Friday March 16th, 2018

"It Is Not A Question of Who Is Right Or Wrong But What Is Right Or Wrong That Counts."
--Geoff Metctalf

World & National

Trump goes silent on national debt while racking up $1-trillion in 14 months

President Trump has now amassed his first $1 trillion in debt, crossing that ignominious mark late last week — and analysts said it’s just a taste of what’s to come after the tax-cuts and spending spree of recent months.

Indeed, his next $1 trillion could come within a year, and one analyst said he could soon be staring at $3 trillion annual deficits if things go particularly badly in interest rates.

It’s a major reversal for a president who during the campaign had said given eight years he could eliminate the debt entirely, but is instead looking at setting records for red ink.

2 GOP Leaders Warn Trump Against Firing AG Sessions


Two top GOP senators are warning President Donald Trump against firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as tensions mount over White House changes — predicting the ouster would "blow the place up."

In remarks Thursday on Fox News' "Special Report with Bret Baier," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were asked how any additional shakeup in the White House would go over on Capitol Hill.

"I would only answer this way," Grassley replied. "Unless you push me on it. I don't think he should be fired."

Graham agreed.

Pro Publica retracts waterboarding claim about Trump's CIA pick
Gina Haspel

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s next pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, did not oversee the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah at a “black site” prison in Thailand, Pro Publica reported Thursday, retracting a 2017 story that had made the claim.

Ms. Haspel did run the prison but arrived after the waterboarding of Zubaydah was done, the investigative news site now says.

The New York Times published a similar evaluation this week, saying she came to the prison in late 2002 after Zubaydah’s 83 waterboardings. But she was there during three instances of waterboarding of another terrorism suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the newspaper reported.

Cracks in the ivory tower: Public confidence in universities slips
                             A Penn State student walks in the rain past Old Main on the Penn State main campus in State College, Pa., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Soaring tuition costs, degrees of dubious value and nonstop student activism have combined to bring public confidence in the ivory tower tumbling down.

Even college and university presidents acknowledge that the country is becoming disillusioned with higher education. In a recent survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, 51 percent of institution leaders said the 2016 election “exposed that academe is disconnected from much of American society.”

The erosion of higher education’s brand comes as no surprise to Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson. He said the public’s negative perception of academia reflects the “reality of left-wing bias disconnected from American society.”

“Particularly in the humanities and social sciences, many faculty view political activism and indoctrination as a core part of their academic mission,” said Mr. Jacobson, who runs the Legal Insurrection blog. “While they may have the academic freedom to do so, there is a price to pay for the higher educational system.”

In a first, U.S. blames Russia for cyber attacks on energy grid

The Trump administration on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the U.S. power grid, marking the first time the United States has publicly accused Moscow of hacking into American energy infrastructure.

Beginning in March 2016, or possibly earlier, Russian government hackers sought to penetrate multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing, according to a U.S. security alert published Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI said in the alert that a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.” The alert did not name facilities or companies targeted.

Team Trump hits Russia with new sanctions for election meddling
                         Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, left, and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion on tax policy at the Boeing Company, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)    

The Trump administration slapped sanctions on two dozen Russian individuals and spy agencies Thursday, officially blaming them for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as the U.S. government joined its top European allies in blaming the Kremlin for a nerve gas assassination attempt on a former Russian spy in Britain this month.

Among those targeted for the sanctions were 13 Russian nationals and three organizations already indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. They included Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “chef.”

The poisoning of the former Russian double agent and his daughter is the first chemical weapons attack in Europe since World War II, the U.S. and its allies said, accusing Moscow of violating international laws. The Kremlin has denied any role in the attack and vowed to retaliate after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, the biggest such move by the government since the end of the Cold War.

Two companies in FIU bridge consetruction accused of 'shoddy' work
                      Emergency personnel work at the scene of a collapsed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University on Thursday, March 15, 2018, in the Miami area. The brand-new pedestrian bridge collapsed onto a highway crushing multiple vehicles and killing several people. (WTVJ NBC6 via AP)

Two companies involved in building the bridge that collapsed Thursday at Florida International University have been accused of shoddy work resulting in bridge collapses in recent years.

According to a report in the Miami New Times, lead contractor Munilla Construction Management was sued less than two weeks ago over the collapse of a “makeshift bridge” built at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as part of a major airport expansion.

According to a lawsuit filed March 5 in Miami-Dade Civil Court, TSA worker Jose Perez was traversing the bridge last October when it “broke under [his] weight.”

The company that designed the bridge — Figg Bridge Engineers — had an even worse accident on a bigger project happened almost six years ago in Virginia, according to the New Times.

U.S. Consumer Confidence Hits Fresh 14-Year High

U.S. consumers’ confidence hit a fresh 14-year high this month, with the gain attributable to lower earning households feeling more optimistic about the economy.

The University of Michigan on Friday said the preliminary result of its consumer-sentiment index was 102.0 in March, up from 99.7 in February. That was the highest level since 2004, according to the survey.

The preliminary March reading was higher than the 99.0 that economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected.

The index rose 5.3% in March from a year earlier.

Hollywood director Gilliam hits out at #MeYoo 'mob rule'

Hollywood director Terry Gilliam said Friday that the #MeToo movement has morphed into "mob rule", claiming that while some women suffered, others used Harvey Weinstein to further their careers.

The Monty Python member said Weinstein "is a monster" and that there are "plenty of monsters out there... There are other people (still) behaving like Harvey" in the film industry, abusing their power for sex.

Weinstein was exposed because he "is an asshole and he made so many enemies," he told AFP.

But Gilliam said the reaction against the wave of sexual abuse and harassment revelations had become ugly and "simplistic... people are frightened to say things, to think things.

Ohio Student Suspended for Refusing to Leave Classroom During Gun Control Walkout

A high school student in Hilliard, Ohio, didn’t want to pick sides in the contentious gun debate surrounding Wednesday’s “National Walkout,” so he stayed in class instead of joining the largely anti-gun protest or an alternative “study hall.”

Hilliard Davidson High School senior Jacob Shoemaker was then reportedly slapped with a suspension.

The student argued that divisive politics have no place in America’s schools and he refused to take sides in the debate, according to the Associated Press.

Shoemaker's suspension citation was posted online, possibly by a friend, and the story quickly went viral.

One last dance with Hillary

There’s scarcely a pundit, wise guy or blowhard at the end of the bar who hasn’t sworn off Hillary Clinton, vowing that it’s time to find something new to rant and rave about.

But Washington pundits on the make for a clever insight owe her at least a case of fine old 120-proof Russian vodka. She’s always worth a column or rant, if not today surely tomorrow. It’s a piece that writes itself, only Miss Hillary will write it for whoever is stumped for a start.

The candidate who would put the word “deplorables” in William Safire’s authoritative dictionary of politics, if there still was one, is always rewriting the history of minor and major disasters of her life in politics, someone forever failing to engage brain before opening mouth. H.L. Mencken could not have written more colorful invective, vilification or vituperation than her bitter shout-out to the many millions who didn’t vote for her in 2016.

A fast and feasible infrastructure option

Hyperloop is a new transportation technology that proposes sending cargo and passengers through evacuated tubes at speeds exceeding 700 mph. Unsurprisingly, this idea has provoked its share of skepticism. Hyperloop won’t be perfect on Day One, but neither were airlines. They took time to evolve.

In spite of setbacks, airlines eventually managed to foster public and private support. Now, air travel is an accepted part of our modern lives. But it wasn’t always smooth. For the longest time, an airline ticket meant you’d be inhaling secondhand smoke while twiddling your thumbs.

At one point, it was possible to stretch and view the designated TV screen for each cabin section, but frequently, the headphone sockets weren’t compatible with standard plugs. Today, airlines can stream entertainment content directly to passenger gadgets, such as tablets and phones.

"It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit."
-- Noel Coward
     (1899-1973) British playwright

Medal of Honor

Army Medal of Honor

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.
GeneTrerally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress.
The first award of the Medal of Honor was made March 25, 1863 to Private JACOB PARROTT.The last award of the Medal of Honor was made September 15, 2011 to Sergeant DAKOTA MEYER.

Since then there have been:  • 3458 recipients of the Medal of Honor.
    • Today there are 85 Living Recipients of the Medal of Honor. 


Captain Humbert R. Versace distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism during the period of 29 October 1963 to 26 September 1965, while serving as S-2 Advisor, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Detachment 52, Ca Mau, Republic of Vietnam. While accompanying a Civilian Irregular Defense Group patrol engaged in combat operations in Thoi Binh District, An Xuyen Province, Captain Versace and the patrol came under sudden and intense mortar, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from elements of a heavily armed enemy battalion. As the battle raged, Captain Versace, although severely wounded in the knee and back by hostile fire, fought valiantly and continued to engage enemy targets. Weakened by his wounds and fatigued by the fierce firefight, Captain Versace stubbornly resisted capture by the over-powering Viet Cong force with the last full measure of his strength and ammunition. Taken prisoner by the Viet Cong, he exemplified the tenets of the Code of Conduct from the time he entered into Prisoner of War status. Captain Versace assumed command of his fellow American soldiers, scorned the enemy's exhaustive interrogation and indoctrination efforts, and made three unsuccessful attempts to escape, despite his weakened condition which was brought about by his wounds and the extreme privation and hardships he was forced to endure. During his captivity, Captain Versace was segregated in an isolated prisoner of war cage, manacled in irons for prolonged periods of time, and placed on extremely reduced ration. The enemy was unable to break his indomitable will, his faith in God, and his trust in the United States of America. Captain Versace, an American fighting man who epitomized the principles of his country and the Code of Conduct, was executed by the Viet Cong on 26 September 1965. Captain Versace's gallant actions in close contact with an enemy force and unyielding courage and bravery while a prisoner of war are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect the utmost credit upon himself and the United States Army.

From the Archives

We Have Met the Enemy…

Geoff Metcalf
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
--Benjamin Franklin
“The American people must be willing to give up a degree of personal privacy in exchange for safety and security.”
--Louis Freeh
In the wake of the clamor over the most recent WikiLeaks data dump, ‘Vault 7’, ‘UMBRAGE’, et al, it should be noted this is not really anything new. What we are seeing here is simply the evolution of something that goes back to the late 50s (to the incomplete best knowledge I have).

It is kinda cool to finally see even the New York Times ( acknowledging material I was writing about in 1998 ( ).

In April of 1998 I wrote “Privacy has become an anachronism.” I was commenting on “a massive system designed to intercept all your e-mail, fax traffic and more.” I was explaining ‘Echelon’, the illegitimate offspring of a UKUSA treaty ( ) signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Its purpose was, and is, to have a vast global intelligence monster, which allegedly shares common goals. The system was so “efficient” that reportedly National Security Agency folk from Fort Meade could work from Menwith Hill in England to intercept local communications without either nation having to burden themselves with the formality of seeking approval (a court order) or disclosing the operation. And this was all pre-9/11 and pre-the anti-constitutional ‘Patriot Act’.
It is illegal (without a Judge’s signed permission) for the United States to spy on its citizens … kinda. The laws have long been circumvented by a mutual pact among five nations. Under the terms of UKUSA agreement, Britain spies on Americans and America spies on British citizens, and then the two conspirators trade data. A classic technical finesse. It is legal, but the intent to evade the spirit is inescapable.

I often fictionalized the genesis of ‘Echelon’ as an informal meeting of a group of post war American and British intelligence types drinking in some remote rustic bar. An imagined CIA type complains to his MI6 buddy about the hassles of US laws preventing US intelligence from surveillance of bad guys, and the Brit echoes the same complaint.

“Hey wait a moment mate,” says Nigel, the make-believe MI6 guy, “I can spy on your guys and you can spy on our bad players…why don’t we just come up with a mechanism whereby we spy on your villains, you spy on our villains, and we just ‘share’ the intel?”

This system was called ECHELON, and has been kicking around in some form longer than most of you. The result of the UKUSA treaty signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand was, and is, to have a vast global intelligence monster which allegedly shares common goals.

The London Telegraph reported in December of 1997 that the Civil liberties Committee of the European Parliament had officially confirmed the existence and purpose of ECHELON. “A global electronic spy network that can eavesdrop on every telephone, e-mail and telex communication around the world will be officially acknowledged for the first time in a European Commission report. …”

The report noted: “Within Europe all e-mail, telephone and fax communications are routinely intercepted by the United States National Security Agency, transferring all target information from the European mainland via the strategic hub of London, then by satellite to Fort Meade in Maryland via the crucial hub at Menwith Hill, in the North York moors in the UK.

“The ECHELON system forms part of the UKUSA system but unlike many of the electronic spy systems developed during the Cold War, ECHELON was designed primarily for non-military targets: governments, organizations and businesses in virtually every country.”

An interesting sidebar appeared in the International Herald Tribune under the headline, “Big Corporate Brother: It Knows More About You Than You Think.” The story details Acxiom Corp, which was a humongous information service hidden in the Ozark foothills. Twenty-four hours a day, Acxiom electronically gathered and sorts all kinds of data about 196 million Americans. Credit card transactions and magazine subscriptions, telephone numbers, real estate records, automotive data, hunting, business and fishing licenses, consumer surveys and demographic detail that would make a marketing department’s research manager salivate. This relatively new (legal) enterprise was known as “data warehousing” or “data-mining”, and it underscores the cruel reality that the fiction of personal privacy has become obsolete. Technology’s ability to collect and analyze data has made privacy a quaint albeit interesting dinosaur.

The Tribune reported that “Axciom can often determine whether an American owns a dog or cat, enjoys camping or gourmet cooking, reads the Bible or lots of other books. It can often pinpoint an American’s occupation, car and favorite vacations. By analyzing the equivalent of billions of pages of data, it often projects for its customers who should be offered a credit card or who is likely to buy a computer.”

Most of this information is from y 1998 piece.  Echelon has developed, matured, and morphed into a much more powerful hybrid. ‘Carnivore’ was software to help triage the cacophony of data. Vault 7 and ‘Umbrage’ are logical (some would argue “insidious”) growth.

    More to follow…