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Beyond Cambridge Analytica and Facebook

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All of a sudden people all around the wold have woken up to the fact that we are living in a surveillance state of our own making today . . . This time though, the culprit is not called Big Brother. No, this time the culprit is known as Social Media, with Zuck’s business at the forefront, apparently. Facebook has become a constant and usually unacknowledged presence in most of our lives, most if not all of the time . . . particularly, through the medium of the smartphone or iPhone. These devices have turned into men’s best friend, replacing dogs and cats, and arguably also spouses, lovers, and casual acquaintances. But now, Carole Cadwalladr has revealed that the rabbit hole goes way deeper, and that unscrupulous businessmen eagerly exploit voluntarily proferred personal information, colloquially referred to as data these days, which become Big Data when compiled, collated and aggregated: “Cadwalladr told BBC Radio 4’s Media Show [that the] resulting Observer scoop took more than a year to bring together”.1 The PressGazette‘s Charlotte Tobitt summarises neatly that the “investigation, which was first published in Sunday’s paper (18 March 2018), exposed Cambridge Analytica’s alleged harvesting of the data of 50m Facebook users to influence the US presidential elections. Cadwalladr said the Observer took the decision to share the scoop with Channel 4 News and the New York Times prior to publishing. She [furthermore] told the BBC that Facebook had made a ‘series of missteps’ in responding to the revelations and said it had issued legal threats to deter publication”.2 As a result, now the whole world is talking about the once obscure company called Cambridge Analytica (CA). In fact, already last year, Cadwalladr had broken the story about CA’s involvement in the Brexit vote. In her piece, she took the story back to the year 2013, when “London . . . was still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics. Britain had not yet Brexited. [And t]he world had not yet turned”.3 At the time, her source, ‘a former Cambridge Analytica employee’ whom she called ‘Paul’ told her the following: 2013, “[t]hat was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump . . . It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm”.4

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In the course of her research, Cadwalladr spoke to Professor Jonathan Albright, from Elon University, North Carolina. Cadwalladr explains that Professor Albright “was the first person to map and uncover an entire ‘alt-right’ news and information ecosystem and he was the one who first introduced me to Cambridge Analytica. He called the company a central point in the right’s ‘propaganda machine’, a line I quoted in reference to its work for the Trump election campaign and the referendum Leave campaign. That led to the second article featuring Cambridge Analytica – as a central node in the alternative news and information network that I believed Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, the key Trump aide who is now his chief strategist [, a position he held till he was dismissed on 18 August 2017], were creating. I found evidence suggesting they were on a strategic mission to smash the mainstream media and replace it with one comprising alternative facts, fake history and rightwing propaganda”.5 As such, Professor Albright had also penned a piece about his concerns in December 2016.6 But all that is neither here nor there. And already in 2015, the ‘writer/researcher’ Harry Davies had published a piece on the Cruz campaign and its links with CA: “Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission, to boost his surging White House run and gain an edge over Donald Trump and other Republican rivals, the Guardian can reveal. A little-known data company, now embedded within Cruz’s campaign and indirectly financed by his primary billionaire benefactor, paid researchers at Cambridge University to gather detailed psychological profiles about the US electorate using a massive pool of mainly unwitting US Facebook users built with an online survey. As part of an aggressive new voter-targeting operation, Cambridge Analytica – financially supported by reclusive hedge fund magnate and leading Republican donor Robert Mercer – is now using so-called “psychographic profiles” of US citizens in order to help win Cruz votes, despite earlier concerns and red flags from potential survey-takers”.*

Professor Jonathan Albright

Back to Cadwalladr and Brexit: in February 2017, the journalist wrote that she “ended up in a Pret a Manger near Westminster with Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU’s affable communications director” in the second half of February 2017.7 Wigmore let Cadwalladr know that “Facebook was the key to the entire campaign” . . . explaining that a Facebook ‘like’ is a “potent weapon”. Wigmore then went on: “[b]ecause using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring . . . It is creepy! It’s really creepy! It’s why I’m not on Facebook! I tried it on myself to see what information it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Instagram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school”.8 As for CA’s relationship with the Brexit vote and the Leave.EU campaign, Wigmore simply said that “[t]hey [meaning Cambridge Analytica] were happy to help”. And they were happy to help “[b]ecause Nigel [Farage] is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you.’ What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldn’t you?”.9

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Right from the horse’s mouth, as it were . . . Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, the Brexit vote and the Trump victory, they are all interconnected. Or, the real culprit is Facebook, or is it?!?!? Has Facebook become the proverbial Big Brother that has turned its awesome archive of social data into a lucrative commodity for the highest bidder available?!?!? Vladimir Duthier states that “Facebook has been named in a proposed class-action lawsuit accusing it of negligence and it has lost nearly $50 billion in market value. A movement to encourage users to delete their accounts, called #DeleteFacebook, has [also] received lots of attention”.10

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Now that the antics of Cambridge Analytica on Facebook have grabbed everyone’s attention, the intrepid journalist Greg Palast is here to remind us that there is more afoot than the mere monies wielded by the Mercers: “[i]n fact, the dark art of dynamic psychometric manipulation in politics was not pioneered by Cambridge Analytica for Trump, but by i360 Themis, the operation founded by . . . the Brothers Koch. Mark Swedlund, himself an expert in these tools, explained in the film The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, that i360 dynamically tracks you on 1800 behaviors, or as Swedlund graphically puts it . . . “They know the last time you downloaded porn and whether you ordered Chinese food before you voted.” Swedlund adds his expert conclusion: “I think that’s creepy.” The Koch operation and its competitor, DataTrust, use your credit card purchases, cable TV choices and other personal info — which is far more revealing about your inner life than the BS you put on your Facebook profile. Don’t trust DataTrust: This cyber-monster is operated by Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain,” who is principally funded by Paul Singer, the far Right financier better known as The Vulture”.11

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i360 is a data analytics company that maintains “a database of over 250 million 18+ adults, including the 190 million who are registered to vote” sourced from “multiple consumer data compilers”.12

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“The Data Trust serves to continually develop a Republican and conservative data ecosystem through voter file collection, development, and enhancement while lowering the cost and barriers to access the data”.13

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Palast explains that the “Cambridge Analytica story was first reported by The Guardian and Observer in 2015. Did we listen? Did any US paper carry the story the British paper worked on for years? So, my first reaction reading this story was nostalgia — for the time when I was a reporter with The Guardian and Observer investigations team. We could spend a year digging deep into complex stories, working with crazy insiders. There, in 2000, I uncovered another cyber-crime: Using database matching to purge felons from Florida voter rolls. (None, in fact, were felons; most were Democrats). I moved back to America, but found I had to give up any hope of doing true, deep investigative reports for newspapers in my own country. US papers will sometimes re-report Guardian news, but American media almost never initiates deep investigation. And THAT, fear of digging out the truth, is a greater threat to America than Steve Bannon”.14

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1 Charlotte Tobitt, “Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr: I became a ‘news slave’ in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scoop” PressGazette (22 March 2018).

2 Charlotte Tobitt, “Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr: I became a ‘news slave’ in pursuing Cambridge Analytica data”.

Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” The Guardian (07 May 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy.

4 Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”.

5 Carole Cadwalladr, “The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked”.

6 Jonathan Albright, “Stop worrying about fake news. What comes next will be much worse” The Guardian ( 09 December 2016). https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/09/fake-news-technology-filters.

* Harry Davies, “Ted Cruz using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users” The Guardian (11 December 2015). https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/11/senator-ted-cruz-president-campaign-facebook-user-data.

7 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media” The Observer (27 Feb 2017). https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage.

8 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media”.

9 Carole Cadwalladr, “Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media”.

10 Vladimir Duthie, “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admits ‘misthttps://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-data-cambridge-analytica-mark-zuckerberg-ceo-statement-today-2018-03-30/akes’ in Cambridge Analytica scandal” CBS News (21 March 2018). .

11 Greg Palast, “Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look Out For i360 and DataTrust” Greg Palast (19 March 2018). http://www.gregpalast.com/cambridge-analytica-aint-nuthin-look-i360-datatrust/.

14 Greg Palast, “Cambridge Analytica Ain’t Nuthin: Look Out For i360 and DataTrust” .

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The Judeo-Christian Tradition and the Drumpf: Merry Christmas, ISIS

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In 2014 Adam Zagoria-Moffet, currently Rabbi at the St Albans Masorti Synagogue, suggested that the concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition was actually coined in the course of the 1940s by none other than General Eisenhower (1890-1969). And in 1952, Eisenhower set out to connect his coinage with the historical figures of the U.S. Founding Fathers, Zagoria-Moffet continues reproducing part of a speech then delivered by Eisenhower: ‘“all men are endowed by their Creator.” In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men created equal’.(1) In the same year, the German American Christian existentialist philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich penned a piece carrying the meaningful title “IS THERE A JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION?” . . . and he the goes on to pose the following query “[i]s it meaningful to say that Christianity is a Jewish or that Judaism is a Christian heresy?” only to then retort: “I answer in the affirmative”.(2) Tillich’s answer betrays the inherent problems of the coinage of a Judeo-Christian unity, given that anti-Semitism has been one of the important building blocks of Christianity, with the trope that Jesus was killed by the Jews functioning as the main justification for the many persecutions and progroms inflicted upon Jewish communities in Christian lands. Zagoria-Moffet, for his part, adds insightfully that the “Judeo-Christian value system that American political commentators love to reference has no precedent in history (in fact, quite the opposite), but it also has no basis in the theological and ethical systems of the two faiths. Advocates of the use of ‘Judeo-Christian’ as an acceptable adjective fail to acknowledge that the very core of their argument – that Judaism and Christianity share essential values – is simply untrue. It’s impossible to adequately compare two extremely developed theological systems – not even in a multi-volume work, much less in a blog post. For the sake of brevity, simply consider some basic principles of each faith. Law, salvation, afterlife, sin, hierarchy, ritual, monotheism – even belief, faith, and practice – nearly every component of an authentic Christian practice and an authentic Jewish one differ in an elementary way. If we wish to be precise (which we should), it simply doesn’t make sense to consider Judaism and Christianity as sharing the same outlook on God or the world”.(3)

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Still, it seems safe to say that the idea of a Judeo-Christian value-system has by now become nearly universally accepted in the West, meaning Europe and America, with such added components like Australia and New Zealand as well as Israel. In the 21st century, particularly following the tragic events cursorily known today only as “9/11”, the idea of a Judeo-Christian unity seems to have been superseded by the even more outlandish yet academically quite commonsense notion of Abrahamic religions sharing the same god, namely the God of Abraham. Thereby suggesting the existence of a kind of social corollary in the form a united fold of believers or the happy coexistence of Jews, Christians and Muslims – a coexistence that is supposed to act as a moral and social counterweight against sectarian violence, Islamist terrorism and Islamophobic outrages. The renowned religious scholar Aaron W. Hughes, however, suggests that “Abraham” as a “symbol of ecumicism” could “just as easily [also] function . . . as one of division and exclusivity. [A veritable] dialectic of history and myth, inclusivity and exclusivity, is the true progeny of Abraham as the three monotheistic religions have sought to define themselves and their relationsip to one another”.(4) Nowadays, the idea of an Abrahamic God is commonly used as a gateway to interfaith dialogue to counter a possible “Clash of Civilizations”, the proverbial Huntingtonian sword now threatening global peace, security and stabiltiy.

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In contrast, particularly now that the current US. President, Donald J. Trump aka the Drumpf, is regularly in the habit of invoking the notion of “Judeo-Christian values” ,(6) I would say that the trope of a “Clash of Civilizations” rather than interfaith dialogue has moved to the centre of attention again. He was recently speaking at ”an annual socially conservative conference”, the 2017 Values Voter Summit, and he did his best to dispell any notion that Christians are safe and sound today. The event took place on 13-15 October 2017 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.(7) The dedicated website explains as follows: “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong. It has drawn over 3,000 plus attendees from around the nation and foreign countries. Garnering national and international media attention, CNN has called it ‘one of the top 10 political events of the year’ and ‘one of the conservative movement’s marquee annual events’. Sean Hannity called it ‘the premier conservative event now in the country’. VVS showcases the nation’s leading conservative voices including Republican presidential hopefuls. Previous speakers have included then-candidates Donald Trump and Mike Pence; Governor Mike Huckabee, Sam Brownback, Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry; Senators Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott and former Senator Rick Santorum; Representatives Michele Bachmann, Steve King, Paul Ryan, Steve Scalise and former Representative Allen West; media personalities Glenn Beck, Dr. Bill Bennett, Erick Erickson, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Lt. Col. Oliver North, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson; and Bill O’Reilly; Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Kirk Cameron, Star Parker, the Benham Brothers, national pro-life advocates including Lila Rose and David Daleiden, whose investigative work exposed the truth about Planned Parenthood; nationally recognized terrorism expert Brigitte Gabriel; and national best-selling authors Joel Rosenberg and Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. Mariam Ibraheem, the Sudanese Christian sentenced to death for her faith, was honored with the inaugural Cost of Discipleship Award in 2014, and in 2015, Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was awarded the second inaugural Cost of Discipleship Award”.(8)

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The Drumpf addressed the gathered Christians, off-handedly remarking, “[a]nd we stand united behind the customs, beliefs and traditions that define who we are as a nation and as a people”, arguably keeping his six bankrupcies and two divorces in mind. Unperturbed by his own apparent moral failings, going on to say that “George Washington said that ‘religion and morality are indispensable’ to America’s happiness, really, prosperity and totally to its success. It is our faith and our values that inspires us to give with charity, to act with courage, and to sacrifice for what we know is right. The American Founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence — four times. [Applause] How times have changed. But you know what, now they’re changing back again. Just remember that. [Applause] Benjamin Franklin reminded his colleagues at the Constitutional Convention to begin by bowing their heads in prayer”.(9) In the next instance, the Drumpf states that “[r]eligious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights. And we all pledge allegiance to — very, very beautifully — ‘one nation under God’. [Applause] This is America’s heritage, a country that never forgets that we are all — all, every one of us — made by the same God in Heaven. [Applause] . . . To protect the unborn, I have reinstated a policy first put in place by President Ronald Reagan, the Mexico City Policy. [Applause] To protect religious liberty, including protecting groups like this one, I signed a new executive action in a beautiful ceremony at the White House on our National Day of Prayer — [applause] — which day we made official. [Applause] Among many historic steps, the executive order followed through on one of my most important campaign promises to so many of you: to prevent the horrendous Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. [Applause] Thank you. We will not allow government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis. These are the people we want to hear from, and they’re not going to be silenced any longer. [Applause]”.(10)

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Leaving the provision of abortion in foreign lands, the Drumpf turned homeward at a later point, exclaiming that “[w]e are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values. [Applause] Thank you. Thank you very much. And something I’ve said so much during the last two years, but I’ll say it again as we approach the end of the year. You know, we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. [Laughter] They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct. You go to department stores, and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year’ and they’ll say other things. And it will be red, they’ll have it painted, but they don’t say it. Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. [Applause] and in another instance, turning his gaze outwards again: “In protecting America’s interests abroad, we will always support our cherished friend and partner, the State of Israel. [Applause] We will confront the dangers that imperil our nation, our allies, and the world, including the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. [Applause]”.(11)

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(1) Adam Zagoria-Moffet, “The Myth of a Judeo-Christian Tradition” State of Formation (07 April 2014). http://www.stateofformation.org/2014/04/the-myth-of-a-judeo-christian-tradition/.

(2) Paul Tillich, “IS THERE A JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION?” Judaism, 1.2 (01 April 1952), p. 106. http://search.proquest.com/openview/96dcfb348d31a59c7d2b7817a57a2582/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=1817128

(3) Adam Zagoria-Moffet, “The Myth of a Judeo-Christian Tradition”.

(6)  Dan Merica, “Trump: ‘We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values’” CNN (13 Oct 2017). http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/13/politics/trump-values-voters-summit/index.html.

(7) 2017 Values Voter Summit. http://www.valuesvotersummit.org//.

(8) “VVS17 ★ ABOUT VVS” 2017 Values Voter Summit. http://www.valuesvotersummit.org/about.

(9) “Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit” The White House. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/10/13/remarks-president-trump-2017-values-voter-summit.

(10) “Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit”.

(11) “Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit”.

Drumpfian Leaks: The Washington Post

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Posting on his Facebook page, on 18 May 2017, the intrepid Pepe Escobar appears to reveal some inside knowledge hidden from view:

THE WAR ON TRUMP

My source “X” is furious:

The major question is who in Trump’s inner circle is the traitor leaking to the Washington Post? The Washington Post is conducting a campaign against Trump led by Trotskyite elements. The key national interest for the US is a rapprochement with Russia to avoid a nuclear war that the Russians are ready for. Trump is also trying to stop the attack on the American wage level by the .1% Trotskyite element on Wall St. who is stealing the nation’s wealth through their cash settlement manipulations, and other acts of pickpocketing. Trump must stick to his guns.”

That’s not far from the credible narrative put together by old school intel ops not totally controlled by the War Party; “The issue is not necessarily what Trump has done or said. It is that Trump cannot trust even his inner circle of advisers. Whoever leaked the information was either in the room or had access to the minutes of the meeting. That means that someone with fairly robust access was willing to risk not just his or her own career but also the effectiveness of U.S.-Russia moves against the Islamic State, as well as U.S. credibility in the world and with allies that share intelligence. It makes Trump look bad, it makes the United States look worse, and it damages U.S. credibility for as long as the Trump administration is in power”.1

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As “X” says, “The issue is not necessarily what Trump has done or said”, but rather as expressed by the well-known conservative political and cultural commentator David Brooks now more than a month ago, “Trump’s greatest achievements are in the field of ignorance”, elaborating in the next instance that “Trump’s ignorance is not just an absence; it is a rich, intricate and entirely separate universe of negative information, a sort of fertile intellectual antimatter with its own gravitational pull”.2 Brooks really explains the Drumpf in living colours: the “normal incompetent person flails and stammers and is embarrassed about it. But the true genius at incompetence like our president flails and founders and is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence. He mistakes his catastrophes for successes and so accelerates his pace toward oblivion. Those who ignore history are condemned to retweet it”.3

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But these insights should not surprise us . . . Tony Schwartz, the actual author of the Art of the Deal, has been warning people ever since the Drumpf decided to run for president.4 And, the investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has been doing the same for years now, as he knows the man that is the Drumpf up close.5

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2 David Brooks, “The Coming Incompetence Crisis” New York Times (07 April 2017). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/opinion/the-coming-incompetence-crisis.html.

3 David Brooks, “The Coming Incompetence Crisis”.

4 “Tony Schwartz: The Truth About Trump” The Erimtan Angle. (s.d.). http://apob.tumblr.com/post/160224262702/tony-schwartz-the-truth-about-trump.

5‘ ‘David Cay Johnston: “The Making of Donald Trump” The Erimtan Angle. (s.d.). http://apob.tumblr.com/post/160129875497/david-cay-johnston-the-making-of-donald-trump.

World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians: Trump as Saviour of Christianity

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‘The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians is being convened by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, May 10-13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. We’ll bring together hundreds of Church leaders and victims of Christian persecution from around the world as we join hands with people of other churches and denominations of the Christian faith to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to hear firsthand reports of the suffering taking place around the world’.A

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The Drumpf’s Veep Mike Pence gave the following address to the gathered throngs of Christian believers of all stripe and colour: “on behalf of President Donald Trump, it was humbling to join people of faith from across the world at the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. There, I reaffirmed the President’s commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world. America was and is and ever will be that shining city on a hill where men and women of faith throughout our history have been able to walk and openly worship their faith in God to the glory of God. The faith of those gathered at the World Summit inspired and humbled me. The reality is, across the wider world, the Christian faith is under siege. Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ. In more than 100 countries spread to every corner of the globe –- from Iran to Eritrea, Nigeria to North Korea –- over 215 million Christians confront intimidation, imprisonment, forced conversion, abuse, assault, or worse, for holding to the truths of the Gospel. And nowhere is this onslaught against our faith more evident than in the very ancient land where Christianity was born. President Trump sees these crimes for what they are: vile acts of persecution animated by hatred — hatred for the Gospel of Christ. And so too does the President know those who perpetrate these crimes. They are the embodiment of evil in our time and he calls them by name — radical Islamic terrorists. The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred America to act. President Trump rightly said not long ago that — of the Christian church, “nobody has been treated worse in the Middle East.” He’s made it clear that America will stand by followers of Christ in this hour of need. Our administration is fully committed in bringing relief and comfort to believers not only across the Middle East but across the world. This President knows the terrorists will not stop until we stop them. And, under President Donald Trump, we will stop them. Under President Donald Trump, America will continue to stand for religious freedom of all people, of all faiths, across the world. And I believe that all God’s children, no matter their country or their creed, can know with confidence that God will continue to guide this nation, to play our unique role on behalf of freedom in the world”.B

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Billy’s son Franklin Graham penned these words in the run-up to the Summit: “It’s shocking to our Western eyes. As I walked through the burned-out shell of a church near Mosul, Iraq, just a few weeks ago, our translator told me that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria graffiti scrawled on the walls read, ‘You love life, we love death.’ Members of ISIS had painted their flag and written, ‘We have come to drink your blood.’ It’s one thing to destroy a building, but Christians are dying for their faith. And it’s not just in Iraq . . . These heinous acts by ISIS captured headlines around the world, but if you think this kind of persecution is rare, perpetrated almost exclusively by extremists and terrorists—and in few areas of the world—215 million Christian victims will tell you nothing could be further from the truth. For years I have traveled in Sudan, where we rebuilt hundreds of churches destroyed by Muslims. We opened a Bible school there to train new pastors to carry on the work of those who were killed. The persecution of Christians is not just happening in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and other hotbeds of extremist ideology. It may come as a surprise that some of our neighbors and allies are on the list of perpetrators . . . Indeed, more than 75 percent of the world’s population live in areas with severe religious restrictions, and 215 million believers suffer ‘high, very high or extreme persecution’ in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, according to Open Doors USA and the Pew Research Center”.C

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Offering a bit of perspective and a modicum of criticism, the @HuffPost’s Religion Reporter Antonia Blumberg points out that “[a]ccording to a recent analysis of data collected by Pew Research Center, both Muslims and Christians face persecution in many countries around the globe”.D But, looking at the event with a critical and dispassionate eye, one can only come to the conclusion that the Trump White House (or, the Drumpfian Establishment, if you will) is all but firing up a significant part of its base to start a major military adventure in the Middle East and beyond, using the figleaf of protecting persecuted Christians as a rallying cry to garner domestic and international support. In spite of all of his campaign promises, Donald Trump seems more than determined to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and become a real war president. His dispatch of 59 Tomahawk missiles on 6 April 2017 was but a precursor of things to come; and, Brian Williams’ gushing words but a literary flourish extoling the war virtues of the Christian Drumpf, the Saviour of the Free (read Christian) World.

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A“GIVE TO WORLD SUMMIT IN DEFENSE OF PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (2017). https://billygraham.org/donation/world-summit-in-defense-of-persecuted-christians/.

B“Vice President Mike Pence speaks at World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians” The White House (11 May 2017). https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2017/05/11/vice-president-mike-pence-speaks-world-summit-defense-persecuted-christians.

C“Franklin Graham: Persecution of Christians Is a Global Problem” Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (09 May 2017). https://billygraham.org/story/franklin-graham-persecution-of-christians-is-a-global-problem/.

DAntonia Blumberg, “Pence Tells Room Full Of Christians In D.C. Their Faith Is The Most Persecuted” HuffPost (11 May 2017). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pence-tells-room-full-of-christians-in-dc-their-faith-is-the-most-persecuted_us_59149198e4b030d4f1f0bdcd?ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000016&section=politics.

Fighting the Caliph: U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the Kurds

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On 9 May 2017, while holding a joint press confererence with the Danish Minister of Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen in Copenhagen, General Mattis told reporters the following in response to a query regarding the decision to arm Syria’s Kurds: “Yes, they — we had very open discussion with the Turks. It’s a NATO ally, and NATO allies stick together. That’s not to say, we all walk into the room with exactly the same appreciation of the problem or the path forward. We work that out through extensive dialogue. We’ve been conducting military and diplomatic dialogue with the Turks, and it was a very, very useful discussion today. We’re getting — as you know — into the position where we will have Raqqa surrounded. The idea is, ladies and gentlemen, that the foreign fighters not be allowed to escape and return to constitute a threat against free and innocent people elsewhere, whether it be in the Arabian Gulf, North Africa, and certainly Europe. By taking, for example, Manbij away from the enemy, that was the spoke of the hub and spoke of their terrorist effort against Europe, and that’s how they conducted the attacks against Brussels and Paris. So our intent is to work with the Turks, with — alongside one another to take Raqqa down and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it, but we’re all committed to it and that’s what came out of today’s discussion”.i

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The U.S. Secretary of Defense clearly sidestepped the thorny issue of Turkey’s opposition to the Pentagon’s decision by means of simply ignoring the question and talking about the U.S.-Turkish relationship as if everything were hunky dory. Still, as reported by Reuters: “U.S. President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Tuesday [, 9 May 2017]”.ii Ankara regards the YPG as but the Syrian incarnation of the PKK, Turkey’s homegrown Kurdish terror group. In this connection, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White made the following declaration: “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally . . . We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey”.iii

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Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, on the other hand, made the following observations: “There have been bad episodes in the relationship between the United States and Turkey, but this one is serious because it gets to the heart of Turkish security priorities . . . You’ve now got a question mark over the U.S.-Turkish security relationship that is pretty serious”.iv Now, all eyes are on Tayyip Erdoğan’s upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.

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i “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Mattis and Minister Frederiksen in Copenhagen, Denmark” U.S. Department of Defense (09 Mauy 2017). https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1177882/joint-press-conference-with-secretary-mattis-and-minister-frederiksen-in-copenh/.

ii Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire” Reuters (10 May 2017). http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-kurds-idUSKBN18525V.

iii Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire”.

iv Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire”.

Climate Change is a Hoax: World Meteorological Organization Report

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The insurance expert Joe Ryan matter-of-factly declares that “[u]nusually warm weather in the Arctic is helping shift weather patterns this year from North America to the Middle East, after global warming shattered records in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Rising ocean temperatures that are melting polar ice sheets, killing marine life and flooding coastal communities may have increased more than previously reported last year, the WMO said in a report Tuesday [, 21 March 2017]”.i

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The WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016 puts it like this: “Warming continued in 2016, setting a new temperature record of approximately 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, and 0.06 °C above the previous highest value set in 2015. Carbon dioxide (CO2) reached new highs at 400.0 ± 0.1 ppm in the atmosphere at the end of 2015. Global sea-ice extent dropped more than 4 million km2 below average – an unprecedented anomaly – in November. Global sea levels rose strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, with the early 2016 values making new records. The powerful 2015/2016 El Niño event exerted a strong influence on the climate and societies against a background of long-term climate change. Severe droughts affected agriculture and yield production in many parts of the world, particularly in southern and eastern Africa and parts of Central America, where several million people experienced food insecurity and hundreds of thousands were displaced internally, according to reports from the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM)”.ii

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The Executive summary contiues as follows: “Hurricane Matthew in the North Atlantic led to the most damaging meteorological disaster, with Haiti sustaining the heaviest casualties. There were also major economic losses in the United States and elsewhere in the region. Flooding severely affected eastern and southern Asia with hundreds of lives lost, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and severe economic damage. Wet conditions led to good crop production in many parts of the Sahel, with record yields reported in Mali, Niger and Senegal. Detection and attribution studies have demonstrated that human influence on the climate has been a main driver behind the unequivocal warming of the global climate system observed since the 1950s, according to the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC. Human influence has also led to significant regional temperature increases at the continental and subcontinental levels. Shifts of the temperature distribution to warmer regimes are expected to bring about increases in the frequency and intensity of extremely warm events”.iii

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World Climate Research Program Director David Carlson did not mince his words in a statement: “We are now in truly uncharted territory”.iv For his part, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas added that “[t]his report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system . . . Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year. With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere consistently breaking new records, the influence of human activities on the climate system has become more and more evident”.v In contrast, “U.S. President Donald Trump [now] pushes to dismantle programs to combat climate change. Last week, the Republican called for relaxing fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, which along with other vehicles are the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gases. Trump also released a budget with sweeping cuts to climate change research and grants for clean energy development”, as stated by Joe Ryan.vi

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i Joe Ryan, “Higher Arctic Temperatures Likely to Shift Global Weather in 2017: WMO” Insurance Journal (22 March 2017). http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/international/2017/03/22/445278.htm.

ii “Executive summary . WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016” WMO (21 March 2017). http://library.wmo.int/opac/doc_num.php?explnum_id=3414.

iii “Executive summary . WMO Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016” .

iv Joe Ryan, “Higher Arctic Temperatures Likely to Shift Global Weather in 2017: WMO”.

v “Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts.” WMO (21 March 2017). https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/climate-breaks-multiple-records-2016-global-impacts.

vi Joe Ryan, “Higher Arctic Temperatures Likely to Shift Global Weather in 2017: WMO”.

The Drumpf, as Chosen by God to Lead His People

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On 20 January 2017, before attending his inauguration ceremony as 45th POTUS, the Drumpf, accompanied by his wife and the Pence couple, attended a sermon delivered by the Southern Baptist Rev. Robert Jeffress at the St. John’s Episcopal Church in D.C. And the good Reverend did not mince his worlds on this occasion:

President-elect and Mrs. Trump, Vice-President-elect and Mrs. Pence, families and friends, it’s an honor to be with you on this historic day.

President-elect Trump, I remember that it was exactly one year ago this weekend that I was with you on your Citation jet flying around Iowa before the first caucus or primary vote was cast. After our Wendy’s cheeseburgers, I said that I believed that you would be the next President of the United States. And if that happened, it would be because God had placed you there.

As the prophet Daniel said, it is God who removes and establishes leaders.

Today─one year later─God has raised you and Vice-President-elect Pence up for a great, eternal purpose”.i

Rev. Jeffress thus appears to believe that his god, the Christian God of the Southern Baptist Convention, a congregation counting more than 15 million members in 2015, has a special plan for the Drumpf.

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The Reverend continued along, spouting more and more inanities and absurdities in the process:

When I think of you, President-elect Trump, I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.

And the first step of rebuilding the nation was the building of a great wall. God instructed Nehemiah to build a wall around Jerusalem to protect its citizens from enemy attack. You see, God is NOT against building walls!

And the Old Testament book of Nehemiah records how Nehemiah completed that massive project in record time—just 52 days.

Why was Nehemiah so successful in building the wall and rebuilding the nation?”. ii

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In the next instance, Rev. Jeffress goes quite some way comparing the Drumpf to the Biblical leader of yesteryear, stating that “Nehemiah was a gifted leader”, a gifted leader who “knew he could not succeed without God’s divine help”.iii And eventually, the good Reverend ends his hyperbolic drivel in this over-the-top fashion:

When President Ronald Reagan addressed the Republican National Convention in my city of Dallas in 1984 he said, “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are “one nation under God,” then we will be a nation gone under.”

President-elect Trump, you had a campaign slogan that resonated with tens of millions of Americans because it spoke to their heartfelt desire: “Make America Great Again.”

Psalm 33:12 gives us the starting point for making that happen: “Blessed— great—is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

May God bless President-elect Trump, Vice-President-elect Pence, their families and advisers. And may God truly bless the United States of America”.iv

And this then brings me to consider the always insightful and inquisitive Chris Hedges, whose 2007 book American Fascists already ten years sounded the alarm, at the time arguably referring to the dirty deeds done dirt cheap by George W.v

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In his review of the book, Nicholas Lezard posits that the casual observer might very well think “that the term ‘American Fascists’ is a little inflammatory. But Hedges does not claim that the Christian right is a Nazi party, nor that America will inevitably become a fascist state, as we understand the term. The Christian right is, though, ‘a sworn and potent enemy of the open society’, which is just about as bad; and the book is a kind of checklist in which you can tick off their characteristics against those of their predecessors: implacable intolerance of others; manipulation of language; paranoia; lying on a grand scale; exploitation of people’s fears; the creation of leadership cults; hate-mongering; the creation of a state of mind in which adherents are perpetually at war, fighting a good fight against their enemies. And the language, cited by Hedges, is chilling. Pastor Russell Johnson, who leads the Ohio Restoration Project and is, not coincidentally, an unofficial campaigner for Christian Republican candidates for high office, stands against an enormous American flag with a cross superimposed on it, saying: ‘We’re on the beaches of Normandy, and we can see the pillbox entrenchments of academic and media liberalism . . . We’ll take our country back for Christ.’ Well-integrated and highly motivated elector-registration drives suggest that they may well do so. Some may say they already have; George W Bush’s links with these people are well established, and receive another airing here. Hedges is clear about the danger facing America and argues that part of the responsibility lies with a supine media and a church establishment too pusillanimous or namby-pamby to point out that you could hardly call the Christian right Christian in the conventionally accepted meaning of the term (a quick look at their attitude to enormous wealth should settle any doubts on that score)”.vi The Hedges book thus shows that the recent history of the United States has been shaped by their leadership’s adherence to the tenets of the Christian faith: from Ronald Reagan over the atheist-hating George H. W. Bush, with an arguably minor detour under Bill Clinton, reaching its full apotheosis under Bush, Junior and Obama, who was “much attached to the work of the American Protestant exponent of ‘Christian realism’, Reinhold Niebuhr”, as I pointed out as long ago as 2011.vii And now, the Drumpf is set to bring this whole evolution to its natural conclusion as the one U.S. President apparently clearly chosen by the Christian God to do his will . . . according to some.

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i“Read the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President” TIME (Jan 2017). http://time.com/4641208/donald-trump-robert-jeffress-st-john-episcopal-inauguration/.

iiRead the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President”.

iii “Read the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President”.

iv “Read the Sermon Donald Trump Heard Before Becoming President”.

v “Empire Files: Trump, Fascism & the Christian Right” The Erimtan Angle. http://apob.tumblr.com/post/157867661192/empire-files-trump-fascism-the-christian.

vi Nicholas Lezard, “Onward to the apocalypse” The Guardian (03 Feb 2007). https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/feb/03/featuresreviews.guardianreview24.

vii Cfr. “Libya: A Just War???” The Erimtan Angle (29 March 2011). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/libya-a-just-war/.