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May 312017
 

No, of course he isn’t. The Russian intelligence services would never allow an agent of theirs to behave in such a foolish way; at most he is a useful idiot. But whose antics are getting to the point where the idiot part is outweighing the useful part.

Even ignoring the political shenanigans of doing almost the complete opposite of what he said he would do (decimating public spending on health care is going to come as a bit of a surprise to many of his supporters) :-

  1. Trump allegedly tried to pressure several intelligence agency heads into stopping investigations into the “Russian connection”.
  2. Trump fires the head of the FBI whilst that head was involved in investigating the “Russian connection”; whilst this was allegedly done because Comey’s performance during the investigation of Hilary Clinton’s email situation was sub-par, it looks like an attempt to stop the investigation.
  3. Trump allegedly has private meetings with Russian officials in the oval office where he allegedly calls the former head of the FBI a “nut job” and that his firing takes off the pressure of the “Russian connection” investigation.
  4. Trump allegedly shows highly classified intelligence information to Russian officials in the oval office. Imagine this happening during the cold war era!
  5. Trump in trying to deny the above lets slip that the source of the intelligence was an Israeli agent embedded within ISIS; if that agent survives, he or she is owed a free slap at him.

This all goes well beyond political naivety and well into the realm of complete stupidity. It doesn’t take much sense to realise that interfering with an investigation into the “Russia connection” is a spectacularly dumb move. And releasing classified information and then to top that by leaking the source is criminally stupid and quite possibly treasonous.

Mar 182017
 

There is a media commentator (Andrew Napolitano) in the USA who has solved the mystery of who was spying on Trump during the election. Apparently it was GCHQ after being asked to by Obama. If it had remained just a commentator on Fox News which is well known for letting kooks, weirdos, and the generally insane spout all sorts of garbage, that would have been it.

But Sean Spicer then repeated the claims in a White House briefing.

And GCHQ have denied it.

But can we believe them? In this case almost certainly.

There is a very long standing convention within British intelligence agencies of neither confirming nor denying any action. Refusing to comment no matter how embarrassing is better than being caught in a lie, so the extremely unusual denial by GCHQ is believable because it is so unusual. But there’s more.

Firstly, Obama as president didn’t have the phone number of GCHQ (which is after all a British agency). A request from the president directly to GCHQ would probably be (and should be) answered with something along the lines of “Wrong number pal”. If he wanted to make a surveillance request it would go to the NSA who would then make an inter-agency request to GCHQ.

Which would of course result in a very secret paper-trail.

And if the request did make it through to GCHQ, the only surveillance data they are likely to have access to is international data (phone calls, Internet, etc) from Trump Tower to places abroad (with probably particularly good capture rates when passing through Europe). Which may well be of interest, but to actually put surveillance equipment inside Trump Tower?

That’s the job of a domestic intelligence agency, and whilst GCHQ could get involved in such an operation on foreign soil (and probably have), it is exceptionally unlikely in this case because it would put the intelligence co-operation agreements between the US and the UK at risk.

Whilst believing statements of an intelligence agency is a risky business, in this case it is probably true that GCHQ had nothing to do with any supposed surveillance of Trump Towers given the number of reasons why GCHQ wouldn’t be involved.

 

 

Feb 282017
 

With the enfant terrible Trump in charge of the USA and petulant Putin in charge of the Russian bear, it seems like an interesting idea to subject politicians to psychological profiling to determine their suitability for public office and power over us.

When you look at the list of monstrous political leaders we have had over just the last 100 years – Hitler, Pol-pot, Stalin, etc., the idea of testing politicians to find out if they are psychos or loonies starts to make a great deal of sense.

The first complaint about this would be that it would be an invasion of privacy. Well we don’t need to know the details; we simply need to have a trustworthy organisation certify that person A is suitable (or unsuitable) candidate.

The second issue is determining just what makes a suitable or unsuitable candidate which is something we need to persuade a bunch of psychologists and psychiatrists to propose.

The final issue is to get politicians to agree to it, and there we can simply refuse to vote for any candidate who has not been certified.

Feb 042017
 

I could choose to criticise Trump’s stand in immigration from certain countries based on the rights and wrongs of it, because it’s certainly wrong. But firstly there has been plenty written and said about that aspect of it, and secondly those who don’t see how wrong it is are not likely to change.

But even those who do not see how wrong it is may well be able to see just how stupid this move is.

Just to remind ourselves, Trump has temporarily blocked all travel into the USA by anyone holding a passport issued by seven countries which were previously subject to heightened visa requirements. And for good reasons – the relevant countries have more than their fair share of terrorist activity – and it is more than reasonable to check on immigrants to verify that they are not known terrorists.

The first “own goal” is that the new restrictions blocks many people from travelling to the USA who have made their homes there including famous people like Mo Farah (although the ban may not apply to him). How much safer is the US by blocking Mo from entering the USA and going home?  Or all the others in his position?

And let’s be frank – there’s something less than honourable about issuing a visa allowing someone to travel, and then preventing them from travelling. There are people who have planned the holiday of a lifetime and arranged to visit Disneyworld or Disneyland, and all of a sudden they are prevented from travelling.

Now you could argue that if this action decreases the risk to US citizens it is worth taking. But even if it does significantly reduce the risk, I would argue that it is better to accept the increased risk to do the right thing. And in general if you do not accept a slightly increased risk to do the right thing, you are a morally bankrupt person.

But does this decrease the risk to US citizens? To assess that we need to assess how great is the risk of terrorist attacks to the USA, and specifically terrorist attacks from those seven countries.

In fact the risk attributed to terrorism is vastly overrated. Going through the Wikipedia list of terrorist incidents, I get a total of 5 incidents causing the deaths of 50 people (the perpetrators excluded), which includes the Pulse nightclub shooting. If you go back to 2015, the figures are 4 incidents and 23 deaths, and one of the incidents was a christian terrorist.

Working through a similar list of mass shootings in 2016, I get a total of 14 incidents causing the deaths of 56 individuals.

Which is basically saying that you’re about as likely to walk into a terrorist incident as into a mass shooting, and both are really, really unlikely. That doesn’t help much if you are caught up in such an incident, so taking reasonable and proportionate action to decrease that risk is worthwhile.

And targeting refugees fits into the disproportional category; of those 5 incidents in 2016, only one was perpetrated by a refugee (and nobody died).

And now onto the final bit of stupidity: Firing your legal adviser for telling you an executive order is illegal when it is being found so over and over again makes you look more than a bit foolish.  Particularly when you could accomplish almost as much (although in reality more) by simply stopping new visas being issued; especially when the decreased risk from terrorism is marginal at best.

Jan 262017
 

The comic book villainous president Trump has just spoken about how he believes that torture works.

The first thing to point out is that it is widely acknowledged that there is no evidence to show that it works, and anecdotally the torturer is in severe danger of hearing what she wants to hear from the victim. In other words the gut feeling that it ought to work is not to be trusted.

Secondly, torture is prohibited under international law. Now we know that the US is in the habit of showing the finger to the international community – if the US were not so powerful, they would be labelled a “rogue state”.  Just look at a list of the nations that utilise torture – it’s one of the key indicators of a bad state.

Finally, torture is wrong. Under all circumstances it is wrong. You do not “win” over terrorists by descending to their level!

Jan 222017
 

News story.

We’re all used to politicians lying – either baldly (“Is the sky blue? No, it’s pink.”) or by avoiding the subject altogether (“Is the sky blue? I think the question shouldn’t be is the sky blue, but whether the colour really matters.”). But normally you can see some rationale behind the lie – there’s some genuine advantage to the politician by lying.

And seeing a politician who doesn’t bow down to the media is somewhat gratifying. At least when it serves some purpose.

But headbutting the media and spouting easily disproved lies about the number of people attending Trump’s inauguration?

Crass stupidity and arrogance of the first order.

There’s no point to it – after all who really cares how many people were stroking Trump’s ego on the day? After all his ego doesn’t need any bolstering, and even if it did there were still plenty of people in attendance.

Shattering the establishment (which is something I don’t believe Trump really intends no matter how much he claims) is all very well, and indeed to be encouraged. But you don’t accomplish it by picking stupid fights over nothing important.

Trump is in danger of giving a new word to label stupidity – Trumpidity.

 

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