The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

The first page of the Joint Analysis Report narrative by the Department of Homeland Security and federal Bureau of Investigation and released on Dec. 29, 2016, is photographed in Washington, Jan. 6, 2017. Computer security specialists say the technical details in the narrative that the U.S. said would show whether computers had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence services were poorly done and potentially dangerous. Cybersecurity firms ended up counseling their customers to proceed with extreme caution after a slew of false positives led back to sites such as Amazon and Yahoo Inc. Companies and organizations were following the government’s advice Dec. 29 and comparing digital logs recording incoming network traffic to their computers and finding matches to a list of hundreds of internet addresses the Homeland Security Department had identified as indicators of malicious Russian intelligence services cyber activity. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

From The New York Times today:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.

The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America’s intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role. The meeting came just two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration and was underway even as the electoral votes from his victory were being formally counted in a joint session of Congress.

Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report — a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them — made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.

The Times story is a mostly fair, if incomplete, description of the report itself, which is a provocative, disturbing and infuriating document. Damning? I don’t know about that. Anyone can damn something, but to be sure the damning is just requires evidence.

Observations and Questions:

1. The report isn’t evidence of anything. It just isn’t, and anyone or any source that states otherwise is misleading us. It would not be admissible as evidence if Russia or Putin were on trial in the U.S. for trying to influence the 2016 election. The document is a statement of opinions after analysis of material and sources we are not allowed to see. At the beginning, the report goes to great lengths to explain why this is, and the explanation is sound. Unless, however, the position we are supposed to take is that the intelligence community is to be assumed to be 100% correct, uninfluenced by bias, and  ought to be believed without reservations despite the presence of hard evidence, the declassified report is a statement by experts of an analysis based on experience and study, of exactly what, we don’t know.

2.Regarding the Times story: the intention of the news media to undermine the Trump Presidency and bolster Democrats who want to blame their candidate’s defeat on anything but her own weaknesses and conduct  appears to be on display in the Times story. For example, we have this statement:

“The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump’s victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.”

The leaping to the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefor because of it”) is both a human tendency to be avoided and well-known. This statement appeals to it, intentionally, or incompetently. The fact that Trump’s shocking victory came after the cyber-attacks does not mean or even suggest that the attacks were responsible for that result. The Times immediately, in the next sentence, even states that “The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.” Well, those are mixed messages. Do I, based on the uninterrupted anti-Trump attitude of the Times in its headlines, placement of stories, tone and pitch of news reports, op-eds and editorials, conclude that the mixed message is intentional or sparked by negligence seeded by bias?

I do.

3.  Much further down in its story, the Times admits, Continue reading

An Obvious Ethics Note On The State Of The Union Address


Since President Obama has shown a willingness to lie outright to the American people in order to advance his policy agendas and acquire political advantage, there is no reason why any citizen should have cared what he said in the State of the Union message yesterday. One example should suffice, though there are dozens. As recently as January 7, President Obama pushed his anti-gun agenda by stating that “we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close.”  It’s a lie. It’s a lie because he has said this repeatedly, and repeatedly been told, even by reliable anti-gun sources that it is false. France suffered more deaths and injuries from mass shootings in the past year than the U.S. has during Obama’s eight years in office. That doesn’t diminish the importance of finding, if possible, effective policies to reduce U.S. gun violence. It just means that the President thinks it’s acceptable to lie to us, so he does.

The head-exploding moment in his speech last night (I read the transcript), if it did not come with the cynical and silly announcement of a Sixties space program-type effort to “cure cancer”—since we’ve all been ignoring cancer all these years–with Joe Biden—not Khloe Kardashian, an equally strong choice—at the helm (see, Joe’s son died of cancer, so that qualifies him for leadership in cancer research), came from Obama’s stated regrets for the divided state of the nation’s politics, and his failure to stem them, though Lord knows he tried.

Gee, why didn’t his advisors suggest to him that one way for the President to reduce societal division would to stop actively trying to divide people along class, race, religion, region, gender, generation and ethnicity? Continue reading

Be Careful What You Wish For Dept.: “Occupy” May Finally Have a Plan, and Sure Enough, It’s Ethically Bats

Oh, yes,THIS is bound to work out well…

The core of my objection to Occupy Wall Street and its progeny was and is that it never had the discipline, cohesion or communications skills to make it clear what the “movement” really wanted to accomplish, other than generally blaming all the world’s ills on the wealthy and successful. This was the reason for its failure, though Occupy fans like to say that it “succeeded” by starting a national dialogue about corporate executive salaries and the growing disparity in income levels between the richest and the poorest Americans—as if that dialogue hadn’t been ongoing long  before the first sign went up in Zuccotti Park.

Now there are signs that the Occupy bitter-enders are hard at work launching a real, substantive effort with a specific goal, albeit and insane one: to bring down the financial system with a “debt strike.” ( In These Times headlined its story about this “You Are Not A Loan.” Pretty clever!) The idea is to refuse to pay back the interest or principal on outstanding debt, and to insist that all loans and interest  be forgiven, since the debt system is inherently corrupt and rigged to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich.

We shouldn’t have to expend a lot of argument on why this is unethical. People, companies and nations in serious debt reach that point because they spend more money than they have. They borrow money promising to repay, agreeing to pay an additional fee, interest, for the privilege of using money that doesn’t belong to them. The vast majority of debt is not amassed by desperate debtors who have to deal with the equivalent of Loan Shark Larry and risk broken legs or death unless they pay unconscionable fees. Most debt comes from wanting something before you can pay for it. While laws are in place to minimize predatory lending and to provide a safety net (in the form of bankruptcy) so people and companies don’t end up destitute and in debtor’s prison, essentially the system, like society itself, exists on trust, the cornerstone of all ethics.  Lenders give their money to trustworthy loan-seekers, and charge higher interest rates to those who they deem less trustworthy. That is fair. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dana Balicki, Proud OWS Protester

“There’s tens of millions of dollars spent protecting the perimeter so we’re shaking something up.”

—-Dana Balicki, Occupy Wall Street protester, on today’s “birthday” protest of about 1000 nostalgic OWS types that resulted in almost 150 arrests and a disruption of traffic and commuter travel, but, as ever, nothing coherent, useful or productive.

Well said.

Yes, this is Occupy in a nutshell: happily wasting the publics money despite rising deficits at all levels of government, inconveniencing honest people trying to make a living, and annoying as many  as possible without having anything constructive to contribute to the nation’s policy debates or to offer as practical solutions to its intensifying problems.

A year ago, I summed up the efforts of this irresponsible, arrogant, lazy, destructive group, and was too kind.

But 100% correct.


Source: Wall Street Journal

Comment of the Day on “Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?”

Back in October of 2011, I wrote a post in reaction to the sign reproduced left, held by an Occupy Wall Street protester who either was an unemployed law graduate or who plays one on TV.   Many are the ethical matters and controversies that have spilled on these pages since, and copious is the water that has flowed under the bridge, but because not very many people, comparatively speaking, read ethics websites in general and this one in particular, it took the better part of a year for that post to reach the laptop of  disgruntled law grad with access to a website for disgruntled law grads. Thus suddenly my name has been taken in vain in several fora where underemployed, student loan-burdened JDs hang out. Some, gratefully, have been kind enough to alert me with comments to Ethics Alarms, expressing their unhappiness with my insensitivity. This, the Comment of the Day, is such a post, by lawyer (presumably) Bobby Wilberger.

I must say at the outset that Bobby is lucky to have this posted, and I must say that because I don’t want another lawyer citing it as precedent. Bobby, who by definition if his post is to be taken seriously, had legal training, apparently didn’t absorb the part about following rules, being honest and truthful and reading documents relating to your work carefully. The posting requirements for Comments, clearly indicated at the top of this page, require a valid e-mail address. Bobby did not supply me with such an address, instead giving me a fake address with the clever suffix of “”.  This would pretty much ding Bobby if I were hiring, and is consistent with my over-all thesis that if you are an un- or underemployed law grad the first thing you need to do to get to the bottom of your problems is to look in the mirror.

I’ll have more to say after Bobby’s post. Here it is, the Comment of the Day, on Young, Gullible, Lazy, Unimaginative and Unbelievable: I Wonder Why This Lawyer Has Trouble Finding A Job?: Continue reading

How Extreme Ideology Makes You An Insufferable, Mean-Spirited Jerk: Case Study…William Ayers

Thank you for your service, and of course you can board the airplane before I do. By the way, Bill Ayers says you don't work.

Barack Obama’s friend Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, the now retired terrorists, found their way to Occupy Wall Street yesterday, which figures, and these murderous Sixties socialists were welcomed as heroes by the OWS crowd, which figures even more.

In the course of their joint rant about how doomed and terrible the United States is, Ayers, who apparently resented not being in the first group to board a recent commercial flight by virtue of his first class ticket, posed this question:

“We’ve got a militarized society and its become so common sense that, getting on the airplane coming out here, the first thing they said was let all the, uhh, let all the ya know, uniformed military get on first and thank you for your service.  And I said as I always do: let’s let the teachers and nurses get on first and thank them for their service.  I mean, why is it that everything military has got to be good and everything that has to do with actual work, real work, not jobs, real work for people, that stuff gets discouraged and marginalized?Continue reading

An Ethical, Effective, and Ironic Counter-Protest

Hey, thanks guys! Keep it up!

The OWS protesters could learn a thing or 2, 456 from the clever students at Missouri’s Clayton High School. You see,  protests don’t have to be obnoxious and pointless, if organizers have their wits about them and a clear objective in mind.

After Fred Phelps’ vicious, hateful, and Constitutionally-protected Westboro Baptist Church announced that it planned to take a break from disturbing family funerals for fallen American soldiers who perished for their country in order to demonstrate against Clayton High’s  Gay-Straight Alliance, the student leaders of the Alliance  organized what they call a “Phelps-a-Thon.” Donors are pledging to give money to the Gay-Straight Alliance’s human rights initiatives for every minute the Phelpsians are chanting and waiving their homophobic signs and placards.

Voila! The longer they demonstrate against gays, the more money they raise for gay rights, thus damning themselves to be slowly cut up into little shreds  by sadistic demon high-school cafeteria workers wielding dull vegetable peelers, then reassembled by cubist jokesters, and forced to watch re-runs of RuPaul’s reality show for all eternity, or whatever happens to horrid people like them in Hell.

Peaceful, effective, lucrative, pointed, simple, and funny. You can’t have a more ethical protest than that!

[Thanks to Jeff Hibbert for the tip!]

Ethics Hero, “Even A Stopped Ethics Alarm Clock Will Be Right Twice A Day” Division: Bill Maher

Whenever shameless ideologues of any stripe graciously or grudgingly take positions against his or her camp’s official cant, they should be applauded or otherwise encouraged in the faint hope that they will prompt honesty and fairness from others of similar rigidity. Thus it is that I am forced to award the relentlessly uncivil, unfair and unethical comic Bill Maher, host of a rigged public affairs/ satire panel show on HBO, this Ethics Hero award.

Maher joined the small but growing group of pundits and politicians willing to admit that the Occupy movement they had  foolishly hailed as a legitimate exercise of the vox populi is an embarrassment, saying on his latest show  (in his trademarked gross fashion),

“…And as I watch them on the news now I find myself almost agreeing with Newt Gingrich. Like, you know what – get a job. Only because, you know, the people who originally started, I think they went home and now it’s just these anarchist stragglers. And this is the problem when you, you know, when your movement involves sleeping over in the park. You wind up attracting the people who were sleeping over in the park anyway. And I think that’s where we are now with the Occupy movement. They did a great job bringing the issue of income and equality to the fore, but now it’s just a bunch of douchebags who think throwing a chair through the Starbucks window is going to bring on the revolution.” Continue reading

The Corruption Problem

“Maybe, just maybe, the legislative and judicial systems have been corrupted, by, dare I say it, corporations?”

—Ethics Alarms commenter and OWS warrior Jeff Field, in his comment regarding the weekend post, The Marianne Gingrich Ethics Train Wreck

I don’t know how Jeff reaches the conclusion that the judicial system has been corrupted by corporations. Judges, unlike legislators, do not grow rich as a result of their inside knowledge and corporate connections. Judges, unlike revolving-door Congressional staffers and lawyers, do not generally come from corporate backgrounds. The fact that a judicial decision benefits the interests of some corporations, and many do not, does not mean that the decision was not just or was influenced by more than persuasive legal arguments. Those who believe that begin with the biased and untenable position that any decision that benefits a corporation must be, by definition, wrong.

So let me put that dubious assertion aside as the result of excessive reformer’s zeal and crusader’s license, and deal with the general proposition that corporations corrupt the legislative system, and society generally. Well, sure they do, but the statement is misleading, and, I would argue, meaningless because it places disproportional importance on the corrupting influence of this one, admittedly important, societal force.

Yes, corporations can be corrupting influences. So can government, and the lure of public office. The news media is a corrupting influence on the legislature, and upon society generally. Religion corrupts; as does popular culture, with its celebration of empty celebrity, glamor and wealth. Non-profits and charities are corrupted by their tunnel vision of specific worthy objectives to the neglect of others; the civil rights movement corrupts, as does feminism and all other advocacy efforts, which often, if not usually, succumb to an “ends justify the means” ethic, which is unethical. Indeed, freedom corrupts, as does dependence. Cynicism corrupts, and corrupts with a vengeance. Ignorance corrupts; so does the belief, however well-supported, that one knows it all. Ideological certitude and inflexibility corrupts.

Education, and the cost of it, corrupts. Sports, both professional and collegiate, corrupt people, students, and institutions. Science corrupts; technology corrupts. Heaven knows, the internet corrupts. Leisure and success; triumph and defeat; wealth and poverty, love and hate, desperation, patriotism; kindness, loyalty, sex, lust; intellectual superiority, beauty, physical prowess, passion. Talent corrupts. Kindness and sympathy too.

Self-righteousness. Fear. Worry. Envy. Stupidity. Zealotry.

And, as we all know, power and the love of money.

All of these and more corrupt human beings and the institutions, organizations and governments that they make up. If individuals are corruptible, something will corrupt them, as sure as the sun rises and the quinces ripen. To focus upon any one of the limitless and abundant sources of corruption and to say, “This, above all, is the cause of our problems” is naive and unfair. By all means, we must seek ways to limit the opportunities for corruption and the damage it can do, but we must also recognize that the ability to corrupt does not mean that something or someone does not or cannot contribute much good to society as well. Heroes can corrupt, as we saw in the tragedy of Joe Paterno, but we need heroes. Leaders can corrupt, and often do, but we still need leaders.

Ultimately,  the best way to stop people and things from corrupting us is to understand what corruption is and how easy it is to be corrupted. Our inoculation is ethics, understanding right and wrong and how to recognize both, and learning to recognize when we are biased, conflicted, or being guided by non-ethical or unethical motivations. Shifting the blame for corruption away from ourselves is comforting, but intimately counter-productive. We have the power to resist corruption, just as it is within out power to select public servants who are not likely to be corrupted. It is our responsibility to do so.


Occupy Brain Pans

Allow me to translate: "Duh!"

The latest, dumbest and most telling of the endless Occupy group protests occurs today, as 111 Occupy Wall Street spin-offs across the country engage in “Occupy the Courts,” a protest to mark two years since the 2010 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the government cannot ban organizational spending on political campaigns. Move to Amend, the group that is sponsoring the protests, says that the goal is to build support for a constitutional amendment that would abolish corporate constitutional rights, such as the right to free speech, and declaring that political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

If I were optimistic and naive, I would assume that this nonsense would finally shame the imprudent members of the media, Democratic Party and Obama administration who cynically hitched their wagons to the Occupy Wall Street anvil, hoping that eventually the groups would do or say something that justified all the attention and expense lavished on them. Instead, the Occupy movement has featured rapes, robberies, beatings, riots, obscenity, anti-Semites, homeless hangers-on, demonstrators defecating on cars, a woman placing her baby on railroad tracks, another child being abandoned to shiver in a tent, a pseudo-bomb being thrown at the White House, a demonstrator shooting a rifle at the White House, violated permits, squalor, disease and rats….all while the news media showed its stripes by maintaining with a straight face that this display was no different or worse than the comparatively dignified, focused and streamlined Tea Party demonstrations. Nonetheless, the facilitators of this embarrassment in the annals of civil protest seem determined to keep the faith until it blows up into a genuine tragedy or slinks away. If Occupy the Courts won’t convince the pols and journalists that they made an epic mistake, nothing will. But at least it settles the matter. These people have no idea, none, what they are doing. Continue reading