Free speech and ‘deplatforming’

‘Deplatforming’ (also known as ‘no platform’)has become a prominent issue in relation to free speech. Definitions.net: “Canceling or disinviting someone to speak at an event” (but ‘no platform’ may also be a means of trying to stop controversial speakers have platforms generally).

Deplatforming is a new term to me, that came up in recent controversies over opposition to allowing Canadians Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern speak first at Auckland Council owned venues, and then more generally – the Power Station cancelled an event the afternoon before the duo were due to speak there.

And it also arose when Massey University cancelled a student political event that Don Brash was scheduled to speak at.

It is a big issue in the US:  Attitudes to free speech are changing, and Steve Bannon has something to do with it

Two widely read magazines made two different decisions about Steve Bannon this week. The New Yorker on Monday announced it was disinviting Bannon as a speaker at its October festival, while the London-based Economist on Tuesday defended its decision to keep him on at its own event this month.

The magazines received a torrent of criticism that the media is giving a megaphone to a dangerous white nationalist of waning relevance.

The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, went the other way, saying that while he had hoped for “a rigorous interview” onstage with Bannon to challenge his views, he conceded there were better ways to achieve that scrutiny than by giving Bannon yet another platform.

The growing number of these “disinvitations” — many of them at universities in both the US and UK — shows a shift in attitudes to free speech, and even a desire to move its goalposts.

It may not be taking hold in New Zealand after widespread criticism of the Massey banning of Brash. A visit this week by Nigel Farage attracted only minor protests (and scant interest over what he said), and Chelsea Manning was granted a visa to come and speak here despite her criminal record.

What some people pointed out to the New Yorker about Bannon was that his presence at the festival was not just a matter of the freedom to express one’s views. It was also about his track record in distributing false information through Breitbart, the website he co-founded in 2007.

Breitbart has run stories that support climate change denial, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that it’s real. It has also run stories alleging the Obama administration was supporting al Qaeda in Iraq, an accusation that has no basis in fact.

It gets quite contentious when known perpetrators of ‘fake news’ are involved. Major online platforms have recently restricted Alex Jones from using their platforms. Facebook, Twitter and others have enormous power over speech and have been under pressure to clamp down on being exploited by activists deliberately spreading false news, especially where foreign countries try to influence elections.

But what if Donald Trump had the power to shut down platforms that he claims spread fake news about him?

A claim of ‘fake news’ does not mean the news is fake, with people like Trump it is synonymous with  ‘news I don’t like’, or critical commentary.

Attitudes to free speech depend on age. Forty percent of millennials in the US — where free speech is enshrined in its constitution — think the government should be able to prevent people from saying things that offend minority groups, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. That drops to 27% among generation X respondents, 24% among baby boomers and just 12% for “silent generation Americans,” aged 73 to 90.

It is quite alarming to see as many as 40% of a younger age group want their government to prevent speech that they think is (or may be) offensive to someone. Is that a sign of where ‘free speech’ is going to go?

Inciting hatred with speech is illegal in some parts of the world, and privacy can also place limitations on what you say.

Some millennials say they want to see these restrictions widen. This desire is most visible in the growing number of “no-platforming” cases at universities, where people are denied invitations to speak, or their invitations are rescinded.

In the UK, radical feminists with views that students consider transphobic have been no-platformed.

Free speech versus ‘safe spaces’

Shakira Martin, president of the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), said students valued free speech, but stressed that freedom must be balanced with creating safe spaces, particularly for minority groups.

The problem with free speech as we know it is that the playing field is uneven, she said, with some groups given the opportunity to shout louder than others.

“So many of the misunderstood and maligned practices that students have deployed to readdress that balance, such as safe space, are actually about extending free speech to those groups whose voices may not have been traditionally heard,” she told CNN.

‘Safe spaces’ is a very contentious thing. There are a real risk that rules enforcing ‘non-offensive speech’ will neuter free speech.

This is especially a problem in politics, where opponents can claim offence to try to shut down views they are ‘offended’ by – which in reality is often just political ideas and policies they disagree with.

Evening the free speech playing field is also highly contentious. Who gets to decide what is even? How can you rule on evenness before the event, before someone has spoken?

Brash was effectively banned by Massey based on anticipation of what he might say. Some claimed he had had ample speech platforms in the past, had offended some people some of the time, so should be deplatformed.

I have seen people online claiming things like white males should shut up because white males had dominated power and speech in the past and now it was the turn for other groups to have the power and the platforms.

Free speech won’t be balanced by shutting up some groups, by censoring some. It will be enhanced by encouraging and enabling a wider range of speakers and views and politics.

You can’t improve inclusiveness through exclusive rules and pressures.

The debate leaves universities with a difficult balancing act. The UK’s Department of Education is working on creating a clearer set of rules for universities to follow.

In May, Minister for Higher Education Sam Gyimah described the restrictions of free speech at universities as “chilling.” His predecessor, Jo Johnson, said universities should be fined for banning speakers.

Fining universities who don’t comply with no-ban rules sounds like a silly idea to me. Apart from it being a bad approach it would be to easily open to abuse.

Free speech in the digital age

It may not be surprising that a generation that grew up with the internet and social media has different ideas on free speech.

Social media was once hailed as the savior of free speech, offering a platform for marginalized voices. That’s still true, but with it has come more hate speech.

The Internet has enabled as many problems as solutions for free speech.

Laws around the world have not kept up with this major change in the way we communicate, according to Monica Horten, an expert on internet governance policy. At the heart of the problem is scale.

“What you’ve got now are millions of pieces of content going up online by individual people, and that immediately alters the scale of the problem, because the percentage of the content seen as problematic is going to be higher,” Horten told CNN.

After years of backlash from their own users, social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are now regulating problematic content, such as fake news. But that poses its own set of problems, Horten said.

“The whole question of whether private actors should be able to make these kinds of decisions — governments are asking private companies that run these platforms to make decisions about which content should be removed — they are acting as censors and not always within the law.”

Private companies controlling online speech have enormous power of enabling speech, restricting it and censoring it.

Kate O’Regan, director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford, agreed that the world was still grappling with how to legislate online content, but said she was concerned at the changing attitudes to free speech.

“I understand people who don’t want to share a platform (with Steve Bannon) — they have the right to make those decisions. But at the end of the day we have to debate the ideas and let that conversation take place,” she said.

“I do think democracy by definition are places where we must allow deep-seated disagreements to be aired and they should be done in a civil manner.”

That highlights some major problems that aren’t easily resolved.

I have found from experience on a range of online forums, especially in the seven years I have been running Your NZ, that the only way of allowing deep-seated disagreements to be aired (that is one of the primary aims of Your NZ) in a civil manner is by human intervention, and that is an ongoing challenge as spats and attacks keep erupting.

I think I have proven that it can be sort of be managed ok, on a tiny scale.

I don’t know how this can be done effectively on a large scale let alone a world wide web scale. Too few people have the inclination or balance, and far too many people want to deliberately upset the balance and upset opponents.

America’s greatest orator since…

Who is William Jennings Bryan?

He was an American orator and politician from Nebraska. Beginning in 1896, he emerged as a dominant force in the Democratic Party, standing three times as the party’s nominee for President of the United States. He also served in the United States House of Representatives and as the United States Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.

Because of his faith in the wisdom of the common people, he was often called “The Great Commoner”.

Bryan had an innate talent in oratory.

…using his skills as a famed orator to ultimately reshape the Democratic Party into a more progressive one.

In addition to his best-known nickname, “The Great Commoner”, he was also called…the “Boy Orator of the Platte” (a reference to his oratorical skills and his home near the Platte River in Nebraska).

Bryan was one of the best known orators of his time. He was a fixture in the Democratic Party, and a hero to the common man. Starting with his Cross of Goldspeech, Bryan brought the Populists into the Democratic Party. A strong believer in the power of government to improve people’s lives…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Jennings_Bryan

Who is America’s greatest orator since Bryan?

He said Trump is America’s greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan, who was known as “The Great Commoner” because of being able to speak to — not at or down at — his audience.

Bannon, who left the White House in August 2017, said Trump’s simple, plain and direct populist language during the campaign made him relatable, and won him the election.

“Here’s what won it for Trump: economic nationalism,” Bannon said.

Did Trump’s “simple, plain and direct populist language” win him the election, or was it “economic nationalism”. Bannonb is ftrying a bob each way there.

Bannon, who served as vice president of Cambridge Analytica from June 2014 to August 2016, when he joined the Trump campaign, attempted to draw a line between the campaign and the firm. Bannon said he had no knowledge of the data mining operation and instead put the blame on Facebook, saying the social network cared more about profits than privacy.

And tries to downplay the influence of Cambridge Analytica, and his involvement there.

But back to Trump’s oratory skills.

Quite a few people either like how Trump speaks, or what he says. There’s not doubt about that.

But quite a few people also see him as a dick and a bullshit artist.

Obama was sometimes praised for his oratory skill. I didn’t agree, I didn’t generally like his speaking style, and there’s little of note i remember him saying, apart from sating he doesn’t know why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize:

Independent – Barack Obama on Stephen Colbert: ‘To be honest, I still don’t know what my Nobel Peace Prize was for’

When asked by Colbert to list any other relevant awards or qualifications, Mr Obama replied: “I have almost 30 honorary degrees and I did get the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Really, what was that for?,” enquired Colbert.

“To be honest, I still don’t know,” he jokingly responded.

I’m not sure that he was joking.

Trump doesn’t seem to be joking either, when he praises himself. He’s unlikely to get to praise himself for winnng a peace prize though, especially now he has recruited John Bolton as his new National Security Adviser.

I quoted Bannon from Trump likely ‘going to war’ against Mueller in Russia probe

That may not be the only war he and Bolton have a go at.

Trump probably thinks he is a great orator too. I’m yet to see that.

 

Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the data war

I often seen people doing and sharing surveys and quizzes on Facebook. They always looked looked suspicious to me – they looked designed to suck people in.

And it turns out some of them were exactly that – for a nefarious reason. They were used to gather data and compile personality profiles of hundreds of millions of people, and then those people were targeted with “rumour, disinformation and fake news” to influence them in elections.

The process was used experimentally in many elections in many countries – I don’t know if New Zealand was subjected to subliminal coercion (journalists?). The first big election that it was tried on was the Brexit vote in the UK, which surprisingly swung to a vote to exit the European Union.

Then it was used in the US election which resulted in Donald Trump being elected against the odds (aided by a flawed campaign and a flawed campaigner, Hillary Clinton).

Now Cambridge Analytica and the use and abuse of Facebook is being exposed.

Bloomberg: Facebook Suspends Trump Election Data Firm for Policy Violations

  • Data harvested from 50 million Facebook accounts: N.Y. Times
  • Fighting ‘culture war,’ ex-Cambridge Analytica employee says

Facebook Inc. suspended Cambridge Analytica, a data company that helped President Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election and which may have collected data from 50 million Facebook profiles without their owners’ permission.

The social-networking company said in a blog post Friday that Cambridge Analytica received some user data through an app developer on its social network, violating its policies. In 2015, Facebook said Cambridge Analytica certified that it had destroyed the information.

“Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted,” Facebook said in a statement. Cambridge Analytica and parent Strategic Communication Laboratories have been suspended from the social network, “pending further information,” Facebook said.

Cambridge Analytica said in a Saturday statement it did nothing illegal and is ​in touch with Facebook in order to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Originally funded by Robert Mercer, the conservative political donor and former co-chief executive officer of Renaissance Technologies, Cambridge uses data to reach voters with hyper-targeted messaging, including on Facebook and other online services. It was hired to help with voter outreach by the Trump campaign, whose former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, had been on the company’s board.

Steve Bannon was closely connected to this – and became closely connected to the Trump campaign.

Now one of the people deeply involved is blowing the whistle:The Cambridge Analytica Files 

‘I created Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles.

Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research.

That should be a concern to everyone – this is not the Russian establishment, it is the US and UK establishment, which New Zealand has close links to.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

T…the job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

It turned out the the UK and US democracies were unable to defend themselves either.

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.

“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

“It didn’t make any sense to me,” says Wylie. “I didn’t understand either the email or the pitch presentation we did. Why would a Russian oil company want to target information on American voters?”

Mueller’s investigation traces the first stages of the Russian operation to disrupt the 2016 US election back to 2014, when the Russian state made what appears to be its first concerted efforts to harness the power of America’s social media platforms, including Facebook. And it was in late summer of the same year that Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology.

The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques.

Russia, Facebook, Trump, Mercer, Bannon, Brexit. Every one of these threads runs through Cambridge Analytica. Even in the past few weeks, it seems as if the understanding of Facebook’s role has broadened and deepened. The Mueller indictments were part of that, but Paul-Olivier Dehaye – a data expert and academic based in Switzerland, who published some of the first research into Cambridge Analytica’s processes – says it’s become increasingly apparent that Facebook is “abusive by design”. If there is evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, it will be in the platform’s data flows, he says.

Millions of people’s personal information was stolen and used to target them in ways they wouldn’t have seen, and couldn’t have known about, by a mercenary outfit, Cambridge Analytica, who, Wylie says, “would work for anyone”. Who would pitch to Russian oil companies. Would they subvert elections abroad on behalf of foreign governments?

It occurs to me to ask Wylie this one night.

“Yes.”

Nato or non-Nato?

“Either. I mean they’re mercenaries. They’ll work for pretty much anyone who pays.”

It’s an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing – at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public – our intimate family connections, our “likes”, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that’s expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.

The Facebook data is out in the wild. And for all Wylie’s efforts, there’s no turning the clock back.

What to take from all of this? It’s difficult to know. The Wylie revelations could be fake news. Or this story could reveal a propaganda genie that is now out of the bottle, an insidious corruption of democracy.

We are all influenced with the news and views we see online. It’s impossible for us to know whether we have been targeted, whether we have been sucked in, whether we have been influenced by people deliberately trying to swing elections.

Using political propaganda is nothing new, it has been done in various ways for a long time. But using the power and speed of the Internet, the potential is certainly there to take propaganda to a new and dangerous level.

How dangerous? Enough to steer the UK towards chaos as they try to extract themselves from the European Union. Enough to install a chaotic president in the US. Enough to elect an unlikely president in France? Enough to create a precarious political balance in Germany?

What about New Zealand? See Was New Zealand’s election rigged by foreign powers?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bannon backtracks bigly

After cannoning into the Trump White House, in what looked like a payback for being sacked, Steve Bannon has backtracked bigly in a belated attempt to stem the blowing up of his ambitions.

This follows the release of Michael Wolff’s book ‘Fire and Fury’, which lifted the lid on White House dysfunction revealing details about a train wreck administration that didn’t shock because much of it was known or suspected already.

The President appears to be going nuclear on Bannon, rendering him toxic waste politically.

 

Axios Exclusive: Bannon apologizes

Steve Bannon is trying to make amends with the Trump family, providing a statement to Axios that expresses “regret” to President Trump and praises his son, Donald Trump Jr.

  • “Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around.”
  • “My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama.”
  • “President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus. I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism; and remain ready to stand in the breach for this president’s efforts to make America great again.”
  • “My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them.”
  • “My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”
  • “Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian ‘collusion’ investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview. There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt.”
  • “I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

Sounds like regret his blasting of the Trumps has backfired and destroyed his relationships with the White House, the Republicans, major funders and possibly with Breitbart, but it is probably too little, too late to stem the damage.

Bannon’s full statement (five days after the book bombshell hit):

“Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around.

My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama. President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus. I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism; and remain ready to stand in the breech for this president’s efforts to make America great again.

My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them.

My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.

Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian ‘collusion’ investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview. There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt.

I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

It sounds like grovelling.

But Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported last night:

Trump has been working the phones over the past several days, telling allies they need to choose between him and Bannon.

And in typical fashion Trump has given Bannon a kicking on Twitter:

A split like this won’t do the future political ambitions of Trump and especially Bannon any good.

NZ views on Trump versus Bannon

David Farrar at Kiwiblog: Trump vs Bannon

So of Trump’s two campaign chairs, one is indicted for money laundering and the other he now labels as mad. What does that say about the judgement of the person who hired them?

David Garrett:

Trump is one seriously unhinged unit…If you allow yourself to think about it, it’s terrifying that this guy’s hand is on the nuclear button at the same time an equally unhinged unit in North Korea has his hand on another nuclear button.

Surely 2018 will be the year the world is closest to a nuclear conflict since the height of the cold war? Doesn’t bear thinking about…

MickySavage at The Standard: Duck and Cover

Makes you wonder if the nuclear button tweet was an attempt at diversion.

And Trump has lost his cool with Bannon.

Whale Oil may have a bit of a dilemma over the Trump-Bannon split. They were still championing Trump yesterday:

Bannon’s Breitbart may now be a front runner. WO have modeled themselves on Bannon/Breitbart,  and I suspect someone may have fancied themselves as a Bannon-like PM maker, but now Trump has dumped on Bannon (not posted about at WO) that may cause some flip flopping between champions, trying to ignore the bust up.

 

Trump versus Bannon escalates

Ex Trump campaigner and White House aid Steve Bannon has stirred things up with revelations in a book, and Trump via his lawyers has hit back with a cease and desist letter.

BBC: 10 explosive revelations from new Trump book

Donald Trump was “befuddled” by his election win, did not enjoy his inauguration and was scared of the White House, according to a new book.

Journalist Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House also purports to lift the lid on Ivanka Trump’s secret presidential ambitions.


1. Bannon thought Don Jr meeting ‘treasonous’

According to the book, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon thought a meeting between Donald Trump Jr and a group of Russians was “treasonous”.

Bannon reportedly said the Justice Department investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Moscow would focus on money laundering, adding: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

2. Trump ‘befuddled’ by his victory

In an article for NYMag adapted from his book, Wolff describes the amazement – and dismay – in the Trump camp at his November 2016 election win.

“Shortly after 8pm on Election Night, when the unexpected trend – Trump might actually win – seemed confirmed, Don Jr told a friend that his father, or DJT, as he calls him, looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears – and not of joy. There was, in the space of little more than an hour, in Steve Bannon’s not unamused observation, a befuddled Trump morphing into a disbelieving Trump and then into a horrified Trump. But still to come was the final transformation: Suddenly, Donald Trump became a man who believed that he deserved to be, and was wholly capable of being, the president of the United States.”

3. Trump ‘angry’ at inauguration

Wolff writes:

“Trump did not enjoy his own inauguration. He was angry that A-level stars had snubbed the event, disgruntled with the accommodations at Blair House, and visibly fighting with his wife, who seemed on the verge of tears. Throughout the day, he wore what some around him had taken to calling his golf face: angry and pissed off, shoulders hunched, arms swinging, brow furled, lips pursed.”

But the first lady’s office rejected the claims.

Communications director Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: “Mrs Trump supported her husband’s decision to run for President and in fact, encouraged him to do so. She was confident he would win and was very happy when he did.”

4. Trump found White House ‘scary’

Wolff writes:

“Trump, in fact, found the White House to be vexing and even a little scary. He retreated to his own bedroom – the first time since the Kennedy White House that a presidential couple had maintained separate rooms. In the first days, he ordered two television screens in addition to the one already there, and a lock on the door, precipitating a brief standoff with the Secret Service, who insisted they have access to the room.”

5. Ivanka hopes to be president

Mr Trump’s daughter and her husband Jared Kushner allegedly struck a deal that she might run for president in future, according to Wolff:

“Balancing risk against reward, both Jared and Ivanka decided to accept roles in the West Wing over the advice of almost everyone they knew. It was a joint decision by the couple, and, in some sense, a joint job. Between themselves, the two had made an earnest deal: If sometime in the future the opportunity arose, she’d be the one to run for president. The first woman president, Ivanka entertained, would not be Hillary Clinton; it would be Ivanka Trump. Bannon, who had coined the term ‘Jarvanka’ that was now in ever greater use in the White House, was horrified when the couple’s deal was reported to him.”

6. Ivanka mocks dad’s ‘comb-over’

The US first daughter poked fun at her father’s alleged “scalp-reduction surgery”, according to the book.

“She treated her father with a degree of detachment, even irony, going so far as to make fun of his comb-over to others.”

7. White House unsure of priorities

Katie Walsh, the White House deputy chief of staff, asked Mr Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, what the administration wanted to achieve.

But according to the book, Mr Kushner did not have an answer.

“‘Just give me the three things the president wants to focus on,’ she [Katie Walsh] demanded. ‘What are the three priorities of this White House?’ It was the most basic question imaginable – one that any qualified presidential candidate would have answered long before he took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Six weeks into Trump’s presidency, Kushner was wholly without an answer. ‘Yes,’ he said to Walsh. ‘We should probably have that conversation.'”

8. Trump’s admiration for Murdoch

Wolff, who previously wrote a biography of Rupert Murdoch, describes Mr Trump’s high regard for the News Corp media titan.

“Rupert Murdoch, who had promised to pay a call on the president-elect, was running late. When some of the guests made a move to leave, an increasingly agitated Trump assured them that Rupert was on his way. ‘He’s one of the greats, the last of the greats,’ Trump said. ‘You have to stay to see him.’ Not grasping that he was now the most powerful man in the world, Trump was still trying mightily to curry favor with a media mogul who had long disdained him as a charlatan and fool.”

9. Murdoch calls Trump ‘idiot’

But the admiration was not mutual, according to Wolff’s account of a call between Mr Murdoch and Mr Trump about the president’s meeting with Silicon Valley executives.

Mr Trump is said to have told Mr Murdoch:

“‘These guys really need my help. Obama was not very favorable to them, too much regulation. This is really an opportunity for me to help them.’ ‘Donald,’ said Murdoch, ‘for eight years these guys had Obama in their pocket. They practically ran the administration. They don’t need your help.’

‘Take this H-1B visa issue. They really need these H-1B visas.’Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America’s doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, ‘We’ll figure it out.’ ‘What a f****** idiot,’ said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.”

10. Flynn knew Russia ties ‘a problem’

Former US National Security Adviser Mike Flynn knew that accepting money from Moscow for a speech could come back to haunt him, according to the book.

Wolff writes that before the election Mr Flynn “had been told by friends that it had not been a good idea to take $45,000 from the Russians for a speech. ‘Well it would only be a problem if we won,’ he assured them.”


That mostly seems quite lame, but people supposedly on Trump’s side calling him and idiot and saying actions of his son were treasonous aren’t a great look.

Trump’s reaction via his lawyer suggests he wasn’t very pleased – and guarantees maximum exposure.

ABC News: Trump attorney sends Bannon cease and desist letter over ‘disparaging’ comments

That sounds a tad ironic given Trump’s history of disparaging comments, but his lawyers claim a breach of confidentiality agreement.

Lawyers on behalf of President Donald Trump sent a letter Wednesday night to former White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon demanding he refrain from making disparaging comments against the president and his family.

Trump attorney Charles Harder said in a statement, “This law firm represents President Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent.”

In the letter to Bannon, Harder, writes, “You [Bannon] have breached the Agreement by, among other things, communicating with author Michael Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members, and the Company [the campaign], disclosing Confidential Information to Mr. Wolff, and making disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements to Mr. Wolff about Mr. Trump, his family members.”

In the letter, Trump’s attorney says that “remedies for your breach of the agreement include but are not limited to monetary damages” though no dollar amount is disclosed.

During the campaign, then-candidate Trump had all campaign staff sign a non-disclosure agreement which required all staff, according to campaign sources, to refrain from any disparaging comments against the candidate, his family or the Trump campaign and organization.

Earlier Wednesday, Trump hit back at Bannon in scathing comments, saying that when Bannon was fired “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind”.

So it seems that Trump only has a double standard about disparaging comments.  Perhaps he didn’t sign a confidentiality agreement.

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party,” the president said in a statement.

“Often described as the most talented field ever assembled” – good grief. Next thing he will claim to have defeated the strongest Democrat candidate ever.

“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.”

More irony. This could get uglier.

Bannon canon blasts Kushner and Ivanka

Ex Trump adviser Steve Bannon has fired a fusillade at Donald Trump’s daughter and son in law in an interview with Vanity Fair. This could be a part of revenge utu for being dumped from the White House.

NZH: Ivanka Trump called Steve Bannon a liar in White House feud

The internal tensions of Donald Trump’s White House have been laid bare by the man who used to be his top adviser.

In a revealing interview with Vanity Fair, Steve Bannon, who was Trump’s political strategist before he was pushed out of the job in August, got remarkably candid about the simmering rivalries that plagued the President’s inner circle.

Bannon used the interview with Vanity Fair to repeatedly slam the couple, referring to them disparagingly as “Javanka”.

Things soon turned ugly as Bannon and the President’s daughter let loose at each other.

“She’s the queen of leaks,” Bannon reportedly said.

“You’re a f***ing liar!” Ivanka Trump fired back.

The interview revealed exactly how toxic the relationship became, and how much contempt Bannon still has for “Javanka”.

Bannon said it was clear Kushner, whom the President gave a wide portfolio of responsibilities, was in way over his head.

It was very risky to give Kushner huge responsibilities with virtually no relevant experience.

“He doesn’t know anything about the hobbits or the deplorables,” Bannon said, referring to Donald Trump’s voters. “The railhead of all bad decisions is the same railhead: Javanka.”

Bannon said Kushner’s decision to hold meetings with Russians during the election campaign may have given the impression the Trump camp sought Moscow’s help.

An impression that the is under investigation by the FBI, with Kushner apparently a prime target.

The article also highlights how any hopes the pair had of a decent working relationship were over after FBI Director James Comey was fired in May and Kushner’s involvement in that decision.

In an earlier interview, Bannon called it “the dumbest political decision in modern political history”.

The president made that decision, so Bannon is letting lose at the Trump political dynasty.

Employing the services of Bannon in his campaign and then in the White House administration may end up competing for being one of the dumbest political decision in modern political history. Revenge fire from the Bannon canon may inflict serious damage, and could even end up sinking the Trump ship.

Who needs enemies when you have ex-friends intent on turning dirty tactics against you?

 

“Trump is becoming a failed president”

Donald Trump has been struggling to score any significant policy wins, he gets bogged down with petty squabbles, and there seems to be growing disagreements and splits amongst the Republican Party.

I think it’s too soon to judge his presidency, a major policy win or a war could turn things around quite quickly, but in the absence of substance beyond his at times extreme rhetoric there is growing commentary about his failures, and speculation about his failure as a president.

Juan Williams: Trump is becoming a failed president

 

A Morning Consult poll released last week found Trump losing support in states he easily carried last year. He is down 23 points in Tennessee since his inauguration in January, down 21 points in Mississippi, down 20 in Kentucky, down 19 in Kansas and down 17 in Indiana.

Overall, 55 percent of the country disapproves of the job he is doing as president, according the most recent RealClearPolitics average. At the three-quarter mark of his first year in office, Trump is the least popular new president in history.

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate Republicans are also walking away from Trump.

In part, this is due to his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Then there are the threats to incumbent Republicans from Stephen Bannon, formerly Trump’s chief strategist.

Bannon said last week he plans to challenge incumbent Republican senators in seven states, including Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, Nebraska’s Deb Fischer, Nevada’s Dean Heller and Wyoming’s John Barrasso.

“Creating a civil war inside the Republican Party may feel good, but I think as a strategy, it is stunningly stupid,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said of Bannon’s plan.

That looks like team Trump in disarray.

One Republican who has always doubted Trump’s credentials (and has been attacked by Trump) is Senator John McCain.

McCain, in speech, denounces ‘spurious nationalism’

…his speech was one of warning, and seemed very much directed at the leadership approach of President Donald Trump and his supporters.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”

Trump has been having spats with various sports people. One respected coach has responded.

The Nation:  ‘A Soulless Coward’: Coach Gregg Popovich Responds to Trump

We’ve all seen the San Antonio Spurs’ future Hall of Fame coach Gregg Popovich in a state of exasperation on the sidelines, or in postgame news conferences. Many of us have also heard him speak with great vexation and clarity about the direction of this country and the actions of Donald Trump, particularly on Trump’s “disgusting tenor and tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.” But I have never heard this man more frustrated, more fed up, and more tense with anger than he was today.

Coach Pop called me up after hearing the president’s remarks explaining why he hadn’t mentioned the four US soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger. Trump said, “President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls, a lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it.”

Maybe it was the bald-faced nature of this lie, maybe it was Pop’s own history in the military, but the coach clearly had to vent. He said, “I want to say something, and please just let me talk, and please make sure this is on the record.”

This is Popovich  on the record.

“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never ending divisiveness. But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”

“This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets.

“We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day.

“The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”

I think that the last comment about those who work with the president is in part at least unfair. I think that some of those working with and for Trump have the interests of the country at heart and are trying their best to cover for the inadequacies and irrationality of Trump.

They are trying to control Trump and limit the damage he does – and especially, they will be aware of the damage trump could do if he runs amok with the US nuclear arsenal (I think they have about 9,000 nukes).

But outside the White House Trump remains unpopular, and there are growing concerns being expressed about his fitness to remain as president.

Unfortunately Trump has said a lot of stupid and unhelpful and unpresidential things, but he hasn’t done anything (that we know of) that is troubling enough to demand he steps down.

It’s possible Trump may get what is required of being president, but there is little sign of his current obnoxiousness and incompetence being turned around.

We – not just the US but the world – may have to wait until Trump does something bad enough to step him over the line, and others step in to put a stop to him.

That is if the US or the world is in a state to do anything then.

 

Bannon leaving White House

The revolving door at the White House will slap Steve Bannon on the backside as he leaves in another turnover of senior staff.

Bannon’s association with Trump, especially his appointment as a senior White House adviser, has always been controversial.

Is this a clean up of someone unsuitable for his position, or the exit of someone else  disillusioned with the potential of Trump’s power?

Fox News: Steve Bannon out at the White House

The White House confirmed in a brief statement that Bannon, a hardcore populist who often sparred with his West Wing colleagues, would make Friday his last day — just over a year after he joined the Trump presidential campaign.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

One White House aide told Fox News the departure was a long time coming, and that Bannon actually submitted his resignation in writing two weeks ago.

This would have been just days after Kelly joined as chief of staff. Kelly was said to have been the driving force in the ouster of former communications director Anthony Scaramucci, and speculation swiftly centered on Bannon as perhaps the next one to go.

Sources say Bannon has become increasingly isolated in the White House. Adding to the pressure, some critics also publicly attacked Bannon in the wake of last weekend’s Charlottesville violence, in which a counter-protester was killed at a white nationlist rally. Trump came under intense criticism for his response to that violence, and some blamed Bannon for the tone — though it’s unclear how much influence he had in any of Trump’s remarks.

Earlier this week, Bannon gave a candid interview to a liberal magazine where he slammed some of his adversaries inside the administration.

Speaking to The American Prospect, Bannon contradicted the administration’s statements on North Korea. He said despite threats to attack the regime, “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday rebuffed those remarks.

Bannon’s controversial comments in the interview last week seem to have been made with the knowledge that he would be leaving  Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump briefly addressed the speculation about Bannon’s future during a wide-ranging Q&A with reporters at Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon.

“I like Mr. Bannon, he’s a friend of mine,” Trump said, while downplaying his impact in the 2016 campaign. “I like him. He’s a good man. He’s not a racist … but we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”

The departure eased criticism of the administration only slightly.

On Thursday, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone wrote a column saying that while he liked Bannon, he thought it was time for him to go.

“I am one who had publicly defended Bannon from false charges of racism and anti-Semitism yet I have concluded he is a spent force, never being willing to spend his political capital to help his friends and in some cases helping empower the very globalists he claims to oppose,” Stone said.

It is being reported that Bannon will go back to Breitbart News.

More from NY Times:  Stephen Bannon Out at the White House After Turbulent Run

Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Trump win the 2016 election but clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers, is leaving his post, a White House spokeswoman announced Friday.

Earlier on Friday, the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Mr. Bannon, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion. But a person close to Mr. Bannon insisted that the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week. But the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.

The loss of Mr. Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped propel some of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises into policy reality, raises the potential for the president to face criticism from the conservative news media base that supported him over the past year.

Mr. Bannon’s many critics bore down after the violence in Charlottesville. Outraged over Mr. Trump’s insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human rights activists demanded that the president fire so-called nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House is led by Mr. Bannon.

More on Bannon’s interview a few days ago.

Mr. Bannon’s dismissal followed an Aug. 16 interview he initiated with a writer with whom he had never spoken, with the progressive publication The American Prospect. In it, Mr. Bannon mockingly played down the American military threat to North Korea as nonsensical: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

He also bad-mouthed his colleagues in the Trump administration, vowed to oust a diplomat at the State Department and mocked officials as “wetting themselves” over the consequences of radically changing trade policy.

Of the far right, he said, “These guys are a collection of clowns,” and he called it a “fringe element” of “losers.”

“We gotta help crush it,” he said in the interview, which people close to Mr. Bannon said he believed was off the record.

Privately, several White House officials said that Mr. Bannon appeared to be provoking Mr. Trump and that they did not see how the president could keep him on after the interview was published.

If Bannon had already handed in his resignation the interview may have been a parting shot.

Is the White House gradually becoming a part of the Swamp?

US – the ‘President Bannon’ problem

 

News or views or issues from the USA.USFlag


It sounds like there might have been a bit of power playing going on in dropping Steve Bannon from the National Security Council.

Politico: Trump’s strategist threatened to leave the White House after clashing with Jared Kushner

The man credited with honing Donald Trump’s populist message and guiding him into the White House has grown frustrated amid continued infighting in the West Wing, so much so that in recent weeks a top donor had to convince him to stay in his position.

Five people, including a senior administration official and several sources close to the president, tell POLITICO that Bannon, one of Trump’s closest advisers, has clashed with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s taken on an increasingly prominent portfolio in the West Wing. Bannon has complained that Kushner and his allies are trying to undermine his populist approach, the sources said.

And NT Times: Trump Removes Stephen Bannon From National Security Council Post

Lately, Mr. Bannon has been conspicuously absent from some meetings. And now he has lost his seat at the national security table.

…blunders by Mr. Bannon’s team — especially the first immigration order, which was rejected by multiple courts — have undermined his position. His take-no-prisoners style was not a winning strategy on Capitol Hill, and Mr. Bannon declined to take a significant part.

Mr. Trump initially supported Mr. Bannon’s take-it-or-leave-it final message to holdouts in the House Freedom Caucus. But, needing a win, the president grew skeptical and authorized Mr. Pence to resume health care talks, with Mr. Bannon playing more of a supporting role, according to three people close to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Bannon has also been at odds with Gary Cohn, the president’s national economics adviser. Mr. Cohn is close with Mr. Kushner, who has said privately that he fears that Mr. Bannon plays to the president’s worst impulses, according to people with direct knowledge of such discussions.

Moreover, Mr. Bannon’s Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing’s only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda — and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the “President Bannon” puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.

Unfamiliar and unprecedented perceptions of power, frustration at that power not being very successful, egos and agendas were always at risk of clashing.

The revolutionaries need to learn, quickly, how to be effective, or the old school politicians will gradually take over.