Mesoscope

For the self-emancipation of communities by reason.

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Ecstatic Emancipation of the Alt-Right, and How to Destroy It

leave a comment »

Les extrêmes se touchent. – French proverb

I have been hard at work during the last horrible week, watching and trying to understand what is going on in the world. Encountering Jordan Greenhall’s Situational Assessment 2017 was a revelation, not just in what it said, but in how he thinks about social problems. I feel like he “woke me from my dogmatic slumber.”

Looking at things with fresh eyes I want to extend my critical engagement with that piece and offer several new observations, and some recommendations.

THIS IS MY DEATH STAR PLANS. The Republican behemoth is neither as monolithic nor as invulnerable as it appears at a glance – it is a fragile coalition of extremely heterogeneous elements that are in extreme tension. I’m going to tell you where the major fault line lies, you bring the proton torpedoes.

1. The Alt-Right is a Dionysian Frenzy of Ecstatic Rupture

Just before the election I read this characterization of Trump’s base by the philosopher Judith Butler – I think it conveys something urgently important about the character of the Trump Insurgency:

I think they have an enormous rage. Not just against women, not only against racial minorities or against migrants – they are thrilled that that their rage is being liberated by his public and uncensored speech. We on the left, we are apparently the superego. What Trump has managed to do, rhetorically, is to identify not just the left, but liberalism – basic American liberalism and the left – as just a bunch of censors. We are the instruments of repression and he is the vehicle for emancipation. It is a nightmare.

Butler is quite right in characterizing the tone of the Trump revolution as one of liberation from a repressive force, but she is mistaken in her contention that Trump has “managed to do” this “rhetorically”. He has tapped into a reservoir of resentment that was already widespread.

I have previously called out the importance of the Reddit poster notjaffo’s characterization of the pluralistic left and the Trump Insurgency, but it is critical and warrants repeating:

Blue Team Progressivism is a church, offering you moral superiority and a path to spiritual enlightenment. As a church it’s got a lot going for it. It runs religious programming on television, all day every day. Every modern primetime program is like a left-wing Andy Griffith show, reinforcing lessons of inclusion, tolerance, feminism, and anti-racism.

Watching a 90-pound Sci-Fi heroine beat up a room full of giant evil men is as satisfying to the left as John Wayne westerns were for the right.

The Blue Church controls the HR department, so even if you don’t go to church, you have to act like a loyal churchgoer in every way that matters while you’re on the clock. And off the clock, on any kind of public social media platform.

Jon Stewart and John Oliver are basically TV preachers. Watching them gives the same sense of quiet superiority your grandma gets from watching The 700 Club. The messages are constantly reinforced, providing that lovely dopamine hit, like an angel’s voice whispering, “You’re right, you’re better, you’re winning.”

A crucial point to note is that Trump and the alt-right do not represent a return to the old Christian conservative stance of the Culture Wars, it represents a new political morality that is primarily focused on rejecting what it regards as the oppressive character of the Blue Church:

The Blue Church is panicking because they’ve just witnessed the birth of a new Red Religion. Not the tired old Christian cliches they defeated back in the ’60s, but a new faith based on cultural identity and outright rejection of the Blue Faith.

For the first time in decades, voters explicitly rejected the Blue Church, defying hours of daily cultural programming, years of indoctrination from the schools, and dozens of explicit warnings from HR.

We’ve been trained since childhood to obey the pretty people on TV, but for the first time in decades, that didn’t work.

Donald Trump won because flyover America wants their culture back, and Blue Team has not been rejected like that before.

The younger ones have grown up in an environment where Blue Faith assumptions cannot even be questioned, except anonymously by the bad kids on Twitter.

But now the bad kids are getting bolder, posting funny memes that make you laugh even though John Oliver would not approve, like passing crude dirty pictures under the table in Sunday School.

Meryl Streep is panicking because for the first time voters have rejected HER, and everything her faith has taught her to believe.

As I noted before, this is not the same as classical conservatism – it is not socially-conservative Christian values, it is an altogether new social expression that takes the rejection of pluralism as emancipatory-as-such.

It self-consciously positions itself outside of the conventional norms of mainstream discourse, and that act itself is celebrated as a jubilant expression of boundary-breaking.

Not convinced? Check out the DeploraBall. Really, look through the FAQ:

Before you avert your eyes, I want to point out something important, which I don’t think has been widely appreciated before.

The way this movement operates was anticipated by counter-culture movements in the 90s, exemplified by people like John Perry Barlow and Hakim Bey, who predicted that a new form of social space would be created by the Internet, with a completely novel set of underlying dynamics, which the traditional establishment would be completely unable to understand or control. Sound familiar?

From Bey’s influential “The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism“:

Everything in nature is perfectly real including consciousness, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. Not only have the chains of the Law been broken, they never existed; demons never guarded the stars, the Empire never got started, Eros never grew a beard.

No, listen, what happened was this: they lied to you, sold you ideas of good & evil, gave you distrust of your body & shame for your prophethood of chaos, invented words of disgust for your molecular love, mesmerized you with inattention, bored you with civilization & all its usurious emotions.

Or take John Perry Barlow’s much-loved A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace:

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Notice the tone and the style. Then compare it with notjaffo’s statement above.

From the DeploraBall FAQ:

Q: Are you an alt-right group?
A: I don’t think we qualify as a group. We are a ragtag band of tech savvy creatives and INDIVIDUALS who work on projects together… me the person typing can’t answer for anyone else I work with, but I don’t think any of them have formed into a group. Plus groups have membership requirements, I’ll defer to Groucho: “ I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER.”

The digital revolution has come at last, but it does not bring with it the values we’d hoped for. Where we had hoped for play and connection, they delivered authoritarianism and xenophobia.

Their dynamics are fluid and improvisational, and they laugh at contradiction and constraint. If you fact-check them, they will only laugh harder, because you don’t get the joke.

2. We are not post-phase-transition, we are far-from-equilibrium

This is the alt-right, the Trump Insurgency, and they have only a superficial similarity to the mainstream GOP, with whom they are often at war.

The Trump Insurgency represents a new challenge to prevailing institutions of state, finance, and media, and is, by and large, opposed to status quo structures as such. As Greenhall puts it:

In ordinary politics, an elected candidate is expected to integrate with and make relatively small fine-tuning changes to the existing state apparatus and the mass of career bureaucrats that make up most of the actual machinery of government (AKA the “deep state”). Thus, while the Obama Administration might differ quite significantly from the Bush Administration in political theory and intent, the actual impact of theses differences on the real trajectory of the “ship of state” is relatively small.

My assessment is that the Trump Insurgency has identified the Deep State itself as its central antagonist and is engaged in a direct existential conflict with it.

Insofar as the mainstream GOP also desires to torch federal regulatory agencies and the social contract, they make common cause, but that’s it. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the other of the barking dogs of the GOP are not anti-globalization, they’re pro-globalization, with the understanding that America should be hegemonically pre-eminent, per their embrace of American Exceptionalism. When Trump tries to burn down the framework of internationalism, he’s trying to burn down the house that they live in.

Their fundamental differences of ideology and purpose place them at odds far more than their shared interest in deregulation and regressive taxation hold them together. More importantly, Ryan and McConnell will never understand the point I have made above. They will never understand the nature of the Trump Insurgency, or its novel dynamics.

This weak coalition is currently held together only by a fragile compromise, but the things the Trump Insurgency adores, the mainstream GOP hates – the bald lies, the madness, the extremes, the drama, the leap from position to contradictory position.

It is a weak coalition of locked-together elements that are in extreme tension, because they are moving in opposite directions. And the tenor of recent events is a direct reflection of this.

The body politic is in an extreme state of turbulence, it is far-from-equilibrium, and systems under that condition are multi-stable until they settle into a new stable homeostasis. That is, they leap from center to center, suddenly, all at once, until the whole thing collapses and takes new shape.

That collapse and re-ordering is the phase transition that Greenhall is looking for, but I think we are not there yet – I think we’re in the turbulent times that precede it.

3. THE ENEMY IS VULNERABLE

The GOP has swept the federal government, and two dozen states. They appear to be unstoppable. They are not, because they are or soon will be at war with themselves.

They will attempt to hold the whole thing together to ram as much of their regressive billionaire ideology through as they can before the whole thing goes to hell, but they cannot, because the contradictions of their coalition are extreme. This madness we’re seeing is not just caused by Trump’s ineptitude and apparent derangement, although that plays a key part – it is also the unraveling of the newly-installed ruling coalition.

The mainstream GOP will never understand the alt-right, and the alt-right views the mainstream GOP itself as the problem.

Trump’s inauguration address:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

He is not just talking about Obama, he is talking about the Republican-controlled Congress as well, and they know it.

The fault lines are there, and the tension is explosive. They are far, far from a stable state.

4. ATTACK

It is not that the right is strong, it is that the left is weak. Corbyn, Hollande, Clinton, Merkel – weak. Trump? Le Pen? Boris Johnson and Farage? These are silly people. Absurd. The right is weak, and it is vulnerable.

ATTACK.

Their coalition is founded on contradictions. Anti-establishment versus establishment. Libertarian versus social conservativism. Neoconservative versus unilateralist nationalism. The GOP wants to expand US supremacy in global trade and security, the Trump Insurgency wants to end it. Steven Bannon and Paul Ryan have nothing in common.

HAMMER AT IT, force them to confront the paradox of their own position. Trump is trying to burn down the house that most of the GOP lives in, do not let them forget it. Bring it to the fore. Force the issue. Push for trade policy to come to the front of the agenda. Confront the mainstream party with the absurdity of the alt-right at every opportunity. Push them on Trump’s weird man-crush on Putin and moves toward lifting sanctions. Don’t let them forget he compared the CIA to Nazis.

Demand that the Republican congress respond to and answer for Trump’s statements.

DO NOT waste time confronting the alt-right with facts, moral judgement, or refutations – IT IS WHAT DRIVES THEM.

ATTACK.

Advertisements

Written by Mesocosm

January 27, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A critical engagement with Jordan Greenhall’s “Situational Assessment 2017”

with one comment

In Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition, Jordan Greenhall wrote a one of the most fascinating and novel analyses of recent events that I’ve seen to date.

I will review and critically extend what I take to be its principal arguments, but I very much recommend reading carefully through the full article yourself. It explodes with ideas, and illustrates a new style of political thought that may in fact be necessary to understand and confront the new political situation.

Combining elements of political theory, systems analysis, and semiotics, Greenhall analyzes the character of what he takes to be a phase transition, or fundamental shift, in the political domain. In his view, the very rules of the national political situation have changed, and if we fail to recognize the new dynamics at work, we cannot effectively engage.

A failure to recognize what is happening is, in fact, precisely the response that he expects from the old guard. And indeed thus far the institutional response by vested interests opposed to the Trump campaign have proven to be astonishingly ineffective at halting his advance. Attempts to marginalize, critique, exclude, attack, and defend using the standard playbook have all failed, and in order to move to a more effective strategy of engagement, we need to understand why.

The Trump Insurgency, as Greenhall calls it, represents a new challenge to prevailing institutions of state, finance, and media, and is, by and large, opposed to status quo structures as such. As he puts it:

In ordinary politics, an elected candidate is expected to integrate with and make relatively small fine-tuning changes to the existing state apparatus and the mass of career bureaucrats that make up most of the actual machinery of government (AKA the “deep state”). Thus, while the Obama Administration might differ quite significantly from the Bush Administration in political theory and intent, the actual impact of theses differences on the real trajectory of the “ship of state” is relatively small.

My assessment is that the Trump Insurgency has identified the Deep State itself as its central antagonist and is engaged in a direct existential conflict with it.

Trump does it seek to engage with or hegemonically dominate the established world order as such, but to bulldoze it, and to replace the internationalist framework with a series of bilateral treaties. Similarly, he does not seek to engage with or effectively utilize the press, but to marginalize and destroy it, organizing its communications around social media and the alternative Internet-based press. And it is quite obvious from several of his cabinet appointments and federal hiring freeze that he would similarly like to bulldoze the federal bureaucracy.

This is a fight that traditional institutions are unprepared for – they are accustomed to takeover bids, not scorched-earth attacks of their foundations and legitimacy. And their bureaucratic responses are of the wrong order. Attacks coming from the Trump Insurgency are fast, agile, and eschew the traditional norms of discourse, bounding fluidly from perspective to perspective, always exploding from one conflagration to another with no concern for coherence or consistency. They cannot be adequately repelled by central committee.

Rather than organizing around a traditional platform, the Trump Insurgency is a confederation of positions that is largely coordinated by their shared targets – establishment elites that are perceived as marginalizing or suppressing people in the name of a ossified vision of globalism and an accompanying set of overbearing pluralistic values that seek to regulate and normalize individual thought with the fervor of an inquisition.

This last analysis of what Greenhall calls the “Blue Church,” following a heavily-read Reddit post, is invaluable to liberals who are unable to understand why so many Americans feel oppressed by the ethics of multiculturalism. This post, titled Why Hollywood is really freaking out over Trump, is incredibly illuminating and also well worth reading.

Its pseudonymous author notjaffo characterizes American pluralism thus:

Blue Team Progressivism is a church, offering you moral superiority and a path to spiritual enlightenment. As a church it’s got a lot going for it. It runs religious programming on television, all day every day. Every modern primetime program is like a left-wing Andy Griffith show, reinforcing lessons of inclusion, tolerance, feminism, and anti-racism.

Watching a 90-pound Sci-Fi heroine beat up a room full of giant evil men is as satisfying to the left as John Wayne westerns were for the right.

The Blue Church controls the HR department, so even if you don’t go to church, you have to act like a loyal churchgoer in every way that matters while you’re on the clock. And off the clock, on any kind of public social media platform.

Jon Stewart and John Oliver are basically TV preachers. Watching them gives the same sense of quiet superiority your grandma gets from watching The 700 Club. The messages are constantly reinforced, providing that lovely dopamine hit, like an angel’s voice whispering, “You’re right, you’re better, you’re winning.”

A crucial point to note is that Trump and the alt-right do not represent a return to the old Christian conservative stance of the Culture Wars, it represents a new political morality that is primarily focused on rejecting what it regards as the oppressive character of the Blue Church:

The Blue Church is panicking because they’ve just witnessed the birth of a new Red Religion. Not the tired old Christian cliches they defeated back in the ’60s, but a new faith based on cultural identity and outright rejection of the Blue Faith.

For the first time in decades, voters explicitly rejected the Blue Church, defying hours of daily cultural programming, years of indoctrination from the schools, and dozens of explicit warnings from HR.

We’ve been trained since childhood to obey the pretty people on TV, but for the first time in decades, that didn’t work.

Donald Trump won because flyover America wants their culture back, and Blue Team has not been rejected like that before.

The younger ones have grown up in an environment where Blue Faith assumptions cannot even be questioned, except anonymously by the bad kids on Twitter.

But now the bad kids are getting bolder, posting funny memes that make you laugh even though John Oliver would not approve, like passing crude dirty pictures under the table in Sunday School.

Meryl Streep is panicking because for the first time voters have rejected HER, and everything her faith has taught her to believe.

There is a new faith rising on the right, not an explicit religious faith like old-school Christianity, but a wicked kind of counterculture movement. We laughed at the hippies in 1968, but by 1978 they were teaching in classrooms and sitting behind school administrator desks.

If you get one takeaway from this post it should be this – these aren’t your grandfather’s conservatives. They are not merely Archie Bunkers and old-style racists. That element probably does exist, but it’s also in solidarity with something new. 

In a recent interview in Die Zeit, Judith Butler offered this observation about the culture of Trump and his supporters:

I think they have an enormous rage. Not just against women, not only against racial minorities or against migrants – they are thrilled that that their rage is being liberated by his public and uncensored speech. We on the left, we are apparently the superego. What Trump has managed to do, rhetorically, is to identify not just the left, but liberalism – basic American liberalism and the left – as just a bunch of censors. We are the instruments of repression and he is the vehicle for emancipation. It is a nightmare.

I believe notjaffo tells us exactly why this release from the super-ego of the Blue Church is experienced as emancipation, and we need to listen.

Greenhall greets the probable destruction of the Blue Church as a potential source for good – a dangerous time that carries with it the possibility of releasing us from its hegemonic normative force, releasing us into a plurality of ethical possibilities:

Right now, the Church is killing us. While it is holding many important, necessary values, it is also holding a ton of stuff that is deeply dysfunctional. But by monopolizing the instruments of culture and power, it inhibits us like a well meaning but overbearing parent from being able to form the new innovations in culture, practice and value that are necessary to our age. The collapse of the Blue Church is going to lead to a level of “cultural flux” that will make the 1960’s look like the Eisenhower administration. As the Church falls away, the “children of Blue” will explode out in a Cambrian explosion and reach out to engage in all out culture war with the still nascent Red Religion.

This keeps with his general model, in which he compares the monolithic, enormous, slow, conservative, traditional structures of the past with the heterogeneous, mutli-nucleated, rapid, novel, innovative forces of the future. The Trump Insurgency instantiates this new model more effectively than any major political force of our age.

It is terribly ironic – the technocratic left has been predicting the emergence of a political phenomenon like this since the 90s, and now that it’s here, we find that it encompasses values that are antithetical to those desired or expected by the prophets of the information age.

The rate of acceleration of social change has itself accelerated, and we have reached a weird tipping point, where everything is in flux. The bombshells are dropping hourly, and we race bewildered through a hall of mirrors while everything becomes everything else. And the mercurial Mr. Trump, without a care for hobgoblins of consistency, is right at home, always in action.

Insofar as this is true, the new political order is expressive of novel dynamics that cannot be countered by the old strategies, which are too slow, and too monolithic. You cannot fact-check away claims more rapidly than they’re being made.

The conflict of the 21st Century is about forming a Collective Intelligence that can outwit and out innovate all of its competitors. The central challenge is to innovate a way of collaborating and cohering individuals that maximally deploys their individual perspectives, capabilities, understandings and insights with each-other. Right now, the Insurgency has the edge. It has discovered some key ways to tap into the power of decentralized collective intelligence and this is its principal advantage. While it is definitely not a mature version of a decentralized collective intelligence, it is substantially more so than any collective intelligence with which it is competing and unless and until a more effective decentralized collective intelligence enters the field, this advantage is enough.

What we’re talking about here is dynamical systems thinking, essentially.

It is my extrapolation that we are in a time of chaos, when many effects are at play that are extremely difficult to pin to specific causes. To manage or engage with such a system, you need to reduce complexity to the level at which it is possible to identify the control parameters that govern the system. Until you start to have a theory about what will happen when you pull a particular lever, in other words, it is very difficult to act. That is our challenge right now.

I think this position is, at the very least, an enormously stimulating interpretation that demands careful consideration. Greenhall concludes with three specific strategy recommendations which I largely agree with, but would supplement with a long-term political strategy for forming international liberal solidarity for more politically and economically just forms of globalism. I’ll be getting more into that soon.

Written by Mesocosm

January 26, 2017 at 10:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

E Pluribus Unum

leave a comment »

“Out of many, one,” is the motto of the United States of America, but some didn’t get the message.

Some self-styled patriots hold themselves to have a unique monopoly on this country, its history, and its destiny. So we have heard a lot, and will continue to hear a lot more, about the real people, the real America.

See our president brazenly insist that he won a “landslide victory” in 2016, despite losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and coming in 46th out of 58 elections in electoral college votes. Again and again he claims “the people” have spoken, and now he speaks for them. But we all understand “the people” full well to mean “the real people.” That is, the people who voted for him, who are folded into his party.

“The only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything,” said Donald Trump in May, 2016, and we all know exactly what this means.

And why shouldn’t he claim an overwhelming mandate from “the people”? After all, he can lay no other claim to legitimacy for his governance. He has no respect for democratic norms and procedures. He views all contrary opinions as disloyalty and tantamount to treason, condemns the press for exercising the adversarial role it has been duty-bound to fill in every genuine democracy since the seventeenth century, and sees “enemies” everywhere.

This is the man to lead a democracy that is not composed of one people, but many people? Surely he knows that the very motto of this land is E pluribus unum? Surely he cares?

Today Mesoscope is in solidarity with the men, women, and children, all people of all races, religions, orientations, and beliefs who are filling the streets, laying claim to the public forum with their very bodies and hearts to remind the world that we too are the people.

We who oppose Donald Trump and his toxic, divisive attack on democracy are also the real America.

We who stand for science and reason in making policy, who acknowledge the clear danger posed by climate change, and who honor the need for responsible stewardship of this our one planet are also the real America.

We who welcome people of all beliefs, countries, colors, and walks of life who share our desire to peacefully build a productive society are also the real America.

We who believe in reproductive freedom are also the real America.

You cannot dismiss us as a tiny, disconnected elite, because we are also the real America, and there are 3 million more of us than there are of you.

E PLURIBUS UNUM – OUT OF MANY, ONE.

Written by Mesocosm

January 21, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

That Martin Luther King’s Call Should Still Be Heard

leave a comment »

In 1999 I was a grad student at the University of Virginia, where I was surprised to learn that they did not honor Martin Luther King’s birthday in that great state. Oh, no. Although they couldn’t simply ignore a federal holiday, they did make their own … mm, adjustment to it, and celebrated “Lee, Jackson, and King Day.”

I learned a lesson that is so hard to internalize, as all truths tend to be when they’re at a certain remove from your own frame of reference and values. What I learned is that there are a lot of people in the United States who are Not Okay with the very idea of racial equality.

Lo these many years later, it still comes as a surprise to learn just how Not Okay with racial equality we are, and I think 2016 has probably delivered some hard lessons to all of us about how true that is.
For myself, I have always been and continue to be in a fundamental state of disbelief that the baseline markers that I take as signs of progress in the advancement of civilization toward its highest ends in its recognition of universal equality and human rights is taken by many as a kind of attack.

This Martin Luther King’s Day we should not celebrate his achievement and his legacy as though honoring a dream since realized, but we should instead feel called by his example to recognize that his struggle is our struggle – not in a symbolic sense, but in real, concrete terms. For if the last awful year has taught us anything, it should be that humanity has not advanced one single step in the last fifty years in terms of its fundamental character, and our capacity for hate and injustice. We are the same as they were, and their struggle is our own.

As Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

These are dark days, and they sound a call to all of us to rise to face inhumanity with humanity, to meet hatred with compassion, and to try to meet ignorance with wisdom.

Written by Mesocosm

January 16, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A few notes on the “Russia Memos”

with one comment

I thought I’d write a few notes on the explosive Russia Memos controversy.

The issue broke last night when CNN published this story giving details on a collection of memos that’s been making the rounds among intelligence officials and members of Congress, and which has been presented to President-Elect Trump and President Obama. The research was initially funded by an anti-Trump Republican and secured by an intelligence contractor, and it makes several strong allegations about Trump, and his relationship to Russia.

It has been available to media for some time, but numerous publications have declined to report on it (with the conspicuous exception of Mother Jones, which published this article in October of last year), as all of its claims are thus far unsubstantiated. After the CNN story broke, numerous outlets followed suit, such as the New York Times in this article.

Buzzfeed took the controversial step of publishing the memo itself, which is available in its entirety here. Tech Crunch published a useful article on that document’s provenance.

Salacious details about possible compromising material the Russians may hold over Trump have gotten a lot of attention, but obviously the far more serious charge is that members of Trump’s team met with Russian officials to coordinate attacks against the Clinton campaign and the Democrats. According to page 2 of the memo, for example:

Source A confided that the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, for several years … This was confirmed by Source D, a close associate of TRUMP who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow, and who reported, also in June 2016, that this Russian intelligence had been “very helpful”.

Also see page 7 for more relevant information.

According to the New York Times:

The author of the memos is Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with MI-6, who once served in Moscow. After Mr. Steele retired in 2009, he founded a private firm called Orbis Business Intelligence in London. Former CIA officials described him as an expert on Russia who is well respected in the spy world.

The Wall Street Journal has also attributed the memo to Christopher Steele.

The response from the Trump camp has been predictable, with Trump berating Jim Acosta, a CNN reporter at a press conference, refusing to take his question, and calling the organization “fake news.” Displaying his customary poise and gravitas, he also took to Twitter to make his case, likening his tribulations to those suffered by victims of the Nazi regime.

A widespread rumor among our particularly credulous friends on the right holds that the whole memo was cooked up as a prank by an anonymous member of the Internet message board and cesspool 4chan. This argument is every bit as stupid as it sounds, but if you need a handy rebuttal, Gizmodo spared me the trouble of writing one.

Two thoughts about the situation so far:

1) Let’s not turn this into a carnival about Trump’s alleged sexual habits – that is a distraction. The serious allegations are about cooperation with a belligerent foreign power to win the election – that must be taken seriously. Really, don’t let this become a circus.

2) No one is kidding around when they call these reports “unsubstantiated.” We believe that the source is credible, and dismissing all of these allegations in aggregate as “fake news” is obviously foolhardy in the extreme, and trifles with the very foundations of our democratic republic. At the same time, we do not yet know what is real here. The Lawfare Blog wrote a good post that agrees closely with my own take on this.

Updates:

  • The New York Times published a useful summary of events here.
  • BBC reports that the memo author is in hiding, and fears for his life.
  • Matt Taibbi wrote a persuasive argument that the intelligence community needs to stop playing games and give full disclosure to the American public immediately, following a report that US intelligence officials warned Israeli intelligence about sharing information with President-Elect Trump, owing to Russian leverage.

Written by Mesocosm

January 11, 2017 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Trump’s Kushner appointment may violate anti-nepotism laws

leave a comment »

According to the New York Times, Trump transition officials have confirmed that “Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a major real estate developer in New York, will be named senior adviser to the president.”

Federal statue 5 U.S. Code § 3110 states:

A public official may not appoint, employ, promote, advance, or advocate for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement, in or to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official.

From the same statute (emphasis added):

(2) “public official” means an officer (including the President and a Member of Congress), a member of the uniformed service, an employee and any other individual, in whom is vested the authority by law, rule, or regulation, or to whom the authority has been delegated, to appoint, employ, promote, or advance individuals, or to recommend individuals for appointment, employment, promotion, or advancement in connection with employment in an agency; and

(3) “relative” means, with respect to a public official, an individual who is related to the public official as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.

Kushner’s attorney argues that this statute doesn’t apply because a White House appointment is not a federal agency.

Written by Mesocosm

January 9, 2017 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Russian Hacking Story is Not About the CIA

leave a comment »

A lot of people are asking if we can believe the CIA on Russian hacking – that is a red herring. Hanging this issue on the CIA’s credibility is an intentional strategy by the Trump campaign to distract from the overwhelming evidence. The goal is to sew doubt by implying that we’d have to take the CIA’s word for it – that is false.

17 intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians hacked DNC computers to discredit the Clinton campaign. Russia is currently under heavy US sanctions imposed by Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly implied he would lift those sanctions, in so many words. He just nominated a candidate for Secretary of State who received a medal of friendship from Russia a few years ago, and who is an executive at an oil company that stands to directly benefit to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars if the sanctions are lifted. Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort resigned just a few months ago because of inappropriate ties to pro-Russian forces in Crimea.

McCain, McConnel, and Paul Ryan have all said this demands investigation. Trump went on national television and directly called on hackers to go after Hillary’s “missing emails” for heaven’s sake. These are HIS WORDS:

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

This is not about the CIA – that is a diversionary tactic. Don’t buy it, go back to the evidence. It is overwhelming, and obvious.

Written by Mesocosm

December 13, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized