Keeping Stories About Russia In Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fearmongering like this is commonplace:

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

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

Establishment Democrats Taking Wrong Lessons From Indictments Of Russian Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis Kucinich Warned About Current US Hostilities Towards Russia and Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Understand Why Even Democrats Are Fed Up With Her, So She Again Resorts To Claims Of Sexism

Hillary Clinton never takes responsibility for her actions and will inevitably resort to blaming others, whether it is to blame Russia, James Comey, or sexism. Clinton initially received a lot of negative response from those who disagree with her on both the left and the right. More recently, such as after she demonstrated once again why she lost earlier in March, establishment Democrats, also started advising her to stop saying things which are damaging to the party’s chances for success. Clinton responded by again using the sexism card. The Hill reports:

“I was really struck by how people said that to me — you know, mostly people in the press, for whatever reason — mostly, ‘Go away, go away,’” Clinton said Thursday during an event at Rutgers University.

“And I had one of the young people who works for me go back and do a bit of research. They never said that to any man who was not elected. I was kind of struck by that,” Clinton said.

Clinton’s remarks came in response to a question from Eagleton Institute of Politics director Ruth Mandel about the former Democratic nominee’s reaction to those who say she should “get off the public stage and shut up.”

“I’m really glad that, you know, Al Gore didn’t stop talking about climate change,” Clinton said to applause.

“And I’m really glad John Kerry went to the Senate and became an excellent secretary of State,” the former first lady continued. “And I’m really glad John McCain kept speaking out and standing up and saying what he had to say. And for heavens sakes, Mitt Romney is running for the Senate,” Clinton said.

The 70-year-old ex-secretary of State has taken heat in recent weeks, even among some Democrats, for comments she made about Americans who voted for President Trump in the 2016 race.

Of course this has nothing to do with gender. Al Gore, who had the most cause to complain about the election, avoided the public spotlight after he lost. Mitt Romney also limited political speech until he started to criticize Donald Trump. John Kerry and John McCain returned to the Senate where they did their jobs.

None of the other losing presidential candidates questioned the legitimacy of the elections they lost. When there was concern that Donald Trump would not accept the results of the election, Hillary Clinton called this a “direct threat to our democracy.” Then after she turned out to be the one to lose, Clinton denied the legitimacy of the election. Not long afterwards she tried to rewrite history in a book which attacked the left and blamed multiple others for the loss which she is responsible for. She has been calling for censorship of those who criticize her by calling legitimate criticism “fake news.”

As was revealed in Shattered, Clinton decided to blame others such as Russia for the loss within twenty-four hours of losing. Her claims regarding Russia, which go far beyond the actual evidence, are harmful in many ways. It gives establishment Democrats an excuse to resist reform. It plays into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia, with their claims about Russia being no more truthful than their claims about WMD in Iraq. It is used to justify restrictions on freedom of speech, and has led to McCarthyism from establishment Democrats who claim that criticism stems from support for Putin.

Of course Hillary Clinton has the right to continue to speak publicly, but those of us who disagree with her also have the right to respond–regardless of how much her supporters attempt to suppress criticism of her. It is also understandable that professional politicians in her party, which saw serious losses in the presidential race and down ticket because of Clinton in 2016, do not want Clinton to bring about further losses for their party in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria

The claim that the 2016 election was stolen due to the actions of Russian trolls is one of the most absurd political arguments ever made. As I’ve noted previously, the Congressional testimony revealed that Russian Facebook ads and Tweets represented a minuscule amount of their traffic. Material from Russian pages accounted for “less than 0.004 percent of all content — or about 1 in 23,000 news feed items” on Facebook. Half of it was not seen until after the election, much of it was not supporting Trump over Clinton, and much of it was hilariously unconvincing and amateurish. Phillip Bump added that, rather than targeting the battleground states, ads were concentrated in states such as New York and Texas which had no impact on the election results.

The claim that Russia stole the election based upon their actions on social media is harmful as it gives establishment Democrats an excuse to resist reform. It plays into the hands of neocons who desire regime change in Russia, with their claims about Russia being no more truthful than their claims about WMD in Iraq. It is also an attack on freedom of speech, and has led to McCarthyism from establishment Democrats who claim that criticism stems from support for Putin.

Reason has produced the above video on 5 Reasons Not to Feed the Russian Troll Hysteria.  They also summarized the arguments:

1) Russian trolling was a drop in the bucket.

2) Russian trolls were not very sophisticated.

Russian trolls supposedly had the Machiavellian know-how to infiltrate the American political system, but their social media posts don’t look very sophisticated. The posts often featured broken English and puzzling topic choices. A postpromoting a “buff” Bernie Sanders coloring book, for instance, noted that “the coloring is something that suits for all people.” Another post showed Jesus and Satan in an arm wrestling match under this caption: “SATAN: IF I WIN CLINTON WINS! JESUS: NOT IF I CAN HELP IT!” The post generated very few clicks and shares.

3) Russian troll rallies apparently did not attract many participants.

The indictment makes much of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton rallies instigated by Russian trolls, but it does not say how many people participated. The New York Times reported that a Russian-organized rally in Texas opposing Shariah law attracted a dozen people. An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho drew four people. Attendance at other rallies was similarly sparse.

4) Russian trolling probably didn’t change anyone’s mind.

Broken English aside, the social media posts were not qualitatively different from content created by American activists, and they seemed to be aimed mainly at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs and divisions. The Russians might have gotten a few Trump supporters to show up at anti-Clinton rallies, but that does not mean they had an impact on the election.

5) Russian troll hysteria depicts free speech as a kind of violence.

The Justice Department describes the messages posted by Russians pretending to be Americans as “information warfare.” But while the posts may have been sophomoric, inaccurate, and illogical, that does not distinguish them from most of what passes for online political discussion among actual Americans. The integrity of civic discourse does not depend on verifying the citizenship of people who participate in it. It depends on the ability to weigh what they say, checking it against our own values and information from other sources. If voters cannot do that, maybe democracy isdoomed. But if so, it’s not the Russians’ fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Iraq and Libya have turned into disasters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinton Reminds The World Why She Really Lost–And It Has Nothing To Do With Russia


Most losing candidates keep a low profile after losing an election. Despite being robbed of victory, Al Gore kept quiet at first, and reemerged more liberal, and a vocal opponent of the Iraq war. Hillary Clinton in contrast has been spending the time since her election making excuses, and her popularity has fallen even further since the election. Her recent statement in India are even angering many Democrats who have supported her. The Hill reports:

Democrats are angry that Hillary Clinton continues to discuss what went wrong during the 2016 presidential election against President Trump.

Even some of Clinton’s own former aides and surrogates say the former Democratic presidential nominee should back away from the discussion about her failed campaign because it’s harmful to the party.

During a conference in India this weekend, Clinton called states that supported her in the election more economically advanced than the states that backed Trump.

The remarks reminded many of the former secretary of State’s comments in 2016 that some of Trump’s supporters fit in a “basket of deplorables,” a line the Republican then used against her repeatedly during the final stretch of the campaign.

She also insinuated that women who voted for Trump were motivated by “ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.”

In interviews with The Hill on Tuesday, even the staunchest Clinton allies as well as longtime advisers say the comments were cringeworthy and ultimately detrimental to Democrats.

“She put herself in a position where [Democrats] from states that Trump won will have to distance themselves from her even more,” said one former senior Clinton aide. “That’s a lot of states.”

Another Clinton surrogate questioned the decisionmaking behind Clinton’s remarks. For months, some Democrats have been arguing that Clinton’s sentiments have been counterproductive to the party’s rebuilding efforts. And some have told her she should emulate former President Obama’s model to only make statements when it’s essential.

Even before she launched her book tour last fall for “What Happened,” party strategists have said Clinton should lay low.

“She’s annoying me. She’s annoying everyone, as far as I can tell,” said one 2016 Clinton surrogate. “Who lets her say these things?”

The Washington Post added:

Like Trump, Clinton has lost popularity since the 2016 election in national polls.

In early December, Gallup found 36 percent of Americans viewed her favorably, the same percentage that approved of Trump’s presidential performance. The result marked a record low for Clinton in the Gallup poll, which has tracked her favorability since 1993. Just 5 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of independents had a favorable view of her.

Several studies of the 2016 election have found that Trump overperformed Clinton in economically struggling parts of the nation, a likely motivator for voters seeking change in the party control of the White House. Parts of the country that shifted their support from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 were also more likely to be negatively affected by globalization.

Another post-election study showed that Clinton’s hawkish views were also harmful to her campaign.

As was revealed in Shattered, Hillary Clinton decided upon the strategy of blaming others such as Russia for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing. The Congressional testimony showed that Russian activities on social media were trivial compared to the actions of the two major party campaigns. While we have known for some time that the Clinton campaign had used paid internet trolls, new information came out today in an article at Huffington Post regarding the use of fake accounts used by Clinton supporters to oppose Bernie Sanders.

While Democrats express frustration with Clinton continuing to blame others for her loss, many Democrats do continue to support her unfounded claims. For example, after the House Intelligence Committee reported that there was no collusion between Russia and Donald Trump to alter the election, Democrats have continued to make arguments which are not supported by the facts. While it is true that House Republicans very likely would have denied the presence of collusion if it existed, and it is possible that Robert Mueller might uncover new information in the future, the fact remains that the evidence available at present shows no such evidence of collusion.

Despite the lack of evidence of meaningful cooperation between the Trump  campaign and Russia to effect the election result, Democrats such as Joaquin Castro have been giving interviews distorting the facts following the committee report. In this interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, Castro both made unfounded claims and moved the goal post a tremendous distance to promote actions which do not show any meaningful collusion as if they were evidence of collusion. While not in the transcript on the web site, during the actual broadcast host David Greene debunked Castro’s claims after the interview. Democrats who continue to make unfounded claims look like Republicans who continued to justify the Iraq war long after it was clear to most that we were never threatened by WMD from Iraq.

If Democrats are going to move forward from the 2016 election, they need to do more than just cringe when Clinton makes asinine statements. They need to acknowledge that Clinton lost because of her own mistakes, both during the campaign and in making bad decisions throughout her career. They must admit that they were wrong to rig the nomination for her, and reform the nominating process. Finally they must repudiate both the corrupt personal behavior of the Clintons in using their  public positions to unethically enrich themselves, and the conservative positions she has promoted throughout her career.