07 July 2017

Leftist Thought Means Intellectual Suicide

When Donald Trump speaks, leftist "thinkers" wet themselves. That is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from leftist commentators' overwrought reactions to President Trump's speech in Warsaw, Poland, on 6 July 2017.

Leading the lunatic charge is Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic:
The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian (preferably Protestant or Catholic) and largely white.
Following close on his heels is Jeet Heer bloviating in The New Republic:
Here, Trump is defining the West not based on ideals like democracy and liberty, but atavistic loyalties to territory and shared kinship. 
Not to be left out, the reliably pretentious Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post concluded:
...President Trump's understanding of history [is] as a zero-sum clash of civilizations in which "the West" can triumph by imposing its will.
This "intellectual" nonsense exposes the fundamental illiteracy and ignorance of the left.

To begin with, the entire construct of "race" is a fiction. One only need look at just a handful of human horrors over time--Rwanda, Culloden, Drogheda, Srebrenica--to know that the human capacity to hate is not bounded by mere skin color. 
There is but one race, and that is the human race. There is none other.
Further, what fosters and fuels human divisions are the same building blocks that form our various communities--tradition, custom, and culture. Ideals such as democracy and liberty are elemental to a full understanding of "the West", but they exist only in the communities we form in adherence to and appreciation of those ideals. Communities by dint of sheer physical reality are invariably defined both by territory and shared kinship (which is itself an anodyne term for what sensible people call "family"). Defending the West geographically is not an atavistic loyalty to some animalistic urge, but is the practical reality of preserving and promoting the ideals we hold most dear.
There are other communities in the world--and Trump does not hesitate to call out those he quite reasonably identifies as adversaries of the community of nations known as "the West", principally Islam ("radical Islam", more precisely, although the extent to which the fundamentalist Islamic creeds of ISIS and Al Qaeda are "radical" is debatable at best). Islam is many things--false religious ideology, extremist political ideology, encapsulation of Arab and Bedouin traditions and customs--but "race" is most assuredly not one of them.
The statist authoritarian nations who reject democratic governance and the rule of law are another community that attracts Trump's wrath. Yet these also are neither religions nor races, but real places, inhabited by real people, with whom we must contend if we wish our community of nations to endure.
Messrs Beinart, Heer, and Robinson are using terms they clearly do not understand to comment on concepts they clearly do not comprehend.
Donald Trump offered up a stirring defense of Western civilization. He champions the notion that our culture, our history, our customs and our values are worth preserving. He enthusiastically argues that our culture, history, customs and values warrant not just robust apology but stirring advocacy. He notes the many real successes and achievements within our culture and our history--achievements of technology, of law, of basic notions of justice and human worth--and reminds one and all that these are not just good things, but great things. 
The uncontestable historical reality of Western culture is the Internet, the empowerment of women, the emancipation of slaves and the proposition that all men are created equal. Democracy exists because Western nations have endured, and freedom has expanded because Western ideals have taken root in realms far beyond the cradles of Western civilization.
The uncontestable historical reality of Islam is hundreds of millions of dead, the subjugation of women, the promotion of slavery, and the presupposition that only the select few deserve all that society offers. The uncontestable historical reality of statist authoritarianism--of Communism, of Fascism, and of Socialism--is likewise violence, death, destruction, and human degradation. 
The uncontestable present reality is that the left rejects the successes of Western culture and embraces the ideologies--and communities--that oppose Western culture.
Messrs Beinart, Heer, and Robinson, in their idiocy, encapsulate why leftist thought invariably fails: despite being a product of Western thought, it is implacably opposed to Western thought. Leftist thought opposes the very culture, history, customs and values that created it. Invariably, leftist thought espouses intellectual suicide.
The tragedy of the leftist "intellectual" is that to be leftist is to concede the debate before it even begins.

21 May 2017

WARNING: Special Counsel Investigations Have A Long Tradition Of Failure.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller
When former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to pursue the investigation of alleged ties between Donald Trump's Presidential campaign staff and the Russian government, Democrats were elated. The headline in Politico summed the liberal sentiment succinctly: "Trump’s Worst Nightmare Comes True". In the Democrat universe, Robert Mueller is the Beowulf come to slay the Trumpian Grendel, something the Democrats (Geats) under Chuck Schumer (Hrothgar) are too weak and timid to do themselves.

Just as Beowulf is great epic poetry, the Democrat view of "Russiagate" is great political drama--at least to the Democrats.  Alas for the poor Democrats, the history of Special Counsels and the actual facts of Russiagate tells a much different--and much less gripping--tale.

Invariably, all Special Counsels are compared to the archetypes of the office, Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, the attorneys who ran the Watergate investigations that toppled President Richard Nixon in 1974. Arguably, all Special Counsels have visions (or delusions) of grandeur whereby they achieve results as monumental and historic as Cox and Jaworski.  Unfortunately, for both Special Counsel and Democrat in Congress alike, Special Counsels since Watergate have spent much, proved little, and accomplished less.

Moreover, Cox and Jaworski had perhaps the easiest mandate to fulfill, as that scandal's timeline of events makes clear.

Watergate began with a burglary--a mundane crime but indisputably a crime--and also an arrest, as the "Plumbers" were caught in the middle of the break-in. That Nixon specifically and explicitly attempted to thwart investigation into this burglary was the malfeasance that ultimately drove him from office. In Watergate, the answer to the imperative first question for all Special Counsel was simple and straightforward: burglary and obstruction of justice.

Watergate was made an even easier task for Cox and Jaworski due to the Plumbers themselves having been indicted (in September, 1972) and convicted (in January, 1973) for the break-in. Crimes were not merely alleged, but positively proven.

The scope of the Watergate scandal was also amply demonstrated prior to the Cox' initial appointment. L. Patrick Gray, who succeeded J. Edgar Hoover as FBI Director in 1972 and was confirmed in 1973, testified during his confirmation hearings that White House Counsel John Dean has "probably lied" to FBI investigators. Gray also was forced to resign in April of 1973 after acknowledging that he had destroyed files (arguably evidence) from Plumber operative E. Howard Hunt's safe.

All of these events occurred before Archibald Cox' appointment as Special Prosecutor on May 19, 1973. The shape and even scope of the scandal were thus well defined long before his investigation could even begin.

In the Iran-Contra scandal of Ronald Reagan's second term, the first reporting of the events occurred in November of 1986, While the public recitation of the matter was both salacious and scandalous--with United States selling arms to the same Iranian government that had seized the American embassy in Tehran not ten years prior, the proceeds of which were used to lend aid to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels despite a Congressional ban on such aid--the outlines of any actual criminal offense were at best imprecise and at worst nonexistent. In addition, the Democrats wasted no time in appointing a Special Counsel, with Lawrence Walsh receiving his mandate in December of 1986, while the essential events themselves were still being learned.

It comes as no real surprise that Lawrence Walsh secured no convictions on the substantive issues of Iran-Contra, with most of the guilty pleas being for either perjury or withholding information from his investigation.  The biggest convictions in that scandal were almost all overturned on appeal.

As murky and confusing as Iran-Contra was, Whitewater was murkier still. While the core of the scandal read as run-of-the-mill real-estate, bank, and wire fraud, which was caught up in the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s, the extent of President Bill Clinton's involvement was and is a matter of debate and conjecture.  A report on Whitewater and the related failure of Madison Guaranty Saving and Loan prepared for the Resolution Trust Corporation described Bill Clinton as a "passive" investor, which is to say the Clinton's invested money but were not involved in the decision-making; as they lost money on the venture, this would make them more victim than perpetrator.  Yet the swirl of questions and confusion surrounding the matter did not stop Congress for pushing for an independent counsel even as Bill Clinton was taking office--Robert Fiske was appointed by Clinton Attorney General in 1993, and was replaced by Ken Starr shortly afterward to remove any possible conflict of interest taint.

The failed real-estate venture itself produced a number of convictions, including that of then-governor of Arkansas Jim Guy Tucker, Madison Guaranty owner Jim McDougal and his wife Susan. However, the major accomplishments of the Ken Starr investigation were securing a guilty plea from Webster Hubbell, one-time Associate Attorney General and law partner of Hillary Clinton, for overbilling clients--a matter wholly unrelated to Whitewater itself--and the impeachment show trial of President Bill Clinton for his perjured testimony in relation to his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The impeachment proceedings were demonstrably more damaging to Republicans than to either the Democrats or Bill Clinton, being seen publicly as petty and vindictive.

The Valerie Plame Affair, a presumed national security brouhaha arising from the potentially unlawful disclosure of the name of a CIA employee, is perhaps the murkiest and most confusing scandal for which special counsel was named. To this day, it is by no means certain that a criminal act even occurred; the only conviction secured by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was that of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, for perjury committed during Fitzgerald's investigation.

Russiagate shares more in common with the Plame Affair than it does Watergate. When a proud Hillary Clinton supporter such as noted law professor Alan Dershowitz states repeatedly that any interaction between Donald Trump and Russia was not criminal, when former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Senator Dianne Feinstein state publicly there is "no evidence" of collusion between President Trump and the Russian government to win the election, the obvious question must be asked: "where is the crime?" So far, as Dershowitz reminds us, there is no provable crime even alleged, much less proven.

A review of these histories of Special Counsel investigation also highlights their epic failure to bring substantive prosecutions, or even to meaningfully impair a Presidency. Watergate did end in Richard Nixon's resignation, but Iran-Contra did not stop Ronald Reagan from meeting with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavic, nor from completing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1987. Iran-Contra did not stop President George H. W. Bush from bringing the Cold War to an end with a strategic alliance with Russia in 1991 (coming on the heels of the dissolution of the Soviet Union), nor from assembling the multi-national coalition to push Iraq out of Kuwait in Desert Storm. Whitewater did not prevent President Bill Clinton from signing the North American Free Trade Agreement, his signature Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994, nor the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The Plame Affair did not prevent President George W. Bush from completing a transition to representative government in Iraq, nor from executing the "surge" strategy in 2007 under General Petraeus.

Far from imperiling or even damaging a Presidential term of office, the existence of a Special Counsel is a curious harbinger of Presidential success.  Every President between 1981 and 2009 endured a special counsel investigation; each had significant policy successes during and after the Special Counsel's investigation. Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush won reelection despite the presence of a Special Counsel. Contrast that with the tenure of Barack Obama, whose signature domestic achievement, "Obamacare", is already being undone by the GOP Congress even as it collapses in a death spiral of ever increasingly unaffordable insurance premiums and deductibles, and whose signature foreign policy achievements--the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the controversial nuclear arms deal with Iran--seem to have exacerbated Middle East tensions rather than ameliorated them.

It is always possible that Robert Mueller will unearth some damning bit of evidence that will topple President Trump. It is always possible that he will at last prove the Trump-Russia "collusion" narrative that Democrats continue to push despite a complete lack of evidence. It is far more likely, however, that Robert Mueller will either exonerate Donald Trump completely, or at worse indict a few people close to him for perjury, withholding information, and other arbitrary offenses arising more from the investigation itself than the underlying scandal.

Special Counsel do a lot of investigating, a lot of chasing after suspects, a lot of issuing of subpoenas. What they do not do a lot of is winning. That is the history of Special Counsel in this country.

11 May 2017

The Great Russian Hacking Hoax

How much new information have we learned since the Intelligence Community Assessment regarding Russian "interference" in the 2016 elections was published at the beginning of January?


How much new detail on President Donald Trump's "improper contacts" with Russia during the election and since have we received?


In the ten months since revelation of the DNC email leaks (or "hacks", depending on whom you believe), how much actual evidence has been developed either about Russia's involvement in that event, Donald Trump's supposed collusion with Russia surrounding that event, or any other form of "collusion" between Donald Trump or his associates and Russia?


The great lie permeating the Fake News Media is that there is any evidence of any actionable improper conduct by Russia in the 2016 election. There is none--none whatsoever.

The entire "Russia Hacking" narrative is in fact the Great Russian Hacking Hoax.

First, read once more the ICA from January: when one strips away the formal verbiage and government doublespeak, the ICA is still nothing more than opinion. It is no more than that. It has no empirical data, it cites neither witnesses nor provides forensic detail of the presumed DNC server hack. It provides no external citation of any report, document, or statement by any Russian official. Far from being a damning indictment of Russian malfeasance, it is merely unsupported assertions by Intelligence Community officials that Russia is the ultimate bad actor behind everything that went "wrong" with the 2016 elections. It is their opinion, and only their opnion, that we should blame Russia for everything.

Opinions are not evidence. Opinions are not facts. Unless they are at the conclusion of a valid chain of logical reasoning based on facts and objective evidence, opinions cannot be taken as any form of conclusion at all.

As of this date, the Intelligence Community Assessment is the sum total of "evidence" of "Russian Hacking".

This is fundamentally confirmed by leaders of that very same Intelligence Community. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on national television in March that there was "no evidence" of any collusion between Donald Trump's election campaign and Russia. Former Acting CIA Director Mike Morrell said substantially the same thing
"On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.... There's no little campfire, there's no little candle, there's no spark. And there's a lot of people looking for it."
Senator Dianne Feinstein bluntly conceded to CNN's Wolf Blitzer that, following a classified CIA briefing, there was no evidence of any collusion between Trump and Russia. 

Take a moment to view the links I have provided. They are links to televised statements made by specific individuals, attesting to their knowledge--or, more precisely, their lack of knowledge--of any substantive facts indicating Trump colluded with the Russian government to win the election. Moreover, these statements are made not by Trump allies, but by Trump adversaries. Senator Feinstein is certainly no friend of Donald Trump, and Mike Morrell has been a Trump critic since the beginning of Trump's election campaign. Whatever bias they might have in this matter tilts away from Trump, not towards him.

These statements are facts. These facts advance but one hypothesis, lead to but one conclusion: there is no evidence that Donald Trump "colluded" with Russia during the election. Logic admits of no other conclusion.

Did Russia "interfere" with the election on its own, without Donald Trump? Certainly that is possible as an hypothetical. However, what data can be summoned to support that contention?  None.

Even the ICA acknowledges that no Russian malfeasance interfered with voting systems or resulted in any fraudulent or spoiled ballots. No Russian actor stuffed ballot boxes on behalf of either President Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Did the Russian government "hack" the DNC server? Again, as an hypothetical that is possible, but what evidence is there for that assertion? There is but one item submitted in that regard: a forensic analysis by cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike in the aftermath of the DNC email leaks. However, Crowdstrike's analysis is subject to challenge. In an unrelated forensic report, Crowdstrike attributed the same Russian hacking group, known only as "Fancy Bear", to a cyberattack that resulted in devastating losses of Ukranian field artillery in that country's ongoing civil war--losses that the Ukranian government as well as others say never even happened. Simply put, Crowdstrike's assessment of "Fancy Bear" hacking activities is provably wrong in at least one instance completely separate from anything related to the 2016 election cycle. The FBI never conducted its own forensic examination of the DNC systems, because the DNC declined to grant them access. Thus FBI assessments of the hack are little more than restatements of the Crowdstrike analysis, and if Crowdstrike is wrong, the FBI is also wrong. With no independent forensic examination, either by the FBI or another cybersecurity firm, the Crowdstrike report stands uncorroborated--and thus is not conclusive proof of anything.

Again, review the links. The Crowdstrike analysis exists, and makes the statements that it makes. The agencies and officials refuting Crowdstrike's analysis regarding Ukrainian field artillery made the statements they made. The refusal of the DNC to allow the FBI to conduct an independent forensic investigation is a matter of public record.

Again, these statements are facts. Again, these facts advance but one hypothesis, lead to but one conclusion: there is no evidence that Russian hacking to influence the election even occurred. Again, logic admits of no other conclusion.

I shall be clear on one point: Absence of proof is not proof of absence, and lack of evidence of guilt is never proof of innocence. We cannot say--and I do not say--that Russia categorically did not hack the DNC server, nor do I say that Russia categorically did not engage in activities to influence the election. We can say, we should say, and I do say, that there is absolutely no evidence to support the contention that Russia did either of these things, with or without the aid or cooperation of President Trump.

Without evidence, how to properly apprehend the hysteria in the Fake News Media regarding Trump and Russia? Call it what it provably is: The Great Russian Hacking Hoax.

07 January 2017

The ICA Report Is Fake News

The words "high confidence" abound in the Intelligence Community Assessment on purported Russian attempts to influence American electoral politics. Unfortunately for the Intelligence Community, their "highly confident" assessment is demonstrably and provably false. Worse, their own assessment is the best evidence demonstrating their commitment to the Fake News paradigm.

The summary assessment at the start of the report reads as follows:
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. We have high confidence in these judgments.
These simple declarative sentences certainly appear eminently reasonable. No one can credibly deny that the activities ascribed to Vladimir Putin are measures he is quite capable of undertaking, and the thuggish, authoritarian nature of his regime makes the possibility he did undertake them itself highly credible. However, the simplicity of the grammar creates the core problem with the assessment: they are merely an arbitrary conjoining and conflation of disparate actions and motives to fit a predefined narrative. 

Let us unpack these sentences and consider them separately:
  • We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.

    This is the most defensible claim, as it is merely a claim of fact. Putin either did or did not issue such orders. While the report does not contain any absolute and conclusive evidence of such orders, it does make a circumstantial case that at the least does not contradict this assertion.
  • Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. 

    This is a tad more problematic than the first assertion. Circumstantial evidence can make a highly credible case as to actions taken or not taken, but it is far less likely to suffice for imputing motive. Note that a motivation of denigrating Hillary Clinton is demonstrably distinct from a consequence of denigrating Hillary Clinton.

    It is not unreasonable to conclude the consequence of a particular act is the desired consequence, and in this fashion we often impute motive to actions in virtually every circumstance. However, if we restate this sentence by focusing on presumed impacts of the actions averred in the previous sentence, immediately we run into a significant problem of logic: "The impact of Russia's influence campaign was to undermine public faith in the US democratic process...."

    That is an extraordinary statement, and bears extraordinary scrutiny. How has the US democratic process been undermined, or America's faith in that process? What demonstrable damage has been done? These are the necessary questions one must make regarding such a statement, and at least within the ICA, the answers are conspicuous solely by their absence. Further, the actions and activities ascribed to Putin simply lack the capacity to undermine any democratic process, let alone the distributed state-by-state system America uses to elect its President.
  • We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

    Again, the ICA imputes motive from presumed consequence. While far from impossible (and in fact relatively probable, given various pro-Trump statements made by Putin since the election), the popular vote outcomes among the several states were sufficiently close as to render the clarity of a preference for any candidate far more mythical than real.
Thus, even before any examination of the supporting discussion within the report, we are presented with significant challenges to the credibility of the report as a whole. Worse, the imputation of motive is in every context a quintessentially political position: Political figures of all leanings regularly demonize and denigrate their opponents by questioning if not outright attacking their motives; in politics, that is ever the order of things.

The report's segue into supporting discussion does not improve its credibility: 
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him
Again, we are faced with the innately political imputation of motive, coupled with another extraordinary statement which begs extraordinary questions: How could Putin--or indeed anyone--discredit Hillary Clinton? Did the Russians make false statements about her? Were scurrilous and demonstrably false accusations leveled against her?

We are also faced with a far more serious problem of logic and understanding. The ICA is saying that Putin and the Russians injected into the public discourse a variety of statements about Hillary Clinton, arguably of an unfavorable nature and specifically intended to portray her in an unflattering light. Yet even if we assume for the moment the absolute veracity of this assertion, in what way does this represent an undermining of the US democratic process? The mainstream media injects statements favorable and unfavorable into the public discourse--indeed, that is their explicit role in American electoral politics. Further, the American political system is predicated on there being a wide ranging articulation and contemplation of such statement; such public dialog is part and parcel of the rights categorically defended in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
If we take the ICA at face value, we are presented with a narrative of Putin speaking out and in essence making a case arguably for Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton as best suited to be the 45th President of the United States. Putin, far from undermining US democratic process, is in fact participating in it. Putin has his opinions as to whom he would rather see in the Oval Office, as do all foreign leaders; one can argue with conviction that the opinions of foreign leaders should be of no consequence and given no weight in deciding how we will vote on election day, but that argument quite properly focuses on what the prudent response should be to such opinions. To say that we should not heed the opinions of foreign leaders is a legitimate position to take, and it is wildly different from saying that foreign leaders should not have (or express) their opinions--that would simply be an unrealistic position to take.

We have an additional problem arising from this aspect of the ICA: How does a foreign leader expressing his or her opinion on our electoral politics delegitimize those politics? How does Putin having a presumed preference for Donald Trump invalidate the votes of tens of millions of Americans for Donald Trump? A moment's reflection is all that is needed to realize that Putin's opinions have no bearing on the legitimacy of our elections, nor on our voting choices. The only thing that would question the legitimacy of an election is if vote totals were altered to present a false result--and the ICA states that did not happen:
DHS assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying. 
By the logic of the ICA itself, the Russians were not compromising either ballots or votes by their actions. And thus the ICA has immediately disproven its own central thesis, that Putin and the Russians sought to undermine Americans' faith in American democratic process. Whatever else the Russians may have done or desired to do, that clearly was not one of the goals and objectives. 

The remainder of the ICA supporting discussion details Russian propaganda efforts. Examples cited include Russian-owned media outlets RT and Sputnik producing and promoting pro-Trump content, the celebratory reception Trump's election received in the Kremlin, and the amplifying of Trump campaign themes via Russian media. Yet such activities are not only legal and permissible, but preferable and desirable in our political system. Media outlets such as RT and Sputnik do not lose their right to broadcast their messages to the the American public simply because they are not native to these shores--certainly not when the Islamist/ISIS-friendly Al Jazeera America cable news channel is also widely available in the United States. Propaganda may be distasteful, but it is hardly undemocratic--merely because the journalism is Russian Red as opposed to William Randolph Hearst Yellow is a bad reason to silence that voice.

Even the key assertion of the ICA that the Russian propaganda efforts utilize stolen ("hacked") data an personal information carries significant problems. The mere fact that information was obtained illegally is not itself a valid bar to its publication. This was the conclusion of the US Supreme Court in Bartnicki v. Vopper (532 U.S. 514) in 2001. It was the defense of the New York Times both in publishing the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s (stolen by Daniel Ellsburg) and again in 2016 in publishing portions of Donald Trump's tax returns (also allegedly stolen, by persons as yet unnamed). While the ICA includes a throwaway statement of Russian intelligence operatives publishing altered or false personal information, as regards the 2016 election cycle itself the ICA concludes no such tampering took place:
We assess with high confidence that the GRU relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries
Stealing personal data and hacking computer systems are unquestionably crimes, and unquestionably deserve to be investigated and guilty parties punished. Yet as regards public discourse, the American tradition is essentially a rather blunt and uncompromising stance that all information is fair game. The ICA offers no evidence of demonstrably false factual statements being released via WikiLeaks or by any other purportedly Russian-affiliated actor. The DNC email system was hacked, John Podesta's Gmail password was surreptitiously and illegally retrieved, yet the materials obtained by these illegal activities are, per the assessment of the ICA, real and authentic correspondence of the Democratic National Committee and persons affiliated with Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign.  While it is criminal and unacceptable to steal such information, it is neither criminal nor unacceptable within American political traditions to publish such information.

Again, even if one assumes for the sake of argument the veracity of the ICA, the assertions made and the related defenses simply do not amount to anything resembling an assault on US democratic process; rather, they amount to Putin desiring to participate in that process. The ICA makes a detailed and substantive case regarding Russia's ambitions of having influence within American political processes--but aside from isolated instances of cybercrime, it offers up neither allegation nor substance of Russia and Russian-owned media doing anything that is contrary to our system of electoral politics, or even outside our laws.

For all of its substance and seeming detail, the ICA presents a false narrative and a red herring argument. It implies, but does not answer, one overarching question: How can Vladimir Putin undermine America by acting as an ordinary American?

06 January 2017

REALITY CHECK: Russia Voiced Her Opinion About Our Politics. No More. No Less.

Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.
So begins the US Intelligence Community's briefing to President Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump regarding alleged Russian interventions into the 2016 Presidential Election cycle.

For the most part, the reaction to this conclusion should be a colossal and universal "so what?" Russia under Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian borderline fascist dictatorship. Putin's preferred model of governance is about as antithetical to the principles of republican representative democracy as can be had this side of Josef Stalin--but, perversely, outside of certain cyber-intrusions of the Democratic National Committee, the mechanisms he has to "undermine" the "liberal democratic order" are simply the institutions of the American "liberal democratic order." The only way for Putin to influence our democracy is to participate in it.

To appreciate Putin's alleged tactics and the processes he wishes to undermine, we must begin at the core of those processes--the United States Constitution. Of particular note, we must bring to the fore the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In the United States, rights are boundaries which enclose and delimit the powers of government--with the freedoms of the people ranging far and wide beyond. In the United States, the supreme civic virtue is that voices be heard. People may be right or wrong in their ideas, successful or unsuccessful in their exhortations, but what they should never be is silent. The American ideal of public discourse is raucous, noisy, chaotic--and above all, free from restraint.

How is this relevant? Consider the assessed mechanisms by which Putin purportedly sought to influence American elections:
We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks. 
Disclosing information via DCLeaks.com, WikiLeaks, and the mainstream media is itself speech. It is a participation in the public discourse, a voice crying out to be heard. It is presumably a Russian voice, a voice that has little standing in American political discourse, but it is still a voice. Moreover, as a voice it could only be heard because of our "liberal democratic order." Far from undermining that order, Putin's alleged activities demonstrate its elemental and undiminished strength.

We are also reminded the material released was "victim data." Whether obtained by hack or by unauthorized insider, the materials released on DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks were obtained illegally. This much is absolutely certain. Still, history shows our society prefers to hear even criminally informed voices. The Pentagon Papers were initially stolen, as were the snippets of Donald Trump's income tax returns published by the New York Times during the election.

Moreover, as Newsweek rather conveniently rationalized, the laws criminalizing the acquisition and publication of this material are, arguably, a restraint on speech and, as such, not possible under the First Amendment. In defending the New York Times' decision to publish tax information stolen from Donald Trump, Newsweek paid homage to Bartnicki v Vopper (532 U.S. 514), which struck down a federal statute barring the publication of information obtained by illegal means. By the same logic that made it acceptable for the New York Times to publish Donald Trump's illegally obtained tax returns, it it is equally acceptable for DCLeaks and WikiLeaks to publish the illegally obtained email archives of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta.

Despite the hyperventilations of the Obama Administration, the most that can be said of Vladimir Putin's activities during the election cycle is that he arrogated to himself a voice with which to participate in the public debate over whom should be America's 45th President. There are many pejoratives that attach to such an effort--"invasive", "arrogant", "rude" just to name a few--but, ironically, "undemocratic" really is not one of them. If Putin weighing in on American electoral politics is wrong, then it was wrong for Barack Obama to have weighed in on Britain's Brexit referendum. If Putin is wrong, then the US State Department was wrong to have spent $350,000 of taxpayer money in an effort to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015.

People may not like that Putin has sought a voice in American electoral politics, but it is disingenuous if not deceitful to pretend that anyone--even a despotic dictator such as Putin--seeking a voice is antithetical to America's "liberal democratic order," and it is dangerously naive to pretend that the intrusion of such foreign voices into the "liberal democratic order" is not very much the establish political order of things.

Absent the alleged cybercrimes (and we must remember they are "alleged" because conclusive proof of anyone's guilt in the penetrations of the DNC networks is for now an elusive commodity), all Putin has done is express an opinion. In our "liberal democratic order", we prefer that opinions be expressed rather than excluded.

Opinions are not the enemy of democracy, but the foundation of it. If Putin truly seeks to undermine American political processes, he is going to need better tactics than participation in political discourse.