Why Congress needs to launch a bipartisan inquiry into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election

David Ignatius writes: The allegations about Russian hacking are framed in the unclassified report released last Friday by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., on behalf of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. That report made strong charges, but it didn’t provide detailed supporting evidence, which is contained in other, classified reports. The allegations are public, in other words, but not the proof.

That’s a bad mix. Indeed, it’s potentially toxic when Trump has criticized the investigation as a “political witch hunt,” and Reince Priebus, his choice for White House chief of staff, has said the Clapper report is “clearly politically motivated to discredit” Trump’s victory.

Somehow, this allegation of foreign meddling has to be taken out of politics. Otherwise, it’s too incendiary. It could be abused by Trump’s critics, or by Trump himself. An independent inquiry is the best way to safeguard the rule of law, and the insistence that nobody is above it.

Recall what the intelligence chiefs alleged in the Clapper report: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. . . . 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.”

How did Putin organize and implement this manipulative campaign? What funds were used, and from what source? Were any Americans involved in the effort? Did any Americans meet improperly with Russian operatives, in the United States or abroad? Does Russia believe it has any leverage over Trump, financial or otherwise? Are remnants of the Russian network still in place?

On any such details of the alleged “influence campaign,” the report is silent. That’s understandable, in terms of protecting sources and methods, but frustrating for those who want hard facts to combat the “post-truth” environment in which people are skeptical of any assertion that lacks proof.

At the top of each page of Clapper’s report is a reminder: “Conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.”

I’d argue that there is a genuine public “need to know” more of the supporting information, even if that carries risks. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A crisis of liberal democracy? More of liberalism than of democracy

Kenan Malik writes: Welcome to 2017. It will be just like 2016. Only more so. This will be the year in which Donald Trump formally enters the White House, and Theresa May (probably) begins Brexit negotiations. It will be the year in which elections in Germany, the Netherlands and France, and possibly Italy, are likely to see rightwing populists gain ground, even triumph.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration Party for Freedom(PVV) leads the polls and may help form the government in March. In France, in May, Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National should reach at least the second-round run-off in the presidential election and may even win. In Germany, Angela Merkel could hang on as chancellor after September’s vote, but the far-right AfD will almost certainly have dozens of Bundestag seats.

And, so, 2017 will also be the year when fears for the future of liberal democracy will reach a new pitch. Such fears will, however, be only half-justified. Democracy is in rude health. It is liberalism that is in trouble.

Democracy does not require that the “right” result be delivered every time. The whole point of the democratic process is that it is unpredictable. The reason we need democracy is that the question of what are “right” policies or who is the “right” candidate is often fiercely contested. Donald Trump or Le Pen may be reactionary, and their policies may help unpick the threads of liberal tolerance, but their success reveals a problem with politics, not democracy. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump refuses to face reality about Russia

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: Although President Obama’s sanctions against Russia for interfering with the U.S. presidential election came late, his action on Thursday reflected a bipartisan consensus that penalties must be imposed for Moscow’s audacious hacking and meddling. But one prominent voice in the United States reacted differently. President-elect Donald Trump said “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” Earlier in the week, he asserted that the “whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on.”

No, Mr. Trump, it is not time to move on. U.S. intelligence agencies are in agreement about “what is going on”: a brazen and unprecedented attempt by a hostile power to covertly sway the outcome of a U.S. presidential election through the theft and release of material damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The president-elect’s dismissive response only deepens unanswered questions about his ties to Russia in the past and his plans for cooperation with Vladi­mir Putin.

For his part, Mr. Putin seems to be eagerly anticipating the Trump presidency. On Friday, he promised to withhold retaliatory sanctions, clearly hoping the new Trump administration will nullify Mr. Obama’s acts. Then Mr. Trump cheered on Twitter: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart!”

For any American leader, an attempt to subvert U.S. democracy ought to be unforgivable — even if he is the intended beneficiary. Some years ago, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor,” and the fear at the time was of a cyberattack collapsing electric grids or crashing financial markets. Now we have a real cyber-Pearl Harbor, though not one that was anticipated. Mr. Obama has pledged a thorough investigation and disclosure; the information released on Thursday does not go far enough. Congress should not shrink from establishing a select committee for a full-scale probe.

Mr. Obama also hinted at additional retaliation, possibly unannounced, and we believe it would be justified to deter future mischief. How about shedding a little sunshine on Mr. Putin’s hidden wealth and that of his coterie?

Mr. Trump has been frank about his desire to improve relations with Russia, but he seems blissfully untroubled by the reasons for the deterioration in relations, including Russia’s instigation of an armed uprising in Ukraine, its seizure of Crimea, its efforts to divide Europe and the crushing of democracy and human rights at home.

Why is Mr. Trump so dismissive of Russia’s dangerous behavior? Some say it is his lack of experience in foreign policy, or an oft-stated admiration for strongmen, or naivete about Russian intentions. But darker suspicions persist. Mr. Trump has steadfastly refused to be transparent about his multibillion-dollar business empire. Are there loans or deals with Russian businesses or the state that were concealed during the campaign? Are there hidden communications with Mr. Putin or his representatives? We would be thrilled to see all the doubts dispelled, but Mr. Trump’s odd behavior in the face of a clear threat from Russia, matched by Mr. Putin’s evident enthusiasm for the president-elect, cannot be easily explained.

Facebooktwittermail

Why Jews, like everyone else, must resist the toxic allure of tribalism

Anna Lind-Guzik writes: My late mother was a shiksa — tall, strawberry blonde and Midwestern — and that’s often enough for other Jews to disown and dismiss me: “Oh, so you’re not actually Jewish.” No matter that my father sought refuge from Soviet anti-Semitism, first in Israel and then in America, or that his immediate family fled the Nazi invasion on cattle trains leaving Odessa. Never mind that my mother insisted on sending me to crunchy Jewish summer camp every year, and prepared a beautiful seder. Forget that it was my father, not my mother, who talked me out of a bat mitzvah ceremony.

The sad irony is that what matters to far too many of my fellow Jews is the “purity” of my blood. I cannot be married or buried as a Jew in Israel, for example, because those institutions are under the control of an Orthodox rabbinate to whom I’m irrelevant, at best. My only option to avoid discrimination is a full-blown conversion to Orthodox Judaism. Other options, including Reform Judaism, agnosticism and even atheism, are reserved for purebreds.

Though religious customs seek to deny me, I consider myself ethnically and culturally Jewish. I’m not alone. Intermarriage is a factor in modern Jewish life.

David Friedman did not arise in a vacuum. Equating Jewishness with political support for far-right extremism has been on the rise in Israel for years. Let’s not forget Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s twisted lies to increase last-minute Likud turnout in the 2015 election: “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing organizations are bussing them out.”

Many Jewish people of Russian origin share those politics, in large part because they hold a blanket hatred of the left, a residue of their understandable aversion to Soviet Communism. Criticizing the Israeli government can invite furious accusations of anti-Semitism, hurled against Jews and non-Jews alike.

How did it come to pass that right-wing politics and anti-Arab racism have come to define Jewish identity more than a love for humanity? When is it ever OK to negotiate in bad faith, as if the Palestinians were animals and therefore undeserving of peace? Have we not been on the other side of this equation before?

This is why I’m begging those of you unwilling to pledge loyalty to far-right politics to hear me out:

Jews, you are my people, but I cannot be a member of your tribe. It’s not just because the tribe will not accept me: It’s because I reject tribalism. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Pope Francis is waging a war on Christmas. Christians should join him

Christopher Hale writes: Last week, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly had good news for his viewers — the war on Christmas had finally ended. “We won!” O’Reilly declared.

What were O’Reilly’s metrics for measuring this great victory over the secularists who he saw as so hell-bent on ruining Christianity’s great feast? Simple: The number of stores using “Merry Christmas!” instead of “Happy Holidays!” has increased in the past decade.

But as O’Reilly noted, there are still some companies out there who won’t oblige with the victor’s demands that Christmas greetings be done the right way. Don’t worry, O’Reilly assured his viewers, there’s a new president in town, “and that’s bad news for them, because Donald Trump is on the case.”

In one sense, O’Reilly is absolutely right. The president-elect has made renewed Christian strength in the public sphere a key underpinning to his shocking victory. Trump told us time and again that when he’s president, Christianity will have power again in the United States. “Christians don’t use their power,” Trump has complained. “We have to strengthen. Because we are getting — if you look, it’s death by a million cuts — we are getting less and less and less powerful in terms of a religion, and in terms of a force.”

In typical Trump fashion, he thinks this starts in the marketplace: “I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ [at department stores] again.” He continued, “Because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.”

Unfortunately for O’Reilly and Trump, there’s still one person they must defeat in this self-perpetuating war on Christmas. It’s Pope Francis, the 80-year-old leader of 1.2 billion Catholics across the globe.

“Christmas is a charade!” Francis said last year.

These aren’t exactly words you would expect from a Christian during the holiday season, much less the pope. But that’s exactly what the troublemaker Pope Francis told a group of us gathered for Mass in 2015. “Christmas is approaching: There will be lights, parties, lighted Christmas trees and manger scenes. … It’s all a charade.”

Why would the pope wage war on Christmas? “The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path. There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” Francis said. “We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it. God weeps; Jesus weeps.”

In other words, the meaning of Christmas isn’t strength and visibility in the public sphere. The central claim of this holiday has always been that the rejected, crucified and executed Jesus Christ is still somehow Lord of the entire earth. In Trump’s world, those like Jesus Christ are the losers. In God’s world, these are the victors. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Donald Trump raises the specter of treason

John Shattuck, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, writes: A specter of treason hovers over Donald Trump. He has brought it on himself by dismissing a bipartisan call for an investigation of Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee as a “ridiculous” political attack on the legitimacy of his election as president.

Seventeen US national intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded that Russia engaged in cyberwarfare against the US presidential campaign. The lead agency, the CIA, has reached the further conclusion that Russia’s hacking was intended to influence the election in favor of Trump.

Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the US Cyber Command, has stated, “This was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.” On Thursday, a senior intelligence official disclosed that there is substantial evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself authorized the cyberattack.

Why does Trump publicly reject these intelligence agency conclusions and the bipartisan proposal for a congressional investigation? As president-elect, he should have a strong interest in presenting a united front against Russia’s interference with the electoral process at the core of American democracy. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Nine ways to oppose Donald Trump

John Cassidy writes: er the past few weeks, a number of anguished friends and acquaintances, and even some strangers, have got in touch with me to ask what they might do to oppose Donald Trump. Being a fellow sufferer from OATS — Obsessing About Trump Syndrome — my first instinct has been to tell people to get off social media and take a long walk. It won’t do anybody much good, except possibly Trump, if large numbers of people who voted against him send themselves mad by constantly reading about him, cursing him, and recirculating his latest outrages.

But, of course, taking a mental-health break is only a first step toward preserving the Republic. As a daily columnist, I see my role as trying to analyze and critique the Trump program, while also trying to understand some of the phenomena that allowed him to blag his way to the verge of the White House. But for those who want to take a more direct approach, here are some suggestions, starting with something you can do immediately:

1. Go to change.org and join the 4.9 million people who have signed a petition calling on members of the Electoral College to reject Trump. Then contact the electors for your state directly and tell them your concerns. On Monday, the five hundred and thirty eight electors will choose a new President. According to the Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, between twenty and thirty Republican electors are ready to vote against Trump. To deny him a majority, the number would need to reach thirty-seven. Most observers think that won’t happen, and, even if it did, the task of electing a President would pass to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which would almost certainly vote for Trump. But a big protest vote in the Electoral College could still have great deal of symbolic importance. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The Senate torture report must be saved

Senators Carl Levin and Jay Rockefeller write: In President Obama’s final national security speech on Tuesday, he spoke about the importance of staying true to our values, of not returning to torture, and of transparency. Now, in his remaining time in office, he has an opportunity to take action to advance these goals and to do something of great importance for the public’s understanding of our history. He has the ability to protect the Senate Intelligence Committee’s full 6,700-page report on torture from being lost, perhaps forever.

Given President-elect Donald J. Trump’s unconscionable campaign pledge to “bring back waterboarding” and “a hell of a lot worse” — acts that would be illegal if carried out — President Obama’s leadership on this issue has never been more important.

Drawing on our decades of work in the Senate and our chairmanships of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, we are calling on President Obama to preserve the full torture report as a matter of profound public interest. We are not asking him to necessarily agree with all of the report’s findings, though we certainly hope he does, but we are asking him to protect it as an important piece of history.

The president could do this simply by allowing departments and agencies that already possess the document to enter it as a federal record, making it much more difficult for a future administration to erase. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

What it was like as a Muslim to cover the election

Asma Khalid writes: Sometime in early 2016 between a Trump rally in New Hampshire, where a burly man shouted something at me about being Muslim, and a series of particularly vitriolic tweets that included some combination of “raghead,” “terrorist,” “bitch” and “jihadi,” I went into my editor’s office and wept.

I cried for the first (but not the last) time this campaign season.

Through tears, I told her that if I had known my sheer existence — just the idea of being Muslim — would be a debatable issue in the 2016 election, I would never have signed up to do this job.

To friends and family, I looked like a masochist. But I was too invested to quit.

I was hired by NPR to cover the intersection of demographics and politics. My job required crisscrossing the country to talk to all kinds of voters. I attended rallies and town halls for nearly every candidate on both sides of the aisle, and I met people in their homes, churches and diners.

I am also visibly, identifiably Muslim. I wear a headscarf. So I stand out. And during this campaign, that Muslim identity became the first (and sometimes only) thing people saw, for good or for bad.

Sometimes I met voters who questioned the 3-D nature of my life, people who viscerally hated the idea of me.

One night an old journalist friend called me and said, “Look, don’t be a martyr.”

It was a strange comment to me, since the harassment seemed more like a nuisance than a legitimate threat. And I knew if I was ever legitimately concerned, I had two options: I could ask for a producer to travel with me, or I wouldn’t wear a headscarf. (And a couple of times I didn’t.) Without a hijab, I’m incognito, light-skinned enough that I can pass as some sort of generic ethnic curiosity.

For many journalists, the 2016 campaign was the story of a lifetime. And it was indeed the story of a lifetime for me, too, but a story with real-life repercussions.

And I hung on, because the story of Donald Trump’s America is not some foreign story of a faraway place; it’s my homeland.

I’m from Indiana. We grew up in a mostly Democratic county. But my town was predominantly white and fairly conservative, a place where the Ten Commandments are engraved in marble outside the old County Courthouse.

I loved our childhood — summers playing basketball, winters sledding. We weren’t outsiders — I sold Girl Scout cookies, was captain of the tennis team.

We were part of the club — or so we thought. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why I will not cast my electoral vote for Donald Trump

Christopher Suprun writes: I am a Republican presidential elector, one of the 538 people asked to choose officially the president of the United States. Since the election, people have asked me to change my vote based on policy disagreements with Donald J. Trump. In some cases, they cite the popular vote difference. I do not think president-elects should be disqualified for policy disagreements. I do not think they should be disqualified because they won the Electoral College instead of the popular vote. However, now I am asked to cast a vote on Dec. 19 for someone who shows daily he is not qualified for the office.

Fifteen years ago, as a firefighter, I was part of the response to the Sept. 11 attacks against our nation. That attack and this year’s election may seem unrelated, but for me the relationship becomes clearer every day.

George W. Bush is an imperfect man, but he led us through the tragic days following the attacks. His leadership showed that America was a great nation. That was also the last time I remember the nation united. I watch Mr. Trump fail to unite America and drive a wedge between us. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump changed everything. Now everything counts

Barbara Kingsolver writes: If you’re among the majority of American voters who just voted against the party soon to control all three branches of our government, you’ve probably had a run of bad days. You felt this loss like a death in the family and coped with it as such: grieved with friends, comforted scared kids, got out the bottle of whisky, binge-watched Netflix. But we can’t hole up for four years waiting for something that’s gone. We just woke up in another country.

It’s hard to guess much from Trump’s campaign promises but we know the goals of the legislators now taking charge, plus Trump’s VP and those he’s tapping to head our government agencies. Losses are coming at us in these areas: freedom of speech and the press; women’s reproductive rights; affordable healthcare; security for immigrants and Muslims; racial and LGBTQ civil rights; environmental protection; scientific research and education; international cooperation on limiting climate change; international cooperation on anything; any restraints on who may possess firearms; restraint on the upper-class wealth accumulation that’s gutting our middle class; limits on corporate influence over our laws. That’s the opening volley.

A well-documented majority of Americans want to keep all those things, and in some cases expand them. We now find ourselves seriously opposed to our government-elect. We went to bed as voters, and got up as outsiders to the program.

How uncomfortable. We crave to believe our country is still safe for mainstream folks like us and the things we hold dear. Our civic momentum is to trust the famous checks and balances and resist any notion of a new era that will require a new kind of response. Anti-Trump demonstrations have already brought out a parental tone in the media, and Michael Moore is still being labeled a demagogue. Many Democrats look askance at Keith Ellison, the sudden shooting star of the party’s leadership, as too different, too progressive and feisty. Even if we agree with these people in spirit, our herd instinct recoils from extreme tactics and unconventional leaders on the grounds that they’ll never muster any real support.

That instinct is officially obsolete.

Wariness of extremism doesn’t seem to trouble anyone young enough to claim Lady Gaga as a folk hero. I’m mostly addressing my generation, the baby boomers. We may have cut our teeth on disrespect for the Man, but now we’ve counted on majority rule for so long we think it’s the air we breathe. In human decency we trust, so our duty is to go quietly when our team loses. It feels wrong to speak ill of the president. We’re not like the bigoted, vulgar bad sports who slandered Obama and spread birther conspiracies, oh, wait. Now we’re to honor a president who made a career of debasing the presidency?

We’re in new historical territory. A majority of American voters just cast our vote for a candidate who won’t take office. A supreme court seat meant to be filled by our elected president was denied us. Congressional districts are now gerrymandered so most of us are represented by the party we voted against. The FBI and Russia meddled with our election. Our president-elect has no tolerance for disagreement, and a stunningly effective propaganda apparatus. Now we get to send this outfit every dime of our taxes and watch it cement its power. It’s not going to slink away peacefully in the next election.

Many millions of horrified Americans are starting to grasp that we can’t politely stand by watching families, lands and liberties get slashed beyond repair. But it’s a stretch to identify ourselves as an angry opposition. We’re the types to write letters to Congress maybe, but can’t see how marching in the streets really changes anything. Strikes and work stoppages won us great deals historically, but now we think of them as chaotic outbursts that trouble foreign countries. Our disagreements are polite. Forget radical, even being labeled “political ”, which is code for opposing the civic status quo, is a kind of castigation.

But politeness is no substitute for morality, and won’t save us in the end. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

In Aleppo death follows us. But we still love life

Waad Alkhateab writes: The past week in Aleppo has been totally different from the past five years. It feels as if the Assad government is trying to wipe out what remains of east Aleppo. It is often referred to as the most dangerous city in the world and these days there is no escaping the horror.

Almost a month ago during the first siege, my friend wrote, “We no longer need to set our alarm clocks to wake us up in the morning. The missiles and barrel bombs are doing this job.” Now this is the daily reality, only the lucky people wake up alive. Hearing the sound of shelling at night is at least evidence that you are still breathing in air, not the dust of your home in ruins, or the aroma of the blood and flesh of your family members.

We thought that the 72-day siege that the city experienced earlier in the year was over with no return and that the regime had been pushed back. However, now it feels as if Bashar al-Assad is planning to break us completely. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail