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.

Lindsey Graham’s Insane Belief That War With North Korea Would Be “Worth It”

Donald Trump very well might be the worst president in our history, but that doesn’t mean that there are other policians who are also very dangerous. For example,  Lindsey Graham said in an interview on CNN that war with Korea would be worth it: “All the damage that would come from a war would be worth it in terms of long-term stability and national security.”

In reality such a war would probably lead to considerable instabilty for years to come, on top of the immediate damage such a war would cause.

Here are some responses from around the blogosphere, and across the ideological spectrum. Daniel Larison at The American Conervative wrote:

There is no way that a war with a nuclear-armed North Korea could be “worth it,” and saying that it would be shows a monstrous disregard for the lives and well-being of tens of millions of people on the Korean Peninsula. A war with North Korea would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone on the Korean Peninsula, and it would be extremely costly for the U.S. and the surrounding region. In the worst-case scenario, a U.S. attack could precipitate the very nuclear attack on American soil that it is supposed to “prevent.” If the U.S. gives the North Korean government reason to think that they have nothing to lose, that scenario is not so far-fetched.

Beyond the immediate massive loss of life and property, the damage to the global economy would be extensive. The region would be dangerously unstable for many years and probably decades afterwards. Even if we assume that China stayed neutral in a major war on its doorstep, tensions with China would be very high for a long time to come. If China chose to intervene on North Korea’s side as they probably would, the U.S. might even lose the war or be forced into another stalemate at great cost. Victory in a war with North Korea would be Pyrrhic, and could not possibly be “worth” the price that it would cost.

Doug Mataconis wrote at  Outside the Beltway:

The sheer arrogance and idiocy behind this comment from Graham cannot possibly be understated. As I’ve noted here several times in the past, a war on the Korean Peninsula would be unlike anything this nation or any of our allies have seen since young American men were being killed by the hundreds every day in Vietnam, or since the first Korean War itself which resulted in an estimated 2.7 million civilian casualties, just over 300,000 allied war dead (most of which were South Korean), more than 600,000 military deaths on the North Korean/Chinese side, plus roughly 800,000 wounded among the allied nations (again with the majority being South Korean) and a similar number wounded on the Communist side. (Sources here and here) This is a far cry from the wars that Americans have become used to since the post-Vietnam War such as the Persian Gulf War (341 Allied Killed In Action), the Afghan War (3,405 Allied KIA),  and even the Iraq War (4,809 Allied KIA). It’s also worth noting that a new war on the Korean Peninsula would play out in real time in the United States and around the world in a way that the first war, or indeed Vietnam or any of the other recent wars, have been thanks not only to cable news but also social media and the Internet. It would be difficult if not impossible for Americans to avoid seeing the consequences of such a war and how they would react to that is hard to predict at this point

In addition to being utterly illegal, a new war in Korea would most likely not last nearly as long as the first one did, that doesn’t mean that the toll it would inflict would not be horrible. As just one example of this, there’s the fact that the current population of Seoul and its immediate metropolitan area is roughly 9.86 million people, making it more populated than cities such as Tokyo and New York City. The nearby city of Inchon, the city of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous amphibious invasion that is credited with turning the tide of the Korean War when it helped to relieve a beleaguered South Korea, has a population of just under 2.9 million people. Both of these areas are well within the range of the tens of thousands of artillery pieces and rockets that North Korea has placed on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, as are a number of American military bases. Additionally, Japanese cities such as Toyko and Kyoto, and of course American bases in Japan, are well within the range of North Korean missiles that are most assuredly operational albeit likely to “only” carry conventional military casualties. In North Korea, the capital Pyongyang, which would be a prime target of American air power, is estimated to have a civilian population of just under 2.6 million people. Even in a short conflict, the potential for massive civilian casualties is something that can’t simply be swept aside.

For Graham to simply brush aside the potential losses that would likely unfold from a war on the Korean Peninsula is irresponsible, callous, and stupid. While it is true that the likely outcome of a war in Korea would be the downfall of the Kim regime, the price that would have to be paid to get there, particularly by civilians in the Republic of Korea or Japan, is hardly something that can be dismissed in the cavalier manner that Graham does is outrageous and stupid. It’s the same kind of attitude that led the United States to go to war in Iraq in 2003, which led to civilian casualties that are estimated to be well over 100,000 people and to continue to fight in Afghanistan despite the lack of a clear and coherent objective, leading to estimated civilian casualties numbering at least something more than 31,000 people. Graham’s apparent lack of concern for a similar bloodbath in Korea is a sign of just how insane his position actually is.

David Atkins wrote at Washington Monthly:

This is patently insane, and a far more crazy and irresponsible statement than Donald Trump has ever tweeted in his life. A military strike on North Korea has the very high probability of resulting in cataclysmic death and destruction the likes of which we have not seen at least since World War II–and that’s assuming that the conflict doesn’t spiral into a world war dragging in Russia and China. North Korea isn’t just prepared to potentially launch a nuclear missile against the United States. That may or may not work, and the U.S. may or may not be able to defend against such a threat.

More urgently and inevitably, North Korea has thousands of conventional missiles aimed directly at the entirety of South Korea and Japan. Even without nuclear missiles, the bombardment of Seoul and Tokyo would cause the deaths of millions, and send the entire world into an economic catastrophe lasting decades. For the jingoistic moral cretins in the room who only care about American lives, these millions would also include thousands of U.S. soldiers and ex pats.

It’s worth noting in this context that most of Trump’s crimes are against the norms of democracy, equality and basic moral decency–but nothing he has yet done comes even close on the scale of crimes against humanity that the Bush Administration did in deliberately misleading the world into a war in Iraq that has cost tens of thousands of lives–even excluding all the deaths indirectly attributable to it in Syria and elsewhere today–and trillions of dollars in treasure. The Trump Administration has done horrible things, but it hasn’t yet intentionally outed a CIA agent who tried to blow the whistle on the hastily manufactured rationale for a war of choice on a sovereign nation.

There is no question that Donald Trump is a terrible menace. But let’s not pretend there’s a safe alternative to him in the GOP.  Better the crazy man tweeting inanities while watching Fox and Friends and straitjacketed by his own chaotic incompetence, than the banal evil of a man like Lindsey Graham who would calmly, slowly and quite deliberately obey all the norms of American governance in sending millions to their deaths.

Democrats Have A Plan For 2018–Avoid Standing For Anything

First Read looked at the Democrats’ strategy for the 2018 election, which comes down to continuing to avoid standing for anything. They noted the chaos in the Trump administration, and showed how the Democrats plan to respond:

Given that chaos, Democrats believe they’ve discovered the kind of candidates that could be appealing to voters, especially those in red and purple areas, one year-plus into Trump’s presidency: candidates who project stability.

Think of Ralph Northam (military background, doctor, lieutenant governor) who won Virginia’s gubernatorial contest last November. Or think of Doug Jones (a former prosecutor who promised he could “work with Republicans better than Roy Moore can work with anyone”) in December’s Alabama contest. Or think of Conor Lamb (military background, former prosecutor) who’s running in this month’s special congressional election in a Pennsylvania district Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

It’s chaos vs. stability. It’s reality-show background vs. military/prosecutor backgrounds. And it’s excitement vs., well, a little boring.

Yes, it is boring. To just run on a platform of not being as chaotic as the Trump administration again fails to provide voters with positive reasons to vote Democratic. Republicans have won over the years by taking stands, even if they take the wrong positions, and sell voters on their beliefs.

This is hardly anything new. Democrats avoided standing for anything in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, and were beaten badly. In 2016, when voters wanted a change candidate, the nominated the most establishment, status-quo candidate possible, and couldn’t even beat Donald Trump.

On the other hand, Bernie Sanders, who has not been afraid to take a stand on the issues,  has led polls of the most popular politician in the country.

We have seen other examples of the cowardice of Democrats recently. Huffington Post reports:

The morning after the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas, a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s press staff warned House candidates and their staffs not to “politicize” the shooting that day. Politicization, according to the DCCC official, included talking about gun violence prevention policy.

Instead they also advised, “any message today should be on offering thoughts/prayers for victims and their families.” Thoughts and prayers–exactly what many of us have mocked the Republicans for saying.

They took a similar position on health care with The Intercept reporting that the DCCC advised Democrats against supporting single payer healthcare.

Democrats also have avoided taking  positions against neocon interventionism and perpetual warfare, the drug war, or mass surveillance. Instead they have largely adopted the foreign policy of George W. Bush, and the anti-Russia hysteria of Joe McCarthy. Democrats might do well in 2018 in reaction to Donald Trump, but the party which stands for nothing does not give people any reason to stick with it once Trump is gone.