Paul Waldman Says It – Open Thread

The past week or so has brought a never-ending stream of gaslighting good advice from helpful conservatives who want Democrats to understand better how they can win in November.

Central to that advice has been to respect the people who voted for Trump. Or, conversely, Democrats have been attacked as coastal elitists who look down on the mid-Americans who are the salt of the earth.

Blessings on Paul Waldman.

But the mistake is to ignore where the belief in Democratic disrespect actually comes from and to assume that Democrats have it in their power to banish it.

It doesn’t come from the policies advocated by the Democratic Party, and it doesn’t come from the things Democratic politicians say. Where does it come from? An entire industry that’s devoted to convincing white people that liberal elitists look down on them.

It’s more than an industry, actually; it’s an industry, plus a political movement. The right has a gigantic media apparatus that is devoted to convincing people that liberals disrespect them, plus a political party whose leaders all understand that that idea is key to their political project and so join in the chorus at every opportunity.

He goes into detail on the respect shown white working class voters by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as opposed to the repetition of a very few slips on their part by that gigantic media apparatus.

In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer is simple: This is a game they cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. Remember that white Republicans are not going to vote for you anyway, and their votes are no more valuable or virtuous than the votes of any other American. Don’t try to come up with photo ops showing you genuflecting before the totems of the white working class, because that won’t work. Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.

Finally — and this is critical — never stop telling voters how Republicans are screwing them over. The two successful Democratic presidents of recent years were both called liberal elitists, and they countered by relentlessly hammering the GOP over its advocacy for the wealthy. And it worked.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Edited to bold the most important sentence.

Monday Afternoon Open Thread

It started raining yesterday afternoon and has been pouring off and on — mostly on — ever since. I like when it rains, but this deluge is ill-timed as it has disrupted our puppy potty training regimen. It turns out Mr. Badger doesn’t care for the rain, so on our round-the-clock trips outdoors, he presses himself into the door frame when it’s raining and refuses to budge.

At approximately 3 AM, I was standing outside in a steady downpour attempting to demonstrate via nonchalance that it’s perfectly fine to be rained on in the middle of the night. The dog was unconvinced and stuck to the door until I finally gave up and went back inside with him. He didn’t poop or pee in the house, though, so I guess it counts as a success?

Anyway, open thread.

Nailed It (Open Thread)


It’s not perfect. I think I over-whipped the mascarpone cream frosting a teeny bit — it’s on the verge of grainy, to be honest. But it tastes good, and so far, it appears to be holding up in the fridge rather than collapsing into a puddle. It’s not at all runny.

I really wish I’d read the comments in the earlier thread where someone recommended picking up a cherry pitter/stoner before I returned from shopping. Man, that was a mess. Anyhoo, open thread!

Cake Wreck, Future Tense

I lost my excellent mom a few years back, so I’m ambivalent about Mother’s Day. But I won the mother-in-law jackpot about 21 years ago, and that’s worth celebrating tomorrow.

In addition to being the kindest human being I’ve ever met and a woman of infinite generosity of spirit, my mother-in-law is mad about chocolate covered cherries. So, I am confident she’d like a Black Forest gateau cake as a Mother’s Day dessert.

I’ve never made that type of cake before. I’d never heard of it until it came to my attention during an episode of “The Great British Bake-Off” a while back. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to make it for my mother-in-law someday. Today is that day.

I’ll be using this recipe. Right now, I’m waiting for a gourmet shop to open so I can pick up “caster sugar,”* which isn’t a thing in America, plus some seven-inch cake pans.

Hope the cake turns out. I’m not an experienced baker, so we’ll see. I will post photos later, even if it’s an embarrassing and messy failure that will expose me to ridicule.

What are y’all up to today? It’s rainy here, so we’re trying to keep the dogs from tracking muck all over the house. That’s a challenge under the best of circumstances but even more so now that we have a puppy who has to go out every two hours.

Picture from yesterday:

Open thread!

*I know it’s theoretically possible to blast regular sugar in a food processor to make caster sugar, but every time I’ve tried, I’ve ended up with confectioner’s sugar, even if I only pulse it for a nanosecond.

Der Spiegel’s Editors Have Sussed Out The Trump Doctrine

Der Spiegel’s editors have sussed out the Trump Doctrine. That the President expects that he, and as an extension of himself the US, will be treated “fairly or else”. From Der Spiegel’s Klaus Brinkbaumer:

The most shocking realization, however, is one that affects us directly: The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months. Europe has lost its protective power. It has lost its guarantor of joint values. And it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side. And what will happen in the remaining two-and-a-half years (or six-and-a-half years) of Trump’s leadership? There is plenty of time left for further escalation.

Every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., senior DER SPIEGEL editors gather to discuss the lead editorial of the week and ultimately, the meeting seeks to address the question: “What now?” Simply describing a problem isn’t enough, a good editorial should point to potential solutions. It has rarely been as quiet as during this week’s meeting.

Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then?

The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn’t lead anywhere either – because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn’t reward it.

Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America.

Combine this with Chancellor Merkel’s recent statements,

as well her remarks which I wrote about here last May when describing how the President’s preferences had brought the American century to and end after 72 years.

The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days.

We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.

and you can begin to see that Chancellor Merkel has fully realized that the US is, at best, an unreliable ally for the foreseeable future.

The outstanding question right now is what is Chancellor Merkel actually going to do. Will she be able to pull in French President Macron and leverage the EU as a counterweight? Does she have the political will, let alone political capital, to increase Germany’s defense sector spending to compensate for the vacuum being created from the President’s longstanding hostilities to America’s allies and partners and his belief that they are taking advantage of us, ripping us off, and laughing at us. Does she have the political capital within the EU to be able to get France and other EU member states to also step up their defense sector spending? And can she do this without making it look like she’s doing it to both oppose the President who doesn’t actually want a strong, unified EU as a counterweight and seem like she’s leading the way to appease the President’s oft stated, but largely inaccurate statements about NATO member spending. Can this be done as Britain lurches its way through Brexit? And can it be done while Putin continues his active measures campaign and cyberwarfare against the US, the EU, and other states?

Chancellor Merkel and President Macron have their work cut out for them. They and their teams have to quickly figure out how to navigate a rebalancing of both the global system and the Western Alliance that has underpinned it since the end of World War II. There is no doubt that the global system needs to be reconceptualized. That is needs to be rebalanced. That the post World War II and post Cold War system are out of date. The complication here, what really makes it a wicked problem, is that because of who the President is and what he beliefs and what his preferences are, this reconceptualization and rebalancing is not being done in a thoughtful and proactive way. It does not include discussions between allies, partners, and even peer competitors to work out the most feasible, acceptable, and suitable – even if it is not the most optimal (perfect) – solution to reconceptualizing and rebalancing the global system to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Ordinarily everyone would expect the US to take a leading role in this process. Instead, because of the President’s preferences for bilateral relations and unilateral actions, the US has accelerated and precipitated the need for this process while abdicating its role within in it. America first increasingly looks like America alone. And America alone will be costly not just for Americans, but for the rest of the world as well. The price to be paid for Making America great again…

Open thread!

* One final point: I am actually working on, if by working on we mean trying to wrap my head around, a book on the Trump Doctrine. Which will likely be titled The Trump Doctrine. So if any of you who have written and published books have suggestions on how to get this thing published, feel free to shoot me an email. The longest thing I’ve written in over a decade of work for the military is the 60 page or so cultural assessment of the operational environment for the Levant plus Iran.

A Few Thoughts On The Haspel Nomination

Raven emailed me earlier asking if I’d seen a comment at my previous blogging gig regarding the Haspel nomination. I had not – I basically don’t go over there, but thought my answer would make a good post on her nomination. He specifically asked about this:

I do not know Gina Haspel. Although we were at the CIA at the same time. She just lasted longer than me. Some of my former colleagues refer to her as “Bloody Gina” for her role in the so-called Enhanced Interrogation program. What most of the world fails to understand about this period is that the CIA had zero experience with “interrogation” and found itself starting from ground zero in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The CIA operators, i.e., those men and women who operate overseas trying to recruit foreigners to spy for us, are trained in the art of recruitment. This is akin to picking up a woman in a bar and convincing her to have sex with you. It is not rape. It should not be forced nor coerced.

I have no idea who the author is – he started writing there under a pseudonym after I left, but his response doesn’t surprise me. His statement about the Agency’s ops folks being unfamiliar with how to do interrogations is also not surprising. I know some of the ops guys. I’ve crossed paths with them over the years, including in Iraq. Both the paramilitary ones and the recruiters/handlers. They’re sharp. They know their jobs, they’re not interrogators. There’s a difference between debriefing the people you’re handling and other assets and interrogating them. I know more of the analytical side guys. They’re also sharp, but they’re researchers and analysts. The Agency, in fact the US Intelligence Community (USIC) overall, has very few folks that have done fusion intelligence work – where their jobs required them to be collectors, investigators, researchers, and analysts all at the same time.* All of the interrogations should have been turned over to the FBI, which is trained in this, while the agency developed its own cadre who could do it right under the tutelage of retired FBI guys and then both sides could cover down without these problems.

My impression from listening to former agency folks talk about her nomination on the various TV shows and on social media is that there is some rank closing/thin blue line equivalent going on. The finally have the first DCI nominee who came up from within the agency – not a political appointee from outside – and they’re protective. They’re protective because she’s one of theirs. They’re protective because they know that they or their friends and colleagues could have been completely hung out to dry on this stuff while the people that came up with the policy and strategy and legal justification skated completely. They’re protective because they have a nominee who actually understands the Agency from the inside. So the closing of ranks is understandable.

Since I’m not read on to what she actually did, and what was actually done under her leadership, at the site in Thailand, I can only say I have concerns based on what’s been reported, which may or may not be completely accurate. We don’t know how much she pushed back. If after pushing back she went ahead in order to protect those she was leading. Essentially setting herself up for problems in the future to protect those she was in charge of and supervising. These are the things I’d want to know if I was either on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence or advising one of the Senators on the committee. Unfortunately, because this is all still highly classified and compartmented, given how the regulations are written, I don’t need to know.

In my professional life I’ve walked away from 2 different six figure jobs because I was asked to do things that I knew were professionally wrong. The first is a large part of why I left academia. In the case of the second time, in 2015, I walked away from a GS 15 equivalent position because what I was being asked to do wasn’t just professionally wrong and unethical – even though it was unintentional*, it was also both illegal and violating Federal and Department of Defense regs. I can only say I know what it cost me, I’ve basically been severely underemployed for the last 3 years. What we don’t know, and aren’t going to find out, is did she threaten to quit? Did she raise a stink? Did she push back and get changes she thought were needed? Was there actually some career risk involved? We don’t have those answers and even if the members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence get them, we are unlikely to ever be privy to them. I know what I’d do, or think I know based on past performance, in the situation she was in. From the reporting it isn’t what she did. But I also don’t expect everyone appointed to these positions to be me.

Stay vigilant!

Open thread.

* I have done this type of fusion or hybrid intelligence work because the US Army’s first culture program was built on the Special Forces small team model and required everyone on the team to be a collector/investigator, researcher, and analyst. In addition to this I was also the research director for my team and its team leader. One of the nicest comments we received in Iraq was from the sheikh of the Batawi tribe at one of our first interviews. I had decided that our social history project, that required semi-structured in depth interviews with as many sheikhs, imams (often the same folks), elites, and/or notables as we could get to talk to us would be covered under human subject protections guidelines. This was NOT required as we were technically a type of intelligence. But I felt it was important, especially as my brigade commander and my bosses back at the program wanted us to be able to publish some of our results. And I knew having some form of institutional review process was essential to that. Among the procedures we adapted was a human subjects protection release form from research I’d done before leaving academia, had it translated to Arabic, and provided it to the people we were interviewing. As they read it you could see them relax. Their postures would shift. The Batawi sheikh said: “I was worried you were CIA, but after reading this I know you’re not. The intelligence people would never be smart enough to do something like this”. My up to that point very skeptical Chief Warrant Officer 2 – who is a trained interrogator and criminal investigator – almost fell out of his chair when he heard that.

** The people that set up the program/research center where I was assigned, and had been running it for over a decade, had no idea there were laws and regulations prohibiting what they were doing in terms of research and analysis. This was ultimately the result of having career officers set up a research program rather than bringing someone in who was actually a professional researcher. For those of our readers, commenters, and/or lurkers who have served in the military this reality will not be surprising. The reason we have colonels, or captains in the Navy, is to set up and run programs. Not to necessarily know anything about the specific areas that are necessary for the programs to run correctly. They’re lower upper senior level administrators, not necessarily subject matter experts. And in this case I happen to be a subject matter expert in the Federal laws and DOD regulations on doing unclassified research and how it differs from the rules covering collection and analysis for intelligence purposes from previous assignments (see footnote 1). Unfortunately the people who set up the research center and who were still running it were not.

We Are At Cyberwar Part II

In my initial post on the US being in a cyberwar with Russia, on 26 July 2016, I wrote (emphasis mine):

One of the real concerns going forward, apart from embarrassing email chains with personally identifying information (PII) being posted on Wikileaks, is not just that Russian Intelligence can get in and look around and take information out of these systems in the US, but what happens if they decide to mess with what’s there? Voter registration information, voter donation information, electoral results, and more are all stored electronically. The next attack may not be interested in embarrassing staffers and causing a few days of reporting about what they wrote. Rather it might seek to remove voters from the rolls or change the reported results of an election in specific locations before they can be reported. And since our system is decentralized, securing all of it is going to be difficult and expensive.

Well what do you know?

From The Hill (emphasis also mine):

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday released the unclassified version of its investigation into Russian cyberattacks on digital U.S. voting systems ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The report finds that Moscow conducted an “unprecedented, coordinated cyber campaign” against the nation’s voting infrastructure. Through its investigation, the committee found that Russia-linked hackers were in a position to “alter or delete voter registration data” in a small number of states before the 2016 vote.

“In a small number of states, Russian-affiliated cyber actors were able to gain access to restricted elements of election infrastructure,” the report states. “In a small number of states, these cyber actors were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data; however, they did not appear to be in a position to manipulate individual votes or aggregate vote totals.”

“The Committee saw no evidence that votes were changed and found that, on balance, the diversity of our voting infrastructure is a strength,” the report says. “However, the Committee notes that a small number of districts in key states can have a significant impact in a national election.”

Going forward all US election systems – voter registrations, voter rolls, recording of the actual vote, etc – must all be air gapped. They have to be either set up or backed up in such a way that the master information is only accessible via a secured or classified network – not the every day unclassified Internet. Additionally, every vote cast should be pen and paper. And non-partisan observers should be present during all voting and tallying and reporting of the vote totals. And all three of these activities should also be filmed so there is a record of voting, tallying, and reporting. Finally, there should be secured paper backups of everything. If we do these simple things we can safeguard and protect the integrity of our election systems and have faith in the outcome of our elections. Or we can have more 2016s.

Update at 11:30 PM EDT

Here’s the link to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence unclassified report.

Stay frosty!

Open thread.