How Obama and McConnell Handled Russian Election Interference

This is a story from December 2016 that gives some detail on what the Obama Administration tried to do in response to Russia’s election interference:

In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals.

And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.”

The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests.

According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.

This is an illustration of the point I was making yesterday that Republicans are more aggressive about forwarding their own partisan interests than Democrats are, even when faced with an issue that goes to the core of our democratic process. It also illustrates the weakness of Democrats, where McConnell’s threat was apparently enough to get Obama to back off. So what if Republicans choose to politicize it? Republicans politicize every non-partisan institution that gets in their way: the FBI in the Russia investigation, the CBO during the health care debate, the Senate parliamentarian when he doesn’t rule their way, and on and on.

Some Clinton supporters saw the White House’s reluctance to act without bipartisan support as further evidence of an excessive caution in facing adversaries.

“The lack of an administration response on the Russian hacking cannot be attributed to Congress,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who was at the September meeting. “The administration has all the tools it needs to respond. They have the ability to impose sanctions. They have the ability to take clandestine means. The administration has decided not to utilize them in a way that would deter the Russians, and I think that’s a problem.”

I think in 50 years, we’ll look back at the various causes that led to the national disaster unfolding today and view Obama’s timidity in the face of Russia’s actions to be a key part of where things broke down. In my view, if Obama though the right thing to do was to make Russia’s election interference public, he should have done that. If Republicans then choose to mount a partisan defense, let them and deal with it when it comes.

How the Republicans Broke Congress

Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein nail what’s broken in our politics today in an op-ed for The New York Times:

If in 2006 one could cast aspersions on both parties, over the past decade it has become clear that it is the Republican Party — as an institution, as a movement, as a collection of politicians — that has done unique, extensive and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system.

The only problem I have with this setup is calling out the year 2006 as a time when one could cast aspersions on both parties. For example, after routing Republicans in congressional elections that year, and facing a historically unpopular President Bush who incompetently blundered the nation into a never-ending conflict in Iraq, Democrats refrained from impeaching him and instead trusted they would win the presidency in 2008. In other words, they let the appropriately allowed the electoral process to play out. In 1998, however, a Republican Congress impeached President Clinton for lying about having an affair with an intern during a deposition. This was a minor matter of no national importance, but the Republican Party hated Clinton so much that they were willing to impeach him over almost anything.

If one accepts that at any given time both parties indulge in a certain amount of lying, cheating, and stealing as part of the day-to-day of politics, what we’re talking about today with the Republican Party is something different. I’ve been following politics closely since the 1992 presidential election. During that time, there has been an obvious march of the Republican Party to the right. As it’s gotten more conservative, it’s also gotten more intransigent. It’s now completely unwilling to compromise; has developed a view of Democrats and liberals not as political opponents who simply have a different view of, say, tax policy, but rather as being fundamentally un-American.

The authors go on to describe this shift:

First, beginning in the 1990s, the Republicans strategically demonized Congress and government more broadly and flouted the norms of lawmaking, fueling a significant decline of trust in government that began well before the financial collapse in 2008, though it has sped up since. House Republicans showed their colors when they first blocked passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Plan, despite the urgent pleas of their own president, George W. Bush, and the speaker of the House, John Boehner. The seeds of a (largely phony) populist reaction were planted.
Second, there was the “Obama effect.” When Mr. Bush became president, Democrats worked with him to enact sweeping education reform early on and provided the key votes to pass his top priority, tax cuts. With President Barack Obama, it was different. While many argued that the problem was that Mr. Obama failed to schmooze enough with Republicans in Congress, we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.


Third, we have seen the impact of significant changes in the news media, which had a far greater importance on the right than on the left. The development of the modern conservative media echo chamber began with the rise of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio in the late 1980s and ramped up with the birth of Fox News. Matt Drudge, his protégé Andrew Breitbart and Breitbart’s successor Steve Bannon leveraged the power of the internet to espouse their far-right views. And with the advent of social media, we saw the emergence of a radical “alt-right” media ecosystem able to create its own “facts” and build an audience around hostility to the establishment, anti-immigration sentiment and racial resentment. Nothing even close to comparable exists on the left.

This is inarguable. The question is what to do about it. In my opinion, it’s long overdue for Democrats and liberals to start being very tough not just with Congressional Republicans, but with the entire right-wing media establishment that enables them. It’s an ideological struggle as important as the ideological struggle against fascism and communism were, and should be treated accordingly.

Celebration of Ignorance

Carl Sagan, in The Demon-Haunted World:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

President Trump’s earliest appearance in Panama Papers revealed

From The New York Daily News:

A real estate deal from the early 1990s is the earliest instance of President Trump’s name appearing in the Panama Papers, the massive trove of leaked documents detailing the ways in which the world’s richest people hide their business dealings from scrutiny and taxation.

The discovery, first flagged by investigative reporter Jake Bernstein on Friday afternoon, involves the purchase and subsequent sale of a condo at the newly constructed Trump Palace on the Upper East Side in the 1990s.

The deal involved a mysterious Panamanian company called Process Consultants, Inc., which bought a 16th floor condo at the Trump skyscraper in 1991.

Process Consultants was owned through so-called bearer shares, which can be used to transfer assets with complete anonymity. Such shares are popular among money launderers.

Three years after the purchase, Process Consultants put the Trump Palace unit up for sale, with the Trump Corporation as its exclusive broker. A woman from Hong Kong, whose name has appeared in other leaked documents, appears to have bought the apartment for $355,000, according to a contract.

As has been the case with most Panama Papers revelations, there’s no indication of who is actually behind Process Consultants or where that person’s money came from.

While using bearer shares doesn’t prove that Process Consultants was involved in something dubious, the quick condo flip is characteristic of money laundering.

Watch the stories about money laundering through condo sales.

Trump Delivers a Thanksgiving Message to the Coast Guard

Such a heartwarming message this Thanksgiving:

The Navy, I can tell you, we’re ordering ships, with the Air Force I can tell you we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is like almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, how good is this plane? They said, well, sir, you can’t see it. I said but in a fight. You know, in a fight, like I watch on the movies. The fight, they’re fighting. How good is this? They say, well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to them, it can’t see it. I said that helps. That’s a good thing.

The President of the United States thinks the F-35 is literally invisible.

Vaccinate Your Children

From a really interesting article about the people still living in iron lungs:

“All the mothers were just terrified because people were just getting it right and left,” Lillard said. “They didn’t know if it was a virus or bacteria or how you caught it.”

Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious disease that can cause paralysis of legs, arms, and respiratory muscles. “The polio virus is a silver bullet designed to kill specific parts of the brain,” Richard Bruno, a clinical psychophysiologist, and director of the International Centre for Polio Education said. “But parents today have no idea what polio was like, so it’s hard to convince somebody that lives are at risk if they don’t vaccinate.”

I’ve long theorized that a big reason why anti-vaxxers have gotten any traction at all is precisely because vaccines are so effective. So many catastrophic diseases have been effectively eradicated by vaccines in rich countries that parents no longer perceive a meaningful threat. They are then free to indulge in the fantasy that the real threat is actually the doctors working to eliminate these diseases.

When Lillard was a child, polio was every parent’s worst nightmare. The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralyzed and 3,145 died. “They closed theaters, swimming pools, families would keep their kids away from other kids because of the fear of transmission,” Bruno said.

By 1961, there were only 161 reported cases in the US. But in 1988, there were still an estimated 350,000 cases worldwide. That year, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Rotary International began an aggressive campaign to end polio everywhere. Last year there were 37 cases reported in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

According to Bruno, if an infected person in either of those countries visited family in an area like Orange County, California, where many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children, “then we could be talking about the definition of a polio epidemic.”

The result of this ignorance and superstition is potentially catastrophic.

Mastering Programming

I really liked this list of work habits to make programmers more effective:

From years of watching master programmers, I have observed certain common patterns in their workflows. From years of coaching skilled journeyman programmers, I have observed the absence of those patterns. I have seen what a difference introducing the patterns can make.

Here are ways effective programmers get the most out of their precious 3e9 seconds on the planet.

The theme here is scaling your brain. The journeyman learns to solve bigger problems by solving more problems at once. The master learns to solve even bigger problems than that by solving fewer problems at once. Part of the wisdom is subdividing so that integrating the separate solutions will be a smaller problem than just solving them together.

Our Institutions Are Under Assault

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says our institutions are under assault:

In many ways, our institutions are under assault, both externally — and that’s the big news here, is the Russian interference in our election system — and I think as well our institutions are under assault internally … the founding fathers, in their genius, created a system of three co-equal branches of government and a built-in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that’s under assault and is eroding.

“Asked directly whether he meant ‘internally from the president,’ Clapper responded: ‘Exactly.'”

Kushners, Trump In-Laws, Weigh $400 Million Deal with Chinese Firm

Amazing conflict of interest by Jared Kushner:

A New York real estate company owned by the family of President Trump’s son-in-law has been negotiating to sell a $400 million stake in its Fifth Avenue flagship skyscraper to a Chinese insurance company with ties to leading families of the Communist Party.

The Chinese company, Anbang Insurance Group, would pay to get a high-profile piece of Manhattan real estate and would commit to spending billions more to completely transform the 60-year-old tower into a chic condominium and retail citadel.

If signed, the potential agreement would create a financial marriage of two politically powerful families in the world’s two biggest economies, but it would also present the possibility of glaring conflicts of interest. The Kushner family, owners of the tower, would reap a financial windfall courtesy of a Chinese company, even as Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump as well as his son-in-law, helps oversee American foreign policy.

News of the negotiations surfaced as President Trump and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, were preparing for their first meeting, to be held next month.

How can anyone who was bothered by the appearance of corruption by Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation not be completely alarmed by deals like this? Imagine a firm with ties to the Chinese leadership doing lucrative deals with Chelsea Clinton. And she wasn’t going to have a senior job in a Clinton White House.