] under the skin, or try to ridicule him and use humor. Humor is not Hillary Clinton’s strongest point.”  

But sharp-edged humor clearly works for Warren.  

IS THE TRUMP-PUTIN “BROMANCE” OVER?

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 5, 2018 at 12:33 am

The love-fest between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump certainly got off to a great start.

No doubt well-informed on Trump’s notorious egomania, Russian President Putin called a press conference on December 17, 2015, to announce: “He is a bright personality, a talented person, no doubt about it. It is not up to us to appraise his positive sides, it is up to the U.S. voters. But, as we can see, he is an absolute leader in the Presidential race.”

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Vladimir Putin

kremlin.ru [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D

Trump quickly responded. On the December 18, 2015 edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” he said: “Sure, when people call you ‘brilliant,’ it’s always good. Especially when the person heads up Russia. 

“He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country”—an insult aimed at President Barack Obama.

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Donald Trump

Both Putin and Trump are well-known for their authoritarian characteristics. But more than one dictator’s admiration for another might explain their notorious “bromance.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He believes the United States is paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance—and he wants other members to contribute far more.  

He has also said that, if Russia attacked NATO members, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after determining whether those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

If he believed that they had not done so, he would tell them: “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.”

This clearly gave Putin a reason to prefer Trump over his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s statement marked the first time that a major Presidential candidate placed conditions on the United States’ coming to the defense of its major allies.

The withdrawal of the United States from NATO would instantly render that alliance kaput. Its European members that have long hurled insults at the United States would suddenly face extinction.  

Even if their armed forces proved a match for Russia’s—which they wouldn’t—their governments would cower before the threat of Russia’s huge nuclear arsenal.  

Trump’s motives for his “bromance” with Putin have been more difficult to decipher.

Some believe that Trump—a notorious egomaniac—is simply responding to overdoses of Putin flattery.

Others think that, while visiting Moscow, Trump made himself vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

There are unconfirmed Intelligence reports that he paid—and watched—several Russian prostitutes urinate on a bed once slept on by President Obama and his wife at Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The alleged incident was reportedly captured by hidden microphones and cameras operated by the FSB, the successor to the KGB.

Then, on November 29, Trump’s longtime attorney and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, cast new light over the Trump-Putin relationship.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan to lying to Congress about the Russia investigation. 

Cohen admitted that he lied about the “Moscow Project”—the Trump Organization’s efforts to “pursue a branded property in Moscow.” To sweeten the deal, Trump planned to offer a $50 million penthouse suite to Putin. 

According to Cohen, Trump hid his business dealings with Russia throughout the campaign—while Moscow intervened to elect him.

Shortly after this news broke, Trump canceled his scheduled meeting with Putin at the December 1 G20 summit in Buenos Aires. 

Even so, Putin is not the first Communist dictator to find common cause with an avowed Right-winger.

On August 23, 1939, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin signed a “non-aggression pact” with Nazi Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

Joseph Stalin

The reason: Hitler intended to invade Poland—but feared going to war with the neighboring Soviet Union if he did so. By signing a non-aggression pact with Stalin, he avoided this danger—and gained “rights” to the western half of Poland.  

Adolf Hitler

Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1990-048-29A / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D

In addition, Nazi Germany began receiving huge shipments of raw materials from the Soviet Union—as part of Stalin’s effort to placate Hitler and avoid a Nazi-Soviet clash.

And Stalin got something, too: The eastern half of Poland, which would be occupied by the Red Army.

But the Hitler-Stalin alliance lasted less than two years. It ended without warning—on June 22, 1941.

With 134 divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more for deployment behind the front—a total of three million men—the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

There are four ways Putin may now regret his “bromance” with Trump.  

First: Trump has not been able to lift the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama for subverting the 2016 election.  

Second: Democrats and even some Republicans have taken a more aggressive stance toward Russia because of that subversion. They have pressured European allies to impose tougher sanctions against Russia.

Third: Putin must be dismayed that his subversion of the 2016 election became known—and, even worse, is the subject of an all-out investigation. That investigation has proven highly embarrassing to Trump—and Russia.

Fourth: Trump is known for his egomania, not his loyalty. He may take offense at some future perceived Putin slight. In such case, he may well decide he doesn’t owe anything to the man he once called “a leader.”

TRUMP: APPLAUD ME LIKE I’M KIM JONG-UN—OR ELSE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on November 14, 2018 at 12:09 am

And the most glorious episodes do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men.  

Sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles.”  

So warned the ancient historian, Plutarch, in the introduction to his biography of Alexander the Great.

It’s well to keep this warning in mind when recalling the story of 17-year-old Tyler Linfesty, now known as “Plaid Shirt Guy.”

On September 6, Linfesty, a high school senior, attended President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Billings, Montana. He had wanted to see the President of the United States speak in his home state.

And, much to his surprise, he was randomly chosen by the Trump campaign for “VIP status.”  He would be seated directly behind Trump.

But this came with a warning: “You have to be enthusiastic, you have to be clapping, you have to be cheering for Donald Trump.” 

Before he attended the rally, Trump staffers urged him to wear a “Make America Great Again” cap, but he refused.  

Owing to his varied facial expressions and his plaid shirt, he quickly became known on the Internet as “Plaid-Shirt Guy.”

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Tyler Linfesty

Then, while the rally was still going, Linfesty was approached by a Trump minion who said: “I’m gonna replace you.”

He hadn’t been heckling Trump. Nor had he held up an anti-Trump sign.

So why was he suddenly ejected? 

Without being given a reason, Linfesty was forced to come up with one himself. And his best guess: He didn’t cheer when Trump made statements he disagreed with.

He had applauded those parts of Trump’s speech he did agree with—such as opposition to NAFTA. He also agreed with Trump’s claim that the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination was stolen from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

But there were parts of Trump’s speech he disagreed with—such as Trump’s claim that his “tax reform law” benefits the middle class.

(It doesn’t—its foremost beneficiaries comprise the top 1%.)

Thus, Linfesty looked skeptical when Trump said it was harder to win the Electoral College than the popular vote.

(It isn’t. A candidate need only win those states with the most electoral votes. He needn’t win the popular vote—just as Trump failed to win it against Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes.)  

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Donald Trump

And when Trump said he could have won the popular vote, Linfesty turned to several people near him and mouthed “What?”

As Linfesty explained to CNN’s Don Lemon: “I had to be real with myself. I’m not going to pretend to support something I don’t support.” 

Apparently this was too much for those staging the rally.

“I saw this woman walking toward me on the left,” Linfesty told the Billings Gazette. “She just said to me, ‘I’m going to replace you.’ I just walked off. I knew I was getting out for not being enthusiastic enough, but I decided not to fight it.”

But being removed from the Trump speech was not the end for Linfesty.

He was then detained by the United States Secret Service.

“Some Secret Service guys escorted me into this backroom area, and they just sat me down for 10 minutes,” said Linfesty.  The agents looked at his ID, then released him—and told him not to return.

The Secret Service is charged with protecting the President (and, in a lesser-known duty, protecting the national currency). It is not charged with regulating the free speech rights of Americans. 

It is, in short, not supposed to operate as the dreaded, black-uniformed SS of Nazi Germany.

Logo of the United States Secret Service.svg

Ironically, earlier that morning, Trump had tweeted a thank-you to North Korea’s brutal dictator Kim Jong-Un. 

The reason: Kim had said he had “unwavering faith in President Trump.”

Thus, a dictator who flatters Trump gets treated to praise, while an American exercising his right to free speech faces possible arrest.

Speaking to the Gazette, Linfesty said: “I didn’t really have a plan. I was just going to clap for things I agreed with and not clap for things I didn’t agree with.” 

And he insisted to CNN’s Don Lemon that his facial expressions had been honest: “I would have made those faces if anyone were to say that to me. I was not trying to protest, those were just my actual, honest reactions. 

“Each time I see one of these rallies I see somebody behind Donald Trump clapping and cheering and being super enthusiastic and I’ve always wondered myself, ‘Are those people being really genuine?’” 

Two months to the day after Linfesty’s ordeal, Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives, but failed to win a majority in the Senate. The next day, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Since May, 2017, Trump had brutally insulted Sessions for refusing to suppress Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.

The Linfesty episode—coupled with the firing of Sessions—bodes ill for Americans who expect Federal law enforcement to operate in a fair and incorruptible manner.

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM: MONEY TRUMPS MORALITY

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 18, 2018 at 12:03 am

Once again, the self-righteous cry of “American exceptionalism” is being taken up by members of the United States Congress.

That is: Americans prize morality over money in international relationships.

It’s a myth the historical record won’t support.

The reason for the self-righteous outrage: The disappearance of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.  

He had worked in the Saudi embassies in Washington and London, establishing himself as an unofficial spokesman for the Saudi royal family.

His independent streak and empathy for the Western perspective made him a uniquely important, well-liked contact for foreign journalists and diplomats seeking to understand the royal perspective.

Then, in 2017, Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince, and quickly consolidated power over the kingdom.

Khashoggi’s independent streak made him unwelcome there, so he moved to Virginia and became a columnist for The Washington Post.  He also became the crown prince’s chief critic in the West. 

On October 2, Khashoggi walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to pick up a document.

Khashoggi’s marriage had ended under the strain of his voluntary exile from Saudi Arabia. He had since become engaged to a Turkish woman. He thus needed to obtain a document attesting to his divorce from the Saudi authorities so he could remarry in Turkey. The wedding was scheduled for the following day.  

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 Jamal Khashoggi

[GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Turkish authorities have released video footage of Khashoggi walking into the consulate; they say there is none of him leaving it. The Saudis insist that he left the consulate safely, but have not offered any evidence to support this claim.

Turkish officials speaking anonymously say their government has detailed evidence to prove the following:

  • That 15 Saudi agents flew into Istanbul on two private jets.
  • The airline company has close ties to the crown prince and Saudi Interior Ministry.
  • The agents waited for Khashoggi inside the consulate and murdered him within two hours of his arrival.
  • The assassins used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s corpse. 

These reports have ignited an explosion of “American exceptionalism” among members of Congress—including Republicans.  

“I believe the Trump administration will do something,” Florida United States Senator Marco Rubio said. “The president has said that. But, if he doesn’t, Congress will. That, I can tell you with 100 percent certainty.” 

And Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said: “I think one of the strong things that we can do is not only stop military sales, not only put sanctions on Saudi Arabia, but most importantly, get out of this terrible, terrible war in Yemen led by the Saudis.”

Fueling Republicans’ declared outrage: President Donald Trump’s heated defense of the Saudis—with whom he’s long had a financially profitable relationship. 

“They buy all sorts of my stuff,”‘ Trump said in July 2015. “All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions.”

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Donald Trump

Among those “toys”: 

  • In June 2001, he sold the 45th floor of Trump World Tower to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for $4.5 million, according to a publicly filed deed for the transaction.
  • In August 2015, two months after he launched his presidential campaign, Trump registered eight limited-liability companies that appeared tied to possible deals in the country, according to public records. All of the companies contained “Jeddah,” the name of a Saudi Arabian port city, in their title. 
  • In 2015, Trump’s daughter Ivanka told Hotelier Middle East, “Dubai is a top priority city for us. We are looking at multiple opportunities in Abu Dhabi, in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia, so those are the four areas where we are seeing the most interest. We haven’t made a final decision in any of the markets but we have many very compelling deals in each of them.”

Of course, Trump is now claiming a higher motive for siding with the Saudis. He doesn’t want to scuttle a major defense deal he made with Saudi Arabia in May, 2017:

“I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States because you know what they’re going to do, they’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China,” 

And the next day, Trump said he had spoken with Saudi King Salman: “The king firmly denied any knowledge of it. … It sounded to me like these could have been rogue killers, who knows?” 

This is comparable to Trump’s refusal, during his first debate with Hillary Clinton in September, 2016, to admit Russian hacking of the 2016 Democratic National Committee: “It could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

“Here we go again with you know you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that,” said Trump on October 16.

“We just went through that with [Supreme Court nominee] [Brett] Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

Factual note: Although confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, Kavanaugh was not proven innocent.  The FBI was not allowed to interview Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused him of attempted rape 36 years ago. 

DID COMEY LOSE CLINTON THE WHITE HOUSE? PARTTWO (END)

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 18, 2018 at 12:02 am

May 9 will mark one year since James Comey was fired as FBI director by President Donald Trump.

On April 17, Comey’s memoirs, A Higher Loyalty, appeared in bookstores. The book has generated massive publicity for Comey. And it has also re-ignited the controversial charge that he cost Hillary Clinton the White House during the closing days of the 2016 election. 

But is this true?

Actually, there were at least nine reasons for Clinton’s defeat.  Part One of this series explored the first five. This part will explore the remaining four.

#6 The coalition that twice elected Barack Obama deserted Hillary Clinton.

Clinton did worse-than-expected among all the groups she was counting on to support her: Blacks, women, youth and Hispanics.

  • In 2012, Obama got 93% of the black vote; in 2016, Clinton got 88%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 55% of the women’s vote; in 2016, Clinton won 54%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 60% of the vote of those under 30; in 2016, Clinton got 54%.
  • In 2012, Obama got 71% of the Hispanic vote; in 2016, Clinton got 65%.

Clinton proved less popular even among whites than Obama: In 2012, Obama won 39% of their votes; in 2016, Clinton won 37%.

#7 Trump, adopting the role of a populist, appealed to blue-collar voters. Clinton offered a “love-your-CEO” economic plan—and suffered for it.

Trump visited “Rustbelt” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania and vowed to “bring back” jobs that had been lost to China, such as those in coal mining and manufacturing. Clinton didn’t deign to show up, assuming she had those states “locked up.”

Most economists agree that, in a globalized economy, such jobs are not coming back, no matter who becomes President.

Even so, voters backed the man who came to promise them a better future, and shunned the woman who didn’t come to promise them any future at all.

In May, 2016, Democratic pollster CeLinda Lake had warned Clinton to revamp her economic platform. Clinton ignored the advice.

“Democrats simply have to come up with a more robust economic frame and message,” Lake said after the election. “We’re never going to win those white, blue-collar voters if we’re not better on the economy. And 27 policy papers and a list of positions is not a frame. We can laugh about it all we want, but Trump had one.”

#8 Hillary Clinton gave only one memorable speech during the campaign.

This was the “basket of deplorables” speech, delivered at a New York fundraiser on September 9. It was the only Clinton speech to be widely quoted by Democrats and Republicans.

She divided Donald Trump’s supporters into two groups. The first group were the “deplorables,” for whom she showed open contempt:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.

“He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people—now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks—they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”  

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Hillary Clinton (Gage Skidmore photo)

But the second group, she said, consisted of poor, alienated Americans who rightly felt abandoned by their employers and their government:

“But….that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from.

“They don’t buy everything [Trump] says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.” 

#9 After giving this speech, Clinton threw away the good it might well have done her. 

First, the day after making the speech, she apologized for it: “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half–that was wrong.” 

Many of Trump’s followers were racists, sexists and xenophobes—who deserved condemnation, not apologies. By apologizing, she looked weak, indecisive, even cowardly.  

Second, having eloquently reached out to many of the men and women who were a prime constituency for Trump, she failed to offer an economic package to quickly and effectively address their vital needs for jobs and medical care.

The reason: She had failed to put one together long ago.

And all she had to offer now was boilerplate rhetoric, such as: “Education is the answer.”

Worst of all, Trump turned her speech against her, tweeting: “Wow, Hillary Clinton was SO INSULTING to my supporters, millions of amazing, hard working people. I think it will cost her at the Polls!”

It did.

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Blaming people like James Comey for her defeat only proves that Hillary Clinton has learned nothing from her failed campaigns of 2008 and 2016.

As long as Democrats and their supporters blame everyone else—and refuse to correct their own weaknesses—they will continue to remain a minority political party.

DID COMEY LOSE CLINTON THE WHITE HOUSE? PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 17, 2018 at 12:10 am

“If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president,” Hillary Clinton told CNN in May, 2017.

“I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me and got scared off.”

On October 28, 2016, then-FBI director James Comey announced that the bureau was reopening its investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State.

Comey wrote in a letter to Congress that the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation “in connection with an unrelated case.”

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James B. Comey

In national exit polls, Clinton’s use of a private email server troubled 63% of voters. Even so, 24% of those voted for her.

Up until then, Clinton had seemed on her way to winning the election. Even Comey believed she would become the first female President of the United States.

And Clinton did win the popular vote: 65,844,954 (48.2%) to Trump’s 62,979,879 (46.1%), beating him by almost 2.9 million votes.

But Trump emerged the victor in the Electoral College, which actually determines the Presidential winner—with 304 votes compared to Clinton’s 227.

Since November 8, 2016, Clinton and her infuriated allies have blamed Comey more than anyone for her loss. And Comey himself has said that the thought of him swinging the election made him “mildly nauseous.”

If Comey’s action played a role in Clinton’s loss, it was just one of several factors that sent Trump to the White House.

Among these:

#1 Hillary Clinton was an uninspiring candidate. When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008, NBC Anchor Tom Brokaw compared his rallies to Hannah Montana concerts. Audiences were excited by his charisma, eloquence, relative youth (47) and optimism (“Yes We Can!”).

Clinton radiated none of these qualities. She was 67 when she declared her candidacy for President—and looked it. Her speaking voice grated like the proverbial fingernail on a blackboard.

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Hillary Clinton

She seemed to have been around forever—as First Lady (1993-2001), as Senator from New York (2001-2009) and as Secretary of State (2009-2013). Those born after 2000 thought of the Clinton Presidency as ancient history. She was offering a resume—and voters wanted an inspiration.

#2 Clinton brought a lot of baggage with her. In contrast to Obama, whose Presidency had been scandal-free, Clinton—rightly or wrongly—has always been dogged by charges of corruption.

During the Clinton Presidency, a failed land deal—Whitewater—while Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas triggered a seven-year investigation by a Republican special prosecutor. No criminality was uncovered, and no charge was brought against either Clinton.

After leaving the White House, she and her husband set up the Clinton Foundation, a public charity to bring government, businesses and social groups together to solve problems “faster, better, at lower cost.”

As Secretary of State, more than half of Clinton’s meetings with people outside government were with donors to the Clinton Foundation. If a “pay-to play” system wasn’t at work, one certainly seemed to be.

She cast further suspicion on herself by her unauthorized use of a private email server. This wasn’t revealed until March, 2015–after she was no longer Secretary of State.

She claimed she had used it to avoid carrying two cell-phones. But, as Secretary of State, she traveled with a huge entourage who carried everything she needed. Her critics believed she used a private email system to hide a “pay-for-pay” relationship with Clinton Foundation donors.

#3 As a candidate for President, she “secretly” worked with Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, to ensure that she would get the nomination.

As DNC chair, Wasserman-Schultz was expected to be impartial toward all Democratic candidates seeking the prize. This included Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s chief competitor.

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Bernie Sanders

So Sanders and his supporters were outraged when, on July 22, WikiLeaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the DNC.

The emails revealed a clear bias for Clinton and against Sanders. In one email, Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist.

#4 The Obamas’ support proved a plus/minus for Clinton. Understandably, President Obama wanted to see his legacies continued—and she was the only candidate who could do it.

So he—and his wife, Michelle—stormed the country, giving eloquent, passionate speeches and firing up crowds on Clinton’s behalf.

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President Barack Obama

So long as either Obama stood before a crowd, the magic lasted. But once the event was over, the excitement vanished. Hillary simply didn’t arouse enough passion to keep it going.

Obama’s supporters found Clinton wanting—in attractiveness, grace, eloquence, trustworthiness and the ability to inspire.

#5 Democrats and liberals fell prey to hubris. They dismissed Donald Trump as a bad joke: Surely voters would reject a bombastic, thrice-married “reality show” host who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.

Many liberals believed Clinton would bury him at the polls: Blacks, women, youth and Hispanics will turn out huge for her. Democrats will retake the Senate, and maybe even retake the House.

They didn’t.

DUMBOCRATS AND THEIR COMPUTERS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 13, 2018 at 12:06 am

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The emails were exchanged from January 2015 through May 2016.

These clearly reveal a bias for Hillary Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders.

One email revealed that Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist. 

Sanders’ supporters had long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them were outraged to discover that their fears had been confirmed.  

The leak came at a disastrous time for Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, United States Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

About to receive the Democratic nomination for President, she found herself charged with undermining the electoral process. 

Wasserman-Schultz proved the first casualty of the leak, resigning from her position as chair of the DNC and saying she would not open the Democratic convention as previously scheduled.

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Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

As for Clinton: Her campaign manager, Bobby Mook, blamed the Russians for the leak. Their alleged motive: To help Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber-security experts believed the hackers originated from Russia—-and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have authorized it.

His alleged motive: Trump had repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Trump believed the United States was paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance—and he wanted other members to contribute far more. He made it clear that if they didn’t—and if he was elected President—they would be on their own if attacked by Russia.

Trump took to twitter to offer his take on the release: “How much BAD JUDGEMENT was on display by the people in DNC in writing those really dumb e-mails, using even religion, against Bernie!”  

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Bernie Sanders

Which brings up the obvious question: Why was such sensitive information entrusted to computers that could be hacked? 

This is not the first time a major corporation or government agency has fallen prey to hackers.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, have been hit with massive data breaches that compromised their customers’ and/or employees’ most sensitive financial and personal information.

Among those companies and agencies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • The U.S. State Department
  • The Pentagon
  • The Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps the most notorious target hacked was Ashley Madison, the website for cheating wives and husbands. Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan was: “Life is short. Have an affair.”  

On July 15, 2015, its more than 37 million members learned that highly embarrassing secrets they had entrusted to Ashley Madison had been compromised.

This included their sexual fantasies, matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.

A website offering cheating services to those wealthy enough to afford high-priced fees is an obvious target for hackers. After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true.  

And the same is true for computers of one of the two major political parties of the United States. 

Among the secrets unearthed in the WikiLeaks document-dump: Plans by Democratic party officials to reward large donors and prominent fundraisers with lucrative appointments to federal boards and commissions.

Most of the donors listed gave to Clinton’s campaign. None gave to Sanders.

According to Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group: 

“The disclosed DNC emails sure look like the potential Clinton Administration has intertwined the appointments to federal government boards and commissions with the political and fund raising operations of the Democratic Party. That is unethical, if not illegal.”  

Centuries before the invention of computers–and the machinery needed to hack into them–Niccolo Machiavelli offered cautionary advice to those thinking of entering into a conspiracy.  He did so in his masterwork on politics, The Discourses.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Unlike his better-known work, The Prince, which deals with how to secure power, The Discourses lays out rules for preserving liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter Six (“Of Conspiracies”) he writes:

“I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the ‘Yes’ of one man is worth as much as the ‘No’ of another. 

“And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting.”

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, ordered the execution of the popular Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, claiming that he had aided Britain and plotted against France.

The aristocracy of Europe, still recalling the slaughters of the French Revolution, was shocked. 

Asked for his opinion on the execution, Napoleon’s chief of police, Joseph Fouche, said: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.”  

This may prove to be history’s verdict on the storing of so many incriminating computer files by the DNC.

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