The New Russia Investigation 1 31 May 2019.

So, I am puzzled.  First, when did the Trump investigation begin?

In mid-March 2016, George Papadopoulos visited Rome, where he met Joseph Mifsud.

On 21 March 2016, the Trump Campaign announced that Georges Papadopoulos and Carter Page had joined the campaign as foreign policy advisers.  Richard Haas not having joined.

On 24 March 2016, Papadopoulos met Joseph Mifsud and a woman Mifsud introduced as “Putin’s niece” in London.   She was, in fact, Olga Polonskaya.

On 12 April 2016, Papadopoulos again met Mifsud in London.

On 25 or 26 April 2016, Mifsud again met Papadopoulos in London.  Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of e-mails relating to Hillary Clinton.  “This occurred after public knowledge that Clinton had deleted thousands of her emails, but before there was public knowledge of the hack of Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta‘s emails.”[1]  NB: So, the most reasonable thing to conclude would have been that the Russians had hacked into Clinton’s private server while she was Secretary of State.

In late April 2016, the DNC began to suspect that its computers had been hacked.  The DNC informed the FBI and hired a private firm to investigate.

Papadopoulos knew an Israeli diplomat in London named Christian Cantor.  Cantor’s girl-friend (now fiancé) is Erika Thompson, then a political counselor at the Australian High Commission.  Thompson told High Commissioner (ambassador) Alexander Downer that he should meet Papadopoulos.

On 10 May 2016, over one or two gin-and-tonics, Papadopoulos told Downer that the Russians had damaging information about Hillary Clinton and might release it to harm her chances in the election.

[What Papadopoulos told Downer and Thompson] “was all good intel, relayed back to Australia in a cable written by Thompson.  But it was what Papadopoulos had said about Russia, also detailed in the cable, that proved critical.  He said the Russians might use some damaging material they had on Hillary Clinton, who was still some weeks from becoming the presumptive Democrat presidential nominee.”[2]  “But the cable came back to Canberra about an aide to Trump saying the Russians had some dirt on Hillary Clinton and were prepared to use it.”[3]

According to Downer, “There was no suggestion — [neither] from Papadopoulos nor in the record of the meeting that we sent back to Canberra — there was no suggestion that there was collusion between Donald Trump or Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians.”[4]  Moreover, neither Papadopoulos nor Downer remember any mention of e-mails in the discussion. Just “damaging information.”  That could be many things.

“The Americans weren’t informed immediately about what Papadopoulos had said to Downer, but when it became known that the FBI suspected a Russian hack of Clinton emails, the information was shared with the Five Eyes intelligence partner.”[5]

This is ambiguous.  Is there a way to nail down the approximate/exact date when the Australians did share the information?  The Russian hack of the DNC was known by 14 June 2016—not in late July 2016, when the FBI formally opened an investigation.

Also, is there a difference between formally and informally sharing?  Did Downer share the information with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Australia, but withhold the information from his own Senior Advisor—Intelligence in the High Commission?  If so, on what basis?

If Downer did share with the Senior Advisor, then did the Senior Advisor pass the information along to the CIA station-chief in London?  If not, why not?  This was a significant Russian attack on American democracy.

Did Erika Thompson share what she had heard with Christian Cantor?  If she did, then did Cantor share this with his own ambassador and his ambassador with his government?

If either the CIA or Israel did learn of what Papadopoulos had said in early May 2016, would they have acted on that knowledge once the Russian hack became public in mid-June 2016?  Would they have acted on it as soon as they discovered it?

Then, when Downer reported to Canberra, the DNC hack was not yet known.  Yet in his subsequent interview Downer refers to e-mails.

On 14 June 2016, the DNC announced that its computers had been hacked by the Russians.  And, what, the CIA and the NSA stood around with their hands in their pockets for the next six weeks?

Still, a pause ensued from mid-June to late July 2016.  What was happening during this period?

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks began publishing many of the stolen documents.

On 26 July 2016, the Australian government formally notified the United States of the report by Downer about Papadopoulos.

On 27 July 2016, Trump publically called for the Russians to release the 30,000 deleted e-mails from the Clinton computer.  So, he’d heard something about Papadopoulos’s claims?

On 31 July 2016, the FBI formally opened “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  FBI counter-intelligence officer Peter Strzok led the investigation and later served for a time on the staff of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

In either late July or mid-August 2016, CIA Director John Brennan provided the FBI with “contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.”  According to Brennan, these leads “served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion [or] cooperation occurred.”[6]  NB: So the CIA had been investigating since when?  In what ways?  It was me, I’d spike Mifsud’s internet.  Come to that, I’d spike the on-line stuff of Thompson and Cantor.  Wouldn’t need a warrant for that.  They’re all foreign, same as that Radical-Lutheran Merkel.

From 31 July to 2 August 2016, FBI agents interviewed both Downer and Thompson in London.  From this point on, the Christian Cantor connection probably would have been known.  “Burned,” as John Le Carre says.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Papadopoulos#Involvement_in_Donald_Trump’s_presidential_campaign

[2] Since this was before the convention that nominated Secretary Clinton, it is fair to ask if they were trying to help Trump or help Senator Bernie Sanders.

[3] See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-22/george-papadopoulos-alexander-downer-meeting-what-happened/10286868  ABC = Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

[4] See: https://www.nationalreview.com/news/ex-australian-diplomat-explains-why-he-turned-papadapoulos-info-over-to-fbi/  For the somewhat different account of the NYT, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/30/us/politics/how-fbi-russia-investigation-began-george-papadopoulos.html

[5] See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-22/george-papadopoulos-alexander-downer-meeting-what-happened/10286868

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossfire_Hurricane_(FBI_investigation)  Was the August instance additional information or is it a simple error in the article?

Public Opinion 19 May 2019.

Voting in elections has a somewhat troubled history.  Even before the Russkies and a bunch of other countries started messing with the elections in other places.

Problem: back in the 1800s, when elections were a new thing, how could you tell that the government in power hadn’t rigged the election by stuffing the ballot boxes?

Solution: have everyone place their ballot into the box of an openly identified party or candidate in a hall open to the public.  Observers could count the votes cast.  They could estimate a rough “real” return, then protest apparent fraud.

Problem: If everyone could see how you voted, then so could your land-lord, employer, creditor, and the guy at the local tavern who either extended or did not extend you credit when you didn’t want to tell the Missus you’d wasted your pay.  Public voting meant that voters could be pressured.

Solution: The “Australian” ballot.  Go into a little booth with a curtain, cast your vote in secret, and go tell they guy who paid you to vote one way that you did vote that way.  Then, go get some drinks.

Problem: In a sexist society, women are dominated by the men upon whom they are economically dependent.  Also, according to the accepted thought of the time, women are flighty and emotional.

Solution: Deny women the vote.

Problem: Democracy is political corruption—on the part of the individual voter—writ large.  All men (and women) are corruptible.  That is, they will do what is economically favorable to them.  Tax/Spend/Elect v. Tax-cut/Spend/Elect.  Thus, the economic situation or prospects of the individual citizen will determine their vote.[1]  So, what economic or financial considerations weigh upon them?  That is, may we know their biases when they vote?

Solution: Make public the tax returns (which reveal the financial data and pension assets/claims) and the votes of all citizens, whether they voted or not.  This will help reveal the extent to which Americans are being “corrupted” by their financial interests.  A computer analysis can reveal patterns.

Should the tax returns of President Donald Trump be made public?[2]  No law requires it, but a now-entrenched tradition does require it.

Should YOUR tax returns be available to the public?  So they can tell if you are the pawn of a corporate interest?  One man-one vote, n’est-ce pas?  The same rules for everyone.

Should we apportion voting according to a “corruption index” arrived at by a non-partisan board of academic assessors?  (The NYT has reported that the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, NJ, had developed a system for scoring the “adversity” experienced by college applicants independent of their academic performance.  So, in theory, a “corruption index” could be done.)

[1] OK, sometimes they get distracted by “cultural” issues like race, gender, sexual-orientation, age-cohort, and the general sexiness of the candidate (Go AOC!)

[2] In late April 2019, 56 percent of people polled wanted President Trump’s tax returns released to the public; only 27 percent did not want them released.  That leaves 17 percent Not Sure.  “Poll Watch,” The Week, 26 April 2019, p. 17.

Roe versus Ferguson 19 May 2019.

Almost a third (32 percent) of Americans want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, while almost two-thirds don’t want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.  Seems clear enough as a democratic policy preference.[1]

However, there are intricacies.

First, does life begin at the moment of conception?  If it does, then do those lives deserve legal protection from harm?  If it, doesn’t, then why do women want abortions?  Is there some definable moment when not-life turns to life?  When it gets its own insurance and phone plan?

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was “stare decisis” (settled law—just to show I’ve been reading the newspapers, if not law books).  All the same, the Supreme Court overturned this settled law in Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  In the common understanding (which is different from a lawyer’s explanation), the Supreme Court overturned Plessy on the grounds that it did a moral wrong.

If life does begin at the moment of conception, then abortion is a moral wrong disguised as an elective medical procedure.  The Supreme Court could overturn Roe on the same moral grounds that it overturned Plessy.  (Yes, a bunch of judges appointed by Republican presidents would be accused of having wormed and slimed their ways through Senate confirmation votes in order to achieve this end.  Many reasonable people will find that accusation credible.)

Second, what exactly would the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade mean for the law?  Would it return abortion to the pre-Roe status where it was regulated by the states?  Or would it replace the nation-wide right to “choice” with a nation-wide ban on abortions?  If a Supreme Court decision led to a nation-wide ban on abortion, then would the best analogy be to “Scott v. Sandford” (1857)?  That decision held two things.  First, that African-Americans could not be citizens.  Second, that the division of the country into “slave” and “free” areas was unconstitutional.[2]  Slave-holders could go anywhere they wanted, establish their “peculiar institution” anywhere they wanted.  Majority opinion in a democracy (by the standards of that time, not ours) be damned.

Third, ignorance of facts plays a role in current discussions.  Half (50 percent) of Americans are open to curtailing abortion rights to some degree, while 44 percent support at least an integral defense of Roe as it now stands.  “Right to life” advocates appear to have played upon this willingness to curtail, rather than ban, abortions.  The state of Alabama has recently passed a law banning abortions once a heartbeat is detected in a fetus.  Nationally, 50 percent support such a ban.  However, that support dropped to 38 percent when the people being polled are told that physicians’ modern technology can detect a heartbeat at six weeks.  That 12 percent change undoubtedly comes from men who aren’t too familiar with the menstrual cycle and its vagaries or with the psychology of women facing the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy.[3]  When they figure out they’ve been played, they shift position.

A Supreme Court decision endorsed by only one-third of the people and opposed by two-thirds of the people is going to be a problem.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 24 May 2019, p. 17.

[2] This referred to the “Missouri Compromise” (1821).

[3] Me neither, but I recognize that I’m not.

My Weekly Reader 16 May 2019.

If you want to think about “God” in simple evolution-of-ideas terms, then the stages would run something like the following.  At first, humans believed all Nature was alive and that all living creatures possessed an “anima” (spirit, soul).[1] Later, seeking to appease these powerful natural forces, people “personified” them as “gods.”  There were many things that could go wrong or right in life, so there were many gods.  Build temples, offer sacrifices, and hope for the best.[2]  Then they refined this polytheism into each city having one particular patron god or goddess, along with the others.  That deity lived in a temple in the particular city that s/he protected.  Participation in religious rites figured as an important duty, rather than as a choice.  The deity didn’t move around.  Greek and Roman religion were merely stems from this stock, but elaborated non-religious ethical systems of great power.[3]  Animism yielded to Polytheism.

After a while, what became Western civilization diverged from this broad cultural pattern.   The Hebrews developed “ethical monotheism.”  That is they believed that only one real God existed; all the others were false gods.  That God existed everywhere in the world, rather than being bound to the confines of some runty city-state.  That God had made a “covenant” with His “chosen people.”  He would protect them if they worshipped only Him.  He didn’t settle for mere rites and offerings.  He also required adherence to a moral code of action in this world.  Then Christianity emerged from Judaism by opening the “covenant” to anyone who would profess the faith and by extending the “covenant” to include a promise of life after death.

If you want to go all sociological-psychological, then you might argue that Christianity amounted a generational revolt by young men against the old men who ran Judaism.  Alternatively, you could argue that God now wanted all of His Creation to share in the benefits and strictures of the faith he had granted first to the Jews.  Polytheism yielded to Monotheism.

Then, in the 7th Century AD, another monotheistic faith arose: Islam.  This, too, is an example of ethical monotheism.  If you want to go all sociological-psychological, then you could argue that the Prophet Muhammad borrowed much from Judaism and Christianity, and then preached his new faith to the polytheist Arabs at a critical moment in their history.  Alternatively, you could argue that God had gotten fed-up with the inability of Jews and Christians to follow His instructions.  He had sent Muhammad to call back the whole world to the benefits and strictures of the faith he had granted first to the Hebrews.

Since then, Judaism and Christianity have divided between growing secular majorities and shrinking “fundamentalist” minorities.  Islam, however, has not followed the same path.  The Koran remains the unalterable Word of Allah.

“Every schoolboy knows” the term “a willing suspension of disbelief” when approaching a work of fiction.  What might make understanding between faiths easier would be a “willing suspension of his belief” on the part of the individual.[4]

[1] For a serious, accessible, and sympathetic portrayal of this belief system, see Brian Moore, Black Robe (1985).

[2] I suppose one could think of this as either bribery by the people or extortion by the gods.  Living now in a more secular age, it appears that politicians have become the new source of manna.  Reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in parallel each day, I conjecture that Democrats believe in the bribery interpretation and Republican believe in the extortion interpretation.  But what do I know?

[3] If not of universal compliance.  That’s one of the things that makes Ancient History so much fun.

[4] I stole this from Eric Ormsby, “Allah: A Biography,” WSJ, 17 January 2019.

Cyprus 15 May 2019.

In 1453, Constantinople—the capital of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire—fell to the Ottoman Turks.  The Turks already had conquered most of mainland Greece, so all that remained was to conquer the outlying islands.  Cyprus fell in 1571 and Crete followed in 1669.  As part of their pacification of Cyprus, the Ottomans resettled about 30,000 Turks on the island.  From the heights of their power, the Ottomans went into a long, slow, and humiliating decline.  Barbarism and incompetence became the hallmarks of their rule.  “Inter-communal” hostilities sank deep roots.  Turks and Greeks hated each other.  In 1878, Britain got the island away from the Ottomans.

During the 1950s–when the “Empire on which the sun never sets” was having gin and tonic in the back garden as dusk advanced—Greeks and Turks on Cyprus began to strike at each other and at the British.  Both Greece and Turkey coveted the soon-to-be-independent island.  So, blood stained the Fifties and Sixties in Cyprus.[1] Then the conflict heated up again in the 1970ss and 1980s.  Vendetta became a cultural value and killers became respected men.

You wouldn’t recognize modern Cyprus.  Tourism, banking, and maritime shipping are the pillars supporting its economy.  The country has pulled in an estimated 60,000 workers from South East Asia.  They come from the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.  They aren’t “crazy rich Asians.”  Mostly they are poor women from counties that haven’t yet caught the tide of Capitalist progress.  Old ways die hard.  Sometimes the old intersects the new.

Mary Rose Tiburcio (c.1980-2018) grew up in the Philippines.  She got married and had a child, but her marriage did not work out.  Like many other Filipinas, Tiburcio moved to Cyprus along with her young daughter.  Most come to work as domestic help: maids and cleaning women, and waitresses.  Lonely and over-loaded with cares, she joined an on-line dating site.

In May 2018, both went missing.  Well, no big deal: the Cypriot police have 80 unsolved missing person cases that run back as far as 1990.  Perhaps they just left Cyprus for work on a cruise ship or went to some other country in search of better work.

Then, in mid-April 2019, a German tourist saw something unusual and notified the police.  The police found Tiburcio’s body in a flooded mine-shaft.  They also found another body, that of Arian Palanas Lozano (1990-2018).  Then they found more bodies in a lake.

The police back-tracked through Ms. Tiburcio’s internet connections.  One name that popped up an awful lot of times was that of a 35 year-old Army captain.  He was questioned and eventually confessed to seven murders.  No one thinks that that toll will stop there.  As a result of his confession, police found the body of a Nepalese woman buried on a military firing-range.[2]

This sad case illustrates some of the features of contemporary globalization.  Even among the rapidly-developing economies of South Asia, many people—especially women—get left out.  Huge numbers of people—many of them women from less developed areas–migrate in search of a better life.  Whether legal or illegal migrants, they perform essential, menial tasks and are prey to many kinds of abuse.  Finally, the “sending” countries have neither the means nor the inclination to protect their citizens abroad.  They are in the wind.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypriot_intercommunal_violence.

[2] “Cyprus in Shock After a String of Killings,” NYT, 28 April 2019; Megan Specia, “Authorities in Cyprus Face Reckoning After Migrant Workers’ Killings,” NYT, 3 May 2019.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 8 May 2019.

Can President Donald Trump be re-elected in 2020?

Well, according to a recent poll, 55 percent of voters claim that they will not vote for Trump.[1]  So, no, Trump can’t be re-elected.      Democracy may do what the Democrats could not: force Donald Trump out of the White House.  Still, count no man happy until he is dead.

There are “Never Trump” Republicans.  A recent poll reported that 15 percent of self-identified Republicans claim that they won’t vote for Trump in 2020.  These dissident Republicans can’t turn a Senate election, but “en masse” they might help to provide a margin of victory in a presidential election.  Arguably, the Democrats will need to mobilize every anti-Trump vote to win back the White House.  What if these Republican dissidents sit-out the election in disgust?  Many Republicans did just that in the special election held to replace Senator Jeff Sessions (R—Alabama).  A Democrat won.  Where is that sweet spot between winning some Republican votes and not driving many of them off the sidelines into the arms of Trump as the least-worst alternative?  Right hard to say at this moment.

One issue might be health-care.  About 160 million Americans have private health insurance.  According to one poll, a substantial majority of them (58 percent) oppose eliminating private health insurance in favor of Senator Bernie Sanders’ “VA for All” campaign platform.[2]  However, leaving aside my cheap shot at Sanders, the problem may be with the messaging.  Sanders needs to explain that co-pays and deductibles will disappear in return for tax increases.  He needs to explain that a national health insurance system will be able to drive down costs by bargaining with pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and—most of all—doctors.  IF voters can be persuaded that government control will lead to better outcomes at lower cost, then they might well go for it.  IF government can stick with its plan, then voters might well stick with it.

Another might be the economy.[3]  One poll reported that better than to-thirds (71 percent) of people “rate the nation’s economic conditions favorably.”  In Spring 2019, it is booming.  Both inflation and unemployment are low, wages are finally rising, the trade deficit has narrowed, and productivity has started to increase.  In some minds, this promises rising living standards and low inflation.  The stock market is one, not very reliable, measure of economic conditions.  It has been rising.  Obviously, many facts and statistics can be interpreted in different ways.  Thus, the rise in housing prices is bad for buyers, especially first-time buyers, but it’s good for sellers.  Many of those sellers will be older Americans looking to down-size while realizing their capital gains.  These are the very people most likely to be put off by the leftward shift among some Democrats.

Divisions within the Democratic Party have opened between its “progressive” wing and its mainstream.  Which group better represents the mass of Democrats and is most likely to pull independent voters in a general election?  Joe Biden, but he has to get through the primaries.  By then his own positions may have become explicitly “progressive” as the price of admission.[4]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 17.

[2] Richard North Patterson, “Single-payer could doom Democrats,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 12.

[3] “Economy: A business boom defies the forecasts,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 34.

[4] “Biden: Democrats’ best hope to beat Trump?,” The Week, 10 May 2019, p. 6.

The Boston Massacre.

In 1768, the British government sent army troops to Boston, Massachusetts, to support the civil authorities in enforcing unpopular new laws.  The troops were equally unpopular as the laws.  On 5 March 1770, a crowd harassed a lone British sentry posted in the street before Boston’s Old State House.  An officer brought other soldiers to his support.  The crowd grew in size and emotional mobilization.  Long story short: the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five.  We remember this tragedy as “The Boston Massacre.”

The bloody events came at a moment of intense political polarization in Massachusetts.  The political middle ground had disappeared as the people of Massachusetts divided into a large majority opposed to the policies of the Crown and a minority who supported those policies.  By the end of March, the British soldiers and four civilian employees of the Customs House—who were alleged to have fired into the crowd from the windows of the building—were indicted for murder.

A pamphlet campaign—part of the larger pamphlet war that preceded the American Revolution—told strikingly different stories about the Boston Massacre.  That media war was full of curiosities.  For example, one of the most inflammatory—and untrue—portrayals of the events came in an illustration by Henry Pelham.  The illustration showed the British officer ordering his men to fire into the crowd and a musket fired from a window.  Paul Revere copied that illustration and presented it as his own.  Pelham himself turned into a Loyalist who left Boston with the British troops and the other Loyalists in March 1776.

John Adams, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence and future President of the United States, defended the British soldiers when they were tried for murder.  Adams argued that the soldiers had the right to fight to defend themselves against the mob.  If any of the soldiers were provoked but not actually in danger, then they were guilty of manslaughter.  His argument persuaded the jury.  The officer commanding and six of his men were acquitted; two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter.  They escaped the death penalty by pleading “benefit of clergy” (i.e. they could read and write, which was enough to escape the gallows in literate-deficient colonial America.)  Instead, they were branded.  On the thumb.

The four civilians who were alleged to have fired from within the building were tried later.  All were acquitted and the man who had testified against them was later convicted of perjury.

In retrospect, Adams concluded that “The Part I took in Defence of Cptn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers[1] or Witches[2] anciently.”

I butcher History in this fashion because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently analogized his handling of the Trump-Russia investigation to John Adams’ defending the British soldiers.[3]    The related analogies will suggest themselves.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

[2] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

[3] Katie Benner, “Rosenstein Answers Critics In an Impassioned Speech,” NYT, 27 April 2019.