• US Pentagon building as seen through target scope

    This is War: Picks of the Week

    The Perfect Weapon: How Russian Cyberpower Invaded the U.S. | The New York Times

    Trump Falsely Says U.S. Claim of Russian Hacking Came After Election | The New York Times

    What you need to know about Trump and Russia | Politico

    The United States has been attacked.  The integrity of our electoral system has been assaulted by a Russian influence operation that, according to media reports of classified briefings, was intended to benefit the candidacy of Donald Trump.  The short hand in the media is that the United States was “hacked.”  Such short hand understates the enormity of what has taken place.

    In fact, Russia is conducting political warfare against the western world, not just the United States.  War, Clausewitz told us, is the continuation of politics by other means.  Political warfare relies on political means—information operations and manipulation—to achieve political objectives.  In recent cases, that has meant fake news; paid internet trolls and botnets shaping what’s trending online; the electronic theft and release of damaging emails; and the rise of English-language Russian propaganda outlets that target the United States and, now, its allies in Europe.

    Consider these examples:

    • Alex Younger, the head of Britain’s fabled foreign intelligence service, MI6, warned recently of “cyber-attacks, propaganda or subversion of democratic process.” He noted, “The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty; they should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”
    • Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, has said “We have evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty. . . . The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, regardless of who that ends up helping. We have indications that [the attacks] come from the Russian region” [sic].
    • In France, the National Front—a hard-right, anti immigrant, anti-EU political party, is financed by Russian banks.
    • In Hungary, evidence has emerged that far-right wing militias have “openly trained with Russian diplomats and men dressed in Russian military intelligence uniforms.”

    In fact, Russia is systematically trying to undermine the western liberal order, as the researchers at the Atlantic Council have documented in a remarkable study, “The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses.”  According to the report’s authors, Russia “seeks to turn Western liberal virtues–free media, plurality of opinion, and openness–into vulnerabilities to be exploited. “

    So disabuse yourself of the idea this is just Democratic sour grapes because Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election. Russia is at war with the West’s freedoms and we need to recognize that threat for what it is.  News that the Obama administration chose not to confront Russia over its meddling in the American election out of concern it would provoke a cyber-war between the United States and Russia misses one critical point: the Russians are already waging war.

    The Russian offensive is breathtaking for its ambition.  In addition to the manipulation of the American election, as well as the threat to Europe’s unity and electoral integrity, Moscow is also providing support and advice to American secessionists in states like California and Texas.

    There is only one example in history of which I am aware when political warfare was unleashed with such abandon and effect.  In 1917, Imperial Germany permitted Vladimir Lenin, an exiled Russian revolutionary, to transit Germany from Switzerland in the belief that his return to Russia would unleash an uprising that would take Russia from the battlefield.  His return did just as the Germans hoped.

    This is the stark reality the West faces today: we are at war.

  • Stack of newspapers in print

    Truth is the First Casualty: Picks of the Week

    Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’ | The Washington Post

    Trump takes credit for saving Ford factory that was not closing | The Guardian

    Megyn Kelly tells ‘The View” how she felt when Trump was elected president | The Daily Beast

    Feelings are the hobgoblins of American politics.  Voters “feel” like one candidate will do a better job than another.  Voters “feel” like the economy isn’t producing for them.  Voters “feel” like others are taking opportunity away from them.  But those feelings are bunk and undermine important things like facts and the truth.

    The assault on truth is an epidemic and a danger to the republic.  The examples are legion.  Consider the tale of Paul Horner, the “fake-news” writer who tried to troll the Trump campaign, but instead helped reinforce its narrative.  He makes $10,000 per month writing fake-news stories and posting them on Facebook.  One of his stories alleged protesters were being paid $3500 to oppose Donald Trump’s campaign—a story, by his own admission, that was fabricated out of thin air but was shared on social media by Trump’s campaign manager.

    The president-elect is no stranger to claims devoid of truth.  During the campaign, Donald Trump alleged that NATO adopted a counter-terrorism mission because he had criticized them on the issue.  For the record, NATO had adopted the plan before Trump ever discussed it.  Similarly, Trump this week took credit for saving a Ford manufacturing plant in Kentucky even though Ford never had any plans to shutter it.

    Not so long ago, we expected the aggregators of information in our world—news outlets, newspapers, and public officials—to curate valid information for us.  In that time, a name like Cronkite or Brinkley or Chancellor immediately conveyed authority and buoyed public confidence.  Today, in contrast, media moguls gush that a Trump presidency “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” as CBS Chairman Les Moonves put it in February.  Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, herself a victim of Trump’s bullying, relishes his win because of the impact on ratings.  “Honestly,” she told the hosts of The View, “as a reporter, I was like, this is going to be so much more interesting.”

    The key take away for the citizen is that we must all become savvy consumers of information.  For decades, educators have lamented the challenge of teaching critical thinking.  In an information-rich environment where truth and false-hoods compete with the same inherent authority, citizens have to ask hard questions, we have to fact-check, we have to hold people to account.  We must master critical thinking as a society, or else we risk major policy and political changes guided only by feelings and hunches. – Executive Director Jim Ludes


  • A Republic, If You’ll Keep It: Picks of the Week

    How Russia Pulled Off the Biggest Election Hack in U.S. History | Esquire

    Steve Bannon’s Vision for the Trump Coalition After Election Day | The New Yorker

    Donald Trump’s Contempt for Democracy | The New York Times

    Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S. | The New York Times

    The United States is currently the target of a Russian information operation—of this there is no doubt.  From Russian artifacts found in stolen emails, to the clear linkages between the organs of Russian propaganda and Wikileaks, the hand of Russia in the American election is obvious—so much so that by the time the United States government stated that fact unequivocally, the reaction was muted because it wasn’t news; it was confirmation.

    While the Clinton campaign has argued that Russia wants Donald Trump to win because he’ll be softer on Russia and give Russia a free hand in Eastern Europe, in Syria, and elsewhere, the evidence is less clear.  More likely, Russia simply wants to discredit American democracy and western liberalism more broadly.  Russia can do so simply by shining a light on some of the worst elements of American political life and the underbelly of our society.

    The 2016 campaign has reached new lows, rhetorically—of course—but also in the coarsening of our national debate.  From the threats to ban an entire religion from the United States, to the characterization of Mexicans as rapists and criminals, and the threat of one candidate to jail his political opponent, the tone and tenor of the 2016 campaign has shocked historians and political scientists.  In the process, Donald Trump has attracted an amalgam of white nationalists who believe that America is in peril because of immigration and the gradual darkening of our nation’s complexion.  Tropes and memes once considered taboo are now slung across social media in a dizzying, sickening manner.  Images threatening violence, telling reporters with Jewish sounding names that they’ll be “first for the ovens,” or promising to “resist” after the election—as one tweeter did over an image of a man clutching a modern assault rifle in front a Nazi flag—are legion.

    Of course, in the stolen emails from the DNC, we also saw clear evidence that the Democratic National Committee favored Secretary Clinton over the candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders.  We also caught a glimpse of the power of money in Washington to gain access—or at least to give people a sense of bought access.  To many, these revelations—all gleaned by the success of a hack directed by Russian intelligence—seem confirmation of rot and “rigging” within the American political system.

    The Soviet Union, and now Russia, have long celebrated the “Great Patriotic War”—the fight against Nazi Germany that nearly bled Russia white.  That is one reason why I am convinced that the Russian government does not care who wins the American election.  No matter what happens, Russia will be able to point out that somewhere around 40% of the American public supported a candidate widely and publicly embraced by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

    The Russian information operation is not targeting America, per se—it’s targeting America’s reputation, our support of democracy around the world, and our credibility as a bastion in the western, liberal order.  That’s the real prize, because it’s western liberalism that most threatens Putin’s regime. – Executive Director Jim Ludes


  • The Unmet Threat to the American Election: Picks of the Week

    AP-NORC Poll: Half of Trump backers don’t trust vote count | Associated Press

    How Russia Wants to Undermine the U.S. Election | Time

    FBI director: Hackers ‘poking around’ voter systems | CNN

    The evidence of Russia’s efforts to intervene in the American election of 2016 is only mounting.  Members of the U.S. House and Senate have raised the alarm publicly while the Obama administration hedges its bets that the American electoral system is resilient enough to weather any disruptions.  The Obama administration is playing a very dangerous game.

    Putin seeks to undermine the credibility of western liberalism.  The values of free elections, free speech, and rule of law are all under assault in Putin’s Russia, and Putin resents America’s bipartisan tradition of global evangelization of western values.  He’s adopted a political warfare strategy to undermine global confidence in Western democracy, just as he has in elections close to Russia.

    The danger in the American system is compounded by one candidate who has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, that the only way he will lose is if there is cheating.  That message, not surprisingly, is sticking.  A new poll shows that nearly half of Republican voters have concerns that their votes will not count on Election Day.  Donald Trump is playing into Russia’s hands, undermining not just American confidence but global confidence in the legitimacy of American democracy.

    The Obama administration must do  more than offer private warnings to the Russian government.  It’s time to name and shame Russia for its efforts to undermine confidence in the American electoral system.  Failure to do so will have a long-lasting negative impact on the public’s trust in the legitimacy of our electoral system—dangerous stuff for any republic such as ours and for all who value legitimate, free elections around the world.

  • A robotic man facing right and gesturing with his hand

    Advice to the Class of 2020: Picks of the Week


    The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation | Oxford University

    Self-Driving Cars Endanger Millions of American Jobs (And That’s Okay) | Make Use Of


    This week, I delivered keynote remarks at Salve Regina University’s academic convocation. An abridged version appears below.

    Sister Jane, Dr. O’Reilly, members of the board of trustees, University colleagues, distinguished guests, friends and especially members of the class of 2020: thank you for this great honor.

    At one point over the weekend, there was some concern that this convocation would have to be cancelled because of the storm swirling offshore in the Atlantic.  And as I sat down on Saturday to put my finishing touches on these remarks, I faced the same question faced by every student who’s ever had an assignment due on the same day as a forecasted snowstorm: do I do my homework?

    Here’s a pro-tip: get done the things you have to get done.

    * * * * *

    When Sister Jane asked me to give this convocation address, she encouraged me to talk about what’s happening in the world—but to not make it depressing.

    Easier said than done.

    It’s tempting in this kind of talk to read a roll-call of horrors:

    • 400,000 people dead in the Syrian civil war;
    • generations of progress toward political integration in Europe cast aside under pressure from extremists and migrants fleeing extremism;
    • the reemergence of military competition in Eastern Europe between the United States and Russia;
    • an assertive, nationalist China literally building islands on the sea floor to change the facts on the ground in a strategically significant patch of sea; and
    • a North Korea desperately trying to develop nuclear warheads that it can deliver by missile to American targets.

    Don’t even get me started on climate change.  Fifteen of the 16 hottest years on record, globally, have all occurred since 2001.  It’s 2016.  You do the math.  And 2016 is on path to be the hottest, still.

    But I don’t want to leave you simply with a list of reasons to be depressed.  Instead, I want you to help our society meet another looming challenge.

    The truth is we’re on the cusp of a technological revolution that is going to change our economy, what people do with their lives, and, eventually, our system of government.  Let me lay this out.

    In his classic study, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argued that a nation’s worth is not established by the amount of gold or silver it possesses, but rather in the productivity of its economy.  In other words, if a country has little silver or gold, but whose factories and workers are highly productive, that country would be said to have great wealth.  The source of wealth, according to Smith, was not some natural resource, but a human resource and the product of human labor.

    Smith himself was an early proponent of freedom: free labor—meaning no slavery—and free markets—meaning no government interference in the economy.  Freedom, it was argued, was the best way for markets to mature, for people to achieve their full potential, and for civilization to advance.

    And for several centuries, governments and societies have been driven forward by the idea that we need to create an educated workforce to enable our economies.  In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, revolutionaries and reformers from the Middle East to the Americas talked about reforming society based on education and industrialization.  By the start of the 20th century, these ideas had taken root in Asia, too.  Today, these views are largely global and serve to justify the link between America’s schools and efforts to keep the American economy globally competitive.

    The centrality of labor in Smith’s view of economics—of people who work for a living, who earn a decent wage, and spend money on goods to further drive the economy—has had tremendous political implications, as well.  Think of the shopkeepers and farmers in Massachusetts who resented the taxes of the British monarch; or the bourgeoisie in Paris in 1789, who believed that the people should be able to decide on what the government spends money.  In fact, much of the global history over the 240 years since the American Declaration of Independence has been a history of the relationship between labor and governments.  It’s not surprising that so many political parties around the world have included terms like “workers” or “labour” in their names.  Until the middle of the 20th century, autocrats and monarchies typically feared the masses—what Marx called the “proletariat.”  For Pete’s-sake, yesterday was Labor Day!  That wasn’t simply a kind gesture to add one more long-weekend at the end of summer.

    But according to a growing body of evidence, the reality of “labor” is about to change.  Scholars at Oxford University believe that 47% of U.S. jobs may cease to exist in coming decades because of advances in computers and automation.

    Take, as one example, the disruptive potential of self-driving vehicles.  We know Tesla, and Google, and maybe Apple are all developing them.  And when they arrive, they will put 1.6 million American long-haul truck drivers out of business; along with 800,000 delivery truck operators; 180,000 taxi drivers; 160,000 Uber drivers; 500,000 school bus drivers; and 160,000 transit bus drivers.

    If as early data suggests, autonomous vehicles are safer than our current human-driven cars and trucks, then things will get tight for the 445,000 people who work in auto-body repair shops.  Anyone, anyone at all, who does anything with cars—whether they’re a parking lot attendant or a meter-maid—is going to feel the ground shift beneath them as our motor vehicles transition to a high tech future.

    All told, in the driving economy alone, some estimates suggest that we’re looking at the disruption of 4 million American jobs.

    This revolution in automation and artificial intelligence won’t be an American revolution.  It will be a global revolution and the society that best figures out how to reconcile this new technology with its people will emerge as the dominant political and economic power of the 21st century.

    Of course, that’s not what we’re talking about in the election of 2016.  Instead, we’re mired in a ridiculous debate about email servers and stupid walls.  The magnitude of the folly of these debates and the coverage they have received is, I’m just going to say it: HUGE.

    * * * * *

    I began these remarks talking about that storm out in the Atlantic.  We didn’t know for certain where it was headed, but we knew it was there.  The storm in our economy is coming too—and so we had better do our homework—so that we’re ready—and we had better get involved.

    Your job, right now, at the start of your university career, is to give a damn, to learn, to take every opportunity to educate yourself about the world around you.  Yes, go to class, work hard, do well—but learn, too, from your classmates and your professors, from the people who work in the dining hall, from your coaches, from people you meet at internships or even that person you always see at the grocery store.  They all have a truth to tell.  Read.  Don’t assume truth can be captured in a Snapchat or 140 characters on Twitter.

    But above all—and I mean this sincerely: you need to make your voices heard.  You need to demand political leaders focus on real issues, on difficult issues, on issues that will determine whether we are competitive in the global economy, secure, and free.

    When I worked in Washington, I came to believe that politics is a noble profession and politicians are necessary for our society to function.  I know, today, these aren’t popular sentiments.  But politics—for all the potential for corruption and undue influence—is far superior to the alternative: that’s autocracy; might makes right; the strong rule the weak; dictatorship.  Politics is essential to freedom.  It’s how societies balance the views of multiple groups.  It’s how we resolve difficult issues without resorting to violence and war.

    Decades ago, the historian Michael Holt traced the origins of the American Civil War to the Compromise of 1850—a political deal that was supposed to take the heated issue of slavery out of the American political process so that American politics wouldn’t be dominated by it anymore.  And in some respects, it worked.  Except for the fact that it didn’t resolve the issue of slavery itself; it didn’t resolve the violence and the abuse inherent in servitude.  And so, left with no political means to resolve the dispute, the United States entered into a civil war that took 625,000 American lives—approximately 2% of the population at the time.  Perhaps 2% doesn’t seem like that many people.  Today, a similar casualty rate would produce about 6 million dead.  That’s a very high price to pay for getting rid of politics around a difficult issue.

    Politics requires you to be involved.  It’s actually an obligation of citizenship in a republic such as ours.  If you have strong views on an issue: speak out.  If you don’t like what your elected officials are doing: hold them accountable.  You can write letters to the newspaper, organize protests, letter writing campaigns, social media actions.  You can even vote them out of office.  And if you don’t like the candidates you have to choose from?  That one is easy: you need to run for office.

    Listen to me clearly.  If you believe that you have a contribution to make, if you believe that your views are not represented, if you can see injustice that no one else sees, then your country needs you to run.  If no one speaks for you, then I guarantee you the country needs you to speak for others.

    The most important actor in the American republic is the citizen armed with a vote, educated, informed, and involved.

    To that end, we’ve arranged today to have a voter registration table set up at the barbecue that follows convocation.  If you need to register to vote in your home state, there will be people there to help you do just that.  If you need help getting an absentee ballot, there will be information there too.  And if you don’t do it tonight, the reference staff at the library is ready at any time to help you register, request an absentee ballot, and learn more about the issues.  (Just don’t wait too long.  There are deadlines and they are different in every state.)

    * * * * *

    The truth in life is that there is always a storm swirling just off the coast.  We might be blissfully—or willfully—unaware of the gathering clouds or we might see them building.  And when the storm comes, we will all decide if we’re in it for ourselves or if we are part of something bigger.

    I urge you to believe in our collective power to change the world for the better—if we are wise and if we make our voices heard.  See in the coming economy not just threat, but an opportunity to lift millions out of poverty.  See in the faces of refugees not menace, but hope.  Believe in the power of education and empathy to guide the way we approach public issues.  And find in each of our hearts a wellspring of Mercy that, above all, empowers.

    Thank you, and congratulations again to the class of 2020.

    – Executive Director Jim Ludes

  • Photo of Donald Trump speaking animatedly to the crowd at a campaign rally in St. Louis, Missouri

    Politics vs. Cynicism: Picks of the Week

    Old Trump: Mexicans Are ‘Rapists.’ New Trump: They’re ‘Great People!’ | The Daily Beast

    Trump Flip Flops on Immigration Again | Outside the Beltway

    First Read: Trump’s Stunning Flip-Flop on Immigration | NBC News

    I admire politicians—and that’s not a particularly popular point of view.  Still, I admire politicians, because the best among them understand how to move society forward.  They recognize that working together is essential to solving common problems.  They are open minded, flexible—meaning the opposite of doctrinaire—they are pragmatic, and solution oriented.

    I value politics—this is the thing practiced by politicians.  It is the art of the possible, of balancing competing interests, of compromise, of finding a way to cobble together support for ideas that move society in a certain direction.  Politics are essential to getting anything done in a community, especially those that are diverse, whether in terms of racial composition, income stratification, or gender, sexuality, or any other kind of identity.

    Well-functioning political systems are essential to the stability of a state.  Historian Michael Holt long ago argued that the American Civil War was the direct result of the Great Compromise of 1850 that took politics out of the issue of slavery.  Once the issue of slavery could no longer be addressed through political means, war was inevitable.  It’s a theory not without its flaws, but it is consistent with Clausewitz’s insight that war is the continuation of politics by other means.

    In recent years, American political parties on both sides have found energy not in the pragmatic politics of compromise but in the unflinching orthodoxy of the left and the right: think of the Sanders campaign and the Tea Party, respectively.  Politicians have been punished for seeking compromise, for working across the aisle.  They’ve faced primary challenges and fundraising difficulties.  Activists who see themselves as the purest of the pure, not surprisingly, want to enforce orthodoxy.

    Against this backdrop, this week, Donald Trump offered a new approach to immigration that betrayed literally everything he’s campaigned on for over a year.  In appearing to embrace so-called “amnesty,” he adopted an approach to immigration from Central and South America that was advocated by some of his Republican rivals, notably Jeb Bush, in the Republican primary and who were savaged for it by Trump.

    But unlike the idealized examples of politicians and politics discussed above, it is not clear that Trump is simply exercising a politician’s prerogative to change his mind.  Instead, it seems a craven attempt to make his candidacy more palatable to a wider cross-section of Americans.  That’s something politicians of all stripes do—but in Trump’s case, it further muddies the waters.  The American public simply doesn’t know what he stands for, what he’ll fight for, and what he’ll compromise about.  That’s problematic in a candidate for president.

    The ideal—my ideal—is the principled pragmatist.  Someone who has core values—among them inclusiveness and decency—but not pre-defined policy preferences.  The world is a complicated place and issues evolve as facts become known and understanding deepens.  A politician changing her mind because of new evidence isn’t a flawed candidate, but one who adjusts his preferred policies for cynical political gain is.


  • Flyer of what appear to be JFK's mug shots above text that reads "wanted for treason"

    Stochastic Terrorism: Picks of the Week


    Unfiltered: Voices from Trump’s Crowds | The New York Times

    Donald Trump Calls Obama ‘Founder of ISIS’ and Says it Honors Him | The New York Times

    Trump’s Assassination Dog Whistle Was Even Scarier Than You Think | Rolling Stone


    Someone is going to get killed.

    That’s the thought that went through my head in bucolic Vermont this week as I looked out over the mountains at twilight and thought about the Republican candidate’s latest train wreck.  On Tuesday, Trump went after his rival, Hillary Clinton, and said, ““If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks.  Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”  The candidate said he was joking, but a lot of people thought he wasn’t.

    The reality is that Trump’s stated intention—accurate or not—is irrelevant.  The danger is that someone not in on the “joke” could hear it as a call to action.  It’s been well documented that Trump rallies often feature shouts from the crowd of “kill her.”

    I didn’t want to spend another week contemplating this scenario, because I’ve done so already.  Once, here on the Pell Center blog.  And last week in an interview with the Newport Daily News.

    But we have to stay on this issue, because the Republican candidate won’t stop.  One day later he told a campaign rally that ISIS was founded by President Barack Obama.  Read that again.  The Republican nominee for President of the United States accused the current president of creating a terrorist organization that has killed Americans, targets our European allies, and is under constant bombardment by the U.S. military.

    The claim is so shocking that Hugh Hewitt, a darling of the right on talk radio, tried to help Trump clean it up on Thursday morning. Trump and Hewitt

    The name for this is “stochastic terrorism.”  It’s been defined as inciting “. . . random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”  This isn’t some dystopian nightmare on Netflix.  It’s what led to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Israel in 1996.  In the days before his death, the political rallies of Rabin’s rivals featured calls for Rabin’s death and saw posters in the crowd of Rabin dressed as a Nazi.  Stochastic terrorism inspired the murder of three people and the wounding of nine others at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs in November 2015.  The threat and reality of violence against abortion clinics is well documented.  And it spurred the assassination of British politician Jo Cox by a white supremacist in the closing days of the BREXIT vote to determine whether the United Kingdom would remain part of the European Union—and its immigration policies—as Cox advocated, or not.

    In simpler terms, Donald Trump is inciting violence.  He isn’t directing it, but through his words, his lies, and his half-truths—as well as those of his supporters—he is supercharging an already-overheated environment.  Every time someone calls candidate Clinton “the devil,” or shouts “kill her” or says she should be “shot for treason” or makes even a veiled reference to violence as a legitimate part of our election, the likelihood of some delusional person acting grows.

    Someone is going to get hurt.

  • Russia and American Flags on Human Hands

    Patterns: Trump, Russia and the 2016 Election: Picks of the Week

    Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and it looks a lot like Donald Trump | Slate

    Is Trump a Russian Agent? A Legal Analysis | lawfareblog.com

    Putin, Erdogan mend ties as post-coup Turkey turns toward Russia | Chicago Tribune

    “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

    In a remarkable week that saw the first polls showing a Donald Trump bounce after the Cleveland convention while the Democratic party convention made history with the nomination of the first female candidate for president by a major political party, these 16 words stand out among a torrent of news.

    “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

    In another historic first this week, Donald Trump invited a hostile foreign intelligence agency to hack his political opponent.  Remarkably, Trump’s invitation did not spur the first speculation of Russian interference in America’s 2016 election.  Days before the start of the Democratic party convention, Wikileaks released a trove of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee earlier this year in a move clearly designed to embarrass the Clinton campaign and sow dissension within the Democratic party.

    The release had all the earmarks of a Russian information operation—not the least of which were the Russian-language artifacts found in the documents on Wikileaks.  More ominously, however, several American analysts over the last several years have made compelling cases that Wikileaks itself is a vehicle for Russian intelligence to gather intelligence under the guise of whistleblowing.

    So the conversation had been joined when Trump looked square in the camera and said his now infamous 16 words:

    “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

    In most cases, you could dismiss these 16 words as the ill-advised boasts of a carnival-barker turned presidential candidate who wanted to draw attention to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s poor judgment about the use of a private email server.  Trump eventually said he was joking, though the video suggests he was deadly serious.

    But most alarming is the emergence of a body of evidence suggesting alignment between candidate Trump and Russian strong-man Vladimir Putin.  The case has been made resoundingly well by others, notably Josh Marshall, Anne Applebaum, and Franklin Foer.  Each is worth a careful read in its own right, but there are some key facts:

    • Donald Trump’s repeated bankruptcies have reportedly made him unattractive to American lenders. As loans from American banks became more difficult for him to win, he turned to Russian investors to underwrite his real estate ventures.  Despite Trumps’ claims this week that he has no investments in Russia, the evidence of his financial ties to Russia is clear.
    • Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich—who ultimately fled to Moscow after the people of Ukraine ousted him for abandoning plans to join the European Union, allegedly at the insistence of Vladimir Putin.
    • While the Trump campaign took a largely hands-off approach to the drafting of the Republican party platform, media accounts indicate the campaign intervened on one issue, only, to eliminate language from the platform calling for the United States government to provide defensive arms to Ukraine, currently locked in a fight against Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
    • Trump has repeatedly called into question America’s commitment to NATO. In an interview with the New York Times just last week, he said he could not guarantee that under his presidency the United States would defend NATO allies Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—former Soviet republics that Russian Vladimir Putin is said to covet.  (When Trump insisted he had been misquoted, after the firestorm of criticism ignited by the interview’s contents, the Times released the full transcript.)  Trump doubled down this week when he said that the United States would have to leave NATO in order to get the allies to pick up a larger share of the defense burden.  Reportedly, Trump told a crowd in North Carolina, “We have to walk. Within two days they’re calling back! Get back over here, we’ll pay you whatever the hell you want.”
    • Finally, when asked whether he would consider eliminating economic sanctions imposed against Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014, Trump said he “would be looking into that.”

    On balance, you have a major party’s nominee for President of the United States adopting positions in alignment with Russian foreign policy, while inviting that country’s spies to attack the communications of his political opponent.  All of this is taking place against a backdrop of Russian use of “hybrid-warfare,” where information operations and political interference play an early and important role in manipulating an adversary’s public opinion and will. WikiLeaks is the current vehicle, as was noted above, but we’ve seen Russian information operations across Europe, including France, where the anti-immigrant National Front has sought and received funds from Putin’s Russia, and England—where the pro-BREXIT movement also received Russian financial support (and verbal encouragement from one Donald J. Trump).

    Russian intervention in American electoral politics would be stunning, but Russian information operations in the United States are nothing new. In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, the U.S. intelligence community worried that Soviet intelligence would be able to use the accounts of UFO enthusiasts, who often provided detailed accounts of strange flight and performance characteristics of craft operating near American military bases, to glean insights about next-generation American aircraft, including stealth aircraft.

    What’s new here is that with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange promising the release of more stolen emails, and confirmation, as of this writing, that the Clinton campaign’s emails were compromised, supposedly by Russia, we appear to have entered an age where Russian leaders believe they can intervene in American politics.

    The only question I have left is whether Donald Trump and his advisers are witting of this intervention, or just dupes.

  • Two men ponder which states will end up Republican and Democratic in front of a map of the United States.

    Picks of the Week: The Most Important Election in 160 Years


    Terrorist Attack in Nice, France, Leaves 84 Dead and 202 Injured | New York Times

    Clinton Losing On Honesty In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll Finds | Quinnipiac University

    Why Putin Loves BREXIT | New York Times

    Events in Nice, France, underscore the fact that the U.S. presidential election of 2016 may be the most important election since Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860.  At stake is the leadership of the global power who has most shaped the liberal international order since 1945—an order under substantial strain.

    The U.S. election is occurring at a time when the Western world faces assault from an unholy alignment of forces: violent Islamic extremists; Putinism; as well as the rise of fascist and neo-fascist parties across Europe.  Each has its own motivations and tactics, but each finds a common focus in the destruction of the liberal order established after World War II, the commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, political pluralism, and open borders.

    Each of the West’s attackers have their own means and objectives.  Violent Islamic extremists see the West as the barrier to their dreams of a caliphate, a religiously ordered and run state spanning the lands once controlled by Islam in an earlier age.  Extremists use attacks against Western targets to both weaken the West, to instill terror in its populations, and to recruit new adherents.  In the case of ISIS, such attacks may also be intended to provoke an apocalyptic battle that they believe will usher in the end-times.  Theirs is a death cult, but their tactics, combined with other forces, are warping the fabric of the Atlantic political community.

    The Syrian civil war has displaced millions of people.  As refugees have migrated to Europe and elsewhere, the resulting backlash has fueled the rise of fascist and neo-fascist political movements across the continent, including in countries like Austria and France.  In the United Kingdom, the backlash against immigrants helped fuel the recent drive to BREXIT, toppled a British government, and introduced great uncertainty about European cohesion in the face of these mounting challenges.

    The big-winner to emerge from all the chaos in Europe is none-other-than Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Putin resents the West’s victory in the Cold War and has used his military to reassert Russian dominance, most recently in Crimea—which Russia seized from Ukraine in a blatant land-grab more akin to the 19th century scramble for Africa than modern Europe—and in Eastern Ukraine where Russian support for separatists is unambiguous.  For Putin, modern liberal values have never had much personal appeal and they are at odds with the crony authoritarianism he has built in his homeland.

    Enter Donald Trump.  The presumptive Republican nominee for President has played on the fears provoked by these global forces.  He has called for a ban on Muslim’s entering the United States.  He has praised butchers and strong-men from Putin to Saddam Hussein for their ability to use force (not to mention torture and murder) to impose order.  He has warned that the United States may need more intrusive security in the lives of its citizens.  He has said that he would tell the CIA to use torture “a hell of a lot worse that waterboarding.”

    If the United States elects such a candidate president, the West will be lost.  The country that literally helped build global institutions like the United Nations; helped set international standards for transparency, human rights, and political freedom, produced the Marshall Plan, faced down both fascism and communism in the 20th century, and produced an economic and political juggernaut that changed the world cannot be led by someone who rejects fundamental liberal values with a wave of the hand and a snarl.

    In the midst of a wave of terrorism, with added complex pressures from nation states, and an anxious citizenry, the danger is that too much of the American public, already, is taken by Trump’s brand of plain spoken muscular machismo.  He promises things will be better when he’s president.  He repeats simple phrases.  He obscures complexity with unambiguous pronouncements about what he’ll do.

    In the aftermath of Nice, Donald Trump declared “this is war” while Secretary Clinton called for an “intelligence surge.”  The substance of each response is irrelevant in an election year.  What matters now is what will the public embrace: decisive action or incrementalism?  Donald Trump promises the former.  Secretary Clinton’s rhetoric suggests the latter.  But incrementalism is a losing position in American politics.  She has to make clear that as president she will destroy terrorist organizations who threaten the United States and our allies.  She can’t let her use of reason make credible the claim that she’s indecisive in the face of this threat.

    The public needs to feel in their gut that she will keep the country safe, no matter what.  Anything less will cost her the election—an election in which the liberal Western order may very well hang in the balance. – Executive Director Jim Ludes

  • Photograph of a memorial for Jo Cox.

    Picks of the Week: Turn Down the Rhetoric

    Donald Trump Pushes Conspiracy Theory that Obama Supports ISIS | ABC News

    Suspected Killer of British Lawmaker had ties to Neo-Nazi Group, Watchdog Says | Washington Post

    Pat Robertson: Gays & Islamists are Allies so ‘Let Them Kill Themselves’ | Right Wing Watch

    The flames of political passion are burning white-hot.  Some have questioned the survival of the nation.  Others have said the stakes cut to the core of a people’s identity.  For some, it’s a choice between an open, inclusive society and the preservation of self.  For others, it’s a lose-lose proposition where neither choice is really palatable.

    That’s not a description of the U.S. presidential campaign.  It’s a characterization of the United Kingdom’s referendum over whether to leave the European Union (EU), also known as “Brexit.”  The parallels are at once both eerie and sobering because the United Kingdom appears to have just suffered an instance of political violence stemming from an overheated political process.

    On Thursday, June 16, 2016, Jo Cox, a 41-year old mother of two young children and Member of Parliament, was killed by an assailant who reportedly shouted “Britain First” as he shot, stabbed, and kicked her.  “Britain First,” according to various media accounts, is the name of a far-right British anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim organization.  Cox would have been their worst nightmare: young, a rising star in Labour politics, a dedicated champion for the world’s refugees, and an advocate for the United Kingdom remaining part of the EU.

    Meanwhile, in the United States, the Republican Party’s likely nominee for president suggested in multiple media interviews and on social media that President Barack Obama has a hidden agenda and may even sympathize with ISIS.  A self-proclaimed religious leader says the massacre in Orlando is a problem for “liberals” who love both homosexuals and Islamic extremists.  His advice: “let them kill each other.”  Perhaps it’s not surprising that this all comes years after far too many educated Americans whispered questions regarding President Obama’s faith and country-of-birth.

    For some, this is just politics, cynically but determinedly practiced.  But for others, this is life and death, the fate of nations, the summons of history—and that is why the rhetoric we use in our politics is so important.

    Listen to the voices from across the Atlantic and imagine them with American accents after some future political violence visits our shores.  The environment is “increasingly toxic,” we’d lament:

    That leads to increased prejudice. That leads to increased hate. And, at some stage, that leads to violence.  Whatever the outcome next week, [we’ve] become a much more intolerant and divided society. It’s going to take a long time to heal. —Nick Lowles, Chief Executive of Hope Not Hate, a British anti-extremism organization.


    When you shout ‘breaking point’ over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks.  When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either. —Alex Massie, Spectator Magazine

    But sadly, these aren’t imaginings, these are verbatim quotes given in recent days as a great democracy suffers the shock and horror of political assassination.

    In all my years of study and practice, I’ve learned this: leadership matters.  Leaders can turn a room, a crowd, a town, a country.  Leaders can lead a people to war or put a man on the moon.  And in the months ahead, we can reflect either the better angels of ourselves, or we can look forward to a bleak and terrifying campaign season hoping that, day by day, no one finds their “breaking point” in the morning’s headlines. – Executive Director Jim Ludes