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Jer’s Take on Today’s Indictments

Some friends these days don’t know what news is true, especially Republicans, who don’t trust respected but typically left-leaning outlets like the NYT and the Post, but are beginning to realize that Fox News is crap. To help them out, and to wrap my head around what is happening, I looked through the 29-page indictment released hours ago, retrieved straight from the Justice Department website. Here’s my summary.

Who is being accused of crimes today?

In short, the Russian military. Specifically, the indictment charges 11 high-ranking Russian military officials, including a Major, a Lieutenant Colonel, a Colonel, a Senior Lieutenant, and a Second Lieutenant. It looks like this indictment only includes the leaders and major players within the operation. My speculation: with people this senior, it seems unlikely that Putin could not have known about and approved of this attack. He may have even managed it directly. 

What are they being accused of?

A vast three-pronged cyber attack on the United States for the purpose of damaging one political party to help throw an election to the another political party they liked more.

What did they do exactly?

A lot. The three prongs were (a) damage the party’s major organizations, (b) damage the party’s leaders, and (c) damage the American election apparatus (actual voting systems, state election boards, etc.). The overall strategy for the first two prongs seems to be to steal as many documents they could, hopefully some that are damaging, and then strategically release the docs in order to inflict maximal damage on the political candidate that the Russians didn’t like. Looks like they were less successful at harming the governments machinery around elections (the third prong).

Prong 1: Organizations

The main part of Prong 1 was a successful effort to hack directly into the two most important organizations in the targeted party: the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which focuses on presidential elections, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which focuses on electing Senators and House members. For example, they had an ongoing malicious presence on at least 13 different DNC and DCCC computers for around 6 months (May-Oct 2016; the election was just after on November 8th). Their ongoing presence on these computers allowed them spy on people as they entered passwords, composed documents, composed emails, financial records, and so forth. They could take screen shots as people worked.

Prong 2: Individuals

The main part of Prong 2 was targeting over 300 individual party leaders, activists, and staff, including 76 individuals with email addresses hosted through the presidential campaign. They gained illegal access to many personal email accounts, stealing tens of thousands of personal and professional emails and documents. For example, they stole 50,000 documents from the chair of the presidential campaign alone (the role of campaign chair is typically understood to be the most important person in a campaign besides the candidate). They tried to gain access to the presidential candidates’ documents too.

Prong 3: Election-Day Systems

The efforts targeting election-day systems was less successful, but in some ways more scary. Two of the defendants attempted to hack these systems directly (e.g., state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and the companies that provide the election software that we use to record people’s votes). At least one state board of elections was successfully hacked. Though we do not know the full damage of this successful hack, we do know that at a minimum information on 500,000 American voters in this state were stolen. One unnamed technology company was also successfully hacked, and we don’t know if the Russians were able to use what they found to change votes. We also know that specific counties in Georgia, Florida,  and Iowa were probed for vulnerabilities. These two Russians also targeted 100 individuals in October, 2018, weeks before the election with similar malicious code that they used to break into the DNC and DCCC. My own wild speculation: perhaps the Russians did not realize how wildly successful they would be at damaging the public image of the target political party and thought they might also try a somewhat last-minute, under-resourced, hail-mary pass to try to cripple Americans’ ability to actually cast and count our votes correctly. I, along with the intelligence community, am very worried about future attacks and the extremely minimal efforts we taken to counter them and Russian aggression generally. 

Dissemination

These Russian military officers then turned to the question of how to publicize all these stolen documents in a way to maximize damage on the American political party they disliked. They planned and discussed dissemination for at least a month before any documents were released. One thing they did is to invent the persona of a fictitious lone Romanian (Guccifer 2.0) as a go-between. The indictment says this “Guccifer” did at least four things:

  • Some unnamed candidate for the United States congress actually reached out to this “Guccifer 2.0” and asked for stolen documents that he/she could use to embarrass his/her political opponent. Guccifer 2.0 then sent that US congressional candidate stolen documents. My speculation: This has gotten very little attention so far, but I imagine the name of this congressional candidate will come to light someday and that person’s career will end. You can’t traffic in stolen bicycles, let alone things stolen by an enemy of the United States for the purposes of hurting the United States. 
  • “Guccifer 2.0” offered a news reporter stolen emails from the presidential candidate’s staff and gave this reporter access to these documents.
  • “Guccifer 2.0” sent 2.5 gigabytes (i.e., a lot of docs) to a lobbyist and reporter, including detailed information on 2,000 major donors to the Democratic party.
  • “Guccifer 2.0” sent stolen documents about the Black Lives Matter movement to a reporter and coordinated with the reporter about how to time the release and publicity of the documents.

In addition to “Guccifer 2.0,” the Russian military distributed stolen documents through an unnamed news organization (some people think this was WikiLeaks, though the indictment does not say).

  • First, the Russians coordinated with this unnamed news organization about timing to inflict maximum damage on the Democratic party. For example, they were highly aware of the divisions between Clinton supporters and Bernie supporters, and aware that in America party conventions are used to heal divisions that arise during party primaries. One quote from the unnamed organization on page 18 reads, “If you have anything Hillary related we want it in the next two days preferably because the Democratic National Convention is approaching and she (Hillary Clinton) will solidify Bernie supporters around her after.”
  • This request was apparently granted. Six days later, on July 22nd, 2016, three days before the Democratic party’s national convention, 20,000 stolen documents were released through the unnamed news organization.
  • From October 7th to November 7th (the presidential election was the next day on Nov. 8), the 50,000 emails from the chair of the Democratic presidential campaign was released by this unnamed organization in 33 “tranches,” which I think means they let it out in drips everyday to make sure it stayed in the news in the month leading up to the election to do maximal damage to the Democratic presidential campaign.

Many other laws were broken in the process of this three-pronged attack, such as identify theft, lying on official documents, and at least $95,000 worth in money laundering (they paid for many things they needed with cryptocurrencies).

So do we now know the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election?

No. These indictments concern the second of at least two major ways Russia attacked us in 2016. Six months ago, the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians who spear-headed the vast social-media effort to disseminate false and misleading information directly to voters (I didn’t summarize that effort, but maybe I should have). Now we have found that the Russian military, led by these 11 officers, led a second major attack, this time a direct and large scale cyber attack on one of our political parties, it’s leaders, and American election-day processes. Hopefully there is not a third big shoe to drop, but we do not know what else the Justice Department will conclude.

So what do we do now? 

If you haven’t already done so, recognize that America was attacked. Treat the threat seriously. Put America before party. Vote against any candidate who does not do the same. (In my view, doing anything otherwise is just straight-up unpatriotic. I don’t mean that as a slur or anything. That’s what the word unpatriotic means.) Encourage others to do the same (that’s why I felt the need to spend the last few hours writing this blog post…also because I’m a huge nerd wanted to read the indictment itself instead of through a media filter).

Practically speaking, I think putting America first here means three things. First, voting for politicians seeking to do everything they can to help investigators finish their work–we can’t defend ourselves if we don’t know how we are being attacked. Second, voting against politicians who claim that efforts to examine how Russian attacked us is “a witch hunt,” “a made up story,” or “an excuse by Democrats for having lost an election they should have won”–we can’t protect ourselves from attacks if leaders deny we are being attacked. Third, we have to take major steps to defend ourselves from future attacks–its not remotely enough just to find out what Russia did and have leaders willing to recognize it. At some point, we’ll have to fight back.

 

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An Open Letter to Trump-Supporting Loved Ones

Dear Trump-supporting family and friends,

These days people keep asking me, “Why aren’t you blogging? I need your help now more than ever processing these strange political times in your always brilliant and delightful way.” They say it with their eyes perhaps, but I get it.

Seriously, despite so much political news to process, having stronger opinions then ever, and the historical momentousness of the times (and I don’t say that lightly), I’ve held back for one huge reason: you. About 80% of my nuclear and extended family, as well as most of my childhood and college friends, are pro-Trump folks. I cherish my relationships with them. Many read my blog. And my opinions alienate them. I’ve seen it on your faces at get-togethers. It makes me deeply sad.

But, at the same time, over the last year I’ve been an ass and a hypocrite-I’ve felt a genuine and deep sadness and constant guilt–for not speaking up on issues I care about. Millions of Americans on both sides of Trump have a similar problem:

As mature humble adults go through life, we make moral space for serious disagreement with others. We have to. Good, smart, respectable people disagree all the time. However, that moral space has to end at some point, otherwise we have no morals. But when does it end? When do we put our feet down, make things super awkward, and say, “Forgive me, I can’t just politely disagree anymore. Wake the fuck up—what you are doing is immoral.”

This post is an attempt to save relationships and my integrity—wow that sounds obnoxiously dramatic. To do that, I need to say two things that do not negate the other.

First, to cousins, uncles, church friends, professors, college friends, and friends I grew up with in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and other loved ones who support Donald Trump: I love you. I always will. Nothing will change that.

Second, to the same people, forgive me, I can’t stay this quiet or politely disagree like what is happening is normal. It’s time to wake up. Supporting Trump is not like supporting other politicians. Its not ok. Either you’ve been conned or you are doing something immoral and, based on my view of the Bible, sinful. (I’m not trying to change your mind right now. We can get into reasons later. I’m merely relating where I am.)

So what do we do? What do friends and family do who disagree so fundamentally about sin and morality? Not talk? Drift apart with mutual disaffection? I completely understand why that tempts us. My views, though loving, are not welcoming, and you may likewise see my lack of support for Trump as beyond the moral pale too.

But I have hope: though I hate that you support Trump, I don’t hate you and I don’t think you hate me either. In fact, I’m convinced we both hate thinking poorly of each other. We hate feeling our loved ones are at odds with our beliefs and values.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Lincoln, 1861

So where does strained but unbroken bonds of affection leave us? I think I need to try to speak up more about what I believe and participate in the democratic process. I hope you can remember my affection for you and what I say won’t alienate you too much. I also look forward to seeing you at the next reunion or get-together and hearing about your life. I hope you will want to see me too. Please reach out out for a call too for any reason. If you are in the Philadelphia area, and itooks like Alicia and I will be hear for two more years as I finish my PhD, please drop by! We can stick to small talk and go deeper as we feel comfortable. No pressure.

With continued affection,

Jer


Nothing like a little brush with death to provide some perspective on life…

Biking home in DC, zipping down the bike lane with my helmet on (cough!), and a taxi door opens. I love that pause before the crunch. You see it coming, but you have no control. I flew maybe 12 or so feet. Epic crash. Loud. About 20 people rush up…and I’m laying there in shock yet without a scratch on me. Ok, my chest is a bit bruised (where the door hit), but yeah. Crazy unscathed. The people were super nice about it, and I learned a valuable lesson:

Care about the right shit. I think I was thinking about dirty dishes that needed doing right before I crashed. Now I’m breathing, and again, and that’s pretty fucking cool. You’re breathing too. Celebrate with me.


Missing Jer on National TV?

I’m on live in 21 minutes on Dr. Drew’s show on HLN (9PM) EST.  They’ve asked me to talk about My 15 Minutes of Fame.  I’m nervous.


50% of Cliftons Head to Sri Lanka

…the other 50% head to Texas.

Yesterday was my last day at Habitat for Humanity International HQ in Atlanta, GA.  Last night Alicia and I packed for Sri Lanka.  We’ve been camping out in our apartment for about 2 weeks on an inflatable bed, eating on folding porch chairs, washing the same dishes over and over, and making meals out of frozen edamamme we’ve had in the back of the freezer for possibly 2 years (Alicia is a genius with random foods). We went to the airport together, and now I am sitting here waiting to board for Chicago, Abu Dahbi, then Colombo, Sri Lanka while Alicia is somewhere else in the airport getting on a plane to Texas.

Alicia still does not have her VISA, but we expect it to likely get to DC at the end of next week.  She will then fly to DC, get her visa at the Sri Lankan embassy, and then fly to straight to Sri Lanka, with us only being apart for a 10 days.  Worst case scenario: Alicia’s visa never comes, I live in Sri Lanka for the summer, and she fullfills her internship requirement in Bolivia or somewhere…hmmm.  Please pray that Alicia gets her VISA soon.  We just had a very sad goodbye.  The emotion kinda surprised us both.

Otherwise, we are very excited.  We will be staying with a young lady named “Ha” in an apartment 2 minutes from the beach.  I will be chillin at the beach and exploring Colombo, Sri Lanka’s major city.  I’ll try to post some pics when I get there.


Politics is Intellectual Football (I’m a Confirmed Idiot #1)

Sometimes I have thoughts worth sharing, but I don’t share them because they are in various ways self-congratulatory.  If subtexts had vocal chords they might scream, “See!  Aren’t I great?”  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s a wonderful message which the world needs to hear.  It is just problematic when it is so obviously preached by me.  So sometimes I avoid ideas and messages worth sharing, things I believe in, that may help people, in the pursuit of looking like a nice guy.  But no longer!  I am starting a blog series called “I am a confirmed idiot.”  Basically, I am requiring myself to start any post containing obviously self-congratulatory subtext with a formulation in which I confess a unrelated humorously humiliating personal act.  This frees me to make my points with righteous passion, holding nothing back, for, as it says in Leviticus 27:35, “If you are humble for a moment, feast on the joy that comes from being full of yourself the rest of the time.”  Specifically, I will start these posts by saying, “I am a confirmed idiot.  After all, I once….” then I’ll tell of my stupidity, and I’ll end with “…however…”and then state my idea.  For example: 

I am a confirmed idiot.  After all, I once hit my friend in the head with a brick after excitedly bounding over to show her how high I could throw bricks.

However, unrelated to that, I do treat serious topics, like politics, the way that they should be treated, with marked levity.  Politics, for instance, is no fun unless you watch it like intellectual football, which I do, which is why I stay informed and will continue to stay informed.

I was talking to a friend today.  She’s smart, she cares about the world, and she wants nothing to do with politics because it is so depressing.  I feel like I talk to a friend like this once a week.

This is horrible.  We can’t be losing the attention of smart and loving people.  All we will have left are the angry, jaded, and unintelligent people.

Instead, we gotta make jokes and relish the clever games that politicians play.  We need it to be fun.

“But real lives are at stake,” they tell me.  “Exactly,” I respond, “that’s why we gotta enjoy the crap out of it.”

Alternatively, we can pay attention to non-depressings things that do not matter.  On Tuesday I had lunch with a fun group of African American ladies and a few of them got into a friendly and spirited discussion about the Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons.  After some fightin’ words, and laughs, and more trash talk, I remained conspicuously silent.   Finally, I blurted it out, “I must confess.”  They stopped and stared as I paused and lowered my head, “I don’t watch football.”  They laughed their heads off.

Football is interesting.  There are personalities involved.  Sneak plays.  Talent.  Vanity.  Cleverness.  Aspirations.  Competitions.  Macho-ness.  Smackdowns.  Sometimes, when an enemy quarterback gets run over, you can’t help but bite your knuckles in delighted surprise.  Sometimes, a penalty gets called that you stand up from the couch to “boo,”  but when you see the instant replay close-up that shows your favorite lineman doing something very naughty, you also bite your knuckles in delighted surprise.

It’s a moment when my Honduran friend might rase his hand and say, “No [SNAP] he [SNAP] didn’t [SNAP]!”

Those ladies loved their football, even though football doesn’t matter.  What mattered is the entertainment value, and nobody is above that.

Fortunately, politics has all the drama of football, except it is more interesting because, obviously, something is at stake.  Like football, the smack-downs are usually obvious and well-reported.  For example, when Gingrich told Romney on last week’s ABC debate that the only reason he was not a career politician is that he lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994–good smackdown.  But here are two political plays that really made me bite my knuckles in glee (the best are always sneak plays):

Perhaps you saw it.  Last Tuesday, Newt Gingrich had a one-on-one debate with Jon Huntsman.  At first, Newt’s choice puzzled me.  Why would the frontrunner choose to elevate one of his opponents?  Ahhh… he wanted to elevate Huntsman because a Huntsman rise is likely to chip into Romney’s numbers rather than his own, and Romney is of course the bigger threat.  Did you see the new poll that came out today in New Hampshire?  Newt’s play picked up a couple of yards for him (and Huntsman).

Nice…I bit my knuckle with glee.

Perhaps you saw it.  Mitt Romney is running a TV spot in which he talks of debt reduction as a moral responsibility.  Ok.  No big deal, right?  Wait…am I crazy, or is this commercial really about Newt’s infidelity and two divorces?  (Note the happy couple at the end who have been married for an often mentioned 42 years.)  Without being negative, the ad turns personal morality into something which actually makes one better at fostering a good economy.

Oooh… well-played Mitt.  Well-played.

I am sure some of my readers will find these “sneak plays” depressing.  Some of those people might also be disgusted at me for how I find so much glee in them.  But I am more disgusted in their disgust than they are disgusted in me.  Enjoying the serious topic of politics as intellectual football is the only moral choice I know of that a loving and smart person is able to make.

So grab the popcorn, don your favorite candidate’s hat or over-priced t-shirt, gather some happy loud-mouth friends, and turn on the news.  The game never stops.


Personal Update

(This is what I was talking about but it is too soon in the election cycle.  But yeah, when I saw it I laughed out loud.  1 point for the Democrats.)

Due to the hectic nature of my life at the moment.  I will be hardly posting at all until the end of June when my temp job at Habitat for Humanity Intl. ends.  I’m doing that for 32+ hours a week while keeping my 3 main part-time jobs: personal training four days a week, teaching some guitar lessons, and my church job.  Its been strange being this busy and yet not that stressed.  All of my jobs I can pretty much leave at work.  But, it also means I have no time for blogging.  Rest assured, I am still listening to audiobooks.  Since we talked last I have finished a book on Ayn Rand, I listend to Huckleberry Finn (or the beginning of it), a lecture series on something that I forget at the moment, a book on corporate leadership that someone gave me at Habitat, and I am currently listening to The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.  So thoughts are coming, but there is no outlet.  So I’ll be back up and running come July, that is if I don’t explode before then.

Also, I need to address something I said in one of the subway interviews that seemed very sexist, but I guess I’ll have to do that later.

Also, Alicia is going to Rwanda in 2 weeks.  She’ll be gone 10 weeks!  On monday though a friend is coming to live with me for the summer.  For those who don’t know, he’s a buddy from Taiwan.

Also, the presentation at the National Trust Conference in October is for sure happening.  So I’ll see some of you in Buffalo then I hope.  We will be presenting on a theory of urban development and decline at the block level.


4th Grade Afghanistan Primer

According to my buddy, Professor Salim Yaqub, Afghanistan was in desperate shape in the mid 1990s in the wake of the 15 year war with the Soviets.  Famine, civil war, and undetonated landmines plagued the country.  War had become a way of life, even for children.

I’m a tutor these days and I have been teaching kids word problems: “Ben was going 15 mph for 3 hours.  How far did Ben go?”  Pretty boring.  But here is what an Afghanistan mathematics textbook for 4th graders said in the 1980s.  You have to admit, it’s quite practical.

1) The Mujahideen are on the path of God in an attack on a convoy of the interventionist Russians and Communists.  After most of the enemy are killed, 500 boxes of shells are siezed as booty.  If in every box there are 820 shells, how many shells are siezed as booty.

2) The speed of a Kalashinikov bullet is 500 meters per second.  If one Russian is at a distance of 3,200 meters from a Mujahid, and the Mujahid aims at the Russian’s forehead, calculate how long it will take for the bullet to hit the Russians forehead.

This primer was in use in parts of the country until 2000.