When It's A Bad Idea To Mistrust The Government

Today my Twitter feed is alive with concerns about H.R. 6393, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. 

This is the bill that authorizes a year of spending by U.S. intelligence agencies, including The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI); the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); the Department of Defense; the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA); the National Security Agency (NSA); the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force; the U.S. Coast Guard; the Departments of State, the Treasury, Energy, and Justice; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO); the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA); and the Department of Homeland Security.

A couple of examples: "If Senate Passes H.R. 6393 it will Declare Alternative Media Illegal! No more Infowars, Drudge, many Others!" Another: "WAPO is the symptom, H.R. 6393: Intelligence Authorization is the problem - get ready for the McCarthy committees." See screenshot.

The actual bill, however, doesn't say anything about shutting down alternative media. It does however authorize three things, all of which make sense from an intelligence point of view:
  • "Submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on the counter-messaging activities of the Department of Homeland Security with respect to the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
  • "Counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence."
  • "Publish on a publicly available Internet website a list of all logos, symbols, insignia, and other markings commonly associated with, or adopted by, an organization designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189(a))."
While it is true that there was a political attempt to insert Russia into the U.S. elections as a messaging agent, it is also true that all countries use political messaging as a tool for exerting international influence. The intelligence bill explicitly sets forth the expectation that we will do so, and will of course counter others who are trying to use such messaging against us.

Another example of misplaced mistrust is opposition to the DOJ's Rule 41, which is intended to secure a court venue for remote computer searches.  This is a rule that enables law enforcement to more efficiently find and stop child predators and criminal hackers who hide behind the Internet, as explained by Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, writing at the DOJ.gov blog:
If agents are investigating criminals who are sexually exploiting children and uploading videos of that exploitation for others to see—but concealing their locations through anonymizing technology—agents will be able to apply for a search warrant to discover where they are located. 
And second, where the crime involves criminals hacking computers located in five or more different judicial districts, the changes to Rule 41 would ensure that federal agents may identify one judge to review an application for a search warrant rather than be required to submit separate warrant applications in each district—up to 94—where a computer is affected.
The Congressional Research Service offers several examples where Rule 41 searches have already helped law enforcement. At least one case (the first one mentioned below) shows that limited scope provided limited results for investigators:
"The first publicly reported court case which relied on a NIT [network investigative technique - law enforcement jargon for remote searches - DB] was in 2007, where the government obtained a Rule 41 search warrant to identify a Myspace user who had made bomb threats to a high school. The warrant...explicitly did not permit access to the content of any electronic messages."
"In 2012...the government initiated Operation Torpedo, which involved the
take down of a large-scale online child pornography network....Ultimately, based on this information, 14 individuals were brought to trial on child pornography charges."
Again, there is opposition to an expanded Rule 41, with some civil rights advocates arguing that the DOJ is unnecessarily trying to expand its powers and infringe on the rights of ordinary citizens. As Techdirt.com put it,
"This expansion is supposedly justified by the technological arms race law enforcement agencies (like the DOJ and FBI) continuing to claim they're somehow losing, despite billions of tax dollars and years of perfecting their skills. Rather than work within the confines of the Fourth Amendment and other related considerations, the government is looking to create a broad and permanent downhill slope to ease its investigative burden."
Unfortunately, the level of mistrust in--and, I would argue, the outright fear of--the government has risen to such levels that literally every action it takes is suspect. This is not to argue that every law, rule, regulation and policy is right--far from it--but rather that mistrust and fear make it impossible for people to consider its actions objectively.

In terms of fear of the government, perhaps the best example I can think of right now is the very low number of people who have signed the "Investigate the PizzaGate Claims" petition right now on Petitions.WhiteHouse.gov. (This is a petition that law enforcement investigate claims of a pedophile ring operating in Washington, D.C., a story that emerged from Election 2016 Wikileaks.) The level of interest on social media is obviously very high -- a Google Search of the term "Pizzagate" yields 2,340,000 results--but only 173 people have signed so far.

The response, when I asked about this, was essentially that "you'll get a lot more signatures on January 20," e.g. when President-elect Trump is inaugurated.

But as Congressman Trey Gowdy has pointed out, repeatedly, the wheels of justice do not operate on a timetable. And, obviously, they should not depend on who is in power.

In matters of holding the government accountable, we cannot lose our balance, either this way or that. We should insist on pointing out what seems wrong or misguided, but this should not mean that we dissolve our capacity to think rationally, and fall into paranoia.


All opinions my own.

Why Resisting The Demonization Of Islam Is Key To Bringing The Messiah

Islamic scholar Sheikh Imran Hosein released this short videotape about the election. It is in my view an eloquent statement about what's at stake for all of us today, as we choose between lies and truth, war and peace, good and evil. 

Here is the video. Below it are some highlights, but it's worth watching the short clip to hear the ring of truth in his words.

"I felt that the American people were the most brainwashed on the face of earth...it was as plain as daylight that the media in the US, the establishment in the US, TV, radio, newspapers, government agencies, were all demonizing one candidate, doing every single thing they could possibly do to make him look bad, so that public opinion would turn against him.  
"The other candidate, who I considered to be the candidate of war, because those who control power in the US, Britain, France, Germany and NATO, are, in my opinion, lusting for war with Russia and China, because Russia and China are not prepared to bend their knees in submission. 
"These people have an arrogance unprecedented in history. They want to rule the whole world. Everybody must bend down, bow down and submit to them. But Russia said no. The Russian knee will not bend to you. And China said no. The knee of China will not bend to you. War would have been nuclear war, you don't need a Ph.D. to know that." 
"The results of the election in the US indicate that a large number of people in the US are still capable of thinking....they rejected the brainwashing from the media and this is wonderful news. And we now have a result, which first of all, most important of all, has now delayed nuclear war."  
"We don't know for how long this window of sunlight will remain open. We don't know whether they will do to Trump what they did to John Kennedy, to so many others, the airplane falls out of the sky and that's the end of that story." 
"But while this window of sunlight remains, there is hope now that Britain will also refuse to submit to brainwashing. And so to France and Germany, Belgium. And so there must be panic now, panic in the hearts of those who are oppressors.""At this time when we have this window of sunlight, all those who are resisting oppression should also resist the demonization of Islam." 
"I speak as an Islamic scholar, I have been in the field...almost 75 years of age...fairly well recognized around the world, and I speak for Islam. To say that we are a religion like Christianity, like Judaism, authentic Christianity, authentic Judaism, we have zero tolerance for oppression." 
"Unfortunately they have installed governments all over the world of Islam who are in their pockets, the pockets of the oppressors but not the people. And so my response to the election in the US is that we now have a little time, let's use this little time, we don't know how long it will last."
"Let's use this little time to reach out to each other, and come together, in one community of people, across the borders of religion, even those who don't have a religious faith, but who are in opposition to the oppressor, let us come together in friendship and in alliance against a common enemy."

The common enemy the Sheikh speaks of is obviously not a person or nation but rather the organized effort by some to subjugate and control everybody else. While most of us, including me, cannot claim to understand what is going on, the propaganda surrounding the election made it more than obvious. And so does the otherwise inexplicable attempt to silence an investigation into the horrifying scandal known as "pizzagate," which came to light at the same time.

As the Sheikh noted, Donald Trump was elected. Many of us think this was a complete miracle, from beginning to end, especially when you consider the machine that was and is so highly organized to discredit him.

We learned this week, in the Torah reading, about Isaac digging three wells in the land of King Abimelech. The first two were taken away from him, but not the third. The commentary in the Bible said this symbolizes the three Holy Temples of the Jewish people. The first two were destroyed because of strife. But the third will stand, as the age of the Moshiach (Messiah) ushers in an age of enlightenment, when there is no more strife -- when war becomes a thing of the past.

As it says in Isaiah 2:4, in the future God Himself will settle the issues of dispute among the nations and war as a phenomenon will end:
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. - Isaiah 2:4
We can bring the Messiah by refusing to contribute to conditions that create war, namely, any attempt to deny other people their inalienable right to freedom and self-determination through explicit or implicit means of control, exploitation and abuse.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once gave a speech, "The Chance for Peace" (1953) where he spoke of the horrors of war:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
In that speech, President Eisenhower articulated 5 principles that should guide U.S. foreign policy: 
"The way chosen by the United States was plainly marked by a few clear precepts, which govern its conduct in world affairs. 
First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be an enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice. 
Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations. 
Third: Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable
Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible. 
And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations." 
Interesting how President Eisenhower and Sheikh Imran Hosein are saying basically the same thing.


All opinions my own.

Narratives Lie

As Jews our freedom begins with taking on the yoke of God. I am free because I serve Him, and only Him. God tells me to obey the law of the land - "the law of the kingdom is law":
"DINA DE-MALKHUTA DINA (Aram. דִּינָא דְּמַלְכוּתָא דִּינָא), the halakhic rule that the law of the country is binding, and, in certain cases, is to be preferred to Jewish law." - Source: The Jewish Talmudic scholar ("Amora") Samuel of Nehardea/Samuel bar Abba, cited in the Talmud at Ned. 28a; Git. 10b; BK 113a; BB 54b and 55a; source Jewish Virtual Library
Of course the fact that Jews have to make this point brings up an entire discussion about the theology of civil law for observant people, e.g. if you bind yourself to a certain religion how can you then submit to non-religious law?

In contemporary culture, where we are frequently exposed to acts of radical Islamic terror, the point comes up as a reflexive reaction that blames the Qur'an (and its associated body of law, Sharia) for such acts.

But that narrative is a lie. It is narrative-making that has created the "Muslim bogeyman." According to a report released eight years ago from Britain's intelligence service, the MI5, titled "Behavioural Science Unit Operational Briefing Note: Understanding Radicalisation and Violent Extremism in the UK," the report dispels some common myths about radical Islamic terror.

Most notably, radical Islamic terrorists are actually not particularly knowledgeable or religious. Just the opposite, being religious actually serves as a barrier to the commission of terrorism:
"Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation."
It is of course possible to find numerous examples of terrorism committed in the name of Islam. But that doesn't make such violence inherently religious in nature--any more than sick acts of violence committed by others citing theological grounds.

Looking at the numbers, Muslims are overwhelmingly ignored as a massive body of victims of terror. In 2011, the U.S. Counterterrorism Center reported that "in cases where the religious affiliation of terrorism casualties could be determined, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years."

Radical Islamic terrorism is politically, not religiously motivated.

The West, and the United States in particular, has actively created the popular stereotype of the crazed Muslim terrorist.

Under President Bush, the United States actively engaged in Muslim "fear-mongering" for political ends. As history professor Juan Cole put it:
"Even while denying he has anything against Muslims, Bush is creating this “Islamic Fascist” bogeyman, which mostly is a figment of his fevered imagination, or is woefully imprecise as a way of describing the phenomenon, or lacks any real political power, or could be dealt with by containment and decisiveness (remember the Soviet Union), or turns out to be some goatherds on the side of a hill in southern Lebanon." 
This agenda was furthered under both Democrats and Republicans:  Hillary Clinton freely admitted weaponizing Muslims to pursue a U.S. foreign policy agenda. And as The Guardian Notes, the U.S. under President Obama actively fueled the rise of ISIS as a way of overthrowing the government of Syria. (See the widely cited Department of Defense source document released in 2012 and posted by Judicial Watch).

As far as the perceived looming threat of Sharia, the reality is that it is no more a conflict for Muslims living in secular society than Jewish law is for Jews.
"Many American Muslims, like other religious communities who rely on scriptures and religious principles to guide their life, look upon Sharia as a personal system of morality and identity. The vast majority of American Muslims see no conflict between their religious obligations and values and the U.S. legal system." - Interfaith Alliance Frequently Asked Questions document endorsed by 23 organizations including the Islamic Networks Group, the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim Public Affairs Council
In fact, Jews and Muslims helped found the United States (and have always suffered from what can politely be termed "ambivalence" from the mainstream) along with Christians.

From a legal perspective, the Founding Fathers drew on Islam as they formulated the Constitution, just as they were inspired by Judaism and obviously by Christianity.

So there you have it: Muslims aren't bad.

But false narratives--like the one used by the White House to sell Americans the Iran deal--always are.


All opinions my own.