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.


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?







Trump administration sanctions Russians over election interference

The Trump administration’s Department of the Treasury has imposed sanctions on 19 Russian individuals (including the 13 indicted in the Mueller inquiry) and 5 Russian entities over interference in the 2016 US elections.

Fox News: Trump administration sanctions Russians for interfering in 2016 elections

“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions mean all property of these individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. United States people are also prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions are meant to counter Russia’s destabilizing activities, including its interference in the 2016 election and its destructive cyber-attacks. The department cited the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack the White House and the British government have attributed to the Russian military.

Last month, 13 Russians and three Russian companies were indicted in Mueller’s probe, accused of a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” against the U.S.

The three entities are Internet Research Agency LLC, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering.

The sanctions also target two entities and six individuals accused of being cyber actors operating on behalf of the Russian government.

Those entities are the Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate.

And it goes further than election interference.

The Trump administration also accused Russia on Thursday of a concerted, ongoing operation to hack and spy on the U.S. energy grid and other critical infrastructure.

U.S. national security officials said the FBI, the Homeland Security Department and American intelligence agencies determined that Russian intelligence and others were behind the attacks on the energy sector.

The officials said the Russians deliberately chose U.S. energy industry targets, obtaining access to computer systems and then conducting “network reconnaissance” of industrial control systems that run American factories and the electricity grid.

The accusations and accompanying sanctions are some of the strongest actions to date by the administration to punish Russia for hacking and other efforts to sow discord in the American democracy.

I didn’t see this coming. In the past Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay Russian interference in the election.

This is on top of the US joining the UK and Germany over the alleged Russian use of a nerve gas attack in Salisbury, England.

In a joint statement Thursday, President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said they “abhor” the attack against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4. A police officer who came to the pair’s aid was also sickened.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,” the statement said.

The big question now must be how Russia might react.

It will also be of interest how Trump reacts to the sanctions. He has commented on the nerve gas issue – U.S. hits Russians with sanctions for election meddling, cyber attacks (Reuters):

Trump told reporters during a White House event with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar that “it certainly looks like the Russians were behind” the use of a nerve agent to attack Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent in England. Trump called it “something that should never, ever happen, and we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”

But Trump has claimed he one the election on his merits and without Russian assistance.

Trump has frequently questioned a January 2017 finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda in an effort eventually aimed at tilting the race in Trump’s favor. Russia denies interfering in the election.

But Mnuchin was unequivocal in saying that Thursday’s Treasury action “counters Russia’s continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks.”

Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, which nearly unanimously passed a new sanctions bill against Russia last summer, had criticized Trump for not punishing Moscow. The Trump administration in January did not announce sanctions against Russia, for now, under the new law.

Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new sanctions as an important step. “But more must be done,” Royce said in a statement, promising that his committee would “keep pushing to counter Russian aggression.”

A senior administration official told Reuters that Trump, who campaigned on warmer ties with Putin, has grown exasperated with Russian activity.

That seems like a major change of direction for Trump.



Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump to meet

Whoever is responsible for organising a meeting between North Korea’s Kim Yong Un and the US’s Donald Trump probably deserves a medal, especially if it results in a de-escalation of what had been growing tensions between the nuclear trigger happy adversaries.

South Korea has been involved in trying to bring the two together so deserves some credit, but so do Kim Yong Un and Trump if they follow through and are serious about sorting out their primary differences

It’s too soon to tell what the real intent of either is, and how this will progress, but it’s more promising than having ego driven slanging matches from a distance.

Trade war possible between Australia and US?

Donald Trump’s threat of steel and aluminium tariffs has sparked concern around the world, amongst allies as well as with trade competitors. Australia is showing some concern after earlier being assured of an exemption, with no clarification forthcoming from the US.

It looks like Trump makes things up as he goes, risking making major messes that may be difficult for his officials to clean up.

ABC News: Donald Trump promised Malcolm Turnbull Australia would be exempt from trade tariffs

Donald Trump “emphatically” promised to exempt Australian steel and aluminium from US tariffs during a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year, it can be revealed.

The ABC understands the promise was witnessed by high-ranking officials on both sides of the meeting, which was held on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017.

Among those in the US delegation who saw the undertaking first-hand were US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Whitehouse Chief Economics Adviser Gary Cohn.

On the Australian side were Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet David Gruen.

This revelation explains why the Australian Government has been stunned by Mr Trump’s declaration last week that the tariff regime will be enforced, and subsequent statements by Mr Ross that country-specific exemptions are unlikely.

Sources have told the ABC Mr Trump’s promise was emphatic and that he instructed Mr Ross to work out the specifics to “make it happen”.

The Prime Minister and the Australian delegation was “absolutely certain” that a deal had been struck during the Hamburg meeting.

Trusting trump may have been naive.

news.com.au: Turnbull govt considering a ‘trade war’ with the US over steel and aluminium imports

LABOR has pledged support for the Turnbull government if it joins a trade war against United States President Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull discussed trade with Mr Trump in Washington last week but was given no assurances Australia would be affected badly by his trade policy.

In fact, the ABC reports Donald Trump “emphatically” promised to exempt Australian steel and aluminium from US tariffs during a meeting last year.

Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo at the weekend telephoned US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross but was unable to get any clarification. That was because at that stage even senior members of the Trump administration hadn’t been given the details of the President’s plans.

Mr Trump’s move move could ignite a trade war, with Europe already threatening to put levies on American goods. This could push up interest rates, rock the stock market, and add to global economic uncertainty.

Mr Trump is being told by many sources, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, who telephoned him at the weekend, that the tariffs would hurt America’s allies such as the United Kingdom, South Korea and Canada.

It appears that Trump doesn’t care about what US allies think of his proposed tariffs.

RNZ:  NZ to seek exemption from Trump’s steel tariffs

New Zealand will not be making any threats of retaliation against Donald Trump’s plan to put tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, Trade Minister David Parker says.

However, New Zealand would not be adding its voice to the criticism, with Trade Minister David Parker saying New Zealand will not be making any threats of retaliation.

“We wouldn’t be responding by the threat of trade retaliation ourselves, which I see has been the response of some countries,” he said.

“But we would certainly be advocating on behalf of the New Zealand steel industry that these tariffs if introduced [would] not apply to them

“We are of course a traditional partner of the United States, so we would be submitting to them that they shouldn’t be catching New Zealand steel exports in a regime like that if they introduced it.”

It’s hard to see That trump would care about steel trade with New Zealand.

US House ‘Intelligence’ memo feud

The US ‘House Intelligence Committee’ is looking increasingly like an oxymoron as the memo feud continues.

On 2 February the White House declassifed and released the ‘Nunes meme’ on the Russian investigation, which was a controversial pro-Republican view.

After some opposition from the White House the House voted in favour of releasing a dissenting Democrat memo, which has just been made public (with security redactions). Immediately following that Republicans a point by point ‘refutation’.

About the only thing being enhanced in all of this is the mayhem and mess.

Full text of the ‘Shiff’ memo: Democrats’ response to the Nunes memo was just released

Vox: The Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo tears it apart

Washington Examiner: Devin Nunes shares ‘point by point’ refutation of Democratic memo

And of course President Trump has again claimed everything vindicates him and he has done nothing wrong. CNN: Trump calls Schiff a ‘bad guy,’ Democratic memo ‘a nothing’

President Donald Trump hit back at top House Intelligence Committee Democrat Adam Schiff in an interview Saturday night, dismissing a Democratic memo on FBI surveillance released earlier in the day as “a nothing.”

“He’ll leak all sorts of information. You know, he’s a bad guy,” Trump said Saturday in an interview on Fox News. “Certainly the memo was a nothing.”

Trump said the Democratic memo “really verifies” the GOP memo.

“A lot of bad things happened on the other side — not on this side but on the other side — and somebody should look into it because what they did is really fraudulent,” Trump said of Democrats.

Later in the interview, Trump argued that there was no collusion between him and Russia.

“I had no phone calls. No meetings. No nothing. There’s no collusion,” Trump said.

That doesn’t rule out possible actions by people working for Trump on his campaign team.

He continued, referring to Hillary Clinton, “I don’t want to sound braggadocious. I was a far better candidate. She was not a good candidate. She went to the wrong states.”

Trump continues to claim his election success was solely due to his modest brilliance as a candidate.

Some details in a convoluted shit fight here: Democratic rebuttal to GOP House Intelligence memo released

Democrats say their memo, spearheaded by ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., was written as a rebuttal to provide greater context to a Republican memo that was released earlier this month, which outlines abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department against the Trump campaign, particularly in the write-up and approval of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications to spy on ex-Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The Democratic memo says in its first page that “FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”

It adds, “In fact, DOJ and the FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.

A key point in the GOP memo, put together by Nunes and staff, claims Justice Department and FBI officials used “Trump dossier” author Christopher Steele was played an important role in the initial and all three renewal FISA applications to spy on Page. The dossier from Steele, an ex-British spy, is filled with salacious and unverified claims about President Trump’s ties to Russia. A crucial source of funding for the dossier, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, as well as Steele’s anti-Trump bias were also left out by the DOJ and FBI, the GOP memo alleged, addressing a major area of concern of Republicans and Trump supporters.

The Democratic memo makes the case the that agencies covered themselves appropriately.

“DOJ provided additional information obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting,” the document says on page four about the FISA renewals.

The Russians don’t need to try to interfere in US democracy, the Americans are making enough of a mess of their own affairs without outside help.

US ‘intelligence’ is taking a hammering.


Possible pressure on business tax plans

In October Jacinda Ardern said that the Government would consider lowering the company tax rate for small to medium business owners. NZH:  Jacinda Ardern to consider tax breaks for small businesses as minimum wage is set to rise

Prime Minister-designate Jacinda Ardern says she will ease the pressure of higher wages on small- to medium-business owners, including looking at a lower company tax rate.

As part of its deal with New Zealand First, the incoming Government will raise the minimum wage from $15.75 an hour $16.50 next year, and then to $20 by April 2021.

The increase is raising concerns in the business community and among farmers about meeting higher costs.

Speaking to Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Ardern said she wanted a tax working group to look at how Australia’s stepped tax regime operates.

“They have a slightly lower corporate tax rate for companies and businesses that have lower turnover. I’m interested in how we can ease the burden on small businesses in particular.”

In Australia, companies with turnover of less than $10 million a year pay a lower company tax rate.

“This is me foreshadowing that I do have a genuine interest in how we can support those who create jobs in New Zealand,” Ardern said.

“In large part, our small and medium enterprises – well over 40 per cent of our new jobs – are coming from our SMEs. I want to do all I can to work in partnership with them.”

But after Donald trump significantly lowered business tax rates in the US there could be pressure to lower all rates here if New Zealand is to remain competitive.

Stuff: Has Labour’s tax agenda just been Trumped?

Cutting tax for big business is probably the last thing Labour wanted to be on the agenda of the newly-established Tax Working Group.


The group will also consider a “graduated” company tax rate that would see big businesses pay tax at a higher rate than smaller firms.

But United States President Donald Trump’s decision to slash company tax in the US from 35 per cent to 21 per cent could be a spanner in the works, putting New Zealand under pressure to lower its company tax overall.

John Milford, chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, says New Zealand’s 28 per cent company tax rate already stood out against the OECD average, which he puts at 22 per cent.

“It’s certainly overdue for another review.”

In Britain, company tax is 19 per cent and set to fall to 17 per cent by 2020.

Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann​ has promised to reduce Australian company tax from 30 per cent to 25 per cent by 2027, explaining Australia needed to be “internationally competitive”.

That in particular would put pressure on the New Zealand business tax rate.

Revenue Minister Stuart Nash is keeping advice he has received from Inland Revenue on the impact of Trump’s tax reforms under the lid for now.

But the Australian Treasury has warned that the US changes could come at a cost to the rest of the world that might include “reduced foreign investment, lower GDP and real wages”.

The Tax Working Group is being asked to look at improvements of the tax system to see whether it operates ‘fairly’.

The Working Group will report to the Government on:

  • whether the tax system operates fairly in relation to taxpayers, income, assets and wealth
  • whether the tax system promotes the right balance between supporting the productive economy and the speculative economy
  • whether there are changes to the tax system which would make it more fair, balanced and efficient, and
  • whether there are other changes which would support the integrity of the income tax system, having regard to the interaction of the systems for taxing companies, trusts, and individuals.

Under Objectives in the Terms of Reference for the Working Group:

  • A system that promotes the long-term sustainability and productivity of the economy

The Working Group should consider in particular the following:

  • Whether a progressive company tax (with a lower rate for small companies) would improve the tax system and the business environment

With New Zealand’s tax rates being higher than average, after the US cut in business tax rates and a commitment by Australia to lower their business tax rates, the Working Group should be considering the long term sustainability of New Zealand’s business tax rates.

Debate on guns in US schools

The Parkland, Florida shooting last week has stirred up debate about access to firearms and gun violence, a major problem in the United States.

From the Gun Violence Archive 2018:

  • Total number of incidents 7,803
  • Number of deaths 2,138
  • Number of injuries 3,651
  • Deaths from mass shootings 34
  • Deaths from defensive use 224
  • Unintentional shooting 248

Number of deaths, past years:

  • 2014 – 12,556 (271 from mass shootings)
  • 2015 – 13,516 (333 from mass shootings)
  • 2016 – 15,094 (383 from mass shootings)
  • 2017 – 15,594 (346 from mass shootings)

Horrendous and rising alarmingly. Per population, that rate of deaths would equate to about 230 gun deaths per year in New Zealand.

Students across the country are protesting –  After Parkland, Students Across the U.S. Are Holding Protest Walkouts Over Gun Violence

In a wave of demonstrations reaching from Arizona to Maine, students at dozens of U.S. high schools walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence and honor the victims of last week’s deadly shooting in Florida.

The protests spread from school to school as students shared plans for their demonstrations over social media. Many lasted 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Hundreds of students from Maryland schools left class to rally at the U.S. Capitol. Hundreds more filed out of their schools in cities from Chicago to Pittsburgh to Austin, Texas, often at the lunch hour. Thousands walked out in Florida.

At the protest in Washington, students held a moment of silence in memory of those killed in Parkland and listened as the names of the dead were recited.

While some groups have worked to organize national demonstrations in the coming weeks, students say gatherings Wednesday were mostly impromptu and organized out of a sense of urgency to find solutions to gun violence.

Many of the protests were accompanied by chants of “Never again,” which has been a rallying cry since the Florida shooting.

However the voice of well organised resistance to gun control has also been heard: NRA’s Wayne LaPierre at CPAC: Gun Control Advocates Are Exploiting the Florida School Shooting Tragedy

Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s Executive Vice President, told the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday that politicians and the media are exploiting the Florida school shooting to expand gun control and ultimately abolish the second amendment, striking a defiant tone in his first public remarks since the mass shooting that killed 17 people and reignited the gun control debate in the U.S. to a fever pitch.

“As usual, the opportunists waited not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain. Chris Murphy, Nancy Pelosi, and more, cheered on by the national media, eager to blame the NRA and call for more government control.”

“They hate the NRA. The elites don’t care one wit about school children. If they truly cared, they would protect them.”

“It’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue. They care more about control. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eliminate all individual freedoms.”

“They don’t care if their laws work or not. They just want get more laws to get more control over people. But the NRA, the NRA does care.”

He concluded this year’s speech by reiterating the advice he provided in the wake of Newtown five years ago: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Having less bad guys and less guns would help too.

President Trump has been criticised for proposing to arm thousands of teachers to protect schools. He ‘clarified’ his suggestion on Twitter:

I never said “give teachers guns” like was stated on Fake News @CNN & @NBC.

What I said was to look at the possibility of giving “concealed guns to gun adept teachers with military or special training experience – only the best. 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.

There are about 3.2 million public school teachers in the US. 20% of that is 640,000 teachers. That is a lot of people to arm and train to a high level on an ongoing basis.

An armed policeman heard the shooting at Parkland but never went inside. Miami Herald: “A school campus cop heard the gunfire and rushed to the building but never went inside — instead waiting outside for another four agonizing minutes as Cruz continued the slaughter.” He has since resigned. What should one person do in that situation? very difficult to know.

Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this. Far more assets at much less cost than guards. A “gun free” school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!

History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!

If a potential “sicko shooter” knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school. Cowards won’t go there…problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won’t work!

Armed police and offensive tactics have not solved a huge death toll from gun violence in the US.

And teachers don’t seem to be very keen.

The culture of gun ownership and gun violence in the US is so ingrained and staunchly defended it is hard to see any easy fixes, especially when the President proposes escalation.

And when the NRA is so financially influential in US politics.

When 17-year-old student Cameron Kasky took the microphone at CNN’s town hall on Wednesday night, he put Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio on the spot when he asked: Would you refuse to accept further campaign donations from the National Rifle Association?

After a moment, Rubio gave his answer: No, he wouldn’t.

Rubio has been on the receiving end of some of the largest financial support from the NRA over the years.
His hesitancy to distance himself from the organization shows how many in Congress have come to rely on the NRA’s largesse to help them remain in office — and their fear of crossing a group legendary for its ability to get its supporters out to vote.

According to federal election data compiled by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, eight lawmakers have been on the receiving end of at least $1 million in campaign contributions from the NRA over the courses of their careers, Rubio among them.




Trump proposes more guns to combat too many guns

President Donald trump has a proposal to combat shootings in schools – let teachers carry concealed handguns. In a country with far too many firearms and far too many killings, he has proposed more firearms.

He said this in front of people who went to the White House to implore him to do something to prevent more shootings.

In the shooting in Las Vegas last October where 58 people were killed and 851 injured, concealed handguns were no use.

Chicago Tribune: Trump’s solution for school shootings: arm teachers, post veterans with guns

Seated between teenage survivors of the Florida school shooting, President Donald Trump said during an Oval Office listening session Wednesday that arming teachers and posting gun-toting veterans in schools could deter or stop school shooters.

His comments came during an emotional meeting that included Vice President Mike Pence, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and school-shooting survivors and families who had lost children to gun violence, including a father who buried his daughter just last week. They poured out grief and anger over the lack of efforts to stem school shootings.

Trump talked about strengthening background checks and increasing mental health resources. But his most pointed and specific remarks came when he spoke about adding security to schools by arming teachers and posting gun-equipped veterans.

Trump posited that if Aaron Feis, a popular football coach, has been armed, he could have stopped the gunman who killed Feis and 16 others last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“If the coach had a firearm in his locker when he ran at this guy – that coach was very brave, saved a lot of lives, I suspect – but if he had a firearm he would not have had to run. He would have shot and that would be the end of it,” Trump said.

He then proposed to arm 20 percent of schoolteachers and to hire veterans as armed school guards.

“A teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer be a gun-free zone,” Trump said. He suggested that an armed teacher on campus could reach a school shooter faster than responding police officers. “You’d have a lot of people that would be armed, that’d be ready.”

His proposal to make 20 percent of public schoolteachers ready to fire back at a school shooter would mean training and arming about 640,000 people nationwide.

I’m not sure how much ongoing training the 640,000 armed teachers would require. There’s also likely to be a reluctance by many teachers and schools to become armed fortresses.

The idea got a warm reception among some parents, but was met with swift backlash from teachers’ groups nationwide.

“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence. Our students need more books, art and music programs, nurses and school counselors; they do not need more guns in their classrooms,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union. The group represents 3 million educators in K-12 schools and on college campuses. “We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”

“This is bar none, the worst theory of action I’ve ever heard,” said Shanna Peeples, a former educator who worked in Texas when she won the 2015 National Teacher of the Year award. She shared her thoughts on Twitter. “Texas law allows schools to arm their teachers. That’s not a good thing. None of us are trained to respond to threats in the way law enforcement is.”

Strictly limiting the number of high capacity assault weapons that can be bought and owned would be a more sensible approach.

The Russian dirty trick allegations

Details from the Mueller report on what was allegedly done from Russia to disrupt the US elections.

Bloomberg: Mueller Shows How Russians Sowed Discord With Dirty Tricks

The sweeping conspiracy detailed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller exposes the sophistication of Russian efforts to undermine U.S. democracy using social media — and how vulnerable the U.S. remains to foreign intervention ahead of 2018 midterm elections.

In an indictment on Friday, Mueller outlined how scores of workers at a St. Petersburg, Russia, troll farm set out in 2014 to sow discord in the U.S. political system, ultimately by supporting Donald Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton.

Assuming fake American personas on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, they wrote provocative posts on divisive political issues, bought ads, coordinated with unwitting Trump campaign workers and paid U.S. activists to plan rallies.

In detailing the most sweeping foreign electoral interference in U.S. history, the indictment against 13 Russians and three companies takes the conspiracy to the door of Russian President Vladimir Putin — with allegations that the operations were largely financed by a Russian often referred to as “Putin’s cook.”

Mueller, who was appointed last May to investigate Russian meddling in the election, didn’t reveal any collusion by the Trump campaign. Rather, the 37-page indictment focuses on the information war, one strand of a many-pronged investigation by the special counsel’s office.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters the indictment doesn’t allege that the conduct altered the election’s outcome.

Starting around April 2014, the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency — a company widely reported to be a front for Russian government — had more than 80 employees dedicated to “spread[ing] distrust toward U.S. candidates and the political system in general.”

Their primary funding came through Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering, two of the co-defendants. By September 2016, prosecutors say, the agency was submitting a budget of more than $1.25 million a month that Concord paid through bank accounts of more than a dozen affiliates. Concord is headed by Yevgeniy Viktorivich Prigozhin, a Russian restaurateur and caterer known for hosting Putin’s state dinners with foreign dignitaries, prosecutors wrote.

“Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see,” Prigozhin told RIA Novosti. “I have great respect for them. I’m not at all upset that I ended up on this list. If they want to see the devil – let them see it.”

Studying the politics and reach of various groups active on social media, the agency created hundreds of social-media accounts of people meant to look like U.S. “public opinion” leaders. One fake account, @TEN_GOP, attracted more than 100,000 online followers.

Members of the organization worked day and night shifts, circulating a list of U.S. holidays so they could tailor their posts accordingly.

“Specialists were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except [Bernie] Sanders and Trump — we support them.)’ ” according to the indictment.

Some of the Russians traveled to the U.S. to gather intelligence for the surreptitious campaign, according to the indictment. They used stolen U.S. identities, including fake drivers’ licenses, and contacted news media outlets to promote their activities. They used clandestine methods to communicate and gather information, employing special cameras, “drop phones” and “evacuation scenarios” to ensure security.

The Russian organization had settled on Trump as their favored candidate by at least April 2016 and began producing and purchasing ads promoting the reality-TV star to voters and “expressly opposing Clinton,” according to the indictment.

The social-media operation was sophisticated, with managers tracking the posters’ audience responses, likes and other metrics. Defendants and other senior managers, checking behind the posters, made sure the posts looked like they came from real U.S. posters.

“It is imperative to intensify criticizing Hillary Clinton” in future posts, the creator of a Facebook group called Secured Borders was told in mid-September 2016.

The indictment shows how the Russians’ fake accounts were intertwined with real political activism. One persona the Russians created: Matt Skiber who rallied online contacts via Facebook to help organize pro-Trump marches. A grass-roots activist in Texas wrote to Skiber account, recommending a focus on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida.”

“This is what we’re organizing in FL,” the Skiber account responded to the Texas activist on Aug. 19, 2016. The Skiber account included a link to a Facebook page listing Florida rallies and asked the Texas-based activist to pass it to Tea Party members in Florida. The activist said he’d share the information.

More than 100 real U.S. persons made their way onto a list of social media contacts the Russians kept, according to prosecutors. The defendants’ internal list included the contacts’ names, political views and the activities the defendants had asked them to perform.

The effort went well beyond social media. The Russian effort included organizing rallies for Trump and paying Americans to participate in them or perform tasks at them. One American was paid to build a cage on a flatbed truck; another was paid to portray Clinton in a prison uniform.

Rallies were promoted with Facebook ads. Paid ads included this one on Oct. 19, 2016: “Hillary is a Satan, and her crimes and lies had proved just how evil she is.”

After the election, the group organized both pro- and anti-Trump rallies, including a “Trump is NOT my President” rally in New York the week after the election and one in Charlotte, North Carolina, the following week.

The defendants were charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft. Mueller’s office said that none of the defendants was in custody.

Collusion with the Trump campaign is as yet unproven, is denied by Trump – see Trump on Twitter – but the investigation is ongoing.

The investigation into collusion is continuing, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. Grand jurors have already heard about others involved in the scheme, the indictment notes.

See also Trump: Russia succeeded ‘beyond their wildest dreams’ at sowing discord in America

This is pertinent to New Zealand because the same could be attempted here, either as an external or an internal operation. There is no suggestion that any international interference happened in our 2017 election, most attention was focussed on internal disruption due to dramatic the rise and fall of Metiria Turei and ther Greens, and the abdication of Andrew Little and the sudden elevation  of Jacinda Ardern.

I doubt that the Russians or Americans or Chinese care who of National or Labour run our government.


More on US school shootings

Following yesterday’s post: Florida school shooting


Open letter from shooting victim’s aunt: ‘We don’t want your prayers” – NZHerald …

Powerful stuff … “My friends and fellow citizens, your guns are not protecting you. Your guns are killing our kids … Why is your hunting hobby more important than my niece’s life? Don’t you see that your “second amendment” rights have been twisted and distorted beyond any rational interpretation? Why should my niece have been sacrificed at the altar of your “freedoms?”

Why don’t you trust our police to protect us from crime? Don’t you realise that mental illness has been and always will be a part of the human condition and that weapons of war should not be available to those among us who dream of mayhem and death? Don’t you see the blood on all of our hands?” – Abbie Youkilis MD


Gezza: (Relevant to a comment I posted yesterday about screwed up competitive US mass shooters who want to beat someone else’s record.)

16 February 2018 – Washington State

“A US student has been arrested after his grandmother reported his plans to attack a high school to police. The decision about where to shoot and kill was based on the flip of a coin.

During a search at the house, authorities said that investigators seized a rifle that had been hidden in a guitar case, as well as military-style inert grenades. “This was a student that nobody would have suspected,” Mukilteo School District spokesperson Andrew Muntz told Fox affiliate KCPQ following the news.

O’Connor is being held on charges of attempted murder in the first degree, robbery and assault on an officer, according to online booking records.

Police said in a statement on Wednesday (Thursday NZT) that dispatchers received a call early Tuesday morning (Wednesday NZT) from a grandmother who said she believed her teenage grandson had plans to launch an attack on his school. She told police she had read about the plans in his journal.

In his writings, according to the probable cause documents, O’Connor said he was preparing for a school shooting, boasting, “My aim has gotten much more accurate.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot,” he added, according to the court records. “I need to make this shooting/bombing at Kamiak infamous. I need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can. I need to make this count.

“I’ve been reviewing many mass shootings/bombings [and attempted bombings] I’m learning from past shooters/bombers mistakes, so I don’t make the same ones.”

The journal then mentions the coin flip between Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Washington, and nearby ACES Alternative High School, according to the court records.

Officers met with O’Connor’s grandmother and were “alarmed at the statements and detailed plans to shoot students and use homemade explosive devices,” according to the statement from police.

Officers alerted administrators at ACES Alternative High School on Tuesday and had O’Connor pulled from class, according to the court records. The records state that officers found marijuana and a knife in his possession and took him into custody.

The incident unfolded just miles from Marysville, Washington where another teenager opened fire in 2014 at Marysville Pilchuck High School. Jaylen Fryberg lured students around a lunch table and then gunned them down, killing four before killing himself, police said.”

The politician problem (not just Trump) in Don’t look to Trump for leadership after the Florida school shooting

This is no time to talk politics, we’re told by gun-loving conservatives.

This is a time for prayers, we’re told by Donald Trump.

“There really are no words,” we’re told by the local sheriff.

So it’s OK, everyone. We can get back to the latest blather about tax cuts for corporations or billions for a border wall. Those are the things that politics, and presidents, and words, can handle.

But if we can’t talk about saving the lives of our children, if our politics can’t keep our schools safe, if we can’t talk about the mass murder of innocence, then what on earth are we talking about? What’s the point of any politician if they can’t do this one simple thing: protect our youngest citizens?

If this was the eighth terrorist attack of 2018, don’t you think every member of Congress – not just Democrats – would bleat on about taking urgent action?

If Isis-inspired gunmen had just mown down 17 high school students in their classrooms, how long would it take before our president spoke in front of the nation’s TV cameras?

If an ISIS inspired gunman (it’s almost always men) had just mown down one child at school it would have got more urgent attention. But red-white-blue on red-white-blue is far more politically awkward when one of the biggest, most generous (financially) lobby groups is the National Riflemens’ Association.

Instead, we’ll have to settle for a tweet. Because when we need leadership the most, there’s no point in raising your hopes with the man who watches Fox News all day inside the White House.

It’s so heartwarming to hear this from the man who promised to end “this American carnage” in his inaugural address. Of course, at the time he was talking about gang murders, just as he did in his State of the Union address last month.

He must have forgotten to mention school shootings with assault weapons, like the AR-15 used at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida. It was the same assault weapon used at the Sutherland Springs church in Texas in November. It was the same assault weapon used in the Las Vegas massacre the month before that.

It’s as if no politician could talk about protecting airplane cockpits after 9/11 because all we could was pray and send our condolences.

There have been many attempts to tackle assault weapons like the AR-15. When Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, tried to do that in 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook school massacre, there were 60 no votes that killed the effort, including those of 15 Democrats.

Among those no votes was one Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, who told Fox News on Wednesday that now wasn’t the time to talk about gun control. “I think you can always have that debate,” he said. “But if you’re gonna have that debate about this particular incident you should know the facts of that incident before you run out and prescribe some law that you claim could have prevented it.”

Senator Rubio: save yourself the trouble. You don’t need to know the facts because the last time you heard the facts, you voted against regulating the very gun that massacred all those schoolchildren at Sandy Hook. It’s so funny how you need to be 100% sure about the impact of gun control laws when you are prepared to throw any amount of legislation and spending at the far less deadly terrorist threat to the United States.

Enough is enough is enough. If you care about our children, do something to protect them. If you want a politician who talks about our greatest threats, vote for someone who isn’t terrified of the National Rifle Association.

And if you want to make America great again, make our schools safe again.

A focus on mental health may be appropriate, if it includes the mental state of those politicians who refuse to consider that the US gun laws are hopeless and contribute significantly to one of the most dangerous problems in the US.