……..this is like playing pin the tail on the donkey……….with a Real Donkey…………
The leaks won’t stop
There’s a solution, but they’re not going to like it.
The Trump administration can sure try. It can make a renewed effort to identify and punish leakers in intelligence agencies — something Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to do in the coming days. It might prevail on FBI director nominee Christopher Wray to entertain the possibility his predecessor James Comey reportedly balked at: throwing reporters in jail for leaked information. It can even turn against itself: On Wednesday night, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci accused White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking Scaramucci’s financial disclosure forms, and threatened to call the FBI to have Priebus investigated.
It won’t work.
This isn’t just because the president himself is allegedly cavalier with classified info, like the details he reportedly told Russian emissaries in May that could lead to the identification of Israel’s best source on ISIS, or his tweet in July that confirmed a covert program in Syria(in the course of insulting a Washington Post story about it).
It’s because of the way the president runs his government.
Donald Trump and his advisers have created an administration in which there is no way to get the president’s attention, or to resolve problems, through normal channels.
The only way to make sure an issue will get any attention whatsoever — much less have a prayer of actually getting fixed — is to leak.
Trump doesn’t read memos. But he watches Fox & Friends.
Imagine you’re a somewhat senior government official — one who doesn’t get a lot of face time with the president, but who has access to pretty important information — and you need to send a message to President Donald Trump.
You can try to write him a memo, or get the message into a briefing paper his staff is preparing. But the staff is trying to squeeze a ton of information into the incredibly narrow aperture of “what the president is actually going to read.”
Your message had better be less than a page (ideally a lot less, so that it can fit on a page with all the other messages all the other officials like you are trying to send). It had better include a visual aid — a map is good.
If you can find some way, however gratuitous, to mention the president’s name in the text, that’s great — unless he’s already stopped reading before he even gets to what you’re trying to say because someone else didn’t jam his name into a paragraph.
You’d better not need the president to actually make a choice between multiple options. You should be able to tell him the pros and cons of how something will play in the press — which doesn’t give you a lot of options if you’re trying to get him to deal with something that shouldn’t be publicly known. And whatever you do, don’t tell him he can’t do something: That’s reportedly “the quickest way to get him” to do just that.
Or you can go the easier route: You can just leak the information to someone so that it ends up on Fox & Friends.
Why should lobbyists outside the government have a more reliable way of reaching the president than people inside it? You go where the president is likely to see you.
This isn’t a product of the federal government. It’s a product of organizations Trump runs. His campaign was famously leaky. His transition team was so leaky that pretty much every major Cabinet appointee was known in advance. His White House is hardly in a position to lecture executive branch agencies about leaking, given how liable they are to dish about their boss and each other to any of several reporters.
It’s perfectly understandable. They, too, are simply giving themselves the best chance of reaching the president’s ear.
If you refuse to take bad news the easy way, you force yourself to deal with it the hard way
The information flow could, in theory, be fixed — if Trump wanted to. But to want to fix it — to be willing to slog through detailed memos and limit his screen time — he’d have to confront a deeper problem: The most powerful man in the free world is simply unwilling to hear bad news.
This is one of the biggest reasons the information he gets from staff is so limited — reports indicate that to keep him in a good mood, staffers deliberately pad packets of press clips with positive coverage. But even dissent that manages to get through to him might go unheard or rejected — it could even ruin his mood and cloud his decision-making for the rest of the day.
That defeats the whole purpose of telling the president bad news in confidence. It makes leaking the obvious choice.
Erick Erickson wrote about this back in May, when discussing a friend who witnessed the meeting in which Trump divulged classified information to the Russian officials:
The President will not take any internal criticism, no matter how politely it is given. He does not want advice, cannot be corrected, and is too insecure to see any constructive feedback as anything other than an attack.
So some of the sources are left with no other option but to go to the media, leak the story, and hope that the intense blowback gives the President a swift kick in the butt. Perhaps then he will recognize he screwed up. The President cares vastly more about what the press says than what his advisers say.
This is a feature of Trump’s personality, but it isn’t confined to Trump. You can see it throughout his administration — in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s distance from staff, in Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly’s insistence that any criticism of his agents is a direct attack on morale.
Trump appointees can’t be trusted to be objective when dealing with internal issues because the president appears to feel no compunction about attacking people for disloyalty — as his sustained attack on Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government has made painfully clear. Obama appointees run the risk of getting shoved out at any time if they cause any problems. And then there are all the positions in government sitting empty, simply preventing conflicts from being resolved because there’s no one senior enough to resolve them.
The Trump administration, to all appearances, has only one way to deal with bad news: shoot the messenger. If the messenger stands up and identifies himself in a private meeting or a memo or a recusal, they know where to shoot. If the messenger leaks to a reporter, they don’t — and besides, they might, just might, realize it was their problem to begin with.
Bad news doesn’t simply go away if you don’t want to hear about it. The Trump administration has created an environment in which leaks are fulfilling the function of basic executive processes, like resolving internal disputes, correcting course, and simply giving the president an accurate sense of what’s going on.
If the Trump administration really wanted to stop the leaks, it would change to make leaking unnecessary. But that would require the president to shut up and listen to people he’s already decided are part of the “deep state” out to get him. It would require him to acknowledge that he can’t drain the swamp without getting drowned in leaks.
Government Should Not Be Able to Block Facebook From Telling People About Searches
By Vera Eidelman, William J. Brennan Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
JULY 7, 2017
If the government wants to search your Facebook account—snooping through everything from your posts, photographs, and videos to your private messages, check-ins, likes, and search history—shouldn’t you know about it in time to protect your constitutional rights? We certainly think so. And that’s what we told the D.C. Court of Appeals last week when we filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a largely secret case concerning the government’s search of Facebook accounts.
In practice, the targets of electronic searches of Facebook accounts and similar data often don’t learn about them until months after they have occurred and the materials have already been handed over to the government. That’s because the government regularly obtains gag orders to prevent Internet companies like Facebook from notifying their users about government searches of their data. In our brief, which we filed together with the ACLU of DC and Public Citizen, we argued that, absent an overriding government interest in secrecy, the government should not be allowed to block Facebook from notifying its users about the search warrants targeting them.
The case is entirely sealed, save for a three-page public notice drafted by Facebook announcing its effort to lift the gag order and calling for friend-of-the-court briefs in support of its position. From that notice, we know that the government issued search warrants to Facebook demanding “all contents of communications, identifying information, and related records” over a three-month span for three accounts. Along with the warrants, Facebook received a gag order that prohibits the company from telling the targets of the search about the warrants.
That gag order was issued under the same statute that Microsoft is challenging in a separate case, and for good reason. Microsoft has said that, of the more than 5,000 federal demands for customer data it received over 18 months, almost half came with gag orders—and most of those were indefinite, resulting in an alarming number of secret searches.
To our knowledge, Facebook has not challenged the warrants themselves in the D.C. case, but it has argued that the accompanying gag order is unconstitutional. A lower court limited the gag so that it would expire 30 days after Facebook produced the records to the government. Laudably, Facebook refused to accept that limitation and appealed the order, arguing that notice should not be delayed because 1) the events underlying the investigation are public, 2) the search targets anonymous political advocacy and speech, and 3) Facebook has already retained all of the relevant records, which means that the subjects of the search can’t destroy them when they receive notice.Given the limited facts presented, it is hard to imagine how these warrants can be lawful. The government’s demand for “all contents of communications” over a three-month period is extraordinarily broad. It almost certainly defies the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that a search warrant describe with particularity what the government may search and seize, especially where the search targets materials protected by the First Amendment and threatens to unmask anonymous speakers. The warrants at issue in this case would allow government investigators to examine the targets’ communications with an untold number of Facebook users, including family members, romantic partners, and political allies. They would also reveal the targets’ political affiliations, reading habits, and their views on everything from politics and religion to movies and television shows.
The Constitution exists to prevent such harms, but it can do so adequately only if targeted users know their rights are in jeopardy. The users are in the best position to show how the warrants infringe their constitutional rights—and to do so before production to the government brings about the very harms the First and Fourth Amendments are meant to stop, including unwarranted invasions of privacy, unmasking of anonymous speakers, and chilling of protected speech. Without a convincing reason for secrecy, the government should not be allowed to prevent Facebook from telling its users that their accounts are being searched. We hope the D.C. Court of Appeals agrees.
As they return from the July Fourth break, the Republican leadership is twisting in agony on the Obamacare repeal and it couldn’t happen to a more miserable bunch. President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have been trying to jam through a deeply unpopular and cruel piece of legislation, but for once the public is being heard over the lobbyists. And the public is shouting a loud and hopefully decisive “no.” But the problem is deeper than health care, and goes back to Ronald Reagan’s great lie.
Our current political travails can be traced to Reagan. In his jovial way, Reagan would quip, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” With his sneering disrespect for government, Reagan ushered in nearly four decades of tax cuts, deregulation, and rising inequality that now threaten to devour our future. Trump, Ryan, and McConnell are the scheming and vacuous politicians at the end of a long process of decline.
Aristotle invented the Western study of political science; in his view, politics was about the community expressing its common interests and promoting virtues among the citizenry. It was a vision the Founding Fathers well understood. Yet somehow that positive view became transposed in today’s right-wing political thought into the idea that government is inherently evil and must be vanquished.
It’s not hard to find the peculiar American roots of this extremist view. The country was born in a rebellion against a monarch. America’s great diversity led constantly to calls for limited government, especially from the slave-owning southern states that championed “states’ rights” to try to keep the federal government off their backs. Historians have been clear that the current wave of anti-federal sentiments emerged in the South and West in response to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Yet something more happened as well.
In the 1960s few Americans would have understood Reagan’s quip about government being terrifying. The federal government had won the war, developed the atomic bomb, put Americans into space, and built the greatest ribbons of highways in the world. The federal government had promoted dazzling technological breakthroughs in medicine, space, telecommunications, and other areas.
What changed was the marriage of anti-civil rights politics in the South, West, rural America, and the suburbs, with big money in politics. Presidential aspirants had always had their financial backers. But with the advent of expensive television ads, mass mailings, and big data, campaigns became expensive. Big campaign money flooded in and federal politics became the playground of billionaires.
And nobody played it better than David and Charles Koch. They played the long game. With their lavish funding of libertarian think tanks, advocacy groups, university departments, and political action committees, the Koch Brothers and their brethren (including Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson, and the late John Olin) bought the Republican Party and turned it into a radical antigovernment force. It’s be all and end all became tax cuts and deregulation.
The deregulation had one more crucial effect. It enabled the rise of “too big to fail” businesses, and their lobbies in four key sectors: Big Oil, Wall Street, Big Health, and Big Armaments. Antitrust became a dead letter. The billionaires successfully championed tax cuts, deregulation, and deregulated companies that became more influential than government itself, and that when necessary could call on the federal government to do their bidding.
The Democrats, of course, have their own watered-down version of the same phenomenon. Wall Street, for example, proved to be an equal-opportunity employer of politicians of both parties.
The stunning result is this: A small group of wealthy interests has hijacked the federal government, driving policies that are strongly against public opinion and the public good. Legislation is drafted in secret, pushed without deliberation, and if possible, adopted without regard for the voters. This is obviously the case with the Obamacare repeal, but it’s also true regarding climate change, environmental protection, tax cuts for the rich, antitrust enforcement, and foreign policy.
Obamacare repeal and the Trump agenda have exposed the big lie. Yes, the Koch Brothers have bought the Republican majority, but the policies they espouse, such as slashing health care coverage, are not the policies desired by the American people. We are therefore at a reckoning.
My own belief? We will soon swing back to an era of grass-roots democracy, led especially by young people, in which public activism will trump big money in politics. Stay tuned.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is University Professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, and author of “The Age of Sustainable Development.”
………ok Jeff but I’d have preferred you stuck around a bit longer and given us an example or two of the…. “young people” and “public activism”…you’re betting the farm on……but wtf?…..what do I know?……w
……and in this Fun Facts Edition of Who Is This?.. new …..candidate….for FBI Director?….Christopher Wray ….and where have we heard that name before?…..
This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a confirmation hearing for Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee to be director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The director is a critically important position, as the FBI has the power and responsibility to safeguard civil liberties and rights, though the agency has often claimed powers that violate the fundamental freedoms of citizens and noncitizens alike, at home and abroad.
The Senate Judiciary Committee must — in addition to reviewing Wray’s record as a top official in the Bush Justice Department — consider how that record and the circumstances around his nomination relate to any role the FBI director may have in the Russia investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The position is vacant only because James Comey was fired over the FBI’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign and associates. In considering the Wray nomination, the Senate must ensure that Mueller have full independence to investigate and that Wray not cave to any White House pressure to interfere in any investigation.
Wray’s record on civil liberties — from his apparent but unclear role in the Bush-era torture program to his advocacy for the passage and implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act to his support for “material support” prosecutions that have targeted, often unfairly, minorities and the vulnerable — is cause for alarm and requires rigorous scrutiny by the Senate.
From 2001 to 2005, Wray worked in the Department of Justice with many key architects of the unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral Bush torture program, including Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, and Steven Bradbury. During his tenure, Wray is mentioned in numerous documents related to the torture program obtained by the ACLU through litigation. But because of redactions, his role and opinions remain largely secret.
Still, we know that John Yoo, an architect of the torture program, testified before the House Judiciary Committee in 2008 that Wray, as principal associate deputy attorney general, may have been one of the recipients of a secret legal opinion from 2003 that justified the Bush administration’s use of torture. Nothing in the public record indicates that Wray objected to torture and cruel treatment. But we do know that he was apparently involved in torture-related investigations that did not result in any prosecution.
Wray was also a strong advocate for the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provided the government with vastly expanded authority to surveil people, including American citizens, even as it eliminated or watered down safeguards like judicial oversight, public accountability, and the ability to challenge government searches in court.
In 2003, Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that “the Patriot Act has helped preserve and protect liberty and freedom, not erode them,” and insisted that safeguards were in place to prevent abuse. Contrary to his view, the Justice Department’s inspector general audits later confirmed widespread FBI abuse of Patriot Act powers. The courts later struck down parts of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional.Wray also played a role in the arbitrary detention of almost 800 Arab or Muslim men who were held for prolonged periods, at times in maximum-security prisons, and cut off from access to their families and lawyers. Many of these men were held without a legitimate basis and some continued to be detained even after judges had ordered their release or deportation.
The FBI has a long history of abusing its authority; overstepping the law; profiling and discriminating against journalists, immigrants, and minorities; and violating the Constitution. That Wray, as director of the FBI, would also claim such broad powers should concern all of us.
As senators take up Christopher Wray’s nomination, the public deserves to know if he supports the torture, wrongful detention, and unlawful surveillance that were the hallmarks of the Bush years — aspects of which continued during the Obama years. In the Trump era especially, Americans will need an FBI director who knows how to say no to unconstitutional policies and practices and shows a commitment to abiding by the Constitution.
….You’d think we’d be hearing more about Hui Chen…
One of the Justice Department’s top corporate crime watchdogs has just resigned, saying she can’t work for Trump or the administration anymore due to their highly questionable conduct.
Hui Chen has worked for the Justice Department ever since 2015 and has been in charge of enforcing criminal laws against corporations. She released this statement:
On May 15, I informed the Fraud Section in the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice that I did not intend to renew my contract as its Compliance Counsel Expert. Last Friday, I officially ended that role.
Leaving DOJ was not an easy decision. Serving as the Fraud Section’s compliance counsel had given me not only the privilege of working with some of the most dedicated, intelligent, and innovative prosecutors in the federal government, it had also given me a platform from which I believed I could make a positive difference. Now, my reason for leaving is the same: to make a difference. For reasons articulated below, I believe the time has come when I can make a bigger difference outside of the DOJ than inside.
First, trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome. To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts. Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it.
Second, my ability to do good at a more micro-level, by exchanging ideas with the compliance community on ways to assess the effectiveness of compliance programs, was severely limited. The management of the Criminal Division, of which the Fraud Section is a part, has persistently prohibited me from public speaking. This inability to engage was particularly frustrating after the release of the Evaluations of Corporate Compliance document, as I watched almost everyone except me being able to talk about (and often misinterpreting) my work.
Third, I have come to realize that nothing matters to me more than working to restore the notions of integrity, decency, and intellect back into our government. I yearn to be a part of that effort more directly than volunteering for and attending protests: I want to help elect candidates who stand for those values, and I cannot do that while under contract with the Criminal Division due to Hatch Act restrictions.
The time I spent in the Fraud Section has been among of the most rewarding experiences in my career, and I cannot speak more highly of the prosecutors with whom I had the pleasure of working. I will miss them dearly, and I hope and pray that they remain in the government to protect and defend our Constitution and to hold corporations accountable. As a citizen advocate, I will also fight for resources and support for them to do their jobs.
What will I do now? The mission is the same: to make a difference. It seems clear that there is much work to do not only in taking corporate ethics & compliance to the next level, but also in raising the moral consciousness of societies. To those ends, I will engage publicly through speaking, writing, and consulting, working with not only corporations interested in enhancing their ethics & compliance programs, but also with foreign and domestic government agencies to enhance their leadership in the markets. I will also consider it my personal mission to participate in efforts to hold our elected representatives accountable and to protect our environment. I believe it has never been more important for every individual to speak and act on their conscience and belief.
We have just one life to live, and the mission we choose for that life matters as much as the life itself.
Previously, Chen stated in the month leading up to her resignation she was told to “back off investigations.” She says she was “met with hostility and a withholding of resources.” The comment came four days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.
Basically, she felt like she was prevented from doing her work in the Criminal Division, and she could no longer tolerate it. Her resignation is leaving many people in Washington concerned.
Ethics & Compliance Activist, Speaker, Writer, and Consultant.
…..I can only imagine the numbers and intensities of the stories about other D.C. people whose professional lives have been thrown into turmoil. Career government workers dismissed or otherwise shown the door in the downsizing slash & burn or starve it to death Trump ….we don’t have to show you no stinking plan…. Administration.
Who knows? Those who have left may be better off than the people still there. The conscience driven should find it uncomfortable to imagine what it must be like with the wholesale lying and cheating and ….good luck to us….enormous untraceable levels of stealing. …..go along to get along… ….probably not getting out of there with much of their dignity left. ………………………………………………………………..But how are you going to outrun the stink? ……………………………..w.
Summertime and the living is…downright buggy. We’re playing outdoors, taking hikes and just generally being outside more frequently which increases our chance of a tick encounter. Blech! I HATE those nasty things. Here’s some info I recently found in Dogs Naturally Magazine that might keep your fur-iend just a wag safer.
According to experts, ticks…those creepy crawly bugs that transmit diseases, are expected to be particularly bad this year and may be expanding their range to epidemic numbers in some areas. The good news is (if you can consider anything associated with ticks as being ‘good’), most tick-borne diseases aren’t usually transmitted immediately so if they are removed within 36 hours, changes are good your pet is not likely to be infected. Whew!
Ticks in Dogs
[All images shown here are courtesy of Dogs Naturally Magazine]
Finally, American canine hepatozoonosis (ACH) (Hepatozoon canis, Hepatozoon americanum) is an emerging but rare…
…….serious history being written these days…….. many issues in dispute…..facts are facts…..try some of these……w
It was a breezy, surprisingly pleasant summer week in Washington as the frenzy around potential Trump-Russia revelations reached near-carnival levels. On Thursday, brightly clad groups scattered across the lawns of Capitol Hill could almost have been picnickers — if not for the mounds of cable leashing them to nearby satellite trucks. Every news studio in D.C. seemed to have spilled forth into the jarring sunlight, eager for the best live backdrop to the spectacle that awaited. Bars opened early for live viewing of former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
Political ads against Comey — who isn’t running for anything — aired during coverage of the hearing, often back-to-back with vibrant ads praising President Trump’s first foreign trip, where he “[united] forces for good against evil.”
Only D.C.’s usually opportunistic T-shirt printers seemed to have missed the cue, forced to display the usual tourist “FBI” fare in rainbow spectrum but offering no specialty knitwear for the occasion. The conversion of America’s political arena into a hybrid sporting event/reality show was nonetheless near complete.
Russian state media — eagerly throwing peanuts into the three-ring circus in the days before by endlessly looping Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin’s mockery of America’s “hysteria” on all things Russia, and on the day after by running headlines of American “collusion” with ISIS — was dead silent on both of this week’s Senate hearings, during both of which intelligence leaders offered bleak and candid assessments of the cascading Russian threat against America.
And this is perhaps the banner flying over the investigations circus: Missing from the investigation of the supposed Russia scandal is any real discussion of Russia.
The starkest aspect of Comey’s prepared statement was the president’s lack of curiosity about the long-running, deep-reaching, well-executed and terrifyingly effective Russian attack on American democracy.
This was raised more than once in the hearing — that after Trump was briefed in January on the intelligence community’s report, which emphasized ongoing activity directed by the Kremlin against the United States, he has not subsequently evinced any interest in what can be done to protect us from another Russian assault. The president is interested in his own innocence, or the potential guilt of others around him — but not at all in the culpability of a foreign adversary, or what it meant. This is utterly astonishing.
Since the January intelligence report, the public’s understanding of the threat has not expanded. OK, Russia meddled in the election — but so what? Increasingly, responsibility for this is borne by the White House, which in seeking to minimize the political damage of “Trump/Russia” is failing to craft a response to the greatest threat the United States and its allies have ever faced.
Even if the president and his team were correct, and the Comey testimony definitively cleared the president of potential obstruction of justice or collusion charges — even if that were true, that does not also exonerate Russia. Nonetheless, this is a line the president seems to want drawn.
So here are the real issues — about Russia; about the brutal facts we have yet to face; and about some hard questions we need to ask ourselves, and our political leaders, and our president.
1. No matter what is true or not, we have moved toward the fractured, inward-looking, weakened America that President Putin wants to see.
An honest assessment of where we are reads like the setting of a dystopian spy novel. Paid advertising is defaming private American citizens viewed as opponents of the president, while political ads praise our glorious leader. The policy process is paralyzed while both party caucuses, once well-oiled legislative and messaging machines, have factionalized into guerrilla-like cells. The same can be said of many government agencies, whose halls remain quiet, awaiting political appointees who may never arrive. Policies are floated and tweeted and drafted and retracted. There are uneasy relationships between the White House and the intelligence community, and between the White House and Congress, and between the White House and other parts of the White House — which is bleeding over into how the intelligence community interacts with the Congress, as well.
This factionalization mirrors a deep and deepening public divide, which has been greatly accelerated by a war on truth. The Russian narrative is increasingly being echoed by far right media, and finding its way into mainstream conservative media. Episodes of violent unrest, and the potential for wider chaos, don’t seem far off.
Meanwhile, no one seems to be watching what Russia is still doing to us. No one is systematically speaking about the tactics of Russian hybrid warfare, and that these go beyond “fake news” and “hacking” into far-reaching intelligence operations and initiatives to destabilize Western countries, economies and societies. No one is talking about how Russia provides training for militants and terrorists in Europe, even as U.S. generals say it is supporting the Taliban as it attacks American forces in Afghanistan. No one is leading a unified effort to roll back Russian influence in Europe or Asia or the Middle East. No one is commenting on Russia’s new efforts to entrench its presence near eastern Ukraine, escalate the fighting there and destabilize the government in Kyiv.
No one is commenting on how Russia is sparking and fueling Middle Eastern wars — first a physical one spiraling out from Syria, and now a diplomatic one that sweeps across the region. In a very real sense, if you want a glimpse of the world that Putin’s “gray Cardinal” Vladislav Surkov imagined when he described nonlinear warfare — “all against all” — the current churn throughout the Middle East, the Gulf states and North Africa is a pretty good example. This is a massive realignment that deeply affects U.S. interests, and which will cost us, in blood and treasure, in immeasurable ways.
But no one is commenting on the new hardware and manpower that Russia has deployed to the eastern and southern Mediterranean, or to its eastern and western borders. Our trenches will draw nearer again after the summer exercise season, but who will man them on the Western side is more uncertain. Europe’s newfound fortitude is absolutely critical — but their military capabilities will lag their ambitions for years to come.
Our relationships with our truest allies are frayed and fraying — and not just in headlines, but in trust and intelligence sharing and functionality, even as critical ambassadorships and administration jobs gape open. Those who remain, especially from the Pentagon and military commands — Defense Secretary James Mattis and the EUCOM and SOCOM commanders, notably — have been patrolling Europe with trips and reassurances, good work that was undone when the president removed mention of Article 5 from his speech at NATO headquarters. Though he committed to the principle of collective defense on Friday during a news conference with the president of Romania, that one act of petulance is devastating to years of NATO’s strategic planning.
Even behind closed doors, Trump reportedly did not once mention Russia to the NATO heads of state — not to discuss Russian attacks against our allies, and not to discuss Russia’s menacing of NATO skies, seas and borders. Instead, he browbeat our allies. Maybe it’s news to the White House — but it was Russia’s aggression, not Trump’s hectoring, that inspired the alliance to boost national military spending. Days later, the sting still on the slap, Trump lashed out at the mayor of London following a terror attack. These words and images, next to those of the president yukking it up in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister, add a dangerous element of fragility to the greatest military alliance in history.
It leaves us to wonder — who does President Trump imagine will come to our aid after the next attack on our soil? Who does he imagine will stand next to our troops and ease the burden at the front lines in the many wars he is fighting?
For while our attention is on the center ring and who may next find their head inside the lion’s mouth, we are engaged in expanding special warfare in Africa, a tense standoff on the Korean peninsula, expanding operations in the Middle East. The president has requested a military budget to match this operational appetite — even if his inability to manage Congress makes it near-certain this will be trapped behind a continuing budget resolution until after the midterm elections. The Pentagon is clear on the purpose and direction of these operations, but the president’s tirades against countries hosting our men and military assets — Qatar, South Korea, Germany, etc. — complicate our ability to execute on-task.
Even Putin admits that “patriotic” Russian hackers were behind the attack on America — a fact the president will still not mention without caveat. Trump is isolated, manages those around him with Stalinesque puppeteering, and rightly views himself as under attack. But even if given every benefit of the doubt about the election, it is clear he does not think Russia is a threat.
2. Russia has altered American policies, our relationships with our allies and our view of our place in the world.
To be clear: I am not saying Trump did not win the election, or that he didn’t have considerable momentum toward the end of the campaign. Candidate Trump had a narrative that captured many hearts and minds — but this did not happen in a vacuum, but rather a landscape awash in Russian active measures.
A constantly misunderstood narrative was revisited during the Comey hearing — questions about whether Russian actions “changed” the vote. The focus on whether this means Russia physically changed votes is the greatest diversion tactic of all. Ironically, D.C.’s political class — whose existence is based upon the ability to deploy narratives that get some people to vote, and others not to — refuses to admit that outside interests could change a small percentage of votes in the Rust Belt.
If the Trump campaign itself has openly discussed its use of data-backed information operations to conduct targeted voter-suppression campaigns, possibly at the individual level — why would we believe the Russians wouldn’t be experimenting with the same tools and tactics? Do we really think Russian-friendly parties, oligarchs and state-owned interests hire U.S. political consultants and pollsters and technology firms merely to run ad campaigns, rather than to learn how to use these things against us?
These tools and tactics in the information space work better against America than anywhere else because there are a lot of us, and because English is the language of the internet — and the amplification factor because of these things is staggering, especially when one of our presidential candidates was borrowing and repeating Russian narrative and disinformation. What possible claim could any sensible American politician make that these factors had no impact in the decision making process of the American voter?
In fact, you can track the radical changes in the belief of certain narratives during the time period Comey identified as when the most intensive Kremlin-led activities were underway (beginning in summer 2015 through present day). During this time frame, Republican views on free trade agreements dropped 30 points, from roughly the same as Democrats to radically divergent (Democratic views remained relatively steady). Putin’s favorability rating increased, even while unfavorable views remained constant, fueled by a 20-point increase among Republicans and an 11-point increase among Independents. Between early 2016 and now, Republican views of whether media criticism can help keep political leaders in line — which for the previous five years was almost identical to Democratic views — dropped by 35 points.
An isolationist America that is softer on Russia and more in favor of authoritarian traits in leaders fits right into the narratives that the Kremlin nurtures and spends billions to promote. And if views changed so dramatically on these aspects of Russian narratives — why is it we believe their efforts didn’t change any votes?
In many ways, the trust-based, state-based U.S. voting system is surprisingly resilient to basichacking or meddling. Every state, sometimes every county, runs its own elections with its own rules with its own machines (or not) serviced by their own vendors. Certainly, there are easy ways to hack this infrastructure — technicians servicing software, unsecured machines, etc. — but the decentralized system makes it a complicated affair. It’s uncertain and it’s messy and it would leave a trail of money and evidence that can be found and exposed.
Far simpler, it turns out, is just hacking people — getting them to change their views over time without realizing that they are doing so on the basis of deliberately coercive and false information that is targeted at them because they exhibit certain traits and habits that “data scientists” have profiled. And no one can prove anyone did anything.
And yes, this is indeed terrifying. So yes, it would be great if everyone would move on from denying the existence of the “hacked votes” no one is looking for to looking instead at the far more important issue: that Russian information warfare has come of age thanks to social media. Perhaps then, the tens of thousands of “programmers” working for Russia’s three largest data companies will make a lot more sense.
3. It will happen again; it is still happening now.
One final point, on the tactical weaponization of discrete pieces of information. Ours was not the only case where hacking introduced info or disinfo that came to dominate specific parts of the information space (particularly when massively amplified by botnets that know how to game the algorithms).
Just this week, the planting of a single false report, allegedly by Russian hackers, was used to justify a diplomatic rift that will fuel the realignment of the Middle East. Russia has been working to accelerate this process since 2011, when it used the Syrian civil war as a pretext to deploy to the region. It is no accident that this realignment has meant a proxy war that has empowered Iran — which has been helping kill Americans in Iraq since at least 2004 — and special efforts targeting countries that the U.S. has relied on for regional basing and power projection — including Turkey, Egypt, Qatar and Iraqi Kurdistan.
This tactic works because it prays on doubts and grievances that are already present — as the best information warfare does. Truth doesn’t matter. Once we know how we feel about something, who cares what the truth is? And information is just one act of Russia’s shadow war.
So this is where we are, six months after first taking stock of what Russia did to America. We are paralyzed and divided, watching a salacious sideshow of an investigation while Russian initiatives are underway in countless places, completely unchecked. The American president, eager to be rid of this “cloud,” has equated dismissing Russia’s global imperialist insurgency with loyalty to him.
As I wrote for Politicoin January, Russia is clear about what its objectives are. When I said then that Russia was at war with the United States, this was an edgy, controversial view. Now, it is regularly repeated by senators and TV commentators. But our societal understanding of the war we face has not expanded fast enough.
Even looking only at the advance of Russian military assets — men, materiel, supporting infrastructure — the picture is grim. And yet the most concise encapsulation of the Russian concept of hybrid warfare — the chart depicting the “Gerasimov doctrine,” developed by the Russian chief of the general staff — shows that information warfare is the constant through all phases, and that the ideal ratio of nonmilitary to military activities is 4:1. The more important war is, by far, the shadow war. And yet we still refuse to accept what’s happening.
I don’t know why we just choose not to believe what Russia says, when they have repeatedly outlined what their strategic goals are and then moved to achieve them by force and guile. But it’s a bridge of disbelief we need to be willing to cross.
The war is in the shadows. And, right now, Russia is winning. There is only one question that we should be asking: What are we going to do to protect the American people from Russian acts of war — and why doesn’t the president want to talk about it?
…….the party in numerical control………gets to cheat……..really bright system ….
One thin you have to admire about gerrymandering: It’s got some wicked slang…..Gerrymandering is, of course, the dark art of drawing a legislative map that favors your political party. That involves “packing”—taking all the neighborhoods with voters who hate you and cramming them into one district. (You’ll lose that district by a landslide but have a leg up in all the others.) The reverse trick is “cracking,” breaking up a neighborhood that loathes you into chunks that you attach to other regions where you’re loved. Your opponents’ votes get spread around and diluted. Obviously these shenanigans warp and imperil democracy. Various groups have sued over gerrymandered districts three dozen times in the past few decades, but they’ve always lost, because it’s hard to prove how much a map is gerrymandered. Usually plaintiffs have resorted to hypotheticals. (“If both parties had won the same number of votes, this map would have given the Republicans four more seats than they deserved.”) But courts don’t like hypotheticals. They want hard numbers.Last year, they got them. Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, has figured out a new way to think about gerrymandering: in terms of efficiency. With packing and cracking, the goal is to ensure your opponents’ votes are wasted, so they do not contribute to victory. A packed district has—artificially—too many votes for one side. A cracked district, too few. McGhee figured out how to calculate the “efficiency gap” of an election. Go district by district, counting how many votes the winner got above 50 percent—anything higher was a waste. Then count the loser’s votes, because all those went down the tubes. Add up all the waste by party statewide, then take the difference between the two numbers as a percentage of votes cast—that’s the efficiency gap. Yes, other factors could be at work—population change, let’s say. But in general, the bigger the gap, the more gerrymandered the state.
Best of all? “It’s fifth-grade math,” McGhee says. A judge could verify the calculations with a pencil and paper.
Indeed, the efficiency gap has already scored one major victory. In November a federal court relied in part on that formula to determine that Republicans had gerrymandered Wisconsin. Math: It works!
The data age is likely to spell trouble for gerrymandering. This skulduggery relies on geometry, geography, and demographic tables, precisely the domains where math nerds can give us clarity. Recently, Moon Duchin, a mathematician at Tufts University, realized her research in geometry—figuring out the average distances between points in various shapes—had a bearing on “compactness,” the legislative definition of what makes a fair district. Inspired, Duchin formed the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group. Their program, which aims to train mathematicians in mapping and civil rights law so they can be expert witnesses in gerrymandering cases, was so flooded with applications—she expected dozens and got over 1,100—that Duchin is expanding the size. “My God, we’ve been just amazed at the response,” she says.
Actually, tech could fight gerrymandering in a lot of ways. The Public Mapping Project and programmer Dave Bradlee have created apps that let anyone redistrict a state, to see just how easy (or hard) it is to map fairly. I’d love it if a tech firm with a huge footprint—Google, Facebook, I’m looking at you—would take that idea mainstream and bring gerrymandering into the public consciousness. Make it a smartphone game! Possibly one with an outcome you could email to your representatives.
After all, the nation’s political maps will be redrawn in 2020, with new census numbers. The data of democracy is up for grabs. Thank goodness the mathematicians are watching.