OK, you know how I stand on Senator Warner. We are not close friends of course, but somehow history seems to be connecting us.
He's not flashy but is bright; was valedictorian at George Washington University. He started three companies as a young man, and the first two failed ... went bankrupt. At that time, he went to law school to try and find a "real job," as he has said, but eventually the entrepreneurial bug got to him again and he raised money from his fellow law school friends and started what became Nextel, which was bought out by a large company and made him a wealthy man. Mark Warner is not a career politician, although he has been interested in politics since high school.
The most recent of our "seven degrees of separation" connections occurred back in March during the hyper-frenetic South-by-Southwest in Austin, when Warner was a key speaker at one of the panels. Usually, I try to stay as far from town as possible those three weeks, but one day an email invited me to a "brunch" with Senator Warner on Sunday morning. That was unusual enough, but what made it really strange was that it was sent on Friday, or maybe Saturday! I happened to see it, and RSVP'd that I would attend. The address was something like "Unit 60 A" at a prominent high rise apartment in town. I had no idea what this meant, and assumed there would be some sort of "community room" on the top floor, with a breakfast spread for a crowd along with a great view. To my surprise, the address turned out to be an individual, private home in the high-rise, and to my utter amazement, the person who opened the door invited me into the living room where no more than four of five other guests were milling around along with Senator Warner! One or two people arrived within a few minutes, but all in all, there were only seven of so guests and the Senator, plus a small catering crew. Wow! We were treated to brunch and a broad update on the state of the government in the US, all with no notes, along with unlimited Q&As. I came away totally convinced that Senator Warner would be the sort of leader who would make a first-class contribution to this country.
But wait, that's not all. Just a day or two ago, another email arrived with an invitation to join the Senator for a discussion of topics of national interest. Or something like that. The venue was a conference room associated with a bar on the first floor of a well-known building in the very heart of Austin. The stated time was 6 p.m. on Friday, May 19. I arrived early, lucked into a parking spot four or five blocks away, and walked to the appointed location. Right after I arrived, Admiral Bob Inman walked in, and I had him all to myself for nearly twenty minutes! Now he has had a really interesting career! The Senator arrived more than a half hour late, having flown commercially; the flight was delayed and traffic was the usual horrible Austin scene. Unfortunately, the room was poor acoustically, with a concrete floor and no microphone, so Senator Warner spoke to the roughly twenty-five people there by continuously turning around and making eye contact. I had to strain to listen, although standing only five of six feet away, but got most of what he said. Following that, there was fifteen or so minutes of Q&A, and the guests left. I had the opportunity to thank him again for helping get Virginia Tech into the ACC back in the day. He smiled, said that was one of his best "wins," and thanked me for "always being at my events." I think he really did remember me!
The main reason for this blog, and I apologize for the wordiness and hope that a few readers still are with me, is to summarize his comments last night, all of which were done without any notes. The Senate Intelligence Committee report that was just released was a unanimous conclusion. Every Democrat and every Republican signed it and is in total agreement. This is completely different from the bitterly divided House Intelligence Committee, a disgustingly dysfunctional partisan battlefield. The Senate committee's full, unclassified report, in his words, has three key conclusions:
1 The Russians, under state leadership, actively interfered in the 2016 election in the US. The effort was sophisticated, effective, and was aimed at promoting the candidacy of Donald Trump and hindering the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Warner said that Vladimir Putin personally hated Hillary Clinton, based not only on her policies, including sanctions, but also that Russian athletes were banned from the recent Olympics for doping. There were other factors, but I don't remember them. It seemed more of antipathy against Clinton than preference for Trump.
2. Twenty one states were targeted specifically, and at least several states' electronic voting systems were hacked into. There is no indication that any cast votes were changed.
3. This is perhaps the most scary one of the three. The Russians took advantage of the fact, and this is staggering to me, that half of Americans get their news primarily, or solely, from social media! Yes, you read this correctly. The Russians created fake entities, and sometimes actually hacked into "friends" accounts on Facebook, stole identities from real people, then posted under their names. Thousands of phony identities were formed, and hundreds, if not thousands of "causes" were created. Many of these were able to get huge numbers of people to "like" and "share" them, and they spread out and reached, if I remember correctly, 121 million people who read or shared or liked, etc these. There were large rallies in many parts of the country created by entirely fake groups, groups that did not exist at all, but seemed so authentic that people were that energized. They not only posted false information about candidates they wanted to hurt, but also had sophisticated campaigns to decrease interest in voting for target groups, often blacks or Hispanics in order to lower their turnout. Smear campaigns against Muslims were incorporated. Religious issues were used against some candidates.
If you think this is crazy or impossible, just remember the false information that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex ring operating our of a pizza restaurant in New York City! There were so many people who believed this that many showed up and threatened violence to the poor sap who was trying to serve pizza. Or think about the conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, who has two million people who actually pay to get his "Info Wars" Internet empire that has declared things such as that the Sandy Hook, CT murders at the elementary school were fabricated and nothing ever happened. Let that sink in.
Senator Warner indicated that the threats to free and fair elections in this country and many other countries are threatened, and said that he considers this as the most serious dangerous thing to confront the US, even more than North Korea or Syria. Let that sink in.
All I can say is that the truth needs to come out. The current president who demeans the press, criticizes the FBI and the Department of Justice, and who can't seem to go a day without a new cruel nickname for an enemy or some personal or financial scandal, is lowering the dignity of the office of President. His approach, apparently the art of the deal, is to be an aggressive bully. Senator Warner closed with the comment that within twenty years, this country could be facing its most critical test to the institutions of governance and democracy. Let that sink in!
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