Clinton Accuses Russia of Manipulating Already-Manipulated Election

The pot is calling the kettle black.

I generally try to avoid domestic politics because of many reasons- oversimplifications, divisive rhetoric, relativism, appeals to emotion, etc etc. But now that there are accusations of Russian meddling in the Democratic primary, the issue has fallen within the scope of this blog.

US intel head calls for end to ‘hyperventilation’ over Russia’s alleged role in DNC hack

The problem with this accusation is if James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who has been heading various intelligence agencies since 1991, says there is no direct evidence Russia was behind the hack, I believe him. I’ll buy that there are no solid links between the hacker and Putin. Granted, this is the man that lied under oath, obstructed justice, gave false testimony to Congress, and asserted that Saddam Hussein’s WMD’s were “unquestionably” shipped out of Iraq to Syria after the US invasion in 2003, but we know why Clapper told those lies. What is of interest is rather than coming to the aid of Clinton, he is instead admonishing the media for echoing Clinton’s talking point and downplaying the whole event.

Clapper added that there is a growing awareness that all levels of cyber terrorism are a “profound challenge” for the US.

“I think we just need to accept that, and not be quite so excitable at yet another instance of it,” he said about the recent media speculations.

These “recent media speculations” are actually rather illogical and poorly contrived. The fact is, Clapper might be completely right to flippantly ignore the hack of the DNC. Unless there is proof that the Russians or the hacker actively manipulated the process and affected the outcome, the only result of the hack may be increased transparency. Usually, this is a good thing, but in an era of NSA surveillance and torture at CIA black sites, unexpected transparency is treated like a catastrophe. In fact, if the leaks are genuine and DNC officials were gaming the system for Clinton over Sanders, it would be Clinton who has done the meddling. The pot is calling the kettle black. The Democratic Primary was already illegitimate to begin with.

Although there is no question that Russia likes Trump and vice-versa, the likelihood of Putin, a former KGB officer and FSB director (that’s intelligence and counterintelligence) moving against Clinton at this point is very unlikely. If Russia had dirty laundry on Clinton in the form of the DNC hack or leaked classified emails, they would probably save them rather than wasting them on a candidate who may not even win the election. It is also far more effective to leverage a sitting president with blackmail than just a candidate, and the Russians know better than to overtly interfere with an election (look at the Ukraine). To echo this poorly-constructed argument is an exercise in narrative creation rather than truth seeking.

On top of all of that, Russia may have actually had a bizarre legal basis for hacking the DNC. In 1999, a certain treaty between Russia and the US (signed by Bill Clinton, no less) started cooperation between the two countries in criminal matters and investigations. This treaty (available as a PDF here) allows the two countries to request and share information dealing with criminal activity perpetrated by legal entities. That last part, legal entities, is a term that can include the DNC. If this be the case, then these emails being hacked may have been requested from Russia and released by an anti-Clinton party in the federal government. Could James Clapper be right in telling everyone not to blame the Russians?

“We don’t know enough to ascribe motivation regardless of who it might have been,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said…

 

Are Sunnis Planning a Reform of Islam?

“El-Sisi warned against those exploiting sectarian or ethnic differences to cause division in the Muslim world.”

The suggestion of reforming Islam had almost always been met with violent disapproval in the past, but the idea is now being entertained in the middle east. About a month ago, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi didn’t just call for reform, he asked for revolution:

Egypt’s Sisi calls for purging religious discourse of extremist ideas

Egyptian president: Time to reform Islam, purge ‘discourse of extremism’

El-Sisi cites as motivation the threat of fundamental Islam to the international community via terrorism and a negative perception of Islam from the violence committed in its name. This would seem obvious to anybody who has watched the news in the past decade or so, but el-Sisi’s third reason is not as readily apparent.

“The Muslim world is going through a dangerous turning point and is facing unprecedented challenges targeting its existence and people, [and facing this] requires concerted efforts from all of us while putting all differences aside,” Al-Sisi said in the address.

It would seem that the third reason has to do with unity. The Ahram Online article puts it even more bluntly:

El-Sisi warned against those exploiting sectarian or ethnic differences to cause division in the Muslim world.

Taking into consideration Israel’s new found desire to normalize relations with its neighbors, Erdogan’s about-face on Assad, and Russia’s campaign on ISIS, a push is being made to bring stability back to the middle east. An unusual coalescence of interests converging around Russia involving Sunni-majority countries has suggested, to me at least, that a power bloc of Sunni nations is in the works. It is very likely that Russia has facilitated this since over half of its economy relies on oil sales, and a stable middle east is necessary if Russia plans on using its oil industry to take over the global energy market. Russia has been a strategic ally with Iran and has had close relations with India and Iraq, three nations who contain a majority of the Shiites in the world. If Russia can broker a peace (only temporarily) between the two sects of Islam, possibly involving Muslims willing to reform Islam, and succeed in the campaign against ISIS, a more stable middle east looks entirely possible. Considering China’s slow-motion take over of the South China Sea, they are looking to control trade, and stability is needed for a renewal of the silk road trade route running from Russia to China to Egypt.

Peace in the middle east? Sounds like a crackpot theory, alright.

When Art Became Cheap ‘N’ Easy

How does an art movement go from confounding and avant garde to inspiring lifestyle choices and philosophy?

If you’ve been following my blogs about art, how technology has outpaced it, and the modern emphasis on expression and controversy, you might be wondering exactly how and when everything really got out of hand. I think it started, in earnest, with minimalism:

The Oppressive Gospel of ‘Minimalism’

How does an art movement go from confounding and avant garde to inspiring lifestyle choices and philosophy? If you were to ask a professional art snob, he would probably say something edgy but completely vapid like,

“Minimalism in the 1960s was very much along the lines of taking LSD,” says Miguel de Baca, an associate professor of art history at Lake Forest College.

The reality is much less provocative and a little more historical. From the 1700’s to the early 20th century, the industrial revolution drastically reshaped every aspect of human society from fashion to war. Newly mechanized agriculture required fewer farmhands and urban factories needed more laborers to increase their output. The result was the birth of the middle class and modern cities, and with that, modern popular culture and entertainment. This explosion of productivity and technology would spawn cross-continental railroads, massive foundries burning plentiful coal rather than wood, and the magic of electricity. With everybody from the richest entrepreneur to the poorest worker sharing in this massive upheaval, what did the artist have to offer with their landscapes and cherubs?

It is because of this age, and as a result of the wonders of that technology, artists felt it necessary to separate their work from reality. With abstract art, there were no constraints like perspective or anatomical proportion. The artist was now free to create something that could not be found anywhere else in the world, no matter how far you travel in a locomotive or a hot air balloon. This process of evolution would continue in the 20th century. Further development of technology would up the ante and compete with art directly. With the invention of film, television and radio, entertainment could be pumped directly into the home. The mid 1960’s would see the color television and color films, and photography was beginning to be accepted as a medium for art. Facing the possibility of becoming irrelevant and niche, the standards for what would qualify and be labeled as art were lowered. Films and television shows were created with capital from investors, teams of professionals and large studios in a way that no single artist could match. Rather than trying to top the spectacle of entertainment, minimalism reset what was to be expected from artists. By going to the opposite end of the spectrum from sensationalism and grandeur to obscurity and subtlety, the disparity between art and entertainment could be bypassed completely. By standing in opposition to entertainment, art had a new reason to exist. This is why modern art isn’t explained, people are just told they don’t “get it.”

When minimalism lowered the bar, it made sure that art could continue to exist alongside entertainment and technology. Minimalism was also a fresh alternative to the over stimulation of entertainment, and to consumerism in general. Requiring so little, minimalism allowed the inclusion of the lazy and those who lack artistic talent. Businesses could quickly and cheaply create a stylish but no-frills product without ever having to mention the words “budget” or “economy model.” Following the dynamics of capitalist competition, more and more would adopt this business-friendly exploitation of culture. Without Donald Judd’s basic shapes and unfinished pine, Ikea could never exist. It allowed the inclusion of the poor as minimalism began to be associated with frugality and asceticism, two virtues of American counterculture. Now that art was cheap ‘n’ easy, spread throughout culture and ingrained in philosophy, it would change society in ways it never had before, and it would continue to be relevant.

Today, art follows what I call the Kanye West Template. This involves creating as much false or real controversy as possible to gain exposure and maintain relevance. This is how pop culture is hacked and gamed. Rather than providing some kind of thought or creation that generates widespread interest and attains popular acceptance (hence, “pop”), a divisive and provocative viewpoint is presented to stir emotions and illicit a response. Other purveyors of the template include Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Charlie Sheen, among a bevy of artists like Justin Bieber and Marilyn Manson. But, can minimalism produce something beautiful? Although there is no virtue or value in schlock and laziness, the style can still be stirring. A prime example was constructed thousands of years ago in Giza by laborers paid in alcohol. The pyramids of Egypt are simple, they are giant stones arranged in fancy piles, yet they have inspired more awe, mystery, and debate throughout their existence than any piece of modern art.

Russia Eclipsing Western Influence in the Middle East, Sunni Alliance Forming

A Sunni power bloc could bring stability and order to the region for a short time, but the sectarian conflict could very easily escalate into a regional war in the future.

Witnessing the shock waves of the Brexit vote still reverberating throughout Europe and especially Turkey, the regional powers of the middle east seem to be vying for… peace?

Saudi delegation to Israel: Ending Palestinian conflict critical for ties with Arab states

Being historical allies of the US and new allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia have begun discussing normalizing relations between Israel and the region at large. The key concessions are a resolution to the Palestinian conflict and a return to pre-1967 borders, which Israel has claimed to be strategically dubious and indefensible (probably correctly). Israel has sought to normalize relations first with moderate nations such as the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt.

Israel would like to normalize ties with its moderate Arab neighbors first, with the idea that it would help pressure the Palestinians to arrive at a peace deal with Israel.

Considering the conspicuous absence of the US, middle eastern states have seemingly begun to focus on short-term stability and order in the area. However, it is Russia’s presence and activities in the middle east that indicate the waning influence of the west. Russia has offered an oil market to Israel and arms deals to Egypt after the US cut military aid following the fall of President Mohamed Morsi. But Russia’s most valuable offering, to the entire region, is a real, believable campaign to destroy ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamic groups. The US’s reluctance to coopt such a campaign and an insistence on picking and choosing which terrorists were “moderate” showed that the US’s concern was toppling Assad rather than preventing terrorism. Now that the west is busy trying to get its financial house in order following the Brexit, the rejection of TTIP and GMOs, and a possible disintegration of the EU, Russia is attempting to fill the vacuum. The fact that middle eastern powers are attempting stability, Europe is developing its own continental military outside of NATO, and Japan is rearming signals a lack of confidence in America’s ability to project military force and defend its allies.

On top of that, is there an even larger nexus within this tenuous structure of shifting alliances? As it happens, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt all have Sunni majorities. Syria has a Sunni majority also, but Assad is a member of the smaller Alawite sect. It should be noted that the Erdogan’s would-be usurper, Fethullah Gulen, also studied Sunni Islam, but is non-denominational. Are these indications of a Sunni power bloc?

‘The govt should give asylum to Turkish opposition figure Gulen,’ says Egypt MP

A Sunni power bloc could bring stability and order to the region for a short time, but the sectarian conflict could very easily escalate into a regional war in the future. Is there a possibility that Russia is attempting to stabilize the middle east to profit on its oil and gas industry before crude is obsolete? Now that the western bankers have decided to peg the dollar on something other than oil, the race is on.

 

China Defies Tribunal, New Zealand Picks a Side in the Pacific

Choosing to ignore the court’s decision is a continuation of the “slow-motion invasion” style of territory grabbing that China’s ally, Putin, utilized in the Ukraine.

Despite the ruling a week ago from the International Criminal Court rejecting China’s claims over the resource-rich South China Sea, China has continued to develop artificial islands and is setting up communication systems on them.

During US Navy visit, China vows ‘never to stop’ island buildup

The islands could serve as platforms for China to project military force throughout the region, allowing the control of trade and exploitation of oil reserves. Choosing to ignore the court’s decision is a continuation of the “slow-motion invasion” style of territory grabbing that China’s ally, Putin, utilized in the Ukraine. In light of these developments, the US Navy has been invited to make a port call in New Zealand for the first time in over 30 years.

US Navy to return to New Zealand after 30-year rift over nukes

The 30-year stand-off was due to a conflict between New Zealand’s anti-nuclear laws and America’s policy of neither confirming or denying the presence of nuclear weapons on its ships.

It should be noted that the US Navy has continued to apply their policy of neither confirming nor denying nuclear armaments on their ships, which could serve as a reminder, if not a tacit warning, to any Chinese attempt to impede “freedom of navigation” operations. By caving to the policy and inviting US presence, New Zealand is announcing their opposition to China’s expansionism, serving as an important stepping stone between America and Australia.

In stark contrast to these warming relations, the Incirlik Air Base, and a whole other nuclear matter, may represent a serious setback in US geopolitical positioning. With power to the base still cut off after 6 days, and fuel reserves rumored to hold out for less than a week, some commentators have begun to speculate if the base was being used as a bargaining chip in the fallout of Erdogan’s accusations of American involvement with the recent failed coup. In Okinawa, an unfortunate history of criminal activity involving servicemen has severely soured relations with the Japanese. A protest held two days ago drew over 60,000 people asking for the military bases to be moved out of Okinawa. As China seeks to expand their ability to project force in the South China Sea, the US’s first line of force projection is being contested.

 

How Modern Art and Celebrity Worship Encourages Society to Objectify People and Judge Personal Beliefs

Objectifying the artist and including them, and their thought process and attitudes, with the work that is to be evaluated and criticized has changed how we as a society judge one another.

If you’ve read my other article on modern art then you already understand how art has subjectified the act of expression itself over the objectification of a great thought, emotion, event etc. This means that in modern art, the style in which the artist expresses him/herself has been made as important as the work of art itself. The artist takes on a kind of cult of personality through the choices and attitudes (the thought process) they display in the art, attitudes which often clash severely with societal norms in order to affect the viewer. That means in modern art, it is literally style over substance because of competition from CG graphics and other electronic media. That is, except for these artists:

Banksy, Daft Punk, Elena Ferrante: The New Cult of the Anonymous Artist

There are very good reasons why some of the innovators in the article have decided to remain anonymous. The creator of bitcoin must have understood the potential destabilization of a decentralized currency on the currency markets, whose toes he/she could be stepping on, and how deep that side of the pool was. Banksy obviously knows that graffiti is illegal. Aside from the legalities, being anonymous also prevents one from becoming a part of the work, and a part of what is scrutinized by the public. The anecdote about jazz trumpeter Dupree Bolton hiding from the public due to the shame of his criminal record is one example of an artist separating themselves from their work to avoid judgement.

In an age in which engagement with artistic works has been displaced by gossiping about celebrity artists, the anonymous innovators have forced us to return our gaze to the creative product.

Objectifying the artist and including them, and their thought process and attitudes, with the work that is to be evaluated and criticized has changed how we as a society judge one another. In modern art, rather than judging an artist solely on the merits or lack thereof in their work, modern art encourages the examination of the choices, and therefore, the attitude of the individual during the artistic process. Particularly so if that behavior is deviant or controversial. It would appear, to my view, that this attitude has begun to spread or be spread into other areas.

In social media, commentary is valued equally to original content. Posts, status updates, and likes are often times commentary themselves. The emphasis is connectivity, or the ability to freely express oneself to another. When that ability is threatened, such as the attempt to copyright reaction videos on youtube, people respond quickly and emotionally.

The effect on social discourse is to significantly muddy the waters in ideological, epistemological warfare. Now that the person has been objectified, society is free to pass judgement on them as well as their ideas. This means that the event the most sophisticated, well-constructed arguments can be completely ignored and ad hominems heaped upon the person instead. Now that everybody has the option to kill the messenger, nobody wants to be the messenger and nobody’s getting the message. Rather than presenting an argument standing on its own cited facts and logic, the attitudes and beliefs of the presenter are the focus of examination. Those who have contradictory beliefs are “corrected,” and every social interaction becomes an opportunity to prove and reinforce loyalty to an ideology and rebuke outsiders.

Political correctness and “microaggressions” are an example of how specific choices of language, phrasing and interaction can be associated with undesirable attitudes by popular society rather than the individual. By giving into political correctness, one is forced to admit that they are, in some aspect, subconsciously antisocial and that popular society is attempting to correct them (white guilt anybody?) rather than attributing a different meaning, and intent, to their words and actions. Instead of ignoring the message and attacking the messenger, you only need one wrong word or act to establish bad character and discredit the messenger. Anybody wishing to have an intelligent discussion will be presented with a minefield with all of these divisive, pseudo-scientifically derived word and mind games.

The legal system has begun to take on these characteristics as well. Things like hate speech and hate crimes place additional emphasis, and scrutiny, on the thought process of the individual. Although the traditional, Orwellian meaning of thought crime does not require a specific act, these types of hate crimes do lay additional punishments on certain motivations and beliefs in addition to the act. Although the aim of these laws is admirable, one has to wonder if the act of having an illegal thought, and nothing more, would be enough to get one arrested in the future. With the spate of highly-publicized killings in the news lately (the media loves the ratings), legislation requiring mental health screenings is being proposed for gun buyers.

But none of this is new. For decades, the American people have been made to focus on aspects of psychopathy whether it be serial killers and suicide jumpers on the news or divisive, schizophrenic social attitudes and conflicts. When JFK was assassinated, Lee Harvey Oswald was the “lone nut.” In other words, on of us just went crazy and tried to kill the president on his own. This meme would be repeated for RFK, Ford and Reagan, and after being beat about the head with it for a few decades the people have succumb. The paranoia and polarization of our current times is the result.

Chinese Setback in South China Sea Tribunal Incites Protests Against KFC

“While the state news media has denounced the tribunal’s decision, it has also poured cold water on calls to protest.”

Following last week’s decision from the Hague ruling in favor of the Philippines and against China’s claims over the resource-rich South China Sea, Chinese citizens are protesting American KFC franchises across their country.

KFC Targeted in Protests Over South China Sea

Despite being a comparatively small boycott, the Chinese government has begun censoring the phrases “KFC” and “South China Sea” in social media as part of a larger effort to prevent wide-spread protests and unrest in general.

The first sign of the KFC campaign was a banner unfurled on Sunday outside an outlet in the northern province of Hebei. “Boycott the U.S., Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Love the Chinese people,” the banner read. “What you eat is KFC. What is lost is the face of our ancestors.”

The Chinese government has acted wisely in this situation since the nationalistic fervor of prior boycotts have often led to serious property damage and even deaths. My question is will the Chinese boycott their Starbucks franchises as well? Will they protest the fake Apple stores? Or the knockoff Nike factories and the Ford F150 clones? How about the “Polystation” game console or the “X-Boy.” China need not be worried about losing the face of their ancestors, every fake iPhone comes with a camera these days.