Opinion | Trump’s Code of Dishonor – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Gregory Bull/Associated Press

“Iran’s Qassim Suleimani was an engine of mayhem in the Middle East. His business model was to go to Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq and recruit Arab Shiites to kill Arab Sunnis (and Americans and Israelis) and to create pro-Iranian statelets inside Iran’s Arab neighbors to weaken them from the inside. I followed this man closely. No one should mourn his passing.

So why do I still question the wisdom of his assassination? Because it was done without a clear strategic or moral framework. And the biggest lesson I learned from covering the U.S. interventions in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan is: When administrations are not constantly forced to answer hard questions from the outside about what they’re thinking strategically and morally — when questioners are dismissed as unpatriotic — that administrations’ inside thinking gets sloppy, their intelligence gets manipulated and trouble follows.

Never assume that people who are in charge know what they are doing just because they are in charge.

What is President Trump’s strategic framework? One day, without any consultation with allies or our commanders, he ordered U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were serving as a critical block on Iran’s ability to build a land bridge to Lebanon and were a key source of intelligence. In the process, he abandoned our most important allies in fighting ISIS: the Syrian Kurds, who were also creating an island of decency in their region, where islands of decency are the most we can hope for.

And then, a few weeks later, Trump ordered the killing of Suleimani, an action that required him to shift more troops into the region and tell Iraqis that we’re not leaving their territory, even though their Parliament voted to evict us. It also prompted Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program, which could well necessitate U.S. military action.”

Facebook Says It Won’t Back Down From Allowing Lies in Political Ads – The New York Times

“SAN FRANCISCO — Defying pressure from Congress, Facebook said on Thursday that it would continue to allow political campaigns to use the site to target advertisements to particular slices of the electorate and that it would not police the truthfulness of the messages sent out.

The stance put Facebook, the most important digital platform for political ads, at odds with some of the other large tech companies, which have begun to put new limits on political ads.

Facebook’s decision, telegraphed in recent months by executives, is likely to harden criticism of the company heading into this year’s presidential election.

Political advertising cuts to the heart of Facebook’s outsize role in society, and the company has found itself squeezed between liberal critics, who want it to do a better job of policing its various social media platforms, and conservatives, who say their views are being unfairly muzzled.”

DL: Here is my favorite comment:

Concerned Citizen
San Francisco

Accurate facts are essential to free elections, the cornerstone and heart of our democracy. If Facebook is so arrogant as to not take any responsibility for the accuracy of what it publishes, then it’s time to break them up and shut them down. Really.

Reply26 Recommended

Opinion | We Can’t Afford Trump as Our Commander in Chief – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“We choose our presidents in happy times and sad, amid bull and bear markets, when we’re trying to conserve what is and when we’re itching to discover what might be.

We should always choose them as if we’re on the brink of war, because it’s impossible to predict when we’ll find ourselves there, in petrified need of a strong, stable leader we can trust.

Donald Trump was chosen in a fit of long-building and largely warranted cynicism, as a gamble and protest. He hadn’t demonstrated any particular strength, only that he could perform a peculiar burlesque of it. He showed zilch in the way of honor, but had a genius for stoking doubts that it still existed in politics at all. His supporters thrilled to a pledge of disruption, not a promise of safe harbor.

And here we are, with an inexperienced, impulsive and perpetually aggrieved commander in chief precisely when we can’t afford one.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | Times Comment:
“We choose our presidents in happy times and sad, amid bull and bear markets, when we’re trying to conserve what is and when we’re itching to discover what might be. We should always choose them as if we’re on the brink of war, because it’s impossible to predict when we’ll find ourselves there, in petrified need of a strong, stable leader we can trust.” This is an amazingly excellent op-ed by Frank Bruni. If I could write like he does, I wouldn’t be the doorman at the hotel he stays in when visiting New York. There is an articulate zinger in almost every other paragraph, such as Nixon’s idea, that it is good for our defense to appear to have a reckless madman at the helm.
David is the author of The Tay Son Rebellion, and blogs at InconvenientNews.net

Hospitals and Schools Are Being Bombed in Syria. A U.N. Inquiry Is Limited. We Took a Deeper Look. – The New York Times

By Malachy BrowneChristiaan TriebertEvan HillWhitney HurstGabriel Gianordoli and 

“The bombs smashed into a child care center, a refugee camp and a school. They destroyed makeshift clinics and hospitals, disabling essential services for tens of thousands of people.

Over the past year, attacks on buildings in northwestern Syria, which are supposed to be off limits during wartime under international law, grew so frequent that the head of the United Nations launched an inquiry to document the violations.

Secretary General António Guterres’s establishment of the investigation is seen by many diplomats as a success at a United Nations largely stymied by division in the powerful Security Council. Russia, a Syrian government ally and a major perpetrator of these attacks, has cast 14 vetoes in the Security Council since the start of the war in Syria, blocking accountability efforts and hindering humanitarian aid deliveries into Syria.

Since April, at least 60 health facilities in northwestern Syria have been damaged in strikes, and at least 29 of them were on the off limits list. But the United Nations, at least so far, is looking at just seven incidents. A United Nations spokesman would not say how the inquiry’s sites were determined.

Human rights and medical groups that support hospitals in Syria have criticized the inquiry as insufficient, saying it fails to match the gravity of the violations. The inquiry, for example, is looking at only one attack likely to have been carried out by Russia, despite previous investigations by The New York Times that found Russia bombed hospitals at least five times in May and November.”

Seven incidents on the United Nations list investigated by The Times.Satellite image by Landsat and Copernicus, via Google Earth

Public Servants: TIME’s Guardians of the Year 2019 | Time

Illustration by Jason Seiler for TIME
BY MASSIMO CALABRESI, VERA BERGENGRUEN AND SIMON SHUSTER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY GABRIELLA DEMCZUK FOR TIME

“There are 363,000 federal workers in the greater Washington, D.C., area. In the first week of September, history turned in the office of one of them. The intelligence analyst who blew the whistle on President Donald Trump had just gotten off the phone with the Inspector General’s office. One of a handful of people who had read the analyst’s report alleging that Trump had solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election, the Inspector General had found the analyst’s concerns “urgent” and “credible.” But there was a problem: higher-ups in the intelligence community had spoken to the White House. Both were blocking the IG from sending the complaint to Congress.

There is a particular kind of silence in the offices of the intelligence community. The buildings have multipaned windows with special protective coatings that prevent eavesdropping so virtually all exterior noise is blocked. There are few conversations in the carpeted hallways—people mind their own business—and everyone ensures their phone calls cannot be overheard. Amid the ambient hum of HVAC systems and the occasional ringing of an elevator bell, the atmosphere is one of monastic isolation. Sitting alone in that silence, the analyst asked, “What do I do now?”

The law provides one answer. In 2014, Congress added a paragraph to the statute that created the role of intelligence community Inspector General. “An individual who has submitted a complaint or information to the Inspector General,” it reads, “may notify any member of either of the Congressional intelligence committees, or a staff member of either of such committees.”

For the analyst, it wasn’t an easy call. The attempt to block the complaint had upped the stakes. What would happen if the analyst came forward? Whistle-blowers are protected from retaliation by law, but President Trump had attacked government officials before, and his supporters were even more threatening. Congress was its own minefield. Republicans on the Hill had backed Trump on Russia, the analyst’s area of expertise. Democrats, for their part, were looking for an edge in the 2020 election and might turn a government employee, like the whistle-blower, into one.

But multiple people had told the analyst that during a July 25 phone call, the President had “sought to pressure” his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on political rivals and pursue a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. The analyst believed that Trump was using the sovereign power of the American presidency in an attempt to stay in office. It was an affront to democracy, the whistle-blower decided. There was only one ethical choice—going to Congress and telling the truth.”

Source: Public Servants: TIME’s Guardians of the Year 2019 | Time

Opinion | The Iraqi Comedian Animating a Political Revolution – By Tina Rosenberg – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Rosenberg is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

“Last week in the studio where he tapes the “Albasheer Show,” Ahmed Albasheer put on a dark presidential hat and a jacket covered in an absurd amount of medals and gold braid, and sat at his desk in an office adorned with the seal of the president of the Republic of Albasheer.

The republic is his invention of course, but Iraqis know what he is mocking. Mr. Albasheer, a 35-year-old journalist, fights for his country with his sense of humor. He has a repertoire of slightly deranged expressions and inspired comic timing, in Arabic (I’m told) and, more surprisingly, in English — a language he didn’t really speak until recently.

Since it began airing in 2014, Mr. Albasheer’s weekly show has become one of the most popular shows in Iraq, airing on YouTube and satellite television. In the past few weeks, the show has taken on new importance. Thousands of young Iraqis are demonstrating, in ways the country has never seen before. The “Albasheer Show” is deeply intertwined with the protests. Mr. Albasheer exposes the workings of power in Iraq, covers the protests and the government’s brutal response, exhorts the protesters to stay peaceful, amplifies their voices and boosts their morale. Some in Iraq believe the protests wouldn’t be happening without him.

Outsmart the scammers – from People’s United Bank

Outsmart the scammers – from People’s United Bank
Outsmart the scammers
Recognize signs of a phone scam and
stop a fraudulent caller in their tracks.
Have you ever answered a call that goes something like this:
“Hello, [Your Name]. I’m calling from [the Name of Your Real Bank].”

(You see the name of your bank displayed on Caller ID.)

“We are calling to alert you to unusual charges on your debit card ending in 1234 at several retailers in recent days. I need to verify your SSN ending in 4321, and confirm your User ID and account number in order to stop this unauthorized activity on your card.”

Is this call legit?

No, it’s a scam.

Why? Because People’s United Bank will never contact a customer either by phone or email to request sensitive personal information such as account numbers, PINs, usernames, passwords, security codes or other personal and account information.

People’s United Bank will also never call and ask a customer to respond to a text message, or share a texted security code.

Know the signs of a phone scam

Scammers are getting more difficult to spot by using the following tactics:

Manipulating or spoofing caller IDs to make calls appear to be from someone you trust, such as your bank.
Conveying a sense of urgency or that pressures you into acting too quickly.
Providing partial but factual information about you or your account and requesting you to confirm that information on-the-spot.
Requesting that you immediately disclose additional personal or account information so that they can help you.
Tips to avoid getting scammed

Don’t assume your caller ID is actually who’s calling.
Don’t confirm private personal or account information over the phone, or by email.
If texted a security code, do not share that security code with anyone over the phone—it should only ever be used by you to access your account.
We will never call and ask to share a texted security code.
We will never call you and ask you to respond to a text message.
If any of these things happens to you, hang up and dial the listed number of your bank.
Your security is our priority
If you have any questions or
concerns please call us.
1-800-894-0300
 
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Protecting your privacy is a priority. People’s United Bank will never request customers to update or verify personal information, passwords, account numbers, or PINs via email. If you suspect an email using the People’s United Bank name to be suspicious, please contact the Call Center or forward the message to abuse@peoples.com for assistance.
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Opinion | My Grandmother’s Favorite Scammer – By Frankie Huang – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Huang is a writer and illustrator.

“BEIJING — One day last winter my mother sent me an odd message over WeChat. “Has Laolao said anything strange to you today?” she asked.

I immediately sensed that something was amiss. My mother is a typical Chinese parent. She always feels obliged to withhold bad news from me until she has no other choice. Why was she worried about my grandmother?

I thought back to my most recent visit to Laolao’s shabby apartment here. She had just turned 88, and other than the usual age-related forgetfulness and grumbling about kids these days, she was her usual self.

My mother’s next message unnerved me even more. “Was she of sound mind?”

“You have to tell me what’s going on,” I messaged back.

I fought the urge to berate her and began to scour the internet for information on bank scams that involved sworn secrecy. My heart sank when results filled my screen, describing our situation exactly. I was in an airport, on a business trip, so I messaged Laolao’s assistant at her office and told her to freeze all my grandmother’s bank accounts. But it turned out the bank couldn’t do anything unless Laolao herself requested it.”

Opinion | Against the Myth of ‘No New Border Walls’ – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Cantú is an author and a former Border Patrol agent.

Credit…Michael Benanav for The New York Times

“TUCSON, Arizona — My earliest childhood memories are of the wind sweeping across the deserts of West Texas, over the rolling hills and stone peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where my mother worked as a ranger for the National Park Service. Her duties were not just to protect and preserve places of natural beauty but also to interpret their landscape to visitors through stories — stories she would share with me on a daily basis at home, on hikes, in the car, even weaving them into the songs she sang to me at bedtime.

The Guadalupe Mountains, an hour and a half from the Rio Grande, could be considered part of a vast network of borderland parks and wilderness preserves. Because of their proximity to our evermore militarized border, these areas have become one of our country’s most endangered landscapes. The most immediate threat comes, of course, from President Trump’s fixation on expanding the staggering number of barriers that already reach across more than one-third of our nearly 2,000 miles of border shared with Mexico.

While it may be comforting for many to think that the Trump administration has been entirely ineffective in delivering on his most symbolic and most hateful campaign promises, the truth is far more alarming: As you read these words, towering walls of concrete and steel are being constructed across national monuments, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. In all, more than 130 miles of federally protected lands are under threat.

Those who seek to minimize the new construction insist that new walls are only replacing existing ones — mostly four-foot-high vehicle barriers that do little to alter the movement of wildlife or the natural rhythms of the landscape. The 30-foot walls that are taking their place are easily scalable by humans but completely impenetrable by most wild animals. The new construction also poses grave flooding hazards and requires the draining of precious desert groundwater, threatening to permanently reshape entire ecosystems.”