Monday, July 25, 2016

Did the Russians just throw the election to Trump?


The hack of the Democratic National Committee emails two days before the opening of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia has rocked the political world. The emails contain damaging exchanges that show that Democrat staffers, supposedly neutral in the primary, actively undermined the Bernie Sanders campaign. The bigger story, however, is that the Democratic email hack may have been intended to throw the U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump.

CNN reports that several cyber security firms have verified that the two groups of hackers that targeted the DNC were of Russian origin. One group monitored DNC communications for about a year and another specifically targeted Democratic opposition research on Donald Trump.

Defense One quotes the cyber security report that notes that the hackers “appeared to cease operations on Russian holidays, and their work hours seem to align with the UTC +3 time zone, which contains cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.” The report continues, “It’s the same group that hit the State Department, the White House, and the civilian email of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”  

Adding to the evidence is the fact that Wikileaks is not a hacker group like Anonymous. Wikileaks gets the documents that it publishes from other sources. Two of the most famous Wikileaks sources were Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning. Manning was convicted of espionage and Snowden fled to Russia to escape prosecution. He remains there today.

While the news of Russian involvement doesn’t absolve the Democrats of the duplicity revealed in their emails, the fact that Vladimir Putin’s Russia would interfere with internal American politics is a serious problem. A future document dump could come just before the election when a candidate would not have time to respond. If Russia could hack and post sensitive emails, they could just as easily manufacture incriminating emails to dump at the right time.

Russia and the U.S. have recently been at odds over Syria policy, but Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have long been chummy. Last year, the two men were so complimentary of each other that their relationship was referred to as a “bromance.” This is in contrast to Mitt Romney who called Russia America’s “number one geopolitical foe” in a 2012 presidential debate. Nevertheless, it seems doubtful that their mutual admiration would be enough of a reason for Putin to risk an international incident by interfering with internal U.S. politics.

As it turns out, Trump’s affinity for Russia goes beyond Putin to the 1980s. The Washington Post reported that Trump has had business relationships in Russia for decades and has sold many properties to Russian investors. The Hill reports on Trump’s extensive links to Russia including  

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr., said in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

One of the highest level connections is through Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who spent years as a consultant for the pro-Putin dictator of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was ousted in 2014 prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. According to Politifact, Manafort spent about 10 years in Ukraine working for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and only left after the Ukrainian revolution.

There is are other reasons for Russia and Putin to try to make sure that Donald Trump wins the election. Trump’s foreign policy would be even better for Vladimir Putin than that of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, who tried to reset Russian-American diplomacy in 2009. The Obama Administration and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. If a pro-Russia candidate like Trump became president, it is likely that those sanctions would be removed.

Trump has shocked allies in recent days by stating that his administration might not honor American treaty commitments to defend NATO allies. Trump also floated the idea of withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign countries such as Japan and South Korea.

A chief beneficiary of Trump’s isolationist foreign policy would be Vladimir Putin. Putin’s Russia is already invading Europe through its proxy army of Ukrainian separatists and has its eye on restoring the former Soviet sphere of influence. Russia has also expanded its presence in the Middle East for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In fact, Trump has already given his approval to a more aggressive Russian foreign policy. Last year, Trump applauded Russian intervention in Syria on behalf of dictator Bashar Assad. “Let Russia fight ISIS, if they want to fight ‘em … in Syria,” Mr. Trump said at the time.

At about the same time that Wikileaks dumped its trove of documents online, Russia was bombing a base in Syria used by the U.S. and Britain. Trump did not comment on the attack.

It appears likely that the email scandal will continue to dog Ms. Clinton for the remainder of the campaign. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has boasted that the group will post more documents in the future. Assange claims on ITV that there will be enough evidence to indict Clinton. It seems likely at this point that Ms. Clinton’s “homebrew” email server was compromised by the Russians as well.

The hacked emails showcase the corruption of the DNC, but they may show even more about Donald Trump. If the hackers were really acting on behalf of the Russian government, it raises serious questions about Trump’s foreign policy proposals as well as his connections to Vladimir Putin. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Trump campaign was behind Cruz boos

(Michael Vadon/FLickr)
Ted Cruz gave a rousing speech at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last night. In a rare experience for Mr. Cruz, the speech ended amid loud boos by many of the convention delegates. This morning it was revealed that the boos at the end of the Cruz convention speech were probably staged by Trump aides.

The booing occurred near the end of Cruz’s speech when it became apparent that he was not going to offer an explicit endorsement of Donald Trump. The booing began as Cruz began to wrap up his speech saying, “We deserve leaders who stand for principle, who unite us all behind shared values, who cast aside anger for love. That is the standard we should expect from everybody. And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. If you love our country, and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”

Donald Trump tweeted last night and it was confirmed by Ben Shapiro in the Daily Wire this morning that Trump and RNC officials had received a copy of Cruz’s speech in advance. Trump tweeted, “Ted Cruz booed off the stage, didn’t honor the pledge! I saw his speech two hours early but let him speak anyway. No big deal!” Shapiro reports that Sean Spicer of the RNC confirmed that the speech was pre-screened.

Shapiro also points out that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort played it cagey when asked if the Trump organization led the boos. In a transcript of a conversation between Manafort and unnamed reporter after the speech, Manafort grins and chuckles when asked whether Trump aides “foster[ed} the booing” or had “people on the floor leading” it.

The booing may have been orchestrated as revenge for a crowd of Cruz supporters who booed Donald Trump as his jet flew overhead Wednesday afternoon. That event was reported by NBC News. Cruz did not attack Donald Trump in either speech.

After the speech, Trump attacked Cruz for not following through with the pledge made by all Republican candidates to support the eventual nominee. Left unsaid is that Trump himself renounced that pledge back in March.

In response, Cruz stated on CNN that he made the pledge in good faith, but “the day that was abrogated was the day this became personal…. I am not in the habit of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my father. That pledge was not a blanket commitment that if you go and slander and attack Heidi that I will nonetheless come like a servile puppy dog and say ‘thank you very much’ for maligning my wife and maligning my father.”

Cruz continued, “This is not a game. This is not politics. Right and wrong matter. We have not abandoned who we are in this country.”

In orchestrating yet another attack on Cruz, who did not attack Trump or discourage people from voting Trump, the Trump campaign has placed petty revenge above party unity. It should make conservatives wonder whether Trump is serious about anything.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Republicans are be divided with or without Trump

(Michael Vadon/Wikimedia)
As Republican delegates get ready to head to Cleveland for the party’s convention next week, the debate has shifted to whether party members should follow the will of Republican voters and anoint Donald Trump as the Republican nominee or whether they should act as a failsafe device and reject the unpopular choice of the voters for another candidate. Trump supporters argue that such a move would divide the GOP and make a Hillary victory inevitable. In reality, Donald Trump has already divided the Republican Party and almost definitely assured a Hillary win.

Donald Trump’s candidacy in and of itself has divided the Republican Party as no (other) Democrat could ever hope to do. Trump’s unpopularity is no longer news. The businessman’s most notable political accomplishment, aside from becoming the presumptive nominee, is making Hillary Clinton look good by comparison.

Trump’s unfavorable rating has consistently hovered in the 60 percent range according to Real Clear Politics, worse than Hillary’s approval, which itself is nothing to brag about. A New York Times poll found that Trump is considered less trustworthy than Hillary, again no mean feat, and his values are shared by fewer voters than are Hillary’s values.  

Fundamental problems with Trump’s character are causing his base to splinter. The same Times poll reports that “three in ten voters who supported other Republican candidates” say that they will not support Trump in November. A more recent CNN poll found that 48 percent of Republicans would prefer that the GOP choose someone else as its nominee. NBC News and the Wall St. Journal found even more Republicans dissatisfied with Trump at 52 percent.

Prominent Republicans such as George Will, Max Boot and Hank Paulson have announced their intention to support Hillary over Trump. CNN recently reported on a grassroots “Republican Women for Hillary” movement. Even former First Lady Laura Bush has hinted that she may support Clinton over Trump.

The Republican Party is clearly divided over Donald Trump. In contrast to Trumps -30 percent net approval rating, by July 2012 Mitt Romney, another unpopular candidate, had an approval rating that broke even on average. Romney also worked hard to unify the party against President Obama and the Democrats. Trump’s attitude has been one of “my way or the highway.” Trump backer Sarah Palin has even taken to calling Trump opponents “R.A.T.’s,” an acronym for “Republicans against Trump.”

Perhaps related to Trump’s personality problems are his strategic problems. Traditional GOP donors are not rallying behind Trump. USA Today reports that the Team Trump has only $1.3 million on hand compared to $42 million for the Hillary campaign. Hillary’s campaign staff is 10 times larger than Trump’s and, according to Politico, Trump campaign staff in battleground states is almost nonexistent. 

All of the above has contributed to a growing revolt against Trump. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that anti-Trump activists were close to gaining enough votes at the convention to unbind delegates. A federal ruling on Monday held that Virginia delegates could not be required by state law to vote for the winner of their state primary. As Trump’s erratic behavior continues, it seems that struggle for the nomination will be completed on the convention floor.

The bottom line for Republican delegates as they get ready to make their way to Cleveland is that they are caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. If Donald Trump emerges from the convention as the nominee, a large number of Republicans are likely to sit out the election or vote against Trump. With a fragmented base and support cratering among Hispanics, blacks and women (where he trails by 17 percent), Trump seems to destined to lose if he is formally nominated. There simply aren’t enough Republican voters in the white male demographic, the only segment of the electorate that seems to favor him, to allow Trump to win.

On the other hand, if convention delegates are able dump Trump, the party will be split along different fault lines. Trump’s core supporters will likely desert the GOP. They may well take with them moderate Republicans who feel that the party should honor the outcome of the popular vote, even if they don’t agree with the majority’s choice of Trump. Once again, this scenario would probably end in a Clinton victory.

Republican delegates are left with an unenviable choice. Either course will, in all probability, split the party and result in Clinton presidency. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Never Trump wins Virginia lawsuit

(Michael Vadon/Wikimedia)
As Republican delegates prepare to make their way to Cleveland for next week’s Republican National Convention, a Virginia judge has given the Never Trump movement a breath of life. In a stunning ruling, a federal judge ruled that Virginia Republican delegates are not bound by the state law that requires them to vote on the first ballot at the convention for the winner of the state primary.

The decision stemmed from a suit brought by delegate Carroll “Beau” Correll against Virginia elections officials. Correll’s suit claimed that the law binding him to vote for Trump, the winner of the Virginia primary, was a violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. Even though Donald Trump won the Virginia primary, many supporters of rival candidate, Ted Cruz, were appointed as delegates to the convention.

The case, “Correll v. Herring,” will apply only to Virginia delegates, but Judge Robert Payne did cite precedent in his ruling that could apply to other states that have similar laws. In “Democratic Party of U.S. v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette” (1981), the Supreme Court ruled that state law could not override party rules for delegate selection. In that decision, Justice Potter Stewart wrote, “A political party's choice among the various ways of determining the makeup of a State's delegation to the party's national convention is protected by the Constitution. And as is true of all expressions of First Amendment freedoms, the courts may not interfere on the ground that they view a particular expression as unwise or irrational.”

In 1912, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled, “expression of a preference for President by those voting at primary election ... is only morally binding on delegates to national party conventions.” In other words, delegates are not legally bound by primary votes, but may have an ethical obligation to follow the will of the voters.

The judge, Robert Payne, has served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia since 1992. He was nominated to the court by George Herbert Walker Bush and received the unanimous approval of the Senate.

The ruling will likely encourage other Republican opponents of Trump to make a stand against the presumptive nominee at the convention next week. There is a movement afoot to change Republican Party rules that bind delegates. Kendal Unruh, the leader of the “Dump Trump” movement, said earlier this week in the Daily Wire that there were enough votes on the rules committee to “free the delegates.”

David Rivkin, the attorney for Correll, said in a statement after the ruling, “Today's decision should give comfort to all delegates that they cannot be punished for voting their conscience at the Republican National Convention.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why isn't Trump attacking Hillary?

This week was perhaps the most damaging week of Hillary Clinton’s career. FBI Director James Comey’s decision to recommend that she not be charged for mishandling classified information was overshadowed by the facts that he laid out. Comey called her “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information and judged that her account, as well as email accounts that she was in contact with, were likely compromised by “hostile actors” that could threaten the security of the United States. How has Trump responded to the FBI assault on the basic competence of his opponent? He spent several days embroiled in a controversy over an allegedly anti-Semitic tweet and then came out of in favor of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi. Why isn’t Trump attacking Hillary?

To be sure, Donald Trump did accuse Clinton of offering a “bribe” to Attorney-General Loretta Lynch by floating the possibility that Lynch might keep her job in a Clinton Administration. The Washington Post noted that Clinton has never publicly stated that Lynch might be welcome in her White House, but that the New York Times had attributed the idea to Democrats close to Clinton.

NBC News also reported that Trump had criticized Director Comey’s decision at a rally in North Carolina on Tuesday, July 5, the day of the FBI announcement. Trump used his pet name for Clinton, “Crooked Hillary,” and told the audience, “You didn't have to be careless. You didn't even have to really know that what you were doing was wrong, and you're guilty. The laws are very explicit. Stupidity is not a reason that you're going to be innocent, OK? It's not a reason.”

At that point, Trump seemed to veer off message. He became distracted by a controversy about a Trump campaign tweet that featured a six-pointed star that some associated with a Star of David. The tweet featured Hillary Clinton in front of a pile of cash and carried the logo, “History made: Most corrupt candidate ever.” The phrase, “most corrupt candidate ever” was inside a six pointed star that has been variously described as a “Star of David” and a “sheriff’s star.” CNN notes that the meme originally appeared “on an anti-Semitic, white supremacist message board.”

Trump said in a tweet that his campaign should not have removed the controversial meme and defended the star on Wednesday, July 6. CNN commented, “Trump's comments on Wednesday revived a controversy that appeared to be quickly fading under the weight of the news that Hillary Clinton's private emails included classified information, and that she will not face charges. On a day when Clinton's controversies dominated the airwaves, Trump resurrected his own.”

By Wednesday night, Trump was totally off message. Rather than spending time attacking Clinton’s judgement, Trump told a North Carolina crowd that Saddam Hussein was a great anti-terrorist.

“He was a bad guy -- really bad guy. But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn't read them the rights. They didn't talk. They were terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism,” Trump said.CNN points out that Trump supported the Iraq War in 2003.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a state supporter of terrorism. The “9/11 Commission Report” stated that “Baghdad actively sponsored terrorist groups” and “Saddam used foreign terrorist groups as an instrument of foreign policy.”

Donald Trump not only is wrong about history, his comments further focused attention on himself and distracted attention from Hillary Clinton’s disastrous week. This is not the first time that Trump has gone easy on Clinton.

On June 2, Clinton sharply mocked Donald Trump on foreign policy. “Donald Trump's ideas are not just different, they are dangerously incoherent,” she said in Reuters. “They're not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.” She went on to speculate that Trump might start a nuclear war if elected to the White House simply because “somebody got under his very thin skin.”

One might expect a broadside against the Secretary of State who presided over the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq and the rise of ISIS, the bungling of the Arab Spring and the Iranian uprising, the implosion of Syria, the failed Russian reset, and, of course, the debacle at Benghazi. One would be wrong.

Rather than challenging Hillary on the substance of her speech or attacking her own record, Trump responded with tweets as Hillary predicted he would do during her speech. The first gave a general challenge to Clinton’s credibility while the second criticized her poise.

“Bad performance by Crooked Hillary Clinton!” Trump tweeted. “Reading poorly from the teleprompter [sic]! She doesn't even look presidential!”

In fact, Trump’s attacks on Hillary seem very restrained. Compare his criticism of Clinton to his concerted attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge assigned to his Trump University fraud case. Trump spent weeks and devoted large amounts of air time to attacking Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage just after becoming the presumptive Republican nominee. The time might have been better spent unifying the Republican Party or launching attacks on Hillary Clinton, who had yet to secure her own nomination.

The Wall Street Journal reported that, after clinching the Democratic nomination, Clinton ran 20,000 ads to get her message out to potential voters. For the same period, Trump ran none. Zero. Not a single commercial. This total shutout in advertising is almost certainly what allows Hillary to maintain a lead over Trump in spite of her seriously damaged campaign.

While Trump may be attacking Hillary at his campaign rallies, his criticisms are overshadowed by his own outlandish and rambling comments. Time and time again, Trump’s antics have distracted the news cycle from Hillary’s troubles. Whatever his strategy or motive, his anti-Hillary message is not getting out to voters. Trump is destroying his own campaign.

Read it on Conservative Firing Line

Friday, July 1, 2016

Facebook bans conservative meme

Screenshot of Facebook notification (David W. Thornton)
It looks like Facebook is at it again. The social media giant has a history of bias against conservatives and was the subject of criticism in May after whistleblowers revealed that Facebook employees suppressed conservative news on the site. In recent weeks, owners of conservative sites say that Facebook banned a meme that called transgenders “mental disorders.”

The meme in question, shown nearby, shows 32 gender symbols. The list starts with the traditional Mars and Venus symbols for male and female, but then includes new symbols ranging from various transgender symbols to “androgyne” to “demiagender (with third gender).” The two traditional genders were circled in green and labeled “genders.” The other 30 symbols were circled in red and labeled “mental disorders.”

In at least two cases, Facebook has unilaterally removed the meme from conservative Facebook pages while offering no recourse or appeal for the page owners.

Devin Pelkey, owner of the Conservative Soapbox page on Facebook, said, “My account was logged out on my phone, the Pages Manager [app] and Messenger [app]. I was asked to voluntarily suspend my page to remove other content that violated the Facebook terms of service.” Pelkey said that he was not the creator of the meme.

The notification that Facebook sent includes a link to Facebook’s community standards. There was no indication which standard was violated, but presumably it fell under the “encouraging respectful behavior” heading. The preface to the section reads:

People use Facebook to share their experiences and to raise awareness about issues that are important to them. This means that you may encounter opinions that are different from yours, which we believe can lead to important conversations about difficult topics. To help balance the needs, safety, and interests of a diverse community, however, we may remove certain kinds of sensitive content or limit the audience that sees it.

In the same section, under “hate speech,” the standards state:

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:
·         Race,
·         Ethnicity,
·         National origin,
·         Religious affiliation,
·         Sexual orientation,
·         Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
·         Serious disabilities or diseases.

But did the meme constitute hate speech? Was it an attack on people for their gender identity?

According to Psychology Today, gender dysphoria is a real mental disorder:

Gender dysphoria (formerly Gender Identity Disorder) is defined by strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one's own assigned sex that results in significant distress or impairment. People with gender dysphoria desire to live as members of the opposite sex and often dress and use mannerisms associated with the other gender. For instance, a person identified as a boy may feel and act like a girl.

The American Psychological Association website says “a psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability.” It then goes on to say, “According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people who experience intense, persistent gender incongruence can be given the diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria.’ Some contend that the diagnosis inappropriately pathologizes gender noncongruence and should be eliminated. Others argue that it is essential to retain the diagnosis to ensure access to care.”

In other words, the APA recognizes gender dysphoria but doesn’t consider it a mental disorder unless it is upsetting to the individual. This is in spite of the fact that the APA acknowledges that gender dysphoria is listed as mental disorder in psychological manuals.

Last year, former Johns-Hopkins psychiatrist-in-chief Dr. Paul McHugh wrote in the Wall St. Journal that gender confusion “constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”

Facebook seems to be allowing liberal bias to outweigh scientific reality in the case of speech critical of transgenders. At the very least, there is a robust debate about whether transgender is a mental disorder. Facebook’s own community standards purport to support such an “important conversation.”

Jeff Thomas, an administrator for The Common Sense Conservative page, said that his page had the same experience as Pelkey’s Conservative Soapbox. The post had been up for about a week and was generating a lot of attention and discussion, which Facebook says it encourages. Then, with no warning, the post was suddenly removed.

When Facebook removes a post, the person who posted it is notified. They have to click “continue” on the notification to get back to their account. There is no appeal if the decision is wrong or unfair. In fact, it is very difficult to contact Facebook about anything. Facebook’s help tab contains a link to “contact your grievance officer” that only works in India, but there is also a “give us feedback” link that allows users to send a message to Facebook.

Thomas says that the administrators for the page sent a feedback message to Facebook explaining about gender dysphoria. So far, they have not received a reply other than a form email that says that “we can’t respond to your emails individually, but we are paying attention to them.”

Thomas and Pelkey are both unhappy with the outcome in which an anonymous Facebook user used Facebook’s bureaucracy to quash a lively debate over an interesting and unsettled scientific and cultural topic with real-world implications.

“It’s some bullshit is what it is,” noted Pelkey.

Disclosure: The author is owner of the Common Sense Conservative page.