Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Trump’s Middle East: CrossTalk RT

  • Trump’s Middle East
    With the arrival of the new administration in Washington, will there be a new look at and new policy for the Middle East? To date, it’s looking like that hope may be a pipe dream. CrossTalking with Mohammad Marandi, Michael Maloof, and...

How Donald Trump intends ‘to make America Great Again’: First Speech to Congress analysed

How Donald Trump intends ‘to make America Great Again’: First 

The President unveils a highly interventionist economic programme envisaging re-industrialisation on the back of higher infrastructure spending, trade protection and tax reform, with immigration controls to ensure that the benefits in more jobs and higher wages go to American workers.

congress speech
President Trump’s first speech to Congress has received generally favourable reviews from all but his most relentless critics, with the speech referred to as “conventional” and “Presidential” in contrast to his Inaugural Address. The speech was indeed more conventional because unlike the Inaugural Address Donald Trump this took time took care to sugarcoat his speech with the standard cliches and bromides the US elite expects in speeches from the President.  Thus whereas the Inaugural Address never once mentioned “freedom” – a shocking omission – the Speech to the Congress did so repeatedly.
It was the omission of the standard cliches and bromides which made the Inaugural Address seem to the US elite so stark and disturbing.  By contrast by clothing his Speech to the Congress with the usual bromides and cliches Donald Trump reassured the Congress and won for himself a polite hearing.
This may be because Donald Trump has got himself a better speechwriter (his careful delivery shows the speech was carefully rehearsed) but a more likely reason is that Trump was addressing a different audience and varied his speech accordingly.
The Inaugural Address was pitched to the American people who had elected him whereas the Speech to the Congress was pitched to the Congress itself – first and foremost to his own party – whose cooperation Trump will need to carry out what is by any assessment a startlingly ambitious programme for his Presidency.
The result is that the Speech to the Congress is seen as more conventional though in reality Donald Trump did not retreat an inch from what is in every respect a radical programme.
The Speech to the Congress covered both domestic and foreign policy.  For reasons of space in this article I will concentrate exclusively on what Donald Trump had to say about domestic policy.  I will discuss what he said about foreign policy in another article.
Firstly, though the Inaugural Address has been criticised as offering a dark dystopian picture of today’s America, the Speech to the Congress was in reality no different.
 Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.  Over 43 million people are now living in poverty, and over 43 million Americans are on food stamps.  More than 1 in 5 people in their prime working years are not working.  We have the worst financial recovery in 65 years.  In the last 8 years, the past Administration has put on more new debt than nearly all other Presidents combined.  We’ve lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved, and we’ve lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.  Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly $800 billion dollars.  And overseas, we have inherited a series of tragic foreign policy disasters…..
……to break the cycle of poverty, we must also break the cycle of violence.  The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century.  In Chicago, more than 4,000 people were shot last year alone — and the murder rate so far this year has been even higher.  This is not acceptable in our society.
Similarly, though the Inaugural Address has been criticised for setting the American people, against the elite, the Speech to the Congress not only did so again – expressly repudiating the policies of the recent past – but it actually went further, talking of Trump’s election victory as a “rebellion” of the common people against the elite
I will not allow the mistakes of recent decades past to define the course of our future.  For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries.  We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit — and so many other places throughout our land.  We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross — and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.  And we’ve spent trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.  Then, in 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children, and a fair hearing for their concerns.  But then the quiet voices became a loud chorus — as thousands of citizens now spoke out together, from cities small and large, all across our country.  Finally, the chorus became an earthquake — and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand, that America must put its own citizens first … because only then, can we truly MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. (bold italics added)
My colleague Adam Garrie has often spoken of Donald Trump as a classic conservative in the mould of Senator Robert Taft and there are indeed throwbacks to a more conservative past in Donald Trump’s outlook on foreign policy.
Trump’s approach to domestic politics is however anything but conservative.  On the contrary with his talk of “rebellion” and his criticism of the elite (the Speech to the Congress used the words “drain the swamp of government corruption” once again) Donald Trump is positioning himself on domestic policy as a flamboyant Progressive like his Republican predecessor Theodore Roosevelt rather than as a true conservative like Robert Taft.
As might be expected of someone with such an outlook Trump’s ideas for domestic policy are highly interventionist and essentially ‘Big Government’ and even paternalist.
Thus his demand for tougher immigration (including the border wall) is squarely linked to a demand for more jobs and higher wages as well as in order to fight crime
At the same time, my Administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security. By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone…..Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.  Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others — have a merit-based immigration system. It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America’s taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.  Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class.  I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws.
(bold italics added)
Trump also wants a massive plan for $1 trillion investment programme in US infrastructure, whilst pointedly drawing attention to the fact that the last time the US government initiated a major infrastructure programme was back in the 1950s under President Eisenhower
Another Republican President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, initiated the last truly great national infrastructure program — the building of the interstate highway system. The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding.  America has spent approximately six trillion dollars in the Middle East, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling. With this six trillion dollars we could have rebuilt our country — twice. And maybe even three times if we had people who had the ability to negotiate.  To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs.  This effort will be guided by two core principles: Buy American, and Hire American.
(bold italics added)
The reference to “Buy American, and Hire American” shows that the infrastructure programme is as much intended to boost US employment and US industry as it is to improve US infrastructure.  In other words it is as much as anything a job creation public works programme, just like the ones of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
This comes with a frank repudiation of globalist free trade orthodoxies, about which Trump had a great deal to say
We must create a level playing field for American companies and workers.  Currently, when we ship products out of America, many other countries make us pay very high tariffs and taxes — but when foreign companies ship their products into America, we charge them almost nothing.  I just met with officials and workers from a great American company, Harley-Davidson. In fact, they proudly displayed five of their magnificent motorcycles, made in the USA, on the front lawn of the White House.  At our meeting, I asked them, how are you doing, how is business? They said that it’s good. I asked them further how they are doing with other countries, mainly international sales. They told me — without even complaining because they have been mistreated for so long that they have become used to it — that it is very hard to do business with other countries because they tax our goods at such a high rate. They said that in one case another country taxed their motorcycles at 100 percent.  They weren’t even asking for change. But I am.  I believe strongly in free trade but it also has to be FAIR TRADE.  The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the “abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government [will] produce want and ruin among our people.”  Lincoln was right — and it is time we heeded his words. I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers, be taken advantage of anymore.  I am going to bring back millions of jobs.
Even the cuts in taxes Trump is talking about are clearly pitched at achieving his programme of industrial regeneration
Right now, American companies are taxed at one of the highest rates anywhere in the world.  My economic team is developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class.
Even on health and education, where Trump is closest to classic Republican positions, he is far from being a non-interventionist conservative.  For example his criticism of Obamacare is not that it takes the government into area (health policy) where it has no place, but that it is inefficient and expensive and isn’t working
Mandating every American to buy government-approved health insurance was never the right solution for America. The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we will do.  Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits. As an example, Arizona went up 116 percent last year alone. Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky just said Obamacare is failing in his State — it is unsustainable and collapsing.  One third of counties have only one insurer on the exchanges — leaving many Americans with no choice at all.  Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor, and keep your plan?  We now know that all of those promises have been broken.  Obamacare is collapsing — and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. Action is not a choice — it is a necessity.  So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster.
Trump’s solution to the US’s health care crisis is a mix of platitudes and fudging around the edges which could very well end up making the present disastrous situation worse, but it does not amount to the government pulling out and doing nothing and leaving it to the unregulated market to do its work
Here are the principles that should guide the Congress as we move to create a better healthcare system for all Americans:  First, we should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.  Secondly, we should help Americans purchase their own coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded Health Savings Accounts — but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by the Government.  Thirdly, we should give our great State Governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.  Fourthly, we should implement legal reforms that protect patients and doctors from unnecessary costs that drive up the price of insurance — and work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.  Finally, the time has come to give Americans the freedom to purchase health insurance across State lines — creating a truly competitive national marketplace that will bring cost way down and provide far better care.  Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope.
Overall Trump has a coherent vision of how he wants to lead America.  He wants a re-industrialisation programme fuelled by tax changes and a big increase in infrastructure spending, whilst looking for caps on imports and immigration to ensure that the benefits in jobs and higher wages go to American workers.  It is the sort of programme that the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson might easily have come up with.
It is easy to see where it could all go wrong.
As Trump says himself it is decades since the US engaged in a public works programme on anything like the scale that he envisions.  It is far from clear whether the US today has the management skills for such a programme (the Hurricane Katrina debacle suggests not) and with Trump apparently intending that most of the work will be done by private companies it is easy to see how it could all end in burgeoning corrupting, with the building of roads that go nowhere and of bridges in the wrong places, much as has happening with the spending from the EU’s structural funds in much of Europe.
More seriously, Trump is proposing to cut taxes whilst hugely increasing spending on infrastructure and the military.  He does not say how he proposes to pay for all this.  Indeed his speech had nothing to say about the budget at all.
Cutting the overseas aid budget and spending on the State Department is hardly going to make up the numbers.  Presumably Trump is hoping that the higher growth from his policies will lead to higher tax revenues which will cover the cost of his infrastructure and defence programmes.
It might turn out right, but it is a big gamble at a time when the US’s debt to GDP ratio is already above 100%, and speaking for myself I can’t help but worry that the US’s budget deficit and its level of debt will probably be even higher at the end of the Trump administration than they are now.
There also has to be a serious concern that if the slack in the economy is less than Donald Trump supposes – with fewer workers willing to work than he imagines, and with US industry unable to produce the goods he wants it to – it could all lead to a big rise in inflation.  In that case the Federal Reserve Board may feel obliged to raise interest rates sharply, bringing the whole economy – and Trump’s programme – to a juddering stop.
The President has nonetheless unveiled a clear vision, even if the devil will be in the detail, and even if it is easy to see how things could go wrong.  Certainly his speech cannot be criticised for being content free.
It also a highly ambitious vision.  Even if all goes well Donald Trump will certainly need more than one term to see it all through.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy: Speech to Congress analysed

Donald Trump’s foreign policy: Speech to Congress analysed

In Speech to Congress President Trump lays out possible basis for detente with Russia based on abandonment of NATO expansion and regime change project in Russia.

Donald Trump’s first Speech to Congress focused mainly on domestic policy, with the President using the speech to set out the broad contours of his highly ambitious programme for re-industrialising America.The speech nonetheless did make some important points on foreign policy, and in this article it will be those which I shall discuss.
There have been some claims that the speech had nothing to say about relations with Russia, and that Russia was not mentioned and featured nowhere in the speech.
This is completely wrong.  Russia is clearly referenced in a lengthy passage in the speech, which is by far the single most important section of the speech discussing foreign policy.  Though Trump wisely chose not to name Russia and his references to Russia were carefully veiled, nonetheless when the passage is read carefully the meaning is clear enough
Our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world.  It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe.
We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism.
But our partners must meet their financial obligations.
And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that.
We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific — to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.
We will respect historic institutions, but we will also respect the sovereign rights of nations.
Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people — and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path.  My job is not to represent the world.  My job is to represent the United States of America. But we know that America is better off, when there is less conflict — not more.
We must learn from the mistakes of the past — we have seen the war and destruction that have raged across our world.
The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long process of rebuilding.
America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align.  We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict.
We want peace, wherever peace can be found.  America is friends today with former enemies.  Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these World Wars.  This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.
Hopefully, the 250th year for America will see a world that is more peaceful, more just and more free.
(bold italics added)
These are extremely carefully chosen words which bear the hallmarks of a professional speechwriter and which were clearly discussed at length by Trump with his top foreign policy advisers: Pence, Tillerson, McMaster and Mattis.
That the discussions continued right up to the delivery of the speech itself is shown by the inclusion at the last moment of the words “and now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that”.
These words were not in the final draft of the speech and were ad libbed by Trump as he was speaking it.  Someone clearly was worried that without these words Trump’s other words about NATO would make NATO sound too obviously like a protection racket where money is paid in return for ‘protection’.
This follows the negative response in Europe to the recent tours of Europe by Pence and Mattis, where their demands for more money are known to have upset some NATO members.
What the rest of Trump’s words however clearly say is that the new administration wants to put the state of confrontation between the US and Russia behind it (“we must learn from the mistakes of the past”) so as to avoid the danger of continued confrontation and war.  The US is even willing to befriend Russia – its past and present adversary – just as it has made friends with past enemies (“some of closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposing side of these World Wars.  This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world”).
In order to achieve such a sustained improvement in relations with Russia the US is prepared to engage meaningfully with Russia on international questions (“direct, robust and meaningful engagement”), and accepts that Russia has a “right to chart its own path”.  Whilst the US remains committed to NATO (“we will respect historic institutions”) it will no longer seek NATO’s further expansion into the former Soviet space by fomenting Maidan style coups there (“we will also respect the sovereign rights of nations”).  Instead the US seeks to have with Russia “new partnerships, where shared interests align”.
The overriding message is that the new administration is no longer ‘exceptionalist’ or ‘universalist’ – seeking to expand US “values” all over the globe (“my job is to represent the United States of America”) – and that it wants “harmony and stability, not war and conflict” so that it can get on with its hugely ambitious domestic programme.
Contrast these emollient words with the veiled but chilling words addressed by Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin in his first Inaugural Address, with their ignorant and arrogant condescension and their implicit threat of renewed confrontation unless Putin did as the US wanted and departed the scene
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
The Russians are fully capable of deciphering the code in Trump’s words even if doing so is beyond the skill of most Western commentators.   They will not however make the first move but will wait and see what Trump and his team come up with.
Interestingly some positive predictions about the future of US – Russian relations were coming out of Moscow yesterday.  Possibly the Russians were given some advanced notice of what was in the speech.  Since Trump’s words go some way towards meeting their wishes, they are likely to be happier with this speech than they have been with anything else Trump has said about US – Russian relations up to now.
Donald Trump’s other comments in his speech on foreign policy were overwhelmingly focused on what is clearly his foreign policy priority: destroying ISIS and Jihadi terrorism.  In a further sign that a professional speechwriter crafted the speech and that General McMaster (Trump’s new National Security Adviser) had a hand in it, the speech carefully spoke of “Radical Islamic terrorism” as opposed to the – wrong and inflammatory – previous “Islamic terrorism”.
Trump also made it clear that he intends to press ahead with his ‘travel ban’ Executive Order, which he explicitly defended as an anti-terrorist precautionary measure.  A new Executive Order for that purpose is about to be enacted, and as I have previously said there is no doubt the President will get what he wants.
I should say the ‘travel ban’ Executive Order – which is an anti-terrorist measure not an immigration measure – should not be conflated with the wholly different issue of the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policy.
There are many contradictions in Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy, which is still a work in progress.  However on the central issue of US – Russian relations there is no basic incompatibility between what the Russians want and what he says he wants.  The tone and content of Trump’s speech may be a first sign that he is starting to realise it.  Whether, given the state of the anti-Russian hysteria in Washington and the opposition of many of the US’s allies in Europe to any improvement in relations between the US and Russia, he can deliver is another matter.

Trump, the Deep State and the Media

"It’s not easy making Donald Trump seem like a peacenik, but that’s what the billionaire’s press has done."

Daniel Lazare

Exclusive: Mainstream U.S. media is proud to be the Deep State’s tip of the spear pinning President Trump to the wall over unproven allegations about Russia and his calls for detente, a rare point where he makes sense, notes Daniel Lazare.
By Daniel Lazare
The New York Times has made it official. In a Sunday front-page article entitled “Trump Ruled the Tabloid Media. Washington Is a Different Story,” the paper gloats that Donald Trump has proved powerless to stop a flood of leaks threatening to capsize his administration.

As reporters Glenn Thrush and Michael M. Grynbaum put it: “This New York-iest of politicians, now an idiosyncratic, write-your-own-rules president, has stumbled into the most conventional of Washington traps: believing he can master an entrenched political press corps with far deeper connections to the permanent government of federal law enforcement and executive department officials than he has.”
Thrush and Grynbaum add a few paragraphs later that Trump “is being force-fed lessons all presidents eventually learn – that the iron triangle of the Washington press corps, West Wing staff and federal bureaucracy is simply too powerful to bully.”
Iron triangle? Permanent government? In its tale of how Trump went from being a favorite of the New York Post and Daily News to fodder for the big-time Washington news media, the Times seems to be going out of its way to confirm dark paranoid fears of a “deep state” lurking behind the scenes and dictating what political leaders can and cannot do. “Too powerful to bully” by a “write-your-own-rules president” is another way of saying that the permanent government wants to do things its way and will not put up with a president telling it to take a different approach.
Entrenched interests are nothing new, of course. But a major news outlet bragging about collaborating with such elements in order to cripple a legally established government is. The Times was beside itself with outrage when top White House adviser Steve Bannon described the media as “the opposition party.” But one can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about since an alliance aimed at hamstringing a presidency is nothing if not oppositional.
If so, a few things are worth keeping in mind. One is that Trump was elected, even if only by an Eighteenth-Century relic known as the Electoral College, whereas the deep state, permanent government, or whatever else you want to call it was not. Where Trump gave speeches, kissed babies, and otherwise sought out the vote, the deep state did nothing. To the degree this country is still a democracy, that must count for something. So if the conflict between president and the deep state ever comes down to a question of legitimacy, there is no doubt who will come out ahead: The Donald.
A second thing worth keeping in mind is that if ever there was a case of the unspeakable versus the inedible (to quote Oscar Wilde), the contest between a billionaire president and billionaire-owned press is it.
Both sides are more or less correct in what they say about the other. Trump really is a strongman at war with basic democratic norms just as innumerable Times op-ed articles say he is. And giant press organization like the Times and the Washington Post are every bit as biased and one-sided as Trump maintains – and no less willfully gullible, one might add, than in 2002 or 2003 when they happily swallowed every lie put out by the George W. Bush administration regarding Iraqi WMDs or Saddam Hussein’s support for Al Qaeda.

Riveting TV

Trump’s Feb. 16 press conference – surely the most riveting TV since Jerry Springer was in his prime – is a case in point. The President bobbed, weaved, and hurled abuse like a Catskills insult comic. He threw out pseudo-facts, describing his victory, for instance, as “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan” when in fact George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all got more votes. But commentators who panned the display as a “freak show” or simply “batshit crazy” didn’t get it. It wasn’t Trump who bombed that afternoon, but the press.

Why? Because reporters behaved with all the intelligence of a pack of Jack Russell terriers barking at a cat up a tree. Basically, they’ve been seized by the idée fixe that Russia is a predator state that hacks elections, threatens U.S. national security, and has now accomplished the neat trick of planting a Kremlin puppet in the Oval Office. It doesn’t matter that evidence is lacking or that the thesis defies common sense. It’s what they believe, what their editors believe, and what the deep state believes too (or at least pretends to). So the purpose of the Feb. 16 press conference was to pin Trump down as to whether he also believes the Russia-did-it thesis and pillory him for deviating from the party line.
More than half the questions that reporters threw out were thus about Russia, about Mike Flynn, the ex-national security adviser who got into trouble for talking to the Russian ambassador before the new administration formally took office, or about reputed contacts between the Trump campaign staff and Moscow. One reporter thus demanded to know if anyone from Trump’s campaign staff had ever spoken with the Russian government or Russian intelligence. Another asked if Trump had requested FBI telephone intercepts before determining that Flynn had not broken the law.
I just want to get you to clarify this very important point,” said a third. “Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign?” A fourth wanted to get the President’s reaction to such “provocations” as a Russian communications vessel floating 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut (in international waters). “Is Putin testing you, do you believe, sir?” the reporter asked as if he had just uncovered a Russian agent in the Lincoln Bedroom. “…But do they damage the relationship?  Do they undermine this country’s ability to work with Russia?”
When yet another journalist asked yet again “whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election,” Trump cried out in frustration: “How many times do I have to answer this question?” It was the most intelligent query of the day.
The press played straight into Trump’s hands, all but providing him with his best lines. 
Well, I guess one of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you the whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse,” he responded at one point. “That’s a ruse. And by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that. Now tomorrow, you’ll say, ‘Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.’ It’s not terrible. It’s good.”
The prose may not be very polished, but the sentiments are unassailable. Ditto Trump’s statement a few minutes later that “false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. … And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia – and by the way, China and Japan and everyone – if we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.”
If the Washington Post and the Times do not agree that bogus assertions about unauthorized contacts with Russia are not poisoning the atmosphere, they should explain very clearly why not. They should also explain what they hope to accomplish with a showdown with Russia and why it will not be a step toward World War III.
But they won’t, of course. The media (with encouragement from parts of the U.S. government) are working themselves into a fit of outrage against Vladimir Putin just as, in past years, they did against Daniel Ortega, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein (again), Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, and Viktor Yanukovych. In each instance, the outcome has been war, and so far the present episode shows all signs of heading in the same direction as well.

Reporters may be clueless, but working-class Americans aren’t. They don’t want a war because they’re the ones who would have to fight it. So they’re not unsympathetic to Trump and all the more inclined to give the yapping media short shrift.
This is a classic pattern in which strongmen advance on the basis of a liberal opposition that proves to be weak and feckless. Today’s liberal media are obliging Trump by behaving in a way that is even sillier than usual and well ahead of schedule to boot.

A Fragile Meme

The anti-Russia meme, meanwhile, rests on the thinnest of foundations. The argument that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and thereby tipped the election to Trump is based on a single report by CrowdStrike, the California-based cyber-security firm hired by the DNC to look into the mass email leak. The document is festooned with head-spinning techno-jargon.

It says of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, the hackers who allegedly penetrated the DNC in behalf of Russian intelligence: “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none, and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities including deliberate targeting and ‘access management’ tradecraft – both groups were constantly going back into the environment to change out their implants, modify persistent methods, move to new Command & Control channels, and perform other tasks to try to stay ahead of being detected. Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.”

Impressive? Not to independent tech experts who have already begun taking potshots. Sam Biddle, The Intercept’s extremely smart tech writer, notes that CrowdStrike claims to have proved that Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear are Russian because they left behind Cyrillic comments in their “metadata” along with the name “Felix Edmundovich,” also in Cyrillic, an obvious reference to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, as the Soviet political police were originally known.

But, Biddle observes, there’s an obvious contradiction: “Would a group whose ‘tradecraft is superb’ with ‘operational security second to none’ really leave behind the name of a Soviet spy chief imprinted on a document it sent to American journalists? Would these groups really be dumb enough to leave Cyrillic comments on these documents? …  It’s very hard to buy the argument that the Democrats were hacked by one of the most sophisticated, diabolical foreign intelligence services in history, and that we know this because they screwed up over and over again.”
Indeed, John McAfee, founder of McAfee Associates and developer of the first commercial anti-virus software, casts doubt on the entire enterprise, wondering whether it is possible to identify a hacker at all. “If I were the Chinese,” he told TV interviewer Larry King in late December, “and I wanted to make it look like the Russians did it, I would use Russian language within the code, I would use Russian techniques of breaking into organizations. … If it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you: it was not the Russians.” (Quotestarts at 4:30.)
This may be too sweeping. Nonetheless, if the press really wanted to get to the bottom of what the Russians are doing, they would not begin with the question of what Trump knew and when he knew it. They would begin, rather, with the question of what we know and how we can be sure. It’s the question that the press should have asked during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but failed to. But it’s the question that reporters should be asking now before the conflict with Russia spins out of control, with consequences that are potentially even more horrendous.

It’s not easy making Donald Trump seem like a peacenik, but that’s what the billionaire’s press has done.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).