The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Blah day

I'm under the weather today, probably owing to the two Messiah performances this weekend and all of Parker's troubles. So even though I'm taking it easy, I still have a queue of things to read:

I will now...nap.

Russia is screwing with everyone

Following up on my post this morning, here is the New Republic's analysis of Russian cyber-warfare tactics and strategy:

Western democracies are uniquely susceptible to this form of attack. The key insight of autocratic governments like Russia’s may be the recognition that democracies have a weakness: They are open societies committed to free speech and expression. That characteristic is and continues to be exploited. What’s more, other countries are already aping these techniques in their own struggles. Russia is the world’s most open cyberwarfare aggressor—but it’s far from the only one. IranIsraelNorth Korea, and the United States, and perhaps other countries, are all active. These conflicts often play out between familiar rivals: Russia and the United States, Iran and Israel, North and South Korea. It may be that information warfare simply reinforces old rivalries. But at the same time, it will likely have a deep and lasting impact on the fabric of the societies that come under attack. When social media and information itself are weaponized, the bonds of trust in society and within institutions are undermined, and the task of assuring information integrity becomes a matter of national security.

The question is how the West can maintain the core values of freedom of speech and the free flow of information while protecting itself from the constant presence of malevolent geopolitical actors. For centuries, Eastern European countries such as Estonia relied on walls, watchtowers, and fortresses to keep out invaders. The United States became the world’s most powerful country in part because it was insulatedfrom foreign threats by vast oceans on two sides. In the internet age, those traditional borders are less effective. To survive in the era of information warfare, the West will have to create new, safer borders capable of withstanding cyberattacks. Blockchain technology, the underlying protocol of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, might, for example, function as a sort of digital fortress protecting the secure exchange of information online. Whatever form these defenses take, democratic countries will have to focus more resources on finding and spreading potent and reliable technologies, whether in partnership with private companies, or in government cyber labs in Estonia or the United States. But we will also have to accept the sobering reality that these attacks, like guerrilla warfare and suicide bombings, aren’t going away. They are the new costs of living in a connected world.

Freedom is expensive. But it's better than any alternative.

Why did Trump meet Putin alone?

The Post's Aaron Blake has three possibilities, which are not mutually exclusive:

1. There is something nefarious going on

If there is something nefarious going on, a private, undisclosed conversation that was reportedly out of earshot of other world leaders would be a great place to do it. And given the Russian government's and Trump's track records, it's not like we're going to get a straight answer on what they talked about.

2. Trump is oblivious to how this might be perceived

I've framed many of Trump's actions under the rubric of Adam Carolla's “Stupid or Liar” theory before. This reason would be the “stupid” part of that equation.

3. Trump is simply addicted to causing controversy and/or sees it as a GOP base play

[A]t this point, Trump and his team have to be wondering: What's the payoff? What is he really getting out of it? Trump's approval rating is the lowest in modern presidential history, the GOP-controlled Congress hasn't passed any signature legislation, his party split on one of his major promises on the health-care bill, and all Trump has to show for it is a mostly intact group of Republican voters who say they still like him.

I'm betting on all three, though #2 may be the root cause.

Europe's worst case scenario

We have a child in the White House. And European leaders are saying they can no longer rely on the United States:

Trump’s speech alone is likely a sufficient explanation. But I suspect there’s an additional element. Most of the major European and NATO leaders had already met Trump in Washington – Merkel, May, Gentiloni, Trudeau and others. But I suspect in meeting as a group, over a more extended period and in a context specifically focused on Europe and NATO there was a further realization that what they are watching from across the Atlantic is no act. Indeed, Trump appears more impulsive and erratic in person than on TV. Rather than growing into the job he’s growing into the role of aggressor.

Another, perhaps more critical realization, is suggested in this Twitter thread by Max Fisher of the Times: That is, it’s not just that Trump is greedy or impulsive or unreliable, indifferent to the North Atlantic alliance but that he is positively against it. He and Vladimir Putin are in a de facto alliance against ‘Europe’ or to put it less geographically, the liberal internationalist state system which has rested on and built out from the United States and Western Europe.

I've imagined the damage that Trump can do to the world, and I am seeing how what I've imagined is coming to pass. I hope Europe is stronger than they have seemed so far.

Mueller appointed special counsel

Surprising everyone in Washington last night, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. The Washington Post sees this as really bad news for the president:

“The risk is that you lose control of your agenda,” added Robert Luskin, a Washington white-collar attorney who represented Karl Rove in the Plame investigation, as well as a pair of Clinton senior officials during Whitewater. “It’s an enormous distraction. It’s an energy suck. As long as the clouds hang over a presidency it becomes much more difficult to get anything else done.”

This is why White House officials and GOP leaders in Congress have so strongly resisted a special counsel until now.

The FiveThirtyEight blog has a balancing view:

Although the simple case is that Mueller’s appointment is not welcome news for Trump — the White House was surprised by the announcement — it does have some plausible benefits for the president, especially in the near term. The Russia investigation had been dogging the Trump administration, and his firing of Comey had turned into a debacle.

Trump can now say there is an independent investigation going on, by someone he did not personally appoint and who is not beholden to his party. And Mueller has very strong credentials. The president and his team, in theory, can turn the focus to governing, while deferring questions about the investigation. And maybe Comey, who appears to have notes of every conversation he has had with the president, will share them with Mueller and not The New York Times.

But:

Mueller’s appointment ensures that the Russia controversy won’t just go away — at least not anytime soon. And he could gravely threaten Trump’s presidency if he finds clear, improper connections between the president’s campaign and Russian officials. There was a reason that Republicans on Capitol Hill and the Trump administration were trying to stop the appointment of a special counsel. Prosecutors with broad authority to investigate can cause major problems. Just ask Bill Clinton.

Greg Sargent simply says "Trump is totally delusional about what’s happening to him right now."

On the other side, Fox News is downplaying the appointment, reporting that Mueller and Comey have had a "long, close relationship." Otherwise they seem more preoccupied with Roger Ailes' death ("and his legacy of free speech"). And I'm not going to look at the far-right reactions just now.

So is this a good development? We'll see.

This fake news is from Donbass, dumbass

Laura Reston at New Republic has a good piece on how the Soviets Russian government is doubling down on its disinformation campaign against Western democracies:

One of the most recent battles in the propaganda war took place on January 4, less than a week after President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election. The Donbass International News Agency, a small wire service in Eastern Ukraine, published a short article online headlined “MASSIVE NATO DEPLOYMENT UNDERWAY.” Some 2,000 American tanks were assembling on the Russian border, the agency reported. The United States was preparing to invade.

The story was a blatant fabrication.

Such tactics were pioneered during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union worked covertly to influence political dialogue in the West. From KGB rezidenturas scattered around the world, a small division called Service A planted false stories in newspapers, spread rumors, and worked to stir up racial tensions. In 1964, a KGB front group helped Joachim Joesten, a former Newsweek reporter, publish a sprawling conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1983, Russian operatives planted a story in a small Indian newspaper claiming that the U.S. government had manufactured the AIDS virus at a military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland—and Soviet wire services then trumpeted the story all over the world. As U.S. officials later explained in a report to Congress, “This allows the Soviets to claim that they are just repeating stories that have appeared in the foreign press.”

The internet has enabled the Kremlin to weaponize such tactics, making propaganda easier to manufacture and quicker to disseminate than any guided missile or act of espionage. Russian operations like the Internet Research Agency have employed hundreds of bloggers to mass-produce disinformation in the form of misleading tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on web sites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fox News. “Since at least 2008,” Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian media expert, observes, “Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of ‘persuasion,’ ‘public diplomacy,’ or even ‘propaganda,’ but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert, and paralyze.”

Meanwhile, our deranged President this morning openly threatened private citizen James Comey on Twitter, which should give everyone pause.