Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Mueller Focuses on Molehills — The mountain is whether the FBI was an unwitting agent of Russian influence — So who is really manipulating the American people? U.S. Intelligence and most media caught in “rope a dope”

February 21, 2018

Russian influence.

FBI Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016.
FBI Director James Comey testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 1, 2016. PHOTO: DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

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On Aug. 17, 2015, 63 days after Donald Trump’s escalator ride at Trump Tower, a lightbulb went on. Certain pro-Trump emails that colleagues and I were receiving were coming from Vladimir Putin’s internet trolls. “The Kremlin is now in the Donald’s corner . . .?” I emailed a co-worker.

The most valuable thing said last week was said by Sen. Jim Risch during a hearing, when he pointed out that the American people “realize that there’s people attempting to manipulate them.”

The least valuable was the prediction by three intelligence chiefs that Russia’s meddling will continue through 2018 and 2020. It may or may not, but what else were they going to say? There’s no upside to “estimating” anything else. This is a big part of what’s wrong with our intelligence establishment, handling inherently ambiguous matters and overwhelmingly incentivized, at least at the top, to say whatever is most politically and institutionally expedient.

Let’s be realistic: The Russian propaganda activities detailed in Robert Mueller’s indictment last week had less impact on the election than 20 seconds of cable TV coverage (pick a channel) of any of Mr. Trump’s rallies.

Only the media’s beloved hindsight fallacy suggests otherwise. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s campaign made good use of Russia to discredit Mr. Trump in the eyes of voters. What was the net effect on the vote? The press doesn’t know. Worse, it doesn’t know that it doesn’t know.

Ditto the media’s new favorite song that the U.S. has done nothing to punish Mr. Putin’s provocations. The U.S. government does not tell the public everything it does. American warplanes recently killed dozens, perhaps as many as 200, Russian mercenaries in Syria employed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a key figure in the Mueller indictment. For the first time in the Syrian theater, a man-portable antiaircraft weapon appeared in the hands of the Syrian opposition, shooting down a Russian jet. The U.S. government has denied a role, but the message, if that’s what it was, would be historically resonant. The U.S. used such missiles to raise the cost of Soviet adventurism in Afghanistan and Angola in the 1980s.

Let’s hope so, because such means will be necessary in Mr. Putin’s case, not just waving legal paperwork at him as Mr. Mueller has done.

That said, give Mr. Mueller credit. So far, we’ve relied on partisan leaks and memos to tell us what little we know. His court filings, insufficient as they are, at least contribute to the air-clearing.

His latest includes information that could only have come from U.S. intelligence intercepts. He cites reports that Russia’s alleged operatives filed with each other, and even an email one operative sent to a relative. But this also highlights a problem. Mr. Mueller is dependent on U.S. intelligence agencies, which share only what they want to share.

James Comey’s intervention in the Hillary Clinton email matter now is widely understood to have been prompted by a false, possibly planted, Russian intelligence intercept of some kind in March 2016.

News reports as well as basic logic suggest U.S. intelligence agencies, at some point, would have started monitoring Christopher Steele’s communications. They likely know more about his alleged Russian sources and their credibility than they are telling.

Both episodes have done far more to inflame U.S. politics than anything outlined in the Mueller indictment. Yet here’s betting a Battle Royal lies ahead before we get the truth out of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Remember your Watergate: The CIA is a natural and perhaps irresistible instrument for pressuring the FBI. Did Obama intelligence chieftains John Brennan and James Clapper use their positions to lean on Mr. Comey to spy on the Trump campaign or protect Mrs. Clinton? Is the intelligence community even now trying to shape Mr. Mueller’s probe by what it decides to share with him? If we had to guess based on what we know today, the answer is yes.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, the basis for many of Mr. Mueller’s charges against the Russians, was passed in 1938, aimed at Nazi propagandists, who were active in the U.S. in ways very similar to the Putin regime. Implicit was the idea that Americans can’t be insulated from foreign influence, but they can certainly understand who is trying to influence them.

The Washington Post, in a lengthy reconstruction last year, concluded that President Obama held back from doing more to inoculate the American people against Russian influence because he didn’t want to upset the apple cart of an expected Clinton victory. That’s one mistake future administrations will find it harder to make.

Even so, keep in mind that the most consequential Russian meddling may well have been via the administration’s own handling of the Steele dossier and the Hillary Clinton email controversy. If so, the real struggle is yet to come. It will involve pulling teeth to get information from the FBI and CIA that they don’t want us to know.

Appeared in the February 21, 2018, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mueller-focuses-on-molehills-1519169467

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Romney’s Russia Vindication

February 20, 2018

He was right about the Kremlin in 2012, not that Democrats admit it.

Mitt Romney during a keynote address at the Utah County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in Provo, Utah, Feb. 16.
Mitt Romney during a keynote address at the Utah County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner in Provo, Utah, Feb. 16. PHOTO: KIM RAFF/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Mitt Romney announced Friday that he’s running for the U.S. Senate from Utah, and the timing on the same day as the Justice Department indictments of Russians for meddling in the U.S. presidential election was apt. Mr. Romney was right about the Russian threat in 2012, and Democrats who are now echoing him when it serves their political purposes against Donald Trump owe the former GOP presidential nominee an apology.

Start with Barack Obama, who derided Mr. Romney’s claim that Russia was a major U.S. geopolitical foe in the third presidential debate in 2012. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Mr. Obama said, to applause from the Democratic media establishment. In its endorsement of Mr. Obama, the Washington Post criticized Mr. Romney for “calling Russia America’s greatest foe” as an example of his lack of judgment.

Readers may recall that Mr. Romney made his comments about Russia after Mr. Obama was caught unaware talking on an open microphone with then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in March 2012:

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“On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved, but it’s important to give me space,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Medvedev, the Vladimir Putin stand-in.

“Yeah, I understand,” Mr. Medvedev said.

Mr. Obama then said, “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Mr. Medvedev: “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

The “flexibility” after Mr. Obama’s election turned out to be Mr. Putin’s as he invaded and annexed Crimea, started a war to occupy the Donbas region in Ukraine, intervened to prop up Bashar Assad in Syria, covered for Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and helped North Korea evade United Nations sanctions.

Thanks to last week’s indictments, we also know that Mr. Putin’s attempt to meddle in U.S. elections began in 2014, long before Mr. Trump chose to run for President. That interference went unopposed, and as far as we can tell, unanticipated by Mr. Obama, his CIA Director John Brennan and his Director of National Intelligence James Clapper until nearly the end of Mr. Obama’s second term. They did nothing about it until after Hillary Clinton lost.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) and CIA Director John Brennan

Now, suddenly, amid the Mueller probe of the 2016 presidential campaign, Democrats have become Russia hawks. Some of the more intemperate, like Rep. Jerry Nadler, are calling the Russia indictments the “equivalent” of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Nadler is poised to lead the impeachment of Mr. Trump as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee if Democrats take the House in November.

Mr. Romney is expected to win the Utah seat with ease, which should make him available to instruct Democrats on foreign affairs.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/romneys-russia-vindication-1519069005

Putin’s Syrian Dilemma: Stay with Israel or Iran?

February 19, 2018

Haaretz

All of the Russian president’s achievements in Syria could come crashing down unless he answers this one fundamental question

.Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, February 16, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, February 16, 2018.Alexei Druzhinin/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he could succeed where the U.S.’s then-President Barack Obama failed. Pacify Syria, rescue the regime of his client, President Bashar Assad, and balance the conflicting interests of Iran and Israel in the war-torn country. All this he did with a relatively small investment: the deployment of a couple of dozen aircraft and 2,000 men. As foreign campaigns go, it was power projection on the cheap. The United States on a similar mission would have used a force 10 times the size – aircraft carrier groups and hundreds of fighter jets, aerial tankers and electronic warfare planes. Not to mention boots on the ground.

But Russia could pull it off thanks to the cannon fodder supplied by Iran. Tens of thousands of Shi’ite mercenaries, mainly refugees from Afghanistan, propped up Assad’s failing battalions. Hezbollah fighters came from Lebanon to carry out the more difficult operations. Russia made do with small teams of special-force troops and, where more muscle was needed, its own mercenaries.

It was a relatively small investment with few casualties and not, as some predicted two years ago, a rerun of the Soviet Union’s disastrous occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

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President Vladimir Putin addressing Russian troops at Hemeimeem air base during a surprise visit to Damascus, December 12, 2017.

President Vladimir Putin addressing Russian troops at Hemeimeem air base during a surprise visit to Damascus, December 12, 2017.Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

>> Iran and the Assad regime are drawing a line in Syria’s skies | Analysis <<

With perfect timing, and taking advantage of the vacuum left by Obama’s decision not to get involved in Syria, Putin had put Russia back on the geopolitical map. He made a surprise visit to Damascus in December to declare: Mission accomplished. He should have learned from former U.S. President George W. Bush never to say that – because now everything is starting to fall apart for the Russians.

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A serviceman holds a portrait of Russian air force pilot Roman Fillipov, who was killed after his aircraft was shot down over rebel-held territory in Syria, February 8, 2018.

A serviceman holds a portrait of Russian air force pilot Roman Fillipov, who was killed after his aircraft was shot down over rebel-held territory in Syria, February 8, 2018.\ HANDOUT/ REUTERS

There was last month’s Sochi conference, where attempts to agree a political process for Syria’s future under Assad, with the usual farce of elections, failed even before the delegates arrived. Turkey has launched a large-scale incursion into northwestern Syria, in an attempt to prevent Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) forces from establishing a military presence on its border. Meanwhile, the Turks are clashing with the Iranians as well, and as of Monday with regime forces too.

Much more worrying for Russia is that in the east of the country, another Kurdish force – the Syrian Democratic Forces, which also includes Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian and Armenian forces – is widening its control of areas once held by the Islamic State. The SDF is now the only player in Syria with U.S. military support: During a clash 10 days ago between the SDF and regime forces working together with Russian mercenaries, the United States launched a devastating airstrike. The Kremlin still won’t acknowledge any casualties, but unofficial reports from Russia claim that as many as 200 Russian mercenaries died.

And then last week there was the first direct confrontation between Israel and Iran.

The Turkish front is less concerning for Putin, since it doesn’t directly threaten Russia’s main interests. The clashes in the northeast are a much larger problem as they are sending coffins back home to Russia – the last thing Putin needs before the presidential election in mid-March.

For now at least, the Israeli-Iranian front may not directly put Russian personnel in the line of fire. But it is a much greater threat to the Assad regime itself. Damascus is close to the Israeli border and Assad, with Iranian encouragement, is trying to assert himself by firing anti-aircraft missiles at Israel Air Force planes.

For the past two and a half years, the deal between Jerusalem and Moscow was simple: Israel allowed Russia to resupply Assad’s army and help the regime – through aerial bombardments of rebel-held areas, indiscriminately killing thousands of civilians – to retake large swaths of territory. Russia, meanwhile, turned a blind eye as Israel continued its periodic attacks on convoys and depots of Iranian-supplied weapons destined for Hezbollah. Russia collaborated with Iran in reviving the regime, while not intervening when Israel struck at Iran’s proxies.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that Russia prevent Iran’s forces from building permanent bases on Syrian soil, Putin tried to strike a compromise. Iran continued entrenching its Shi’ite militias, but at the same time didn’t come too close to the Israeli border or begin building large bases.

Israeli soldiers in the northern Golan Heights after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace and was shot done, February 10, 2018.

Israeli soldiers in the northern Golan Heights after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace and was shot done, February 10, 2018.Gil Eliahu

That balance can no longer hold. The decision by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to send a drone into Israeli airspace in the early hours of Saturday February 10, followed by Israel’s retaliation against the Iranian command unit that launched the drone and the ensuing air battle between Israeli fighter jets and Syrian air defense batteries, was proof that Russia can no longer contain the interests of all the different sides within Syria.

Putin has utilized “hybrid warfare” – a combination of military power, deniable proxies and cyberattacks – to destabilize neighboring countries like Georgia and Ukraine, which tried to get too close to the West. Relatively small investments for major gain.

But just like Russian interference with the U.S. presidential election, where the Kremlin wanted only to undermine America’s democratic process but never actually believed it could help get Donald Trump elected, he may have gone too deep. What was supposed to be an exercise in troublemaking is, despite Trump’s reluctance, now a full-blown confrontation with the U.S. intelligence services.

Managing a multitrack Middle East policy and engaging simultaneously with all of the regional players takes time, resources and, especially, experience. Until recently, the United States had the combination of seasoned diplomats, military and intelligence officers – with extensive contacts and time spent in the region – to maintain such a complex operation.

Under President Trump, many of these professionals have left the administration, and there is no clear sense of direction from the White House for those remaining. But the lack of any real U.S. presence or policy doesn’t mean someone else can just come along and take over its traditional role.

It’s not just that the Kremlin doesn’t have anything resembling this kind of network. Putin’s centralized way of doing business means that every decision goes through him in Moscow. This isn’t helping Russia keep a handle on evolving events on the ground, but it is an advantage for Netanyahu – who is currently the regional player with the best personal relationship with Putin.

There are currently two schools of thought within the Israeli intelligence community. The skeptics believe Putin will not give up on his Shi’ite boots on the ground and will ultimately limit Israel’s freedom to operate in the skies above Syria – pushing Israel to make a difficult choice between sitting on the sidelines while Iran and Hezbollah build up their outposts or confronting Russia as well. The optimists believe Putin knows Israel has the power to jeopardize its achievements and threaten the Assad regime, and will therefore rein in the Iranians.

Netanyahu’s team has been working closely with the Russian president for years, and the two leaders speak regularly on the phone and meet every few months. When they’re on their own, with just fellow Likud lawmaker Zeev Elkin to interpret, does Netanyahu openly threaten to destabilize the Assad regime? Probably not. The implied threat is enough.

Putin will have to make the call on Israel or Iran soon – or risk losing all he has invested in Syria.

The Russian Indictments — Where were James Clapper and John Brennan and the American intelligence community when the Kremlin was meddling?

February 17, 2018

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Jan. 29.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Jan. 29. PHOTO: ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Justice Department on Friday indicted three Russian companies and 13 individuals for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the man who should be most upset is Donald J. Trump. The 37-page indictment contains no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, but it does show a systematic effort to discredit the result of the 2016 election. On the evidence so far, President Trump has been the biggest victim of that effort, and he ought to be furious at Vladimir Putin.

The indictment documents a broad social-media and propaganda campaign operating out of Russia and involving hundreds of people starting in 2014 that “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system.” It certainly succeeded on that score, as Democrats and the media have claimed that Mr. Trump’s election is illegitimate because he conspired with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. The charge has roiled American politics and made governing more difficult.

The good news for Mr. Trump is that the indictment reveals no evidence of collusion. The Russians “posted derogatory information about a number of candidates,” the indictment says, and by 2016 “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump” and “disparaging Hillary Clinton.” But it adds that the Russians “communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign,” and it offers no claims of a conspiracy.

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Readers of the indictment will be amused at the comic opera details. In or around June 2016, for example, Russians posing online as Americans “communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization.” This “real U.S. person” vouchsafed the deep political secret that the Russians “should focus their activities on ‘purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.’” Sure enough, the Russians thereafter referred to targeting “purple states.” Someone actually paid Russians to collect this insight.

The indictment also contains no evidence that Russia’s meddling changed the electoral results. A U.S. presidential campaign is a maelstrom of information, charges and counter-charges, media reports and social-media chatter. The Russian Twitter bursts became part of this din and sought to reinforce existing biases more than they sought to change minds. Their Twitter hashtags included “#Hillary4Prison,” for example, which you could find at the souvenir desk at the GOP convention.

Yet none of this should let Twitter, Facebook or Google off the hook for being facilitators of this disinformation. The social-media sites and search engines clearly did far too little to police their content for malicious trolls and in the process misled millions of Americans. They need to do more to take responsibility for the content they midwife.

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James Clapper

The indictment also makes us wonder what the Obama Administration was doing amid all of this. Where were top Obama spooks James Clapper and John Brennan ? Their outrage became public only after their candidate lost the election. If they didn’t know what was going on, why not? And if they did, why didn’t they let Americans in on the secret? President Obama sanctioned Russia for its meddling only after the election.

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John Brennan. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, The Associated Press.

The indictment’s details underscore Russia’s malicious anti-American purposes. An authoritarian regime spent tens of millions of dollars to erode public trust in American democracy. As Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) put it Friday, “Putin’s shadow war is aimed at undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions. We know Russia is coming back in 2018 and 2020—we have to take the threat seriously.”

All of which makes the White House reaction on Friday strangely muted. Its statement understandably focused on the lack of collusion evidence and made one reference to “the agendas of bad actors, like Russia.” But given how much Russia’s meddling has damaged his first year in office, Mr. Trump should publicly declare his outrage at Russia on behalf of the American people. The Kremlin has weakened his Presidency. He should make Russia pay a price that Mr. Obama never did.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-russian-indictments-1518825574

Related:

FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch attend a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas 

FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch attend a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

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Sharyl Attkisson Explains the Origins of the 2016 ‘Fake News’ — Blames Google, Eric Schmidt, Hillary Supporters

February 15, 2018

In a Tedx Talk at the University of Nevada a couple of weeks ago, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson revealed the origins of the “fake news” narrative that was aggressively pushed by the liberal media and Democrat politicians during the 2016 election, and how it was later flipped by President Donald Trump.

Attkisson pointed out that “fake news” in the form of tabloid journalism and false media narratives has always been around under different names.

But she noticed in 2016, there seemed to be a concerted effort by the MSM to focus America’s attention on the idea of “fake news” in conservative media. That looked like a propaganda effort to Attkisson, so she did a little digging and traced the new spin to a little non-profit called “First Draft,” which, she said, “appears to be the very first to use ‘fake news’ in its modern context.”

Image result for Sharyl Attkisson , photosSharyl Attkisson

“On September 13, 2016, First Draft announced a partnership to tackle malicious hoaxes and fake news reports,” Attkisson explained. “The goal was supposedly to separate wheat from chaff, to prevent unproven conspiracy talk from figuring prominently in internet searches. To relegate today’s version of the alien baby stories to a special internet oblivion.”

She noted that a month later, then-President Obama chimed in.

“He insisted in a speech that he too thought somebody needed to step in and curate information of this wild, wild West media environment,” she said, pointing out that “nobody in the public had been clamoring for any such thing.”

Yet suddenly the subject of fake news was dominating headlines all over America as if the media had “received its marching orders,” she recounted. “Fake news, they said, was an imminent threat to American democracy.”

Attkisson, who has studied the manipulative moneyed interests behind media industry, said, “few themes arise in our environment organically.” She noted that she always found it helpful to “follow the money.”

“What if the whole fake news campaign was an effort on somebody’s part to keep us from seeing or believing certain websites and stories by controversializing them or labeling them as fake news?” Attkisson posited.

Digging deeper, she discovered that Google was one of the big donors behind First Draft’s “fake news” messaging. Google’s parent company, she pointed out, is owned by Eric Schmidt, who happened to be a huge Hillary Clinton supporter.

Schmidt “offered himself up as a campaign adviser and became a top multi-million donor to it. His company funded First Draft at the start of the election cycle,” Attkisson said. “Not surprisingly, Hillary was soon to jump aboard the anti-fake news train and her surrogate David Brock of Media Matters privately told donors that he was the one who told Facebook to join the effort.”

Attkisson declared that “the whole thing smacked of the roll-out of a propaganda campaign,” she said. Attkisson added, “But something happened that nobody expected. The anti-fake news campaign backfired. Each time advocates cried fake news, Donald Trump called them ‘fake news’ until he’d co-opted the term so completely that even those who [were] originally promoting it started running from it — including the Washington Post,” which she noted later backed away from using the term.

Attkisson called Trump’s accomplishment a “hostile takeover” of the term and cautioned people to always be wary of “powerful interests trying to manipulate their opinions.”

She described two warning signs to look out for.

  1. When the media tries to shape or censor facts and opinions rather than report them.
  2.  When so many in the media are reporting the same stories, promulgating the same narratives, relying on the same sources — even using the same phrases.

Attkisson pointed out that there’s an infinite number of ways to report stories, so “when everyone is on the same page, it might be part of an organized campaign.”

he warned the audience about the latest effort to quell speech through something called “media literacy,” where liberal elites tell everyone else who they should trust. She said, “Media literacy advocates are busy trying to get state laws passed to require that their version of media literacy be taught public schools.”

What’s more, they’re “developing websites and partnering with universities.” She warned that these people have their own agendas and want to tell you what to believe.

“When interests are working this hard to shape your opinion, their true goal just might be to add another layer between you and the truth,” Attkisson concluded.

Includes video:

https://pjmedia.com/video/sharyl-attkisson-explains-tedx-talk-origins-2016-fake-news-narrative/

Dems: Bill Clinton too toxic to campaign in midterms

February 14, 2018

One of the party’s top surrogates has been effectively sidelined by the #metoo movement.

Bill Clinton is pictured. | AP Photo
And in this political environment, Bill Clinton campaigning anywhere would amount to him campaigning everywhere, forcing Democrats around the country to answer for what they think of colleagues appearing with him. | Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Democrats are looking to embrace the #MeToo moment and rally women to push back on President Donald Trump in the midterms—and they don’t want Bill Clinton anywhere near it.

In a year when the party is deploying all their other big guns and trying to appeal to precisely the kind of voters Clinton has consistently won over, an array of Democrats told POLITICO they’re keeping him on the bench. They don’t want to be seen anywhere near a man with a history of harassment allegations, as guilty as their party loyalty to him makes them feel about it.

“I think it’s pretty tough,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), vice chair of the House Progressive Caucus and one of the leading voices in Congress demanding changes in Washington’s approach to sexual harassment. His presence “just brings up a lot of issues that will be very tough for Democrats. And I think we all have to be clear about what the #MeToo movement was.”

After booting Sen. Al Franken precisely because they wanted to draw a clear contrast with Trump, Democrats across the party’s ideological and geographical spectrum acknowledged the political trouble that any appearance with Clinton would cause.

“I value the assets of what the Clintons can bring. He did a lot for Georgia when he was president,” added Georgia Democratic Chair DuBose Porter, treading delicately. “He carried Georgia. The personal side that is now being highlighted, we’ll have to measure.”

Privately, many Democratic politicians and strategists are harsher and firmer: Don’t come to their states, and don’t say anything about their campaigns. They are still worried about saying it out loud, but they don’t want him now, or maybe ever. They know Republicans would react by calling them — with good reason — hypocrites.

And in this political environment, Clinton campaigning anywhere would amount to him campaigning everywhere, forcing Democrats around the country to answer what they think of colleagues appearing with him, and whether they would do so themselves.

It’s a huge change from eight years ago, when Clinton made over 100 appearances for Democrats during the 2010 midterms as the most in-demand presence on the campaign trail. In his reelection campaign two years later, former President Barack Obama anointed Clinton his “explainer-in-chief.”

Clinton’s likely absence on the stump this year comes amid major demand for high-profile surrogates this year — from Obama, who’s expected make select appearances, to Joe Biden and the full crop of 2020 prospects, who are likely to be all over the place in the thick of election season. Even Hillary Clinton will do some targeted campaigning.

All this reluctance about him would be a surprise to Clinton himself, who, according to a person familiar with his plans, has already received a number of preliminary requests from campaigns for advice and events. He’s had a few conversations with candidates, but hasn’t initiated the calls, the person said. Clinton, the source said, is for now focused on his foundation work that included a tour last week of hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands and Dominica, and getting ready for the spring rollout of a mystery novel he wrote with James Patterson.

Anyway, Clinton wouldn’t even start to evaluate political stops until much closer to the election, the person said.

“President Clinton has been diligently working on his book. He’s also been focused on the work of his foundation,” the Clinton source said. “So beyond a few requests for support and advice from a few candidates, he hasn’t spent much time on the midterms.”

“People call me all the time [to ask] if I can talk to him, put [their] requests in,” said James Carville, the former Clinton strategist who remains close with him.

Carville said he believes the former president will do some campaigning, but given Clinton’s age — 71 — and other factors, “it can’t be like it used to.”

But “there are people who want him, I promise you,” Carville said.

Several Democratic campaigns have already polled Clinton’s popularity in their races, weighing whether to take the risk of inviting him out. Others say they’d love to see him chip in, so long as he sticks to New York, at closed-door fundraisers for them where no photographs of them together are taken.

“People are crass about it and will look to see where his numbers are,” admitted one Democratic member of Congress who is in a tough race and is anxious about going public embracing or trashing Clinton. “He’s still Bill Clinton, and he’s still a draw to certain segments of the party.”

“Depending on the audience, there will definitely be people … [who] will be uncomfortable,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.). But there will also “definitely be people who want to see him.”

A Gallup poll in December had Clinton’s national approval rating at 45 percent, down 5 points since the end of the 2016 campaign, and a 52 percent disapproval. Those were his lowest numbers recorded by Gallup since he left office in 2001.

A variety of congressional Democrats were visibly uncomfortable about discussing Clinton. When approached, some of them asked nervously whether he was actually considering campaigning in the midterms.

Democratic operatives ducked the question, while several close allies of Clinton declined interview requests on the topic.

In an interview earlier this year on the party’s strategy for the midterms, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez — who has not been in touch with Clinton the way he has with Obama and other top Democrats — took a diplomatic approach.

“Bill Clinton’s a former president of the United States, and in his administration, we took an economy that was in the tank and built an economic engine that had been unparalleled. Did he make significant mistakes? Of course he did,” Perez said. “People will make judgments race by race about who are the best surrogates to come down and advocate.”

These politicians are driving New Yorkers out of the state — Plus, weird Susan Rice e-mail looks like cover-up for Obama

February 14, 2018

By Michael Goodwin
The New York Post

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Andrew Cuomo

Think of it as whistling past the graveyard, going for a long walk on a short pier or shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Any and all of those images describe how City Hall and Albany are courting disaster by failing to face the facts of the new federal tax law.

Although the vast majority of New Yorkers will get a tax cut, the new limit of $10,000 of state and local tax deductions could yield federal tax hikes for many high earners.

They have been claiming most of the deductions in question because they pay the bulk of city and state income taxes. The changes could hit their wallets hard and give them an extra incentive to leave high-tax states.

And with a combined city and state top rates approaching 13 percent, New York is among the highest of the high. Without changes, the annual migration of wealthy New Yorkers to states with no income taxes could turn into a stampede.

They’ll take their wealth and income with them, creating budget emergencies here that could lead to layoffs and sharply reduced services. It’s not hard to imagine a declining quality of life leading still others to bolt in domino fashion.

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Mayor de Blasio

Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are aware of those grim scenarios, but you would never know it from their actions.

Nearly two months after President Trump signed the new tax law, both continue to spend as if the good times will last forever.

The mayor’s proposed budget is up by 4.7 percent, and Cuomo’s by 4.1 percent, according to analysts. And that’s before the city council and legislature add their wish lists.

Combined, city and state spending is nearing $200 billion for one year alone, but it’s never enough.

Yet instead of talking about the most logical response to the federal law — cutting local spending and tax rates — the two Democrats are acting as if attacking Trump and Republicans will make the problem go away.

It won’t, and Cuomo and de Blasio are wasting precious time they should use to start making New York more attractive to the biggest taxpayers.

Cuomo is at least playing around with two ideas he claims could mitigate the federal changes. One, a complex voluntary payroll-tax plan, aims to help employees of participating companies reduce their federal taxes to make up for the lost deductions.

His second idea would set up charities for health and education programs and let people pay state income taxes there, with payments then supposedly deductible.

Other states are trying similar gimmicks, and like New York, are vowing to sue Washington.

None of those sound like winning ideas. The complexities of the payroll-tax could sink it or severely limit its appeal, and the IRS could rule that the charities gambit is illegal.

As for the lawsuits, it’s hard to imagine the Supreme Court finding the tax law unconstitutional because it’s inconvenient for blue-state politicians.

Then again, Cuomo isn’t so much looking for an answer as buying time to get past his campaign for a third term.

Indeed, his comments about the tax law — it’s an “assault,” a “dagger” and a “missile — suggest he’s more interested in trying out talking points than changing the state’s killer tax-and-spend habits.

“He’s putting off the inevitable,” one insider says. “He gets the issue, but he wants to wait until after the election.”

Then there’s Mayor Putz. He believes the more spending the better, and is adding employees as if they are on sale.

Most city labor contracts expire this year, and with the average employee now costing taxpayers about $140,000 annually in salary and benefits, that number is certain to increase.

Yet, like a broken record — or an ideologue — the mayor has one answer for all problems: tax the rich. That will be hard if they move to Florida.

“He doesn’t believe in spending restraint,” the insider said. “For him, hiring and spending are a religion.”

Unlike the governor, the mayor is term-limited, so he’s probably planning to stick his successor with soaring costs. Meanwhile, he’ll spend his second term trying to create a national profile for himself as someone who is solving income inequality by making the rich poorer.

That’ll sell to the Bernie Sanders crowd, but the mayor should not make his case while standing next to a door in New York. He might get run over in the stampede for the exits.

FBI clues damn bam

“Don’t let up,” a friend living abroad wrote a few weeks ago about corruption at the FBI. “Trump has them all on the run.”

The note came to mind when I saw the weird e-mail Susan Rice wrote to herself on Inauguration Day last year.

Image result for obama and susan rice

At first glance, the e-mail, which purports to recount remarks President Obama made two weeks earlier to Rice, FBI head James Comey and others about the Russia probe, makes no sense. But ask yourself why Rice repeated that Obama wanted everything done “by the book,” and it smells as if she’s preparing a last-minute defense for Obama, and maybe herself.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, pit bulls on government misbehavior, wrote to Rice about the e-mail while noting that there were lots of doubts about whether the FBI actually did proceed “by the book.”

Hopefully, she’ll have to give her answer under oath, as should Comey and anybody else in the room.

As for Obama, I always assumed the corruption hunt would end up on his doorstep. I didn’t assume it would get there so quickly.

Times’ bad ‘my bad’

Corrections in The New York Times can obfuscate as well as reveal, and yesterday was a case in point. One began this way: “An Op-Ed essay on Saturday about the dangers of being a sanitation worker misstated the number of such workers killed on the job annually. It was 31 in 2016, not one a day.”

Wait, what? Instead of 365, the number of deaths was 31?

That’s a helluva error, and it sent me to find the essay, where it quickly became apparent that the mistake was hardly incidental. The inflated number was the basis of an original headline — “A Waste Worker Dies Everyday” — and author Carl Zimring used it to invoke Martin Luther King Jr. and his support for striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., the day before he was assassinated.

Having established an aura of death and the moral high ground, Zimring claimed that current working conditions “aren’t at all unlike those in Memphis in 1968.”

It’s a silly argument made possible only by the grossly inflated death totals. Once the actual numbers are known, the central claim of the entire piece makes no sense. But don’t hold your breath waiting for The Times to admit that.

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https://nypost.com/2018/02/13/these-politicians-are-driving-new-yorkers-out-of-the-state/

Uranium One Is a Curious Case

February 14, 2018

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By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
The Wall Street Journal
Feb. 13, 2018 6:26 p.m. ET

President Obama sought better relations with Russia, in keeping with the policy of presidents at least since FDR.

He acceded in 2010 to a Russian government desire to acquire a company whose assets included a Nevada uranium mine on the widely accepted grounds that economic interdependence helps relations stay on a productive path. And, by the way, Russia cannot cart a uranium mine in Nevada back to Russia. If its national security were ever jeopardized, the U.S. could always seize the mine. So that’s not an issue.

Would it have been embarrassing for the Obama policy if it were known that the uranium assets the Russian government sought to buy had been accumulated by Canadian entrepreneurs working closely with Bill Clinton ? That the Clinton Foundation received $145 million in pledged contributions from people associated with these transactions? That Mr. Clinton had been paid $500,000 for a speech in Moscow?

Yes. It would have raised political difficulties for Mr. Obama’s Russia policy. It would have harmed the reputation of his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. How would such knowledge have flavored a multiagency review in charge of approving the mine deal, inevitably tinged by Obama political interests? Hard to say.

The scandal would likely have remained a political one, not a legal one. But who knows? The Watergate truism that it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup should really be modified. Once any kind of investigation is launched on any pretext, a crime can always be found. That’s a given. Not to relitigate Mrs. Clinton’s emails, but if the FBI didn’t find a basis to charge her aides with obstruction and evidence tampering, it’s only because it didn’t want to. Or take Donald Trump : Any prosecutor should hang up his spurs who can’t find something in Mr. Trump’s checkered business history, starting with federal Title 16, Chapter 1, Subchapter b, Part 23, Section 23.3: “Misuse of the terms ‘hand-made,’ ‘hand-polished,’ etc.”

A slight nuance, of course, is that the Clintons ’ conflict-of-interest baggage was born of exploiting their politically-earned celebrity, and not the other way around. Whether he meant it or not, Mr. Trump recognized and met expectations when he said, on taking office, he no longer would concern himself with the businesses he left behind. He had a much bigger job now. Though Mrs. Clinton would certainly have been expected to say something similar if she were elected president, she would also have been semi-obliged to insist that the Clinton Foundation was but an extension of her lifelong devotion to public service, which she would be continuing in the White House.

As history records, of course, Uranium One is the scandal that didn’t happen, or is happening only belatedly. The Clinton Foundation connection did not become known. Its dealings did not become fodder for partisan opposition to President Obama or his Russia policy. Only recently have we become aware of a new and piquant fact. What if it had been known that the FBI was sitting on a case involving demonstrable malfeasance (bribery and kickbacks) by the Russian company’s U.S. arm? What if an eyewitness who had helped crack the case told the FBI (as he now claims he did) that Russian uranium executives had spoken openly of currying favor with the Clinton Foundation to advance their U.S. business?

The Nevada mine transfer would have been a lot more politically controversial at the time than it was. The Obama Russia rapprochement might have run aground earlier than it eventually did when Russia in 2014 seized Crimea. Mr. Obama might have come to see his secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton, as a political liability.

Which makes it interesting that the FBI, under its then-chief Robert Mueller, appears to have sat on the case—only getting around quietly to announcing a plea deal with the Russian executive five years later, in 2015. It is not necessarily wrong for the FBI to consider the impact on national-security policy of any criminal case that it intends nevertheless to pursue to conviction. But the fact remains: The FBI handled the Uranium One matter in a manner that avoided making immediate trouble for the policy and political interests of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Which means, if a few thousand voters in the upper Midwest had woken up on a different side of the bed in November 2016, the agency’s treatment of Uranium One might be one more subject of investigation by a GOP congress of President Hillary Clinton. Along with: the Steele dossier; the Steele dossier’s role in an FBI application to spy on Trump associate Carter Page ; the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email case; the FBI’s investigation (still under way) of a questionable mixing of government and Clinton Foundation business at Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

In other words, a Clinton presidency would likely be swallowed up in investigative chaos no less than the Trump presidency. There was an awful lot of baggage to go around among the headliners of the 2016 presidential race.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/uranium-one-is-a-curious-case-1518564360

Why the Center-Left Became Immoderate — Democracy dies when one side loses respect for electoral outcomes

February 13, 2018

In polarized times, those without a clear guiding ideology become the most vicious partisans.

Why the Center-Left Became Immoderate
Art: DAVID GOTHARD

Democracy dies when one side loses respect for electoral outcomes and comes to consider the other illegitimate. Recent U.S. presidents, at least since Bill Clinton, have faced a degree of implacable opposition from the further reaches of the opposing party. But of late the problem seems to have intensified—and disrespect for democratic outcomes has become particularly acute on the center-left.

That may sound odd. We generally assume the political “middle” to be more reasonable and rational—and less partisan. Ideologues are the ones less amenable to compromise. But although centrists are by definition skeptical of ideology, that does not make them any less prone to partisanship.

In polarized times, political competition comes to resemble tribal warfare. Everyone is under pressure to close ranks and boost morale. Lacking an animating vision beyond expert-led incrementalism, center-left politicians and pundits have few options to rally the Democratic base other than by attacking adversaries and heightening partisan divides. The other option—laying out an alternative that differs from what Hillary Clinton or even President Obama offered—requires ideological conviction.

That would explain why Rep. Adam Schiff —previously “known as a milquetoast moderate,” according to the New Yorker—has emerged as one of the most outspoken figures in the Russian collusion investigation. Before being appointed to succeed Mrs. Clinton in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand was an upstate New York representative who belonged to the Blue Dog Coalition. Her 2013 New Yorker profile was titled “Strong Vanilla”—and she now boasts the upper chamber’s most anti- Trump voting record.

Many Democrats are unwilling to accept that Mrs. Clinton actually lost to Donald Trump. Those who find her standard center-left technocratic worldview congenial are disinclined to accept ideological explanations, so they look for scapegoats: Russia, James Comey, even the voters who supported Donald Trump. Mrs. Clinton herself pre-emptively offered the last explanation in September 2016, when she consigned half of Trump supporters to “the basket of deplorables”—“they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” As 2020 approaches, Democrats run the risk of repeating that mistake, taking for granted, as Mrs. Clinton did, that Mr. Trump’s unique flaws will be sufficient to ensure his defeat.

Contrast the centrists with leftist standard-bearers like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They’re no fans of Mr. Trump, but they haven’t been at the forefront of calls for impeachment or intensifying the Russia investigation. Instead, they have focused their efforts on broadening the Democratic Party’s base with a more inclusive populism that takes seriously the systemic causes of inequality. Both have resisted the urge to write off Mr. Trump’s supporters, and Mr. Sanders in particular has made outreach to Republicans a major part of his postelection message. Mr. Sanders seems instinctively uncomfortable with identity politics, a Democratic preference that makes it harder to reach out to Trump voters since identities are more fixed than interests or ideas.

The mainstream media generally share a center-left worldview. Most reporters aren’t Marxists or even Sandernistas, and anti-Trump alarmism—what some scholars have called “tyrannophobia”—has become a consistent theme. The idea of a Trump dictatorship may be compelling, but that doesn’t make it right, particularly when it distorts how one perceives actual tyranny. Consider the weekend’s fawning Olympic coverage of Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. “Despite Mike Pence’s sabotage, North Korea’s ‘charm offensive’ appears to be working,” reads a Sunday tweet from ThinkProgress—an affiliate of the Center for American Progress, founded by Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager.

People want something to believe in, but in the absence of a strong ideological sensibility among Democrats, partisanship and alarmism offer ready recourse. Having an enemy is a powerful motivator, and hating Mr. Trump is entertaining to boot. Politics might otherwise return to boring discussions on how to improve health care or education, why we need more experts, or why facts are important.

The relationship between partisanship and ideology may be changing in unexpected ways. Yesterday’s centrists have become some of today’s most intense partisans. There’s nothing wrong with partisanship per se, but it’s a problem when the parties view each other as enemies and existential threats. Centrism may seem an obvious solution, but too little ideology can be as dangerous as too much.

Does this mean we need more ideologues? The word sounds like an insult, connoting inflexibility and narrow-mindedness. But politicians who are committed to a set of ideas also tend to have less to prove. They don’t need to play to the base; they can lead the base. Congress—and the country—could use more of them.

Mr. Hamid is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World.”

Appeared in the February 13, 2018, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-the-center-left-became-immoderate-1518479151

Poll: Americans ‘Overwhelmingly’ Believe Obama ‘Improperly Surveilled’ Trump Campaign

February 11, 2018

Breitbart

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

An IBD/TIPP poll shows that “Americans overwhelmingly believe the Obama administration ‘improperly surveilled’ Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Despite the disgraced American media’s best and most cynical efforts to bury the truth, and to even stop the truth from ever seeing the light of day, this poll (and another addressed below) demonstrate that the American people are almost entirely tuning the partisan, mostly-hysterical news media out and looking to alternative media for the truth.

There is simply no other way to explain these poll results, which unambiguously prove that a majority of the public believe the exact opposite of what an unceasing, coordinated media campaign wants them to believe — which is that President Trump colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 campaign and that the heroic FBI is being unfairly smeared by Trump’s eeeevil defenders.

Well, despite more than a year of this relentless propaganda coming from all four corners of the mainstream media’s fabricated reality, here are the results from all four corners of actual reality…

A clear majority of 55 percent believe it is “likely” that the Obama administration “improperly surveilled the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.” That includes 31 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of Republicans, and 55 percent of Independents.

A clear majority of 54 percent want a special counsel to investigate “whether the FBI and the Department of Justice improperly surveilled the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.” Only 44 percent said no. The partisan breakdown shows that 74 percent of Republicans and 50 percent of Independents want a special counsel — as do a full 44 percent of Democrats.

In this particular poll, one fairly positive result for the FBI and Justice Department is that only 35 percent believe these institutions attempted to outright frame President Trump for colluding with the Russians.

just-released Rasmussen poll, however, shows that a full 50 percent of Americans “believe it’s at least somewhat likely senior federal law enforcement officials broke the law in an effort to prevent Donald Trump from winning the presidency.” Only 40 percent disagree.

Another Rasmussen poll from this week shows that only 42 percent of Americans believe Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election more than the FBI. Moreover, a full 34 percent believe the FBI meddled more than the Russians, while 24 percent are unsure.

In other words, we now live in a country where 58 percent of Americans either believe our own FBI meddled in a presidential election more than a hostile foreign government, or are not sure the FBI did not.

Meanwhile, Trump’s approval rating is running ahead of former-President Obama’s at this point in his failed presidency.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNCFollow his Facebook Page here.