Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trump, the transition and the Russian hacking story

Today's edition of Meet the Press provided yet another proof of how American politics has gone through the looking glass.

Chuck Todd, who I suppose no one has ever mistaken for an intellectual powerhouse, was in hyper-caffeinated code over the Russian hacking issue, was demolished by Reince Priebus. Reince Priebus. That's just sad.

The transition is not off to a good start for the Democrats. Digby Parton recalls Obama’s transition into office in Will the House Freedom Caucus rescue Obamacare (without meaning to) through sheer intransigence? Salon 12/07/2016:

As the inauguration grew closer, Obama gathered bipartisan luminaries from both parties to break bread with him, get to know him a little bit and understand his overall strategy. He spent an evening laying out what he called a “grand bargain,” which was described by one attendee, The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne:

The “grand bargain” they are talking about is a mix and match of boldness and prudence. It involves expansive government where necessary, balanced by tough management, unpopular cuts — and, yes, eventually some tax increases. Everyone, they say, will have to give up something. Only such a balance, they argue, will win broad support for what Obama wants to do, and thus make his reforms “sustainable,” the other magic word — meaning that even Republicans, when they eventually get back to power, will choose not to reverse them.
The pillars of the grand bargain were health care reform, “entitlement reform,” tax reform and limits on carbon emissions.

The White House immediately set up a fiscal responsibility summit and the president told his staff that he expected the “difficult choices” that had to be made about Social Security and Medicare to be made on his watch. He reportedly said, “We’ve kicked this can down the road and now we are at the end of the road.”
Yes, Obama won the Presidency in 2008 with a clear popular vote majority and an Electoral College majority. And he spent his transition ... setting up Bipartisan compromises.

Does anyone see Donald Trump doing that? (Yes, it's a snarky rhetorical question.)

We can hear in this speech from this past Friday the goals for which Trump is laying the groundwork during his transition, presented here by Trump TV Network, which for all we know, may become the authoritative house organ of the Trump Family Business Administration, Full Speech: Donald Trump Rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (12/9/2016) Trump Live Baton Rouge Speech:

They include, among other things:

  • "Protecting the Second Amendment": encouraging domestic small arms proliferation and getting rid of laws that require gun safety and protect against gun violence
  • "Repealing and replacing Obamacare": depriving up to 20 million Americans of decent health insurance
  • "Securing our southern border": a xenophobic political jihad against Latinos, Muslims and immigrants. "We're gonna build the wall."
  • "Bring back our manufacturing jobs": this will mostly consist of press stunts, of which the recent Carrier deal was one
  • Nominate hard right Justices to the Supreme Court: which will, of course, include the federal judiciary at all levels
  • "Bold structural reform to create millions of good paying jobs": financial and business deregulation, weakening of worker safety and labor laws, banning public service workers' unions
  • Massive tax cuts, which will be very heavily weighted toward the "upper brackets," as we used to say in the Reagan years. To the 1% and the 0.1%, in other words. Including lowering the "business" (corporate) tax rate from 35% to 15%.
  • Make it harder for companies to move facilities to other countries, which he directly links to the alleged "open border," a bait-andswitch manuever of which I'm sure we'll see much more: this will in all likelihood not amount to anything substantial of preserving American jobs - to put it generously. But he's establishing a rhetorical equivalence between persecuting immigrants and saving American jobs.
  • Get rid of laws and regulations protecting the environment and addressing climate change
  • "$1 trillion dollars of new investments in America's crumbling infrastructure": this will be largely structured as a giveaway to big business and a way to privatize public services and facilities
  • He complains that the trade deficit is nearly $800 billion per year: for most voters, talk about the trade deficit is pure metaphysics; the media does a terrible job in discussing and explaining it, and lots of people have a political and material interest in people not understanding it; it can be manipulated in all sorts of ways.

There's more, like taking a dig at the non-problem of flag-burning. And demagoguery about the supposed "crime wave" that is underway, the "nightmare of violence." "We've become a drug den." (??!) And after 37:30, he gets in a dig at Time magazine for using "Person of the Year" instead of "Man of the Year."

He's continuing his reality-TV act, talking about how he's going to make deals to keep jobs in America. His talk about how he's jawboning business, as we saw with Carrier and Boeing already, will resonate with a lot of ordinary voters. It's largely a hustle. But he's communicating the ideas that he's fighting for more jobs. And for many people, his verbal appeals will sound more convincing than what we've seen from the Democrats the last couple of decades.

His riff on the Boeing issue is particularly notable in this speech, which starts just after 15:20:

But we're shooting up, we're like a rocket ship, right?

Maybe because I don't like $4.2 billion aircraft. Somebody said, "How much is that gonna cost?" "$4.2 billion." I said, "$4.2 billion?!" I think we'll do it for a little bit less, don't you think? Like, maybe billions less, okay? But yeah, we're going very rapidly up.

He then plugs his Carrier deal and his threat to punish companies that move jobs to other countries with a "very, very substantial tariff or tax to pay." And he returns to military procurement just after 17:40:

On our military, we will rebuild our badly depleted military and ensure that our service members will have equipment and training, technology and resources, everything they need to get the job done. ...

[after talking about the "voter fraud" hype that Republicans use to justify segregationist voter suppression, at just after 29:00, he says:]

But I'm going to impose a five-year ban on Executive Branch officials becoming lobbyists. And a lifetime ban on officials becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.

And I thought, you know, when I got involved in this Boeing situation - and I have great respect for Boeing, by the way, tremendous respect - but I said to myself, you know, the people that spend all this money, you know, and when you're talking about three and four billions dollars for an aeroplane [he pronounces it that way], which is, you know, who knows, but when you're talking about that kind of money, I said, you know, let me ask you this, who gives these orders out? Now, there are people, procurement people. Now some of these people then go to work for these companies. I think I'm going to, and I'm gonna have to check this out, they're not gonna like me to say this, but I think I'm going to impose a ban that anybody that gives out these massive military contracts should never, ever be allowed to work, ever, I don't mean in five years or 10 years, should never be allowed to work for those companies that make the equipment.

I mean, they're giving out, you know, there's F-35 bomber - or fighter - that's totally, totally like uncontrollably over budget, and the people who give out those contracts and the people who have to approve the big change orders, the extras, as we say in the real estate business - I mean, when you're good, you don't build with these extras - but these massive numbers, where they're doubled and tripled, I think anybody that gives out these big contracts should never, ever during their lifetime be allowed to work for a defense company, for a company that makes that product, I don't know, it makes sense to me.

Because I'm sure it's never happened, I'm sure it's never, ever happened in the history of our country, but I can see somebody approving a deal that they shouldn't approve and then getting, maybe prior to that approval, right? - [pointing] look, he's sticking his hand, this guy's a great businessman - he's saying, "Absolutely." Right? Hunderd percent. They're saying, hey, we'd love you to work for the company. By the way, let's finish up this order. We want you to work for the company after you're finished, uh, like how 'bout next year, how 'bout next month? Let's get this finished. And then all of a sudden, you get stuck with a horrible contract and these people go off, even if it's two years or five years, I don't think they should ever be allowed to work for these companies. And if they take the job and they know that, it's there. But I bet you would see a big, big difference because the, the purchasing in this country is totally out of control. For everything, not only for military, for everything.

He delivers this in the kind of arrogant, swaggering tone that CEO Hugh McCall used to use in addressing internal Bank of America audiences.

But he does make pitches that resonate with a non-trivial number of voters that the Democrats could and should be winning, of which the above is a prime example. There are other smaller example from that speech:

"Folks, you're not forgotten any more, believe me. Nobody's forgotten. ... The forgotten man and the forgotten women are not forgotten any more." (It sounds like he almost said "their forgotten women.")
"We will put our people back to work in the process, our people. ... And We're going to rebuild our country with American hands and by American workers, okay?"
"We're gonna get people off welfare and they're gonna wanna work." (So much for Bill Clinton having ended "welfare as we know it." The Republicans have just kept right on complaining about "welfare," which of course is RepublicanSpeak for "lazy black people.")
"My Administration will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American. Because from now on, it's going to be America First, America First."
"I love trade. And I love free trade. But right now we have foolish trade. We have, okay, stoopid trade, stoopid trade, stoopid. It's dumb. It's a chronic drag on growth and a destroyer of jobs and the wealth of our country, and you see what's happening. We are $20 trillion and it's going up rapidly." Presumably with the latter, he's referring to US debt. But he doesn't need to explain it. It's metaphysics to most voters and a positive trigger-phrase for his fans. Like "product dumping," "currency manipulation," etc.
And how is the Democratic Party responding after winning the Presidential election only to see Donald Trump preparing to take office as President? This is the way I would like to see them respond:

For better or worse, the Democratic establishment is going all-in on the Russian hacking story as a way to embarrass the incoming administration. This is just one recent example from a partisan Democratic blogger:

I'm all for treating misconduct around elections seriously. And if the government has actual evidence that Americans were involved in illegal activities involving Russia or anybody else, it should be investigated and prosecuted. I think it's a bad thing that LBJ let Nixon's campaign's conspiring with the South Vietnamese government go uncensored and unprosecuted. I'm also convinced from the circumstantial evidence that Gary Sick and Robert Perry documented about the 1980 Reagan campaign's dealings with Iran on the hostages. I don't believe in "look forward, not backwards" when it comes to things like this.

But I'm very skeptical of what I've seen and heard so far on the Russian hacking story. Not least because of the publicity that the WaPo gave to the PropOrNot blacklist that smeared, among others, Robert Perry's antiwar Consortium News website as Russian sockpuppets. There is no shortage of people who are interested in promoting anti-Russian themes for reasons that have nothing to do with protecting the sanctity of American elections.

In addition, as a way to embarrass the incoming Trump Family Business Administration, I'm not sure how well it will work. Which brings me back to Reince Priebus sounding credible on Meet the Press today. I had never imagined that someone could make Reince Priebus sound credible on anything.

I haven't seen much in the public discussion of this about what the implications would be if the US government would publicly and specifically claim that Russia had made cyberattacks like the ones being discussed in light of the status that the Obama Administration has given cyberattacks in what the United States would consider "acts of war." (See: Reuven Cohen, The White House and Pentagon Deem Cyber-Attacks "An Act of War" Forbes 06/05/2012)

If such attacks are specifically and publicly acknowledged by the US government, we would need to either respond as though to some other serious act of war or "back down" from the Obama Administration's position. Joe Biden has already said publicly that the US intended to respond to these attacks with a retaliatory cyber attack that he hoped the US public would never find out about, which doesn't suggest that the Administration is intending to show maximum transparency on this. And a big part of the case, as I understand it, relies on the assumption that not only did the Russian government do the DNC hacks but that Wikileaks was basically doing the bidding of Putin's government in the way the leaks were done. And maybe that's true. But I'm just not convinced from what I've seen in the public record. Especially not after the Iraq War and aluminum tubes and yellowcake from Niger and the plywood drones of death.

Then there's this, from ur-Realist Stephen Walt:

That doesn't mean we should treat Russian election hacking as trivial. And I'm sure that's not what Walt means. But it does mean that the Obama Administration and the corporate press aren't necessarily providing us the full context of what's being going on over this issue.

Some recent entries in this Russian hacking story:

Michael McFauil, Let’s get the facts right on foreign involvement in our elections Washington Post [owned by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, which has a $600 million business contract with the CIA] 12/10/2016

David Nakamura and Greg Miller, Trump, CIA on collision course over Russia’s role in U.S. election Washington Post [owned by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, which has a $600 million business contract with the CIA] 12/10/2016

David Sanger, Trump, Mocking Claim That Russia Hacked Election, at Odds with G.O.P. New York Times 12/10/2016

Marcy Wheeler, who is an independent analyst who's being covering intelligence issues for a decade, writes in some detail about the state of the publicly available information in The Evidence to Prove the Russian Hack Emptywheel 12/10/2016:

As I see it, intelligence on all the following are necessary to substantiate some of the claims about Russia tampering in this year’s election.

  1. FSB-related hackers hacked the DNC
  2. GRU-related hackers hacked the DNC
  3. Russian state actors hacked John Podesta’s emails
  4. Russian state actors hacked related targets, including Colin Powell and some Republican sites
  5. Russian state actors hacked the RNC
  6. Russian state actors released information from DNC and DCCC via Guccifer 2
  7. Russian state actors released information via DC Leaks
  8. Russian state actors or someone acting on its behest passed information to Wikileaks
  9. The motive explaining why Wikileaks released the DNC and Podesta emails
  10. Russian state actors probed voter registration databases
  11. Russian state actors used bots and fake stories to make information more damaging and magnify its effects
  12. The level at which all Russian state actors’ actions were directed and approved
  13. The motive behind the actions of Russian state actors
  14. The degree to which Russia’s efforts were successful and/or primary in leading to Hillary’s defeat

I explain all of these in more detail below. For what it’s worth, I think there was strong publicly available information to prove 3, 4, 7, 11. I think there is weaker though still substantial information to support 2. It has always been the case that the evidence is weakest at point 6 and 8.

At a minimum, to blame Russia for tampering with the election, you need high degree of confidence that GRU hacked the DNC (item 2), and shared those documents via some means with Wikileaks (item 8). What is new about Friday’s story is that, after months of not knowing how the hacked documents got from Russian hackers to Wikileaks, CIA now appears to know that people close to the Russian government transferred the documents (item 8). In addition, CIA now appears confident that all this happened to help Trump win the presidency (item 13).

No comments: