Keeping Stories About Russia In Perspective

As I noted last week, there has been a lack of understanding of past relationships between world powers, and a lack of perspective, in recent discussions regarding Russia. Some act as if meddling in foreign elections is something new, such as a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency some thought she deserved, as opposed to a continuation of long standing practices (even if updated for modern technology) between world powers.

Some see signs of dirty financial dealings as meaning that the Republicans, and therefore much of our government, is under Russian control. It really is possible for Trump and other Republicans to be corrupt idiots without it being related to a Russian plot. Our politicians, from both parties, have shown plenty of ability to act both corruptly and idiotically without Russia for many years. Some people even seem surprised to hear that an alleged Russian spy used sex to promote her goals. Have they never seen an episode of The Americans? 

Lyle Jeremy Rubin , a former Marine signals intelligence officer who has worked at the NSA, has written about the need for perspective in Commentary. He points out how, “U.S. cyber operations in Russia, across Russia’s periphery, and around the world already dwarfed Russian operations in size, capability, and frequency.”

Furthermore, covert American operations are deeply invested in interrupting democratic processes not only in Russia, but everywhere else. This includes the heart of Europe, where corporate media is now pretending the United States has always respected happy norms and decorum. It is as if the Snowden leaks never happened. The Defense Department’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone never happened. The Obama administration’s spying on the German press, including Der Spiegel, never happened. The same administration’s outing of German government whistle-blowers never happened.

Electoral meddling in particular happens all the time, both to us and by us. The U.S. government rigged the Russian election for Yeltsin in 1996, and then they bragged about it in a cover story for Time. (You can still find the cover online.) This followed the disastrous capitalist “shock therapy” of the early nineties and preceded the rise of the Russian oligarchs. Putin’s brand of nationalist resentment grew out of this moment of extreme collective humiliation. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is happily on record pushing for the tampering of Palestinian elections in 2006.

As the political scientist Dov H. Levin has shown, between 1946 and 2000, the United States government conducted at least 81 electoral interventions in other countries, while Russia conducted at least 36. This does not include the U.S. government’s violent overthrow of dozens of governments during this same period, including democratic governments in places like Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Congo (1960), Brazil (1964), and Chile (1973). As recent as 2009, Hillary Clinton’s State Department played a complicit role in the brutal deposition of democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya’s government in Honduras. No other country, including Russia, even approaches this level of wanton disregard for the norms of sovereignty. Around the world, organizations that the U.S. “fund[s], support[s] and direct[s] are openly dedicated to manipulating foreign elections, creating U.S.-friendly opposition movements and even overthrowing governments that impede U.S. interests worldwide.” In 1999, President Clinton sent three advisers to Israel to try to swing the country’s elections for Ehud Barak. The New York Times reported that they were “writing advertisements, plotting strategy and taking polls” for the candidate. Imagine what the reaction would be if Putin had literally dispatched three top deputies to join the Trump campaign.

Of course, a few dozen wrongs don’t make a right, and the fact that U.S. outrage over Russian interference is comically hypocritical doesn’t make tampering with our elections unobjectionable. But anyone who sees the Russian activity as an antidemocratic outrage should be condemning the United States just as loudly, and treating the Russia story as some kind of unprecedented act of covert control is laughable.

That said, just because the United States leads the world in meddling of all kinds, that doesn’t mean we are immune to it. In fact, meddling from abroad comes in many forms. Prominent think tanks in Washington are funded by the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates contributes generously to the coffers of the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Brookings Institute graciously accepts millions from Qatar. The Atlantic Council and Center for Strategic and International Studies enjoy similar arrangements with other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for numerous other repressive governments beyond the Gulf. And then there are the defense contractorsWall Street banks, and Silicon Valley behemoths, all of which have joined such governments in capturing intellectual real estate in academia as well.

Our politicians, of course, are being flooded with cash from foreign-related interests. Pro-Israel billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have bought themselves outsized influence in both parties, with Adelson successfully financing Trump’s rise to power and Saban effectively blocking Keith Ellison’s bid for Democratic National Committee chair. The Turkish lobby, likewise, continues to prove itself another bipartisan force, with everyone from former House leader Dick Gephardt to disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn being enlisted to secure Ankara prerogatives while whitewashing various crimes against the Armenians and Kurds. As for explicit electoral interference, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been implicated in foul play in the 2016 election. Same goes for Ukraine. Same goes for Israel in 2012. And these are just the instances so brazen that they have made their way into Wikipedia.

Peter Beinart also looked at the history of US meddling in other countries. He introduced the article with this argument as to why it is important:

Discussing America’s history of electoral interference has never been more necessary. It’s necessary not so Americans can downplay the severity of Russia’s election attack. It’s necessary so Americans can determine how—and how not—to respond. The less Americans know about America’s history of electoral interference, the more likely they are to acquiesce to—or even cheer—its return. That’s dangerous because, historically, American meddling has done far more to harm democracy than promote it.

After discussing this history, he concluded, “Washington’s current burst of nationalist indignation, like the one that followed 9/11, is both vital and dangerous if not tempered by an awareness of America’s own capacity for misdeeds. When liberals start calling people ‘traitors’ for acknowledging that capacity, they’ve gone badly astray.”

Beinart is right. If you think the greatest threat to our democracy comes from Russia you are totally missing what the Democrats and Republicans are doing (which is exactly what they want). Republican voter suppression is a far bigger threat to democracy than anything Russia has done. The Democratic rigging of the 2016 nomination is a far bigger threat to democracy than anything Russia has done. The actions by both parties to keep out third parties is a far bigger threat to democracy than anything Russia has done.

While Russia might have meddled in our elections, just as the US meddles all over the world, their impact has been minimal. The overreaction and hysteria over this is also far more damaging than anything Russia has actually done.

Perhaps we need a New Rule: American politicians who are upset about Russian meddling in US politics should make it a priority to make the US stop meddling in the affairs of other countries.

Fearmongering like this is commonplace:

Remember when they told us we were in grave danger because of the missile gap?
Remember when they told us that the whole world would go Communist after the first dominoes fell in Southeast Asia?
Remember when they told us that Saddam could hit us in minutes with his WMD?
Now they tell  us that Russian hackers are taking control of our government. As Douglas Adams would say, Don’t Panic.

We need enhanced cybersecurity, and a paper trail, regardless of whether future threats to the voting system come from Russia or elsewhere. While there is zero evidence that any votes were changed in 2016, we cannot take that chance in the future. Republican opposition to enhanced voting security makes no more sense than the Democratic claims that Russia altered the 2016 election results. However, we do not need to panic. We do not need to claim that those who question unverified claims are pro-Putin. We do not need to continue to restrict American speech on social media. We do not need to promote a further deterioration in the relations between nuclear powers.

Ecuador Might Be Preparing To Turn Julian Assange Over To Authorities–Will This Lead To Prosecution By The US?

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept that Ecuador is preparing to turn Julian Assange over to UK authorities. He writes:

A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement…

The central oddity of Assange’s case – that he has been effectively imprisoned for eight years despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime – is virtually certain to be prolonged once Ecuador hands him over to the U.K. Even under the best-case scenario, it appears highly likely that Assange will continue to be imprisoned by British authorities.

The only known criminal proceeding Assange currently faces is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender” – basically a minor bail violation charge that arose when he obtained asylum from Ecuador rather than complying with bail conditions by returning to court for a hearing on his attempt to resist extradition to Sweden.

That charge carries a prison term of three months and a fine, though it is possible that the time Assange has already spent in prison in the UK could be counted against that sentence. In 2010, Assange was imprisoned in Wandsworth Prison, kept in isolation, for 10 days until he was released on bail; he was then under house arrest for 550 days at the home of a supporter…

THE FAR MORE IMPORTANT question that will determine Assange’s future is what the U.S. Government intends to do. The Obama administration was eager to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents, but ultimately concluded that there was no way to do so without either also prosecuting newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian which published the same documents, or create precedents that would enable the criminal prosecution of media outlets in the future.

Indeed, it is technically a crime under U.S. law for anyone – including a media outlet – to publish certain types of classified information. Under U.S. law, for instance, it was a felony for the Washington Post’s David Ignatius to report on the contents of telephone calls, intercepted by the NSA, between then National Security Adviser nominee Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, even though such reporting was clearly in the public interest since it proved Flynn lied when he denied such contacts…

But the U.S. Justice Department has never wanted to indict and prosecute anyone for the crime of publishing such material, contenting themselves instead to prosecuting the government sources who leak it. Their reluctance has been due to two reasons: first, media outlets would argue that any attempts to criminalize the mere publication of classified or stolen documents is barred by the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment, a proposition the DOJ has never wanted to test; second, no DOJ has wanted as part of its legacy the creation of a precedent that allows the U.S. Government to criminally prosecute journalists and media outlets for reporting classified documents.

But the Trump administration has made clear that they have no such concerns. Quite the contrary: last April, Trump’s then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, now his Secretary of State, delivered a deranged, rambling, highly threatening broadside against WikiLeaks. Without citing any evidence, Pompeo decreed that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” and thus declared: “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”..

But there seems little question that, as Sessions surely knows, large numbers of U.S. journalists – along with many, perhaps most, Democrats – would actually support the Trump DOJ in prosecuting Assange for publishing documents. After all, the DNC sued WikiLeaks in April for publishing documents – a serious, obvious threat to press freedom – and few objected.

And it was Democratic Senators such as Dianne Feinstein who, during the Obama years, were urging the prosecution of WikiLeaks, with the support of numerous GOP Senators. There is no doubt that, after 2016, support among both journalists and Democrats for imprisoning Assange for publishing documents would be higher than ever.

Greenwald added on Twitter: “It should take only the tiniest amount of rationality to understand the dangers to journalists from having the DOJ prosecute Assange for publishing classified or stolen documents. From the Pentagon Papers to the Snowden reporting to daily leaks, media outlets do that every day.”

Kevin Drum does not think there would be  much support for prosecution among journalists or Democrats:

I don’t have any independent knowledge of what will happen to Assange next, or whether he will indeed eventually be extradited to the United States. But I will say this. If the case brought against him is a fairly ordinary one of publishing classified material, I expect, contra Greenwald, that virtually no Democrats and absolutely no journalists will support the government’s case.¹ There would, unfortunately, probably be a few Democratic politicians who would cheer his prosecution, but even there I think (or hope, anyway) that their numbers would be small. If this case goes forward, I suppose it will be a good test of whose level of cynicism is currently best calibrated to the current mood of the American public.

¹The exceptions are likely to be nutballs like Breitbart or folks like that. Even Fox News would probably defend him against a straight-up publishing charge.

I agree that serious journalists will not support prosecution, but am not so sure about the Democrats. Again, as Greenwald pointed out, the DNC has already sued WikiLeaks for publishing documents obtained by others. Again, as Greenwald points out, this is a serious, obvious treat to press freedom.

Establishment Democrats Taking Wrong Lessons From Indictments Of Russian Agents

The announcement of the indictment of twelve Russian agents by Robert Mueller yesterday changes little with regards to what was already known, but establishment Democrats are taking all the wrong lessons, and making claims which they never would have made if not for the perceived political benefits. Finding ways to justify the fact that Hillary Clinton was unable to beat a candidate as dreadful as Donald Trump has become top priority.

Establishment Democrats seem oblivious to the fact that an indictment is not proof. No evidence accompanied the indictments and, as it is unlikely that the Russians will ever appear in court, it is possible that no evidence of these accusations will ever be presented. This provides no further proof than the retracted (but still repeated) claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing that Russia hacked the DNC.

I have remained an agnostic as to whether the email was released by a hack or by a leak, and question if we will ever know for certain considering how the DNC refused to allow the FBI to investigate their servers. My personal opinion has been that a hack was the more likely explanation, but this is not definite. While I personally have never taken the Seth Rich theory seriously, there is nothing new here to disprove the view of those who do believe this.

For the sake of further discussion here, I will assume that the claims in Mueller’s indictment are true, again noting that this is not proven. Assuming that the accusations are true, establishment Democrats are still naively living in a pre-Gary Powers world, ignoring the realities of the situation.

Francis Gary Powers was an American spy who was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 while engaging in espionage. The United States claimed that he was studying weather patterns for NASA, but it was ultimately made clear that he was a spy. The United States was forced to admit that it had been conducting such spy  missions over the Soviet Union for several years, ending any pretense that the United States did not engage in such actions. It was no longer possible to see the United States as purely the victim of Russian espionage, but Democrats have suddenly returned to this mindset.

Such espionage is commonplace, and is rather benign compared to the practice of influencing elections in other countries–along with the outright overthrowing of foreign governments. Despite a long history of the United States meddling in the elections in other countries, establishment Democrats act as if the hack of email from the DNC and Hillary Clinton is somehow a unique attack on the United States, with many even comparing it to an act of war. Russia has meddled in American politics for decades, just as the United States has meddled in Russia, and both have meddled in many other countries. Russia did not suddenly attack the United States for the first time to attempt to stop Hillary Clinton–although that might be understandable considering Clinton’s history of belligerence towards Russia, and her propensity to support war.

While establishment Democrats have increasingly been following the neocon line on Russia, believing claims from the same people who sold the country on going to war over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, avoiding unnecessary war should be a high priority. Instead many Democrats opposed the recent talks with North Korea, and are now using this as an argument to cancel the talks between Trump and Putin.

There are valid reasons to question these talks, but in a time of escalating tensions with a nuclear power, there is far more compelling reason to continue with summits, including potential talks on nuclear weapons. Trump’s plan to meet with Putin alone is of concern, I think it is far more likely that if Trump has any secretive goals it is more to promote a future Trump Tower Moscow than to engage in any electoral conspiracies. To date there is no evidence of any real collusion occurring, even if the Trump Tower meeting did show a willingness to obtain information from Russia if it existed. While Mueller may or may not present evidence of this in the future, there certainly has been no evidence while establishment Democrats have been trying to pass this off as fact.

While I do not condone the hacking of any Americans by the Russian government, if this was foreign meddling in an election, it was probably the most benign meddling in the history of election meddling. The released email provided the American people with truthful and accurate information which exposed corruption and dishonesty by top politicians in this country.

It certainly makes no sense for Clinton apologists to use the hacked email as an excuse for Clinton losing. If Clinton and the Democratic Party lost because of the American people finding out the truth about their corruption, the blame for the loss falls on the politicians exposed, not those who exposed them. To argue that the email posted by Wikileaks caused Clinton to lose only means that I was right (and Clinton supporters wrong) during all those months I was writing that Clinton should not be the Democratic nominee.

The fact remains that, while Mueller has shown evidence of money laundering and other financial crimes, along with crimes by some Russians, there has been no evidence of any actions which altered the election results. There is no evidence that the voting systems were hacked or that a single vote was changed, despite erroneous reports from Clinton supporters on MSNBC. The evidence obtained in the Congressional hearings showed that Russian ads and other activities on social media were a minuscule amount of traffic,  unlikely to affect the vote.

The actual threat to American democracy comes from the Democratic and Republican Parties. This includes attempt at disenfranchisement of voters by Republicans, and the efforts exposed by the Democratic Party to rig the 2016 nomination and keep out progressive viewpoints. I find the actions by the Democrats especially offensive when the Democratic establishment simultaneously works to restrict the ability of third parties to run, and for those with different viewpoints to effectively run within the Democratic Party. Instead of supporting democratic values and allowing for different viewpoints, many Democrats totally reject opposing views, holding a false belief that differences in opinion with them are based upon falling for Russian propaganda.

To the degree that Russia might be engaging in activities to meddle in our elections, the proper responses are clear. We need to enhance election security, including maintaining a paper trail. If the DNC and other Democrats fell for the hacking attempts described in the indictment, further education is needed to limit this risk in the future.

There are also wrong ways to react. This includes arguing against diplomacy and increasing the risk of war, along with the McCarthyism and support for censorship of opposing viewpoints coming from some Democrats.

Two Candidates Running As Bernie Sanders Style Progressives In Michigan Threaten To Split Vote, With Only One Worthy Of Progressive Support

There has been a lot of talk lately about an anti-establishment fervor in the Democratic Party, largely fueled by both dissatisfaction with the status quo and the manner in which the DNC rigged the rules to block challengers to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Clinton’s inability to beat a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump cast more doubt on the party establishment’s strategy of promoting moderate candidates. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over party insider Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district Democratic primary gave additional hope for progressive and true liberal Democrats hoping to beat the party establishment. In Michigan efforts to beat establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer (who would still be far preferable to GOP front runner Bill Schuette) for the nomination for Governor might be thwarted by two candidates running as progressives in Michigan who are likely to split the vote.  However, only one is a true progressive.

While both Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar are running as Bernie Sanders style progressives, only El-Sayed looks like the real deal. The Intercept has had multiple articles exposing Thanedar as an opportunist. In a new article today, The Intercept shows how they differ on health care, but first recapped the case against Thanedar:

In Michigan, businessperson Shri Thanedar has spent millions of dollars on television ads casting himself as “the most progressive Democrat running for governor,” and promising that he would bring single-payer health care to Michigan.

“Health care is not a privilege; it is our fundamental right. I will bring single-payer health care to Michigan,” Thanedar says in a TV commercial. “Agree? Vote for Shri.”

But there’s reason to be skeptical.

Over the last year, investigations by The Intercept have revealed many facts which cast doubt on Thanedar’s progressive branding. He donated thousands of dollars to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, he was spotted clapping and nodding approvingly at a Marco Rubio presidential rally, and several Michigan political consultants have claimed that Thanedar once consulted them about possibly running as a Republican.

The Intercept interviewed Thanedar and found that “Thanedar’s much touted single-payer health care ‘plan’ appears to be nonexistent.” In contrast, they found that former Detroit Public Health chief Abdul El-Sayed “has a detailed strategy for how to accomplish it.” However, Thanedar is likely to split the progressive vote due to having spent much more on advertising. The Intercept notes:

Last month, he released a plan to establish “Michicare,” which would levy payroll and business taxes to establish state-funded public coverage for all Michigan residents…

But despite having a more well-developed plan, El-Sayed’s middle-class background means he does not have the same resources to advertise his health care plan as does Thanedar, who, not without controversy, made a fortune in the chemical testing industry.

As a result, there’s a real risk that the public might be misled.

The article also notes how this will impact the race against establishment candidate Gretchen Whitmer:

But by coopting a progressive message and splitting the progressive vote, Thanedar has helped Whitmer, an establishment candidate, take a comfortable lead.

Whitmer is the daughter of former Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Richard Whitmer. She’s the only Democratic candidate in the race who does not back single-payer, saying that it’s not “realistic” in Michigan at this time. BCBS Michigan lobbyists threw a fundraiser for Whitmer earlier this year. And she’s currently taking heat from an unidentified group who have paid for ads attacking her from accepting “big money” from insurance companies.

El-Sayed has been endorsed by Justice Democrats, Our Revolution, The People for Bernie, Our Revolution, the Progressive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party, Democracy for America, and after her victory in New York, by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whitmer has a long list of establishment endorsements. I am not aware of any significant endorsements for Thanedar but the Grosse Pointe Democratic Club has issued an anti-endorsement for Thanedar warning Democrats NOT to vote for him.

Bernie Sanders Congratulates Progressive Winners Last Night–Wins For The Left Even More Important With The Retirement Of Anthony Kennedy

Despite efforts of the Democratic establishment to fight progressive candidates, there have been some major victories for the left, including the surprise upset of  Joseph Crowley in New York. Perhaps this will give Cynthia Nixon some momentum in her primary campaign against  Andrew Cuomo. Bernie Sanders has congratulated two of the progressives who won last night.

Sanders had this to say about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who beat Crowley, who was previously considered as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi: “She took on the entire local Democratic establishment in her district and won a very strong victory. She demonstrated once again what progressive grassroots politics can do.”

Sanders also congratulated Ben Jealous, who won the Democratic nomination for governor in Maryland:

“Ben showed that running a progressive, issue-oriented campaign can bring all working people together in the fight for justice,” Sanders said in the statement. “That’s what Ben has done in the primary and that is what a united Democratic Party will do in the general election.”

“What the people of Maryland understand is that we can most effectively oppose Donald Trump’s extremism with strong progressive leadership at the state and local level — and there are few progressives stronger than Ben,” he added.

The importance of having more true liberals and progressives in state governments and Congress was highlighted by the announcement that Anthony Kennedy is retiring from the Supreme Court, giving Donald Trump a second Court pick. While we cannot understate the significance of the Supreme Court moving further to the right, we must also keep in mind that the Court’s function is to interpret the law. The strongest defense we have now is to increase the number of true liberal and progressives in Congress and state governments, as opposed to Republicans and establishment Democrats, to influence the laws which are written.

The one positive outcome of a Trump presidency is that this does give Democrats a chance to win in Congressional and state elections after a decade of losing, while a Clinton presidency would have led to a continuation of this trend. Democratic victories will only be meaningful if Democrats are willing to stand for something other than being just a little less crazy than the Republicans, as in recent years.  This will take victories by the grassroots over the establishment, as we saw last night.

New Book Claims To Reveal “What Really Happened”

This looks like something to check out. An anonymous author has written a book debunking Hillary Clinton’s lies in What Happened. We know Clinton lied through her teeth, as the author says. What we don’t know is if this book is accurate, or if it also resorts to the unsupported criticism of Clinton which is typical of conservative attacks. Its reference to Edward Klein does not help its credibility.

Here is what is claimed about the book (available here):

From beginning to end, What Happened is pure propaganda. And like a seasoned propagandist she repeats her themes over and over for 512 pages! She starts by quoting an unimpeachable historical giant; Harriet Tubman. The intention is to set the stage for her reader. We’re supposed to see her as Tubman’s student, if not her peer. Why Harriet Tubman and not Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “You must do that thing you think you cannot do!” or Fredrick Douglas, “Without a struggle, there can be no progress,” or Abraham Lincoln, “With malice toward none…” What does quoting Harriet Tubman give Hillary that these other great leaders don’t?

According to sources, Bill Clinton begged her not to publish her book. Edward Klein wrote in his book All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump, [Bill] told her the book made her look bewildered, angry and confused, and that those were poor qualities in a person who aspired to be a world leader. He hated the title because calling it What Happened would only make people say, “You lost.” And that’s precisely what I’ve done. Her title is such a great set-up for a roast I felt it was my duty to oblige her. I mean the woman asked and answered her own question on the cover! What happened? Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Ironically, Mrs. Clinton was my unwitting accomplice in this. She’s made a career of lying through her teeth, aware that being caught in one lie at a time wouldn’t cost much politically. But I have to thank her for putting her lies in a nice little blue and white bundle with a thin gold ribbon. I doubt she thought anyone would take the time to create an opposing bundle of truth. But here it is Dear Reader, one-stop shopping. You don’t have to wonder if the noise coming out of the Clintons’ mansion Whitehaven is true — I didn’t make that name up. With this handy (unauthorized) companion to What Happened, you can see for yourself What Really Happened.

This is like living in the Darkest Timeline. On the one hand we have Clinton who continues to spread her lies after losing the election, and Donald Trump in the White House using lies as political strategy. The problem with the opposition party accepting the lies of Hillary Clinton is that it prevents them from being a resistance which can be trusted.

Democrats Consider Reforms Over Objections Of Party Establishment

The Democratic National Committee is talking about reforms, but it is not clear how real these reforms will be, and whether the party establishment will really allow them. In response to loss of support after the Democratic Party rigged its 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, a unity commission made recommendations for reform. Their recommendations were far too little, such as reducing but not eliminating the role of superdelegates. During a meeting last week, Democrats made some mixed recommendations, with no final decisions made.

The biggest problem with superdelegates in recent years has not been their actual votes but the manner in which they influence the overall race. Inevitability was a major component of Hillary Clinton’s strategy in 2016, which was strongly promoted by news media delegate counts which showed her with a huge lead from the start of the primaries by including the superdelegates.

The most interesting proposal, supported by Tom Perez, would prohibit superdelegates from voting until a second ballot. As the nomination has been settled on the first ballot in recent years, this could be a back-door method of eliminating superdelegates. Many Democratic leaders are upset about this proposal, seeing it as a loss of power. Of course, if they could get beyond their sense of entitlement, they could show more respect for democracy and run to be regular delegates as others do.

Opponents of reform have made a number of irrational arguments, including a claim from DNC member Bob Mulholland that this is a Russian plot, as reported by Huffington Post:

Mulholland, a DNC member and longtime key player in California Democratic politics, sent an email Friday to other DNC members from the Golden State that implied Russian President Vladimir Putin might be behind the reform effort.

The basis for his claim? An activist from West Virginia promoting the changes, who he had seen at two national party gatherings, admitted to him that she was a Green Party member and had voted for its nominee, Jill Stein, in the 2016 election.

“I concluded someone is picking up her expenses but there she and others are, demanding we change our Rules,” Mulholland wrote. “The Putin operation is still active.”

Contacted by HuffPost on Sunday, Mulholland conceded he had no evidence the woman, who he did not name, was bankrolled by Putin.

As we have seen far too often since the 2016 election, too many establishment Democrats, anything which limits their own power to subvert democracy is a Russian plot.

For those who claim that superdelegates are needed in order to prevent a fiasco such as the nomination of another Donald Trump,  keep in mind that in 2016 the Democratic  superdelegates overwhelmingly supported a candidate who was both unelectable and as bad as Donald Trump.

There are potential problems with this proposal. Superdelegates would still be able to vote on matters other than the nomination on the first ballot. This could give them a disproportional influence on matters such as convention rules, including seating of delegates, which could influence the winner. The party establishment might be tempted to circumvent this with rules which would increase the chances of a vote going to the second ballot, such as returning to requiring a super-majority to win the nomination. They might also be dissuaded from doing so due to the tendency in the past for candidates who received the nomination following contested conventions to be less likely to win the general election.

Eliminating superdelegates would not solve all of the problems. Superdelegates are just one of many ways in which the Democratic Party rigs who can win the nomination. I would also like to see an end to front loading Southern states to help more conservative candidates. We would also need an end to many of the other actions seen in 2015-6 including restricting debates, giving one candidate effective control of the Party as they did with Clinton, games like Harry Reid played in Nevada, changing fund raising rules to help Clinton, and restricting who can vote or making it hard to register to help the establishment candidate.

Another proposal of concern is one that requires that candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination must be registered Democrats and must “run and serve” as Democrats. Bernie Sanders reportedly would still be allowed to run due to rules in Vermont which treat him as a Democrat on the state and federal level.  Even if this rule does not interfere with Bernie Sanders running, it does narrow the range of potential candidates. While the election of Donald Trump might have soured any desire for a candidate outside of politics, the limited support for true liberal and progressive ideas in the current Democratic Party shows a need to allow new blood.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee has until June 30 to decide upon these recommendations, and a decision is to be made at the next DNC meeting in August.

Former Ambassador To Soviet Union Warns Of The Dangers Of Russiagate Hysteria

Jack F. Matlock Jr., ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987 to 1991, writes in The Nation that, “We must end this Russophobic insanity.” Many Democrats continue to spread hysteria about Russia as opposed to accepting the reality that they lost the 2016 election by running a terrible candidate who should never have been a major party candidate for president. Matlock countered the false narrative we are often hearing by reviewing the facts. Matlock had the following seven points:

  1. It is a fact that some Russians paid people to act as online trolls and bought advertisements on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. Most of these were taken from elsewhere, and they comprised a tiny fraction of all the advertisements purchased on Facebook during this period. This continued after the election and included organizing a demonstration against President-elect Trump.
  2. It is a fact that e-mails in the memory of the Democratic National Committee’s computer were furnished to Wikileaks. The US intelligence agencies that issued the January 2017 report were confident that Russians hacked the e-mails and supplied them to Wikileaks, but offered no evidence to substantiate their claim. Even if one accepts that Russians were the perpetrators, however, the e-mails were genuine, as the US intelligence report certified. I have always thought that the truth was supposed to make us free, not degrade our democracy.
  3. It is a fact that the Russian government established a sophisticated television service (RT) that purveyed entertainment, news, and—yes—propaganda to foreign audiences, including those in the United States. Its audience is several magnitudes smaller than that of Fox News. Basically, its task is to picture Russia in a more favorable light than has been available in Western media. There has been no analysis of its effect, if any, on voting in the United States. The January 2017 US intelligence report states at the outset, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.” Nevertheless, that report has been cited repeatedly by politicians and the media as having done so.
  4. It is a fact that many senior Russian officials (though not all, by any means) expressed a preference for Trump’s candidacy. After all, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had compared President Putin to Hitler and had urged more active US military intervention abroad, while Trump had said it would be better to cooperate with Russia than to treat it as an enemy. It should not require the judgment of professional analysts to understand why many Russians would find Trump’s statements more congenial than Clinton’s. On a personal level, most of my Russian friends and contacts were dubious of Trump, but all resented Clinton’s Russophobic tone, as well as statements made by Obama from 2014 onward. They considered Obama’s public comment that “Russia doesn’t make anything” a gratuitous insult (which it was), and were alarmed by Clinton’s expressed desire to provide additional military support to the “moderates” in Syria. But the average Russian, and certainly the typical Putin administration official, understood Trump’s comments as favoring improved relations, which they definitely favored.
  5. There is no evidence that Russian leaders thought Trump would win or that they could have a direct influence on the outcome. This is an allegation that has not been substantiated. The January 2017 report from the intelligence community actually states that Russian leaders, like most others, thought Clinton would be elected.
  6. There is no evidence that Russian activities had any tangible impact on the outcome of the election. Nobody seems to have done even a superficial study of the effect Russian actions actually had on the vote. The intelligence-community report, however, states explicitly that “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.” Also both former FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers have testified that there is no proof Russian activities had an effect on the vote count.
  7. There is also no evidence that there was direct coordination between the Trump campaign (hardly a well-organized effort) and Russian officials. The indictments brought by the special prosecutor so far are either for lying to the FBI or for offenses unrelated to the campaign such as money laundering or not registering as a foreign agent.

Matlock agrees that the election of Trump was a disaster, but also criticizes the false narrative as to why he was elected. He discussed both the problems with blaming Russia, and noted that the Democrats most likely would have won if they had nominated anyone other than Hillary Clinton:

I did not personally vote for Trump, but I consider the charges that Russian actions interfered in the election, or—for that matter—damaged the quality of our democracy ludicrous, pathetic, and shameful.

“Ludicrous” because there is no logical reason to think that anything that the Russians did affected how people voted. In the past, when Soviet leaders tried to influence American elections, it backfired—as foreign interference usually does everywhere. In 1984, Yuri Andropov, the Soviet leader then, made preventing Ronald Reagan’s reelection the second-most-important task of the KGB. (The first was to detect US plans for a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.) Everything the Soviets did—in painting Reagan out to be a warmonger while Andropov refused to negotiate on nuclear weapons—helped Reagan win 49 out of 50 states.

“Pathetic” because it is clear that the Democratic Party lost the election. Yes, it won the popular vote, but presidents are not elected by popular vote. To blame someone else for one’s own mistakes is a pathetic case of self-deception.

“Shameful” because it is an evasion of responsibility. It prevents the Democrats, and those Republicans who want responsible, fact-based government in Washington, from concentrating on practical ways to reduce the threat the Trump presidency poses to our political values and even to our future existence. After all, Trump would not be president if the Republican Party had not nominated him. He also is most unlikely to have won the Electoral College if the Democrats had nominated someone—almost anyone—other than the candidate they chose, or if that candidate had run a more competent campaign. I don’t argue that any of this was fair, or rational, but then who is so naive as to assume that American politics are either fair or rational?

Matlock added that falsely blaming the election on Russia is also dangerous:

I should add “dangerous” to those three adjectives. “Dangerous” because making an enemy of Russia, the other nuclear superpower—yes, there are still two—comes as close to political insanity as anything I can think of. Denying global warming may rank up there too in the long run, but only nuclear weapons pose, by their very existence in the quantities that are on station in Russia and the United States, an immediate threat to mankind—not just to the United States and Russia and not just to “civilization.” The sad, frequently forgotten fact is that, since the creation of nuclear weapons, mankind has the capacity to destroy itself and join other extinct species…

We must desist from our current Russophobic insanity and encourage Presidents Trump and Putin to restore cooperation in issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, control of nuclear materials, and nuclear-arms reduction. This is in the vital interest of both the United States and Russia. That is the central issue on which sane governments, and sane publics, would focus their attention.

Related:

The Nation Debunks Russiagate Conspiracy “Fantasyland” And Irresponsible Media Coverage

Democrats Need The Right Policies, Not Just A New Slogan

Despite a decade of losing while standing for little other than being slightly more moderate than Republicans, Democrats have concentrated on cosmetic changes such as seeking the right slogan. Their latest, rather unoriginal, idea for a slogan is to “drain the swamp.” In contrast to relying on slogans, Samuel Moyn  professor of law and history at Yale, has written that Democrats need to look at the right policies.

Writing in The Guardian, Moyn noted an op-ed in The New York Times saying liberals “come off as judgmental scolds” and alienating potential voters. Remedying this is only part of the solution:

…policy matters much more than politeness. The trouble with American liberalism is not the rhetoric, the selling or the advertising; it is not even the product to sell, as if politics were marketing. Rather, liberals need to forge policies that allow Americans to identify or imagine common interests. The problem is not the bait chosen to lure voters but the whole idea of politics as fishing – as if voters across the country are suckers to be lured into one camp or another. Perhaps liberals, searching for a path forward into the hearts and minds of voters, need to pay heed to Missouri’s state motto: not “rule me more nicely”, but “show me”.

In looking for the “right policies,” Moyn mentions income inequality, as well as another which I have often noted has been receiving far too little attention, “ending the endless war on terror.”

The last two presidents of the United States have each been elected as antiwar candidates, even though each went on to govern militaristically. An antiwar coalition in the making – starting with proposals to drastically reduce America’s counterproductive use of force abroad – is likely to be powerful in future elections too. But liberals will have to give up their concessions to the national security state and their fears of coming off as unpatriotic in order to exploit this opportunity.

Rather than nominating an anti-war candidate, the Democrats nominated one of the most hawkish politicians in recent history in 2016, with one analysis showing that this did hurt Clinton in the general election. While well below the vote of the major party candidates, Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) received around twice as many votes as their parties received four years previously. Others do not vote as they do not see either major political party as being worht voting for. A major party which took up an anti-war platform could likely pull in many voters who are reluctant to vote for either party at present.

I am pleased to see Moyn recommend ending the war on terror, but I also have one other wish. Liberals need to concentrate more on fundamental liberal principles of individual liberty, and keeping the government out of the private lives of individuals. We currently have a huge contradiction in our politics with the Republicans claiming to be the party of freedom and limited government, while frequently advocating policies of greater government intrusion in the private lives of individuals. This is largely because of an inconsistency on the part of Democrats. Republican voters might be more willing to accept support for reproductive rights if described as part of an overall platform of supporting individual liberty. Of course this only works if Democrats are consistent and avoid nanny state policies, or a health care plan dependent upon an individual mandate, which was one reason for Democratic losses in recent years.

Democratic Leaders Aren’t Really Pragmatists–They Just Prefer Moderates

This year we have seen conflicts in the Democratic Party as the party establishment has intervened in primary races to back more moderate or conservative candidates over more progressive candidates. As I have noted previously, the arguments that more moderate candidates are more electable have not held up, with this view being a major reason why Democrats have lost control of the White House, both Houses of Congress, and around one thousand seats in state legislatures.

With increased polarization, the number of persuadable voters has decreased, and elections are frequently won based upon a party’s ability to motivate its potential voters to turn out to vote. Despite growing evidence that their strategy does not work, the Democratic establishment remains resistant to change. The Intercept recently reviewed evidence that this might be because party leaders simply prefer moderates. They reviewed data showing that, even in safe races, party leaders preferred more moderate candidates:

A paper in this month’s edition of the peer-reviewed Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes a decade’s worth of federal elections, finding that party organizations boost moderate candidates across the board, whether the general election is expected to be competitive or a long shot. In other words, party support for moderates does not appear to be strategic, but sincere. “They’re not doing this to have a better shot at winning elections,” said the paper’s author Hans Hassell, assistant professor of politics at Cornell College in Iowa.

The evidence points more to the conclusion that party elites “have strong incentives to prefer loyalists who can be trusted to implement its preferred policies after the nomination,” Hassell writes.

The study not only breaks with other political science findings, but decades of rhetoric from party leaders. It’s obvious from the most casual survey of primary elections that parties support moderates, but the races that observers tend to watch closely are competitive contests in swing states, so it stands to reason that a moderate in such a district may indeed be the smarter strategic play. Indeed, in a series of high-profile battles with progressive activists, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has consistently positioned itself as being pragmatic, willing to bend on its progressive principles if doing so can lead to victory.

Hassell’s work expanded the field of vision, looking at races in which the Democratic nominee is likely to cruise to victory. The full scope of the research indicates that party leaders are actually committed to elevating candidates with a narrow range of beliefs.

If party elites were merely strategic actors, the data would show higher support for moderate candidates in swing races, while not showing as much support in seats that were either safe or out of reach. That’s not the case. In Hassell’s findings, parties consistently supported the more moderate primary candidate, regardless of the expected outcome of the general election. Even after excluding incumbents — which party committees almost always support — support for moderates holds. It’s also consistent regardless of party. And while this data set used Senate races, for his book Hassell also measured House races, finding the same result.

I wonder to what degree this is a consequence of a sincere view supporting moderate positions among party leaders as opposed to holding views to please their donors. Hassell leans towards sincerity on the party of party leaders, but this would be difficult to prove. Hassell also had one possibly favorable finding for progressives–views of party leaders have not remained static over time. On the one hand the establishment is not fixed. On the other hand, the establishment now dominated by Clinton-style “New Democrats.”

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