Trump Rejects Facts When Intelligence Report Contradicts His Arguments For Travel Ban

Donald Trump’s travel bans aimed at Muslims are clear efforts to pander to the bigotry of his base and to encourage fear. He has tried to justify his actions based upon national security but the facts do not support him. The Wall Street Journal, hardly a left-wing publication, reports that intelligence reports contradict his claims:

An intelligence report by the Department of Homeland Security contradicts the White House’s assertion that immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries pose a particular risk of being terrorists and should be blocked from entering the U.S.

The report is the latest volley in a struggle between intelligence officials and the Trump administration that has rippled across several agencies. Some officials have critiqued administration policies, while the president and senior members of his staff have accused officials of leaking information to undermine his administration and the legitimacy of his election.

The report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, came from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. It said that its staff “assesses that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The White House on Friday dismissed it as politically motivated and poorly researched…

Only two of the seven countries targeted by Mr. Trump—Iraq and Somalia—are among the top origins countries for foreign-born individuals who engaged in terrorism in the United States, the report found. Those countries, in order, are Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan.

The findings track similar studies by think tanks and news organization. The Wall Street Journal in January found that of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order. No Americans were killed in any of the attacks by those 11 individuals.

The DHS report found that countries targeted in Mr. Trump’s immigration order already accounted for a small portion of total visas issued in the fiscal year 2015, with no country accounting for more than 7% of visas granted in the Middle East, North Africa or Sub Saharan Africa, the report found. The country accounting for the largest percentage of visas issued in those regions was Iran, the report found, which the U.S. designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984.

As is usual for Trump when the facts contradict his actions, Trump has decided to reject the facts. The Atlantic reminds us of what can go wrong when decisions are made based upon politics rather than the facts:

What is the cost of politicization? As of 2013, it was estimated that the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 cost an estimated $1.7 trillion, and saw over 4,000 Americans killed in action and over 30,000 wounded in action. Those numbers don’t include the families of the fallen; the innocent Iraqis killed or wounded during the conflict; or the insurgency that evolved into the extremist threat that we now know as ISIS.

The irony is that President Trump is a vocal critic of his predecessors’ decisions to invade, occupy, and ultimately withdraw from Iraq. In the run-up to that war, the Department of Defense formed an Office of Special Plans, conceived by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, which as Seymour Hersh argued in The New Yorker, “was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true” about Iraq the threat it posed to the world. By trying to shape analysis to support his administration’s world view, Trump is creating the conditions for committing our country to courses of action that have the potential to be as costly or disastrous.

All We Hear About Is Trump, But The Resistance Is Winning (So Far)

If you feel that all we hear about these days is Donald Trump, you are right. Due to a combination of factors including his breaks with conventional norms and his own use of social media, Donald Trump is dominating the news more than is usual for a newly-elected president. His impact on the media extends beyond the conventional news. Farhad Manjoo even found a way to measure this:

Consider data from mediaQuant, a firm that measures “earned media,” which is all coverage that isn’t paid advertising. To calculate a dollar value of earned media, it first counts every mention of a particular brand or personality in just about any outlet, from blogs to Twitter to the evening news to The New York Times. Then it estimates how much the mentions would cost if someone were to pay for them as advertising.

In January, Mr. Trump broke mediaQuant’s records. In a single month, he received $817 million in coverage, higher than any single person has ever received in the four years that mediaQuant has been analyzing the media, according to Paul Senatori, the company’s chief analytics officer. For much of the past four years, Mr. Obama’s monthly earned media value hovered around $200 million to $500 million. The highest that Hillary Clinton got during the presidential campaign was $430 million, in July.

It’s not just that Mr. Trump’s coverage beats anyone else’s. He is now beating pretty much everyone else put together. Mr. Senatori recently added up the coverage value of 1,000 of the world’s best known figures, excluding Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump. The list includes Mrs. Clinton, who in January got $200 million in coverage, Tom Brady ($38 million), Kim Kardashian ($36 million), and Vladimir V. Putin ($30 million), all the way down to the 1,000th most-mentioned celebrity in mediaQuant’s database, the actress Madeleine Stowe ($1,001).

The coverage those 1,000 people garnered last month totaled $721 million. In other words, Mr. Trump gets about $100 million more in coverage than the next 1,000 famous people put together. And he is on track to match or beat his January record in February, according to Mr. Senatori’s preliminary figures.

This includes Trump dominating conversation beyond the news. He is everywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and Reddit. He comes up elsewhere:

It wasn’t just news. Mr. Trump’s presence looms over much more. There he is off in the wings of “The Bachelor” and even “The Big Bang Theory,” whose creator, Chuck Lorre, has taken to inserting anti-Trump messages in the closing credits. Want to watch an awards show? Say the Grammys or the Golden Globes? TrumpTrumpTrump. How about sports? Yeah, no. The president’s policies are an animating force in the N.B.A. He was the subtext of the Super Bowl: both the game and the commercials, and maybe even the halftime show.

It is impossible to ignore Trump. His impact has been seen in many areas already, but probably the most on immigration. This excites the haters on the right, and is met with appalled criticism from others. The New York Times is not exaggerating in writing, Mr. Trump’s ‘Deportation Force’ Prepares an Assault on American Values.

Probably the most fearful narrative about Donald Trump is that he is an authoritarian, in Putin’s mold. There has been increased attention paid to George Orwell’s  1984 and other books about authoritarianism. Jonathan Chait has looked at these fears:

The prospect that President Trump will degrade or destroy American democracy is the most important question of the new political era. It has received important scholarly attention from two basic sources, which have approached it in importantly different fashions. Scholars of authoritarian regimes (principally Russia) have used their knowledge of authoritarian history to paint a road map by which Trump could Putinize this country. Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, and other students of Putin’s methods have essentially treated Putinization as the likely future, and worked backward to the present. A second category of knowledge has come from scholars of democracy and authoritarianism, who have compared the strengths and weaknesses of the American system of government both to countries elsewhere that have succumbed to authoritarianism and those that have not. Their approach has, more appropriately, treated Trump’s authoritarian designs as an open question. Trump might launch an assault on the foundations of the republic. On the other hand, he might not.

What are the signs of impending authoritarianism? Trump has rhetorically hyped violence, real or imaginary, committed by enemy groups, while downplaying or ignoring violence or threats from friendlier sources. He said nothing about a white-supremacist terror attack in Canada that killed six people before denouncing a knife attack a few days later by an Islamist radical in France that killed nobody. He quickly directed a government program on countering violent extremism to focus exclusively on Muslim radicalism and stop work halting white-supremacist terrorism. Just as he urged his campaign crowds to rough up protesters, he treated news that pro-Trump bikers would patrol his inauguration not as a threat to create chaos but as a welcome paramilitary force. “That’s like additional security with those guys, and they’re rough,” he gleefully told reporters. Trump’s rhetoric follows a pattern of politicizing violence, simultaneously justifying stringent government action against enemies he has designated while tacitly justifying vigilantism by extremists sympathetic to his cause.

Since his election, Trump has obsessively fabricated a narrative in which he is the incarnate of the will of the people. According to his own concocted history, he won a historically large Electoral College victory, and would have also won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal votes. He has dismissed protesters against him as paid agents, denied the legitimacy of courts to overrule his actions, and, most recently, called mainstream media “enemies of the people.” This is an especially chilling phrase to hear from an American president. Totalitarian dictators like Stalin and Mao used designation of a political figure or a social class as an “enemy of the people” as a prelude to mass murder.

Fortunately, while Trump has done many undesirable things, the talk of the loss of American democracy remains only talk. Checks and balances on the presidency still work. We are seeing the start of a strong anti-Trump protest movement. While far too many liberals were willing to ignore Hillary Clinton’s extremist positions on American interventionism, with many even defending her positions on Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and ignore her views on restricting civil liberties which are nearly as far right as those of Donald Trump, the left (and others) are already forming a resistance against Trump. Chait notes that, at least for now, the resistance has the upper hand:

It is worth noting that, so far, normal political countermobilization seems to be working quite well. “The Resistance,” as anti-Trump activists have come to be known, has already rattled the once-complacent Republican majorities in Congress, which Trump needs to quash investigations of his corruption and opaque ties to Russia. Whatever pressure Trump has tried to apply to the news media has backfired spectacularly. His sneering contempt has inspired a wave of subscriptions that have driven new revenue to national media, which have blanketed the administration with independent coverage. Popular culture outlets, rather than responding to Trump’s election by tempering their mockery, have instead stepped it up, enraging the president.

The most plausible (to me) mechanism by which Trump might ensconce himself in power was laid out by Matthew Yglesias three months ago. The scenario Yglesias described would be one in which Trump used the authority of the federal government to compel large firms to give him political support. Companies that opposed him, or who even refused to offer support, might be punished with selectively punitive regulation, while those that played ball might be rewarded with lax enforcement of labor, antitrust, or other regulation.

So far there is no evidence such a scenario is playing out. To be sure, Trump is attempting, sporadically, to bully the private sector. But the effort has backfired. Firms whose leaders make favorable statements about the president have seen their stock get hammered. A long list of prominent CEOs has openly criticized Trump. The reason for this is obvious. Trump’s supporters may have disproportionate power in the Electoral College, but his opponents have disproportionate power in the marketplace. Firms cater in their advertising to the young, who overwhelming oppose Trump, rather than to the old, who strongly support him.

If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent, the president as angry Fox-News-watching grandfather screaming threats at his television that he never carries out. The danger to the republic may come later, or never. In the first month of Trump’s presidency, the resistance has the upper hand.

Bad Day For Ivanka Brands; Good Day For Alternative Massacres And Guns

It is not a good day for Ivanka Trump’s businesses as efforts to stop sales of Ivanka Trump’s products in protest against her father appear to be successful. First Nordstrom announced they were dropping her shoes due to decreased sales in response to the #GrabYourWallet boycott. Next Neiman-Marcus announced they were dropping her jewelry line.

It is, however, a good day for fake massacres:

Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway made a statement during a TV interview Thursday that pricked the ears of fact-checkers everywhere.

She told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews:

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.”

First of all, Obama didn’t ban the Iraqi refugee program.

Second, there’s no such thing as the Bowling Green massacre.

Another example of alternative facts from Kellyanne Conway. I’m looking forward to seeing The Little Golden Book Of Alternate Massacres. Then we can study the alternative holocaust in Donald Trump’s mind which didn’t involve Jews.

It is also a bad day for Israeli settlements, but more significantly a bad day for consistency in foreign policy, but a good day for people with severe mental illnesses who desire to buy guns. 

Plus, like every day under Donald Trump, I bet it will be a great day for the late night comics.

Fact Checkers, Acting Attorney General, & Barack Obama Versus Trump’s Immigration Ban

Donald Trump’s immigration ban has resulted in massive protests, including from the acting attorney general who has refused to fight legal challenges to the executive action.

“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Ms. Yates wrote in a letter to Justice Department lawyers. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”

The decision is largely symbolic — Mr. Trump’s nominee to be attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, is likely to be confirmed soon — but it highlights the deep divide at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the government over Mr. Trump’s order…

“For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so,” she wrote.

Now we just need the Democrats to hold up the confirmation of Jeff Sessions.

The Trump White House has tried to justify the executive action by falsely comparing it to previous actions of Barack Obama.  The fact check sites have debunked this claim, with Glenn Kessler giving it Three Pinocchios:

So what’s the difference with Trump’s action?

First, Obama responded to an actual threat — the discovery that two Iraqi refugees had been implicated in bombmaking in Iraq that had targeted U.S. troops. (Iraq, after all, was a war zone.) Under congressional pressure, officials decided to reexamine all previous refugees and impose new screening procedures, which led to a slowdown in processing new applications. Trump, by contrast, issued his executive order without any known triggering threat. (His staff has pointed to attacks unrelated to the countries named in his order.)

Second, Obama did not announce a ban on visa applications. In fact, as seen in Napolitano’s answer to Collins, administration officials danced around that question. There was certainly a lot of news reporting that visa applications had slowed to a trickle. But the Obama administration never said it had a policy to halt all applications. Indeed, it is now clear that no ban was put in place. Even so, the delays did not go unnoticed, so there was a lot of critical news reporting at the time about the angst of Iraqis waiting for approval.

Third, Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens of that country, including green-card holders, from traveling to the United States. Trump’s policy is much more sweeping, though officials have appeared to pull back from barring permanent U.S. residents.

Jon Finer further debunked the Trump administration’s attempts to compare their actions to actions under Obama:

There are so many reasons to detest the Donald Trump administration’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” that it’s hard to know where to start.

Others have already argued eloquently about its cruelty in singling out the most vulnerable in society; its strategic folly in insulting countries and individuals the United States needs to help it fight terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the order in the first place); its cynical incoherence in using the September 11 attacks as a rationale and then exempting the attackers’ countries of origin; its ham-handed implementation and ever-shifting explanations for how, and to whom, it applies; and, thankfully, its legal vulnerability on a slew of soon-to-be-litigated grounds, including that it may violate the Establishment and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Finer then discussed “five enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued on Friday and what the Obama administration did.” These can be reviewed in the full article, expanding upon what the fact check sites have posted. He concluded by debunking Trump’s claims that the list of seven countries came from the Obama administration:

Bonus: Obama’s “seven countries” taken out of context: Trump’s claim that the seven countries listed in the executive order came from the Obama administration is conveniently left unexplained. A bit of background: soon after the December 2015 terror attack in San Bernadino, President Obama signed an amendment to the Visa Waiver Program, a law that allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States without obtaining visas (and gives Americans reciprocal privileges in those countries). The amendment removed from the Visa Waiver Program dual nationals who were citizens of four countries (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Syria), or anyone who had recently traveled to those countries. The Obama administration added three more to the list (Libya, Somalia, and Yemen), bringing the total to seven. But this law did not bar anyone from coming to the United States. It only required a relatively small percentage of people to obtain a visa first. And to avoid punishing people who clearly had good reasons to travel to the relevant countries, the Obama administration used a waiver provided by Congress for certain travelers, including journalists, aid workers, and officials from international organizations like the United Nations.

Barack Obama has also rejected Trump’s comparisons to his policies, and expressed support for the demonstration, saying “American values are at stake.”

Update: Donald Trump has fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she ordered DOJ  lawyers not to defend Trump’s ban.

Evaluating Russian Actions Based Upon Facts And Not Political Biases

With the intelligence reports released yesterday being somewhat underwhelming but raising serious questions, I fear that many people will continue to look at the Russian hacking through partisan lenses as opposed to taking a fact-based approach. Clinton supporters many partisan Democrats see a conspiracy between Trump and Russia which stole the election from who they see as the rightful winner, ignoring how weak a candidate Clinton was. Some opponents of Clinton, on both the left and right, go to the other extreme in denying any foul play by Russia, with some even displaying a misplaced admiration for a despot such as Putin. The facts we have now place matters somewhere in between.

William Rivers Pitt had a good comment on the situation on Facebook:

I am capable of holding two thoughts in my head simultaneously. 1: Clinton and her campaign fucked up royally and are in full dodge mode; 2: Russia fucked with a national presidential election. Both of these things can be true at the same time.

Try it, see what happens. This binary 1 0 1 0 shit is for the birds.

To this I would add 3: The United States also has a long history in meddling in foreign elections. This includes Clinton. Therefore it is important to keep matters in perspective. Clinton, Trump, and Putin are all bad guys here. It is not necessary to love Putin (or Trump) if you oppose Clinton.

I think we are seeing excessive push back from some on the left because of the manner in which many Clinton supporters have exaggerated the significance this, with claims that Clinton would have won if not for  Putin (or Comey). This is especially dangerous when we hear speculation that Clinton might run again in four years, which would be a colossal mistake.

It is not necessary to deny that Russia has had a policy of trying to disrupt western elections to blur the distinction between himself and the west. Improving relations with Russia as Trump speaks of is preferable to Clinton’s Cold War policies, but we also must not be naive regarding Russia, or totally ignore intelligence based upon political considerations.

Last night Rachel Maddow gave a rather one-sided account of events, portraying Clinton as the hero in opposing Putin, ignoring her history of support for regime change. Clinton is also not an innocent here, and Russia had legitimate reason for concern that the election of Clinton would greatly increase the chances of increased conflict with the United States. David Remnick provides a more balanced background, including Putin’s disdain for Hillary Clinton, and reminds us of reasons we should not admire Putin out of common ground of opposing the policies of Hillary Clinton:

Putin’s resentment of Clinton was always manifest; it is almost as severe as Trump’s. Putin saw the Clinton Administration of the nineties as having taken advantage of Russian weakness after the fall of the Soviet Union, twenty-five years ago. He viewed Hillary Clinton as a foreign-policy hawk who wanted regime change from Baghdad to Kiev to Moscow. In 2011, Putin, who lives in fear of spontaneous uprisings, events like the Arab Spring and the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia, accused Clinton of giving “a signal” to urge thousands of Russians to come out on the streets of Moscow to protest parliamentary-election “irregularities” and Putin’s intention to return once more to the Kremlin as President.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had conversations with Russian political experts, and all of them agreed that Putin was certainly pleased, at least initially, with Trump’s victory—and that satisfaction is reflected, too, on countless news and talk shows on television. These analysts added that Putin is undoubtedly cheered that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s appointment to head the State Department, was likely to leave behind American “sanctimony” about human rights and democracy and, following the pattern of his career at ExxonMobil, to concentrate on purely “transactional politics.” Some, however, wondered if Putin will remain enchanted with Trump once he encounters Trump’s inconsistencies, his alarming penchant for surprise pronouncements via Twitter.

Like many nationalist politicians in Europe, Trump has made plain his admiration for Putin, complimenting the Russian leader’s “great control over his country,” while at the same time failing to address the reality that Putin’s regime has instituted wholesale censorship of television, increased repressive measures on ordinary citizens, and unleashed his forces in Ukraine and Syria. (Putin, of course, discounts criticism of his policies as Western hypocrisy and points to everything from the invasion of Iraq, which he opposed, to the eastward expansion of NATO, which he sees as an aggressive act.)

Trump’s argument throughout the campaign, the reason for his compliments for Putin, he has said, is related to his stated desire to ease tensions between Russia and the United States and avoid the ultimate disaster, a nuclear confrontation. But what concerns many seasoned American analysts, politicians, and diplomats is that Trump is deluding himself about Putin’s intentions and refuses to see the nature of Russia’s nationalist, autocratic regime clearly. Trump has spoken critically of NATO and in support of European nationalist initiatives like Brexit to such a degree that, according to one Obama Administration official, “our allies are absolutely terrified and completely bewildered.”

Strobe Talbott, who was Bill Clinton’s closest adviser on Russia, told me recently that the hack of the D.N.C. and Putin’s other moves in Europe—including the annexation of Crimea, the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, and the financial support of nationalists like Marine Le Pen, of France—were part of a larger strategy intended to weaken the E.U. and NATO.

The reports continue to leave many questions open, as described by The New York Times:

Perhaps most arresting is the assessment that Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, sees the election attack as payback — not offense, but defense. He has borne a serious grudge against Mrs. Clinton, who he believes denigrated him when she was secretary of state and encouraged the pro-democracy protests in Moscow that erupted against him in 2011.

Mr. Putin, the report says, sees the hidden hand of the United States in the leaking of the Panama Papers, files stolen from a law firm that exposed the wealth of his closest associates, secreted in offshore accounts. He even blames the United States for the exposure — carried out mainly by international sports authorities — of Russian athletes for their widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“From the Russian perspective, this is punching back,” said Christopher Porter, a former C.I.A. officer who now studies cyberattacks at the firm FireEye. “We may not think that’s fair or justified, but that’s the way they see it.”

Mr. Porter said Mr. Putin had made no secret of his view that the United States, by promoting democracy in countries like Ukraine and Georgia, had interfered in Russia’s backyard and was trying to undermine its power.

What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. That is a significant omission: Mr. Trump has been expressing skepticism for months that Russia was to blame, variously wondering whether it might have been China, or a 400-pound guy, or a guy from New Jersey.

There is only a whisper of dissent in the report — the eavesdroppers of the N.S.A. believe with only “moderate confidence” that Russia aimed to help Mr. Trump, while their colleagues at the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. have “high confidence.”

While most of Congress and much of the public appears to accept the agencies’ findings, Mr. Trump’s prominent doubts, accompanied at times by scorn for the agencies’ competence, has rallied a diverse array of skeptics on the right and the left. Under the circumstances, many in Washington expected the agencies to make a strong public case to erase any uncertainty.

Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to “trust us.” There is no discussion of the forensics used to recognize the handiwork of known hacking groups, no mention of intercepted communications between the Kremlin and the hackers, no hint of spies reporting from inside Moscow’s propaganda machinery.

While the claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed the need to be skeptical of intelligence reports, especially when used to justify going to war, they also cannot be discounted. Most likely Russia was involved in trying to influence the US election, as they have been involved in similar actions in Europe. This does not mean that there was a direct conspiracy between Donald Trump and the Russians as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed without any evidence. On the other hand, it would be a serious matter if this was true, and any connections should be investigated.

This also does not mean that Russia is responsible for Clinton’s loss. While Wikileaks received a lot of news coverage, at most it was one of many factors affecting a very close election. As I mentioned previouslyFivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election. None of the released intelligence information casts any doubt on the accuracy of the leaked email, regardless of whether Russia was indirectly the source for Wikileaks.

The Death of Clintonism

The 2016 election had the deleterious result of electing Donald Trump president, but at least we did not wind up with another Bush or Clinton as many had predicted. While some still talk about Clinton running again in 2020, hopefully her loss this year will be the end of her political career, with 62 percent of Democrats and independents not wanting her to run again.

Todd Purdam is probably right in declaring The Death of Clintonism in his article in Politco, but he  does not seem to understand the reasons. He white washed the triangulation under Bill while ignoring most of the consequences. He repeated the conventional wisdom on how such compromise led to a victory for Bill, but ignored how much the Democrats have suffered afterwards in failing to stand for anything in a changing world. Running as a Republican-lite party lead to major Democratic defeats in 2010, 2014, and now 2016.

There is not a word on how the Clintons and the DLC were on the wrong side of the major issue to divide the country politically after Bill left office–the response to terrorism and the Iraq war. Hillary  not only supported the Iraq war, but was one of its strongest proponents, spreading false claims of ties between Saddam and an Qaeda. She made the same mistakes with support for regime change and interventionism in Libya and Syria.

Similarly Clinton was on the wrong side of the the response to 9/11 in her support for increasing the power of the surveillance state, sounding just like Donald Trump in mocking freedom of speech. Clinton has never had a very good record on civil  liberties, including introducing legislation to make flag burning a felony while in the Senate, and even after the 2016 election calling for government action against the “fake news” which harmed her in the election. Regardless of how undesirable fake news might be, there is not a requirement for accuracy in the First Amendment.

Clinton’s horrible record on First Amendment rights also included her working with The Fellowship while in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy. Her religious views made her further out of touch with an increasingly secular nation.

Clinton’s support for mass incarceration was wrong when Bill was president, and her continued hard line on drugs, including marijuana, made her further out of touch with current views. At least she did revise her views with the times on marriage equality, but even this change looked like a change for political expediency.

Clinton made a comeback after the 2008 election, but had a very negative influence on the Obama administration. Obama ultimately recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton has continued to defend her failed policy. Clinton continued to push for further intervention in Syria, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt the Democrats the most politically also involved accepting a Clinton policy position. Congressional Democrats and Obama implemented the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after Obama had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program. Clinton has never understood the difference between providing a safety-net when necessary and nanny-state programs which intrude upon everyone’s life.

While Purdam downplayed Clinton’s Wall Street ties, this became a bigger issue with the increased concentration of wealth among the ultra-wealthy. Clinton was seen as part of this problem, not someone who would do anything serious about it. Her change in views on  trade deals was not convincing. Purdam also ignored concerns about the corrupting influence of money in politics, especially with people such as the Clintons who used their political connections to amass a large personal fortune.

Purdam was right that Hillary Clinton lacks the political skills of Bill Clinton. It was also a mistake for Clinton to run by trying to stress Donald Trump’s negatives, while failing to provide a positive argument to vote for her, when her own negatives were comparable to Trump’s. It was another variation in Democrats losing because they were afraid to stand for anything.

The death of Clintonism is not about giving up once-winning ways as Purdam put it. It is about putting aside conservative views on social issues, rejecting the damage of the warfare/surveillance state which grew tremendously after 9/11, rejecting corruption, as well as rejecting a strategy which is not working for the Democrats.

Obama Announces Response To Russia, Avoids Doing “Stupid Stuff”

While I don’t always agree with Barack Obama, compared to the two candidates to replace him in 2017, he will be missed for his policy not doing “stupid stuff.” Hillary Clinton, who supported “stupid stuff” including in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, attacked Obama over the principle of “don’t do stupid stuff” sometime between leaving as Secretary of State and stupidly thinking it was a good idea to run for president by claiming to be running for a third Obama term. Donald Trump has been an endless source of stupid stuff since he decided to run for president. I was glad to see that Obama continued this principle in limiting his response to the alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Obama has announced his response to Russia, described by The New York Times as “ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services.” The full statement is here. It was a response proportional to the alleged acts which avoids permanent harm to any attempts to repair relationships between the United States and Russia.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was involved in hacking email from top Democratic leaders. Others have questioned the evidence. Skeptics have compared this to how US intelligence agencies also concluded, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Saddam threatened our security with weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly believable that Russia was spying on American political leaders. After all, the United States routinely does this in foreign countries, and has a long history of meddling in foreign elections.

Unfortunately this also reinforces the false narratives that Russia hacked our election to elect Donald Trump. Even if it is accepted as fact that Russia was involved in hacking the email of an American political party,  US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been far from unanimous in taking this further to conclude that the Russians were doing so with the purpose of helping Donald Trump win. There is certainly no evidence of any coordination between Trump and Russia as Democrats such as Harry Reid have claimed. Julian Assange has denied that the information he released even came from Russia. Clinton supporters have used claims about Russia to deny responsibility for Clinton’s highly flawed campaign. Fivethirtyeight has shown how any argument that the Wilkleaks releases cost Clinton the election is “circumstantial.” To the degree that the leaked information hurt Clinton, it was because of confirming what her critics on the left already were well aware of, and providing factual information for the voters to consider. Russia did not hack voting machines or even harm Clinton with false information to alter the results of the election.

It appears that the Democratic National Committee fell for a rather simple phishing scheme, and compounded the error with miscommunication and possibly a typo. The best response to espionage which depends upon gaps in cyber-security is to improve cyber-security. Foreign governments, among others, are going to continue to spy on Americans, just as the United States is going to continue to spy on both allies and foes. If he feels like he must, Obama can expel some diplomats, but there is no point in risking more serious conflict over this. Similarly, there is no point for Democrats to continue to blame Russia for their loss after running such a poor campaign with a terrible candidate.

Why Obama, Or Sanders, Could Have Beaten Donald Trump

There has been a lot of playing “what if” after Donald Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Now Barack Obama has joined in, saying he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was able to run again:

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

Full transcript of the interview is here.

I agree Obama would have probably won, but to say he would have won because of his vision alone is an over-simplification. There are many more specific reasons why I think Obama could have beaten Trump, even if Clinton could not.

While Clinton tried to run by winning the Obama coalition and running for Obama’s third term, she failed to understand that part of the Obama coalition came together in 2008 due to seeing Obama as the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton and keeping her out of the White House. We continued to oppose Clinton in 2016 for the same reasons we opposed Clinton in 2008, and opposed George W. Bush prior to that.

Clinton was about the worst possible candidate to put up against Donald Trump, and some of this could be seen in the differences between Clinton and Obama. While disappointed that we remain at war in Iraq and the region, at least Obama opposed the war from the start. He recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton continued to defend her failed policy. Obama opposed escalating intervention in Syria which Clinton backed, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt Obama the most also involved accepting a Clinton policy position–accepting the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after he had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program.

Obama managed to keep his administration free of scandal–except for the actions by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This made her a much weaker candidate than Obama, and eliminated what would have been an advantage for Democrats on the conflicts of interest Trump faced. Clinton’s dishonesty, emphasized by both her dishonest campaign against Sanders and her frequent lies in response to the email scandal, also negated Trump’s negatives for his dishonesty.

Obama would have also done a far better job of campaigning. He had an approval rating far stronger than either Clinton or Trump. He wouldn’t have hidden from the press as Clinton often did. People would have turned out to see him, as they did with Trump but not with Clinton. Clinton was weak in the traditional battle ground states, among independents, and among young voters. Obama could have kept most of these voters. He might have lost an occasional state such as possibly Ohio, but not multiple states as Clinton did.

Of course similar arguments would have applied to other potential candidates. While Obama could not legally run again, the Democrats did have a strong alternative in Bernie Sanders. He did much better than Clinton in head to head polls against Trump and other Republicans during the nomination battle.  Sanders also could have turned out the voters which Clinton could not. He could have won in the rust belt states which Trump picked up. There would have been no FBI investigations, and no revelations of a crooked process for Wiikleaks to release if Sanders was the nominee.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence Casts Further Doubt On Theories Blaming Clinton Loss On Russia

While many Clinton supporters are already making unsubstantiated claims of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to rig the presidential election for Trump to excuse Clinton’s loss, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has joined those which are questioning this view. Reuters reports:

The overseers of the U.S. intelligence community have not embraced a CIA assessment that Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Republican President-elect Donald Trump win the 2016 election, three American officials said on Monday.

While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) does not dispute the CIA’s analysis of Russian hacking operations, it has not endorsed their assessment because of a lack of conclusive evidence that Moscow intended to boost Trump over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, said the officials, who declined to be named.

The position of the ODNI, which oversees the 17 agency-strong U.S. intelligence community, could give Trump fresh ammunition to dispute the CIA assessment, which he rejected as “ridiculous” in weekend remarks, and press his assertion that no evidence implicates Russia in the cyber attacks.

Of course this does not mean that Donald Trump is right either in opposing an investigation. There is no proof of the conspiracy accusations, but there is good reason for a full investigation to determine exactly what did happen.

At this point there are arguments both that the Russians were or were not involved in the hacking of the email later released by Wikileaks. The FBI had previously reported that they found no clear link between Donald Trump and Russia. For whatever it is worth, Julian Assange has also denied that Russia fed the leaked email to Wikileaks.

Regardless of who was responsible, it now appears that the DNC became susceptible to the hack due to a typo in an email exchange between Clinton campaign aides.

Despite contradictory information, it has become the conventional wisdom that Russia was responsible for hacking the DNC–much like it was once conventional wisdom that Saddam was hoarding weapons of mass destruction. Even if it should be demonstrated Russia was involved in the hack, this does not demonstrate either what their actual intent was or prove any involvement by the Trump campaign.

It must also be kept in mind that spying on other governments, and even tampering in elections, are commonplace activities conducted by many governments, including the United States. Hillary Clinton has a history of supporting meddling in past Russian and Palestinian elections, not to mention backing outright regime change in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

It is also possible that Russia wanted to prevent Clinton from being elected, or possibly just embarrass her, as opposed to specifically backing Trump, with Donald Trump then benefiting from this desire. Reasons for this include Clinton’s desire for a return to a Cold War atmosphere with Russia, the support for regime change in Russia among many of Clinton’s neoconservative allies, and because of Clinton’s past acts to try to rig the Russian election against Putin. The later view is supported by a former ambassador to Russia:

Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to help Donald Trump win the presidency to hurt Clinton.

“Let’s remember that Vladimir Putin thinks [Clinton] interfered in his election — the parliamentary election in December 2011 — and has said as much publicly, and I’ve heard him talk about it privately,” McFaul said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The goal might not necessarily have been for Trump to win. Many observers of Putin and Russian behavior believe that the motive was not to specifically support Donald Trump but to cause disruptions in the election process and cast doubt as to the validity of the election, possibly believing that Clinton was going to be the inevitable winner. If the goal was to create questions as to the validity of the election result, I must say that it was a success.

If Russia was responsible for the leaks, it is also a stretch to say that this was the cause of Clinton’s loss considering the many serious faults in both the candidate and how the campaign was conducted. There would not have even been a question of whether the leaks affected the election if not for the dishonest behavior exposed, leaving Clinton and Democratic leaders at fault regardless of any foreign involvement. National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers has also expressed the opinion that the leaked email did not impact the election results.

There are many possibilities here and so far we have limited information. Before developing conspiracy theories of a rigged election, we need a full investigation to find out what actually did happen. Picking and choosing a theory based upon its political usefulness is a poor way to arrive at the truth.

A New Wave Of Anti-Russia Hysteria Based Upon Questionable Information

We are seeing another wave of anti-Russia hysteria following an article in The Washington Post which makes unproven claims of Russian tampering in the presidential election. The claims continue to receive increased attention because it feeds into the attempts of Democratic partisans to blame the loss on factors other than the fact that they picked a highly flawed candidate, who then went on to run a terrible campaign.

The arguments against Russia are quite reminiscent of the false claims about Iraq in the lead up to that war. The hysteria is helped by the possibility of a grain of truth to the claims. It is not uncommon for governments to try to influence politics in other nations, with the United States having a long history of this. Hillary Clinton attempted to meddle in the Russian elections against Putin, and some degree of retaliation would not be a surprise. Russia had additional motivation to oppose the election of a warmonger such as Hillary Clinton out of the belief, which has considerable justification, that the election of Clinton would lead to the resumption of Cold War style hostilities between the United States and Russia, at the very least. The desire by Clinton’s neoconservative allies for nation building in Russia gave even further incentive.

This hardly means that Russia rigged our election as some are now saying. Regardless of what the Russians did, the FBI has found no clear link between Donald Trump and Russia. The closest we have had to a rigged election in the United States was in the nomination of Hillary Clinton by the Democratic Party.

Of course the possibility of hacking by Russia should be investigated. The press should also pay more attention to the actual revelations about the Democratic Party in the leaked email, along with the history of United States meddling in the affairs of other nations.

Glen Greenwald debunked the latest round of anti-Russia hysteria in an article entitled Anonymous Leaks to the WashPost About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence:

The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.

These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed...

Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome. That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.

Among the key points he discussed was that “no rational person should blindly believe anonymous claims of this sort — even if it is pleasing to believe such claims.” He started this argument by pointing out that “CIA officials are professional, systematic liars; they lie constantly, by design, and with great skill, and have for many decades, as have intelligence officials in other agencies.”

Marcy Wheeler  looked at some of the contradictions in the news reports, reminding us of what happened when we failed to question the misinformation prior to the Iraq war:

Some senior US official (often code for senior member of Congress) says this is the consensus view. Another senior US official (or maybe the very same one) says there are “minor disagreements.”

Remember: we went to war against Iraq, which turned out to have no WMD, in part because no one read the “minor disagreements” from a few agencies about some aluminum tubes. A number of Senators who didn’t read that footnote closely (and at least one that did) are involved in this story. What we’re being told is there are some aluminum tube type disagreements.

Regardless of whether Russia was involved in the release of the Wikileaks email, and there is no evidence so far that they were, the argument that this is what caused Clinton’s defeat ignores the multiple other problems with both the candidate and her campaign. Juan Cole wrote, No, America, it wasn’t Russia: You did it to Yourself:

I don’t doubt that the Russian Federation employs hackers and PR people to influence public opinion and even election outcomes in other countries. So does the United States of America. But I am skeptical that anything the Russians did caused Donald Trump to be president.

It wasn’t like Trump was a Manchurian Candidate, a stealth plant in the US body politic who would only be operationalized once elected.

Trump was in plain view. He had all along been in plain view. His hatred for uppity or “nasty” women, his racism, his prickliness, his narcissism, his rich white boy arrogance and entitlement (apparently even to strange women and other men’s wives), his cronyism and his fundamental dishonesty were on display 24/7 during some 18 months of the campaign, and it wasn’t as though he were an unknown quantity before that.

Americans voted for him anyway. Slightly more Americans voted for him than for a respectable person like Mitt Romney. No Russians were holding a gun to their heads. And they knew, or should have known, what they were getting.

By a “black swan” fluke, a few tens of thousands of the Trump voters were distributed differently, state by state, than the McCain and Romney voters; and in some key states like Michigan Sec. Clinton did not do as well as Obama had, even if she was beloved in California and New York…

Nor did any Russian hacking related to Wikileaks, if that is what happened, prove decisive. Clinton’s own polling people found the big turning point was when she called Trump voters a “basket of deplorables.” Americans don’t like being talked down to, and had already gotten rid of Romney for the same sin. The spectacle of Clinton taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to give a speech to the people who put them out of their homes in 2008-9 also turned many of them off so that they stayed home, while another section of them decided to take a chance on Trump. He will screw them over, but from their point of view, they worried that she might have, as well. Trump was promising to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs via protectionism, whereas everyone understood that Sec. Clinton’s first instinct was to do TPP and send more jobs to Asia.