Friday Reads: The Russian Cyber Invasion

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

Two stories have been haunting me and both deal with Russian Attacks on the West. The first is the ongoing murder and poisonings of folks who have crossed Putin. The second is the ongoing Russian cyber attacks. These are widespread to include nearly all aspects of western life. They are manipulating our Social Media Sites, they are hacking our election systems, and they have entered our energy grids.

There are entire books written and being written on these various forms of cyber manipulation and invasion entering that realm between serious concerns, actual impact, and extreme threat. The test case for the many weapons in the Russian Cyber War arsenal was the Ukraine. We’ve learned within the last 24 hours that this could be us. Here is the lead up to a very informative read from last December’s Wired. In our frenetic news feeds where we chase the chaos emanating from an insane man making huge decisions, we oggle porn stars and subpoenas. Whirring in the back is the growing evidence that we’re under attack. We’re under attack in a way that most of us cannot fully grok.

The clocks read zero when the lights went out.

It was a Saturday night last December, and Oleksii Yasinsky was sitting on the couch with his wife and teenage son in the living room of their Kiev apartment. The 40-year-old Ukrainian cybersecurity researcher and his family were an hour into Oliver Stone’s film Snowden when their building abruptly lost power.

“The hackers don’t want us to finish the movie,” Yasinsky’s wife joked. She was referring to an event that had occurred a year earlier, a cyberattack that had cut electricity to nearly a quarter-million Ukrainians two days before Christmas in 2015. Yasinsky, a chief forensic analyst at a Kiev digital security firm, didn’t laugh. He looked over at a portable clock on his desk: The time was 00:00. Precisely midnight.

Yasinsky’s television was plugged into a surge protector with a battery backup, so only the flicker of images onscreen lit the room now. The power strip started beeping plaintively. Yasinsky got up and switched it off to save its charge, leaving the room suddenly silent.

He went to the kitchen, pulled out a handful of candles and lit them. Then he stepped to the kitchen window. The thin, sandy-blond engineer looked out on a view of the city as he’d never seen it before: The entire skyline around his apartment building was dark. Only the gray glow of distant lights reflected off the clouded sky, outlining blackened hulks of modern condos and Soviet high-rises.

Noting the precise time and the date, almost exactly a year since the December 2015 grid attack, Yasinsky felt sure that this was no normal blackout. He thought of the cold outside—close to zero degrees Fahrenheit—the slowly sinking temperatures in thousands of homes, and the countdown until dead water pumps led to frozen pipes.

That’s when another paranoid thought began to work its way through his mind: For the past 14 months, Yasinsky had found himself at the center of an enveloping crisis. A growing roster of Ukrainian companies and government agencies had come to him to analyze a plague of cyberattacks that were hitting them in rapid, remorseless succession. A single group of hackers seemed to be behind all of it. Now he couldn’t suppress the sense that those same phantoms, whose fingerprints he had traced for more than a year, had reached back, out through the internet’s ether, into his home.

The reach into Western and US culture has been ongoing and has only really been noticed the last few years. It’s only now we’re beginning to see the institutions that have been influenced.

The nation’s leading gun rights lobby was the biggest backer of Trump’s presidential campaign, spending $30 million to help propel him to his upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, a strong advocate of gun control laws. But in January, the NRA was drawn into the furor over Russian interference in the election when McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether Russian banker and “lifetime” NRA member Alexander Torshin, who hosted a high-level NRA delegation in Moscow in late 2015, funneled funds to the NRA to help Trump.

It’s illegal for foreign funds to be spent in American elections.

“Whether there was an effort by Russia to create a back channel or assist the Trump campaign through the NRA or gun-rights groups is an open question the committee’s minority has endeavored to answer for the past year,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to McClatchy. “Much work remains to be done concerning that thread of our investigation, including conducting witness interviews and receiving relevant documents from several organizations and individuals.”

Mitchell’s name surfaced after House Republicans announced this week they were ending the panel’s year-old investigation into Russia’s meddling, which had been plagued by months of partisan friction. They issued a 150-page report that concluded there was no “collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Angry Democrats responded by issuing a wide-ranging, 21-page status report on Tuesday laying out areas of inquiry that were short-circuited by the majority’s decision, vowing to pursue them independently.

Mitchell was among more than two dozen people the Democrats said they would like to interview, including two other figures with connections to Torshin and the NRA. The report said Democratic investigators want to know if Mitchell “can shed light on the NRA’s relationship with Alexander Torshin” or other Russians and also want to see financial records from a South Dakota company and a Russian gun rights group..

Neither the FBI, which is working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian meddling in the election, nor the congressional committees have provided details of potentially improper Russian involvement with the NRA.

It seems like it’s been recent but there’s more history than most of us realize. It’s deeper into places than we thought possible. We just haven’t been paying attention because, until now, it hasn’t perceptibly influenced our lives. It’s also complex and difficult to cover in a TV minute.

In the past decade the Russian government has mounted more than a dozen significant cyber attacks against foreign countries, sometimes to help or harm a specific political candidate, sometimes to sow chaos, but always to project Russian power.

Starting in 2007, the Russians attacked former Soviet satellites like Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine, and then branched out to Western nations like the U.S. and Germany. U.S. intelligence officials and cyber experts say a strategy that pairs cyber attacks with on-line propaganda was launched by Russian intelligence a decade ago and has been refined and expanded ever since, with Putin’s blessing. Russia has shut down whole segments of cyber space to punish or threaten countries.

Mike McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, says there is a bottom line to the pattern of hacking.

“For years now, the Kremlin has looked for ways to disrupt democracies, to help the people that they like to come to power and to undermine the credibility of the democratic process,” said McFaul. Russia also seeks to weaken the European Union and NATO.

There’s a 10 year history outlined there. Attacks by Russian hackers on other countries are well documented. One of Putin’s cronies is funding troll farms and a mercenary arm for the Russian strategy. As I read more about this, I truly understand why Paul Manaford would possibly feel–but may not absolutely be–safer in a Federal Prison.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the man widely referred to as “Putin’s chef,” doesn’t actually prepare food. Instead, he cooks up international plots — like Russia’s campaign to use social media to undermine Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and promote Donald Trump’s.

Prigozhin was among the 13 Russian nationals indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in February and is by far the most well-known. His ties to Putin go back to at least 2001: He’s worked on everything from election interference to setting up pro-Putin newspapers to sending Russian mercenaries to Syria to fight on behalf of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

A recent Washington Post report says that he personally approved a Russian mercenary attack on US forces stationed in eastern Syria in early February; US intelligence, per the Post, intercepted a conversation where he promoted the idea.

“Putin’s chef” would be better described as Putin’s fixer: someone who does the Russian leader’s dirty work, while giving Putin plausible deniability if things go wrong.

“Prigozhin has managed to make himself useful on both the [covert and military] sides of Putin’s efforts to reassert Russia on the international stage,” Hannah Thoburn, an expert on Russia at the Hudson Institute, tells me. “[That’s] no small accomplishment for a guy who spent nine years in a Soviet prison and began his business career in restaurants.”

And Prigozhin’s rise, while deeply strange in its details, isn’t just a one-off. It speaks to a fundamental truth about the way the Putin regime operates — not just as a traditional government, but also as a kind of criminal cartel in cahoots with its wealthiest private citizens.

Most of this information has been floating out there in the cyber security world, but it’s pretty shocking to find the results of an actual Russian Troll Farm twitter storm outlined in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The fires of the Sherman Park unrest in Milwaukee had barely burned out in August 2016 before Russian Twitter trolls sought political gain by stoking the flames of racial division.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review found that Russia-linked accounts — including one named in a recent federal indictment — sent more than 30 tweets to spread racial animus, blame Democrats for the chaos and amplify the voices of conservatives like former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. who were commenting on Sherman Park.

These foreign accounts started posting only hours after the unrest, getting more than 5,000 retweets at a time when residents of the neighborhood were trying to clean up and overcome fears of a renewed outbreak. This came three months before the 2016 election in which President Donald Trump was elected, thanks in part to his surprise victory in Wisconsin.

The news was an unwelcome surprise for Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee), who represents Sherman Park and was present the morning after the unrest.

“To think that halfway around the world people are using this tragic series of events for partisan gain … it’s daunting. It’s heartbreaking,” Goyke said.

In its review, the newspaper found that Twitter accounts linked to Russia sought to boost Trump’s chances in Wisconsin and spread fake news to help a primary challenger to U.S. Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville. Their efforts ranged from amplifying a statement by Kenosha native and former White House Chief of staff Reince Priebus to spreading a false claim that U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the findings showed that Trump and Congress need to prevent further Russian meddling, saying it was “beyond belief” that America hadn’t done more.

“These are enemies of the United States who are trying to sow dissension in our country and on the streets of Milwaukee,” Barrett said in a statement.

Trump and allies such as U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) have retorted by saying that President Barack Obama’s administration did relatively little during the 2016 campaign and didn’t seek to impose tough sanctions until December 2016.

This is the latest. The Russian designs on the US Energy Grid is a bit more advanced than a few dudes wandering around a Kansas Nuclear plant perimeter.

The Trump administration on Thursday accused Russian government hackers of carrying out a deliberate, ongoing operation to penetrate vital U.S. industries, including the energy grid — a major ratcheting up of tensions between the two countries over cybersecurity.

It says the hackers penetrated targeted companies to a surprising degree, including copying information that could be used to gain access to the computer systems that control power plants. It’s the kind of access that experts say would have given Moscow the ability to turn off the power if it wanted to.

The alert came eight months after leaked documents revealed that federal authorities had found evidence of foreign hackers breaching computer networks in U.S. power companies, including the operator of the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Kansas.

“Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors … targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors,” according to Thursday’s joint alert, issued by the Homeland Security Department and the FBI.

While the reveal isn’t a surprise to cyber watchers — researchers have been noting such digital espionage for years — it’s rare for the U.S. government to be so blunt about a foreign adversary’s cyber spying. Because the U.S. conducts its own similar online espionage campaigns around the world, intelligence officials have traditionally been loath to openly point fingers at other governments for doing the same thing.

After the alert, Energy Secretary Rick Perry warned members of a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday that he’s “not confident” the federal government has an adequate strategy in place to address the “hundreds of thousands” of cybersecurity attacks directed at the U.S. every day.

Yup. Please remember it’s Texas’ dim bulb Rick Perry in charge of safeguarding all this. Russian hackers have attacked our energy grid.

Officials in Washington say that Russian hackers are in the midst of a widespread attack on crucial components of U.S. infrastructure, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report released Thursday.

The targets of these attacks include the country’s electric grid, including its nuclear power system, as well as “commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors,” the statement said.

The report is damning confirmation of what has for months been suspected: that hackers in Russia are capable of infiltrating and compromising vital systems relied on by millions of Americans. According to the new report, the attacks began at least as early as March 2016, thriving on vulnerabilities in these systems’ online operations.

“In some cases, information posted to company websites, especially information that may appear to be innocuous, may contain operationally sensitive information,” the report reads. “As an example, the threat actors downloaded a small photo from a publicly accessible human resources page. The image, when expanded, was a high-resolution photo that displayed control systems equipment models and status information in the background.”

What’s Perry doing and what has he told Congress?

A Russian government hacking operation aimed at the U.S. power grid did not compromise operations at any of the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants, federal regulators and the nuclear industry said Friday.

Corporate networks at some of the 99 plants licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were affected by the 2017 hack aimed at the energy grid and other infrastructure, but no safety, security or emergency preparedness functions were impacted, the NRC said in a statement.
U.S. nuclear plants are designed as operational “islands” that are not connected to the internet and other networks. Nuclear power provides about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, said the Russian hacking campaign targeting U.S. infrastructure “demonstrated that America’s nuclear plants can withstand a nation-state sponsored attack.”
The Trump administration accused Moscow on Thursday of an elaborate plot to penetrate America’s electric grid, factories, water supply and even air travel through cyber hacking.
U.S. national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies determined Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks starting a year ago. Russian hackers infiltrated the networks that run the basic services Americans rely on each day: nuclear power, water and manufacturing plants.
U.S. officials said the hackers chose their targets methodically, obtained access to computer systems, conducted “network reconnaissance” and then attempted to cover their tracks by deleting evidence of the intrusions. The U.S. government has helped the industries expel the Russians from all systems known to have been penetrated, but additional breaches could be discovered, officials said.
The NRC, in its statement Friday, said the five-member commission and the nuclear industry “are vigilant in cybersecurity. Every nuclear power facility must meet the NRC’s regulations for an approved cybersecurity program, which includes separation of critical and non-critical systems.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said his department worked closely with other agencies and energy providers to help ensure that hacking attempts “failed or were stopped.”
Perry said he is creating an Office of Cyber Security and Emergency Response to consolidate and strengthen efforts to “combat the growing nefarious cyber threats we face.”

Well, the Trump administration does want us back to the 19th century. Successfully bringing down our grid would certainly do it. We can assume that our elections will be hacked this year too. Aren’t you glad that West Wing chaos and Stormy Daniels are the focus of attention? Is it too late to demand paper ballots?

The first ballots of the 2018 mid-term elections will soon be cast, but many Americans will exercise this constitutional right without much confidence that their votes will be fairly and securely counted. Partisanship in Congress and bureaucratic delays have left voting even more vulnerable to the attacks that top intelligence officials say will accelerate in 2018. Meanwhile, irrefutable evidence has revealed that Russia engaged in a multifaceted attack on the 2016 election through information warfare, and that hackers also scanned or penetrated state election infrastructure in ways that could lead to manipulation of voter registration data — and possibly change vote totals in 2018. We propose two stopgap measures that can be immediately implemented without waiting for funding or new legislation.

Cybersecurity experts have repeatedly warned that none of our current voting technologies was designed to withstand the cyberattacks expected in the coming months. This national emergency calls for Americans to act immediately before the voters’ faith in democratic elections is severely undermined. Experts agree there’s time to contain major threats to this year’s elections, but we must rapidly convert from paperless touch-screen voting machines to paper ballots, and upgrade states’ and counties’ verification practices to conduct public post-election ballot audits before local election boards certify the 2018 elections. A post-election audit involves simply checking the computer-generated tabulations against paper ballots to be sure the machine hasn’t been compromised.

Well, I’ve gotten this post twice as long as you’ll likely read but read you should. There are many things that are threatening us today but none as consequential as all of this and if you believe last month’s panel of national security leaders testimony, we’re not doing much about it.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

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Monday Reads: The sitting President’s campaign is under FBI Investigation for Colluding with an Enemy

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

The first thing I need to say is this is not a headline out of some conspiracy rag or The Onion.  You can find it on the NYT at this link.

■ The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, publicly confirmed an investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election and whether associates of the president were in contact with Moscow.

■ Mr. Comey also said the F.B.I. had “no information” to support President Trump’s allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped him.

■ The hearing’s featured witnesses: Mr. Comey and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency.

You may find it on Politico here.

FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday the FBI is investigating Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, including possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

He also shot down President Donald Trump’s explosive claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the run-up to the presidential election.

Comey told the House Intelligence Committee at a hearing that the bureau normally does not comment on the existence of counterintelligence investigations, but that he was authorized by the Justice Department to do so in this case because of the extraordinary public interest.

“This will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed,” Comey told the intelligence panel, explaining that the investigation began in late July. He said he could not give a timeline or comment further on the matter, but pledged to “follow the facts wherever they lead.”

Comey also said he had “no information” to support Trump’s claim, made on Twitter, about Trump Tower being wiretapped by his predecessor.

“I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” Comey said. He added that the Justice Department had also looked for evidence to support the president’s allegation and could not find any.

Or, if you prefer, here’s the link at WAPO.

Under questioning from the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), Comey said no president could order such surveillance. He added the Justice Department had asked him to also tell the committee that that agency has no such information, either.

 You can read a lot of the responses by both Republicans and Democrats at the WAPO link.  Gowdy is as bad as you would expect.  Schiff is the hero of the day.

It’s hard to put all of this into perspective but I’d have to say this is the single most important political scandal I’ve lived through since Watergate, Arms for Hostages, and all the crazy shit we did in South America during the Reagan/Bush years.  It’s up there with something that’s so hard to believe that I have to pinch myself daily.

There will be impeachment proceedings. We may even see a frog marchs.  Let’s just hope no one ever gets pardoned for any of this.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: A Baby-Man In Charge

 baby-man-1Good Morning!!

Just one more day before the authoritarian baby-man becomes the “leader” of our once-great nation. It’s obvious that he’s not qualified for the job and he has done very little to prepare himself to do it. He has surrounded himself with other wealthy men who in many cases have no experience in government service. Will we survive this catastrophe? We’ll have to wait and see.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg yesterday: The Empty Trump Administration.

We’re two days away from having a new president. But we’re apparently a lot longer than that from having a Trump administration with even a minimally functional ability to govern.

Politico’s Michael Crowley has a nice piece explaining the missing National Security Council staffers, and the dangers that could cause if there’s an early crisis. Hundreds of briefing papers have been created by Obama’s NSC and sent to Team Trump, but the New York Times reports that no one knows if they’ve been reviewed.

Yet the NSC is ahead of the curve for this administration. Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman had a good story two weeks ago about how far behind Trump was. Since then? If anything, it’s getting worse — he’s added only two of those 28 since Jan. 5. As Berman reported, the Partnership for Public Service suggested a president should have “100 Senate-confirmed appointees in place on or around Inauguration Day.” At this pace, he won’t have 100 nominees by the end of February, let alone having them confirmed and hard at work.

Please read the rest at Bloomberg View.

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Politico: Distrust and empty desks could stunt Trump’s government.

Just days before he ascends to the presidency, there are lingering questions about whether President-elect Donald Trump’s team is fully prepared to take over the sprawling federal government, according to more than two dozen interviews with Trump and Obama administration officials, lobbyists, experts and others close to the process.

A deep distrust has taken hold between Trump’s transition officials and Obama’s political appointees at a number of federal agencies, slowing down the handover of agency responsibilities on everything from meat inspections to drug pricing. There’s confusion over policy on several major agenda items, as Trump gives conflicting signals and often disagrees with his Cabinet nominees. And a number of federal agencies are far from having the staff they need to run on Day One, people close to the transition say….

“They look like they are designed for chaos,” said Stephen Hess, an expert on transitions at the Brookings Institution. “It’s just, there is no other word for it, weird for those of us who have been involved in government for decades.”

Trump transition officials insist that they are prepared. They say they have written detailed action plans for every major agency, adding they’ve even been charting a path forward at more obscure subagencies and departments. They note that securing the confirmation of their nominees is the most important near-term task and that they will soon announce hundreds of hires.

Much more at the link.

Many of us are apprehensive about tRump having the sole power to order a nuclear strike. But what about the man tRump has chosen (perhaps unknowingly) to maintain and manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal?

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The New York Times: ‘Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood.

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Two-thirds of the agency’s annual $30 billion budget is devoted to maintaining, refurbishing and keeping safe the nation’s nuclear stockpile; thwarting nuclear proliferation; cleaning up and rebuilding an aging constellation of nuclear production facilities; and overseeing national laboratories that are considered the crown jewels of government science.

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who advised Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked on the Trump transition’s Energy Department team in its early days. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

Unreal. And this is one of the departments presidential candidate Perry said he wanted to eliminate.

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

Mr. Moniz had such deep experience with nuclear weapons that in 2015, President Obama made him a co-negotiator, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, of the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr. Perry would sit atop the men and women making the judgments about whether Iran is complying with that accord. In the basement of the Energy Department’s headquarters, the agency’s intelligence unit monitors compliance, working closely with the C.I.A., the National Security Agency and other intelligence bodies.

That is just plain frightening. According to Politico, Perry now “regrets” calling for the elimination of the Energy Department.

luckovich-right-hand

Journalists and biographers are still trying to figure out what’s going on in tRump’s psyche.

Politico: ‘He Has This Deep Fear That He Is Not a Legitimate President.’ I’d say that fear is very well-founded. The piece is a follow up to a previous one in which Politico talked to tRump’s biographers.

Now, after more than two months of Trump’s norm-shattering transition, we gathered Gwenda Blair, Michael D’Antonio and Tim O’Brien by conference call (Wayne Barrett, the dean of Trump reporters, could not participate because of illness) to assess whether Trump has continued to surprise them. Their collective wisdom? In a word, no.

From his pick of nominees for posts in his cabinet to his belligerent use of Twitter (our conversation was a day before he traded barbs with Congressman John Lewis) to his unwillingness to cut ties with his business to avoid conflicts of interest, they see the same person they’ve always seen—the consummate classroom troublemaker; a vain, insecure bully; and an anti-institutional schemer, as adept at “gaming the system” as he is unashamed. As they look ahead to his inauguration speech in two days, and to his administration beyond, they feel confident predicting that he will run the country much as he has run his company. For himself.

“He’s not going to be that concerned with the actual competent administration of the government,” D’Antonio said. “It’s going to be what he seems to be gaining or losing in public esteem. So almost like a monarch. The figurehead who rallies people and gets credit for things.”

Read the rest at Politico.

One more interesting read from Thomas Edsall at The New York Times: What Does Vladimir Putin See in Donald Trump?

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At noon on Friday, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Millions of Americans will rejoice at the sight, and millions more will not. As a rule, foreign leaders don’t attend the inauguration of American presidents, but Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will be there in spirit. To understand why and to understand what’s happening as Trump takes over the White House, we need to go back two weeks.

On Jan. 6, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency asserted with “high confidence” that “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election” formed part of a broader, worldwide agenda “to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”

According to the intelligence report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” 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.

The intelligence assessment raises the question: what made Trump an attractive vehicle through which to attempt to weaken the liberal democratic order. Why him?

The article is an excellent summary of reporting and opinions on Russia’s successful campaign to elect their own puppet to the U.S. presidency. Now we will have a baby-man in charge. It’s going to get very hairy folks.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy our country’s final day of sane, adult leadership.


Thursday Reads: What Do We Do Now?

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Good Afternoon!!

I’m feeling even more confused than ever today. I hope I can think clearly enough to get some kind of post up. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it appears that Congressional Democrats have decided to try to “work with” incoming POTUS Trump.

NYT: Senate Democrats’ Surprising Strategy: Trying to Align With Trump.

Congressional Democrats, divided and struggling for a path from the electoral wilderness, are constructing an agenda to align with many proposals of President-elect Donald J. Trump that put him at odds with his own party.

On infrastructure spending, child tax credits, paid maternity leave and dismantling trade agreements, Democrats are looking for ways they can work with Mr. Trump and force Republican leaders to choose between their new president and their small-government, free-market principles. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, elected Wednesday as the new Democratic minority leader, has spoken with Mr. Trump several times, and Democrats in coming weeks plan to announce populist economic and ethics initiatives they think Mr. Trump might like.

Democrats, who lost the White House and made only nominal gains in the House and Senate, face a profound decision after last week’s stunning defeat: Make common cause where they can with Mr. Trump to try to win back the white, working-class voters he took from them, or resist at every turn, trying to rally their disparate coalition in hopes that discontent with an ineffectual new president will benefit them in 2018.

Mr. Trump campaigned on some issues that Democrats have long championed and Republicans resisted: spending more on roads, bridges and rail, punishing American companies that move jobs overseas, ending a lucrative tax break for hedge fund and private equity titans, and making paid maternity leave mandatory.

Some Democrats are even co-opting Mr. Trump’s language from the campaign. “Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.

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That’s just great. Trump’s infrastructure plan is nothing but an attempt to enrich himself with government funds, Ivanka Trump’s child care proposal will benefit only the wealthiest families who itemize their taxes, and Trump’s plan to install tariffs on foreign imports would bankrupt all of us. Not to mention the fact that Trump is reportedly considering a “Muslim registry” and quickly deporting or “incarcerating” up to 3 million immigrants.

And this garbage about winning back the white working class is hopeless and sickening. Without the support of people of color, the Democratic Party is history. The white working class men who supported Trump want to hold onto their white privilege a lot more than they worry about economic inequality. But the media and quite a few Democrats are focused on regaining the Reagan Democrats.

Joshua Holland at Rolling Stone: Stop Obsessing Over White Working-Class Voters.

Amid a spate of brutal hate crimes against people of color – with Muslim women shedding their hijabs to avoid random attacks, and the word “nigger” making an ugly resurgence in our discourse – the political press appears to have coalesced around the idea that we really need to understand the pain felt by the white people who elected Donald Trump.

It’s clear that white working-class voters in the Rust Belt provided Trump with a razor-thin margin of victory in the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote by historic margins. The data show that Trump won a number of Midwestern counties with lots of blue-collar whites that went for Obama in 2012, in some cases by large margins.

But how we interpret that data has important ramifications for how the Democratic Party moves forward. If, as a New York Timesheadline blares, Trump’s win was in large part a result of non-college educated white voters who supported Obama in 2012 defecting to the Republicans – perhaps for good – then the logical conclusion is that Democrats have to reach out to this group specifically or face the prospect of future losses. And that means speaking not only to their economic anxiety, but also appealing to their cultural and social grievances. It might mean, for example, moderating the party’s support for gun safety measures, which are an important wedge issue for many rural white people in those key states Trump flipped. The last time the party decided to chase blue-collar “Reagan Democrats,” it resulted in Bill Clinton’s push for welfare reform.

If, on the other hand, Trump energized just enough Republican-leaners who stayed home in 2012, and Hillary Clinton failed to turn out just enough Democratic partisans, then we can attribute this disaster to factors that aren’t specific to this group. It may be that she was an unpopular candidate who faced a perfect storm of media coverage tainted by a tendency toward false equivalence, hackers releasing her campaign’s internal emails, a clumsy intervention by FBI Director James Comey and latent misogyny – all of that while running against a celebrity who dominated nearly every news cycle. If that’s the case, then the solution, whatever it is, should be the same for blue-collar white Democrats as it is for Democrats in general – running a better candidate who’s more focused on a progressive economic agenda, for instance – and we shouldn’t indulge in a lot of handwringing over this one group of white people.

Based on what we now know, there’s good reason to believe this last analysis is the correct one.

Please go read the rest.

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It seems to me that a better project for Congressional Democats would be to investigate the Russian influence on our election and on the man who will be POTUS. There are a few who are interested in doing that.

David Corn at Mother Jones: Senior House Democrat Calls for Congressional Probe of Russian Meddling in 2016 Election.

On Tuesday, the chief of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, said a “nation-state”—meaning Russia—had intervened in the 2016 elections “to achieve a specific effect.” He was referring to the hacking of Democratic targets and the release of the stolen information via WikiLeaks. And on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for a congressional investigation of Russian meddling in the campaign. On Thursday, the call for a Capitol Hill inquiry gathered momentum, with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House government oversight committee, publicly urging the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), to launch such a probe.

In a letter sent to Chaffetz and released publicly, Cummings noted that he and Chaffetz had discussed opening such an investigation on Wednesday and that Chaffetz had told him he was “open to considering such an investigation” but wanted Cummings to “show the evidence” that Russia had tried to influence the election. Cummings did so in this letter, citing Rogers’ statement. Cummings also pointed to a statement issued on October 7 by the Office of Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, which said, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Read the full letter at Mother Jones.

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CNN: GOP senator: Investigate Russia.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the chamber’s most experienced foreign policy hands, said the attempt by a foreign country to interfere with the US voting process needs better understanding and a vigorous response.

“Assuming for a moment that we do believe that the Russian government was controlling outside organizations that hacked into our election, they should be punished,” Graham told reporters Tuesday. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graham added that, “Putin should be punished.”

Graham, who wants the hearings to examine all Russia’s “misadventures throughout the world,” has the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. As other Republicans issued warnings about Russian activities, the hearings could become a source of tension between the GOP and the new President.

“You could see, going forward, a Congress that’s really at loggerheads with the White House on policy toward Russia,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.

More at the link.

The biggest piece of news this morning IMO is that DNI James Clapper has announced his resignation. He’s not going work with Trump on the transition.

We’ll have to wait to see why Clapper resigned, but I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the apparent war between the FBI and the Intelligence community that has been the backdrop to this election. Once he out of the government, Clapper would have more ability to speak out publicly (or leak privately) about what has been going on behind the scenes.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll just give you two more links to check out.

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Joshua Foust: This Is Not Normal.

About the nicest thing you can say about President Trump’s incoming administration is that it is without precedent. But there is another way of looking at it: it is not normal.

Normal, you might argue, is a bad thing when people are hurting. In fact, there is enough polling about why people voted for Trump to suggest that a vague “need for change” was a powerful motivator. Though opinions about what needed to change varied widely — from economic issues to vague fears of a wrong direction to naked white supremacy — the fact is enough Americans did not want a “third term” for Obama and voted the Democrats out of power. (That many did so apparently uncaring about the consequences for minorities is its own, separate discussion.) ….

“Normal,” as a concept, matters. The old adage that it is just the setting on a dryer is not just wrong but misleading. When something is abnormal it is important to understand why. If a person is not normal they could be brilliant or they could be sick, and knowing the difference is the distance between life and death. In politics, too, there is normal and there is abnormal. An insurgent candidate swinging a party or the country right or left is normal — Marco Rubio winning the GOP nomination and the general election would have been normal, for example. But Donald Trump is not normal. In fact, the things he represents, the decisions he has made and is continuing to make, and the entourage he has surrounded himself with, are not normal. They are so abnormal that they look like the opening stages of authoritarianism — something those of us steeped in the study of authoritarian countries recognize like a flashing light at a railroad crossing.

The one thing authoritarians want you to do is to accept that their conduct is normal, even when it is not. They do not want you to yearn for a freer, less oppressive and less corrupt time, and they do not want you to think it odd when, say, a government agency is purged or a bunch of protesters are arrested and vanish into the prisons without ever seeing trial. They want you to think it is normal when the President is openly selling your interests out to a foreign power, or when he is using the levers of government to materially enrich and empower his family. The presumption of normality during abnormal times is one of the most powerful weapons the authoritarian has, and that is why it is so important to recognize how profoundly abnormal Donald J. Trump will be as president. So I assembled a list.

Please go to the link and read the list ASAP.

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Matthew Yglesias’s hair is on fire: We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our institutions.

The country has entered a dangerous period. The president-elect is the least qualified man to ever hold high office. He also operated the least transparent campaign of the modern era. He gave succor and voice to bigoted elements on a scale not seen in two generations. He openly praised dictators — not as allies but as dictators — and threatened to use the powers of his office to discipline the media.

He also has a long history of corrupt behavior, and his business holdings pose staggering conflicts of interest that are exacerbated by his lack of financial disclosure. But while most journalists and members of the opposition party think they understand the threat of Trump-era corruption, they are in fact drastically underestimating it. When we talk about corruption in the modern United States, we have in mind what Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny define as “the sale by government officials of government property for personal gain.”

This is the classic worry about campaign contributions or revolving doors — the fear that wealthy interests can give money to public officials and in exchange receive favorable treatment from the political system. But in a classic essay on “The Concept of Systemic Corruption in American History,” the economist John Joseph Wallis reminds us that in the Revolutionary Era and during the founding of the republic, Americans worried about something different. Not the venal corruption we are accustomed to thinking about, but what he calls systemic corruption. He writes that 18th-century thinkers “worried much more that the king and his ministers were manipulating grants of economic privileges to secure political support for a corrupt and unconstitutional usurpation of government powers.”

We are used to corruption in which the rich buy political favor. What we need to learn to fear is corruption in which political favor becomes the primary driver of economic success….

This is how Vladimir Putin governs Russia, and how the Mubarak/Sisi regime rules Egypt. To be a successful businessman in a systemically corrupt regime and to be a close supporter of the regime are one and the same thing.

Those who support the regime will receive favorable treatment from regulators, and those who oppose it will not. Because businesses do business with each other, the network becomes self-reinforcing. Regime-friendly banks receive a light regulatory touch while their rivals are crushed. In exchange, they offer friendly lending terms to regime-friendly businesses while choking capital to rivals. Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.

All is not lost, but the situation is genuinely quite grave. As attention focuses on transition gossip and congressional machinations, it’s important not to let our eyes off the ball. It is entirely possible that eight years from now we’ll be looking at an entrenched kleptocracy preparing to install a chosen successor whose only real mission is to preserve the web of parasitical oligarchy that has replaced the federal government as we know it. One can, of course, always hope that the worst does not come to pass. But hope is not a plan. And while the impulse to “wait and see” what really happens is understandable, the cold, hard reality is that the most crucial decisions will be the early ones.

I’ve quoted more than I should, but this is vitally important. Now please head on over to Vox and read the rest.

Post your thoughts and links in the comment thread. I’ll be adding more too. Take care Sky Dancers.