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January 30 2018

21:03

Help shape the future of fact-checking during the State of the Union address

On January 9, 2018, less than year after being sworn in as president of the United States, Donald Trump told his 2,000th lie.

When we started this project, originally aimed at the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day… There are now nearly 70 claims that he has repeated three or more times. Indeed, he crossed the 2,000 threshold during his one-hour discussion on Jan. 9 with lawmakers about immigration…

What if you could see a real-time assessment of a politician’s speech?

That’s the premise behind FactStream, a second-screen app for fact-checking political events in real time. As PolitiFact founder Bill Adair noted last year:

Politicians don’t stop lying on Election Day.

Adair now runs the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy. FactStream is product of the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Although FactStream currently relies on a bevy of human fact-checkers, the project goal is automated detection using AI to match claims against published fact-checks.

The team is looking for beta-testers for the State of the Union address. (Here’s what could go wrong)

 

How does it work?

The FactStream application provides a schedule of upcoming political events slated for live fact-checks. (The State of the Union is the only scheduled event at this time.)

Interested in an event? Let FactStream send you a reminder.

reminder set

FactStream can remind you of an upcoming event, if you allow notifications.

FactStream event pane

FactStream event pane currently has only one event.

 

Mockup of FactStream

This mockup screen illustrates how a fact-check might appear on your screen.

During an event, FactStream will launch a pop-up to alert users of either previously published fact-checks or real-time analyses of claims.

Want to know more? Then tap the pop-up to read a fact-check, share the fact-check or opt-in to receive additional context about Trump’s statements.

 


The app makes it easy to share to your favorite digital network:

FactStream Share to Facebook

Share to Facebook

FactStream Share to Twitter

Share to Twitter

Beta testers wanted

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has partnered with FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post to provide real-time fact-checking of President Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30.

The team needs beta testers who use either an iPhone or an iPad.

(1) Download FactStream from the App Store. Be sure to enable notifications if you want the app to remind you of tonight’s speech!

(2) During President Trump’s speech (Jan. 30 at 9 p.m. ET), test the app’s various screens and share some fact-checks.

(3) After the speech is over, send feedback through this Google Form.

 

It’s important to call out lies

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”*, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect.

In 2016, the BBC explored the power of repeated falsehoods (aka “lies”). Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that prior knowledge doesn’t prevent repetition from swaying our judgements on non-emotionally charged statements such as “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth.” This falsehood has a very limited emotional component and most people learned this in geography. Nevertheless, repetition sowed doubt.

Related to the need to shine a spotlight on lies is the challenge presented by confirmation bias. In other words, after we form an opinion, “we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.” This is an example of fast-thinking; confirmation bias is cognitively less taxing than actively seeking out information that might challenge our beliefs.

In 2006, researchers in Colorado discovered that after being in discussion with mostly like-minded people, discussing controversial (i.e., emotional) topics, liberals became more liberal in their views and conservatives, more conservative.

The challenge is that those most inclined to believe a politician’s statements (whether liberal or conservative) are those least inclined to use a tool like FactStream. This is a systemic, long-term problem that must be addressed in K-12 with a renewed (as well as “new”) approach to civics and media literacy.

 

Efforts like FactStream are important for democracy

In 1846, five New York City newspapers banded together to communicate the news about the Mexican–American War. Publishers recognized a long time ago that news gathering is an expensive proposition with economic benefits from sharing costs.

In December 1892, the Associated Press incorporated in Illinois. With a checkered history like most monopolistic organizations, however, AP eventually landed in court. In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court found that AP had been violating the Sherman Antitrust Act (Associated Press v. United States).

Although AP members exercised undue economic hardship on rivals, the economic rationale for collaborative reporting remains true today; it may be even more true today.

News organizations, especially newspapers, did not anticipate how disruptive digital technology would be to entrenched local monopolies. Consolidation of ownership (across newspapers, radio and television) and loss of traditional advertisers (department stores have disappeared/consolidated, too) have meant newsrooms are shedding reporters and as well as photographers.

Fact-checking is one of those areas where collaboration is truly valuable, both to news organizations and society. We don’t need a dozen different organizations to point out that when someone says the blue sky is, instead, orange. Or when a politician claims he has not said “xyz” … when there is a video of said politician saying “xyz.”

In December, Duke reported that the year began with 51 active U.S. fact checkers (35 local; 16 national). As 2017 came to a close, seven of the local fact checkers had closed their doors. [See a map of fact-checking sites around the world.]

 

Democracy thrives on transparency

“Democracies die behind closed doors. The 1st Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully and accurately in deportation proceedings. When the government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.”
~ Judge Damon J. Keith, 2002

In a pre-Watergate era court case, Judge Damon J. Keith, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled “that the government couldn’t wiretap individuals without a warrant.” The case (United States v. Sinclair) would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. [Note: Keith does not write that “democracy dies in the dark” in this ruling, despite claims that he did so. It is possible that he uttered these words separate from the ruling, but they do not appear in the ruling.]

In what has become known as “the Keith case” (United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division), the Supreme Court concurred with Keith, ruling that “Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillance may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch.”

President Jimmy Carter would appoint Keith to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1977.

In 2002, Judge Keith would reprise his role as judicial brake on executive over-reach. In that three-judge unanimous opinion, Keith found that the Bush administration had unlawfully held “hundreds of deportation hearings in secret based only on the government’s assertion that the people involved may have links to terrorism.”

 
Help the students and developers at Duke shine light on democracy tonight as they channel Judge Keith’s commitment to government transparency.

 

~~~

Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.

* There is no reliable source for this claim; Wikiquote authors hypothesize that the punchy phrase is a variation of what Goebbels said about the “big lie”, a concept which originated with Adolf Hitler.

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X 

 

 

 

The post Help shape the future of fact-checking during the State of the Union address appeared first on WiredPen.

January 29 2018

00:28

The origins of Trump’s slogan, “America First”

Before plastering the slogan “America First” across his budget request documents, in his inaugural address last year Donald Trump asserted:

From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.

It was not the first time Trump had used the phrase to describe his policy positions.

I’m not isolationist, but I am “America First.” So I like the expression. I’m “America First.”

The inaugural address was “at least in part written by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, two of Trump’s senior advisers” who are infamous for their anti-immigration, nativist viewpoints. Bannon is out but Miller is most very definitely still driving policy.

 

Where did those viewpoints originate?

KKK March NY 1920s

These women marched in upstate New York in the 1920s, carrying a flag emblazoned with “America First; One God; One Country; One Flag.” The slogan sounds eerily familiar, almost 100 years later. [GettyImages has an original of this editorial image; the march was in Binghamton, NY.]

According to a 2015 NPR article, the KKK was not a shadow organization in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, membership in the KKK reached several million people — almost exclusively white, native-born, Protestant women and men.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reminds us that the Ku Klux Klan had as its genesis the Civil War. The war ended in May 1865; the KKK was formed in December 1865.

And it’s never gone away.

KKK groups from SPL

Chart from Southern Poverty Law Center shows KKK groups from 2000-2016.

 

The KKK revival in the 1920s coincided with opposition to immigration, primarily Catholics and Jews. (Hence the “One God” assertion in the flag.) Membership in 1925 was about 4 million; total US population was 116 million.

In the 1960s, the KKK returned to its Civil War roots, opposing the civil rights movement and equal opportunity for black Americans.

In this context, “America First” is not a position of trade and economics; it’s one of social class and bigotry.

 

The KKK has no monopoly on the phrase

Although the roots of “America First” clearly lie with the KKK, it’s not the only organization to trumpet nativism. Another isolationist group channeled the phrase in 1940:

The America First Committee actually began at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students in spring 1940. He and Gerald Ford, the future American president, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”

Hitler had invaded Poland the prior year.

When it formed in 1940, the America First Committee (AFC) “was the most powerful isolationist group in America.” Within a year the organization had 450 local chapters and almost 1 million members.  From The Atlantic last year:

It [AFC] was funded by the families who owned Sears-Roebuck and the Chicago Tribune, but also counted among its ranks prominent anti-Semites of the day.

In this context, “America First” was isolationist: let the rest of the world deal with its problems because they don’t affect us. This was not the first time America touted isolationist tendencies, nor would it be the last.

 

Trump’s inconsistencies

In 1999, Pat Buchanan used “America First” as his presidential campaign slogan for his bid to be the Reform Party’s presidential candidate in 2000. Buchanan has called World War II an “unnecessary war,” which is a position hard to reconcile with human rights.

Trump called Buchanan “a Hitler lover” after resigning as a member of the Republican Party; he was publicly considering a run for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination.

Yet today “America First” — and all that it symbolizes — is at the fulcrum of his presidency. The phrase now encompasses both of those prior meanings: economic isolation and bigotry.

For example, in the 1920s, the KKK supported restricting immigration to countries with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots which was codified with the Immigration Act of 1924.

When President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law, the Klan celebrated the continued protection of the “purity” of American citizenship. A white Protestant citizenry and the desire to maintain their dominance culturally and politically, then, defined 100 percent Americanism.

Sound familiar? It should:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to [immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries]. Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway.

 

As the NY Times reported this past week on the eve of the World Economic Forum:

Thirty-five new bilateral and regional trade pacts are under consideration around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. The United States is party to just one of them, with the European Union, and that negotiation has gone dormant. The United States is also threatening to withdraw from one of its existing multilateral agreements — the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada — if it cannot be renegotiated in the United States’ favor.

Trump’s own words have empowered the nation’s bigots:

This is a presidency of divisiveness, not unity; a presidency that longs for a very imperfect past rather than a future resting on social and economic justice.

 

 

 

 

The post The origins of Trump’s slogan, “America First” appeared first on WiredPen.

January 07 2018

22:22

Watergate Redux: TIME’s man of the year is Judge John Sirica

January 7, 1974

For his role in unraveling the truth about the Watergate break-in, TIME named Judge John Sirica its 1973 Man of the Year.

TIME Man of the Year The Watergate Judge

Judge John Joseph Sirica


On June 17, 1972, four men broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office building. This “third-rate burglary” was orchestrated by the White House. It would, two years later, bring down President Richard M. Nixon.

When the Watergate burglary came before the DC court, Judge Sirica assigned the case to himself. In so doing, he became “the Watergate judge.”

In October 1972, the Washington Post story “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats” placed the responsibility for the Watergate burglary at the hands of aides to President Nixon.

James McCord, one of the burglars (known as the “plumbers”), wrote a letter to Judge Sirica in March 1973. He claimed that the burglars were being pressured to plead guilty and keep quiet. Judge Sirica read the letter aloud in his courtroom.

Four months later, Alexander Butterfield revealed that Nixon secretly recorded phone conversations. Butterfield is referred to in news reports as Federal Aviation Administration chief as well as a Nixon aide.

Concurrent with Judge Sirica’s court, Congress was also investigating the Watergate break-in. So was the Department of Justice. On October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Richardson refused, choosing instead to resign. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned. Nixon persuaded next-in-succession Solicitor General Robert Bork (who President Ronald Reagan would unsuccessfully nominate to the Supreme Court) to can Cox. These events became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The Department of Justice appointed Leon Jaworski as the new special prosecutor on November 1.

Tapes confirmed Watergate link to White House

Judge Sirica would order President Nixon to give prosecutors the tape recordings of White House conversations about the Watergate break-in.

The tapes revealed that Nixon had approved plans for the Watergate coverup six days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex by men who were working for the Committee to Reelect the President.

The tapes, with their infamous missing 18 1/2 minutes, contributed to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

As the NYTimes reported in Judge Sirica’s obituary:

The two times Judge Sirica ordered Mr. Nixon to turn over his tapes, first for tapes of 9 conversations, then for tapes of 64, the United States Court of Appeals affirmed. The second time the President took the case to the United States Supreme Court, which affirmed Judge Sirica’s ruling as well, in a landmark decision that the President was subject to the orders of the High Court (emphasis added).

Judge Sirica’s suspicions proved solid: 19 officials of the Nixon administration and reelection campaign, including attorney general John Mitchell and two of Nixon’s closest aides (John D. Ehrlichman and H.R. Bob Haldeman), went to jail.* In total, 40 government officials were indicted or jailed.

Facing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, Nixon – the 37th president of the United States – resigned on August 9, 1974. It was seven months and two days after TIME’s man of the year cover.

Nixon was the first President to resign his office. Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice president, had been convicted of tax fraud in Maryland and forced to resign but his departure had nothing to do with Watergate. Congress appointed Gerald Ford as vice president in his stead.

Sirica, chief judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, was a Republican. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to the Court on February 25, 1957. In 1971, by virtue of seniority, he became chief judge. Judge Sirica died in 1992 at age 88, after retiring from the bench in 1986.

And Sirica was the son of an immigrant: his father emigrated in 1887 from a village near Naples, Italy.

Watergate preceded by 1972 burglary

Although the focus of the Nixon resignation is on Watergate, the White House plumbers had burglarized psychiatrist Lewis Fielding’s office a year earlier.

Their target? Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. The resulting exposes by the New York Times and Washington Post embarrassed the Nixon White House and its predecessors. They revealed that American’s military and presidents had known for years that Vietnam was an unwinnable war.

Responses to The Times‘s publication of the Pentagon Papers and the case that followed reflected the degree to which the nation was divided over the war. Opponents of the war, such as Representative Edward I. Koch, of New York, and Prof. Hans Morgenthau, of the University of Chicago, strongly favored publication. Supporters of the war, ranging from Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, were harsh in their criticism of The Times.

Those exposes also led to a showdown with the Supreme Court and a ruling re-enforcing the first amendment.

* These men were convicted of Watergate-related offenses

  1. Bernard L. Barker, burglar
  2. Charles Colson, special counsel to Nixon
  3. Dwight L. Chapin, deputy assistant to Nixon
  4. E. Howard Hunt, former CIA agent and consultant
  5. Egil Krogh, Jr., headed the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  6. Eugenio Martinez, burglar
  7. Frank Sturgis, burglar
  8. Frederick C. LaRue, the bagman
  9. G. Gordon Liddy, chief operative in the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  10. H.R. Bob Haldeman, White House chief of staff
  11. Herbert L. Porter, aide to the Committee to Re-elect the President
  12. Herbert W. Kalmbach, Nixon lawyer
  13. James W. McCord, Jr., former CIA employee and burglar
  14. Jeb Stuart Magruder, deputy campaign director
  15. John D. Ehrlichman, supervised the covert actions of the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  16. John Dean, White House counsel
  17. John Mitchell, Nixon campaign director and U.S. attorney general under Nixon
  18. Richard G. Kleindienst, U.S. attorney general (one month sentence suspended)
  19. Robert C. Mardian, U.S. assistant attorney general
  20. Virgilio Gonzalez, burglar

Sources: NPRNYT, New York Daily News, and Wikipedia where linked above

The post Watergate Redux: TIME’s man of the year is Judge John Sirica appeared first on WiredPen.

December 28 2017

07:34

Trump falls far short of Eisenhower’s first-year legislative record

On Wednesday, President Trump played golf in Florida at one of his golf courses.

Then he told a whopper to West Palm Beach firefighters and paramedics.

“We have signed more legislation than anybody. We have more legislation passed, including — the record was Harry Truman a long time ago, and we broke that record, so we got a lot done.”

Trump is the fifth Republican president since Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed office in 1953.

President Eisenhower is the only other modern Republican president to have both houses of Congress under his party’s control during his first year in office. Working with Congress, Ike signed more than five times as many bills as Trump did during his first year in office.

The other four Republican presidents since Eisenhower faced either a divided Congress or one in direct opposition, yet they each signed more bills into law than Trump.

But even with Congress and the White House under the control of the same party, Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan could not surpass the record of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and George H.W. Bush (41) who had to work with a Democratic Congress. Each moved more than twice as many bills into law as Trump.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (43) each worked with a divided Congress to be achieve greater legislative success than Trump.

Take a look at that chart again; data are from GovTrack and WiredPen.

bills passed first year

The four Democratic presidents since 1953 each had a unified Congress during his first year in office. All four succeeded in signing more bills into law than Trump.

Congressional action has changed since the 1950s and 1960s: bills are broader, longer and more complex. Bipartisanship has vanished, as each Congress has become more polarized.

Once again, Trump lied to America.

 

 

 

 

 

The post Trump falls far short of Eisenhower’s first-year legislative record appeared first on WiredPen.

December 04 2017

05:39

Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI

On Saturday, the @RealDonaldTrump twitter account published a tweet about Michael Flynn that shook the Twitter-verse and launched lawyers’ keyboards into warp speed:

trump tweet about flynn

As most things tweeted by Trump, the issue raised is far more complex than 140 or 280 characters can address. In this case, there’s the “obstruction of justice” story, the “he didn’t do it” story, and jarring rejection of social media best practices.

Initial reaction

Was Trump admitting obstruction of justice?

The timing is an issue: did Trump know that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he tried to convince then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn? If yes, that’s obstruction of justice.

Former federal government ethics director Walter Shaub was blunt:

Next, the too-crazy-to-be-believed explanation

After Twitter went into overdrive, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, claimed he sent the tweet.

According to Mike Allen at Axios, Dowd drafted the tweet and gave it to White House social media director Dan Scavino. We’ll get back to this in a moment.

According to Dowd, in his conversation with Allen, this is what happened:

When acting attorney general Sally Yates (later fired by Trump) went to the White House on Jan. 26, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had “given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President” about his interactions with Russians.

There’s one thing wrong with this claim: Yates told Congress, UNDER OATH, that she did not do this. From the Yates transcript before Congress:

We began our meeting [with White House counsel Don McGahn] telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.

Yates explained the importance of alerting the White House:

We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.

In other words, Yates was advising the White House that Flynn was lying to the Vice President because she did not think Pence was knowingly misleading the public.

Sen. Blumenthal pointed out that “the meeting that the FBI conducted [with Flynn] on January 24th preceded by one day, approximately, your first meeting with Donald McGahn.”

He then asked: “Isn’t it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?”

Yates replied: “I can’t reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator.”

Blumenthal followed up: “Did you tell Donald McGahn that then-National Security Adviser Flynn told the truth to the FBI?”

Yates was clear: “No, he [McGhan] asked me how he [Flynn] had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that… I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.

But Dowd is claiming the opposite: that Yates said that Flynn told the FBI “the same story” that he told the Vice President.

Moreover, Dowd is Trump’s personal lawyer. Why would he be weighing in on official White House communications?

Who do you believe, Yates or Dowd?

What else is wrong with this picture?

Setting aside the political and legal ramifications of the tweet, there are three additional things wrong with this picture.

First, Dowd indirectly claims that he drafted a tweet that was sent not by Trump but by the White House social media director.

The very name of the account, @realDonaldTrump, is at odds with such a claim. On the other hand, Trump leases his name to so many things that he may treat the Twitter account like one of “his” buildings around the world.

Second, normally accounts of politicians and celebrities carry an identifier when tweets are not composed by the named author. This is a social media best practice, and if Trump’s account is being run by anyone other than Trump, this practice should become SOP post haste, especially when tweets appear to be setting foreign policy.

Evidence suggests Scavino is responsible for publishing some of Trump’s tweets — without our knowing if he also writes them.

Wired published some “tells” in October when trying to determine if a tweet originates with Scavino or Trump.

  • If the tweet consists of nothing but words and the occasional @-mention, Donald Trump probably did the tweet. CHECK.
  • If it’s text-only and sent between 6 pm and 10 am, Donald Trump probably published the tweet. NOPE – however, this does not rule out his having dictated it. Was he playing golf on Saturday at noon?

Third, publicly-available meta-data show that the Tweet was sent by an iPhone: just like the tweets before and after it and all of Trump’s tweets since earlier in the year when he had to give up his Android phone.

If the tweet was sent by staff, not Trump, in a normal environment the tweet would be sent via a service like Hootsuite that makes it easy to compose tweets in advance and schedule the time of publishing. But this one was sent by an iPhone, which means someone other than Trump would have the password to set up the account on their own phone.

Yet another example of how the Trump Administration deliberately dissembles and obfuscates the truth.

This story is far from over.

 

 

 

The post Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI appeared first on WiredPen.

October 29 2017

23:28

Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data

When web pages are properly formatted, you can easily use Google spreadsheets to import (“scrape”) their data. Here’s how.

I wanted to rank National Cancer Institute research expenditures by cancer type; on the website, the data are presented alphabetically.

NCI data

 

How to scape data into your spreadsheet for analysis

Log in to Google Drive and pick create new spreadsheet.

In cell A1 (upper-left hand corner), paste this:

=IMPORTHTML(“https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/budget/fact-book/data/research-funding”,”table”, 1)

Wait a moment, and you should see something that looks like this:

scrape with google sheets import

 

Now that you have the data, you can make the comparisons – and charts – that interest you.

Be sure to freeze the header row before you begin sorting data:

  • Highlight the row (click on the row number, in this case, it’s 1)
  • Tap “View” and then select “Freeze”
  • I chose “2 rows” so that the total budget would remain fixed at the top

scrape data then freeze row google

 

How do you scrape data off a page that you’re interested in?

You need three things:

  • The page URL
  • The HTML container that holds the data (in this example, “table”)
  • And a number reflecting which table you want (in this example, it’s the first table)

To identify the HTML container, you can use the “inspect element” feature of your browser (Chrome, Safari*) by right-clicking the page near the title of the data. In well-formatted HTML, the container will be a table.

To identify which table (or div) contains the information I’m looking for, I copy

  • the page source HTML;
  • paste it into BBEdit;
  • then search for the HTML tag (in this case, I used <table — I don’t close the tag on search because sometimes there are CSS rules included in the tag space).

Here are additional resources:

 

How to enable “inspect element” in Safari

  1. Go to Safari > Preferences > Advanced
  2. Ensure that Show Develop menu in menu bar is enabled

    Safari Advanced Preferences

    Safari Advanced Preferences

  3. You now have a new menu tab and an advanced set of tools at your disposal.

    Safari's developer tools

    Safari’s developer tools

  4. Inspect element by right-clicking in the page

    inspect element

    Right-click to launch the inspect element dialog

  5. Move up or down the page to see the element you’re interested in.
    inspect element code

 

 

 

The post Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data appeared first on WiredPen.

September 11 2017

23:47

This date is a different anniversary for me than for most.

Sixteen years ago, Mike woke me to tell me about the towers. My mind jumped immediately to my best friend from high school, Rebecca, who worked on Wall Street.

But once we got past the initial shock, and knew she was OK, our minds shifted. To me. And the reason I was still in bed when Mike came home to tell me about the towers. On 9/12, we would drive into Seattle for my complete hysterectomy.

Life felt so crazy, however, that I called Virginia Mason to make sure my surgery would go ahead as planned. Because I had to start drinking a vile concoction to clear my bowels for abdominal surgery. And who wants to endure that torture if it’s not needed?

~~~

I had gotten sick on our summer motorcycle trip in Europe and spent 10 days in the hospital in southern France with peritonitis accompanied by an ovary the size of an orange. Infection returned as soon as we got back to the States. My DES-christened, malfunctioning, female organs had to go.

In retrospect, the surgery was a blessing. Not only did it give me focus outside of the horror show that was the east coast, I legally self-medicated with opiates (via a PCA pump) for several days. Not enough synapses working properly to concentrate to read. Not enough to watch TV. Unplugged, I was.

So that time, for me, is a blur. I hold a few distinct images, of course. But I didn’t have to watch the planes crash and the towers die, over-and-over-and-over.

~~~

The country changed that day, from one of optimism to fear. From one that mouthed “turn the other cheek” to one that fully embraced the vengeful “eye for an eye” God of the Old Testament.

Despite surgery that, in hindsight, was the first step in erasing the essence of my femininity, I allowed myself to be loved. I allowed myself to ask for help. I truly let Mike into my life, an act for which I will be forever grateful.

So today is a bittersweet anniversary. Just as I healed from those abdominal scars and lost hormones, and will heal from the mastectomy scars of last month and the chemo to come, we as a nation need to heal.

I don’t know what route that will take. We pick at the scab of 9–11 because it’s profitable to politicians (and lots of businesses) to keep the wound festering.

How do we honor those who died on 9–11 while acknowledging our catalytic actions that led to that day?

How do we honor those who have lost homes, pets, jobs, friends to Harvey and Irma, while acknowledging our catalytic inaction that exacerbated the events of August and September 2017?

How do we soberly reflect on our collective lives and then commit to change?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Change we must.

We cannot afford unlimited vengeance.

We have an obiligation to those not yet born to clean up the mess we are making of the world.

We need another charismatic socialist to remind us that we are our brother’s keeper, we should venerate forgiveness, and our lives are richer when lived with kindness and compassion than with distrust and greed.

The post This date is a different anniversary for me than for most. appeared first on WiredPen.

June 09 2017

07:16

Comey testimony: “I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting”

There are lots of highlights of the James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

But what I am interested in were the questions he didn’t answer.

 

The winner, in terms of clear questions, was former Democratic California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Silence in this case suggests wrong-doing.

  • Are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?
  • Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?
  • In the course of the FBI’s investigation, did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?
  • And are you aware of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?
  • As the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case that had Russia interference?

The winner in terms of creating soundbites for conservative media was Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

  • Do you believe Trump colluded with Russia?
  • Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?
  • Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?

 

Other questions that stand alone:

  • Heinrich (D-NM): Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia’s actions in our election?
  • King (D-ME):
    • Does that mean that the [president’s] dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?
    • Is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
    • Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?
    • What do you know about the Russian bank, VEB?
  • McCain (R-AZ): Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?

 

And the long-winded ones:

  • Burr (R-NC): Multiple questions about the January Christopher Steele story
  • Cotton (R-AR), Heinrich (D-NM), and Riech (R-ID): Questions about the 14 February NY Times story regarding intercepted communications
  • Cotton (R-AR): Flynn’s pre-auguration conversations with Russia
  • Wyden (D-OR): Questions about AG Sessions (D)

 

Transcript excerpts

And here they are, from the NY Times (I subscribe) transcript. Also included: “I can’t answer.” Remember, Comey is speaking under oath.

 

Richard Burr (R-NC), Chair

BURR: At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?

COMEY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation…

The “Steele document” is the expose from former MI6 spy Christopher Steele that suggested Donald Trump might be susceptible to Russian blackmail. It hit the press in January prior to the inauguration.

COMEY: Yes. If the FBI receives a credible allegation that there is some effort to co-opt, coerce, direct, employ covertly an American on behalf of the foreign power, that’s the basis on which a counterintelligence investigation is opened.

BURR: And when you read the dossier, what was your reaction, given that it was 100 percent directed at the president-elect?

COMEY: Not a question I can answer in an open setting, Mr. Chairman.

Comey’s second refusal was also related to the Steele expose.

James Risch (R-ID)

RISCH: On — I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. You remember reading that article when it first came out?

COMEY: I do. It was about allegedly extensive electronic surveillance…

RISCH: Correct.

(CROSSTALK)

COMEY: … communications. Yes, sir.

RISCH: And — and that upset you to the point where you actually went out and surveyed the intelligence community to see whether — whether you were missing something in that. Is that correct?

COMEY: That’s correct. I want to be careful in open setting. But…

RISCH: I — I’m — I’m not going to any further than that with it.

COMEY: OK.

On 14 February, the New York Times published this story: Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence. It credited “four current and former American officials.”

Also on 14 February (coincidence?), Trump invited Comey to dinner.

This was Comey’s third refusal to answer or continue answering.

Ron Wyden (D-OR)

WYDEN: Let me turn to the Attorney General. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself.

What was it about the Attorney General’s own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?

COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

And so we were — we were convinced — and, in fact, I think we had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself — that he was not going to be in contact with Russia- related matters much longer, and that turned out to be the case.

WYDEN: How would you characterize Attorney General Sessions’s adherence to his recusal? In particular, with regard to his involvement in your firing, which the president has acknowledged was because of the Russian investigation.

COMEY: That’s a question I can’t answer. I think it is a reasonable question. If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know. So I don’t have an answer for the question.

AG Sessions was part of the Trump campaign apparatus.

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

HEINRICH: Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia’s actions in our election?

COMEY: I can’t answer that because I don’t know what other conversations he had with other advisers or other intelligence community leaders. I just don’t know sitting here…

HEINRICH: So there are reports that the incoming Trump administration, either during the transition and/or after the inauguration, attempted to set up a sort of back-door communication channel with the Russian government using their infrastructure, their devices or facilities.

What would be the risks particularly for a transition, someone not actually in the office of the president yet, to setting up unauthorized channels with a hostile foreign government, especially if they were to evade our own American intelligence services?

COMEY: I’m not going to comment on whether that happened in an open setting. But the risk is — primary risk is obvious: you spare the Russians the cost and effort of having to break into our communications channels by using theirs.

And so you make it a whole lot easier for them to capture all of your conversations, and then to use those to the benefit of Russia against the United States.

The claim Heinrich references relates to the alleged request for a secret communications channel that Jared Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn made to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Trump Tower.

Angus King (D-ME)

KING: Thank you.

With regard to the question of him being under personal — personally under investigation, does that mean that the dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?

COMEY: I obviously can’t — I can’t comment either way. I can’t talk in an open setting about the investigation as it was when I was the head of the FBI. And obviously it’s — it’s Director Mueller’s — Bob Mueller’s responsibility now, so I just — I don’t know.

Republicans asked several times if Comey had told Trump that he was not personally under investigation.

KING: Now, on the Flynn investigation, is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

COMEY: I can’t answer that in an open setting, sir.

KING: Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

King is unable to score points for liberal pundits.

KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.

Several other questions, and these are a little bit more detailed. What do you know about the Russian bank, VEB?

COMEY: Nothing that I can talk about in an open setting. I mean, I know it…

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Well, that takes care of my next three questions.

COMEY: I know it exists. Yes, sir.

Tom Cotton (R-AR)

COTTON: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that — we didn’t — that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that’s a question that’ll be answered by the investigation, I think.

Blunt and to the point; Cotton is asking Comey if he’s willing to conjecture, knowing that the answer will be “no.” Provides good headlines/talking points for conservative media.

COTTON: Let me turn to a couple of statements by one of my colleagues, Senator Feinstein [regarding collusion between Trump associates and Russia]…

COMEY: I don’t doubt that Senator Feinstein was saying what — what she understood. I just don’t want to go down that path, first of all, because I’m not in the government anymore, and answering in the negative, I just worry, leads me deeper and deeper into talking about the investigation in an open setting…

COTTON: Do you have — at the time the story [referenced above, NYT on 14 February] was published, any indication of any contact between Trump people and Russians, intelligence officers, other government officials or close associates of the Russian government?

COMEY: That’s one I can’t answer sitting here

COTTON: Would it be improper for an incoming national security adviser to have a conversation with a foreign ambassador?

COMEY: In my — in my experience, no.

COTTON: But you can’t confirm or deny that the conversation happened, and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it was, in fact, improper?

COMEY: Yeah, I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting. And again, I’ve been out of government, now, a month, so I don’t — I also don’t want to talk about things when it’s now somebody’s — else’s responsibility. But maybe in the — in the classified setting, we can talk more about that.

Cotton’s questions are focusing on pre-augural allegations. Very strategic for headlines.

COTTON: You stated earlier that there wasn’t an open investigation of Mr. Flynn in (ph) the FBI. Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?

COMEY: I don’t want to go too far. That was the subject of the criminal inquiry.

COTTON: Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?

COMEY: I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting, either.

Kamala Harris (D-CA)

HARRIS: I have a series of questions to ask you, and — and they’re going to start with, are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?

COMEY: That’s not a — even if I remember clearly, that’s a not a question I can answer in an open setting.

HARRIS: Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

HARRIS: In the course of the FBI’s investigation did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?

COMEY: I think I’ve got to give you the same answer because it would touch on investigative matters.

HARRIS: And are you a wear of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer…

HARRIS: And the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case that had Russia interference?

COMEY: It’s something that I can’t answer sitting here. It’s a reasonable question. It would depend on a lot of things I don’t know, like did he know, what was he told, did he realize the investigation, things like that. I just don’t know the answer.

John McCain (R-AZ), ex officio member

McCAIN: Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?

COMEY: That’s not a question I can answer, senator.

 

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June 08 2017

03:50

How to watch Comey’s Senate Intelligence Committee testimony

Former FBI Director James B. Comey will testify publicly on Thursday June 8 before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The hearing begins at 10 am Eastern (7 a.m. Pacific) at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. After the public hearing, Comey will testify in a non-television closed session starting around 1 pm Eastern. ABC, CBS and NBC as well as FOX will broadcast live, an unusual move for network television.

President Trump fired Comey on May 8. His testimony is widely anticipated. Read his opening statement (pdf); pre-release gives the White House a chance to prepare a response.

Bloomberg is livestreaming on Twitter:

Watch via your favorite online channel

Specifics on the network coverage:

  • ABC News is being anchored by George Stephanopoulos.
  • CBS This Morning co-hosts Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King and Charlie Rose are anchoring the CBS coverage. They will be joined by “Face the Nation” anchor and chief Washington correspondent John Dickerson and chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford.
  • CNN is streaming live and broadcasting.
  • FOX News plans pre-hearing coverage with Bill Hemmer and Shannon Bream; they will be joined by Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and Dana Perino.
  • NBC News chief legal correspondent Savannah Guthrie is anchoring from Washington, D.C.  with Lester Holt, Guthrie and Chuck Todd co-anchoring the NBC coverage from Washington, D.C. Matt Lauer is anchoring from New York.

 

 

Reactions to the pre-released statement and hearing

 

Specific call-outs from Lawfare

From Benjamin Wittes, who has written previously about Comey’s comments on Trump’s behavior

The first broad theme I want to highlight here is the effort on the part of the President to engage his FBI director in a relationship of patronage and the overwhelming discomfort this effort caused Comey. This is a theme I wrote about based on my own contemporaneous conversations with Comey, but to see it fleshed out across a number of different incidents is nevertheless jarring.

And Jack Goldsmith:

Trump does not remotely understand his role, status, and duties as President and Chief Executive, and this failure infects or undermines just about everything he does.   It is an amazing state of affairs: A President of the United States who does not at all grasp the Office he occupies, and who thus entirely lacks the proper situation sense, or contextual knowledge, in which a President should exercise judgment or act.  Let that sink in, and then imagine all of the decisions a President must make, all that he is responsible for.  This reflection is the main reason why I have come to believe that the President does not deserve a presumption of regularity in his actions—not just by courts with respect to the immigration executive orders, but by the public more generally with respect to “everything the Executive does that touches, however lightly, the President.”

Featured image/Flickr CC

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January 30 2018

21:03

Help shape the future of fact-checking during the State of the Union address

On January 9, 2018, less than year after being sworn in as president of the United States, Donald Trump told his 2,000th lie.

When we started this project, originally aimed at the president’s first 100 days, he averaged 4.9 claims a day… There are now nearly 70 claims that he has repeated three or more times. Indeed, he crossed the 2,000 threshold during his one-hour discussion on Jan. 9 with lawmakers about immigration…

What if you could see a real-time assessment of a politician’s speech?

That’s the premise behind FactStream, a second-screen app for fact-checking political events in real time. As PolitiFact founder Bill Adair noted last year:

Politicians don’t stop lying on Election Day.

Adair now runs the Duke Reporters’ Lab and Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy. FactStream is product of the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Although FactStream currently relies on a bevy of human fact-checkers, the project goal is automated detection using AI to match claims against published fact-checks.

The team is looking for beta-testers for the State of the Union address. (Here’s what could go wrong)

 

How does it work?

The FactStream application provides a schedule of upcoming political events slated for live fact-checks. (The State of the Union is the only scheduled event at this time.)

Interested in an event? Let FactStream send you a reminder.

reminder set

FactStream can remind you of an upcoming event, if you allow notifications.

FactStream event pane

FactStream event pane currently has only one event.

 

Mockup of FactStream

This mockup screen illustrates how a fact-check might appear on your screen.

During an event, FactStream will launch a pop-up to alert users of either previously published fact-checks or real-time analyses of claims.

Want to know more? Then tap the pop-up to read a fact-check, share the fact-check or opt-in to receive additional context about Trump’s statements.

 


The app makes it easy to share to your favorite digital network:

FactStream Share to Facebook

Share to Facebook

FactStream Share to Twitter

Share to Twitter

Beta testers wanted

The Duke Reporters’ Lab has partnered with FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and the Washington Post to provide real-time fact-checking of President Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30.

The team needs beta testers who use either an iPhone or an iPad.

(1) Download FactStream from the App Store. Be sure to enable notifications if you want the app to remind you of tonight’s speech!

(2) During President Trump’s speech (Jan. 30 at 9 p.m. ET), test the app’s various screens and share some fact-checks.

(3) After the speech is over, send feedback through this Google Form.

 

It’s important to call out lies

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”*, is a law of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Among psychologists something like this known as the “illusion of truth” effect.

In 2016, the BBC explored the power of repeated falsehoods (aka “lies”). Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that prior knowledge doesn’t prevent repetition from swaying our judgements on non-emotionally charged statements such as “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth.” This falsehood has a very limited emotional component and most people learned this in geography. Nevertheless, repetition sowed doubt.

Related to the need to shine a spotlight on lies is the challenge presented by confirmation bias. In other words, after we form an opinion, “we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.” This is an example of fast-thinking; confirmation bias is cognitively less taxing than actively seeking out information that might challenge our beliefs.

In 2006, researchers in Colorado discovered that after being in discussion with mostly like-minded people, discussing controversial (i.e., emotional) topics, liberals became more liberal in their views and conservatives, more conservative.

The challenge is that those most inclined to believe a politician’s statements (whether liberal or conservative) are those least inclined to use a tool like FactStream. This is a systemic, long-term problem that must be addressed in K-12 with a renewed (as well as “new”) approach to civics and media literacy.

 

Efforts like FactStream are important for democracy

In 1846, five New York City newspapers banded together to communicate the news about the Mexican–American War. Publishers recognized a long time ago that news gathering is an expensive proposition with economic benefits from sharing costs.

In December 1892, the Associated Press incorporated in Illinois. With a checkered history like most monopolistic organizations, however, AP eventually landed in court. In 1945, the U.S. Supreme Court found that AP had been violating the Sherman Antitrust Act (Associated Press v. United States).

Although AP members exercised undue economic hardship on rivals, the economic rationale for collaborative reporting remains true today; it may be even more true today.

News organizations, especially newspapers, did not anticipate how disruptive digital technology would be to entrenched local monopolies. Consolidation of ownership (across newspapers, radio and television) and loss of traditional advertisers (department stores have disappeared/consolidated, too) have meant newsrooms are shedding reporters and as well as photographers.

Fact-checking is one of those areas where collaboration is truly valuable, both to news organizations and society. We don’t need a dozen different organizations to point out that when someone says the blue sky is, instead, orange. Or when a politician claims he has not said “xyz” … when there is a video of said politician saying “xyz.”

In December, Duke reported that the year began with 51 active U.S. fact checkers (35 local; 16 national). As 2017 came to a close, seven of the local fact checkers had closed their doors. [See a map of fact-checking sites around the world.]

 

Democracy thrives on transparency

“Democracies die behind closed doors. The 1st Amendment, through a free press, protects the people’s right to know that their government acts fairly, lawfully and accurately in deportation proceedings. When the government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.”
~ Judge Damon J. Keith, 2002

In a pre-Watergate era court case, Judge Damon J. Keith, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, ruled “that the government couldn’t wiretap individuals without a warrant.” The case (United States v. Sinclair) would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. [Note: Keith does not write that “democracy dies in the dark” in this ruling, despite claims that he did so. It is possible that he uttered these words separate from the ruling, but they do not appear in the ruling.]

In what has become known as “the Keith case” (United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division), the Supreme Court concurred with Keith, ruling that “Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillance may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch.”

President Jimmy Carter would appoint Keith to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1977.

In 2002, Judge Keith would reprise his role as judicial brake on executive over-reach. In that three-judge unanimous opinion, Keith found that the Bush administration had unlawfully held “hundreds of deportation hearings in secret based only on the government’s assertion that the people involved may have links to terrorism.”

 
Help the students and developers at Duke shine light on democracy tonight as they channel Judge Keith’s commitment to government transparency.

 

~~~

Cross-posted at The Moderate Voice.

* There is no reliable source for this claim; Wikiquote authors hypothesize that the punchy phrase is a variation of what Goebbels said about the “big lie”, a concept which originated with Adolf Hitler.

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X 

 

 

 

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January 29 2018

00:28

The origins of Trump’s slogan, “America First”

Before plastering the slogan “America First” across his budget request documents, in his inaugural address last year Donald Trump asserted:

From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.

It was not the first time Trump had used the phrase to describe his policy positions.

I’m not isolationist, but I am “America First.” So I like the expression. I’m “America First.”

The inaugural address was “at least in part written by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, two of Trump’s senior advisers” who are infamous for their anti-immigration, nativist viewpoints. Bannon is out but Miller is most very definitely still driving policy.

 

Where did those viewpoints originate?

KKK March NY 1920s

These women marched in upstate New York in the 1920s, carrying a flag emblazoned with “America First; One God; One Country; One Flag.” The slogan sounds eerily familiar, almost 100 years later. [GettyImages has an original of this editorial image; the march was in Binghamton, NY.]

According to a 2015 NPR article, the KKK was not a shadow organization in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, membership in the KKK reached several million people — almost exclusively white, native-born, Protestant women and men.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reminds us that the Ku Klux Klan had as its genesis the Civil War. The war ended in May 1865; the KKK was formed in December 1865.

And it’s never gone away.

KKK groups from SPL

Chart from Southern Poverty Law Center shows KKK groups from 2000-2016.

 

The KKK revival in the 1920s coincided with opposition to immigration, primarily Catholics and Jews. (Hence the “One God” assertion in the flag.) Membership in 1925 was about 4 million; total US population was 116 million.

In the 1960s, the KKK returned to its Civil War roots, opposing the civil rights movement and equal opportunity for black Americans.

In this context, “America First” is not a position of trade and economics; it’s one of social class and bigotry.

 

The KKK has no monopoly on the phrase

Although the roots of “America First” clearly lie with the KKK, it’s not the only organization to trumpet nativism. Another isolationist group channeled the phrase in 1940:

The America First Committee actually began at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students in spring 1940. He and Gerald Ford, the future American president, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”

Hitler had invaded Poland the prior year.

When it formed in 1940, the America First Committee (AFC) “was the most powerful isolationist group in America.” Within a year the organization had 450 local chapters and almost 1 million members.  From The Atlantic last year:

It [AFC] was funded by the families who owned Sears-Roebuck and the Chicago Tribune, but also counted among its ranks prominent anti-Semites of the day.

In this context, “America First” was isolationist: let the rest of the world deal with its problems because they don’t affect us. This was not the first time America touted isolationist tendencies, nor would it be the last.

 

Trump’s inconsistencies

In 1999, Pat Buchanan used “America First” as his presidential campaign slogan for his bid to be the Reform Party’s presidential candidate in 2000. Buchanan has called World War II an “unnecessary war,” which is a position hard to reconcile with human rights.

Trump called Buchanan “a Hitler lover” after resigning as a member of the Republican Party; he was publicly considering a run for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination.

Yet today “America First” — and all that it symbolizes — is at the fulcrum of his presidency. The phrase now encompasses both of those prior meanings: economic isolation and bigotry.

For example, in the 1920s, the KKK supported restricting immigration to countries with Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian roots which was codified with the Immigration Act of 1924.

When President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law, the Klan celebrated the continued protection of the “purity” of American citizenship. A white Protestant citizenry and the desire to maintain their dominance culturally and politically, then, defined 100 percent Americanism.

Sound familiar? It should:

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to [immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries]. Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway.

 

As the NY Times reported this past week on the eve of the World Economic Forum:

Thirty-five new bilateral and regional trade pacts are under consideration around the world, according to the World Trade Organization. The United States is party to just one of them, with the European Union, and that negotiation has gone dormant. The United States is also threatening to withdraw from one of its existing multilateral agreements — the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada — if it cannot be renegotiated in the United States’ favor.

Trump’s own words have empowered the nation’s bigots:

This is a presidency of divisiveness, not unity; a presidency that longs for a very imperfect past rather than a future resting on social and economic justice.

 

 

 

 

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January 07 2018

22:22

Watergate Redux: TIME’s man of the year is Judge John Sirica

January 7, 1974

For his role in unraveling the truth about the Watergate break-in, TIME named Judge John Sirica its 1973 Man of the Year.

TIME Man of the Year The Watergate Judge

Judge John Joseph Sirica


On June 17, 1972, four men broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office building. This “third-rate burglary” was orchestrated by the White House. It would, two years later, bring down President Richard M. Nixon.

When the Watergate burglary came before the DC court, Judge Sirica assigned the case to himself. In so doing, he became “the Watergate judge.”

In October 1972, the Washington Post story “FBI Finds Nixon Aides Sabotaged Democrats” placed the responsibility for the Watergate burglary at the hands of aides to President Nixon.

James McCord, one of the burglars (known as the “plumbers”), wrote a letter to Judge Sirica in March 1973. He claimed that the burglars were being pressured to plead guilty and keep quiet. Judge Sirica read the letter aloud in his courtroom.

Four months later, Alexander Butterfield revealed that Nixon secretly recorded phone conversations. Butterfield is referred to in news reports as Federal Aviation Administration chief as well as a Nixon aide.

Concurrent with Judge Sirica’s court, Congress was also investigating the Watergate break-in. So was the Department of Justice. On October 20, 1973, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Richardson refused, choosing instead to resign. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned. Nixon persuaded next-in-succession Solicitor General Robert Bork (who President Ronald Reagan would unsuccessfully nominate to the Supreme Court) to can Cox. These events became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The Department of Justice appointed Leon Jaworski as the new special prosecutor on November 1.

Tapes confirmed Watergate link to White House

Judge Sirica would order President Nixon to give prosecutors the tape recordings of White House conversations about the Watergate break-in.

The tapes revealed that Nixon had approved plans for the Watergate coverup six days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate complex by men who were working for the Committee to Reelect the President.

The tapes, with their infamous missing 18 1/2 minutes, contributed to Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

As the NYTimes reported in Judge Sirica’s obituary:

The two times Judge Sirica ordered Mr. Nixon to turn over his tapes, first for tapes of 9 conversations, then for tapes of 64, the United States Court of Appeals affirmed. The second time the President took the case to the United States Supreme Court, which affirmed Judge Sirica’s ruling as well, in a landmark decision that the President was subject to the orders of the High Court (emphasis added).

Judge Sirica’s suspicions proved solid: 19 officials of the Nixon administration and reelection campaign, including attorney general John Mitchell and two of Nixon’s closest aides (John D. Ehrlichman and H.R. Bob Haldeman), went to jail.* In total, 40 government officials were indicted or jailed.

Facing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, Nixon – the 37th president of the United States – resigned on August 9, 1974. It was seven months and two days after TIME’s man of the year cover.

Nixon was the first President to resign his office. Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s vice president, had been convicted of tax fraud in Maryland and forced to resign but his departure had nothing to do with Watergate. Congress appointed Gerald Ford as vice president in his stead.

Sirica, chief judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, was a Republican. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him to the Court on February 25, 1957. In 1971, by virtue of seniority, he became chief judge. Judge Sirica died in 1992 at age 88, after retiring from the bench in 1986.

And Sirica was the son of an immigrant: his father emigrated in 1887 from a village near Naples, Italy.

Watergate preceded by 1972 burglary

Although the focus of the Nixon resignation is on Watergate, the White House plumbers had burglarized psychiatrist Lewis Fielding’s office a year earlier.

Their target? Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. The resulting exposes by the New York Times and Washington Post embarrassed the Nixon White House and its predecessors. They revealed that American’s military and presidents had known for years that Vietnam was an unwinnable war.

Responses to The Times‘s publication of the Pentagon Papers and the case that followed reflected the degree to which the nation was divided over the war. Opponents of the war, such as Representative Edward I. Koch, of New York, and Prof. Hans Morgenthau, of the University of Chicago, strongly favored publication. Supporters of the war, ranging from Ronald Reagan to Jimmy Carter, were harsh in their criticism of The Times.

Those exposes also led to a showdown with the Supreme Court and a ruling re-enforcing the first amendment.

* These men were convicted of Watergate-related offenses

  1. Bernard L. Barker, burglar
  2. Charles Colson, special counsel to Nixon
  3. Dwight L. Chapin, deputy assistant to Nixon
  4. E. Howard Hunt, former CIA agent and consultant
  5. Egil Krogh, Jr., headed the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  6. Eugenio Martinez, burglar
  7. Frank Sturgis, burglar
  8. Frederick C. LaRue, the bagman
  9. G. Gordon Liddy, chief operative in the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  10. H.R. Bob Haldeman, White House chief of staff
  11. Herbert L. Porter, aide to the Committee to Re-elect the President
  12. Herbert W. Kalmbach, Nixon lawyer
  13. James W. McCord, Jr., former CIA employee and burglar
  14. Jeb Stuart Magruder, deputy campaign director
  15. John D. Ehrlichman, supervised the covert actions of the White House Special Investigations Unit known as “the Plumbers”
  16. John Dean, White House counsel
  17. John Mitchell, Nixon campaign director and U.S. attorney general under Nixon
  18. Richard G. Kleindienst, U.S. attorney general (one month sentence suspended)
  19. Robert C. Mardian, U.S. assistant attorney general
  20. Virgilio Gonzalez, burglar

Sources: NPRNYT, New York Daily News, and Wikipedia where linked above

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December 28 2017

07:34

Trump falls far short of Eisenhower’s first-year legislative record

On Wednesday, President Trump played golf in Florida at one of his golf courses.

Then he told a whopper to West Palm Beach firefighters and paramedics.

“We have signed more legislation than anybody. We have more legislation passed, including — the record was Harry Truman a long time ago, and we broke that record, so we got a lot done.”

Trump is the fifth Republican president since Dwight D. Eisenhower assumed office in 1953.

President Eisenhower is the only other modern Republican president to have both houses of Congress under his party’s control during his first year in office. Working with Congress, Ike signed more than five times as many bills as Trump did during his first year in office.

The other four Republican presidents since Eisenhower faced either a divided Congress or one in direct opposition, yet they each signed more bills into law than Trump.

But even with Congress and the White House under the control of the same party, Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan could not surpass the record of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and George H.W. Bush (41) who had to work with a Democratic Congress. Each moved more than twice as many bills into law as Trump.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush (43) each worked with a divided Congress to be achieve greater legislative success than Trump.

Take a look at that chart again; data are from GovTrack and WiredPen.

bills passed first year

The four Democratic presidents since 1953 each had a unified Congress during his first year in office. All four succeeded in signing more bills into law than Trump.

Congressional action has changed since the 1950s and 1960s: bills are broader, longer and more complex. Bipartisanship has vanished, as each Congress has become more polarized.

Once again, Trump lied to America.

 

 

 

 

 

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December 04 2017

05:39

Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI

On Saturday, the @RealDonaldTrump twitter account published a tweet about Michael Flynn that shook the Twitter-verse and launched lawyers’ keyboards into warp speed:

trump tweet about flynn

As most things tweeted by Trump, the issue raised is far more complex than 140 or 280 characters can address. In this case, there’s the “obstruction of justice” story, the “he didn’t do it” story, and jarring rejection of social media best practices.

Initial reaction

Was Trump admitting obstruction of justice?

The timing is an issue: did Trump know that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he tried to convince then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn? If yes, that’s obstruction of justice.

Former federal government ethics director Walter Shaub was blunt:

Next, the too-crazy-to-be-believed explanation

After Twitter went into overdrive, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, claimed he sent the tweet.

According to Mike Allen at Axios, Dowd drafted the tweet and gave it to White House social media director Dan Scavino. We’ll get back to this in a moment.

According to Dowd, in his conversation with Allen, this is what happened:

When acting attorney general Sally Yates (later fired by Trump) went to the White House on Jan. 26, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had “given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President” about his interactions with Russians.

There’s one thing wrong with this claim: Yates told Congress, UNDER OATH, that she did not do this. From the Yates transcript before Congress:

We began our meeting [with White House counsel Don McGahn] telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.

Yates explained the importance of alerting the White House:

We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.

In other words, Yates was advising the White House that Flynn was lying to the Vice President because she did not think Pence was knowingly misleading the public.

Sen. Blumenthal pointed out that “the meeting that the FBI conducted [with Flynn] on January 24th preceded by one day, approximately, your first meeting with Donald McGahn.”

He then asked: “Isn’t it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?”

Yates replied: “I can’t reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator.”

Blumenthal followed up: “Did you tell Donald McGahn that then-National Security Adviser Flynn told the truth to the FBI?”

Yates was clear: “No, he [McGhan] asked me how he [Flynn] had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that… I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.

But Dowd is claiming the opposite: that Yates said that Flynn told the FBI “the same story” that he told the Vice President.

Moreover, Dowd is Trump’s personal lawyer. Why would he be weighing in on official White House communications?

Who do you believe, Yates or Dowd?

What else is wrong with this picture?

Setting aside the political and legal ramifications of the tweet, there are three additional things wrong with this picture.

First, Dowd indirectly claims that he drafted a tweet that was sent not by Trump but by the White House social media director.

The very name of the account, @realDonaldTrump, is at odds with such a claim. On the other hand, Trump leases his name to so many things that he may treat the Twitter account like one of “his” buildings around the world.

Second, normally accounts of politicians and celebrities carry an identifier when tweets are not composed by the named author. This is a social media best practice, and if Trump’s account is being run by anyone other than Trump, this practice should become SOP post haste, especially when tweets appear to be setting foreign policy.

Evidence suggests Scavino is responsible for publishing some of Trump’s tweets — without our knowing if he also writes them.

Wired published some “tells” in October when trying to determine if a tweet originates with Scavino or Trump.

  • If the tweet consists of nothing but words and the occasional @-mention, Donald Trump probably did the tweet. CHECK.
  • If it’s text-only and sent between 6 pm and 10 am, Donald Trump probably published the tweet. NOPE – however, this does not rule out his having dictated it. Was he playing golf on Saturday at noon?

Third, publicly-available meta-data show that the Tweet was sent by an iPhone: just like the tweets before and after it and all of Trump’s tweets since earlier in the year when he had to give up his Android phone.

If the tweet was sent by staff, not Trump, in a normal environment the tweet would be sent via a service like Hootsuite that makes it easy to compose tweets in advance and schedule the time of publishing. But this one was sent by an iPhone, which means someone other than Trump would have the password to set up the account on their own phone.

Yet another example of how the Trump Administration deliberately dissembles and obfuscates the truth.

This story is far from over.

 

 

 

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October 29 2017

23:28

Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data

When web pages are properly formatted, you can easily use Google spreadsheets to import (“scrape”) their data. Here’s how.

I wanted to rank National Cancer Institute research expenditures by cancer type; on the website, the data are presented alphabetically.

NCI data

 

How to scape data into your spreadsheet for analysis

Log in to Google Drive and pick create new spreadsheet.

In cell A1 (upper-left hand corner), paste this:

=IMPORTHTML(“https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/budget/fact-book/data/research-funding”,”table”, 1)

Wait a moment, and you should see something that looks like this:

scrape with google sheets import

 

Now that you have the data, you can make the comparisons – and charts – that interest you.

Be sure to freeze the header row before you begin sorting data:

  • Highlight the row (click on the row number, in this case, it’s 1)
  • Tap “View” and then select “Freeze”
  • I chose “2 rows” so that the total budget would remain fixed at the top

scrape data then freeze row google

 

How do you scrape data off a page that you’re interested in?

You need three things:

  • The page URL
  • The HTML container that holds the data (in this example, “table”)
  • And a number reflecting which table you want (in this example, it’s the first table)

To identify the HTML container, you can use the “inspect element” feature of your browser (Chrome, Safari*) by right-clicking the page near the title of the data. In well-formatted HTML, the container will be a table.

To identify which table (or div) contains the information I’m looking for, I copy

  • the page source HTML;
  • paste it into BBEdit;
  • then search for the HTML tag (in this case, I used <table — I don’t close the tag on search because sometimes there are CSS rules included in the tag space).

Here are additional resources:

 

How to enable “inspect element” in Safari

  1. Go to Safari > Preferences > Advanced
  2. Ensure that Show Develop menu in menu bar is enabled

    Safari Advanced Preferences

    Safari Advanced Preferences

  3. You now have a new menu tab and an advanced set of tools at your disposal.

    Safari's developer tools

    Safari’s developer tools

  4. Inspect element by right-clicking in the page

    inspect element

    Right-click to launch the inspect element dialog

  5. Move up or down the page to see the element you’re interested in.
    inspect element code

 

 

 

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September 11 2017

23:47

This date is a different anniversary for me than for most.

Sixteen years ago, Mike woke me to tell me about the towers. My mind jumped immediately to my best friend from high school, Rebecca, who worked on Wall Street.

But once we got past the initial shock, and knew she was OK, our minds shifted. To me. And the reason I was still in bed when Mike came home to tell me about the towers. On 9/12, we would drive into Seattle for my complete hysterectomy.

Life felt so crazy, however, that I called Virginia Mason to make sure my surgery would go ahead as planned. Because I had to start drinking a vile concoction to clear my bowels for abdominal surgery. And who wants to endure that torture if it’s not needed?

~~~

I had gotten sick on our summer motorcycle trip in Europe and spent 10 days in the hospital in southern France with peritonitis accompanied by an ovary the size of an orange. Infection returned as soon as we got back to the States. My DES-christened, malfunctioning, female organs had to go.

In retrospect, the surgery was a blessing. Not only did it give me focus outside of the horror show that was the east coast, I legally self-medicated with opiates (via a PCA pump) for several days. Not enough synapses working properly to concentrate to read. Not enough to watch TV. Unplugged, I was.

So that time, for me, is a blur. I hold a few distinct images, of course. But I didn’t have to watch the planes crash and the towers die, over-and-over-and-over.

~~~

The country changed that day, from one of optimism to fear. From one that mouthed “turn the other cheek” to one that fully embraced the vengeful “eye for an eye” God of the Old Testament.

Despite surgery that, in hindsight, was the first step in erasing the essence of my femininity, I allowed myself to be loved. I allowed myself to ask for help. I truly let Mike into my life, an act for which I will be forever grateful.

So today is a bittersweet anniversary. Just as I healed from those abdominal scars and lost hormones, and will heal from the mastectomy scars of last month and the chemo to come, we as a nation need to heal.

I don’t know what route that will take. We pick at the scab of 9–11 because it’s profitable to politicians (and lots of businesses) to keep the wound festering.

How do we honor those who died on 9–11 while acknowledging our catalytic actions that led to that day?

How do we honor those who have lost homes, pets, jobs, friends to Harvey and Irma, while acknowledging our catalytic inaction that exacerbated the events of August and September 2017?

How do we soberly reflect on our collective lives and then commit to change?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Change we must.

We cannot afford unlimited vengeance.

We have an obiligation to those not yet born to clean up the mess we are making of the world.

We need another charismatic socialist to remind us that we are our brother’s keeper, we should venerate forgiveness, and our lives are richer when lived with kindness and compassion than with distrust and greed.

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June 09 2017

07:16

Comey testimony: “I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting”

There are lots of highlights of the James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

But what I am interested in were the questions he didn’t answer.

 

The winner, in terms of clear questions, was former Democratic California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Silence in this case suggests wrong-doing.

  • Are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?
  • Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?
  • In the course of the FBI’s investigation, did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?
  • And are you aware of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?
  • As the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case that had Russia interference?

The winner in terms of creating soundbites for conservative media was Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

  • Do you believe Trump colluded with Russia?
  • Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?
  • Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?

 

Other questions that stand alone:

  • Heinrich (D-NM): Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia’s actions in our election?
  • King (D-ME):
    • Does that mean that the [president’s] dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?
    • Is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
    • Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?
    • What do you know about the Russian bank, VEB?
  • McCain (R-AZ): Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?

 

And the long-winded ones:

  • Burr (R-NC): Multiple questions about the January Christopher Steele story
  • Cotton (R-AR), Heinrich (D-NM), and Riech (R-ID): Questions about the 14 February NY Times story regarding intercepted communications
  • Cotton (R-AR): Flynn’s pre-auguration conversations with Russia
  • Wyden (D-OR): Questions about AG Sessions (D)

 

Transcript excerpts

And here they are, from the NY Times (I subscribe) transcript. Also included: “I can’t answer.” Remember, Comey is speaking under oath.

 

Richard Burr (R-NC), Chair

BURR: At the time of your departure from the FBI, was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?

COMEY: Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer in an open setting because it goes into the details of the investigation…

The “Steele document” is the expose from former MI6 spy Christopher Steele that suggested Donald Trump might be susceptible to Russian blackmail. It hit the press in January prior to the inauguration.

COMEY: Yes. If the FBI receives a credible allegation that there is some effort to co-opt, coerce, direct, employ covertly an American on behalf of the foreign power, that’s the basis on which a counterintelligence investigation is opened.

BURR: And when you read the dossier, what was your reaction, given that it was 100 percent directed at the president-elect?

COMEY: Not a question I can answer in an open setting, Mr. Chairman.

Comey’s second refusal was also related to the Steele expose.

James Risch (R-ID)

RISCH: On — I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. You remember reading that article when it first came out?

COMEY: I do. It was about allegedly extensive electronic surveillance…

RISCH: Correct.

(CROSSTALK)

COMEY: … communications. Yes, sir.

RISCH: And — and that upset you to the point where you actually went out and surveyed the intelligence community to see whether — whether you were missing something in that. Is that correct?

COMEY: That’s correct. I want to be careful in open setting. But…

RISCH: I — I’m — I’m not going to any further than that with it.

COMEY: OK.

On 14 February, the New York Times published this story: Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence. It credited “four current and former American officials.”

Also on 14 February (coincidence?), Trump invited Comey to dinner.

This was Comey’s third refusal to answer or continue answering.

Ron Wyden (D-OR)

WYDEN: Let me turn to the Attorney General. In your statement, you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president’s actions with Attorney General Sessions, even though he had not recused himself.

What was it about the Attorney General’s own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?

COMEY: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

And so we were — we were convinced — and, in fact, I think we had already heard that the career people were recommending that he recuse himself — that he was not going to be in contact with Russia- related matters much longer, and that turned out to be the case.

WYDEN: How would you characterize Attorney General Sessions’s adherence to his recusal? In particular, with regard to his involvement in your firing, which the president has acknowledged was because of the Russian investigation.

COMEY: That’s a question I can’t answer. I think it is a reasonable question. If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russia investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don’t know. So I don’t have an answer for the question.

AG Sessions was part of the Trump campaign apparatus.

Martin Heinrich (D-NM)

HEINRICH: Do you find it odd that the president seemed unconcerned by Russia’s actions in our election?

COMEY: I can’t answer that because I don’t know what other conversations he had with other advisers or other intelligence community leaders. I just don’t know sitting here…

HEINRICH: So there are reports that the incoming Trump administration, either during the transition and/or after the inauguration, attempted to set up a sort of back-door communication channel with the Russian government using their infrastructure, their devices or facilities.

What would be the risks particularly for a transition, someone not actually in the office of the president yet, to setting up unauthorized channels with a hostile foreign government, especially if they were to evade our own American intelligence services?

COMEY: I’m not going to comment on whether that happened in an open setting. But the risk is — primary risk is obvious: you spare the Russians the cost and effort of having to break into our communications channels by using theirs.

And so you make it a whole lot easier for them to capture all of your conversations, and then to use those to the benefit of Russia against the United States.

The claim Heinrich references relates to the alleged request for a secret communications channel that Jared Kushner and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn made to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Trump Tower.

Angus King (D-ME)

KING: Thank you.

With regard to the question of him being under personal — personally under investigation, does that mean that the dossier is not being reviewed or investigated or followed up on in any way?

COMEY: I obviously can’t — I can’t comment either way. I can’t talk in an open setting about the investigation as it was when I was the head of the FBI. And obviously it’s — it’s Director Mueller’s — Bob Mueller’s responsibility now, so I just — I don’t know.

Republicans asked several times if Comey had told Trump that he was not personally under investigation.

KING: Now, on the Flynn investigation, is it not true that Mr. Flynn was and is a central figure in this entire investigation of the relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

COMEY: I can’t answer that in an open setting, sir.

KING: Certainly, Mr. Flynn was part of the so-called Russian investigation? Can you answer that question?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

King is unable to score points for liberal pundits.

KING: I was just going to quote that. In 1170, December 29, Henry II said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and then, the next day, he was killed — Thomas Becket. That’s exactly the same situation. You’re — we’re thinking along the same lines.

Several other questions, and these are a little bit more detailed. What do you know about the Russian bank, VEB?

COMEY: Nothing that I can talk about in an open setting. I mean, I know it…

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Well, that takes care of my next three questions.

COMEY: I know it exists. Yes, sir.

Tom Cotton (R-AR)

COTTON: Let’s turn our attention to the underlying activity at issue here: Russia’s hacking into those e-mails and releasing them, and the allegations of collusion. Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?

COMEY: That’s a question I don’t think I should answer in an open setting. As I said, that — we didn’t — that (ph) when I left, we did not have an investigation focused on President Trump. But that’s a question that’ll be answered by the investigation, I think.

Blunt and to the point; Cotton is asking Comey if he’s willing to conjecture, knowing that the answer will be “no.” Provides good headlines/talking points for conservative media.

COTTON: Let me turn to a couple of statements by one of my colleagues, Senator Feinstein [regarding collusion between Trump associates and Russia]…

COMEY: I don’t doubt that Senator Feinstein was saying what — what she understood. I just don’t want to go down that path, first of all, because I’m not in the government anymore, and answering in the negative, I just worry, leads me deeper and deeper into talking about the investigation in an open setting…

COTTON: Do you have — at the time the story [referenced above, NYT on 14 February] was published, any indication of any contact between Trump people and Russians, intelligence officers, other government officials or close associates of the Russian government?

COMEY: That’s one I can’t answer sitting here

COTTON: Would it be improper for an incoming national security adviser to have a conversation with a foreign ambassador?

COMEY: In my — in my experience, no.

COTTON: But you can’t confirm or deny that the conversation happened, and we would need to know the contents of that conversation to know if it was, in fact, improper?

COMEY: Yeah, I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting. And again, I’ve been out of government, now, a month, so I don’t — I also don’t want to talk about things when it’s now somebody’s — else’s responsibility. But maybe in the — in the classified setting, we can talk more about that.

Cotton’s questions are focusing on pre-augural allegations. Very strategic for headlines.

COTTON: You stated earlier that there wasn’t an open investigation of Mr. Flynn in (ph) the FBI. Did you or any FBI agent ever sense that Mr. Flynn attempted to deceive you, or made false statements to an FBI agent?

COMEY: I don’t want to go too far. That was the subject of the criminal inquiry.

COTTON: Did you ever come close to closing investigation on Mr. Flynn?

COMEY: I don’t think I can talk about that in an open setting, either.

Kamala Harris (D-CA)

HARRIS: I have a series of questions to ask you, and — and they’re going to start with, are you aware of any meetings between the Trump administration officials and Russian officials during the campaign that have not been acknowledged by those officials in the White House?

COMEY: That’s not a — even if I remember clearly, that’s a not a question I can answer in an open setting.

HARRIS: Are you aware of any questions by Trump campaign officials or associates of the campaign to hide their communications with Russia officials through encrypted means?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer.

HARRIS: In the course of the FBI’s investigation did you ever come across anything that suggested that communication, records, documents or other evidence had been destroyed?

COMEY: I think I’ve got to give you the same answer because it would touch on investigative matters.

HARRIS: And are you a wear of any potential efforts to conceal between campaign officials and Russian officials?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer…

HARRIS: And the attorney general recused himself from the investigation, do you believe it was appropriate for him to be involved in the firing of the chief investigator of that case that had Russia interference?

COMEY: It’s something that I can’t answer sitting here. It’s a reasonable question. It would depend on a lot of things I don’t know, like did he know, what was he told, did he realize the investigation, things like that. I just don’t know the answer.

John McCain (R-AZ), ex officio member

McCAIN: Are you aware of anything that would lead you to believe that information exists that could coerce members of the administration or blackmail the administration?

COMEY: That’s not a question I can answer, senator.

 

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December 04 2017

05:39

Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI

On Saturday, the @RealDonaldTrump twitter account published a tweet about Michael Flynn that shook the Twitter-verse and launched lawyers’ keyboards into warp speed:

trump tweet about flynn

As most things tweeted by Trump, the issue raised is far more complex than 140 or 280 characters can address. In this case, there’s the “obstruction of justice” story, the “he didn’t do it” story, and jarring rejection of social media best practices.

Initial reaction

Was Trump admitting obstruction of justice?

The timing is an issue: did Trump know that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he tried to convince then-FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn? If yes, that’s obstruction of justice.

Former federal government ethics director Walter Shaub was blunt:

Next, the too-crazy-to-be-believed explanation

After Twitter went into overdrive, Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, claimed he sent the tweet.

According to Mike Allen at Axios, Dowd drafted the tweet and gave it to White House social media director Dan Scavino. We’ll get back to this in a moment.

According to Dowd, in his conversation with Allen, this is what happened:

When acting attorney general Sally Yates (later fired by Trump) went to the White House on Jan. 26, she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had “given the agents the same story he gave the Vice President” about his interactions with Russians.

There’s one thing wrong with this claim: Yates told Congress, UNDER OATH, that she did not do this. From the Yates transcript before Congress:

We began our meeting [with White House counsel Don McGahn] telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.

Yates explained the importance of alerting the White House:

We felt like it was critical that we get this information to the White House in part because the vice president was unknowingly making false statements to the public and because we believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians.

In other words, Yates was advising the White House that Flynn was lying to the Vice President because she did not think Pence was knowingly misleading the public.

Sen. Blumenthal pointed out that “the meeting that the FBI conducted [with Flynn] on January 24th preceded by one day, approximately, your first meeting with Donald McGahn.”

He then asked: “Isn’t it a fact that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?”

Yates replied: “I can’t reveal the internal FBI investigation, Senator.”

Blumenthal followed up: “Did you tell Donald McGahn that then-National Security Adviser Flynn told the truth to the FBI?”

Yates was clear: “No, he [McGhan] asked me how he [Flynn] had done in the interview, and I specifically declined to answer that… I was intentionally not letting him know how the interview had gone.

But Dowd is claiming the opposite: that Yates said that Flynn told the FBI “the same story” that he told the Vice President.

Moreover, Dowd is Trump’s personal lawyer. Why would he be weighing in on official White House communications?

Who do you believe, Yates or Dowd?

What else is wrong with this picture?

Setting aside the political and legal ramifications of the tweet, there are three additional things wrong with this picture.

First, Dowd indirectly claims that he drafted a tweet that was sent not by Trump but by the White House social media director.

The very name of the account, @realDonaldTrump, is at odds with such a claim. On the other hand, Trump leases his name to so many things that he may treat the Twitter account like one of “his” buildings around the world.

Second, normally accounts of politicians and celebrities carry an identifier when tweets are not composed by the named author. This is a social media best practice, and if Trump’s account is being run by anyone other than Trump, this practice should become SOP post haste, especially when tweets appear to be setting foreign policy.

Evidence suggests Scavino is responsible for publishing some of Trump’s tweets — without our knowing if he also writes them.

Wired published some “tells” in October when trying to determine if a tweet originates with Scavino or Trump.

  • If the tweet consists of nothing but words and the occasional @-mention, Donald Trump probably did the tweet. CHECK.
  • If it’s text-only and sent between 6 pm and 10 am, Donald Trump probably published the tweet. NOPE – however, this does not rule out his having dictated it. Was he playing golf on Saturday at noon?

Third, publicly-available meta-data show that the Tweet was sent by an iPhone: just like the tweets before and after it and all of Trump’s tweets since earlier in the year when he had to give up his Android phone.

If the tweet was sent by staff, not Trump, in a normal environment the tweet would be sent via a service like Hootsuite that makes it easy to compose tweets in advance and schedule the time of publishing. But this one was sent by an iPhone, which means someone other than Trump would have the password to set up the account on their own phone.

Yet another example of how the Trump Administration deliberately dissembles and obfuscates the truth.

This story is far from over.

 

 

 

The post Curiouser and curiouser: Trump’s tweet about Flynn and the FBI appeared first on WiredPen.

October 29 2017

23:28

Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data

When web pages are properly formatted, you can easily use Google spreadsheets to import (“scrape”) their data. Here’s how.

I wanted to rank National Cancer Institute research expenditures by cancer type; on the website, the data are presented alphabetically.

NCI data

 

How to scape data into your spreadsheet for analysis

Log in to Google Drive and pick create new spreadsheet.

In cell A1 (upper-left hand corner), paste this:

=IMPORTHTML(“https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/budget/fact-book/data/research-funding”,”table”, 1)

Wait a moment, and you should see something that looks like this:

scrape with google sheets import

 

Now that you have the data, you can make the comparisons – and charts – that interest you.

Be sure to freeze the header row before you begin sorting data:

  • Highlight the row (click on the row number, in this case, it’s 1)
  • Tap “View” and then select “Freeze”
  • I chose “2 rows” so that the total budget would remain fixed at the top

scrape data then freeze row google

 

How do you scrape data off a page that you’re interested in?

You need three things:

  • The page URL
  • The HTML container that holds the data (in this example, “table”)
  • And a number reflecting which table you want (in this example, it’s the first table)

To identify the HTML container, you can use the “inspect element” feature of your browser (Chrome, Safari*) by right-clicking the page near the title of the data. In well-formatted HTML, the container will be a table.

To identify which table (or div) contains the information I’m looking for, I copy

  • the page source HTML;
  • paste it into BBEdit;
  • then search for the HTML tag (in this case, I used <table — I don’t close the tag on search because sometimes there are CSS rules included in the tag space).

Here are additional resources:

 

How to enable “inspect element” in Safari

  1. Go to Safari > Preferences > Advanced
  2. Ensure that Show Develop menu in menu bar is enabled

    Safari Advanced Preferences

    Safari Advanced Preferences

  3. You now have a new menu tab and an advanced set of tools at your disposal.

    Safari's developer tools

    Safari’s developer tools

  4. Inspect element by right-clicking in the page

    inspect element

    Right-click to launch the inspect element dialog

  5. Move up or down the page to see the element you’re interested in.
    inspect element code

 

 

 

The post Scrape the web: using Google Sheets to import data appeared first on WiredPen.

September 11 2017

23:47

This date is a different anniversary for me than for most.

Sixteen years ago, Mike woke me to tell me about the towers. My mind jumped immediately to my best friend from high school, Rebecca, who worked on Wall Street.

But once we got past the initial shock, and knew she was OK, our minds shifted. To me. And the reason I was still in bed when Mike came home to tell me about the towers. On 9/12, we would drive into Seattle for my complete hysterectomy.

Life felt so crazy, however, that I called Virginia Mason to make sure my surgery would go ahead as planned. Because I had to start drinking a vile concoction to clear my bowels for abdominal surgery. And who wants to endure that torture if it’s not needed?

~~~

I had gotten sick on our summer motorcycle trip in Europe and spent 10 days in the hospital in southern France with peritonitis accompanied by an ovary the size of an orange. Infection returned as soon as we got back to the States. My DES-christened, malfunctioning, female organs had to go.

In retrospect, the surgery was a blessing. Not only did it give me focus outside of the horror show that was the east coast, I legally self-medicated with opiates (via a PCA pump) for several days. Not enough synapses working properly to concentrate to read. Not enough to watch TV. Unplugged, I was.

So that time, for me, is a blur. I hold a few distinct images, of course. But I didn’t have to watch the planes crash and the towers die, over-and-over-and-over.

~~~

The country changed that day, from one of optimism to fear. From one that mouthed “turn the other cheek” to one that fully embraced the vengeful “eye for an eye” God of the Old Testament.

Despite surgery that, in hindsight, was the first step in erasing the essence of my femininity, I allowed myself to be loved. I allowed myself to ask for help. I truly let Mike into my life, an act for which I will be forever grateful.

So today is a bittersweet anniversary. Just as I healed from those abdominal scars and lost hormones, and will heal from the mastectomy scars of last month and the chemo to come, we as a nation need to heal.

I don’t know what route that will take. We pick at the scab of 9–11 because it’s profitable to politicians (and lots of businesses) to keep the wound festering.

How do we honor those who died on 9–11 while acknowledging our catalytic actions that led to that day?

How do we honor those who have lost homes, pets, jobs, friends to Harvey and Irma, while acknowledging our catalytic inaction that exacerbated the events of August and September 2017?

How do we soberly reflect on our collective lives and then commit to change?

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Change we must.

We cannot afford unlimited vengeance.

We have an obiligation to those not yet born to clean up the mess we are making of the world.

We need another charismatic socialist to remind us that we are our brother’s keeper, we should venerate forgiveness, and our lives are richer when lived with kindness and compassion than with distrust and greed.

The post This date is a different anniversary for me than for most. appeared first on WiredPen.

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