American Culture

Let’s talk, America…and let’s start with the so-called Deep State, because why not?

deepstateBut first, a word from our sponsor

Hi. You might know me from such…no. No, you wouldn’t. I’m nobody. I’m just some rando on the internet. Or maybe I’m a Dem apparatchik. Or a Trump stooge. Possibly a corporate shill. Maybe a Russian bot. Maybe I’m not that hottie in the photo I sent, but just some hairy, sweaty slob named Bob, frantically typing away in my basement, sitting here only in my skivvies and a Dorito-stained wife-beater.

So why should a whole country want to have a conversation with me?

It sure isn’t my inimitable charm. It isn’t my academic pedigree. It isn’t my decades of professional experience in some three-ring circus that’s supposed to matter to us.

It’s because I like to see myself as sort of an Everyman. There’s really nothing that remarkable about me, certainly nothing marketable enough to get paid the big bucks. If you’ve got a hot tip, though, I’m all ears.

I am chatty. I see things in my own peculiar way. I ask a lot of questions. I have very few sacred cows. Touch a child wrong, and I’ll cut a bitch, though. Oh, and I don’t do PC. I do basic human decency and respect as well as I’m able, but I’m not going to get sucked into some postmodern semantic nightmare where I’m supposed to worry about every last delicate feeling someone might trot out for inspection. If that ain’t your cup of tea, consider yourself trigger-warned.

And while I might fail at it now and again, I at least make an effort to make rational decisions. I’m not talking about choosing the healthier meal over a double-bacon greaseclot supreme. I’m talking about deciding what I think about the world as it presents itself to me, what my role in that world is, and how I should go about fulfilling that role. To get there, I don’t have a degree in philosophy. I know a few logical fallacies and try to avoid them. I don’t have expertise in rhetoric, and while I enjoy good oratory, that it’s fine oratory makes me more skeptical of the message, rather than less. I don’t take to proselytizing, because arguments from authority don’t appeal to me, especially arguments from revealed authority. One might think that makes me an empiricist, but I’m not except in everyday pragmatic matters, because injuries suck, both real and imagined.

You won’t find me pitching a whole lot of answers.

Oh, and you might hate my style. I’ll try to watch that. I tend to write as much for the feel of the words flowing from the voices in my head through my fingers as much as anything, but this is supposed to be a discussion, so I’ll try to be good.

Except for cussing. I’ll try to keep the f-bombs to zero, since all they do is make me feel good and serve as vice-signaling (the opposite of virtue signaling, but it looks cool in front of the metal kids). Mostly I’ll only need recourse to bullshit. I have a deep and abiding loathing of bullshit. I was bullshitted as a kid. I remained bullshitted through my youth. And every time I’ve peeled off the latest layer of bullshit, there’s always been another layer of bullshit under it just taking it sweet time to ripen. Because that’s how bullshit layers work. I like to think I’m over the bullshit now, but that’s just today’s My Own Personal Bullshit, and it’s subject to change for no obvious reason whatsoever. Since I find bullshit to be repugnant, and project that distaste on to all people, I see no point in whitewashing bullshit by calling it something polite. It’s supposed to be distasteful.

There. Enough of that crap. You have as good an idea of me now as you ever will. My thoughts will pass or fail on their own merits, not because of any veneer of respectable authority I might project.

Now on to the show.

Oh, and unlike shows that start with “Previously…,” I might get tricky now and again and start with a spoiler. The trick is getting back to the spoiler from the beginning. If I can’t, I’ll know I’ve got a problem.

In today’s spoiler: Your chatty author admits that the case he wants to make is not the one it appears to be.

Deep-State

So, have you heard? The official story is that Russia was indeed up to something in 2016…attempting to penetrate the voter registration rolls in 21 states, succeeding, apparently in only one attempt. There appears to be no evidence of changes made in the attack.

I first spotted the story on Facebook. I proceeded to Google it instead of clicking through because FB’s algorithms aren’t to be trusted even a little, even if Google’s are only to be trusted only slightly more, if at all. I chose an article from The Hill, not because they’re authoritative, but they at least seem to be fairly transparent. They were reporting on an NBC story, but I can’t complain because I’m here reporting on a story from The Hill.

It was refreshing to see that it wasn’t a story predicated on anonymice and our faith in media. It was, instead, an honest to God federal official making a pronouncement comprising a few claims. NBC gave reason to believe that those claims may be lacking in, well, factuality.

Is it 21 states attacked with only one successfully penetrated, as the head of cybersecurity at the DHS said? This is right about where I really hope you and I start having a conversation.

So let’s scrutinize a bit. Who is Jeanette Manfra again? According to the DHS website, “Jeanette Manfra serves as the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C).” Not to take anything away from Manfra’s important work for the nation, but that’s just not as pithy as “head of cybersecurity,” as reported by NBC, however technically correct it may have been. She may well be the head of cybersecurity, but look at that title.

And this is where I like to start heading off into the weeds. Are you with me?

I’ve worked in a LOT of offices. A LOT. When I see a title like that, I usually see someone with too much salary for what they do answering to someone who answers to someone who answers to someone who answers to someone. In my experience, when that list gets that long, the thing a person is “in charge” of is some pain in the ass the higher up was charged with, and it may be an important thing, but, and I’m talking practically here, it’s the kind of thing you relegate to someone below the person they answer to. See what I mean. If it were a bigger deal to them, it would have an Undersecretary of its own, instead of answering to one higher up. Heck, if it were really important, maybe it would be its own directorate under the DHS umbrella. No. It’s a couple of degrees removed from that singularly important responsibility, the protection of the integrity of our elections.

And how important has the National Protection and Programs Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security been to this administration? Maybe we can judge from the quality of the person holding the office.

What do you mean it’s vacant? Oh, from the Wiki page on the NPPD, that head of cybersecurity is the senior official performing the duties of the Undersecretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Is that an interesting detail for NBC to leave out? That we have a mid-level official speaking above her pay grade because the Office of the Boss is empty? I mean, she’s the only one who can make that report to the press at that level, and I’m sure she’s operating on the best information she has available.

Am I, really? Are you? This isn’t to cast doubt on the credibility of the person or the report. At this stage, it’s just a fair question when vetting our sources. Do we trust both she and her numbers when she presents them? On what basis?

Let’s just say I’m neither sold, nor unsold. I’m waiting and seeing while I look at other details.

There’s that thing about her boss’s office being empty. Why is that?

Well, I found this. Should I bother wondering who or what ExecutiveGov is? They’re published by Executive Mosaic. Have you heard of them? Me neither. It matters to me because right off, they say that the acting undersecretary of the NPPD is Christopher Krebs, and they’re saying this today, 2/8/2018, the same day NBC posted their report at 7:28 AM.

Which one is correct, NBC, or that Executive Mosaic publication? Are they both correct? Even with 24/7 everything on the internet, actual salient facts are slower to emerge than pondwater when you want them, because pondwater emerges and I thrive on malapropisms. I don’t blame Wiki. Their editors probably just haven’t caught up yet.

What do we know about Christopher Krebs? As the article says, confirmed at The Hill, Trump nominated him to be the Undersecretary of NPPD today.

Does that seem like much of an administration priority to you? 384 days into his presidency and Trump finally nominates someone for the job that oversees the job responsible for cybersecurity.

Back to her for a moment. I thought Wiki was slow to update, but, according to that Hill article, he’s been “performing the duties of under secretary for NPPD for several months.”

Okay, so maybe NBC didn’t leave that out about her acting in that role as Wiki had me believing? And the more I poke at this, the more of a rats’ nest it looks like. According to a different Hill article back in January, there’s a Bob Kolasky serving as acting deputy undersecretary at Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, so, unless there were yet other changes, Manfra (the official) in the NBC clip is now the Assistant Secretary of CS&C, and appears to have been, at some point, the acting undersecretary of NPPD, until she wasn’t and Krebs took the acting slot, only now to be actually nominated, and that Kolasky guy, qualified (maybe?) to serve as deputy, served under Manfra until it wasn’t her any longer and she’s back to just AS of CS&C. Why wasn’t Kolasky the acting undersecretary, then?

And what kind of HR hell is that?

Are you okay with DHS letting NPPD come across as a shambles of staff juggling?

Are you okay with Trump waiting until the 384th day of his presidency to finally nominate someone for the role of Undersecretary for NPPD?

Are you confident that his pick is competent to oversee the work done beneath him in the org chart? I can’t say. His bachelor’s was in environmental science, he got his JD, and then…cybersecurity policy, with what appears to be a fairly successful career. If Google runs true, Christopher C. Krebs didn’t hit the headlines prior to 12/31/2016, so no apparent scandal. Should we trust that HR departments across his career made the right choices in his career progression? Sure? Why not?

And Trump did drop him in an office not too long into his first year.

Is it wrong that I’m stuck on Trump waiting 384 days to nominate him for the role of Undersecretary? Or that I think I’m seeing a department in disarray?

Back to Manfra again, is it weird that she was the official to discuss the attacks on voter registration rolls with NBC?

Is it weird that NBC, without commentary, offers up the detail that of the 21 states, 5 of them including California say there weren’t attacked? Would it have been biased journalism to clearly make the factual claim that 5 states disagree with the person I’m not even sure should have been the one in the interview? Is it actually worse if she is indeed the person who ought to have given the interview? Which would be more damning?

Is it weird that Manfra says of the 21 states attacked, only one was successfully penetrated while NBC opens the article by saying that she said Russians penetrated the rolls of several states? I just reloaded the page, and it says the same thing. No update.

Is it weird that NBC doesn’t bother to catch those kinds of sloppy inconsistencies?

Is it weird that we’re mostly so complacent about shoddy journalism that we don’t even bother holding them to account for their unaddressed errors? Van Halen was pickier than that with their brown M&M’s clause, because details are important.

As I said earlier, the case I want to make is not as it appears to be. Didn’t I say I was going to talk with you (not at you) about the Deep State? If that even exists, aren’t I? And if not, what is Russia up to?

“After the success of the viral #ReleaseTheMemo campaign, Russian-influenced Twitter accounts are test-running other hashtags designed to stoke anger, particularly among supporters of President Donald Trump, against “deep state” forces, according to analysts at Hamilton 68, a website that tracks Russian-influenced Twitter accounts.”

If it’s Russian propaganda, clearly the “deep state” is just a big nothingburger, right?

Is propaganda always false, whatever its larger agenda? What are they casting a stinkeye on, if anything? And should our opinions about it be different one way or another depending on which president is in office at the time?

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