Monthly Archive: November 2017

The sketchy histories and lives of real people in the Trump orbit

A we move into the first Cryber-war (yes, that is what I am calling it), one interesting trend is the emergence of shadowy characters who appear to have fragmented pasts and confusing present activities. Just like in World War II, when people changed identities and moved between countries to survive or work for the war powers, there are people out there whose life details are some combination of sketchy, contradictory and confusing, even though they seem to be real people, unlike the increasing number of online personas that are definitely not linked to real people.
One such person is Joseph Mifsud, a man of Maltese ancestry who apparently worked with George Papadopoulos.
Extensive research using online sources reveals a lot about Mifsud, but a lot of it makes no sense. He appears to have been working in a variety of roles, some of them with now-defunct organizations, or organizations that became defunct while he was involved. His past is sketchy to say the least, and his present is even more sketchy.
The Observer has now done some investigation of its own, concluding that Mifsud’s activities are those of what is often described as a “cut-out” , a person involved in a legitimate-looking occupation or business that requires (conveniently) a lot of international travel, whose role is to act as an intermediary between ostensibly opposed organizations who are in fact secretly collaborating. The use of a cut-out in this manner allows the secretly collaborating parties to plausibly deny that they have any direct relationship.
If Mifsud’s cover (as now seems likely) is blown, he suffers the “Mission Impossible” fate of all cut-outs, with all of the involved parties suddenly claiming to have no knowledge of him or his activities.


Anatomy of a Russian-operated propaganda Twitter account

Twitter user Conspirador Norteno, back in August of this year, was busy analyzing the network of accounts on Twitter with random 6 or 8 digit suffixes in their handles. We have all known for a long time that these suffixes almost always indicate a Twitter account that was generated by a repetitive software algorithm.
One of the accounts that Conspirador looked at in more detail was the account which, at the time, was shown in Twitter under the name of David Jones, with a handle of DavidJo52951945. I was familiar with this account, since, every time I did a Twitter search on “Brexit”, there would be “David Jones”, busy warbling away supporting Brexit. He seemed to have all the time in the world to slag off Remainers and extol the virtues of the UK leaving the EU. Since it seemed to me to be a professional troll account, often repetitively posting content copied from elsewhere, and rarely responding, I concluded that David Jones (whoever he might be) was a professional troll, so I never followed the account.
So, Conspirador began digging into the activity of the supposed Mr. Jones. Totally bog-standard little Englander Union Jack masthead on the account. According to the account Mr Jones lives in the very nice Southern England town of Southampton. But, notice that he listed his location as “Southampton, Isle Of Wight”. Those of us from the UK know well that the Isle of Wight is a separate island south of Southampton. But, no matter, maybe Mr Jones was one of those fortunate souls who had a weekend home in the Isle of Wight, and a weekday pied a terre in Southampton.
However…in addition to being a man of property, Mr Jones seemed to keep odd waking hours. Like…Moscow waking hours.

Thanks to the non-deletion of tweets, we can analyze Mr Jones’ tweeting going back a few years. And this is where it gets interesting. Over a period of 4 years the focus of the Tweeting changes from Ukraine and the UKIP, suddenly ramping up to become highly concentrated on Brexit at the beginning of 2016. The focus on Brexit remains to this day. Along the way, Mr Jones also gave his wisdom on the US election and “migrants”, which, as followers of indirect speech well know, is a dog-whistle among nativists for immigration.

In 2016 Mr Jones was tweeting all of the standard accusations around Brexit and the US election.

Then in 2017 Mr Jones (who, we must remember is pretending to be British) was tweeting more standard accusations about the alt-left related to the US political scene.

As Conspirador points out, Mr Jones was at all times tweeting views and messages that would have perfectly aligned with the interests of Russia. And doing this from Southampton, all while keeping, er, Moscow work hours…

Of course, it did not take long before “David Jones” blocked Conspirador, and also changed the handle on the account to remove the 8 random number suffix.

Fast forward to the present day. When you search for this account on Twitter using the newly-modified handle, this is what you get:

This is the hallmark of an abandoned account. Whoever was running the account, realizing that it had been totally compromised and revealed as a human-managed propaganda account, has essentially all but disabled it.

There are a LOT of these accounts out there in the TwitterVerse.


FFS – Sunday 5th November 2017

As the number of NFL figures being asked to provide evidence for the discovery phase of Colin Kaepernick’s collusion complaint against the NFL slowly expands, the amount of bullshit noise being generated by opponents of Kaepernick is slowly increasing.
There are some standard themes to the bullshit noise. So, let’s put some of this bullshit down in the sewerage system where it belongs.

1. Colin Kaepernick terminated his contract with the 49ers therefore he has no basis for a complaint
Yes, he did opt out of his contract. However, the 49ers were going to terminate his contract anyway. This is not speculation or a matter for debate. This has been publicly confirmed by 49ers General Manager John Lynch.
In any case, this is not relevant to a collusion complaint. The basis of the complaint is that Kaepernick, an available free agent, was denied employment by collusion between multiple NFL teams. How he came to be a free agent is irrelevant to the complaint.

2. Colin Kaepernick is a mediocre player not deserving of a position on a team
It is difficult to assign the label “mediocre player” to a quarterback who played in a Superbowl and almost led his team to a victory. Statistically, Kepernick is better than dozens of other quarterbacks who currently have contracts with NFL teams. Sorry, this is nonsense. The facts show otherwise.

3. NFL owners do not have to turn over their phones and records for discovery, this is a fishing expedition

If a court agrees with an application from a plaintiff that you have to turn over objects and records of events as part of discovery, this is not an optional request. Failure to comply can (and usually will) lead to an application by the plaintiffs for a contempt order against you. Ultimately you may have to decide whether you hand over the requested information, or go to jail.
Now…you can argue in a motion that the discovery request is impermissibly broad. However, you have to convince a court that this is the case, and courts are usually fairly deferential to discovery requests as long as they are not obviously outside of the scope of the initial or amended complaint.
So, absent a ruling against the discovery request, refusing to comply is not really an option.

4. If the collusion complaint succeeds, the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be terminated
For Colin Kaepernick’s collusion complaint to succeed, the arbitrator only has to decide that two or more teams colluded to deny him employment.
Now…the CBA does have a clause covering the impact of collusion being proved. However, the current CBA states that the termination of the CBA can only occur if 14 or more teams are found to have colluded against 1 or more players. So, unless the arbitrator rules that collusion took place involving 14 or more teams, the NFLPA cannot terminate the CBA based on a victory by Kaepernick.
Given that the Kaepernick complaint only covers a maximum of 10 teams, this makes a termination of the CBA due to this complaint look pretty unlikely.

4. The NFL owners are independent businesses, they can decide who they hire and fire
Sure they can. However, under the terms of US anti-trust law, NFL teams are not supposed to collaborate or collude on any matter other than broadcasting rights. That is not the NFL’s own rules, it is US anti-trust law.
Any finding that any two or more teams in the NFL collaborated to ensure they did not employ Colin Kaepernick is not only a violation of the CBA, but, far more seriously, it could result in a formal complaint to the DOJ that the NFL teams in question are in violation of anti-trust law.
The judicial remedies for anti-trust violations are almost unlimited. A judge could just shut the NFL down – literally. That is one of the reasons why the NFL teams are so nervous about the deposition and discovery process. It is not just about the collusion complaint. Any evidence that emerges of more general collusion risks igniting a public discussion and debate about the NFL’s behavior with respect to anti-trust law. Nobody in the NFL wants that to happen.

5. The players are obliged to stand for the anthem
Nope. The players’ contractual obligations to the NFL are defined in their individual contracts, however, those contracts are written to comply with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). A copy of the CBA can be found here.. It is not difficult to read it.
There are no current rules within contracts or the CBA obliging players to stand for the National Anthem. Therefore, at this time, the players cannot be forced to stand. If a team tries to discipline any player, or terminate their contract for not standing, the player and the NFLPA would file a grievance against the team, and they would win it.
The other thing to realize is that forcing anybody to stand for the anthem or to salute the US flag has, on multiple occasions, been ruled by SCOTUS as a violation of people’s constitutional rights. This is not a subject for debate. There are multiple SCOTUS rulings covering this area. This is why, when asked about whether players should stand for the anthem, Roger Goodell has been stating “players should stand for the anthem”, not “players shall/will stand for the anthem”. He, more than most people, knows that not only does the NFL not currently have the right to force players to stand, it will never have the right, unless several SCOTUS rulings are overturned.

6. The anthem controversy is causing fans to stop watching the NFL
This is an interesting one…but no, once again this is not factually based. The NFL has been losing viewers for 3 years, going back to 2015, before Colin Kaepernick started kneeling. There are some fundamental underlying demographic and trend reasons for this, which have nothing to do with the anthem protest. Now, is there a bigger decline in 2017? Well, if there is, there is no reliable data on the underlying causes. Anybody can claim to be boycotting the NFL because they hate Colin Kaepernick, but in terms of statistically valid information, claims prove nothing. The facts, folks, the facts. This is also a reason why everybody should be skeptical of the Pappa John’s Pizza CEO blaming the NFL protests for a down-turn in the corporation’s stock price. Pappa Johns was suffering way before the anthem protest. This is nothing more than bullshit scapegoating.

I left out other far more subjective arguments, like the whole “he’s a distraction” line of argument. That, for me, is hopeless bullshit, given the willingness of the NFL to not only tolerate but embrace contentious, outspoken and badly-behaved players in the past, as long as they were perceived as successful by the teams employing them. Colin Kaepernick does not have a criminal record or a list of civil complaints against him. In all legal respects, he has been a model player. So, no, the “distraction” argument is below bullshit.


Saturday round-up – 4th November 2017

I was going to start with a For Fishs’ Sake section, but the world is far too target-rich an environment at present. The general level of blathering stupidity on display at present makes me think that the demise of the social media world will occur because enough people realize that it is full of morons and simply go back to the more rewarding approach of actually, you know, meeting people face to face. The whole issue of media and social media platform credibility eroding may be a consequence, rather than a cause. UseNet Deterioration Syndrome is with us big-time.

1. The scandal of sports subsidies for football is not in the NFL

Gregg Easterbrook points out that, contrary to Donald Trump’s huffing and puffing, the bigger scandal in sports tax breaks is the fact that donations to college football programs are tax-deductible. Well that, plus the reality that graduation rates at some college football programs are scandalously low. (You mean Donald didn’t know what he was talking about? I’m shocked, I tell you! Shocked!)

2. The Colin Kaepernick grievance
Some quick notes:
– Anybody who thinks that the NFL is not worried about discovery for this case has not been paying attention. The NFL’s new generation owners like Jerry Jones, Daniel Snyder and Bob McNair are buccaneers, and buccaneers tend to regard the law as something inconvenient, to be skirted if at all possible. Given that the NFL is not a single corporation, but 32 ships supposedly sailing in close formation (but not via a process of collusion, no sir), with no Admiral in any chain of command, there is a good chance that one or more owners has indeed said or done something that will, at the least, look bad, and possibly it will be something not connected to the Colin Kaepernick mess. I remain convinced that the owners are more worried about evidence of collusion on other matters surfacing, which would then open them to anti-trust violation charges. It doesn’t matter how you look at the collusion grievance, there is no upside in it whatsoever for the NFL. By collectively denying Kaepernick employment (and whether that is collusion still has to be argued or proved), the NFL has kept the whole issue in foreground instead of it fading into background. That was not smart.
– Saying that Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players should stand for the anthem because people in other countries have to stand is not an argument worth the air or bytes on which it is carried. The countries that people are quoting as enforcing that rule are all totalitarian dictatorships or banana republics. That’s not really what you want here, is it? (At this point i fear hearing that answer from some of the keyboard warriors)

3. Who Rigged Brexit on social media?
This question has been argued over for months, and the current consensus is that Russia was the main culprit.
Remember the Dan Rather document scandal in 2001? Rather incorrectly passed off forged documents as the real thing, which essentially cost him his job and became part of the 15+ years’ duration series of mis-steps that has eroded large media credibility in the USA to a dangerously low level.
If Russia was not the main player behind the Brexit social media scams, then a lot of media commentators and outlets will find themselves in the same bad place as Dan Rather.
Mike Hind, who has been studying the social media misinformation machines for a while, believes that most of the money and support came not from Russia but from the USA. He believes that the efforts were funded by plutocrats and businessmen from various parts of the world (but the money and support was channeled through the USA) who are seeking to impose government by plutocrats for plutocrats, and corner more wealth for themselves.
A failed media focus on Russia will simply further erode media credibility, which will allow plutocrat-funded media channels to continue to fill the gap with their own propaganda.


Hell hath no fury like a quarterback scorned

Today’s news gets more and more interesting, or more and more worrying if you are running PR for the NFL.
Hot on the heels that the Houston Texans went out and signed two quarterbacks today to replace DeShaun Watson, neither of whom is named Colin Kaepernick, comes the news that the legal team acting for Kaepernick in his case against the NFL has officially asked that several NFL owners, including Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, and Bob McNair, be deposed. Additionally, other teams are being asked to turn over all communications that might be related to Colin Kaepernick, including emails and mobile phone records.
Now, I have one question for you all: what are the chances that a voluble self-promoter like Jerry Jones, who cannot publicly keep quiet about the anthem protest, and who is now busy claiming that Pappa Johns’ founder John Schattner is a “fine American”, kept quiet privately about Colin Kaepernick?
I assess those chances as somewhere between diddly and squat. Ditto Bob McNair, whose “inmates running the prison” comment maybe revealed a lot more about his underlying attitude to players than he intended or wanted to reveal. Robert Kraft was probably a lot more careful. He is usually very measured in all of his public pronouncements, and, by all accounts, has been a key figure behind the scenes in mediating disputes between owners and between the NFL and the players. But Jerry Jones? No. Jones cannot stop yapping in public, so I regard it as highly likely that he has said some things in private that Kaepernick’s legal team would love to read and/or hear. That is, if they can be included in discovery.


And the circumstantial collusion evidence pile keeps growing…

With the expiry of the trade period in the NFL, any team needing a quarterback can only sign a free agent.
Yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts officially owned up to something that was becoming rather obvious – that Andrew Luck will not play this season. He underwent major shoulder surgery in the off-season and has not recovered enough to even practice properly. The Colts had already traded for Jacoby Brissett from the Patriots to be their starting quarterback for the season, so this does not impact any free agent moves.
Meanwhile, down in Houston, DeShaun Watson, the new starting quarterback for the Houston Texans, ruptured his ACL in practice yesterday and will miss the rest of the season. The Texans have Tom Savage as a backup, who was benched after 1 game for Watson. Watson is a running quarterback whose playing style is close to that of a free agent quarterback named Colin Kaepernick. However, at time of writing, the Texans appear to be about to sign another free agent not named Kaepernick.
These kinds of decisions by NFL teams are simply adding to the pile of circumstantial evidence that will be pointed to by Kaepernick’s legal team as evidence of collusion. There still needs to be a “smoking gun” uncovered in discovery for a ruling of collusion to be possible, but even if the arbitrator rules against Kaepernick, the overall impression of a sports league bent on punishing a player engaging in peaceful protest is likely to be difficult to ignore.


The wonders of simple solutions to complex issues

The entire Brexit campaign was marked by simplistic pronouncements from the Brexit side that leaving the EU would be relatively easy. (The Remain campaigners had a different problem, their lack of ability to explain why the status quo was preferable to Brexit).
Now that we are over 1 year removed from the Leave vote, and with the negotiations to leave the EU progressing at a snail’s pace, the reality ought to be dawning that the Brexit strategy was…way too simplistic. However, that does not appear to be the case based on the amount of dung being spread around on social media.
This article from the Financial Times explains the whole mess succinctly, pointing to the simple solution trap.

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