Thursday, December 29, 2016

Last Call For Obama Makes His Move

The conventional wisdom of the intelligentsia on the right is that Obama (like all pathetic, weak Democrats) constantly brings plastic knives to fights settled by who has the most .50 caliber ammo when it comes to dealing with spycraft. 

This dismal view of the outgoing president is particularly popular among right-wing former intel and military analyst types, folks like John Schindler, Tom Nichols, and Larry Johnson, all of whom think President Obama is either patently evil or incredibly stupid (or in the case of Johnson, both).

Either way, the general idea is that Putin is just too smart and too crafty for Obama to handle, and our president was never in the same league as ol' KGB Vlad, let alone the same international playing field.

But gosh, every now and again Obama goes and proves that even crafty Russian spies are very, very predictable when they get cocky, and that level of predictability can result in some truly masterful manipulation.

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and sanctioned Russian intelligence officials who Washington believes were involved in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election.

The measures, taken during the last days of Obama's presidency, mark a new low in U.S.-Russian relations which have deteriorated over serious differences on Ukraine and Syria.

"These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior," Obama said in a statement from vacation in Hawaii.

It was not immediately clear whether President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, would seek to roll back the measures once he takes office on Jan. 20.

Obama is seeking to deter Russia and other foreign governments from leveraging cyber attacks in the future to meddle in U.S. politics, former officials and cyber security experts said.

Obama has been under growing pressure from within his own administration and lawmakers of both political parties to respond more forcefully to the cyber attacks, which included leaked emails of Democratic Party operatives that became part of the media coverage in the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

The Russian foreign ministry said on Thursday the sanctions were counter-productive and would harm the restoration of bilateral ties. Moscow denies the hacking allegation.

Obama sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies "that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.

We know who your players are Vlad.  And Obama just openly burned dozens of Russian counter-intelligence agents as an impressive warning.  Rather than keep an eye on these known agents in case misdirection came in handy, the president chose to clean house, giving them until January 1 to get out of the country for good.  That's a strong move and one ol' Vlad was clearly not counting on.

Putin may have been playing games with Obama, but Obama just flipped the game board over and scattered the pieces.  And the warning is clear: now the Russians have to ask themselves if the rest of their counter-intelligence assets in the US...or in other countries allied with the US...are similarly in danger of being burned.  Does Vlad want to take the chance that somehow these are the only spies we know about?

But it's not just Putin who has to make some choices now, but Trump as well.  Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan are calling this move "overdue" and hey, kicking Russian spies out of the country is something that actually gets bipartisan support even these days.  Forget the fact that Ryan could have cared less about sacntions before today, but even Ryan's willing to sell out Trump over this.  Does Trump really want to start sucking up to Vlad now as Obama lays down the hammer?  Not even Trump is dumb enough to invite spies into the country. he?

Your move, Vlad, and happy new year.

Israeli Having A Hard Time With This, Con't

In a highly anticipated and very candid speech, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that yet another American administration's hopes for Middle East peace were dashed upon the rocks of Benjamin Netanyahu's ego, as Kerry let Israel know exactly what he thinks about settlements wrecking any shot at a two-state solution.

The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated. He argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated.

The speech came at a moment of tension between the United States and Israel, on a scale rarely seen since President Harry S. Truman recognized the fragile Israeli state in May 1948. In a direct response to Mr. Netanyahu’s barb over the weekend that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” a reference to the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from a resolution condemning the building of new settlements in disputed territory, Mr. Kerry said the United States acted out of a deeper understanding of the alliance.

“Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

Mr. Kerry usually speaks in the careful words of diplomacy, being careful not to publicly name names, or put choices in the harshest terms. He dropped most of those niceties on Wednesday, especially about Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” he said. “The result is that policies of this government — which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ — are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.”

Needless to say, both Israel and the GOP are furious, screaming that until the Palestinians get a new government, there's no hope of even coming to the table.

The negative reaction to the speech was unanimous among Republican lawmakers, with some calling it "disastrous." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it could generously be described as "a pointless tirade."

"Secretary Kerry's speech today was at best a pointless tirade in the waning days of an outgoing administration. At worst, it was another dangerous outburst that will further Israel's diplomatic isolation and embolden its enemies," McCain said.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he favors a two-state solution, much like Kerry, but doesn't believe the American government has the right to dictate that solution to the Israelis.

Instead, the fixes to the problems in the Middle East must come from the ground up, he said.

"Public lectures against Israel and UN resolutions attacking Israel do not aid the cause of peace," McCain said. "They only provide those seeking Israel's destruction a convenient excuse to blame Israel for their own intransigence."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Kerry's proposals for peace in the Middle East "fanciful," if not "delusional."

He said the Palestinians can't agree among themselves how to run the areas of where they have some autonomy and can't function as a state right now. The only way stability can take hold in the Holy Land is if Israel is strongly supported by he United States, he said.

"I wish Secretary Kerry and President Obama would stop pushing Israel to negotiate against themselves," Graham said. "The only way the peace process can be restarted is for the Palestinians to hold elections and be governed by a single entity that rejects terrorism. That is not the current situation and until that day arrives, pushing Israel to restart the peace process is folly."

Kerry speech is frankly decades too late.  We should have said this to Israel years and years ago about settlements, but we allowed them to continue unabated.  At this point, with the Trump administration incoming, there's no reason to believe that anything will improve in the West Bank.

Even Worse At Democracy Than NC

Remember when I said that GOP gerrymandering made election districts so ridiculously unfair that North Carolina no longer qualified as a democracy

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world. 
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

Well, it turns out plenty of other Republican-controlled states are just as dismal as NC in the voting district boundaries department, and actually worse overall in election integrity as a Pennsylvania newspaper points out.

Pennsylvania cannot be considered a fully functioning democracy, according to a new report.

It's among at least a dozen states that, if they were nations, would rank as "a deeply flawed, partly free democracy," according to Andrew Reynolds, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina and an adviser to the Electoral Integrity Project, or EIP, a joint effort of Harvard University and the University of Sydney.

Strictly speaking, Reynolds made the comment about his home state of North Carolina, which scored 58/100 on the EIP's metrics, ranking 38th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

However, Pennsylvania scored worse than North Carolina: 56/100, for a rank of No. 45.

The states as bad or worse than NC overall include Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (the Badger State under Scott Walker would be dead last except for Arizona.)  Wisconsin rated 8/100 on voting district boundaries, and Ohio a dismal 10.  Please note that these are all states that have passed GOP "voter ID laws" and were gerrymandered by Republican legislatures after 2010.  They are also all states that Trump won.

The fact of the matter is that this is what cost Clinton the election: states that are no longer free democracies and instead weighted heavily towards the GOP.  More so than Trump's cult of personality, more so than race, more so than Russian interference, this is why Clinton lost.

We're no longer a collection of democratic states.
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