Monthly Archives: August 2016

How to Build A Conspiracy Theory

ted-cruz-dad-lee-harvey-oswald-scandal-photos-rafael-jfk-killer-campaign-event-011Disclaimer:  One modus operandi of the Donald Trump campaign has been the creation and distribution of conspiracy theories about his rivals.  Perhaps the most infamous  was linking Ted Cruz’s father to Lee Harvey Oswald.  Recently the campaign has pieced together unrelated information and video clips to suggest Hillary Clinton was physically ill and incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities of president, if elected.  The following is an example of how to build a conspiracy theory with no direct knowledge or solid evidence.  My goal is to show how easy it is.  Except for the final conclusion, all of the material in this fake tabloid story exists.


Is Donald Trump part of a prostitution ring which traffics in underage girls? Here is what we know so far.

The August 30, 2016 edition of Mother Jones included an expose about Trump Model Management and how it allegedly violated immigration laws by encouraging young foreign woman to come to the United States on tourist visas (which prohibit working) until they proved their value as models.  The article, which also included first-hand accounts of how the agency overcharged models for rent and other miscellaneous fees, stated, “Trump Model Management recruited models as young as 14.” (Source:  Mother Jones, August 30, 2016)

This morning Rachel Blais (real name), one of the models who came forward, appeared on CNN and verified this information.  She also said that of the several young women with whom she shared a basement apartment, only two were retained by the agency and eventually applied for and received HB-1 visas to legally work in the U.S.  She also confirmed, while she was 18 years old at the time, some were as young as 14.

In what was thought to be an unrelated story, former Bear Stearns financier Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14. (Source: New York Post, June 30, 2008)  In July, 2015, a federal judge ordered the documents associated with the plea deal be released.  The documents identify Jean Luc Brunel, co-founder of MC2 modeling agency as one of the individuals who supplied Epstein with underage females.

Brunel has been a model scout for various modeling agencies for many years and apparently was able to get U.S.passports for young girls to “work” as models. He would bring young girls (ranging to ages as young as twelve) to the United States for sexual purposes and farm them out to his friends,especially Epstein.

Brunel has denied the charges and has filed a defamation suit against Epstein. (Source, The Daily Beast, March 26, 2015)  Does this mean there really is no honor among thieves?

On April 26, 2016, Katie Johnson (real name) filed a civil suit against Trump and Epstein in federal court alleging she had been forcibly raped by Trump and Epstein in 1984 when she was 13 years old.  The filing includes the following:

 8. The Plaintiff, Katie Johnson, alleges she was enticed by promises of money and a modeling career to attend a series of underage sex parties held at the New York City residence of Defendant Jeffrey E. Epstein and attended by Defendant Donald J. Trump.

We have no evidence that Brunel also scouted young women for Trump Model Management or TMM supplied underage girls for Epstein’s prostitution ring.  But as Trump himself would remind us, “You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to look at that and plenty of other things.” (Source: Donald Trump, New Hampshire, September 2015)

UPDATE: February 19, 2022

Model agent accused of sharing 'sex slave' with Prince Andrew charged with  rape of minors - World News - Mirror OnlineThe original post was intended as satire.  However, now I am not so sure.  This morning Jean-Luc Brunel was found hanged in his French prison cell.  Brunel had been detained at Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2020 at the request of U.S. authorities due to his association with Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in a NYC jail in 2019 while awaiting trial.

To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, “If one person, just one person, kills himself after being charged with sex trafficking, they may think he’s really sick and they’ll let it pass.  And if two people, two people do it, they may think it’s a conspiracy and pay a little more attention.  And three people do it, three, can you imagine three people killing themselves after being associated with sex trafficking, they may think it’s a movement.  And that’s what it is, the Epstein/Brunel Sex Trafficking Movement and all you have to do to join is take yourself out of the gene pool the next time it comes around on the guitar.”

If the former guy, in retrospect, thought his go-to phrase “a lot of people are saying” was creepy, what previously recorded words of wisdom will come back to haunt him now.

For what it’s worth.

Turning Lemons Into Lemonettes


In his award winning video Everyday Creativity, National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones suggests one key to living a creative life is by “reframing problems into opportunities.”  Some people suggest Jones is merely restating the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” a time-tested principle which can be found in English translations of Plato’s Republic.  

It has also proved to be a successful formula for many entrepreneurs.  For example, Stephen Spinelli and his partners started JiffyLube when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made it more difficult for car owners to change the oil in their vehicles by mandating  waste products be taken to designated disposal stations.

My thoughts turned to Jones, Plato and Spinelli this past Sunday morning as I was watching “The Sports Reporters” on ESPN.  The cable network had a problem.  John Saunders, the much admired and respected host of the show had unexpectedly passed away at the age of 61.  On the first show following his death, ESPN gathered four panelists who often shared the stage with Saunders.  As expected, Mike Lupica, Bob Ryan, Mitch Albom and Bill Rhoden provided a moving send-off for their friend and colleague.

But ESPN still had a problem.  Saunders took over as moderator of “The Sports Reporters” in 2001 replacing the original host Dick Schaap when the much-honored sports journalist took ill and subsequently died.  (For you trivia buffs, Schaap’s last show was September 16, 2001, the Sunday following the 9/11 attack .) Many wondered if the show would survive Schaap’s absence.  Under Saunders’ leadership, the show not only survived, it flourished. After August 10, 2016, once again, ESPN faced the question, “What now?”  Many speculated Lupica, “dean” of the “Sports Reporters” panelists would assume the host’s chair.

sports reportersI must admit I was greatly surprised when the August 28 edition of the show opened with initial observations by four female sportswriters and broadcasters: Kate Fagan, Sarah Spain, Jane McManus and guest host Jemele Hill. My first thoughts were of my late father who never got used to the idea of women and television sports. I will never forget his reaction when Gayle Sierens Waldman became the first woman play by play announcer for an NFL game in 1987.  But we are in a different era. And ESPN saw an opportunity.

Hill referred to the program as the “Ghostbusters” edition, referencing the media frenzy around the remake of the 1984 classic comedy with an all female cast.  She understood the risk associated with this experiment, but just as Saunders and Lupica would have done, moved the dialogue through discussions of on and off the field sports issues of the day.  The panelists demonstrated knowledge and insight on topics ranging from the impact of Tony Romo’s pre-season injury to whether the NFL front office was handling instances of domestic violence equitably.  In fact, the biggest surprise was the differing views on New York placekicker Josh Brown’s one game suspension following a charge of attacking his ex-wife.

Kudos to ESPN.  They could have played it safe.  Instead, they saw an opportunity to acknowledge the growing emergence of skilled female sports reporters.  Before the show began, I was looking forward to seeing whether Lupica would still be in the host’s chair.  By the end, I was surprised how much I enjoyed watching the interaction among these four talented women.  I should have known better.  Shame on me.

For what it’s worth.


Love the Crime; Hate the Criminal


In letter #211, St. Augustine wrote, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” which translates to, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”  The more commonly quoted version of this sentiment comes from Mahatma Gandhi, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”  In Gandhi’s case, he appealed to his fellow countrymen to challenge British rule without fomenting hatred toward the English, hatred which  might lead to violence and undercut international support for the Indian independence movement.  The British wanted nothing more than the world to see Indians as violent and dangerous, unable to govern themselves.

My thoughts turned to St. Augustine and Gandhi yesterday when I saw Donald Trump’s response to the shooting death of Dwyane Wade’s cousin Nykea Aldridge.  Within hours the Republican nominee tweeted:

Dwyane Wade’s cousin was just shot and killed walking her baby in Chicago. Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

This is not the first time Trump has turned tragedy into a self-promoting vehicle.  It was one more in a series of initial reactions to tragic events in the United States and abroad.

After the murder of 49 members of the LBGT community at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida:

Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!

And following a terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium in which two Americans were among the 35 victims:

Remember when I recently said that Brussels is a “hell hole” and a mess and the failing @nytimes wrote a critical article. I was so right!

Thus, the title of this post.  Donald Trump sees crime and terrorist acts as a validation of his world view of America and the world as a dangerous and scary place.  He does not understand that Brussels was an ISIS target, NOT because it is a “hell hole,” but because it is a vibrant example of a free and open society.  Or that The Pulse was a symbol of tolerance.

Only after these tweets resulted in bi-partisan and public outrage, did Trump express sympathy for the victims and their families.  Trump is also quick to point out that criminals and terrorists are “really bad” people.  On that count he is right. However, instead of calling for justice for the victims, his initial exhortation is VOTE TRUMP!

Last night, Chicago police apprehended and charged two men accused of Nykea Aldridge’s murder.  Yet the master tweeter was silent as this development does not fit his narrative in which everything is “going to hell” and everybody is “not smart.”  I cannot help but wonder whether campaign strategists in Trump Tower believe more of these kinds of tragedy are just what their candidate needs to win in November.

For what it’s worth.


Are We Really THAT Dissatisfied?


Among the questions included in the Reuters/Ipsos “Core Political Data” tracking poll is the following.

Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?

The sample size is 1607 American citizens with a sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percent.  Below are the results based on the latest responses on August 18, 2016.


These results are touted nightly on cable news to explain everything from the rise of outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to citizens’ concerns about national security, the economy and education.

I’m quite sure the survey developers, by starting with the phrase “generally speaking,” feel respondents are looking at the big picture.  But what if they are wrong.  What if passionate feelings about one or two issues is driving the negative feedback.  Let’s take a look at how that might happen on both sides of the political spectrum, starting with the Republicans.

What are some of the reasons the 90 percent of Republicans might think the country is heading in the wrong direction?

  • “I can’t believe Americans elected a foreign-born Muslim president.”
  • “Obamacare is just one more example of how America is moving from capitalism to socialism.”
  • “I don’t know what I get in return for all the taxes I pay.”
  • “America seems to be more and more divided along racial lines.”
  • “For me, marriage is reserved for one man and one woman.”

Many of the above sentiments are directly linked to policies advocated or implemented by the Obama administration and judges, many of whom Republicans view as liberal activists.  So how do you explain the plurality (45 percent) of self-described Democrats being equally dissatisfied?  All you need to do is consider the adverse of the reasons Republicans might have chosen the “wrong track” option.

  • “I can’t believe we live in an country where so many people can’t accept the fact an African-American citizen was elected president.”
  • “Obamacare is a cash cow for private health insurers.  We need a public option.”
  • “The wealthiest Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes.”
  • “America seems to be more and more divided between the haves and have nots.”
  • “There are still too many laws which discriminate against members of the LGBT community.”

I understand what the pollsters are trying to measure, and I’m not sure I could come up with a perfectly worded question which would more accurately gauge public sentiment.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan presented the satisfaction question in a different way when he asked Americans, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  Political and ideological preferences might still influence one’s response.  But this makes it personal (am I?), not generic (is the country?).

The clearest evidence this individual versus collective phrasing might make a huge difference is another frequently asked question on political surveys.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

The Gallup organization’s last poll prior to the 2014 mid-term election (taken October 29-November 2) reported only 20 percent of respondents chose “approved” while 75 percent “disapproved,” a negative differential of 55 percent.  One might have expected a massive turnover.  However 96.4 percent of incumbents retained their seats.  In other words, even though we may collectively despise Congress, we like our individual representatives.

Which makes me wonder, “Even if the pollsters are asking the wrong questions, is there something we can learn from the responses?”  In the two examples above, I better realize why I think the country is on the wrong track.  For whatever reasons, opinions and voting preferences seem to be driven more by their impact on an individual than on the collective citizenry.  For me, America will be on the right track (i.e. the one the forefathers laid out in the Federalist Papers) when, for example, the one percent sincerely questions the impact of lower tax rates on everyone and Social Security recipients stop demonizing those who promote an honest debate about the future of entitlements.

For what it’s worth.


An Olympic Sized Idea


Two fundamental skills associated with creative or counter-intuitive thinking are: (1) detailed observation and (2) asking the right questions.  (Source: The ImagineIt Project)  In other words, we see something of interest and then ask, “What is this trying to tell me and why might it be important?”  Sometimes a single experience will trigger an idea.  In other cases, it is a collection of related observations.

This was the case as I reflected on the recently concluded Olympic games in Brazil.  The following is a collection of random thoughts compiled during the two-week spectacle.

  • I was less interested in watching this Olympiad than in any previous year.  I was not alone.  Bloomberg News reports U.S. viewership was down 17 percent versus the 2012 games.
  • In sports like basketball and golf, many of the best players in the world chose not to compete.
  • To make space for Olympic golf, the 2016 games will be the last to include freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.
  • There seems to be a proliferation of new sports which are variations of more traditional sports (e.g. the addition of BMX-cycling).
  • USA Swimmer Michael Phelps earned his 13th individual gold medal, breaking the record of 12 held by Leonidis of Rhodes in the 152 B.C.E. Olympics.
  • As with several of the last summer and winter games, news reports about uncompleted or inadequate facilities were rampant.

Of all these observations, the one that fascinated me the most was Phelps all-time record for individual achievement.  I began to wonder, “What would have been Leonidis’ perspective on this 31st edition of the modern Olympic games?  What might we learn about the current iteration of this quadrennial event from an ancient Greek’s experience?”

First, Leonidis would have reminded us of the purpose of the original Olympics.  Not only did it bring together representatives from all corners of the Greek empire.  It also represented “a union of body, mind and spirit.”  The games were accompanied by a cessation of any hostilities among competing factions within Greece.  And the games were always held on the plains of Olympia (thus the title Olympic games).  Originally, the games were a one-day event which were later extended to three then five days.  Sporting events in the early Olympics included  running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration (translation “all force,” a combination of boxing and wrestling) and equestrian events.

Taken together, my observations from Rio 2016 and a new understanding of the original games lead to my Olympic sized idea.  MAKE THE GAMES SMALLER.  The following are just a few ways this might be done.

  • Eliminate any sport for which the Olympic gold medal is not the ultimate achievement.  For example, given a choice between a gold medal and winning the Open Championship, I am convinced every professional and amateur golfer would opt for the latter.
  • Remember the games were a celebration of the human body.  Eliminate sports in which athletes are completely cloaked in protective gear (e.g. BMX cycling).
  • Eliminate any sport which has its own international competition of a caliber equal to the Olympics (e.g. the World Cup).
  • Eliminate events which are more exhibition than competition (e.g. rythmic gymnastics and dressage).
  • Bring back events most associated with the original games.  The decision to eliminate both men and women’s wrestling to make room for golf strikes me as the most egregious violation of the Olympic spirit.
  • Return the games to the “plains of Olympia” as a permanent site with each competing nation contributing to the cost of maintaining the sports venues and the athletes’ accommodations.
  • Disqualify any nation which does not agree to a cessation of hostilities during the competition.  And if a nation violates this pledge during the games, it’s athletes will be disqualified and medals will be forfeited.

Like so many things in our lives, the commercial value of an event or experience now overshadows the original purpose or potential contribution to society.  Such is the case with the modern Olympics.  So, take a minute and listen to Leonidis.  He is one Greek, bearing the gift of the original Olympic movement, of whom we need not be afraid.

For what its worth.