One Elvis Fan Could Be Wrong

Recently I applied for a life insurance policy and as part of the screening I was instructed to go to a clinic to surrender some bodily fluids to insure that I wouldn’t be collecting on the policy anytime soon. On the appointed day I arrived at the “clinic”, which was actually a converted storefront in a strip mall.

When I entered the clinic I was immediately overwhelmed by its sterility. This was the whitest office I’d ever been in; devoid of any color or artwork on the walls. I approached the receptionist’s window and read the small note card: “Please ring the bell for service.” I tapped the bell and it let out a single tone that lingered unnaturally in the cold space that crowded me as I stood alone.

A lovely black woman in her mid-thirties greeted me warmly. “Good morning Mr. Cheetham, I’m Layla and I’ll be taking care of you today.”

“Okay.”

She gestured to a door to my right, “Go right in that door and I will meet you in the lab.”
I walked through the door – more unbearable whiteness; walls, ceiling, tile floors, and fluorescent lighting. It was a large room with one table and two chairs against one wall and a chair with a small medical table next to it used for taking blood samples.
Layla walked in wearing blue scrubs that accentuated her dark skin. She stood in stark contrast to my surroundings. “Let’s sit down and do some forms first,” she said gesturing to the table and chairs. I sat down holding my ridiculously large set of keys and my oversized phone. “You can put those on the table, Mr. Cheetham.”

I put my keys and phone on the table. Layla unfolded a tablet on the table saying “let me just look through these forms.”

I sat quietly in the echo-chamber of a room, then it started – emanating from Layla’s tablet – Elvis, the King himself, wailed:

“Well that’s all right, mama
That’s all right for you
That’s all right mama, just anyway you do
Well, that’s all right, that’s all right
That’s all right now mama, anyway you do”

Layla picked up the beat as she reviewed my data on the tablet. She almost imperceptibly moved her shoulders to the rhythm before she caught herself and looked at me as if to ask, is it okay?

Before she could speak I enthusiastically answered, “Oh, I like Elvis.” Who couldn’t like Elvis? He was shattering the sterile environment and that’s all right.

“So we’ll just leave the music on?”

“Yes!” I answered immediately.

Layla did some light typing and then handed me a small plastic cup. “Okay Mr. Cheetham, I’ll need a urine sample.” She pointed to a small bathroom.
“That’s all right, mama” the King sang.

I walked into the bathroom and got to work, but I couldn’t help thinking, she doesn’t seem like the Elvis type. Just goes to show you Cheetham, you can’t account for music tastes. I walked out of the room only to be greeted by the sounds of Gene Vincent:

“Be bob a lula, she’s my baby
Be bop a lula, I don’t mean maybe…”

This was becoming much more than an insurance screening – this was a certifiable rockabilly revival right in a sterile lab inside a nondescript strip mall!
I place my sample on the table as instructed.

Before Layla could speak to give me my next set of instructions I smiled and said, “Gene Vincent. This guy was a genius. Love this song.”

Layla smiled, “It is good. Isn’t it?”

“I love this stuff,” I returned.

“Okay Mr. Cheetham I’m going to ask you to sit in the chair so I can take 3 small vials of blood.”

Of course, I’d be glad to give my blood to her. This was a woman who understood rock and roll. As I sat down and rolled up my sleeve, I started constructing essays in my head. My mind raced, “you see – this is the real power of music, people. A young black woman and a middle aged white guy are connecting, right here in a stark laboratory, because Gene Vincent was forcing us to connect. That’s beautiful.” My thoughts were the thoughts of an obnoxious long-haired sociology professor preparing to lecture bored 18 year old students.

Layla wrapped my upper arm with a rubber band and applied alcohol to my bulging vein, “You are gonna feel a little stick.”  And as if she was synchronizing her movements, just as I felt that stick, from the tablet on the table came the drum intro and then Eddie Cochran kicked in with:

“Well c’mon everybody
And let’s get together tonight
I’ve got some money in my jeans
And I’m gonna spend it right…”

Layla changed out the vial of blood and started a second sample collection.

“I’ll tell you, I just love this rockabilly music. I listen to it all the time at my house,” I said. “Do you use Pandora?”

Layla kept her eyes on the blood, “oh yes, I like Pandora.”

“I listen to this same type of channel at home,” I added, “amazing.”

“Just one more vial, almost done,” she assured me.

Take your time, I thought.

Layla finished and deftly replaced the needle with a cotton ball. “Direct pressure for a minute.”

She was labeling vials and Chuck Berry was singing:

“Maybelline, why can’t you be true
Oh Maybelline, why can’t you be true?”

A second nurse entered the room and took note of the concert. “Ooh I like it. Where’s that coming from?” Layla gestured to the table. “Nice! We should have music in here all the time.”

“Why don’t you?” I asked. “You should have music in here all the time.”

The second nurse readily agreed, “We really should!” And then she breezed back out of the room.

Layla finished putting a bandage on my arm, “you are all set Mr. Cheetham.”

I hated to say goodbye, but all good things must come to an end. I reluctantly gathered my keys and my phone. I thanked Layla and walked out of the lab, out of the office and out to the parking lot.

Then something astonishing happened. Right in the parking lot I heard, loud and clear, Bill Haley and his Comets and they were rocking and rolling – singing:

“I said shake rattle and roll,
Well, you never do nothing,
To save your doggone soul.”

It wasn’t my imagination. It was coming from my pocket.

It was my cell phone.

My cell phone had been playing my Pandora rockabilly channel for more than 30 minutes.

Copyright © 2018 cjcheetham

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The Educator

school

You, with your machines and your smart boards
and your computer applications;
Designed to measure thoughts, ideas and
chart them; so originality
can be crushed under the volume, mass,
weight of a perfectly crafted graph
of human souls

-cjcheetham

Copyright © 2018 cjcheetham

 

Catch the Falling Leaves

img_0434.jpgLike a lot of people who grow up in New England, I’ve always considered Fall my favorite time of year. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why. Maybe it was the events of Fall, the return of football, the approach of Halloween with its magical creepiness and endless sweets, the clean cold air in my lungs while waiting for the school bus – maybe. I’m just not sure.

*

The backyard of our house on 24 Plain Street was a place of endless adventure. Glorious kid-sports were played there; chores were accomplished, and epic wars had been fought and won within the confines of a fenced half-acre. It was a place of swing-sets, laughter, and snowball fights. It was where you played catch with your brothers or set off fireworks on the 4th of July. That yard was always full of people – my sister, my brothers, and neighborhood kids – friends and foe alike.

In a lot of ways my backyard was the entire world – at least the entire part of the world that was worth loving.

Then, in the fall of 1979 when I was 14 years old, I found myself alone in the backyard.

**

One day in early October after getting home from school, I wandered into my backyard. It was one of those perfect autumn days. The sky supernaturally blue, and the sun beaming – allowing me to be comfortable in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. I leaned my back against the chain-link fence and I could see the tops of the oak trees in my front yard. Their leaves, rich and red were desperately clinging to the limbs high above my parents’ roofline. The breeze sounded heavy through the leaves, like a crowd cheering. Months earlier, I’d imagined in my mind’s ear, that same crowd cheering wildly during Wiffle-ball games with my brothers. But today, I didn’t have to imagine the roar of the crowd.

As the wind tore through the trees, large oak leaves would fly over my house into the backyard. The leaves would fly unpredictably – first tumbling then floating then suddenly collapsing to the ground. No two leaves took the same path; each was tossed and turned by the invisible winds until coming to rest on the cold ground.

Without thinking, I found myself running around wildly trying to catch the leaves. It was hard work. I would pick out a leaf as it flew off the highest boughs of an oak and sprint to where it looked like it would fall, only to have the leaf turn dramatically at the last second, avoiding my outstretched hand.

The game was on!

For the next thirty minutes, I was running and shouting “I should have caught that one!” Occasionally, I would make a remarkable catch diving headlong and snagging a leaf between my fingers just before it hit the ground. The crowd would cheer wildly, Mel Allen would roar “How about that!” I would rise to my knees and hold the leaf high above my head.

The game rolled on. I tracked a leaf while running at full speed. It was too far away this time. I’d never make it. But I kept running and dove, sliding on my stomach and snagging the twisting leaf inches from the ground. I sat up waiving the leaf in triumph.

“Did you see that catch? Did ANY of you see the ridiculously impossible catch I just made?” I asked in a booming voice.

But no one did see it. My legs felt damp and cold as I looked around the backyard, still alone.

***

Weeks earlier that year, my brother had left for college. It was a lousy day for me, the youngest of four kids, because it marked the first time I would be the only kid in the house on 24 Plain Street. I remember crying pretty hard that day. When you’re the youngest of four kids you take a lot of things for granted, like there will always be fun in the backyard.

Instead, in the fall of 1979 everything got pretty quiet. I found myself learning to talk to myself. I don’t mean in a crazy way – just in a comforting, conversational way. In fact, I still talk to myself today which drives my wife and kids a little crazy.

This was the Fall of the great loneliness. I don’t mean in a clichéd, black turtleneck with slumped shoulders kind of a way. I just mean regular old loneliness with no one to play catch with after school or to talk to at night. It was a time where passions were left wanting, because there were no monopoly games to argue over or street hockey games to win.

It was unnerving. Nothing made sense and that was just the way things were. You better get used to it because this is how the world works kid. You spend most of your time talking to yourself and remembering the incredible summer days.

****

I rolled over on my back. The grass was cold on my neck and I stared at the leaves still flying overhead. I was through with the “catch the falling leaves” game. I was done chasing them. I had worked up a sweat and now felt chilly. I shivered a bit and contemplated going inside to see what Mom had planned for dinner.

On the ground near my head were the brown leaves. Those unlucky leaves that weeks earlier had fallen first. I could smell them – a sort of musty decaying oak leaf smell. The same smell you’d get when you and your brothers would tumble in leaf piles. But today the leaves smelled different – they were cruel-smelling leaves.

I felt uneasy, as a squadron of butterflies did maneuvers in my stomach. That smell – that fallen leaf smell was everywhere around me. As I looked up at the sky, I started thinking about death.
“You know. We’re all gonna die someday.” I said out loud. I’m pretty sure it was the first time in my life I ever said those words.

I laced my fingers together and put my hands behind my head. Tears streamed from the corners of my eyes and ran into my hair.

I snapped out of it. I sat up wiping my eyes with my shirt sleeves. I was embarrassed and I quickly looked around. No one had seen me crying.

*****

Yesterday, I had my dog, a yellow lab named Fenway, out for a walk here in rural New Hampshire. It was a cool August morning that whispered “summer is over” in my ear. As we walked through the woods, I noticed that the first leaves, the unlucky ones, had already started to turn yellow, orange and red.

“Already?” I asked myself.

About an hour into our walk I stopped and gave Fenway a bowl of water. As I stooped near the ground to pour his water – it hit me. The unmistakable fragrance of dead leaves. As he wagged his tail and drank, my mind played tricks on me.

I started looking for leaves to catch. I could hear the sounds of a baseball snapping in a mitt. There was laughter and the shouts of boys yelling good naturedly “Get him! Don’t let him get away!”
And yes, I had tears in my eyes. It happens every fall.

-cjcheetham

Copyright © 2017 cjcheetham

 

 

 

Creature Double Feature

One of the great things about living in small town America is you can always find interesting people, businesses and places. One of the things I love about New Hampshire is, that while 7-11 and Cumberland Farms are ubiquitous in their offering of convenience 24 hours a day, the family owned country store is still readily available. The country store offers something that the chain stores cannot offer – a unique experience.

About 3 or 4 times a year, I get a craving for Twizzlers. It’s like clockwork – about every 100 days I get a Twizzler itch and it must be scratched. Today that itch came while I was driving through a small New Hampshire town, which luckily had one of the aforementioned country stores.
As I pulled into the store parking lot, I immediately took note of the non-descript, cement-block-of-a-building with a fading olive green paint scheme. High, near the roofline, a sign told potential customers everything they needed to know:

CIGARETTES – COLD BEER – GAS – DELI

Now, THAT is a mission statement that anyone could understand and get behind. “When you come to our store to fill yer tank, we’d be obliged to sell you smokes, brew, and a large Italian sub with lettuce and tomato.”

The process improvement facilitators across the land with their black belts in how to re-engineer any company’s mission statement and develop your corporate vision statement, could learn an awful lot from this Mom and Pop outfit. The people who own this country store are not “Providng 21st Century customer service focused on the needs of our clients, community…”

Oh shut up! We sell Marlboros and 12-packs of Coors Light.

*

In the front of the building there was a long flower box, built about two feet high, just about the length of the entire store front. It didn’t look like any flowers had grown there in a very long time. It was really just a box of dirt, with gum wrappers, drink lids, cigarettes, and a few weeds. As I pulled into my parking spot I noticed a small humanoid sitting on that very flower box.

He or she had longish snow-white hair a sheepish, toothless grin on his face. I got a better look as I shifted my truck into park. This was a male, probably in his late 60’s. He appeared to be healthy. His height was hard to tell because he was seated, but I estimated he was no more than 5’ 2” tall. His head was large but seemed to be balanced on his body rather than connected to it. His shoulders were small and slumped – not from discouragement – but rather from a lifetime of bad posture. He wore a very tight shirt and it appeared his upper body was without bone structure. His torso was gelatinous.

It could have been simple lack of exercise. Although, I imagined that he was at one point over 6 feet tall, but over the course of his life he had lost 4 – 6 ribs and 5 – 7 vertebrae under very mysterious circumstances.

**

When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was the Creature Double Feature that was played every Saturday afternoon on UHF channel 56 out of Boston. Typically, the movies broadcast were b-moves in black and white that weren’t all that scary. Occasionally, I’d get creeped out by Vincent Price (The Tingler!) or by the Wasp Woman (Roger Corman classic). But for the most part it was not so scary giant lizards, vampires, werewolves, and aliens.

One Saturday, when I was probably 9 years old, Channel 56 broadcast a very chilling film. It was a movie that took place on a remote island that somehow had mutant turtle-like creatures that fed on bones. I can’t remember if these turtles were from outer space or a nuclear experiment gone wrong. In any event, the turtles would attach themselves to unsuspecting cows and suck the entire skeleton out of the cow’s body. All that was left was a mushy cowhide pile and a boneless cow head with a surprised look on its face.

It was a creepy movie. It got creepier when the turtle-things started to feed on humans. I remember my horror at seeing a scientist in his lab coat getting his skeleton sucked out of his body, leaving a gelatinous mess.

Gelatinous.

**

So this guy, let’s call him Whitey, with a great head of hair and a gelatinous torso testing the strength of cotton t-shirt tucked smartly into his checkered pants, is just grinning at me. And I am getting that Saturday Creature Double Feature feeling.

But I am here for Twizzlers, so I just smile at Whitey as I walk to the front door of the store. Whitey averts his eyes when I acknowledge him sitting there. Weird.

***

Just as I suspected this Mom and Pop Store is like walking back in time. At least half of the store is devoted to beer. It’s not like a 7-11. In a 7-11, you walk in and it’s always the same; same coffee counter, same design, same ATM, same refrigerators, same same same. This store is different. This place is disorganized and hard to understand. You have to work hard to find your Twizzlers. The shelves are filled with products you thought were long defunct – there are Andy Capp’s Hot Fries over there, Mello Yello on that shelf, and all 3 flavors of Charleston Chews (strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla – for the unenlightened).

I start to doubt they will have Twizzlers, but then I spot them – right next to the Sugar Daddys and the Mallo-Cups.

As I get to the register there is a guy in front of me buying a couple of jumbo, 24-ounce cans of Busch Beer. He’s a big guy, perhaps 6’ 4” tall and he has that country strong look. Brawny hands and forearms, with a thin layer of grime covering him. His gut is big; these obviously aren’t his first man-sized beers, and the buttons on his shirt are straining to hold his pot in and keep everything together. His gray hair, long and greasy, is combed straight back Fonzy-style and it frames his red face.

Ruddy, a good old Irish term my mom would have used to describe him. Ruddy? I’ve always thought alcoholic when I’ve seen faces like this guy’s.

He pays for his brew and walks out, stiff-legged like his hips are out of their sockets.
I pay for the Twizzlers and head out – I am back in the cab of my pickup in no time.

****

Seated on the flower bed, less than 10 feet from my truck are Whitey and Ruddy.

I pull a Twizzler from the package and take a big bite. It’s fresh and soft and I savor the texture. There is almost nothing worse than a stale Twizzler; flavorless and brutal to chew. You may as well gnaw on a bag of clothesline if you get a bag of stale Twizzlers. No worries today. These Twizzlers are fresh and true. I take another from the package without looking; my eyes are locked on Whitey and Ruddy.
Ruddy is holding court. He is taking long pulls off his can of beer and in between swallows his is intensely talking to his protégé. His free hand is gesturing wildly, his eyes are bulging and he is stridently talking to Whitey.

Whitey is locked in on every word. His gelatinous torso is moving independently of the conversation, but Whitey is listening intently, sipping his beer like it is a hot coffee. They look like a bizarre coach and insane player strategizing during a critical time out. Ruddy is drawing up a play, imploring Whitey to victory and Whitey looks determined to make the play work and win the game.
Whitey nods. He understands the situation. The spittle is flying from Ruddy’s mouth now but Whitey is undaunted; focused.

I am on my fourth Twizzler when Ruddy finishes his fiery speech. Whitey lowers his can of beer and they make deep eye contact. No one says anything. They are perfectly still except for Whitey’s gelatinous torso.

They both start laughing. Whitey’s stomach churns and rolls happily. Ruddy’s face turns even more red as tears stream down his face.

And I am sitting there thinking to myself:
“What is so funny?”

“What the Hell is so funny?!”

Copyright © 2017 cjcheetham

 

 

America – Demand Less Health Insurance, Before It’s Too Late

I have been driving a car for just over 35 years. During three and one-half decades, I have paid for automobile insurance, not only to cover me in the event of an accident, but also to cover my wife and my kids when they were licensed to drive. I’d estimate that my wife and I have spent from 35 – 40 thousand dollars on automobile insurance. We’ve also made precious few claims against that insurance – a couple of major accidents, a couple of minor incidents. The total cost of all my claims? Perhaps 18 thousand dollars (minus 5 thousand in deductibles). In other words, we invested 35 to get 13. A terrible return on investment.
Of course, I have haven’t mentioned the best and most critical element of automobile insurance. In the event of a catastrophe, my same investment of 35 could have easily become hundreds of thousands of dollars (and thank God it never was). That is the key when it comes to insurance – it is great for hedging against catastrophe.
However, it would be ridiculous to use my car insurance policy to cover routine expenses – like oil changes, new wiper blades, brake pads – or even gas. Can you imagine making an insurance claim every time your tank went empty? Getting approval to use a gas station outside your approved network? It would be cumbersome, bureaucratic, inefficient, and ultimately much more expensive than covering routine maintenance out of pocket (the old-fashioned way).
*
I have been blessed with generally good health, as has my family. I am 52 and I have never broken a bone, have no diseases, no chronic conditions that are expensive to treat, and aside from some minor dental surgery I have never gone under the knife. My wife has had a similar experience (only more healthy than me) and none of my 3 kids have had any conditions requiring extensive medical care.
In other words, my health history is a lot like my driving history – aside from occasional sinus infections, or cuts needing stitches, perhaps a flu – there has been virtually no need for insurance coverage at all. Except, like protecting against the catastrophic car accident, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want catastrophic health coverage. We all want to hedge against the chronic disease, the hideous accident, or the fatal condition wiping out our life savings – or worse becoming so expensive to treat that we are forced to forego medical care. We all want to be protected against the worst case scenario – any of us could develop a disease tomorrow.
However, it is ridiculous to use insurance for routine medical care – a cholesterol check, a sinus infection, a check-up, treatment for poison ivy, etc. These are the wiper blades, oil changes, and gas station visits that make no sense to filter through the cumbersome insurance/government bureaucracy. This is what has been sold to Americans – not catastrophic insurance that we all obviously need (just as we need catastrophic auto insurance) – but an insurance that has become so all-encompassing, that if you want to get a flu shot every October it will be covered with the inefficiency of a healthcare establishment run amok.
**
When I was a kid growing up in Pembroke Massachusetts, our part of town had two doctors: Young Doctor Moffrey, kind and charming and old Doctor Angley, short-tempered and tough. My Mom took us to young Doctor Moffrey. It was the 1970s, and when I had an ear infection, Dr. Moffrey looked me over and prescribed some ear drops. My mother would write a check for the office visit. Then we would go to the drug store and Mom would write a check for the medication. There was no insurance involved. My parents had a catastrophic policy with Blue Cross / Blue Shield that only got used when my brother Michael had a concussion, or broken arm, or blood clot. Most of our medical needs were met the old-fashioned way – when we needed a prescription for an illness – we paid cash. We weren’t a rich family – my dad was a grocer and my mom stayed at home with 4 kids. At no point did my parents ever say “we need more insurance” and at no point did we feel like we were going to be denied health care because the government wasn’t involved enough. We were a middle class family with plenty of access to health care.
So what changed in America?
***
The American people have been lied to for more than 40 years with regard to “health care.” They have been lied to by politicians who told voters they could have “free” access to healthcare. They have been lied to by insurers who have convinced consumers that it is a good deal to have insurance cover a head cold.
The explosion of government involvement, regulation, price controls, etc. combined with all-encompassing policies pushed by insurance companies have only served to separate the consumer from the actual price of the product. You see, back in the 1970s, if Dr. Moffrey had charged too much for an office visit, my mom would have brought us to Dr. Angley no matter how salty his bedside manner. But for decades the US Government has intervened in the process, aided and abetted by insurance companies, and as a result, no one really cares what the cost of the office visit is because it will be paid for by an insurance company or the government.
Once the pricing of healthcare is isolated from the consumer’s interest you get wild inflation or product rationing. There can be no other result. Without the free market to keep everyone in line you get waste and tragedy.
****
Which brings me to what Americans actually need.
I don’t doubt that some of you are thinking –“cool stories, Cheetham – but my Aunt Sally has cancer; my nephew has a severe illness; my mom has Alzheimer’s – and yes they all need insurance.”
I agree. Americans need catastrophic coverage. I think everyone should have some kind of insurance against a broken hip, or cancer, or a chronic disease that will require lifelong care. The poor should have catastrophic coverage subsidized by their neighbors. I have no objection to that.
What we do NOT need is insurance against head colds. We don’t need insurance against fevers, rashes, or acne. The goal of a sane health insurance and health care system for America should be focused on a return to the old fashioned payment for services model. Consumers will shop for the doctor who offers the best price for a sinus infection. Doctors will discount their acne treatments to get more business. Prices will go down as doctors and labs compete for cash from real people.
Don’t believe me? Look at two aspects of healthcare that are by and large not covered by insurance: laser eye surgery and plastic surgery. Outside of the control of governments and insurers it has never been cheaper to get your eyesight fixed or your breasts enlarged. Doctors constantly offer deals and discounts for these procedures – and they compete for consumer money.
We could have the same innovative and competitive pricing for head colds and sore throats. The only thing stopping that from happening is an unholy alliance between government and insurance companies. They are both ripping you off and selling you on the fake idea that allowing the government to handle all your medical issues is the way to go. The people who brought you public education and the Veterans Administration want to be in charge of all your medical needs.
Of course, we want insurance against cancer and multiple sclerosis – but when it comes to treating our toe fungus – we don’t need a lot of help from government and insurance companies.
*****
Tragically, this week in Washington D.C. we have a bunch of politicians most of whom know nothing about healthcare and nothing about insurance, crafting a ridiculously complicated plan for EVERY AMERICAN – all 323,407,656 of you. They know exactly what you need – and so they are going to craft a very expensive plan that covers everything from hangnails to Ebola. To make matters worse, the alternative plan is to have the government take over all of healthcare. Just think, when you have a sinus infection – do you want the efficiency of the Department of Motor Vehicles when you all you need is an antibiotic?
American healthcare so desperately needs innovation. The kind of innovation we see in laser eye surgeries and plastic surgery providers. American healthcare so desperately needs competition. The kind of competition that drives down smart phone prices every year.
Government has no interest in innovation or competition. It never has. It never will. You know who understood competition? Doctor Moffrey.

Copyright © 2017 cjcheetham

Let’s not forget this whole Russian controversy started with a deeply flawed Intelligence report

Since December I have watched in amazement the nightly media circus surrounding claims that the Russians “hacked the presidential election.” The fevered back and forth accusations in the media will no doubt heat up again on Thursday when former FBI Director James Comey testifies under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee. We will once again be treated to loud voices on cable news networks for days following the testimony. There will be lots of volume, but will anyone in the media actually do a little bit of analysis? I highly doubt it.
Before the spin machines go nuts for the next 96 hours it might be useful to go back to the beginning.
The beginning in this case is a deeply flawed, poorly written, gruel thin intelligence report that was released by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on January 6, 2017. I have some experience working in intelligence and my assessment of the Clapper Report (Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections) is that it is the worst intelligence report I have ever read. Had my intelligence analysts produced a report so devoid of reason, not only would I not release such a report, I would question the ability of my analysts to think clearly.
There are so many glaring logical fallacies, factual errors, and couched terms in this “assessment”, I am shocked that to date no one has questioned Mr. Clapper about it. Our nation is full of 24/7 television news – and each channel has someone constantly commenting about “Trump and Russia.” Despite the avalanche of self-proclaimed experts –it appears that no one has even read the Clapper report. It has been publicly available since January and no one has analyzed Mr. Clapper’s terrible analysis!
Well, I am about to set that straight.

*

10 REASONS THE JANUARY 6 2017 INTELLIGENCE REPORT IS FAKE INTELLIGENCE

1. 72% of the report has nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election. One of the first things anyone reading the DNI report will notice is that only 7 of 25 pages in the report have anything to do with the 2016 election. When I first heard that Clapper had released a 25 page intelligence report, I thought it would contain a ton of evidence, even in an unclassified document, supporting its central claims. What I actually discovered is that Clapper used a trick that my college students used to use when I gave them a writing assignment. Namely, Clapper only had 5 pages of actual information, so he added in repetitive paragraphs and 18 pages of filler that had NOTHING to do with his central claim. Like a college student adjusting margins and font sizes to turn his 3 page paper into a 6 page paper, Clapper filled his report on 2016 with blank pages and most inexplicably a lengthy annex on the 2012 election; an annex that completely undermined the central claims of the Clapper report.

2. The 17 agencies of the Intelligence Community did NOT sign off on Clapper’s report. Despite the constant drumbeat in the media that “17 intelligence agencies agree” the January 6 report is NOT signed by 17 intelligence agencies. There is no Intelligence community seal on the front of the report. Furthermore on page i, the report clearly states that only the CIA, FBI, and NSA signed off on this report. 14 other agencies remain silent – at least with regard to this report.

3. The scope of the report contradicts itself. Again, citing page i, the report states “It covers the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding U.S. elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion.” A few sentences later, the report states “we did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Did you get that? The report is focused on Russian campaign influence but did not assess Russian campaign influence. That’s like a police officer saying “I assessed the suspects drug dealing but I am not going to assess whether he actually sold drugs.” I am not sure if I should be disgusted or amused by the “scope” of the report.

4. The First Key Judgement is demonstrably false. On page ii, under the heading Key Judgements the Clapper report states: “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.” [Emphasis added] Maybe the author of this report is a 19 year old – but those of us who lived and served during the cold war know immediately that this claim is complete bunk.

A significant escalation in 2016? Let’s not forget that during the Cold War the USSR had agents, moles, the Communist Party USA, fellow travelers, Moscow funded front groups (for example peace movements) all of whom were very active. If anything, 2016 marked a de-escalation when compared to Cold War levels. Furthermore, Clappers own report, the very same January 6 report – has a 12 page annex (that is nearly 50% of the entire report) outlining in detail, Russian influence operations during the 2012 ELECTION! The report has 12 pages on 2012 and one paragraph on 2016, but still makes the dubious claim that 2016 marked an “escalation.”

5. Assessment by political appointees at CIA and FBI are not backed by Military professionals at NSA. On page 1, the report claims “we also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances…” [Italics added] At the end of that paragraph we learn that only the CIA (led by political appointee Brennan) and FBI (led by Comey) had high confidence in that judgment. The NSA (led by a military officer not a politician) had only moderate confidence. Even more revealing of the weakness of this “judgment” comes in the same report in the previous paragraph on page 1: “When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency.”

Anyone who watched the presidential campaign knows that from March to Election Day – no one in America thought Trump was going to win. If the Russians stopped aspiring to help Trump get elected when they thought Mrs. Clinton would win – then that means the Russians never actually aspired to help Trump! From March to November he had no chance to win! So what really happened is that Russia used propaganda to attack America – just like they did in every election since 1948.

6. Lack of evidence and insinuation are used instead of facts and rigorous analysis. There are multiple cases of poor analysis and insinuation used by the authors. For example, on page 1 the report states “Beginning in June, Putin’s public comments about the US presidential race avoided directly praising President-elect Trump, probably because Kremlin officials thought that any praise from Putin would backfire in the United States.” [Italics added] Simply put, that statement is illogical and shoddy intelligence work. Just four paragraphs earlier the report claims Russia stopped aspiring to help Trump because they thought Clinton would win. By June it was clear who would win (Clinton). Furthermore, there is NO EVIDENCE that Putin praised Trump before June. The report offers nothing to support its claim.

Another example of the report using insinuation rather than fact-based intelligence analysis is found on the bottom of page 2: “Putin has had many positive experiences working with western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.” This paragraph has nothing to do with the 2016 election. It is a thinly veiled attempt to say, “Putin got along with a couple of Euro Businessmen in the past; Trump is a business man!” So without evidence, we are supposed to believe that Trump is like Berlusconi. That might work at CNN but that is NOT rigorous intelligence work. It is shoddy work.

7. A significant part of the report focuses on a Russian television network that no one watches. This might be the strangest part of the January 6 DNI report. An entire page of the report (page 4) is almost exclusively dedicated to RT (the Russian propaganda television station and internet site). The reason this is strange is that no one in America watches RT or RT.com When I say no one, I am only slightly exaggerating. RT television has 100,000 daily viewers in the USA. Unless they all live in Wisconsin – exactly how do 100,000 RT television viewers influence our election? This is a network that has less influence than Al Jazeera.

Adding to my confusion is the lineup of leftwing political commentators on RT. People such as Ed Schultz, Sean Stone, and Max Keiser (a democrat candidate for congress). If we are going to do some intelligence analysis Mr. Clapper, maybe your report could explain why lifelong democrats and Hillary supporters were conspiring with Russia to defeat her?

8. The report admits the Russians interfered much more in past elections. On page 5 of the report we find these statements: “The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Directorate S officers arrested in the United States reported to Moscow about the 2008 election.” So in 2008, Russia dispatched actual spies into the United States, but in 2016 Clapper is concerned about Facebook posts by Russian Trolls? Furthermore, the report says “In the 1970s, the KGB recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then-presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter’s campaign and foreign policy plans.” Again, if the Russians had paid spies in DNC circles, can someone explain how 2016 Russian efforts are unprecedented? Can someone explain how Twitter posts by trolls in 2016 are more dangerous than paid agents in the 1970’s infiltrating the Carter campaign?

9. The DNI report amazingly admits that Russian propaganda efforts supported left wing causes such as Occupy Wall Street and Anti-Fracking! Annex A of this abysmal “intelligence” report focuses exclusively on the 2012 Presidential campaign. This is strange because the DNI report is supposed to be about Russian influence in the 2016 campaign not 2012. However, it is the details in Annex A that completely contradict the key judgments of the report itself.

On page 7 we find that RT television supported Occupy Wall Street with its propaganda programming in the run-up to the 2012 election. Furthermore, on page 8 we get this gem: “RT runs anti-fracking programming.”

I believe that the CIA, FBI, and NSA have many brilliant and professional analysts. So why didn’t any of the brilliant analysts work on this report? Whoever wrote this report was so sloppy that they included evidence that the Russians support Occupy Wall Street and Anti-Fracking protestors. Both of these groups are violently opposed to President Trump. If the Russians are rational actors (they are) why would they support the most pro-fracking Presidential candidate in 2016 after supporting anti-fracking protestors for the previous 5 years? Are the authors of this report vaguely familiar with logic?

10. There is no assertion in the report that the Russians actually hacked anything. Probably the most amazing aspect of this report is that at no time does the author assert that Russia hacked anyone in the Clinton campaign. While I understand that this is an unclassified report, nothing prevents the author from saying declaratively, we have definitive proof that the Russians hacked someone – anyone – associated with Clinton. Stating you have that evidence is not classified. Attributing specific leaks of information to Russian Cyber operations certainly would help make this report credible.
The only clear statement about Russian cyber operations is the following: “Russian intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with BOTH major US political parties.” No one should believe this is new. Anyone who has followed the rise of cyber warfare knows that Russia has been conducting operations for years. Furthermore – did you catch that both? BOTH political parties were targets.

The report also alludes to Gucifer 2.0, DCLeaks and Wikileaks as organizations that the Russian used to leak material. But not a word on what material. For example, on August 12, 2016 less than 3 months before the election DCLeaks.com released 300 e-mails they obtained from the accounts of GOP Senators McCain and Graham. Was this the result of Russian operations? Who knows?

The authors of this report are intentionally vague without reason. If they had evidence that the Russians stole John Podesta’s e-mail, they could have stated that in this report without violating classification rules. The fact that his report intentionally avoids clear statements and instead relies on innuendo can only be termed poor intelligence work.
**
Thursday night when you are watching the local evening news, CNN, or FOXNEWS – ask yourself a question. How is it possible, that with all these media personalities, all the pundits, all the so-called experts, the lawyers, the loudmouths, the snarky hosts, and the hysterical opinion-makers – how is it possible that no one has ever asked any tough questions about the January 6 Director of National Intelligence report on Russian Influence?
It’s a crappy report. You’d think someone on TV might actually read it and ask a few tough questions. Or maybe just one member of congress could read it and ask a few questions.

I dare you to read it.

-cjcheetham

Copyright © 2017 cjcheetham

 

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