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For many Americans, Russian hacking remains a story about the 2016 election. But there is another story taking shape. Marrying a hundred years of expertise in influence operations to the new world of social media, Russia may finally have gained the ability it long sought but never fully achieved in the Cold War: to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. The vast openness and anonymity of social media has cleared a dangerous new route for antidemocratic forces. “Using these technologies, it is possible to undermine democratic government, and it’s becoming easier every day,” says Rand Waltzman of the Rand Corp., who ran a major Pentagon research program to understand the propaganda threats posed by social media technology.

If that sounds alarming, it helps to understand the battlescape of this new information war. As they tweet and like and upvote their way through social media, Americans generate a vast trove of data on what they think and how they respond to ideas and arguments–literally thousands of expressions of belief every second on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and Google. All of those digitized convictions are collected and stored, and much of that data is available commercially to anyone with sufficient computing power to take advantage of it.
That’s where the algorithms come in. American researchers have found they can use mathematical formulas to segment huge populations into thousands of subgroups according to defining characteristics like religion and political beliefs or taste in TV shows and music. Other algorithms can determine those groups’ hot-button issues and identify “followers” among them, pinpointing those most susceptible to suggestion. Propagandists can then manually craft messages to influence them, deploying covert provocateurs, either humans or automated computer programs known as bots, in hopes of altering their behavior.
That is what Moscow is doing, more than a dozen senior intelligence officials and others investigating Russia’s influence operations tell TIME.
In May 2016, a Russian military intelligence officer bragged to a colleague that his organization, known as the GRU, was getting ready to pay Clinton back for what President Vladimir Putin believed was an influence operation she had run against him five years earlier as Secretary of State. The GRU, he said, was going to cause chaos in the upcoming U.S. election. Like much of America, many in the U.S. government hadn’t imagined the kind of influence operation that Russia was preparing to unleash on the 2016 election. Fewer still realized it had been five years in the making.
These officials have seen evidence of Russia using its algorithmic techniques to target the social media accounts of particular reporters, senior intelligence officials tell TIME. “It’s not necessarily the journal or the newspaper or the TV show,” says the senior intelligence official. “It’s the specific reporter that they find who might be a little bit slanted toward believing things, and they’ll hit him” with a flood of fake news stories.
By raising doubts about the validity of the 2016 vote and the vulnerability of future elections, Russia has achieved its most important objective: undermining the credibility of American democracy.
For now, investigators have added the names of specific trolls and botnets to their wall charts in the offices of intelligence and law-enforcement agencies. They say the best way to compete with the Russian model is by having a better message. “It requires critical thinkers and people who have a more powerful vision” than the cynical Russian view, says former NSA deputy Inglis. And what message is powerful enough to take on the firehose of falsehoods that Russia is deploying in targeted, effective ways across a range of new media? One good place to start: telling the truth.

“It is significant that we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and not an individual leader, ruler, office or entity,” reads an explainer on the oath on the FBI website. “A government based on individuals–who are inconsistent, fallible and often prone to error–too easily leads to tyranny on the one extreme or anarchy on the other.”
In practice, this means the FBI is built to resist loyalty requests from a President. Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s acting director and a candidate for the job, has testified to the Senate that there will be no letup, whatever the wishes of the President, in the inquiry into his campaign’s contacts with the Russians. “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date,” he said. “You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, from protecting the American people, from upholding the Constitution.”
Both factions have labored to protect the President from his worst instincts. Aides have tried everything from restricting access to the Oval Office to filling the President’s schedule in a futile bid to minimize distractions. Staffers are frustrated by leaks about staff turmoil coming from Trump’s extended circle of allies. But Trump has so far resisted attempts to impose order, insisting on long stretches of unstructured time to watch television and call allies. Unlike most CEOs, he is an “instinctive and reactive” leader, in the words of one aide, “unwilling or incapable” of hewing to a long-term strategy. Others inside the White House have likened his itchy Twitter finger and obsession with cable chatter to a drug addict who cannot grasp that his habits have become a problem. A single segment “can take over the day” for the entire West Wing, complains a staffer.
The result is a dysfunctional workplace. The President has made clear that he believes he has been let down by his staff. Meanwhile, his staff is increasingly hesitant to sacrifice their credibility for a boss who won’t protect them. When news of the classified intelligence given to the Russians came out, the press office, still reeling from supplying bad information on the firing of Comey, sent out McMaster to issue a spirited defense. One day later, when news broke of Comey’s memo alleging that Trump had asked him to drop the Flynn investigation, no White House staff rushed to the cameras. Instead, reporters received a denial from the White House by email. No adviser to the President chose to attach their name to his defense.

 


Because Trump says so many outrageous things every day, it’s easy to lose sight of just how dramatic this shift in paradigm is going to be and just how profound will be the consequences on the ground. For 70 years, the United States has helped maintain peace in much of the world thanks to a system of alliances based on a common belief in democracy. For the same period of time, American presidents have supported those alliances rhetorically as well as militarily and economically, and the United States has profited from that support. Now that the U.S. president no longer distinguishes between dictators and democrats, expect the former to grow stronger and more violent. Expect democratic alliances to grow weaker. Expect peace and prosperity to diminish.
Expect people to look elsewhere for moral leadership. During a televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, one Western leader publicly asked him to stop religious repression and the torture of gay men in Russian prisons. That’s the kind of language we were once accustomed to hearing from the “leader of the free world” — and, of course, that’s the language we can expect now only from the chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.~Anne Applebaum The Washington Post

Article: It is widely known that Trump — whose political profile over the decades has vacillated from liberal to conservative to moderate to populist, and supported and opposed abortion rights, higher taxes on the rich, and universal health care — does not care very much about political ideas. This explanation is true, but incomplete. The president also does not know very much about political ideas. And it is not merely the details of policy that he lacks. Trump has no context for processing ideas. He does not understand which kinds of ideas imply support for which kinds of policies, nor why political figures tend to believe what they do, nor why they agree or disagree with one another. He is capable of forming strongly held beliefs about people in politics, but he does so in entirely personal terms. Trump’s flamboyant, weird ignorance reveals a distinct pattern. He is not so much nonideological as sub-ideological.
Trump thinks about politics like a low-information voter, which enabled him to speak their language naturally. His stated belief during the campaign that he could expertly craft a series of popular deals — “it’s going to be so easy” — appealed to low-information voters because it earnestly described the political world as they see it. Trump’s experience as a developer and professional celebrity have put a narcissistic gloss on Trump’s low-information worldview. He sees politics as a variation of real estate or reality television — a field where the players are sorted not so much as combatants on opposing teams (though they may compete at times) but on a hierarchy of success, with the big stars at the top sharing interests in common. His vague boasts that his presidency would create terrific things that everybody loves and is winning again is a version of how he truly sees the world.
Politics is a strange institution that forces committed professionals who have coherent philosophical beliefs to persuade voters who mostly do not. Barack Obama accomplished this in highbrow fashion. His characteristic political style was to incorporate the values of both left and right and try to technocratically synthesize the perspectives together. (“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”) Trump accomplishes it in lowbrow style, by literally not understanding the source of the disagreement.
Trump Isn’t a Pragmatist. He Doesn’t Understand Ideology.

Three months into his presidency, the rest of Europe too is still deeply unsettled over this new president unlike any other, confused about whether he’s a dangerous ideologue or merely dangerously ignorant—and desperately seeking ways to stop him from pursuing the foreign policy of Russia-reconciling and European Union-bashing he promised on the campaign trail.
As Trump prepares for the first overseas trip of his presidency later this month, with European stops planned in Brussels for a NATO summit and Sicily, Italy, for a G7 meeting, it’s clear he’ll be coming to a continent whose political class both fears and loathes him to an unprecedented degree.
“Donald Trump is probably one of the least popular American presidents on this side of the Atlantic for a very long time,” says Bildt, a card-carrying member of Europe’s political class and charter member of the security institutions that have shaped its post-Cold War order.
Do Europeans dislike Trump even more than George W. Bush, I ask, recalling the hostile days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq that most Europeans opposed and which keeps Bush from visiting the continent to this day?
Yes, Bildt tells me. Trump’s “brutal” and “vulgar” campaigning, his disdain for the facts, his lack of “civility,” are much worse than the policy disputes of the Bush era; they’ve already “caused a gulf to open up between us.”

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/05/01/trump-europe-carl-bildt-global-politico-215087

 

Deconstructing Trump-speak


Deconstructing Trump-speak
“Trump’s trademark talk is full of rambling, aside-filled bursts of simple but definitive words, laden with self-congratulatory bravado and claims that have fact-checkers working overtime,” AP’s Matt Sedensky writes after asking linguists about Trump’s rhetorical signatures:
• Kathleen Hall Jamieson: “The public speech of the president in the past has been crafted speech, it has been considered speech. Presidents prepared before speeches, presidents prepared before press conferences, presidents had stock answers ready to give.”
• “Word choice is typically simple — to Trump, things are terrible or incredible, best or worst. Asides are frequent. And repetition is rampant: When Trump wants to get a point across, he makes it again and again.”
• “Trump has suggested there’s method to his word choice … that the simple terms he often opts for can be more effective than the flowery eloquence listeners may be used to from presidents. ‘I went to an Ivy League school. I’m very highly educated. I know words; I have the best words,’ he said during the campaign.”
• Historian Kristen Kobes Du Mez of Calvin College: “I don’t know that any president has ever used ‘super-duper’ in his rhetoric before.”
The Trump Doctrine
Yahoo’s Olivier Knox, surveying a wide range of diplomats in Washington, finds that Trump’s “unpredictable approach to world affairs [has] unsettled rivals, but also sometimes unnerves even close allies who wonder if anyone can speak with authority for the Twitter-reliant commander in chief.”
“They also noted that a large number of pivotal positions at the Pentagon and State Department remain vacant, hindering the regular policymaking process.”

Honestly, you didn’t seem all that broken up when Muslim families were handcuffed in airports a couple of months ago, or when mosques were being defaced, or when many of us were pleading the case for families fleeing exactly the kind of monstrous atrocities you were apparently so moved by this week—and getting told to eat our bleeding hearts out by MAGA hat-wearing trolls. You weren’t all that concerned when your President told terrified, exhausted refugees to leave and go home—twice. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t kiss the ring of a bad guy and then get to be the hero by feeling sorry about what other worse guys do. You don’t get to tell people to “go back where they came from,” and then beat your breasts like tortured martyrs when they get poisoned to death back where they came from.  

Be outraged at a President who plays patty-cake with malevolent dictators,
who says whatever hateful nonsense comes into his head,
who daily murders the truth to justify his misdeeds.
Be outraged at partisan media that insists on manufacturing Muslin monsters for the good Christian folks here to fear and feel righteous in turning away.
Be outraged at the bullies wielding their pulpits and their majority votes like sledgehammers against people of color both here and abroad.
Be outraged at your own laziness and apathy when it comes to looking for the truth and ferreting out what is real and what isn’t.
Be outraged that Donald Trump is lamenting the “poor dead babies,” he once said he would look in the face and tell to go home.
Be outraged that America is becoming as intolerant of diversity as any country on the planet.

I’m not interested in your tears unless those tears move you to pushback forcefully against the violence happening in Syria and in Chicago, against terrorists and dictators and religious extremists wherever they do what they do and whatever faith tradition they claim. Yes Assad and Putin are the worst kind of horrible inhumanity and they should be condemned and opposed, but let’s stop pretending we don’t see the similarities here at home—if not in severity, then in spirit. Be equally outraged at all the horrors human beings inflict upon each other, and then we’ll be grieving over the same tragedy and fighting the same fight.

http://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/04/06/crocodile-trumper-tears-and-dead-syrian-children/

 

 


Since the rise of the tea party, there have been perhaps 30 members of the House — the Freedom Caucus — who have been consistently unwilling to vote for center-right policy because their anti-government convictions are unappeasable. Incited and abetted by conservative media, they made then-Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) life a living hell, and have greeted Ryan (Wis.) with sharpened pitchforks. So a party at the peak of its political fortunes is utterly paralyzed. A caucus in control of everything is itself uncontrollable. Republicans got an administration that is incompetent. The White House policy process has been erratic and disorganized. It has failed to provide expert analysis or assistance to Congress and did little to effectively advocate the president’s policy in ways that could have united the party.

 Republicans got an administration that is morally small. Trump’s proposed budget would require massive cuts in disease research, global development and agricultural programs — just as a famine gathers a hideous strength. The proposed budget practices random acts of gratuitous cruelty. This is a pretty bad combination: empty, easily distracted, vindictive, shallow, impatient, incompetent and morally small. This is not the profile of a governing party. It can hardly surprise us. The president had no governing experience. He has no detailed governing agenda. He trashed everyone who tried to govern in the past. And we somehow expect him to overcome the complex governing task presented by the Freedom Caucus? His new strategy is to go on the attack:

And all this has come in the course of the president’s political honeymoon. What, for goodness’ sake, will the marriage be like? It is now dawning on Republicans what they have done to themselves. They thought they could somehow get away with Trump. That he could be contained. That the adults could provide guidance. That the economy might come to the rescue. That the damage could be limited. Instead, they are seeing a downward spiral of incompetence and public contempt — a collapse that is yet to reach a floor. A presidency is failing. A party unable to govern is becoming unfit to govern. And what, in the short term, can be done about it? Nothing. Nothing at all.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-failing-presidency-has-the-gop-in-a-free-fall/2017/03/30/e0882d62-1581-11e7-ada0-1489b735b3a3_story.html?utm_term=.1998ad35dbbb

 

 

 

 

 


While producing a CNN documentary on health-care systems around the globe, I was particularly struck by the experience of Taiwan, another free-market haven. In 1995, 41 percent of its population was uninsured and the country had very poor health outcomes. The government decided to canvass the world for the best ideas before instituting a new framework. It chose Medicare for all, a single government payer, with multiple private providers. The results are astonishing. Taiwan has achieved some of the best outcomes in the world while paying only 7 percent of its gross domestic product on health care (compared with 18 percent in the United States). I asked William Hsiao, an economist who helped devise the country’s model, what lessons they took, if any, from the United States. “You can learn what not to do from the United States rather than learn what to do,” he replied.

Fareed Zakaria

By Fareed Zakaria
Thursday, Mar. 30, 2017

The recent Republican debacle on health care could prove to be an opportunity. It highlighted, yet again, the complexity of the U.S. system, which continues to be by far the most expensive and inefficient in the advanced world. But President Trump could actually use the legislative collapse to fix health care if he went back to basics and to his core convictions on the topic, which are surprisingly intelligent and consistent.

There is an understandable impulse on the right to assume that health care would work more efficiently if it were a free market, or a freer market. This is true for most goods and services. But in 1963, economist Kenneth Arrow, who later won a Nobel Prize, offered an explanation as to why markets would not work well in this area. He argued that there was a huge mismatch of power and…

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Trust in the Age of Trump


Trust is a transaction between leaders and those they lead. Throughout our history, the deeply held beliefs of various Presidents have taken the nation into war, delayed the pursuit of peace, alienated allies, appeased enemies. At other times, presidential beliefs have conquered the continent, freed the slaves, taken us to the moon because the President firmly believed we could get there. As citizens, it is vital that we be able to believe our President; it is also vital that we know what he believes, and why. This President has made both a severe challenge.
Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR This appears in the April 03, 2017 issue of TIME.
Without truth there is no trust.
Speaking on national television the night before that 1970 election, Senator Ed Muskie of Maine addressed the real choice confronting the voters: “There are only two kinds of politics. They’re not radical and reactionary or conservative and liberal or even Democratic and Republican. There are only the politics of fear and the politics of trust. One says you are encircled by monstrous dangers. Give us power over your freedom so we may protect you. The other says the world is a baffling and hazardous place, but it can be shaped to the will of men. “Cast your vote,” he concluded, “for trust in the ancient traditions of this home for freedom.”

Source: Trump prepares to pass the world leadership baton to China


Article highlights:

Europeans are starting to worry that Steve Bannon has the EU in his cross hairs. Here’s how the White House could genuinely help pull it apart. To Bannon, a strengthened EU is nothing less than a risk to civilization: a body that dilutes national identity and whose border policies allow Islam to invade the West, one refugee at a time.

Bannon was an executive at Breitbart News, an activist-editor-gadfly known mostly on the far right, and the “Brexit” campaign was something of a pet project. He hitched onto the Tea Party movement early in Barack Obama’s presidency and noticed a similar right-populist wave rising across the Atlantic, where fed-up rural, white Britons were anxious about immigration and resentful of EU bureaucrats. The cause touched on some of Bannon’s deepest beliefs, including nationalism, Judeo-Christian/Catholic nationalist identity and the evils of Big Government.

Bannon’s vision, as laid out in public remarks and private conversations, opposes international organizations in favor of empowering nation-states.

Bannon’s public remarks, and accounts from people who have spoken with him, make clear he believes Brexit and Trump’s election are part of something bigger, a global political revolt that could restore what he calls lost “sovereignty” on the continent.

Bannon told an audience of religious conservative activists at the Vatican in 2014. “That is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.”

To Bannon, however, a strengthened EU is nothing less than a risk to civilization: a body that dilutes national identity and whose border policies allow Islam to invade the West, one refugee at a time. Bannon, who did not respond to interview requests, has repeatedly made clear his views about Europe. Most revealing is the widely read transcript of his Vatican talk, in which Bannon declared that “the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis.” Europe’s citizens, he said, are restless for “sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism.” And, Bannon added: “They don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union.”

Bannon has approvingly cited Maurras’ distinction between the “legal country,” led by elected officials, and the “real country” of ordinary people, as a frame for the populist revolt underway.

Bannon “made it clear he had lost faith in Europe as secularism and arriving Muslim immigrants had eroded traditional Christian values as the founding pillar of our civilization,” Rose wrote. “Losing the Christian faith, in his view, has weakened Europe—it’s neither willing nor able to confront Islam’s rising power and some European Muslims’ insistence on privileged treatment of their religion.”

Bannon’s solution? Rebuilding the firm borders between European states—to keep the Muslim immigrants out, and to keep in the religious and national identity. “I have admired nationalist movements throughout the world,” Bannon told the Wall Street Journal shortly after the U.S. election. “I have said repeatedly, strong nations make great neighbors.”

 

 

 

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/03/trump-steve-bannon-destroy-eu-european-union-214889

By Michael Crowley March/April 2017

 

 

Continued article highlights: 

But do they? Many a European leader, not to mention historian, disagrees. Runaway nationalism led to, among many other horribles, Franz Ferdinand’s assassination and World War I, and gave us Hitler, Mussolini and Milosevic. Those things, in turn, drew America’s military across the Atlantic.

 

“I don’t get it. Americans have spent a lot of their history either fighting against Europeans or fighting on behalf of Europeans against other Europeans,” says Charles Kupchan, who served until January as the top official for European affairs at the Obama White House. “Anybody who wants to bring Europe down risks putting us back in the 19th century or the early 20th century.”

 

European officials note that this happens to be a goal of Russia’s president, Putin, who is busily undermining the post-Cold War internationalist order in favor of a nationalistic, geography-based power politics. A U.S. effort to dismantle the EU, one Western European government official says with distaste, “would put America on the same side as Putin.”

 

The thought is rattling Europe at the highest levels. In January, Donald Tusk, president of the EU’s European Council—who calls himself “an incurably pro-American European who is fanatically devoted to trans-Atlantic cooperation”—sent a letter to member states characterizing the Trump administration as a menace to the Union, alongside the likes of Russia and radical Islam. “[W]ith the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” Tusk wrote, America now had to be considered not a stalwart friend of the EU but a “threat.”

 

Wolfgang Ischinger, former German ambassador to the United States, put it in starker terms in remarks at a February security conference in Munich attended by top Trump officials. “Is President Trump going to continue a tradition of half a century of being supportive of the project of European integration, or is he going to continue to advocate EU member countries to follow the Brexit example?” Ischinger asked. “If he did that, it would amount to a kind of nonmilitary declaration of war. It would mean conflict between Europe and the United States. Is that what the U.S. wants?

 

 

 

 Important elections coming up:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a favorite target of Breitbart, almost always in the context of her “open door” migrant policy. The news site, formerly run by Bannon, is working toward opening a bureau in Berlin in time for the country’s general election later this year, in which Merkel will seek a fourth term.

 

Not long ago, Breitbart cautiously praised Emmanuel Macron, a center-of-left French presidential candidate running as an independent, as a “French Tony Blair” willing to consider dismantling an unreformed European Union. But the site has since changed its tone, going all in for Marine Le Pen, while deriding the “Pro-EU Macron,” in articles such as, “France Blames Russia For Poor Performance of Left-Wing Presidential Candidate.”

 

In a January letter to EU member states, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, lamented the rise of “national egoism” within Europe, taking a shot at the kinds of Euroskeptic movements Bannon has encouraged. Still, after a February meeting with Mike Pence, Tusk said the U.S. vice president had committed America’s “unequivocal support for the idea of a united Europe.”

 

 

 

Elections to watch:

Netherlands- March- Dutch election results: Europe’s far-right populists fail first test

France – Spring

Germany – September

Italy – Summer

 

and Mexico – Summer 2018


It really is an upside down world when I am posting a Bret Stephens column. As a political junkie, the world has titled off its axis a little too much for comfort. It is indeed, a lopsided world for many of us.

Sean Hannity reminds us that the paranoid style in politics is alive and well today.

But as the Turkish example reminds us, whatever else exists in Washington, it isn’t a deep state. When Mr. Trump demanded the resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys, they all left, except for Manhattan’s Preet Bharara, who asked for a firing and got it. The CIA is run by a Trump appointee, and the only generals in charge of federal departments are the ones the president nominated to their positions. The GOP establishment has rolled over for the new president. As for the “corporatist, globalist media” that Steve Bannon rails against, it also includes Fox News. This is paranoid time. Specifically, we are again in territory best identified by Richard Hofstadter in “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” The paranoid style can be evidence of irrationalism bordering on mental illness. It can also be a form of a cunning instrumentalism to destroy your political opponents by stoking hysterical fears in your supporters. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a master of the latter method. What about Mr. Trump? Conservatives used to understand the ideological provenance of words and the consequences that flow from treating political differences as mortal threats to the state. Too bad too many intelligent conservatives gave up worrying about the use of language sometime last year. They will come to regret what they’ve allowed, perhaps only when they, too, become its victims. ~Conservative Opinion Writer Bret Stephens

https://www.wsj.com/articles/deep-states-and-demagogues-1489446006

 


Children sitting in Professor Trump’s history class would learn that Obama was America’s first Muslim president; that his co-religionists celebrated in the streets following the 9/11 attacks; that their vaccination schedule is the dangerous scam of greedy doctors; that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the death of John F. Kennedy; that Hillary Clinton might have been involved in the death of Vince Foster; that unnamed liberals might have been involved in the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. More recently, Trump has claimed — based, so far, on nothing — that Obama ordered the bugging of Trump Tower. And Trump’s allies, with the White House’s blessing, have alleged the existence of a “deep state,” conducting what talk radio host Mark Levin calls a “silent coup.” Trump does not support things because they are true; they are true because he supports them. And he expects everyone who works for him to publicly and vocally embrace his version of reality. Day by day, Republicans are lowering their standards of sanity to defend an administration seized by conspiracy thinking. If they do not stand up to this trend, they will be defining lunacy down. ~Conservative writer Michael Gerson
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