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.

Sanders And Warren Chosen For Democratic Party Leadership Positions

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the California Democrats State Convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, May 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Chuck Schumer, as expected, has been elected to succeed Harry Reid as Senate Minority Leader.  The Democrats need to stop being a Republican-lite party if they are going to get more people to turn out to vote for them, and Schumer is not the person to bring about such a change in direction. At least there was some good news with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being included in the Senate leadership. The Hill reports:

Sanders was named chairman of outreach during a closed-door Senate Democratic caucus meeting Wednesday morning.

In the role, Sanders will be in charge of reaching out to blue-collar voters who flocked to President-elect Donald Trump this year.

Sanders told reporters that he has a “heavy responsibility to help shape the priorities of the United States government.”

“I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the budget that leaves the United States Congress is a budget that represents the needs of working families and a shrinking middle class and not billionaires,” he said.

Elizabeth Warren was formerly a strategic policy adviser and has now been named vice chair of the conference.

The addition of Sanders and Warren to the leadership will give stronger voices to progressive economic views, but it is not clear how much influence they will actually have. I would also like to see signs that the Democratic Party planned to take a stand against military interventionism and mass surveillance, and in defense of civil liberties. Having Schumer as minority leader is not reassuring on these issues.  The Intercept recently described why Schumer is a poor choice for leader. Among the reasons:

  • He possesses the same impressive political acumen as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, sagely explaining “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
  • Schumer’s done more than anyone except Bill and Hillary Clinton to intertwine Wall Street and the Democratic Party. He raises millions and millions of dollars from the finance industry, both for himself and for other Democrats. In return, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 and voted to bail out Wall Street in 2008. In between, he slashed fees paid by banks to the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay for regulatory enforcement, and eviscerated congressional efforts to crack down on rating agencies.
  • Schumer has long been the Democrats’ point man in efforts to craft a bipartisan deal to slash taxes on multinational corporations.
  • Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, and sponsored its predecessor, the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. During a Senate hearing, Schumer explained that “it’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.” In certain cases, he said, “most senators” would say “do what you have to do.” Schumer also defended the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims across the region, which Trump has cited as a national model.
  • In October 2002, Schumer voted for the Iraq War by giving George W. Bush authority to invade. In a speech explaining his vote, Schumer warned of Iraq’s imaginary yet “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”
  • Schumer voted against Barack Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and potentially develop a nuclear weapons program.

The Democrats have done poorly in recent elections in which they did not have Barack Obama on the ballot, including the 2010 and 2014 midterms elections. They faced further setbacks as a result of choosing Hillary Clinton to be the nominee as opposed to having a fair nomination fight.

I have often said that this was an unusual election between two terrible candidates, with the party which loses the presidency likely to do better in the long run–assuming they learn from their defeat. Ron Elving of NPR has made an argument similar to what I have been saying as to why the Democrats might be better off with Clinton losing. He began by describing how Clinton would not be able to get very much done with Republicans controlling at least the House. I would add that, as unpopular as Clinton is now, she would probably be even more unpopular during the 2018 and 2020 elections. Elving went on to argue:

So we are imagining an uphill struggle for a Clinton re-election, especially given the outlook for Congress and the races in the states. And a defeat in 2020 would be disastrously timed for Democrats, because 2020 is also the date of the next census. The national headcount will launch the next round of redistricting, as the last was launched in 2010. If triumphant in that decennial year, the GOP could look forward to another decade of running downhill in most congressional and legislative elections…

So stop and think about it. Democrats simply cannot expect to move legislation again until they can regain control of Congress. And all signs are that it will take a Republican president, and voter dissatisfaction with a Republican president, to make the Democrats truly competitive in congressional races again…

So that builds pressure on 2020, a fortuitously numbered year that could be the next hinge in our political history. That could be an advantageous case of timing for the Democrats, a great year for a comeback for all the reasons it would have been a disastrous time for a punishing rejection.

All of this is mere projection, and it may not ease the pain of a narrow loss in a presidential election. But it paints a realistic picture of what would have come next. And for Democrats, the prospect of losing the presidency in 2020 would clearly be worse.

What Democrats have to do is adjust their thinking and their time frame. They should stop trying to maintain what they won the last decade (mostly in 2006 and 2008 while George W. Bush was still in the White House) and start thinking about how a Republican president can help them rebuild. They need to go back to the base and raise a new pyramid from the ground up, with a new generation of candidates and activists and motivators. There need to be new approaches to issues, new messages to take to the disaffected.

Having Clinton in the White House would probably lead to bigger Republican gains in 2020, including in the state governments which are responsible for redistricting. A Trump presidency is likely to result in the Democrats doing better in 2018 than if Clinton was president. It is unlikely they can retake control of the Senate with more Democrats up for reelection, but they will be in a better position to potentially take control of Congress and the presidency in 2020. They also have a far better chance to win victories in state elections without Hillary Clinton dragging down the Democratic Party, with votes for state government often being based upon the voters’ view of the president.

The question is whether Democrats can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the Republicans having Donald Trump in the White House, and being  responsible for what happens in light of their complete control of government. Listening to Sanders and Warren is a start in the right direction. We will not be happy with what comes out of the government for the next four years, but if the Democrats had won with Hillary Clinton we would probably be faced with a turn to the right under Clinton, and a more sustained turn to the far right after the probable Democratic loses in 2018 and the crucial 2020 election.

Trump Faces Opposition From Left And Right On Transition–Lobbyists, Steve Bannon, & Foreign Policy

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Donald Trump has taken many contradictory positions on issues over the years. He would sometimes even do that during the same speech, making it difficult to predict what he will do as president. Until we see his actual actions in the White House, the people he is adding to his administration will be the first clues as to what a Trump administration will be like. So far his actual and rumored choices are receiving considerable opposition.

It was hardly a surprise that Steve Bannon would be included in his administration following his role in the campaign, but disappointing that he has been given a position which is being said to be equal to the Chief of Staff. Elizabeth Warren spoke out against both the large number of lobbyists in the transition team along with the choice of Bannon at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council event:

“I think that the clearest point that comes out of this election is that the American people do not want Wall Street to run their government. They do not want corporate executives to be the ones who are calling the shots in Washington,” Ms. Warren said, to an audience comprised largely of corporate executives.

“What Donald Trump is doing is that he’s putting together a transition team that’s full of lobbyists — the kind of people he actually ran against,” she said.

A half-dozen prominent Washington lobbyists are involved in the transition team, including consultants who represent energy companies and agriculture interests. Other business leaders have been mentioned for prominent posts, including Wall Street executive Anthony Scaramucci, tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel and former Goldman Sachs banker Steve Mnuchin.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., and accused global elites of rigging the economy and the political system.

Ms. Warren also criticized Mr. Trump’s pick of Steve Bannon, an outspoken and controversial media executive, for a top White House job.

“This is a man who says, by his very presence, that this is a White House that will embrace bigotry,” Ms. Warren said…

“I just want to underline something that every one of you know: bigotry is bad for business. Bigotry is not what your employees expect. Bigotry is not what your customers expect,” she said. “And if that’s the direction that this administration goes, that creates a real problem for everyone.”

During the campaign Trump has also made statements which gave the impression that he sided with both opponents of neoconservative interventionism and with hawks. Many neoconservatives sided with the hawkish Clinton while some opponents of interventionism are now disappointed by those being discussed as possible Secretary of StateDavid Weigel reported on the reactions of opponents of interventionism on the right. This includes Rand Paul speaking out against both Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton as Secretary of State:

“It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.”

Paul argued that Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign-policy establishment.

“I’m hoping that if there’s a public discussion of this before it happens, people in the incoming administration realize that regime change made us less safe and the Iraq War made us less safe,” Paul said. “We don’t need, as our chief diplomat, someone whose idea of diplomacy is dropping bombs.”

Other opponents of interventionism on the right have similar concerns:

But the discussion of plum roles for Bolton or Giuliani have given some libertarians and “paleoconservatives” pause. Tuesday morning, at a post-election D.C. conference hosted by the American Conservative magazine, a series of “realist” foreign-policy writers criticized the names floated for Trump’s State Department. Daniel Larison suggested that former senator Jim Webb of Virginia — a Republican-turned-Democrat who weighed a presidential run as an independent after dropping out of the Democratic primaries — would be a fairer choice and that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would be “the less aggressive choice” for the Defense Department.

Civil libertarians on both the right and left also have reasons to be concerned about Trump’s actions regarding civil liberties. I looked at this subject in a post last week.

The Washington Post has reported on other tensions between Republicans and Trump on national security issues.

Despite Clinton Conspiracy Theories, FBI Finds No Clear Link Between Trump And Russia

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Donald Trump has many other faults, but The New York Times reports that the FBI has found no clear link between Trump and Russia:

For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s supporters, angry over what they regard as a lack of scrutiny of Mr. Trump by law enforcement officials, pushed for these investigations. In recent days they have also demanded that James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I., discuss them publicly, as he did last week when he announced that a new batch of emails possibly connected to Mrs. Clinton had been discovered.

The Clinton campaign has been trying to blame many of their problems on Russia, imagining a conspiracy between Trump and Putin and engaging in what has felt like Cold War era red-baiting.

Clinton and Putin have a long history of distrust for each other, and, while there is no clear evidence, it is possible that Putin did desire to interfere in Clinton’s election in retaliation for what he perceived as Clinton interfering in Russian elections along with her views on regime change. From Politico:

…nothing angered Putin as much as Clinton’s statement about Russia’s December 2011 parliamentary elections, which produced widespread allegations of fraud and vote-rigging on behalf of Putin allies. At a conference in Lithuania, Clinton issued a biting statement saying that the Russian people “deserve to have their voices heard and their votes counted, and that means they deserve fair, free transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.” Some Obama officials felt the provocative statement went too far…

Whether Putin genuinely believed that Clinton was plotting his overthrow is another question. But he has repeatedly criticized the U.S. for “regime change” policies that have toppled authoritarians in other countries, including Iraq and Libya, that Clinton supported. In the latter case, Putin was furious when a 2011 U.S. and European military operation billed as humanitarian — and advocated by Clinton — evolved into a de facto campaign against dictator Muammar Qadhafi.

Putin reportedly obsessed over Qadhafi’s violent death in Kremlin meetings. The graphic video of the Libya ruler’s bloodied body being dragged by a mob is often replayed on Russian television, along with Clinton’s wisecrack about the executed strongman: “We came, we saw, he died.”

It has been a goal of Clinton’s fellow neoconservatives to also achieve regime change in Russia, similar to Iraq and Libya, and Clinton has threatened war with Russia. Even prior to this threat, Putin and other Russian leaders have believed that the election of Clinton would mean war between the United States and Russia, giving them motivation to oppose Clinton without any plots between Trump and Putin.

Another story in The New York Times describes how Donald Trump Used Legally Dubious Method to Avoid Paying Taxes.

Update: Slate reviewed some of the suspicious behavior which has suggested communications between the Trump Organization and Russia.

Final Presidential Debate Shows Neither Candidate Is Acceptable

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The final presidential debate (transcript here, with fact checking) provided further confirmation that neither major party candidate is fit to be president, but Hillary Clinton is a far better debater than Donald Trump. Even when Trump had a valid point against Clinton, he lacked the ability to stay on target, drifting into irrelevances and lacking a sufficient command of the pertinent facts. On the other hand, I wish the debate included a split screen–one showing Clinton delivering her public policy, and the other revealing her private policy.

It was fitting that the final debate took place in Sin City. Donald Trump reportedly invited the woman who accused Bill Clinton of groping her to the debate. He dwells too much on things that don’t matter. Who is going to vote against Hillary (that otherwise would vote for her) based upon Bill’s sexual indiscretions? It just is not relevant.

Chris Wallace, who might have done the best job of the debate moderators, did start out with real issues. Clinton was far better than Trump on abortion and guns. Trump apparently has no idea how rare late term abortions are, or the reasons they usually occur. Like many Republicans, he does not appear to realize that the Bill of Rights includes anything beyond the Second Amendment, although Clinton also has a rather poor record on civil liberties. Trump was also his usual atrocious self when the debate turned to immigration. When Trump complained about Justice Ginsberg  making  “statements that should have never, ever been made,” I only thought that Donald Trump is the last person to be able to complain about “statements that should have never, ever been made.”

Clinton was not as bad in terms of evading the questions as she was during the second debate, but that is largely due to the types of questions asked. When she was asked about the emails released by Wikileaks, she pivoted to attack Russia. The leaks may or may not have been due to Russia, but her attacks on Russia remind me all too much of the attacks on Saddam for imaginary WMD by Bush, and false claims by Hillary Clinton of connections between Saddam and al Qaeda. What is important is the content of the leaks, and the dishonesty they revealed about Clinton. Besides, the United States is certainly not above comparable spying and interference in other countries, and I fear Clinton is misusing this matter as part of the overall neocon view on Russia.

Clinton’s belligerence towards Russia, and the increased threat of war, should be one of the major issues of the campaign. Trump would be preferable in his desire for cooperation with Russia if he wasn’t completely incoherent on foreign policy. Instead of rationally debating Clinton on this issue, his argument consisted of  “No puppet. You’re the puppet.”

Trump was right on pointing out how Clinton avoided the question of the content of the Wikileaks email, but rather than push the issue, he resorted to his usual nonsense of how Clinton refers to “radical Islamic terrorism,” as if saying the right magic words are needed to defeat them.

As the debate went on, Clinton called for equal pay for equal work, with no explanation for the huge pay gap at the Clinton Foundation which was exposed by Wikileaks. Trump was right in calling out Clinton for her flip-flops on TPP which were exposed by the fact checkers. When Trump was confronted by all the women who have accused him of assaulting them, he was the one to evade and pivot, returning to Clinton’s email.

Both candidates attacked the integrity of the other, and both were right here.  Clinton violated the ethics agreements she entered into when she was confirmed as Secretary of State, while Trump appears to have used his far shadier for bribes. Clinton again ignored the significance of the FBI report showing considerable dishonesty on her part when this was raised, and either Wallace or Trump should have brought up the State Department Inspector General report which showed she violated the rules, failed to cooperate with the investigation, and tried to cover-up her actions.

Clinton said she was going to “continue to push for a no-fly zone” in Syria, but there was no discussion of the large number of deaths this would result in, or the risk of a direct confrontation with Russia.  Initiating a no-fly zone would be a tremendous military undertaking. Just last month, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford testified before Congress that imposing a no-fly zone “would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia.” Clinton admitted that “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians” in one of her leaked Goldman-Sachs speeches.

The sad thing about the debate, and the entire campaign, is that such major issues of war and peace are being ignored, while the media dwells on the latest stupid thing said by Donald Trump–such as whether Donald Trump will accept the election result. This statement, while imprudent and potentially ominous, is hardly unprecedented. The real story of the election is not sexual misconduct, as reprehensible as Trump’s actions were, but the fact that our democracy has devolved to a point where we are given a choice of an ignorant buffoon like Trump or a corrupt war-monger like Clinton–with alternative viewpoints not welcome.