Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Hillary Clinton

Trump Triumphant Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday January 19 2017.

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A friend commented on one of my previous articles to the effect that people who were dismayed at Trump’s success in the presidential election should grow up and “accept ballot results like mature adults”. It is not immature to be alarmed at the prospect of the radical changes Trump is likely to make with a very meagre mandate. My friend wrote: “Looking at the swathes of communities in the US destroyed by globalisation, deregulation, and neo-liberal economics generally, there is plenty of evidence to support his view” that the liberal elites have destroyed America. My friend notes the irony that ‘blame’ for Trump’s rise has already fallen on the working class white male. “The US political commentators are middle class and insufferably smug”.

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Substantial numbers of people indeed feel marginalized by flat or falling wages, rapid demographic change, and a liberal culture that mocks their faith and patriotism. One can sympathise with them but their resentments are toxic and Trump is not going to help them. The Morlocks have risen against the Eloi.

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Where’s the Mandate?

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Trump won fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote but for millions of illegal ballots cast. Trump is a sore winner. He got about forty-six per cent of the popular vote; he carried several states by less than one per cent, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes. Just a switch of 40,000 votes in three states would have altered the outcome. His Electoral College margin was relatively modest and he had the lowest approval ratings of any president-elect. Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favourable rating. Today, Trump’s favourable rating stands at 43 percent. That rating will go down when he takes office.  68 percent describe the president-elect as “hard to like,” and less than half of Americans are confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis.

 

Sore Losers

I do not believe that I am insufferably smug but I am alarmed at what Trump’s presidency might mean, not just for the US but the world. In a previous article, I quoted what the philosopher Richard Rorty wrote in in 1994: “One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion…. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.” It is not elitist to want to retain the gains that were made; it is not PC to mourn the loss of civility that Trump embodies.

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All of his cabinet appointees are climate change sceptics whose claims that the scientific evidence is inconclusive are plainly ludicrous. The world is warming and they know it. We cannot afford to waste another four years debating whether the world is warming. This man with no political experience and no popular majority is appointing people to his cabinet who will make radical changes that will adversely affect the lives of the very people who voted for him in the vain expectation that he would fulfil his promises to improve their lot. Why should people not protest? Trump’s real ruling-class hostility toward the working class was demonstrated by his vile attack on Chuck Jones, a union leader in Indiana who had dared to criticize him. Jones said he began receiving death threats following Trump’s tweetstorm.

Stephen Bannon

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We cannot expect Trump to be able or willing to spend much time on thinking about running the country. That will be too boring for him. He has appointed as “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, former executive of conservative news site Breitbart, who has been called racist, anti-Semitic and a white nationalist. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said of Bannon’s appointment: “There must be no sugar-coating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration.”

Michael Flynn

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Nixon was notorious for barking outrageous orders when angry or drunk. His aides knew his moods well enough to ignore those orders and he expected them to be ignored. One might like to console oneself that an incompetent or mentally challenged president might be restrained by the common sense and caution of his team.  Trump has said: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” Donald Trump will have his finger on the nuclear button.  On November 18, 2016, Trump announced that Michael Flynn would serve as National Security Advisor. The national-security adviser is the person the President turns to when he thinks he might want to do some bombing. A retired army lieutenant general, Flynn previously ran the Defense Intelligence Agency but lost his job after two years because of clashes with officials.

Flynn took an active part in Trump’s campaign and revealed himself as hot-headed conspiracy theorist with a crush on Vladimir Putin and a loathing of President Obama. Flynn has regularly appeared on Russian state-owned television station RT, and once attended a gala hosted by the channel, sitting next to Putin.

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It was something of a shock to see a retired three-star general comparing Hillary Clinton to the al-Qaeda militants he faced in Afghanistan and Iraq, and calling for her to be imprisoned. He has called President Obama a “liar,” declared the US justice system “corrupt” and insisted that he was pushed out of his assignment as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his views on radical Islam.

Putin

Trump is the first incoming American president to have declared, in language noted in Moscow and Beijing, that his commitment to Nato and the security pacts with Japan and South Korea is ambiguous.

Trump’s resistance to claims that Russia used hacking to interfere in the presidential election prompted Joe Biden to tell him to grow up. Trump’s confidence in WikiLeaks has angered intelligence analysts, who think Julian Assange is hostile to the US and a tool of Putin. The Russian government used Internet trolls and RT  to amplify negative reports on Clinton and US democracy. “Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become Commander-in-Chief trashing the intelligence community?” Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, demanded. She answered her own question: “Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.”

Veteran investigative economist and journalist Jim Henry has revealed that for three decades, Trump has profited from his connections to Russian oligarchs, whose own fortunes depend on their fealty to Putin.

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When Trump suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies, how did he keep bouncing back? Since the late 1990s, Trump was greatly assisted by access to abundant new sources of global finance and he spent decades cultivating senior relationships of all kinds with Russia and the FSU. He has an extensive network of unsavoury global underground connections. The illicit outflows from Russia and oil-rich FSU members like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan provided Trump with the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed.

Recent evidence provided by John McCain indicates that the Kremlin has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years, with the aim of encouraging splits and divisions in western alliances. One report claims that Trump and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including information on his Democratic and other political rivals.

The former Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, has lambasted FBI chief James Comey for publicising investigations into Hillary Clinton’s private server, while allegedly sitting on “explosive” material on Trump’s ties to Russia.

 

Next week – what is to be done?

 

Identity Crisis Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 6 2016

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Someone is begging for money using my name. Some people really believe he is me. On several occasions, I have had to answer some testing questions from people I have known for a long time in real life. This is reasonable enough and I could easily convince them that I am the man they know.

It is not so easy to convince Facebook and on 27 September I was expelled from that community. Dealing with Facebook and Google one enters the world of Kafka.

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Der Prozess

In The Trial by Franz Kafka, Joseph K is arrested by two warders “one fine morning,” although he has done nothing wrong. The German title, Der Prozess, connotes both a “trial” and a “process”: the machinery has been set in motion, and the process will grind toward conclusion. The examining magistrate tells K that he has seriously damaged his own case by his behaviour. Everyone who knows K also knows about his trial. From his point of view, the entire universe finds him guilty. He is taken to a quarry by two men who stab him to death. At least my unfair trial by Facebook only led to this: “We’ll get in touch with you at the email address you provided after we’ve reviewed your ID. You will now be logged out of Facebook.”

 

I am grateful that, on this “fine morning”, I am not a corpse in a quarry, merely a live one in a quandary.

 

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Positive and Negative

The experience of having a faceless stranger’s grubby fingers rifling through one’s life is very distasteful. There have been some positive aspects, however. I have reestablished contact with a lot of real-life friends from whom I had not heard for a long time. Thank you for that Mr  PH (Personal Hacker). Soon after I was alerted that I had been hacked, I started receiving many supportive phone calls – from Ireland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the US and the UK. Two different bank managers called me. One real-life friend in Sri Lanka telephoned and was surprised when I answered the phone. She really though I was stranded in Cyprus and had been making arrangements for her daughter in the UK to send ‘me’ a payment. I was touched by this but puzzled that an astute professional could be so gullible. When I met her last week she showed me the e-mails the hacker had sent.

I understood why she had believed the hacker. One e-mail said “Dear B, Can I call you on this line (he quoted her office phone number) X (that’s my wife) extends her sincere greetings and gratitude for all your concern and assistance”. Another e-mail to B gave details of our attempt to purchase a property and to dispose of our current home. There were enough errors in his e-mails to indicate that the writer was not me. Nevertheless, it is creepy to be aware that he is obviously ploughing through my personal correspondence and putting together a faux persona that convinces some.

 

Customer Service

My real-life and virtual friends responded sympathetically to my plight but many were far too optimistic about how easy it is to deal with such a situation. People told me that the first thing to do was to report the breach to Facebook and Google because those organisations have solid systems in place to handle account hacking. I would certainly expect them to have solid systems in place but I was not able to utilise them.

If my credit card were stolen I would be expected to notify the provider immediately. I have found it impossible to notify Google or Facebook that my identity has been stolen. I have attempted the cumbersome recovery procedure several times. I am told it has been successful but then I have to enter a verification code sent to my mobile phone. I cannot do this because my friendly neighbourhood PH has replaced my mobile phone number with his.

Horse Bolted. Lock the Stable Door

The Google and Facebook help pages confine themselves to giving useless advice about preventing future hacks rather than dealing with the specific hack that has already happened. I had anyway followed the advice. I never share my passwords with anyone, even my wife. I had recently changed my passwords several times. There is nothing personal in the passwords. They are rated as ‘strong’ because they are totally random and contain mixtures of letters, digits and symbols. I could not hope to remember them myself, so I do not understand how anyone else could guess them.

Who Cares about Customers?

This kind of scam has been going on for many years. I have received many such messages myself. The modus operandi is to send an e-mail to my contacts asking why the hacker posing as me has not received a reply to a previous (non-existent) e-mail. He has got my friends’ addresses from my G-Mail accounts which he has hacked. However, he does not use my G-mail  addresses to write to my contacts. He has set up new accounts with addresses that differ from my addresses by just one character.  The recipient generally does not realise the discrepancy and even if they do they dismiss it as an error.

One friend wrote to me: “Surely G-Mail have some idea who he is and where he is from these newly created accounts?” I would have thought so but experts advise me that Google would not seek such information without a court order. The perpetrator’s human rights get more protection than the victim’s. It is impossible for me to report this to G-Mail. I just get sent around in a loop and fail at the end. I am reminded of those so-called “impossible constructions” by MC Escher, such as Ascending and Descending and Relativity. There appears to be a lot of information on the G-Mail and Facebook help pages but there is no e-mail address or telephone number. There is at Google or Facebook no human being with whom to discuss the identity theft. This kind of scam has been the subject of numerous articles over the years and the boffins at Google and Facebook must be clever enough to stop it. They haven’t stopped it because they don’t care. It is not harming profits.

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You Are Who?

While many pooh-poohed the idea, I wondered from the outset whether this hacker had some personal grudge against me. Like the pooh-poohers, I had seen many examples of this kind of scam before. Nevertheless, I was surprised at his persistence. The messages have been going out for three months and, at the time of writing, show no signs of stopping.

 

A real-life friend tried to engage with my PH and got a threatening response. All pretence of being me was dropped: Using the name “Spitfire” he sent this message: “Maybe you should just mind your business because your email might be next.PS: tell your friend that this is what happens when he tries to recover the email i already hacked into. If he tries recovering it with any other email then he looses that one too!”

In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump visualised a stereotypical hacker: “It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.” One of the hackers who recently intruded on President Sirisena’s official website was a seventeen-year-old boy. Mat Honan is digital savvy enough to write regularly for Wired magazine-  but he still got hacked: “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed”. Honan managed to establish some contact with his hacker whom he calls Phobia. Phobia was 19 years old.

A real-life friend speculated about the identity of my PH: “This smacks of an IT support type person who has had an opportunity to either get third party access to your hardware or even direct access during a mend or upgrade.” I followed up on this line of thinking. My desktop PC was indeed in a shop being repaired when the hacking occurred. It would have been easy for one of the technicians to log into my G-Mail accounts because the system remembered the passwords. Once in, he could change my passwords because he knew my mobile phone number. He could then use two-step authentication to override my mobile phone number.

I went to the shop and explained to one of the managers and a technician what had happened. They said it could not have happened there. Three brothers have been running the business for 15 years (they have always been helpful to me and are often reluctant to charge for their service) and they said they had never experienced anything like this before. Their technicians have been with them a long time and are completely trustworthy – they would say that wouldn’t they? The technician showed no sign of guilt and told us about a CID unit that investigated this kind of hacking. We had expected the messages to stop after letting the shop know that we knew. In fact, incidents gathered pace.

Next week I explore the psychopathology of the hacker. Why on earth do they do it? What kind of moral universe do they inhabit?

President Hillary Clinton and Sri Lanka

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 30 2016

Colman's Column3

 

 

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It is hard to imagine what a Donald Trump presidency might bode for Sri Lanka because Trump makes a virtue of avoiding fixed positions on foreign policy – and he lies. We might surmise that Hillary Clinton as president would probably be bad for Sri Lanka because we can examine her track record as Secretary of State at the time that GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) was trying to defeat the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Clinton chaired the UN Security Council session on September 30 2009 when it adopted Resolution 1888, which dealt with conflict-related sexual violence. The official transcript of her address contained this: “We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks.” This is not an off-the-cuff remark – she was reading a prepared speech to a session of which she was the chair.

Sri Lankan prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake’s initial response was off-the cuff. He said that Clinton had apparently forgotten the Monica Lewinsky affair and should tend to her own backyard before alleging that women are being maltreated in other countries. This was not very statesman-like but in those days the prime ministership was not an important job.

The Sri Lankan government lodged an official “note of protest” (omitting any mention of Lewinsky) with the US Embassy in Colombo. Professor  Rajiva Wijesinha, then Secretary to the Human Rights Ministry, told The Island that the government would like the US to reveal any specific allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and  that it was unfortunate that those who had failed to save the LTTE from being crushed, at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army, were now harassing Sri Lanka.

 

Trump has been taking every opportunity to embarrass Clinton on the issue of her e-mails. The controversy over Clinton’s use of a private server led the US government to release some of the e-mails. This enables us to see what her thinking on Sri Lanka was behind the scenes.

A letter from the State Department to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Rohitha Bogollagama claimed that “numerous cases of rape and sexual violence in Sri Lanka, particularly acts committed against women held in detention by the government” had been detailed over the years by the US government and international human rights groups. This misses the crucial point that Clinton was not merely saying that rapes had occurred but that the Sri Lankan state had officially adopted sexual abuse as a weapon of war.

 

The letter was signed by Melanne Verveer, ambassador at large for global women’s issues at the State Department. She did concede that “in the most recent phase of the conflict, from 2006 to 2009 … we have not received reports that rape and sexual abuse were used as tools of war, as they clearly have in other conflict areas around the world.” She made sure that she got the last word and set the scene for Clinton’s future actions in getting Sri Lanka’s war record examined by the UNHRC. “Secretary Clinton believes that Sri Lanka must focus to the future and move forward on the promotion of peace and the protection of human rights,”

 

On Oct 3, 2009, Lissa Muscatine, a senior aide to Clinton, acknowledged there had been a lack of due diligence in clearing Clinton’s UN statement.  State department spokesperson Philip Crowley wrote that Clinton was open to the idea of the response coming from someone other than herself. “She feels that this has generated a great deal of media commentary in various quarters, including prominent outlets in this country and in Asia that we have no choice but to respond in a public way. Government supporters are saying that she is listening to the Tamil Diaspora”.

Verveer’s letter was not a retraction and did not come from Clinton. Clinton was still appeasing those who had been calling for an international inquiry into the Vanni offensive. The idea that GOSL used rape as a weapon of war still hung there. Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN, Major General Shavendra Silva, asserted that allegations of rape, during the conflict, as well as in the  post-war period, were meant to justify demands for withdrawal of the Sri Lankan army from the Northern Province. The UN repeated the allegation, in early 2014, in relation to the post-war period also.

 

On 6 May 2009 Deputy Assistant Secretary Mike Owens declared “We, of course, have designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and we certainly have no sympathy for some of the things that they’ve carried out, but I think you do have to ask a very legitimate question: Why did they have a following in the beginning? And I think it’s because some in the Tamil community do have legitimate grievances, and we need to find — I think it’s imperative for Sri Lankans to find a way to give everyone in the community, all Sri Lankans a legitimate voice in their government.”

 

There is no denying that Sri Lanka’s military received significant help from the US in its struggle with the LTTE. However, Clinton seemed miffed when President Rajapaksa refused to bow to demands from the international community for a cease fire. Rajapaksa knew fine well that the LTTE used cease-fires to regroup and re-arm and, being so close to victory after 30 years of brutal war, he was not going to fall into that trap.

 

During the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka’s traditional arms suppliers imposed restrictions. GOSL had to look elsewhere and China was willing to help. Following the defeat of the LTTE, the Rajapaksa regime chose to focus on rapid economic revival and development of infrastructure. The US reneged on its commitment to provide $500 million from the Millennium Development Account for road development.

The released e-mails reveal that Clinton tried to block an IMF loan to GOSL and that the IMF did not like it. Clinton was told that the IMF had, during the final stages of the war, lambasted her in a conversation with Timothy Geithner, the then US Secretary of the Treasury, for ordering the IMF to suspend funding to Sri Lanka. In an email sent to Clinton by Burns Strider, a former senior advisor, Strider said people on the ground with the World Bank and the IMF believed the LTTE must be completely defeated.

 

During her previous campaign for the presidential Democratic nomination Sri Lankan Americans who strongly supported her were discouraged by the way her remarks on terrorism were manipulated by pro-LTTE outlets. Clinton visited Tamil Nadu and met Chief Minister Jeyaram Jayalalithaa, a persistent critic of GOSL, on July 20 2011 and proffered congratulations on her electoral victory. Clinton invited Jayalalithaa to visit US to tell Americans about the great achievements of Tamil Nadu.

 

Clinton has supported regime change in Asia, Africa and South America. She supported the sanctions that did so much harm to Iraqi children. Clinton is supported by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who said on TV that the death of half a million Iraqi children was “worth it”. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran with nuclear weapons. When the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was publicly sodomised with a knife, Clinton gloated: “We came, we saw, he died.” The US might have thought they had got the regime they wanted after Rajapaksa was ousted and the new government “co-sponsored” with the US a resolution on human rights for the UNHRC. However, the UNHRC business seems to be moving slowly and the current Sri Lankan government has found that it cannot live without China after all. Perhaps the new President Clinton will have plans for a Sri Lankan spring and further regime change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can It Happen There? Part Two.

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 23 2016

 

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In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published his dystopian satire It Can’t Happen Here! The novel imagines a charismatic leader winning the presidency and establishing a Fascist dictatorship in the US. Influential American journalist Josh Marshall wrote of Donald Trump: “His public appearances are like a fugue of impulse and aggression, overlapped with charisma and humour and a searching for the spirit of the crowd, a sometimes frantic, sometimes slow mix of neediness, divination and dominance.”

Orlando

Trump said President Obama should “resign in disgrace” for failing to call the Orlando massacre “Islamic terrorism”. Obama was circumspect in his statement expressing sympathy and solidarity with “the LGBT community” and with the people of Orlando. The president expressed inclusiveness while the Republican contender sought to make political capital from divisiveness.

The rifle Omar Mateen used was a Sig Sauer MCX, sometimes known to gun fetishists as the “Black Mamba”. Sig Sauer makes most of its 74,000 semi-automatic rifles sold in the US market at its factory in New Hampshire. In February 2016, Trump toured the factory with his two sons and Trump addressed a crowd at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual trade show where his sons posed for photo opps with Sig Sauer representatives.

Trump has said the existing background check system should be improved, not expanded, and that assault-weapons bans do not work.

Trump on LGBT

Following the Orlando massacre, Trump claimed to be a champion and friend of the LGBT community.  “Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country who suppress women, gays and anyone else who doesn’t share their views or values.”

In reality, Trump must bow to anti-LGBT forces if he wants to win the presidency and is making pacts with them. On 10 June 2016, Trump addressed a meeting of the Road to Majority Summit. Ben Carson, who compared homosexuality to bestiality and paedophilia, moderated the discussion, which was closed to the media, between Trump and hundreds of anti-LGBT activists,.  Trump met major evangelical leaders in New York City on June 21.

American philosopher Richard Rorty predicted back in 1994: “One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion…. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

Judges

During a Trump presidency, a number of Supreme Court vacancies will give him the opportunity to shape the judiciary. His Supreme Court appointments will need to please the evangelicals.  In May, Trump released a list of 11 potential replacements for Antonin Scalia which were alarming for LGBT people and feminists. One of Trump’s choices is Joan Larsen, who worked for Scalia. She served in the Justice Department office that produced the legal justifications for torture. The nomination of President Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, is being blocked by the Senate, so the next president could have a Supreme Court appointment waiting in January 2017.

Trump’s Policies

Trump makes his lack of fixed policy positions a positive virtue: “A lot of times when I speak, people say that I don’t provide specific policies that some pollster has determined are what people want to hear”

We can confidently predict that a Clinton presidency would not be good for this island nation because we can examine her record as Secretary of State. We have very little to go on with Trump. Mark Danner wrote: “What gives a man who knows little or nothing of foreign policy the unsullied conviction to announce to the world that only he can solve, well, Pakistan? Or terrorism?” One cannot imagine that Trump would help Sri Lanka’s delicate balancing act between India, Pakistan, China and the US or help it deal with the legacy of its defeat of terrorism.

Trump does not make any clear foreign policy statements and what does say often turns out to be a lie. He promised to put together a team of experts to help him with foreign policy but the names he announced puzzled many people. He shared the names with the Washington Post. He said five advisers had signed up to be on his team: Joseph E Schmitz, General Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Walid Phares. The team includes two people who played active roles in Iraq. Trump claims to have been against the invasion (a lie) and has accused GW Bush of lying about WMD.

Schmitz left his job as the Pentagon’s inspector general eleven years ago following allegations that he protected top officials in the GW Bush administration suspected of wrongdoing. Senator Grassley, then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accused Schmitz of blocking investigations of Bush administration officials tied to Iraq and Afghanistan war contracts and questioned his ties to lobbyists. On leaving the Pentagon took a job with the Prince Group, the parent company of Blackwater USA, the controversial defense contractor whose operatives killed 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

General Joseph “Keith” Kellogg was among the first US personnel sent in to try and govern Iraq after the US removed Saddam Hussein. Kellogg had been employed by US government contractor Oracle Corp. in November 2003 when he went to Baghdad to serve as the Chief Operating Officer of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a position he held for five months. During his time in Iraq, the Iraqi army was disbanded which helped to plunge the country into chaos. He was responsible for poorly managed contracts that led to audits and inspectors general investigations.

Walid Phares is an anti-Muslim Lebanese Christian, who served as a top adviser to a Christian militia blamed for atrocities during the Lebanese Civil War. He was a close adviser to Samir Geagea, a Lebanese warlord whose career developed from leading hit squads to running the Lebanese Forces.

Carter Page was an investment banker with Merrill-Lynch who has close ties with Gazprom and Putin’s Kremlin. Sergey Aleksashenko, a top Merrill executive in Russia at one time and now an outspoken Kremlin critic, described Page as a junior banker with little understanding of Russia. “I could not imagine Carter as an adviser on foreign policy. It’s really surprising.”

George Papadopoulos, a 2009 graduate of DePaul University, is said to direct an international energy center at the London Centre of International Law Practice. He obtained a master’s degree from the University of London in 2010. Almost all his work appears to have revolved around the role of Greece, Cyprus and an Israeli natural gas discovery in the eastern Mediterranean.  Several people in energy policy circles in London, Washington and New York said they knew nothing of him. Papadopoulos served as an adviser to Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

There are those who believe that Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination was initially merely a publicity stunt to boost his business. Now he has got this far, there is a fear that he will use the White House as a business opportunity, and, with his financial interests all over the world, foreign policy would be a prime area. John Wonderlich, of the Sunlight Foundation said that complex diplomacy would be further “complicated and altered by massive personal financial conflicts of interests being present at the same time?”

Ethical Problems

Donald Trump could be president without selling his businesses. Restrictions that prohibit executive branch officials from earning income from their businesses do not apply to the president or vice president. Trump has not committed himself to selling his businesses, and instead he has said that his children and executives would manage them. Kenneth Gross who provided legal assistance to several presidential candidates, said, “He can’t just get amnesia. He’s stuck with the knowledge of what he owns.”

Trump has filed a mandatory personal financial disclosure statement – 104-pages listing his current holdings and their value. With the power of the presidency, Trump could manipulate policy and enforcement to directly benefit his own financial holdings. Trump does a lot of business with the federal government and holds stock in companies, like Boeing, which receive billions of dollars in government contracts.

The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service is appointed by the president and serves at the pleasure of the president. In his campaign, Trump has been strongly critical of the IRS and has bragged that he pays “as little in taxes as possible”. A Trump-appointed IRS commissioner could allow him to avoid any scrutiny at all for his tax compliance. Trump has not released his tax returns since 1981.

Trump could also use the power of the presidency to intimidate banks into making riskier investments for his companies. Trump has huge debts to Deutsche Bank, a foreign entity that was recently caught manipulating markets around the world. What are the implications of the chief executive of the US government owing such a foreign  entity over $100 million?

Loss Aversion Trumps Risk Aversion

Why do people support Trump? Behavioural economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered the idea of loss aversion – people feel the pain of losses more than they feel the pleasure of gains. Trump harps on loss. In Trump’s world, things are much worse than they seem: “We’re losing everything.” Trump appeals to a kind of masochism – the median Trump voter is, in reality, better educated and richer than the average American but even people who are not doing as well as they expected feel a sense of loss.

His supporters are willing to take a risk – his unpredictability is a positive. To them he looks like a strong leader – is he a Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Castro, Franco, Pinochet, Chavez? Is American democracy strong enough to survive four or eight years of a Trump presidency? Adam Gopnik thinks not: “Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right…. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak.”

 

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