Dennis Kucinich Warned About Current US Hostilities Towards Russia and Syria

The US bombing in Syria has made my planned posts on Dennis Kucinich this week even more applicable to current events. Earlier in the week I quoted from a profile of Kucinich in The Washington Post Magazine calling him the future of American politics. As he is currently running for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Ohio, foreign policy was only briefly touched upon in the article, noting that in 2004 he was “the voice for getting out of Iraq.” Now Kucinich is protesting that Donald Trump acted without “congressional authorization in ordering a military attack against Syria tonight. This is a clear violation of the United States Constitution…which makes it clear that only Congress has the power to declare war.”

Kucinich had continued to warn about the direction of US foreign policy in both parties since the days in which he was protesting against the war in Iraq. In October  of 2016 he had an article in The Nation entitled, Why Is the Foreign Policy Establishment Spoiling for More War? Look at Their Donors. War is first and foremost a profitable racket. It was not difficult to see a turn towards a more hawkish foreign policy when the conventional wisdom was that Hillary Clinton was about to become president, and her opponent was Donald Trump.

In this article from 2016 he cautioned against both the anti-Russia hysteria we are now seeing as well as our current policy regarding Syria. Some excerpts:

According to the front page of this past Friday’s Washington Post, the bipartisan foreign-policy elite recommends the next president show less restraint than President Obama. Acting at the urging of “liberal” hawks brandishing humanitarian intervention, read war, the Obama administration attacked Libya along with allied powers working through NATO.

The think tankers fell in line with the Iraq invasion. Not being in the tank, I did my own analysis of the call for war in October of 2002, based on readily accessible information, and easily concluded that there was no justification for war. I distributed it widely in Congress and led 125 Democrats in voting against the Iraq war resolution. There was no money to be made from a conclusion that war was uncalled for, so, against millions protesting in the United States and worldwide, our government launched into an abyss, with a lot of armchair generals waving combat pennants. The marching band and chowder society of DC think tanks learned nothing from the Iraq and Libya experience.

The only winners were arms dealers, oil companies, and jihadists. Immediately after the fall of Libya, the black flag of Al Qaeda was raised over a municipal building in Benghazi, Gadhafi’s murder was soon to follow, with Secretary Clinton quipping with a laugh, “We came, we saw, he died.” President Obama apparently learned from this misadventure, but not the Washington policy establishment, which is spoiling for more war.

The self-identified liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) is now calling for Syria to be bombed, and estimates America’s current military adventures will be tidied up by 2025, a tardy twist on “mission accomplished.” CAP, according to a report in The Nation, has received funding from war contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who make the bombers that CAP wants to rain hellfire on Syria.

The Brookings Institute has taken tens of millions from foreign governments, notably Qatar, a key player in the military campaign to oust Assad. Retired four-star Marine general John Allen is now a Brookings senior fellow. Charles Lister is a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, which has received funding from Saudi Arabia, the major financial forceproviding billions in arms to upend Assad and install a Sunni caliphatestretching across Iraq and Syria. Foreign-government money is driving our foreign policy.

As the drumbeat for an expanded war gets louder, Allen and Lister jointly signed an op-ed in the Sunday Washington Post, calling for an attack on Syria. The Brookings Institute, in a report to Congress, admitted it received $250,000 from the US Central Command, Centcom, where General Allen shared leadership duties with General David Petraeus. Pentagon money to think tanks that endorse war? This is academic integrity, DC-style…

The American people are fed up with war, but a concerted effort is being made through fearmongering, propaganda, and lies to prepare our country for a dangerous confrontation, with Russia in Syria.

The demonization of Russia is a calculated plan to resurrect a raison d’être for stone-cold warriors trying to escape from the dustbin of history by evoking the specter of Russian world domination…

As this year’s presidential election comes to a conclusion, the Washington ideologues are regurgitating the same bipartisan consensus that has kept America at war since 9/11 and made the world a decidedly more dangerous place…

t is our patriotic duty to expose why the DC foreign-policy establishment and its sponsors have not learned from their failures and instead are repeating them, with the acquiescence of the political class and sleepwalkers with press passes.

It is also time for a new peace movement in America, one that includes progressives and libertarians alike, both in and out of Congress, to organize on campuses, in cities, and towns across America, to serve as an effective counterbalance to the Demuplican war party, its think tanks, and its media cheerleaders. The work begins now, not after the Inauguration. We must not accept war as inevitable, and those leaders who would lead us in that direction, whether in Congress or the White House, must face visible opposition.

Kucinich was right about the direction we were heading. Not only have we had this weekend’s attack on Syria. We have also seen increased fear-mongering and demonetization of Russia. Part of this comes from Clinton’s neocon allies who have desired regime change in Russia or see other benefits in fueling conflict. This is exacerbated by Democrats who cannot accept that Donald Trump is president because the Democratic Party rigged the primary process to give the nomination to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump, and therefore fall for conspiracy theories blaming Russia for her defeat.

I wish that Kucinich was running for a position more related to foreign policy than a Governor. There are far too few anti-war voices left in Congress. One is Tulsi Gabbard, who traveled to Syria with Kucinich last year, and last week did write Donald Trump last week urging against a military strike against Syria.

Matt Taibbi Tries To Explain Why We Should Avoid War With A Nuclear Power

Add Matt Taibbi to those I mentioned yesterday warning about going to war in Syria. He has an article in Rolling Stone entitled,  If We’re on the Brink of War, the Fault Is Ours, Not Trump’s or Bolton’s.

So here we are, on the brink. Here’s Donald Trump’s tough-ass tweet about how he’s about to mix it up with both Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!  –Donald J. trump 

The fate of humanity now rests in the hands of this Twitter-obsessed dingbat executive and his new national security adviser, John Bolton – one of the most deranged people to have ever served in the United States government, a man who makes Jeane Kirkpatrick look like Florence Nightingale.

With these two at the helm, we are now facing the imminent possibility of direct military conflict with a nuclear enemy. No one in the popular press is saying it, but there could easily be Russian casualties in Trump’s inevitable bombing campaign. Which will then put the onus on a third lunatic, Vladimir Putin, to respond with appropriate restraint.

Ironically, pretty much the only places where you will read today about the frightening possibility of Russian casualties are in military journals, in the nervous musings of Pentagon officials. Here and there you will see reports of concern about what might happen if we kill the wrong Russians, or the wrong quantity of Russians. One outlet calmly suggested the Russians might step up “harassment” of U.S. warplanes and outposts if we kill too many of theirs, as if this would not cause the whole world to soil itself in terror.

So to recap: the most terminally insecure president ever sits in the White House, advised by one of the most war-crazy hacks in the history of federal service, at the outset of a fully avoidable proxy war with an enemy that possesses thousands of lethal thermonuclear warheads aimed directly at us.

Bear in mind that virtually any exchange of nuclear missiles between these two countries would mean the absolute end of civilization. We could all, right now, be minutes away from the end of everything, especially given who holds the respective buttons.

Taibbi notes that there was hope for a different outcome:

But we had a head start in dodging the bullet with Trump, as one of the few not-terrifying qualities he demonstrated as a candidate was his seeming reluctance to get into unnecessary wars. Trump was specifically on record as wanting to “stay out of Syria.”

Taibbi notes that Trump’s isolationism was “at least partly insincere.” He also notes that, “unlike his racism and xenophobia and lack of sympathy for the poor – issues where there are obvious currents visible in what passes for his mind – Trump is highly suggestible in matters military.”

Unfortunately any attempts to influence Trump have been in the wrong direction:

As president, however, the one time he received praise from the Washington consensus was when he bombed Assad last year. You might remember that as the time when Fareed Zakaria gushed on CNN, “Donald Trump became president tonight,” and a tumescent Brian Williams countered by calling the bombs “beautiful” 8 times in 30 seconds, quoting Leonard Cohen as he said, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.”

Taibbi next showed several examples of Trump receiving criticism for talking about leaving Syria and many, including Democrats like Howard Dean, taking the wrong position. Taibbi wrote:

“Trump’s Syria Policy Isn’t Retrenchement, It’s Pandering,” sneeredForeign Policy.

“Chaos reigns with his president,” said Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, calling the withdrawal plan “incoherent.”

Howard Dean, a man I once voted for because he at least tepidly opposed a pointless Middle Eastern war, decided to use this occasion to taunt Trump in schoolyard fashion.

“Why are you such a wimp for Assad and Putin?” Dean tweeted.

This is just one of the reasons why I am glad I did not trust or vote for Howard Dean in 2004.

Taibbi concluded by repeating the consequences of those who now advocate attacking Syria over the alleged poison gas attack:

One could maybe understand this attitude from millennials, who weren’t raised amid The Day After or “99 Luftballoons” or “1999” or Failsafe or Dr. Strangelove even, and have never experienced even fake angst about growing up under the specter of nuclear war. But all the preceding generations should know better. We all grew up aware it could all be over in a heartbeat.

This is probably the most serious showdown between nuclear powers since the Cuban missile crisis, or at the very least, the shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983.

The oft-derided Doomsday Clock, kept by the Union of Atomic Scientists, describes us as closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time. “The continued existence of urban, technological civilization will soon hang in a precarious balance,” the Scientists predicted then…

That Trump might forget the awesome danger of nuclear war is a given. The man is a fool. But what’s our excuse?

Taibbi’s Twitter page shows that many others are as foolish as Trump. For example: “Hacking our election was an act of war. No different than Pearl Harbor. I’d proudly fight if I were younger. Remember our Hillary!!! ”

Tabbi replied: “How do you think war with Russia goes? With rifles and bayonets, like at Iwo Jima? This is the nuclear age. In the best case, it’s a big noise, most everyone dies, and the lucky ones get fifty years of MREs.”

Remember Hillary? The ultra-hawk who is just barely less dangerous than John Bolton? She’s the one who supported Syria bombing last year, and who previously supported greater intervention in Syria, which would have placed us at considerable risk of confrontation with Russia. To compare trivial meddling in the election, which had no effect on the result, to Pearl Harbor is utterly insane. Yet many have been making exactly that comparison, or comparing it to 9/11.

Another uninformed reader tweeted, “Putin’s possession of nukes does not mean he intends upon using them or HAS THE CAPABILITY OF USING THEM. Putin actually believes his delivery systems are worthless for the exact same reason that i do. our missile defenses are much further developed than disclosed.”

Does anyone in their right mind really think that it is worth risking a nuclear attack?

As I tweeted and posted on Facebook: “My opposition to going to war with a nuclear power over inconsequential Facebook ads or even a suspected poison gas attack does not mean I support either Putin or Assad. It means I oppose the destruction of the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

Two People Speaking Out Against War In Syria

It is a shame that a xenophobic conservative like Tucker Carlson is making more sense about Syria on Fox than most others in the news media, including the supposed liberals on MSNBC. During the show (video above) Carlson questioned the wisdom of military action in Syria:

With Assad gone, who would run it exactly? Do we have another strongman in place to install? Or is it our hope that a stable democracy will magically appear in the wake of this protracted civil war?

And who exactly are these moderate rebels you’re always hearing about, the ones that we’re supporting with your tax dollars?

Meanwhile Newsweek warns: RUSSIA PREPARES FOR WAR WITH U.S., INSTRUCTING CITIZENS TO BUY WATER AND GAS MASKS:

Claiming that some Americans are preparing for a coming war with Moscow, Russian state-owned television explained to the country’s residents how to stock their bunkers with water and basic foodstuffs in case a war breaks out.

Warning that the potential conflict between the two superpowers would be “catastrophic,” an anchor for Russia’s Vesti 24 showed off shelves of food, recommending that people buy salt, oatmeal and other products that can last a long time on the shelves if they plan to hide in a bunker. Powdered milk lasts five years, while sugar and rice can last up to eight years, the newscaster explained before showing videos of pasta cooking in a bomb shelter.

In contrast to the calls to go to war, Stephen R. Weissman, former staff director of the House Subcommittee on Africa, discussed a more rational policy at In These Times:

The United States has intervened militarily in civil wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen to defeat Al Qaeda, associate America with a democratic “Arab Spring” and support the ambitions of friendly Middle Eastern governments. Yet little progress towards these objectives has occurred, partly because American policies were misplaced. Central Al Qaeda has long been located in Pakistan, not Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring proved ephemeral. Meanwhile, intervention has damaged many fundamental American interests. It has strained relationships with U.S. partners, stoked interstate tensions, threatened to plunge the U.S. into new military commitments, burdened America’s complex relationship with Russia, contributed to tremendous losses of human life and aggravated U.S. budgetary deficits.

What to do? Critics of the Obama administration’s “weakness” have urged the United States to double down on its use of force. Though wary of domestic political constraints on further American casualties, the Trump administration has ventured partway in this direction. In Afghanistan, it added a few thousand troops to the 11,000 already present, loosened constraints on American military operations and suspended security assistance to Pakistan over its failure to crack down on Taliban sanctuaries. In Syria, it reportedly ended major CIA covert military assistance to “moderate” rebels, but, after helping subdue the Islamic State in Northern Syria, maintains 2,000 U.S. troops and considerable air power in the region as “leverage” against the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran. In Yemen, it has escalated military support—arms sales, intelligence and refueling of military aircraft—to the Saudi-led coalition defending the displaced government against Houthi rebels.

Nevertheless, no amount of politically permissible U.S. military escalation will rescue failing U.S. policies. Local U.S. clients suffer from political and military dysfunctions that cannot be alleviated by outside economic and military aid. At the same time, their opponents have been supplied by Pakistan, Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran and Russia with enough resources to avert defeat and even gain ground.

A more promising route to protect America’s political and humanitarian interests exists, but you will not hear much about it from the executive branch, Congressional foreign policy leaders, prominent Washington think tanks and mainstream media. It is to pursue an end to these wars through mediated, compromise political settlements based on ground-level realities—leavened with as much justice and accountability as can be achieved.

Does this sound naïve? It is what the United States did in helping to resolve seven civil wars (in three of which the U.S. military had been involved) between 1990 and 2005 in Bosnia, Burundi, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (an interstate as well as intrastate conflict), El Salvador, Mozambique and Sudan. This was an era when the Cold War ran down, enabling U.S. political and opinion leaders to address these conflicts forthrightly. Today, their vision is clouded by fearful overreactions to international terrorism and Iran’s regional rivalries. Still, from 1990–2013 a larger percentage of civil wars were resolved by negotiated settlements than by military victories.

The seven wars endured from four to twenty-two years (four lasted at least eight years). Individually, they resulted in anywhere from tens of thousands to, in Congo’s case, 3.5 million military and civilian deaths. But once serious peace talks began, six of the negotiations were completed in less than three years. Every one of these accords was achieved through external mediation among the parties to the conflict. As former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere told me in 1997, after having led the effort in Burundi for two years, “One thing I know, they can’t do it on their own.”

Weissman discussed this in further detail. Diplomacy may or may not work, but dropping more bombs on Syria will not help keep people in Syria more safe. It might escalate to the nuclear war they are talking about in Russia.

Quote of the Day: Trump Going To North Korea Compared To Nixon Going To China

“It’s like Richard Nixon going to China, but if Nixon were a moron.” –Jeffrey Lewis, writing in Foreign Affairs about Trump going to North Korea. (Hat tip to Political Wire for link. Picture is of Kim and Trump impersonators from Foreign Affairs.

Bush Said Bolton Not Credible By 2008; Jimmy Carter Calls His Appointment The Worst Mistake Trump Has Made

While George W. Bush initially promoted the career of John Bolton, over time his opinion became closer to Jimmy Carter’s view of him. Max Boot points out that by 2008, George Bush no longer trusted Bolton, pointing to this article from 2008 after Bolton criticized Bush for lifting some of the sanctions on North Korea:

“Let me just say from the outset that I don’t consider Bolton credible,” the president said bitterly. Bush had brought Bolton into the top ranks of his administration, fought for Senate confirmation and, when lawmakers balked, defied critics to give the hawkish aide a recess appointment. “I spent political capital for him,” Bush said, and look what he got in return.

Jimmy Carter calls the appointment of Bolton as National Security Adviser as “the worst mistake” Trump has made:

“I have been concerned at some of the things he’s decided. I think his last choice for national security adviser was very ill-advised. I think John Bolton has been the worst mistake he’s made,” Carter told “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell Monday. Bolton will be Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser since taking office.

Considering all the mistakes Trump has made, that says a lot.

I recently cited Reason magazine’s 5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria. They have another good five entry list this week too, 5 Things About John Bolton That Are Worse Than His Mustache:

  1. Bolton supported the 2002 invasion of Iraq and still thinks it was a dandy idea
  2. Bolton supported the U.S. intervention in the Libyan civil war.
  3. Bolton thinks the U.S. should have intervened in the Syrian civil war sooner and more aggressively.
  4. Bolton agitated for war with Iran.
  5. Bolton favors attacking North Korea

The irony is that these positions differ from many of the statements Donald Trump made on foreign policy during the campaign, although contradictions from Trump occur frequently. Bolton’s record is also more similar to that of Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion of Iraq, orchestrated the intervention in Libya as Secretary of State, has criticized Obama for not intervening in the Syrian war as she advised, and has threatened to obliterate Iran. While I’m not aware of her outright promoting an attack on North Korea, her actions as Secretary of State have exacerbated the crisis in North Korea.

Trump Brings Ultra-Warmonger Into Administration. How Much Should We Worry?

Donald Trump’s choice of John Bolton to be National Security Adviser greatly diminishes any hopes that Donald Trump actually meant it when he (sometimes) spoke out against war as a candidate. Perhaps it is possible that Trump just likes to bring in people from Fox and does not realize that Bolton’s views differ sharply from some of the views he has promoted. Considering how inconsistent and incoherent he was on foreign policy, it is also possible that his opposition to the Iraq war was primarily an attack on Jeb Bush via his family, and his criticism of regime change in Libya was also based more on a desire to attack Hillary Clinton than any real understanding of the situation.

With the range of views on Bolton ranging as to how much to panic, Andrew Sullivan predicts the worst case scenario:

This is the second phase of tyranny, after the more benign settling-in: the purge. Any constraints that had been in place to moderate the tyrant’s whims are set aside; no advice that counters his own gut impulses can be tolerated. And so, over the last couple of weeks, we have seen the president fire Rex Tillerson and Andrew McCabe, two individuals who simply couldn’t capitulate to the demand that they obey only Trump, rather than the country as well…

No one with these instincts for total domination over others is likely to moderate the longer he is in power. Au contraire. It always gets worse. And so Tillerson has been replaced by a fawning toady, Mike Pompeo, a man whose hatred of Islam is only matched by his sympathy for waterboarders. Pompeo has been replaced in turn by a war criminal, who authorized brutal torture and illegally destroyed the evidence, Gina Haspel. Whatever else we know about Haspel, we know she follows orders.

Gary Cohn has been replaced by Larry Kudlow — a sane person followed by a delusional maniac Trump sees on Fox, who instantly thought up ways for the president to cut taxes further without congressional approval. And the State Department, indeed the entire diplomatic apparatus, has, it seems, been replaced by Jared Kushner, a corrupt enthusiast for West Bank settlements who no longer has a security clearance.

Then the president’s legal team was shaken up — in order to purge those few who retain some appreciation for the rule of law in a constitutional republic and to replace them with conspiracy theorists, thugs, and the kind of combative, asshole lawyers Trump has always employed in his private capacity. Trump is self-evidently — obviously— preparing to fire Mueller, and the GOP’s complete acquiescence to the firing of McCabe is just a taste of the surrender to come. “Now I’m fucking doing it my own way!” was how he allegedly expressed his satisfaction at the purge, as his approval ratings from Republicans increase, and as the GOP’s evolution into a full-fledged cult gathers pace.

And then last night, we saw McMaster fall on his sword, replaced by John Bolton, an unrepentant architect of the most disastrous war since Vietnam, a fanatical advocate for regime change in Iran, an anti-Muslim extremist, and a believer in the use of military force as if it were a religion. And this, of course, is also part of the second phase for Plato’s tyrant: war. “As his first step, he is always setting some war in motion, so that people will be in need of a leader,” Plato explains. In fact, “it’s necessary for a tyrant always to be stirring up war.”

…I worry that the more Trump is opposed and even cornered — especially if he loses the House this fall — the more dangerous he will become. If Mueller really does have the goods, and if the Democrats storm back into congressional power, then Trump may well lash out to protect himself at all costs. We know he has no concern for the collateral damage his self-advancement has long caused in his private and public life. We know he has contempt for and boundless ignorance of liberal democracy. We know he is capable of anything — of immense cruelty and callousness, of petty revenge and reckless rhetoric, of sudden impulses and a quick temper. We also know he is commander-in-chief, who may soon need the greatest distraction of all.

War is coming. And there will be nothing and no one to stop him.

With establishment Democrats having also adopted neoconservativeism and abandoned standing up to warmongers (having even nominated one of the worst in 2016) I’ll turn to another conservative critic of Trump, and someone I rarely quote or agree with. Jennifer Rubin described the horrors of having Bolton in this position, but left more room for hope than Sullivan:

Bolton frequently advocates use of military power, specifically against Iran and North Korea. With regard to North Korea, he believes diplomacy is useless and the only “solution” is reunification of the Korean Peninsula — as a free and democratic country. If that is a short-term goal rather than a long-term aspiration, a massive war almost certainly would be necessary. On Iran, he has declared the deal unfixable and advocated for military strikes on Iran.

The question of the moment is whether the John Bolton we read in print and see on TV will be the same John Bolton who is charged with coordinating foreign policy. Advocating in print a position a Democratic president will never undertake is one thing; presenting to your boss a viable plan for military action that may result in mass casualties is quite another. In other words, we’re about to find out if Bolton is really serious about all his views or has simply enjoyed the role of gadfly…

Where Sullivan sees nobody who could stop him, Rubin has a suggestion which is more grounded in the Constitution than recent precedent:

The Bolton pick should be a wake-up call to Republicans who always assumed wise, calm advisers would be there to constrain Trump. It should motivate both Republicans and Democrats to start reclaiming Congress’s power, for example, by declaring that congressional authorization is required for a first strike on either Iran or North Korea. They cannot prevent Bolton from assuming his job, but together with Republican colleagues can begin to exercise more restraint on the use of force and, as Menendez suggested, to conduct robust oversight.

As for outside foreign policy gurus who have advocated high-stakes strategies (e.g., threatening to pull out of the JCPOA and use military force against Iran), they would do well to realize this is no academic exercise. In Bolton, the president has someone who may well encourage his most outlandish ideas.

It could be a favorable “legacy” of Donald Trump, even if not what he desires, if the outcome of his presidency is greater constraint on presidential power, as well as corruption.

Meanwhile Guardian editor David Shariatmadari, after writing of the risk of war, concluded with, “Help us Mad Dog Mattis, you’re our only hope.” It is scary that the most sane foreign policy voice left is someone called Mad Dog.

Edward Snowden On Putin, Obama, Trump And Questioning Power

With the high level of McCarthyism coming from pro-Clinton Democrats in recent months, it has been commonplace recently for such Democrats to falsely attack those they disagree with as being pro-Russia. They fail to understand that people can be opposed to Clinton, Trump, and Putin–with all three actually sharing many characteristics with their mutual lack of respect for the norms of liberal democracy. This week several blogs on the left have pointed out that Edward Snowden has joined others in posting videos exposing ballot box stuffing in the recent Russian election:

Snowden posted the video with this caption: “The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people. Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter. Take your future back.”

Glenn Greenwald retweeted this and said, “How many days will elapse until we see the next tweets claiming that Snowden never criticizes Putin or Russia – something he in fact does with great vigor and frequency?”

Stefania Maurizi recently interviewed Edward Snowden for La Repubblica. The first question was about the Democrats who joined with Republicans to support mass surveillance:

Five years have passed since you revealed the NSA’s mass surveillance activities, and we have just seen dozens of US Democrats voting with the Trump Administration to renew the NSA’s surveillance powers, we’ve seen Italy approve a law which extends mandatory data retention to six years, but we’ve also seen a UK Court ruling that the UK’s mass surveillance regime is unlawful. The debate is still ongoing and the picture is mixed. In the long run, will mass surveillance be downsized in our democracies, or will it continue to flourish?

“That’s a big question…(he smiles). For one it’s certainly a real shame, I think, for the Democratic party, and unfortunately this has become quite routine, that the party that is presenting itself as a progressive force is so often joining in to limit the rights that the public enjoys. I don’t think this is unique to the Democratic Party, we see this happening even in countries that don’t share the same dynamics. What we are seeing is a new kind of creeping authoritarianism spreading across the globe.

Having said that, we have made some limited progress: in the United States, of course, we had the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which is the first surveillance law in 40 years that limited the powers of intelligence agencies rather than expanding them, but it is not guaranteed that this progress will continue, and in fact we see laws like the section 702 of the FISA [the NSA’s surveillance powers reauthorized by the U.S. Congress]…

He was later asked about Obama and Trump:

We saw that President Obama, who was an outsider to the US military-intelligence complex, initially wanted to reign in the abuses of agencies like the CIA and the NSA, but in the end he did very little. Now we see a confrontation between president Trump and so-called Deep State, which includes the CIA and the NSA. Can a US president govern in opposition to such powerful entities?

“Obama is certainly an instructive case. This is a president who campaigned on a platform of ending warrantless wiretapping in the United States, he said “that’s not who we are, that’s not what we do”, and once he became the president, he expanded the program.  He said he was going to close Guantanamo but he kept it open, he said he was going to limit extrajudicial killings and drone strikes that has been so routine in the Bush years. But Obama went on to authorize vastly more drone strikes than Bush. It became an industry.

As for this idea that there is a Deep State, now the Deep State is not just the intelligence agencies, it is really a way of referring to the career bureaucracy of government. These are officials who sit in powerful positions, who don’t leave when presidents do, who watch presidents come and go, they influence policy, they influence presidents and say: this is what we have always done, this is what we must do, and if you don’t do this, people will die. It is very easy to persuade a new president who comes in, who has never had these powers, but has always wanted this job and wants very, very badly to do that job well. A bureaucrat sitting there for the last twenty years says: I understand what you said, I respect your principles, but if you do what you promised, people will die. It is very easy for a president to go: well, for now, I am going to set this controversy to the side, I’m going to take your advice, let you guys decide how these things should be done, and then I will revisit it, when I have a little more experience, maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years, but then they never do.

This is what we saw quite clearly happen in the case of Barack Obama: when this story [of Snowden exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance] came forward in 2013, when Obama had been president for five years, one of the defences for this from his aides and political allies was: oh, Obama was just about to fix this problem!  And sure enough, he eventually was forced from the wave of criticism to make some limited reforms, but he did not go far enough to end all of the programs that were in violation of the law or the constitution of the United States.

That too was an intentional choice: he could have certainly used the scandal to advocate for all of the changes that he had campaigned on, to deliver on all of his promises, but in those five years he had become president, he discovered something else, which is that there are benefits from having very powerful intelligence agencies, there are benefits from having these career bureaucrats on your side, using their spider web over government for your benefit.

Imagine you are Barack Obama, and you realise – yes, when you were campaigning you were saying: spying on people without a warrant is a problem, but then you realise: you can read Angela Merkel’s text messages. Why bother calling her and asking her opinion, when you can just read her mind by breaking the law? It sounds like a joke, but it is a very seductive thing. Secrecy is perhaps the most corrupting of all government powers, because it takes public officials and divorces them from accountability to the public.

When we look at the case of Trump, who is perhaps the worst of politicians, we see the same dynamic occurring. This is a president who said the CIA is the enemy, it’s like Nazi Germany, they’re listening to his phone calls, and all of these other things, some claims which are true, some claims which are absolutely not.  A few months later, he is authorizing major powers for these same agencies that he has called his enemies.

And this gets to the central crux of your question, which is: can any president oppose this?  The answer is certainly. The president has to have some familiarity going in with the fact that this pitch is going to be made, that they are going to try to scare him or her into compliance. The president has to be willing to stand strongly on line and say: ‘I was elected to represent the interests of the American people, and if you’re not willing to respect the constitution and our rights, I will disband your agency, and create a new one’. I think they can definitely be forced into compliance, because these officials fear prison, just like every one of us.”

He was asked about attacks claiming that he only exposes problems with  the United States:

How do you reply to those critics who attack you for “only” exposing the US mass surveillance and saying that the Chinese and the Russian surveillance complexes are no less threatening?

“This is an easy one: I am not Chinese, I am not Russian, I didn’t work for the Chinese secret services or Russian secret services, I worked for the US ones, so of course my information would be about the US”.

Critics say we should also expose the Russians and the Chinese…

“Yes, if I could, I would. We need more Chinese whistleblowers, we need more Russian whistleblowers, and unfortunately that becomes more difficult to make that happen when the United States is itself setting a precedent that whistleblowers get persecuted and attacked, rather than protected”.

How do you see this serious diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia?
“I haven’t followed it that closely, but the idea that political violence is being used in any form is reprehensible, it needs to be condemned. If the UK allegations are correct, poisoning people, particularly people who are long out of their service, and in a different country, is contemptible”.

Snowden did subsequently have the opportunity to help expose problems in Russia with the video in the tweet at the start of this post.

The interview concluded with Snowden’s being asked for his advice for young and talented people who want to do the right thing:

“Question power. I don’t want people to trust me, I want people to doubt me, but I want them to take that experience and apply that to the real powers of society, not just isolated, exiled whistleblowers. Think about politicians, business leaders, the people who shape your society. Shouldn’t it be that the ones who wield the most power in society are the ones who are held to the highest standard of behaviour?

And look at the way the system works in your country, around you today, and ask if in fact the most powerful people in society are being held to the highest standards, or if you see cases where if the ordinary person breaks the smallest law, they’re going to jail, but if the most powerful people in society are engaged in criminal activity on the grandest scales, they can simply apologize and face no consequences. If that is the case, think about what you can do to fix that. The first step is always to question if this is the way things should be, and if it’s not, it’s time to change it”.

Fifteen Years After Invasion Of Iraq, Americans Still Have Not Learned To Be Skeptical Of Claims From Dishonest Politicians

Fifteen years ago the United States invaded Iraq based on lies. In addition to the lies from the Bush administration, Hillary Clinton lied, claiming that Saddam colluded with al Qaeda.

Clinton lied again seven years ago to orchestrate the disastrous regime change in Libya.

Both Iraq and Libya have turned into disasters.

Now Clinton is lying about collusion between Donald Trump and Russia altering the election result, leading to anti-Russia sentiment from many Democrats. This is playing into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia. Are we going to get into yet another war by believing Hillary Clinton’s lies? Will Americans also believe the lies of the next politician who seeks to lie the country into wars?

Rational Voices In Response To Recent Charges Of Russian Assassination By Poisoning And Infiltration Of The Power Grid

Before the 2016 election I feared that a Clinton presidency would turn Democrats into a pack of neocon warmongers and we would see attempts to limit free speech in protest. What I didn’t anticipate was that her loss would do the same thing. Democrats are spreading hysteria about Russia which is comparable to the misinformation spread about Iraq in the run up to that war. Many Democrats are spreading claims which are not supported by either the Congressional investigations or the information in Robert Mueller’s indictments. Many are adopting McCarthyist tactics to attack those who attempt to question their misinformation, failing to understand that debunking false claims about Russia no more makes one pro-Putin than debunking false claims about Iraq and WMD made one pro-Saddam. Fortunately there are still some sane voices in the world. Today I will look at responses to the Russian assassinations in London and to the reports of Russian infiltration of the power grid.

For the sake of discussion I am assuming that the accusations made regarding these two events are true, but we must keep in mind that repeatedly there have been examples of accusations being made, the claims later being retracted, yet many people continued to spread the false claims. This includes the  retracted claims of agreement by seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing when in reality all that existed was a fact-free assessment by a small number of anti-Russian individuals in the intelligence community. NBC has repeatedly raised the debunked claims of Russian hacking of our voting systems. Previous claims that the Russians infiltrated the electrical grid in Vermont were later retracted. Many Democrats act as if collusion between Trump and Russia has been established, and that Russia altered the election results, when there is no evidence of either, and no charges that this was done in any of Robert Mueller’s indictments to date.

While leaders of the Democratic Party in the United States are spreading anti-Russian hysteria, primarily to avoid responsibility for nominating a candidate so terrible that she could not even beat Donald Trump, the leader of the Labour Party in the UK sounds far more rational. Jeremy Corbyn has this op-ed in The Guardian in response to the recent poisonings in London:

As I said in parliament, the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence, and our response must be both decisive and proportionate. But let us not manufacture a division over Russia where none exists. Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption. And we pay tribute to Russia’s many campaigners for social justice and human rights, including for LGBT rights.

However, that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a “new cold war” of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent. Instead, Britain needs to uphold its laws and its values without reservation. And those should be allied to a foreign policy that uses every opportunity to reduce tensions and conflict wherever possible…

There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime. But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times. Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong. A universal repugnance at the 9/11 attacks led to a war on Afghanistan that continues to this day, while terrorism has spread across the globe.

The continuing fallout from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the virtual collapse of the Russian state in the 1990s must be addressed through international law and diplomacy if we are to reverse the drift to conflict.

Right now, the perpetrators of the Salisbury attack must be identified and held to account. Only through firm multilateral action can we ensure such a shocking crime never happens again.

Just as we should work to ensure that such a crime never happens again, we should work to increase cyber-security, including security for the electrical grid. Philip Bump, who previously added some sanity to the claims that Russian altered the election by using social media, now is looking at the facts regarding the electrical grid. He wrote a column entitled Why Russian hackers aren’t poised to plunge the United States into darkness:

The natural question that emerges is: How serious is this hacking? The idea of Russian hackers having access to the control switches of America’s power infrastructure is particularly unnerving, raising the idea of waking up one morning to learn that the United States has simply been switched off.

Several experts who spoke with The Washington Post, though, explained that this is not only oversimplistic but also that it is almost certainly impossible. The effects of infiltration of America’s power grid would be much more geographically limited thanks to the distributed, redundant nature of the system.

In fact, it’s more than a little like another alert issued by the government about Russian infiltration efforts: the one on Oct. 7, 2016, warning about Russian efforts to tamper with state voting systems.

That announcement came from the director of national intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security and indicated that Russian hackers were “scanning and probing” election-related systems. The message, one of the few public responses to Russian interference from the Obama administration, didn’t get as much play as it might have, given that it came out the same day as The Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape.

Meaning that the caveats in the announcement — that our voting mechanisms were protected by being disconnected from the Internet during the election, by being distributed throughout thousands of counties and by having after-the-fact statistical checks on accuracy — weren’t really absorbed. The idea that Russian hackers might have significantly altered election results in 2016 persists out of a misunderstanding of how remarkably hard it would be to subvert the process, particularly without being noticed…

…this damage would be localized. Perhaps, Bauch said, a hacker who’d gained access to a regional power provider or generation system might be able to knock out power to tens or hundreds of thousands of people at a time. That would be significant, but it’s not taking out the whole grid. Attacking multiple providers across the country at specific times of vulnerability — like on a hot day in the west when power supplies are strained — could multiply those effects. But it would require a significant amount of planning, coordination and access to have an impact on a massive scale…

Thanks to the distributed nature of our elections and the barriers to changing votes, hacking our elections is trickier than most people realize. Thanks to the distributed and often disconnected nature of our electrical system and the barriers to accessing it, the same can be said of hacking the grid…

It’s a serious situation, warranting the sort of dramatic response we saw from the government on Thursday. But do not expect to wake up some day soon and learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin now controls the flow of electricity to your house. Real life, as always, is less dramatic than the movies.

Bump has a lot more detail in his full article, including the belief that Russian hackers gained access through spear-phishing. While there is controversy over whether the DNC’s email was released to Wikileaks due to hacking or a leak from the inside, the possibility has also been raised that access to the DNC’s email was through spear-phishing. We would be much safer if the media and politicians spent half the time they spend on misleading stories about Russia to better educate the public about how to respond to such attempts to gain access to our computer systems.

Democratic Pundit Disputes Myth That Progressives Are Less Electable Than More Conservative Democrats

Democrats suffered serious losses in Congressional and state races in 2010 and 2014 after running as a Republican-lite party. Despite trying to shift the blame to Russia and others, Democrats lost the 2016 election to a candidate as terrible as Donald Trump by nominating a corrupt conservative warmonger who has spent her career undermining liberal values. Finally we are seeing people question the conventional wisdom that nominating more conservative candidates will increase the chances for Democrats to win. I looked at this issue yesterday, and found that Bud Budowsky, a Democratic columnist at The Hill, has written a column on the same topic.

Budowsky wrote that A Sanders-Warren ticket could win big in 2020. Besides this ticket, Budowsky discussed two other hypothetical Democratic tickets, Joe Biden-Amy Klobuchar and Joe Kennedy III with either California Attorney General Xavier Becerra or Senator Kamala Harris. He wrote the following in favor of a more progressive ticket:

Behind the scenes of the national Democratic Party, it is commonly accepted wisdom, though not proven by facts, that the most progressive candidates are not the most electable candidates. In some states and districts this might be true.

But, in terms of winning the national popular vote and an electoral vote majority, there is a credible case that the most clearly progressive and politically aggressive Democrats can indeed win, and potentially win big.

The most important and powerfully persuasive data in modern American politics is that virtually every poll in 2016 showed Sanders defeating Donald Trump by 10 percent or more. In the Real Clear Politics summary of 2016 polling, Sanders ran ahead of Trump by an average margin of more than 10 percent and often by much larger margins.

Whether one supports Sanders or any other potential candidate in 2020, the case is clear that a strong progressive program and message would give Democrats a decided advantage in any campaign against the scandal-ridden and crony-capitalist-dominated presidency of Trump and his GOP allies in Congress…

While I could support Sanders, Warren or any of the progressive Democratic change candidates who could run on the ticket in 2020, it is important to disabuse the false notion, which is contrary to the facts demonstrated by national polling throughout 2016 and beyond, that progressive candidates are less electable.

Americans want a clear message of progressive change and would enthusiastically support a Sanders-Warren ticket, or any other ticket running on a similar program in 2020.

I agree with nominating candidates who have a clear message and stand for change. My one nitpick is that I would not limit this to progressive economic ideas. While Bernie Sanders did concentrate on this message in 2016, there were other factors which led many to support him over Hillary Clinton. It was partially over character, but there were other issues too. One study argues that Clinton lost because of being a warmonger. While I question if this was the main factor, foreign policy is important. Democrats attracted new voters when they opposed neoconservatives while George Bush was in office. They lost votes when they nominated a neocon interventionist such as Hillary Clinton, whose policies have caused considerable death and suffering around the world.

Sanders’ views on social and cultural issues were also far more attractive to voters than than Clinton’s socially conservative views. Many voters, especially young voters, are more socially libertarian. Democrats might be preferable to Republicans on reproductive rights, but fail to consistently support policies to reduce the role of government in the private lives of individuals. In addition to Clinton’s support for military interventionism, and the toleration of this by establishment Democrats, there is their support for the drug war. Clinton did not change her views on same-sex marriage until it became politically inexpedient to continue to oppose it. While it is still a government program, support for single payer healthcare, which Clinton campaigned against and the DCCC continues to oppose, is far more acceptable than government mandates pushed by Clinton to purchase private insurance plans with outrageous deductibles.

It is a good sign that more Democrats are paying attention to Bernie Sanders’ criticism of corporate Democrats, along with his support for Medicare-for-All.  If Democrats are to rebuild a winning majority, they should more consistently challenge establishment views in other areas too.