Understanding the role of Russian propaganda in the U.S. election

Ben Nimmo writes: It may seem strange, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is not backing US Presidential Republican Candidate Donald Trump. It has a bigger goal: Discrediting democracy in the United States.

The Kremlin’s main propaganda outlets in the US are the television station RT — formerly Russia Today — and the radio and online outlet Sputnik. Both are headed by Kremlin loyalists and closely mirror Russia’s foreign policy. While their effect on the presidential race is likely to be minimal, their reporting is useful for the insight it provides into the Kremlin’s intentions.

That reporting focuses on specifically attacking US Presidential Democratic Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the general nature of US democracy. As such, it appears that the Kremlin is less interested in promoting Trump than promoting discontent.

Coverage of Trump by RT and Sputnik is uncharacteristically balanced. Some recent reports have presented the Republican candidate favorably, such as when he endorsed a number of his critics for re-election “in an attempt to ease party tensions”, or accused Clinton of founding ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Other coverage, however, was unfavorable. Some have quoted a neo-Nazi leader as backing Trump’s candidacy, and accused him of hypocrisy. One report even asked: “Is Trump an embarrassment to the [Republican Party] because he’s an incompetent, uninformed, pathological menace, or because he’s just saying out loud what most Republicans now believe?”

No such balance is apparent in the two outlets’ coverage of the other candidates.

Clinton is the most obvious target. In August of 2016 alone, RT reports covered accusations of corruption, lying, and ill health against her; accused her of launching a McCarthy-style “witch hunt” against Trump; and linked her to the use of nuclear weapons in 1945. Sputnik’s reporting called her and her team “war hawks”, accused her of wanting to “make more families suffer” the deaths of soldiers, and named her the “Queen of War”. [Continue reading…]


Liberal democracy is in the midst of an epic struggle for survival

Yascha Mounk writes: There are years, decades even, in which history slows to a crawl. Then there are weeks that are so eventful that they seem to mark the dissolution of a world order that had once seemed solid and to foretell the rise of one as yet unknowable.

The week of July 11, 2016, has every chance of being remembered as one of those rare flurries of jumbled, inchoate, concentrated significance. The centrifugal forces that are threatening to break political systems across the world may have started to register a decade ago; they may have picked up speed over the last 12 months; but never since the fall of the Berlin Wall have they wreaked havoc in so many places in so short a span of time—showcasing the failures of technocratic rule, the terrifying rise of populist strongmen, and the existential threat posed by Islamist terrorism, all in the span of seven short days.

At first glance, a political crisis in London; a terrorist attack in Nice, France; a failed putsch in Ankara, Turkey; and a bloviating orator on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States look like the dramatic apex of very different, barely connected screenplays. To my eye, they are garish panes of glass that add up to one unified, striking mosaic. Looked at from the right distance, they tell the story of a political system, liberal democracy, that has long dominated the world — and is now in the midst of an epic struggle for its own survival. [Continue reading…]


Is the U.S. electoral system really ‘rigged’?

By Timothy Frye, Columbia University

Many have speculated how a Trump victory would affect the U.S., but few have thought about the consequences of a Trump loss. After falling behind Hillary Clinton in the polls, Donald Trump has already developed a narrative for his exit: The election was rigged.

So how likely is a rigged vote?

Full-throated claims

Last week Trump told Fox News: “I’m telling you – Nov. 8, we’d better be careful because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it is going to be taken away from us.”

This is not just an isolated or off-the-cuff statement. Trump confidant Roger Stone recently noted: “I think that we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly.”

Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort noted: “Frankly we think that the situation in the country, just like with the DNC’s primaries, is a situation where if you rely on the Justice Department to ensure the security of elections, we have to be worried.”

That President Obama has dismissed these claims as ridiculous will do little to reassure Trump supporters.

[Read more…]


Trump seems to be seriously inciting intimidation of minority voters


Based on its analysis of the polls, FiveThrityEight currently gives Donald Trump an 11.9% chance of winning Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes on November 8. In its aggregate of all recent polls in Pennsylvania, RealClearPolitics finds that in a two-way race, Hillary Clinton leads with 49.2% and Trump trails at 40.0%.

With collapsing support, Trump seems to have concluded that the only way he can win in a state like this is by promoting a stop-the-vote campaign targeting minority voters.

The Los Angeles Times reports: In remarks with strong racial overtones, Donald Trump told a mainly white rural crowd in Pennsylvania on Friday that vote fraud could cheat him out of victory and vowed to dispatch police who support him to monitor polls in “certain parts” of the state.

“We’re going to have unbelievable turnout, but we don’t want to see people voting five times, folks,” the Republican presidential nominee said at a rally in Altoona, Pa.

After months of racially charged violence between Trump supporters and protesters at his rallies, the comments raised the specter of confrontations on election day in precincts with many minority voters.

Trump, who previously suggested the Nov. 8 election would be rigged for Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, said he’d “heard some stories about certain parts of the state, and we have to be very careful.”

“Maybe you should go down and volunteer or do something,” Trump told the audience, bemoaning Pennsylvania’s lack of voter identification requirements.

“We have a lot of law enforcement people working that day,” he said. “We’re hiring a lot of people. We’re putting a lot of law enforcement — we’re going to watch Pennsylvania, go down to certain areas and watch and study, and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”

Trump’s remarks came two weeks after a federal appeals court struck down a voter ID law in North Carolina, another presidential battleground state. The law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision” in an effort to suppress the black vote, the court found. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: After telling an audience in Altoona, Pa., that he would seek their help in policing the polls in November to root out voter fraud — something that even the state of Pennsylvania has noted doesn’t exist in any meaningful way — Donald Trump’s campaign nationalized the effort on Saturday morning. Now eager Trump backers can go to Trump’s website and sign up to be “a Trump Election Observer.” Do so, and you get an email thanking you for volunteering and assuring you that the campaign will “do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”

There are any number of problems with this, again starting with the fact that the frequency of in-person voter fraud in elections is lower than getting five numbers right in the Powerball. But there’s a potentially bigger legal problem noted by election law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine: Trump’s unnecessary effort could be violating a prohibition against voter intimidation that applies to the Republican Party. [Continue reading…]


The woman pushing women into Tunisia’s politics

Sharmilla Ganesan writes: When the Tunisian revolution of 2011 opened a path toward democracy, the activist Ikram Ben Said saw an opportunity to include women’s voices in the country’s emerging political landscape. At 30, Ben Said was already a vocal advocate for social causes. She was a senior program manager with a peacekeeping organization called Search for Common Ground, and volunteered with several nonprofits that worked with single mothers and abandoned children.

Shaped by these experiences, she founded the organization Aswat Nissa (“Voices of Women”), an effort to cut across Tunisia’s political party lines to unite women in seeking equal political and government participation. In Tunisia, men are still considered the legal head of a family, and until last November, a woman could not legally travel abroad with her minor-aged children without permission from her husband. It is in this context that Aswat Nissa is trying to get women both the opportunity and the confidence to take part in the political process. At the moment, roughly a third of Tunisia’s parliament is made up of women.

Aswat Nissa trains female candidates to stand for election and organizes widespread programs around the country to encourage women to vote, reaching beyond activists to ordinary citizens. In 2014, Aswat Nissa was awarded the Madeleine K. Albright Award for its efforts.

Ben Said is no longer president of Aswat Nissa, but she continues to be involved as a member and voluntary adviser. For the past year, she has been a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, focusing on public-policy analysis as well as women, peace, and security.

I recently spoke to her about her life, her work, and how women in her country are making their way into positions of leadership. [Continue reading…]


Donald Trump is wrong. Rigging an election is almost impossible

Ari Berman writes: In a span of two weeks, federal courts have struck down Republican-backed voting restrictions in six states, including laws that required strict forms of government-issued ID in order to cast a ballot, cut back on early-voting days and made it harder to register. The rulings found that the laws — in Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, North Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin — violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against people of color, sometimes “with almost surgical precision.”

Rather than seeing these rulings as a victory for democracy, Donald Trump says they will lead to a record number of fraudulent votes for Hillary Clinton in November. “The voter-ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development,” Trump told The Washington Post. “We may have people vote 10 times. . . . Why not? If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting.”

Just how easy would it be to rig a Presidential election, as Trump suggests Democrats are preparing to do? How many people would it require, what tactics would they have to use, and how many votes would they need to flip a major contest or state? [Continue reading…]


Trump’s dictator-friendly campaign manager, Paul Manafort

Adam DuBard writes: If one could find a textbook example of the Washington GOP Establishment, Manafort would certainly fit the bill. In 1976 he was a key delegate manager with Gerald Ford’s campaign, and he also produced the Republican Conventions of 1984 with Reagan and 1996 with Bob Dole. More importantly, he has gained a reputation with his lobbying firms Black, Manafort, Stone, & Kelly and later Davis, Manafort, & Freedman of representing and rehabilitating the image of anyone willing to pay the right amount, no matter how brutal or controversial their past. While he was originally hired for the primary purpose of reining in delegates and assuring their allegiances, he has since ruthlessly risen to the top of Trump’s campaign, a development that should come as no surprise once one becomes familiar with Manafort’s intriguing and controversial past.

After his political education with the campaigns of Ford and Reagan, Manafort jumped into lobbying in 1985 with the first of two lobbying firms with his name on it, Black, Manafort, Stone, & Kelly. The Stone in that name is no other than Roger Stone, the still prominent Republican strategist known for underhanded tactics and longtime friend of Manafort and Trump. Stone would later say of the now defunct firm, “Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, lined up most of the dictators of the world we could find. … Dictators are in the eye of the beholder.” The amount of work Paul Manafort has done on the behalf of international dictators is long and varied, especially for someone who’s, you know, managing the campaign of a candidate for “the leader of the free world.”

In 1985 Manafort’s firm agreed to work for Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to the tune of $1 million in return for shaping up his image in front of the US media and government ahead of the upcoming Philippine election. Marcos ruled as the president of the Philippines for twenty one years and gained a reputation as a brutal and corrupt leader, with martial law being the law of the land from 1972 until 1981. According to Filipino news outlets, Marcos’ reign of martial law would result in 3,257 extra-judicial killings, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 incarcerations. In addition to his totalitarian mean streak, Marcos and his wife Imelda made a habit of amassing money in various illegal methods. The Philippine supreme court has estimated that the Marcos family accumulated around $10 billion while in office, despite the fact that his official yearly salary never exceeded $13,500. In the end Marcos proved too corrupt even for President Reagan to support, as he was pressured to step down amid election-fixing allegations just months after hiring Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly. [Continue reading…]


The future of European democracy

Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England, writes: As things stand, the long march toward political union desired by the elite governing the EU is not likely to reach a democratic destination. Those who decry nationalism should realize that the attempt by an elite to impose political union and free movement of people on unwilling electorates is today the main driving force of the extreme nationalist sentiments that they abhor. Whatever our grandchildren and their descendants decide to do in Europe, it must be based on a democratically legitimate process if it is to avoid recreating the very divisions that the original conception of the architects of postwar Europe so rightly strove to achieve.

Americans need to wake up from their cozy assumption that the apparatus of a supranational state is the only way to ensure a peaceful and cooperative European partner. Across Europe the younger generation wants to go beyond the nation-state to break down barriers and find new ways to resolve problems that extend beyond national boundaries. They will find ways to do this that do not require the outdated trappings of a supranational entity with its own anthem, flag, parliament, and now even steps toward an army.

Our political class would do well to recall the words of Confucius:

Three things are necessary for government: weapons, food and trust. If a ruler cannot hold on to all three, he should give up weapons first and food next. Trust should be guarded to the end: without trust we cannot stand.

Not just in Britain, but around the industrialized world, the divide between the political class and a large number of disillusioned and disaffected voters threatens trust. At times it seems that the governing class has lost faith in the people and that the people have lost faith in the government. And the two sides seem incapable of understanding each other, as we see today in the United States. But the continent on which the challenge is greatest is Europe. If any good comes out of the British referendum, it will be a renewed determination, not just in Britain but around Europe, to eliminate that divide. [Continue reading…]


Trump’s uncontrollable reactivity: He ‘literally can’t help himself’ says former adviser


Politico reports: Amid reports suggesting that he and other staffers are beginning to “phone it in,” [Trump campaign manager, Paul] Manafort subtly shifted blame to his candidate. He admitted that Trump’s comments in response to Khizr and Ghazala Khan were “not smart.” And he made it clear that it’s Trump, not any adviser or ally bending his ear, who is responsible.

“Well, first of all, the candidate is in control of his campaign. That’s No. 1,” Manafort said in a TV interview. “And I’m in control of doing the things that he wants me to do in the campaign.”

He attempted to dismiss the “turmoil” as “another Clinton narrative that’s being put out there.” But sources close to the campaign tell a different story of dysfunction and dismay inside Trump Tower.

“There’s just not much communication going on. It’s really sad, to be honest with you. They really just aren’t working as a team. Everyone’s just doing their own little thing,” said one former Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I just wish he’d stop answering the questions. People don’t want a politician and they got someone who’s not a politician, so he’s going to make these kind of mistakes.”

This adviser said Trump “literally can’t help himself” in responding to perceived slights or taunts — and that his team and closest allies are demoralized and frustrated, especially over the apparent disconnect between Trump and the RNC.

The adviser said Trump had easily bounced back from other controversies, but this latest round borders on a point of no return. “It feels like we’re close to it.” The only silver lining? “Republicans’ intense hatred for Clinton. You remind yourself who the opposition is.”

Clinton, however, has largely skated past her own unforced errors — she wrongly asserted in an interview Sunday that FBI director James Comey had praised her truthfulness during the investigation into her use of a private email server — because Trump’s behavior since the Democratic National Convention has been all-consuming.

All week, in fact, the GOP nominee has been stomping on what might have been another opportune news cycle. The Democratic National Committee is going through a public purge as its CEO, communications director and chief financial officer all left on Tuesday, days after Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned under pressure. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported on a “secretly organized” airlift of $400 million to Iran that coincided with the release of four Americans in January.

In the past 48 hours, however, Republicans criticizing Trump and, in some cases, leaving the party altogether and declaring their support for Clinton, have dominated the news cycle. Following reports that Sally Bradshaw and Maria Comella — former staffers to Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, respectively — were backing Clinton, former GOP California gubernatorial candidate and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman announced Tuesday that she was not only following suit but planning to make a significant financial contribution to the Democrat’s campaign.

Christie and Gingrich, two of Trump’s closest allies and runners-up to serve as his running mate, have also blasted the nominee’s response to a Muslim family whose son was killed in Iraq, while also criticizing Trump’s especially undisciplined, unfocused performance over the past week. [Continue reading…]

Of late, expressions such as “unfit for high office” or “unfit to serve” have frequently been applied to Trump.

The problem with a vague concept like unfit is that it can too easily be reconstructed and taken to mean, “does not meet the approval of the establishment.”

To Trump’s supporters, this is likely to sound like Trump is yet again being condemned for the very reason they like him.

The issue is not simply that Trump is unfit to become president, but more specifically, the aspects of his personality that render him unfit.

The perennial question posed to every presidential candidate is, how will she or he handle a national security crisis?

Trump is famously unpredictable. He might see that as an asset — that it gives him an advantage over adversaries who can’t get one step ahead of him. Moreover, the fact that he’s unpredictable doesn’t explain why he’s unpredictable.

What is blindingly evident right now, however, is that Donald Trump is a man who is unpredictable because he possesses no self-control.

Faced with a crisis, no one knows — including the candidate himself — what Trump would do. This is what makes him unfit for office.

To elect Trump would be to turn the presidency into a game of Russian roulette.

Given that danger, to characterize this election as yet another contest to determine who is the lesser of two evils is to apply a crude equivalence between the candidates as though they differ merely in the degree to which each is objectionable.

But each American voter has a greater responsibility than to simply give voice to their personal likes and dislikes.

At this juncture in history, in spite of America’s ebbing power, the U.S. presidency is still the most powerful political office in the world. This isn’t a game show.

The fact that Trump has become the Republican nominee is an indication of a deep malaise in American politics and American culture in which serious issues perpetually become trivialized.

As voters, however, we aren’t mere spectators who can sit back and observe how this show plays out. We determine the outcome.


The Turkish government’s response to the attempted coup is an affront to democracy

Benjamin Ward writes: The word “coup” in French literally means “blow” or “shock.” The latter meaning aptly describes the reaction of the world to the events in Turkey on the night of July 15-16 by elements of its military.

The circumstances of the coup attempt are still far from clear. What is clear is that its failure owes a great deal to the spontaneous reaction of ordinary people who flooded the streets to resist the military and the solidarity across the political spectrum. All four of the main political parties united in opposition to the attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government. According to the Turkish government, 246 people were killed amid resistance to the coup, 179 of them civilians, and 2,000 were wounded.

But after the shock has come a second blow as the government unleashed a purge that goes far beyond holding to account those involved in trying to overthrow it. It has hit most of the country’s major institutions– the judiciary, prosecutors’ office, police, the media, the civil service, schools, universities, trade unions and hospitals.

This second blow is weakening the democracy that Turkey’s population took to the streets to defend. Turkey’s international partners should act quickly to press Ankara to reverse course and ensure that people caught up in the purge are given due process and fair criminal trials and that the country’s institutions are strengthened rather than weakened. [Continue reading…]


The new ideology of the new Cold War

Jochen Bittner, describing the political formula mastered by Vladimir Putin as “orderism,” writes: Orderism prioritizes stability over democracy and offers an alternative to the moral abyss of laissez-faire societies. Russia stands as a model for this new social contract. This contract is built on patriotism, traditional gender roles, Orthodox Christianity, military strength and, at the top, a benevolent czar who will promise only as much as he can deliver (provided the public gives him sufficient support, he can deliver a lot). Orderism may not yet boast the same economic performance as liberalism, but its adherents insist that the cohesion and the common spirit of an orderly nation will allow it to outlive the inevitable downturn of the disorderly West.

It’s easy to see why, especially for those who have suffered dislocation and anomie under liberal democracy, orderism is appealing. But just as the utopian promises of Communism were merely a fig leaf for tyranny, the official face of orderism hides something much darker. Order is attractive only until it stifles, and then represses. Unchecked autocrats turn on the weakest and most vulnerable as scapegoats, and lash out in foreign misadventures to divert attention from problems at home. Society breaks down; fear reigns. Orderism ultimately fails to deliver on its own promises.

What is striking, though, is how compatible orderism is with the attitudes of many voters in the United States and Europe. Donald J. Trump’s campaign boils down to a promise of tough order. And the decision of British voters to leave the European Union, catalyzed by the promise of the U.K. Independence Party and others of an orderly, independent England, was nothing but an attempt to stop the frightening and discomfiting effects of globalization. Part of the difficulty in dealing with orderism is that it is ideological without being an ideology. It is mercurial, pragmatic and cynical; its meaning and values change to fit the circumstances. [Continue reading…]


France’s emergency powers — the new normal

Letta Tayler writes: France’s latest renewal of its emergency law has made few headlines abroad—except perhaps in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fresh from passing his own sweeping state of emergency, may have relished watching the champion of liberté, égalité, and fraternité once again suspend rights in the name of security.

But European countries, rattled by a new spate of deadly attacks in France and Germany, may yet be tempted to turn to the new French law as a model. This would be a serious misstep on both legal and strategic grounds.

France’s parliament on July 22 did not simply extend the state of emergency that President Francois Hollande declared in the wake of the horrific Paris attacks last November. Propelled by the despicable Bastille Day attack a week earlier in Nice, lawmakers significantly expanded emergency powers of police search, seizure and detention. They also used the emergency powers act to slip more than a dozen new draconian counterterrorism provisions into French criminal law. In contrast to the emergency measures, which lapse in six months, these changes to France’s criminal codes are permanent.

There is no justification, ever, for attacks such as those in Nice and Paris, which together killed 214 people and wounded hundreds, or for tragic, smaller attacks that followed in Normandy and southern Germany. Whether the attackers are members of organizations like the Islamic State, lone wolves who heed such groups’ murderous calls, armed neo-fascists, or violent extremists of any other ilk, the authorities have a duty to protect people from such atrocities.

But governments must also take care not to overreact. Taken together, France’s rolling state of emergency and the amendments to criminal codes mark a perilous shift away from judicial safeguards against security force abuses. While every new attack increases the allure of tough responses, the new measures represent a serious step backward for human rights and the rule of law, playing directly to armed Islamist groups’ desires to divide the world along the stark lines of Western oppressors vs. Muslim oppressed. They also set a dangerous precedent for other governments, whether closer to home in the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Turkey, or farther afield in Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and elsewhere. [Continue reading…]