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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – Peter Strzok Edition

If you had your fill of Trey Gowdy during the Benghazi hearings, you can be excused for vomiting if you watched the FBI’s Peter Strzok’s hearing last week.

In the hearing, the Republicans wanted to make America believe there was an FBI conspiracy to prevent Trump from being elected president. How did the FBI go about it? First, by mounting an investigation of what nearly everyone now acknowledges was a comprehensive effort by Russia to help Trump get elected. But then, the FBI kept that investigation completely secret from the public, to prevent news of it from affecting the outcome of the election.

You also have to set aside the fact that the Director of the FBI may have thrown the election to Trump when he violated FBI protocols, and announced 11 days before the election, that the Bureau was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the FBI engaged in a conspiracy, and the GOP’s claim is contradicted by everything the FBI actually did.

And so far, Republicans have not produced any evidence that Strzok, or anyone else, took any official action that was biased or inappropriate with respect to the Trump campaign.

Fake news, folks. But Gowdy’s committee managed to set a new low during their show trial of Strzok:

This is where we are: The American right have become Trumpers. The head Trumper is free to say and do whatever he likes, and so are his lackeys in Congress.

Today, there is no institutional check on Republicans, except another Republican, Bob Mueller. Ultimately all he can do is provide a report to Congress, which the Trumpers will ignore, regardless of the validity of any accusations it contains. The fate of the nation now hangs on the midterms. And since the electorate failed the country in 2016, we shouldn’t be too hopeful about the odds.

On to cartoons. Strzok tells it like it is:

Trump’s move to remake Supreme Court goes a little too far:

Trump’s new guardian is Judge Kavanaugh:

Trump was poorly received in UK:

Trump took on Germany at the NATO meeting. It wasn’t hard to know why:

Trump’s moving on to his Monday meeting with Putin:

The first Helsinki meeting will be very private:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 16, 2017

Trump just returned from France. French President Macron apparently became the “Trump Whisperer” while escorting His Orangeness around Paris, because nothing terrible happened. Trump returned to the incessant talk about who attended Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russians, what was discussed, and what Trump Sr. knew about it all. OTOH, Mitch McConnell tried to breathe new life into the GOP Health Insurance Plan.

Replacing Obamacare still is looking mean:

 

One insurance option that never made it into the bill:

Putin said he would help Donny find the hackers:

People talk about the uncanny resemblance between Sr. and Jr.:

Baseball’s All-Star break gave the GOP an idea:

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Parsing the “Russia Hacked Our Democracy” Meme

The Daily Escape:

Kangaroos in a vineyard in Barossa Valley Australia, June 2017 – photo by David Gray

People can’t stop talking about the Donny/Vlad meeting in Hamburg, and the idea that Trump’s position regarding the potential Russian involvement in the 2016 election is: “Let’s move on”. Then, we learned that our new Syria strategy is driven by Russia and its plan for a cease fire.

But, Russia is the story of the Trump presidency. We learned over the weekend that Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyers back in June of 2016. But, despite the continued news about meetings with the Russians, appearances don’t make the Trumps guilty. Mueller and his team will examine and understand the full extent of what the Russians did, and what they attempted to do. Only then will we determine if the Russians efforts had any effect.

There are two broad areas of potential Russian involvement to consider:

Interference in the electoral process: Russians attempt to manipulate domestic politics of many countries, including the US. We do the same. How serious is the threat? Political candidates already use a full array of tools and technologies to persuade voters toward specific social and political agendas. This persuasion effort is as old as humanity itself.

Whether tech-centric forms of propaganda, employing social media, fake news and data-mining techniques are effective remains to be proven. America has been engaged in exactly this sort of exercise in foreign lands for a long time, without significant (or lasting) success.

These technologies can only support ideas and feelings that are already out there. So, what was out there? Consider these:

  • Hillary’s emails threatening national security!
  • Dispensing contradictory, or conflicting, information like “Hillary Clinton is very sick”.
  • Using social connections to generate, or modify, beliefs, like “Trump is a successful executive who can fix the government”.

This type of information warfare is a lot like managing a stock portfolio. Hackers write small, diverse news stories and then wait to see what pays off. It is unclear that hackers were the tipping point in the election, and it is far from clear that the Russians were the sole party behind them. We don’t talk about the many countries that tried to influence our elections, including Saudi Arabia, China, Israel, and Ukraine. Is it more acceptable that the Saudi’s did it the “right” way, by donating massive amounts to their candidate’s campaign?

It is highly unlikely that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians regarding interference in the 2016 election.

Hacking into political databases: the “Russian hacking” stories are not just that Russians hacked the computers of US political operations including the DNC, but that the Russians have somehow delivered the election to Trump. Thus, the story morphed from “Russians infiltrated DNC computers,” to “Russians hacked our democracy.”

The first is both possible and probable, but the second is just wrong.

Hacking our democracy requires changing or destroying votes for one side in the presidential election, or suppressing voter turnout. Not even the Russians have the resources to pull off that feat. They may have preferred that Trump win, they may have done a few things, and Trump won, but that isn’t “hacked our democracy”.

Wrongo thinks it is probable that “Russian hacking” occurred. It is a serious story, but it needs to be placed in context. Yes, Russia has a political agenda. Yes, they use dirty tricks to influence political outcomes. Yes, this needs to be taken seriously. The problem is that once that is taken out of context, everything is reduced to political talking points. We are asked to choose between two absurd choices: Either Trump is a Russian stooge, or accusations against Trump are a baseless pack of lies.

The likely “truth” is that Russians were doing something, but what they did wasn’t material to the (relatively) close outcome of this election. This has been crowded out of serious discussion.

And who hacked us is still not definitively attributed: there are too many suspects with a motive, means, and opportunity. We can’t yet discount the possibility of domestic operatives (or disgruntled campaign workers) or political plants within campaigns doing mischief.

Sooner or later, we will figure out the definitive attribution for the hacks. And 2018 will bring new tools and techniques.

Who falls short may depend more on message, and less on technology.

Time for a tune. Here is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit doing “Hope the High Road” (leads you home again):

Takeaway Lyric:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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From Russian Hacks to Russian Collusion: Where’s the Beef?

The Daily Escape:

Image of Saturn taken from the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013

Wrongo has read much of the evidence that Russia interfered with the 2016 US Presidential election. He has watched House and Senate committees ask the intelligence community and the Justice Department what is known and not known about the Russian hacking story.

 It is clear that the Russians have extremely capable cyber technicians. They have a pragmatic view about getting what they need strategically, so it is both feasible and possible that they could have been disruptive to our democratic process.

But is there actual evidence that Russia interfered in our elections in 2016? And if they did, is there evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with them? The answer so far is summed up by Caitlin Johnstone:

Russiagate is like a mirage: from a distance it looks like something, but once you move in for a closer look, there’s nothing there. Nothing. Nothing solid, nothing substantial, nothing you can point at and say, “Here it is. This hard evidence justifies saturating the media waves with obsessive 24/7 coverage, escalating tensions with a nuclear superpower, stagnating political discourse in America and fanning the flames of a hysterical, xenophobic McCarthyist feeding frenzy.”

Most of what we know comes from the intelligence assessment by James Clapper when he was the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for Obama; Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Here are the conclusions:

  • We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.
  • Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.
  • We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.
  • Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

From Sic Semper Tyrannis:

The assessment says Russia did three basic things to “influence” the Presidential election. First, the NSA, CIA and, to a lesser extent, the FBI, believed that the Russians hacked into the DNC and John Podesta emails, then passed that content to WikiLeaks and DC Leaks, who subsequently published the information. Second, the Russians supposedly obtained access to “elements” (undefined) of US state or local electoral boards. Third, Russian media outlets, RT and Sputnik News, put out Kremlin friendly messages.

There is no evidence backing up the claim that the Russian intelligence service hacked the DNC and Podesta that has been presented to the American people. The FBI did not conduct a forensic examination of the computers of either the DNC or of Podesta. The belief that the Russians did it is based on an independent firm, Crowdstrike’s examination of the DNC emails. Moreover, the release of Podesta’s emails had little to no effect on the election, while the Comey on-and-off-and on again investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails were certainly damaging to her electoral chances.

The larger point is that Democrats have convinced themselves that getting rid of Trump justifies throwing pasta (or any other sticky substance) at the wall to see what sticks. And that is what is happening with the “all Russia, all the time” hearings in the House and Senate.

An important subtext to this whole Russian conspiracy theory is the insistence that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin to sabotage Hillary’s campaign.  That is repeated endlessly on the cable channels, and has become an article of faith to many Americans, especially Democrats. But, a few meetings do not create collusion. Possibly the intelligence community has some proof, but it has not been presented in a form that inspires credibility.

About a month ago, the DOJ appointed a Special Counsel to ferret out what is real from what is fake in the allegations about Russiagate, from hacks to collusion.

Let’s hope that he gets to the bottom of the story.

In the meantime, stay focused on the potential damage that Messrs. Trump, McConnell and Ryan are trying to do, from the gutting of Dodd-Frank to passing an Obamacare replacement that hurts many Americans.

Now for a tune. The Beatles’ “Back in the USSR” was released in 1968. It was intended to be a parody of “Back in the USA” by the Beach Boys. The song shocked many at the time for its pro-Soviet message. Years later, Paul McCartney stated he knew very little about the Soviet Union when he wrote the song. Here is McCartney doing the song live in Moscow’s Red Square:

Note Putin vaguely rocking @ 0:14

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 15, 2017

In a week filled with news that forces you to look at it, one thing stands out: The “Dossier” on Donald Trump which purports that the Russians have collected some things that could be used to blackmail our Orange Overlord. There are many things to “get”, in order to understand this story, but let’s focus on the blackmail element.

According to the 35-page Dossier, Russia (supposedly) has blackmail material on Trump but isn’t using it. OTOH, the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community (IC), and certain media players are using it, both by making sure we know that the Dossier exists, and that Trump and Obama were told about it.

The story, which had apparently been around DC since the summer, was retailed to the rest of us this week. Trump’s reaction was typical, blaming the IC, while saying it was more fake news. And it could be just that, no one seems to know.

Then, Trump was warned by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader, saying on MSNBC: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you. So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”

Wow! The president-elect threatened by the Senate Minority Leader, implying that the IC will get back at him if he doesn’t stand down. And there was no shock from Democrats, who have decided that they are the CIA’s best buddies, and that they love, love the rest of the IC.

Yet, when Clinton was being skewered for her emails, Dems protested loudly about the interference by the FBI. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece about the IC inserting itself into the US election, along with the Russians and others. As part of the story, he has this to say about the Democrats:

Did Russia attempt to interfere in the US election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Did the agents of the FBI et al attempt to interfere in the US election? Of course, and Democrats condemned it. Is the national security state today interfering in the outcome of a US election, by trying to destabilize and force its will on the incoming administration? Of course, and Democrats are cheering it.

The Dems are seeing just what they want to see, and that’s the (for now) flesh wound inflicted on Trump by the IC. They are not looking at what’s in plain sight. Which is the many efforts at false news stirring the pot of presidential illegitimacy, by domestic state actors as well as foreign.

Democrats should not support this; it’s dangerous…for them as well as for America. More about this next week.

The IC is far from happy with the Donald:

The GOP has started on their Repeal and Replace plan:

The GOP wants to take care of at least one pre-existing condition:

Trump’s cabinet nominees began their Senate hearings this week:

Secretary of State Nominee, Rex Tillerson, has to prove he’s not channeling Exxon:

Obama gave his farewell speech, and headed into the sunset:

 

 

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Monday Wake Up Call – Russian Hacking Edition, January 9, 2017

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” Saul Bellow

Trump had his briefing last Friday by the Intelligence Community (IC), about the Russian hacking. He then released this statement:

I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democratic National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines…

Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America’s safety and security will be my number one priority.

He denied nothing that the IC presented, and agreed with several points. His bottom line, that the hacking did not affect the outcome of the election, is important: Trump is all about meme creation and meme destruction. His goal is to prevent the “Russians elected Trump” meme from becoming the next birther movement. If his tweets stay on message, he’ll get by this moment.

For what it is worth, hacking isn’t noteworthy; it’s been going on for years, by the Russians, the Chinese, the US and just about everyone else. There is way more hacking now, since most management systems are online, and few corporations are willing to invest enough to insure real protection from it.

OTOH, disinformation is a big deal. Social media makes Russia potentially a potent force in opinion control in the US and Europe. Hacked information can now be fed into the disinformation machine to great effect. We ignore Russia’s ability to influence US public opinion at our own risk.

Trump’s reaction to the IC briefing is comforting, since there was no histrionics or name calling. He said in this tweet that he will continue to push for a good relationship with Russia:

Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only “stupid” people, or fools, would think that it is bad!

This makes him seem reasonable, so he can get on with the work of NOT going to war with Russia over the hack of the DNC.

When you look at the IC Report, it looks like Russian hackers were responsible for the phishing attack against John Podesta. The same accounts were used to hack into the DNC.

The next thing to know is whether it was the Russian hackers who shared this information with WikiLeaks. That appears to be the case, although we are taking it on faith, since the IC hasn’t shown us their work:

US intelligence has identified the go-betweens the Russians used to provide stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to US officials familiar with the classified intelligence report that was presented to President Barack Obama on Thursday.

We may never see more on how they identified them, since it may be a little too sensitive to divulge.

It pains Wrongo to say this, as a lifelong Democrat, but if Trump manages to beat back the neocon/pro-New Cold War crowd and work cooperatively with the Russians, the world will be a safer place.

Hillary would never had gone there as president.

This is perhaps the silver lining to a Trump presidency, possibly avoiding what looked to be a showdown with Russia and potentially, WWIII.

From a domestic policy perspective, however, the odds have increased that we tear this country apart by 2020.

So, today everybody needs a Wake-Up. The hacking didn’t change the election result, instead, we got this outcome as the result of a successful campaign strategy by Trump, and a failed campaign strategy by Clinton.

No music today, instead, we will watch a short clip from the 1983 movie, “War Games”. Matthew Broderick hacks into a Pentagon computer, assisted by his sidekick, Ally Sheedy. He then plays “Global Thermonuclear War” with the computer, except it isn’t a game. Broderick plays the Russians and the computer plays the USA. Ultimately, the world is saved:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 8, 2017

Congress returned, and immediately shot itself in the foot by being against ethics before they were for them. That made no sense, even to Overlord Donald I, so Congress backed down. Then Congress got down to business: They revived a rule allowing them to reduce the pay of individual government workers, which was why they were building lists of pro-climate change bureaucrats. Now, they are working on the process for dismantling Obamacare. Dr. Pence nailed the GOP theme:

The GOP will try to baffle the people by guaranteeing “Universal Access”, to health care. That does not ensure that anyone actually has insurance:

The big story of the week was the Russian hacking. Trump was briefed on Friday. Wrongo is skeptical that it made any difference to the election result. Trump’s public skepticism that Russia was behind it is also troubling:

Don’t worry about Trump releasing any secret stuff. The hacking report is 50 pages long, so he’s not reading it. He’ll watch the declassified stuff on Fox News and tweet what he thinks:

The Inauguration is coming. It might look like this:

(This cartoon is by Marian Kamensky, Slovakia)

Once in office, here is Trump’s foreign policy:

(This is from Tom Janssen, The Netherlands)

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About Trump and Russia

From Emptywheel:

There has been a lot written about Russia intelligence agencies allegedly hacking the DNC server and — by leaking it — attempting to influence the election. Some observers have, based on that assumption, called the hack an act of war.

The good news was that the leak of emails defenestrated the detestable Debbie Downer Shultz, head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). It also exposed the DNC’s tipping of the playing field in favor of Clinton during the Democratic primaries, after much speculation that they were doing exactly that.

There are many claims being made, all serving a narrative that Putin is playing a role in our presidential election, and that he (Putin) prefers to see Trump in the White House. More from Emptywheel: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

I’m not saying the Russians didn’t do this hack, nor am I dismissing the idea that they’d prefer Trump to Hillary. By far the most interesting piece of this is the way those with the documents — both the hackers and Wikileaks — held documents until a really awkward time for some awkward disclosures

It is doubtful that the Russians care in the slightest about Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or the DNC. Perhaps there is another shoe to drop on the Clinton campaign. It is interesting that the Main Stream Media is focused on the hacking, and not the content of the hacked emails and the DNCs lax IT security. Is it possible that we will see a series of ever more damaging releases as the campaign goes on?

A piece of underreported news was that Trump and the Russians have had a cozy business relationship since the 1980s. Josh Marshall at TPM took an in-depth look at the business connections between Donald Trump and Russia. Marshall reports that Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money, some of it from persons close to Putin. Here are a few facts:

  1. Trump’s debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million, according to estimates by Bloomberg. This happened in a year when his liquid assets have also decreased.
  2. There is evidence that some big US banks don’t want to work with him, but Deutsche Bank has lent him $300 million since 2012.
  3. Post-bankruptcy, Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia. WaPo has a good overview which includes this:

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

  1. One example of this is the Trump SoHo development in Manhattan. The project was hit with a series of lawsuits, and emerging out of that litigation was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. As the NYT said: (brackets by the Wronologist)

Mr. Lauria [an FBI informant who worked for Bayrock Group, developer of the Trump SoHo project] brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a strategic partner…

While not all in the Josh Marshall article checks out, there is something to the reasoning that Trump has a “special relationship” with Russia, which bears examination, even if Russia didn’t hack the DNC. The relationship is based on circumstantial, but non-trivial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Russia.

Even if you see no adverse news, Trump’s financial empire is highly leveraged and has a questionable reliance on capital infusions from foreign banks and oligarchs.

Even if you yell, “but, the Clinton Foundation has the same issue”, Trump’s dependence is simply not something that should be ignored. As Mustang Bobby said:

I’m old enough to remember when even a whisper of a connection between a political candidate and a foreign power — to say nothing of the country that makes up what’s left of the former Soviet Union — would be instant political death.

The question, is: Will this gain any traction in the American media, or will Mr. Trump be hailed as a deal-maker who can work with our adversaries?

Will Trump’s neo-conservative supporters who hate Russia think, “Commie sympathizer”?

Don’t hold your breath.

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