Incompetent or Dangerous?

Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump fired James B. Comey Jr., the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  This came in the midst of an ever-increasing FBI investigation into known Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the increasing number of revelations of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Those are actually two different issues, which our president apparently cannot understand.

There is wide-spread consensus based on the truth and, you know, actual facts that the Russians interfered with the election.  Most likely they interfered because, as former Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a pay-back kind of guy.  He hated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, primarily because she called his election a sham, and sought the opportunity to work against her campaign.  According to Secretary Rice’s theory, he relished disrupting the election in and of itself, but to have Secretary Clinton as the recipient only made it sweeter.

Every American should be gravely concerned that a foreign power aggressively and with malice of forethought worked hard to disrupt the very foundation of our Republic.  Every American.  This is not a political issue.  Consequently both the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting bi-partisan inquiries into what happened and how we can protect against it in the future.

However, President Trump seems to believe this is unnecessary.  If one pays only the mildest of attention to the news, you know that he is constantly calling the fact of the interference a “hoax” and the investigations “a waste of taxpayer money.”  He won and that’s all he cares about.  In his mind, end of story.

Secondarily, as the investigation of the Russian interference deepened, it became apparent that there may have been some interaction between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.  The who, why and what questions remain unanswered.  This also is considered “fake news” by the president and he constantly tweets about issues he thinks are “ridiculous” in connection with the investigation.

He does so even though his first National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn USA (ret.) was fired by the president for working with the Russians, being paid by them, and lying about it.  I suppose we should just let that go.  Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

This is the short version of the context surrounding the firing of Director Comey.  The president showed real class by not notifying Director Comey of his dismissal, rather the Director learned about it on television while giving a speech in Los Angeles.

So the president whose staff members and campaign members are under investigation by the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States who was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of his own role in the campaign and “forgetting” to reveal his own Russian contacts, are the folks that fired the Director.  It most definitely does not pass the smell test.

Thus the question, is the president incompetent of trying to cover up misdeeds in his administration? Does he not know what he is doing or is he deliberately undermining our Constitutional balance?  I do not know, but either one is dangerous.

The alleged reason for the firing was the mishandling of the investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails back in July.  Of 2016.  The investigation that then Candidate Trump applauded.  Hmmm.  The timing is also suspicious.  Remember the Trumpian tactic of changing the headlines whenever something critical of him makes the news?  On Monday former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate sub-committee looking into the Russian connections.  Their testimony was less than flattering to the Trump Administration and in some cases directly contradicted statements made by the president and his spokespeople.  On Tuesday, Director Comey is fired, thus changing the headlines.  I’m just sayin’….

From the time Attorney General Yates notified the White House that General Flynn was compromised and a potential agent of the Russians until he was fired — only after it all became public in the Washington Post — was 18 days.

From the time that the current Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General recommended the dismissal to the president and the FBI director was fired — for something that happened in July 2016 — was minutes.

Also remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a 10 year term.  This is to keep politics and partisanship out of law enforcement in the most critical areas of our national security.  Only one other active Director was fired, and that was William Sessions in 1993 by President Bill Clinton for ethics violations, not for investigating anything to do with the administration.

Many people were upset by the way that Director Comey handled the email investigation of Secretary Clinton.  Some even argue that the way he handled it (a news conference about a lack of evidence to prosecute) was unprecedented and unprofessional and effectively handicapped the campaign of Secretary Clinton.  In a larger context, even as one may have no love for Director Comey, his firing is very troubling at this particular point.  It seems that as the investigation gets closer to the truth, the resistance from the White House increases.  Director Comey must have been very close to finding damaging information.  It only takes a cursory look at any newspaper or other news source to see that this has raised significant bi-partisan concern in the Congress as to the meaning, appropriateness and impact of the firing.  Most Republicans and Democrats have expressed serious concern.  It is not right.

Alarm bells should be going off when taken in connection with this quote from White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. In the same vein as the president and other spokespeople in the White House, she spoke about the Russian investigations and said:

I think the bigger point on that is, “My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?” It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard that time and time again. We’ve heard it in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no there there. It’s time to move on.

President Trump wants the investigation to go away.  Countless efforts by the president and his spokespeople to undermine the investigations have not worked.  They pretend, as does Ms. Sanders, that the American people do not care.  We won.  End of story.  Yet, the investigations continue and it does not go away.  Next step — fire the Director of the FBI.

One can only conclude that the president must really be trying to hide something big.  Maybe yuuge. Reporting today indicates that last week Director Comey quietly asked Congress for a significant increase in funding for the Russian investigation.  Another coincidence?

President Trump undoubtedly thought that by making Director Comey go away, his troubles would go away as well.  They are just beginning.  Reportedly, the president has little interest in history or understanding exactly how the government works.  Fine.  But someone should tell him that time and time again the cover-up is what brings folks to their knees, doing more damage than the “crime” ever would have.  Maybe he should read up on it.  He may learn something about it when he appoints his next Director of the FBI and the Senate holds confirmation hearings.  If you think there is a fire in the Senate during the current hearings, you haven’t seen anything yet.

A civics lesson might help as well.  Trying to run the United States as a family business operation does not work so well.  Unless his aim is to make a lot of money, which that part so far is working. But that’s a piece for another day.

The investigations will not go away.  They will be slowed down dramatically in the near term.  The FBI is extremely unlikely to report the results of their investigations without a Director in place.  That will take weeks or more likely, months.  James Comey was a Republican appointed by President Obama. President Trump should appoint a Democrat with an impeccable reputation as the next Director.  I am not holding my breath.  His appointment will tell us a lot about the future integrity of anything that comes out of the Department of Justice.

The investigations will continue in the interim.  However, the integrity of those investigations is now compromised. Only by appointing a special prosecutor — which the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are mightily resisting — will there be some assurance to the American people that an independent investigation, unencumbered by political and partisan elements, reports believable results.

This is fundamental to our national security.  Stay awake and keep the pressure on.  Silence and “getting tired of it all” will erode our freedom.

 


Doing The Right Thing

Last night U.S. Navy war ships launched over 50 Tomahawk missiles against an airfield in Syria.  The airfield was the base from which the Sarin attacks on civilians were launched earlier this week. We can only speculate at the moment as to where this leads , but I am glad that the Syrian’s actions did not go unpunished.  This time, the Trump Administration did the right thing.

The mechanics of delivering the missiles to the target are relatively simple.  Well, not simple in the abstract, but simple because the targets were on the list for years and the ships’ crews have practiced endlessly for this type of scenario.  They take no pleasure in it, but they understand that this is this their profession and so they professionally executed the mission.

The strikes were tactical and an appropriate and proportional response to send Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad the signal that his actions will have consequences.  Now he cannot act without calculating possible future responses from the United States, and hopefully, our allies.  It is also an appropriate signal to Russia and Iran that they cannot continue to enable Bashar without consequences.  Their rhetoric will increase but it is doubtful that either nation will make an immediate retaliatory response.

The larger question is “what next?”  Tactics only make sense in the context of a larger strategy and I am not sure that the Trump Administration has a fully developed strategy for dealing with Syria in the days and months to come.  What is apparent, is that the strategy outlined only days ago by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, that we will pay little attention to Syria and the Syrian people will decide their own future, is no longer relevant.

The Syrian Civil War can only end through diplomatic efforts.  The U.S. should increase the pressure on Russia and Iran to stop enabling Bashar and to bring him to the table for serious negotiations. This can be accomplished by a combination of diplomatic efforts that hold them responsible for Bashar’s actions and direct pressure, such as through increased sanctions on Russia and Iran. Secretary Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow later this month.  It will be interesting to see if those talks are still on, and whether Secretary Tillerson can use that opening to put Russian actions in Syria in the spotlight.

On the domestic front, for those White House West Wing watchers that believe “personnel is policy”, several interesting developments occurred in the days leading up to the strike.  What it means is not yet entirely clear, but consider what happened.  When the statements concerning Syria and our policy were put forward by Secretary Tillerson and Ambassador Haley, Mr. Steve Bannon was thought to be the architect of those statements which reflect his “America First” outlook.  Likewise when President Trump put out his inane statement that the Obama Administration was responsible for the chemical attack. The next day, it was announced that Mr. Bannon was demoted and removed from the National Security Council, also leading to his threat to quit and go home (he didn’t — yet).  Then the President’s son-in-law Mr. Jared Kushner, probably the only man in the West Wing that President Trump absolutely trusts, returned from a trip to Iraq with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The next day President Trump, in a news conference with King Abdullah II of Jordan, changed his tune on the chemical attack, condemning it in the strongest possible terms, taking responsibility as president, and hinting at further actions. He was then known to meet with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.  President Trump then ordered the retaliation last night.  Personally, I do not think that the changes in personnel and the influence yielded by his son-in-law and, most importantly, the experienced national security advisers, prior to the Tomahawk strikes, was coincidental.

Only time will tell whether the national security adults in the room will continue to be the most influential or not.  There is still much to be worried about in Syria and North Korea.  However, this was the right thing to do and a good first step.


Keep Your Eye On The Ball

A basic admonition for success in a variety of sports such as baseball, golf and many others, is to keep your eye on the ball and follow through.  The same is true for politics.  Distractions come easily and it is easy to lose track of the original issue.  Such seems to be the case with the fireworks surrounding the knowledge that Russia interfered with our 2016 presidential election.

In a rare show of unanimity, last fall and again in January this year, the U.S. intelligence community briefed the outgoing and incoming presidents on the Russian meddling.  Much of the information is highly classified, but we as citizens can be sure that it happened, otherwise, we can trust nothing that our professionals in intelligence and highly respected leaders tell us.  They do not make such accusations lightly or without serious and deep consideration as to the facts and the repercussions. As a result of their findings, President Obama in September 2016, in a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, told him to “cut it out” with regards to Russian cyber attacks and hacking — notably before the election. Claims that he did so to create a “ruse” because the Democrats are “sore losers” holds no validity when the warning came before the election.  In October, again before the election, President Obama used the “red phone” — used to avert nuclear attacks between the two nations — to again warn Mr. Putin about the continued interference in the election. In late December President Obama implemented additional sanctions against Russia and expelled 35 Russian diplomats accused of spying within the United States because of the Russian attempts at meddling.  These are facts.

In and of itself, every American should be outraged that there is incontrovertible evidence that the Russians attempted to interfere with our most sacred ritual as a nation — the election of our president. This outrage should supersede any sense of Republican, Democrat, Independent, liberal, conservative or any other political category one can imagine.  America was under attack.  This seemed to be forgotten as our new president initially, and for a lengthy amount of time, refused to acknowledge these facts.  Facts that should outrage any serious leader of our nation.  Instead in a news conference on 11 January 2017 he attacked our intelligence community and compared them to “Nazis.”  He only reluctantly concluded that “as far as the hacking, I think it was Russia” before adding “it could have been others also.”

For whatever reason — ego, appealing to his base, purposely trying to create chaos for some political objective, or trying to cover up the truth — President Trump continues to deny that the Russians had any significant effect or were in fact trying to influence, if not to change, the election.  This continued denial, along with accusing the intelligence community of trying to undermine him and all the other shenanigans now coming out of the White House must stop.  Enough!  This is not a serious presidency if this is the way that they will conduct themselves over the next four years.  It is amateur hour.

The current brouhaha surrounds who did or did not meet with representatives and agents of the Russian government and for what reasons.  This is where the obfuscation continues.  While we argue over whether then Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) met with the Russian Ambassador in his role as a Senator or as a member of the Trump campaign and oh by the way Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) ate donuts with the Ambassador in 1992 is beside the point.  Way beside the point.  One could argue, on purpose beside the point.  Deliberate distractions to keep our eyes off the ball.

Now Attorney General. Mr. Sessions says he “misspoke” about his contact with the Ambassador. Perhaps so. The problem is that in both oral and written testimony during his confirmation hearing he claimed that he had no contact with any member of the Russian government.  Just as former (remember he got fired) National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn said nearly the same thing. Just as more and more members of the Trump campaign claimed that they never had contact with any representatives of the Russian government and it is becoming clear that in fact, they did have contact.

Focusing on all of those individual circumstances may or may not have significance.  We simply do not know.  Here is what we do know.  Starting with the first reports of the hacking of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Mr. John Podesta’s emails (an event seemingly predicted by one of Mr. Trump’s then advisers Mr. Roger Stone before they were released by Wikileaks), Mr. Trump and his staff continually denied that any, repeat any, contact with the Russians simply did not happen.  For example, in November 2016 the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded to a press question about contacts with the Trump campaign and said that “there were contacts” with influential people in Trump’s circle. “I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them supported contacts with Russian representatives.”  In response, Trump campaign spokesperson Ms. Hope Hicks said, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”  This is one of at least twenty separate official denials that there had been any contact with the Russians. Assertions we now know to be false.

Remember that this is an administration that deals in “alternative facts.”

Still, I think all of this who-talked-to-who-and-when is beside the point.  It indicates that there is probably some “there” there, but in and of itself is inconclusive.  Any single or even series of contacts could have multiple explanations, some of which are benign.  What is concerning to me, when taken as a whole, is that so many of them occurred and that the campaign and now the administration, continues to cover up and deny that anything at all took place, even in the face of video and audio that refutes their claims.

What are they so anxiously trying to cover up?

Today was the last straw.  One might say that President Trump deployed the metaphorical nuclear option this morning when he tweeted out that President Obama broke the law.  More specifically, in a series of tweets this morning he said:

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

–President Trump tweet 7:02 4 Mar 2017

Actual quotes from the President of the United States!  Unconscionable!  Statements such as these are unreasonable and can easily be interpreted to be a calculated effort to create turmoil and unrest in our nation.

There is so much that is wrong with his latest undisciplined reactions it is hard to know where to start. (And it is particularly interesting, or appalling depending on one’s view, that Mr. Trump’s in-your-face style was cultivated by his long time mentor, Mr. Roy Cohn, who was Senator Joe McCarthy’s primary adviser when the McCarthy witch hunt was in full bloom.  I suppose that the circle stays unbroken.) Keeping our eyes on the ball, there are a few facts involved with possible underpinnings in the law — unlike the tweets from President Trump who has offered no evidence or other substantiation of his claims.  This tweet storm is merely intended to divert attention and to change the narrative.  His usual, now predictable, tactic.  When under siege, attack.  (And exactly why do you think you are under siege Mr. President?  Something to hide?)

It is outrageous for a current president to call his predecessor “bad” and it is especially outrageous to call him “sick.”  Perhaps if the shoe fits….

But again, this is a diversionary tactic.  The facts tell a different story.  For example, the president cannot order wire taps on his opponents.  It is against the law and only the most screwball, or clinically paranoid, opponents of President Obama would think that he would blatantly break the law by ordering wire taps.

The most inconvenient fact of all for President Trump is this.  Should it be true that taps of some sort were placed on Trump Tower, they can only be done when a federal judge under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is presented with probable cause that “foreign powers” or “agents of foreign powers” — which may include U.S. citizens or permanent residents — are suspected of terrorism, colluding with agents of foreign governments against the interests of the U.S., or espionage.  When presented with evidence, the judge may approve physical and electronic surveillance of those individuals and their likely places of operation for espionage or other nefarious purposes.

If the FISA statute was implemented by the FBI and NSA through the Department of Justice, utilizing the provisions of the law through the proper court, then President Trump does indeed have reason to distract us from the real problem.

The president may be out of his league.  It may turn out that he is not so “big league” (often transcribed as “bigly”) as he assumes.  He is up against the full power and strength of the national government and the national press, sworn and determined, respectively, to uphold and protect the Constitution.

President Trump will no doubt continue to make wild, baseless and counter-factual claims.  Sad!  We need to keep our eye on the ball and follow through.


Follow the Money

I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist.  I have a healthy sense of skepticism about would-be conspiracies and I normally take things at face value until I can see that the facts point in a different direction.  That said, there is an increasing number of people who are beginning to wonder about President-elect Donald J. Trump and his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian oligarchs.  I am not saying that there is an untoward relationship, or necessarily a relationship of any kind, I am just saying that people are beginning to wonder what is going on. Perhaps when Congress conducts the investigation into the Russian interference with our recently completed election, they will dig deeper into the situation and see if there is any connection to all of the dots that are there.

And what are those dots you may ask?  Off the top of my head, let’s name a few.

  • At the end of July 2016, following the announcement that the U.S. intelligence services had “a high confidence” that the Russian government was behind an intrusion into the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), President-elect Trump said at a news conference in reference to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.  I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
  • At that same press conference, the last one he held  (we are now at nearly six months and counting), he seemed to indicate that the Russian annexation of Crimea and continued efforts against Ukraine were acceptable and that as president he may lift sanctions against Russia. When specifically asked if he would recognize the annexation of Crimea he said, “We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.”
  • Last summer President-elect Trump said in an interview that he did not know if he would fulfill the nation’s NATO obligations in Europe.  To him, it depended on whether or not they had paid their bills.  Such a stance is in direct conflict with decades of U.S. policy founded on collective defense. Such a stance is also extremely encouraging to Russia as their long-standing policy goal is to break up NATO and undermine the European Union.
  • In August 2016, Roger Stone, a close adviser to the president-elect hinted that hacked emails from the Clinton campaign manager would be forthcoming.  This is before they were actually released.
  • In the lead-up to the election, seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies agreed and the Director of National Intelligence announced that the Russians were attempting to interfere with the election.
  • After the election the U.S intelligence agencies put forward that the Russians were releasing the DNC emails to try to influence the election in favor of Mr. Trump.
  • President Obama called on the intelligence agencies to provide a report before he leaves office on the extent of Russian involvement.  A bi-partisan group of Senators is calling for a Congressional investigation of the Russian involvement and for greater sanctions on Russia than those already imposed.  The president-elect does not agree that either is necessary.
  • As post-election press coverage of the Russian attempts increased (finally moving from being preoccupied with the embarrassing, but relatively normal content of the emails to focusing on the attempts of a foreign government to tamper with our election), President-elect Trump and his transition team belittled the U.S. intelligence community and called the notion “laughable” and “ridiculous.”  Or as Mr. Trump said, “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.”
  • In response to U.S. actions against Russia, the president-elect dismissively said “I think it’s time we get on with our lives.”  And later he said, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”
  • President-elect Trump continually compliments Mr. Putin over each and every thing, especially with his Twitter praise of the Russian dictator.
  • On New Year’s Eve President-elect Trump had this to add, “I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove.  So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”

As the conservative columnist Mr. George Will would say, “Well.”

In and of themselves such continued admiration for a dictator and a dismissive attitude towards the very people who will need to help him keep our country safe would be troubling.  Equally troubling would be the president-elect’s dismissing a foreign power’s attempts to change our election. Troubling, but perhaps not worthy of the conspiracy theorists.  Until one puts it all in context with other statements and actions.

  • The president-elect continues to keep the nation in the dark about his business transactions and possible commercial connections to President Putin and/or other Russian oligarchs and/or other world leaders and some very shady characters.
  • The president-elect continues to refuse to release his tax returns so that the American people can judge for themselves whether or not the president-elect has conflicts of interest that could impair his ability to do the right thing for the country.
  • Due to his many bankruptcies, President-elect Trump had trouble raising money from U.S. banks for his business ventures.  Consequently, he went outside the country to raise cash.  Among other foreign entities, his son Donald Trump, Jr. said that Russian money was behind some of the projects. As he said in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
  • For much of the past summer, Mr. Paul Manafort was the Trump campaign manager.  Before working for the Trump campaign he was for many years a senior adviser to Viktor Yanukovych. Mr. Yanukovych was the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister before his ouster which resulted in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Mr. Yanukovych is now in Moscow and remains close to President Putin.
  • LT. General Michael Flynn, USA (ret) is President-elect Trump’s designated National Security Adviser.  General Flynn was notoriously known for a paid speaking engagement in Russia, doing an unflattering assessment of the U.S. on Russian Television and cozying up to President Putin at dinner.  And along the way, comparing CNN, MSNBC, and other U.S. news networks to the state-run system in Russia.
  • The president-elect’s nominee for Secretary of State Mr. Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil is on the record in favor of lifting sanctions against Russia.
  • There have been reports, as yet unverified, that there were secret communications during the campaign between the president-elect and/or senior campaign staff and the representatives of Mr. Putin.

You get the idea.

I am not sure what we should make of all that (and there’s more but that should be enough).  One or two or three of those developments would be interesting, but perhaps not alarming.  When taken together, it paints a picture that makes it easier to understand why a would-be conspiracy theorist could have a field day.

I hope that there is no fire, but there does seem to be a lot of smoke.  So, what to make of it?  If the president-elect indeed wants to “drain the swamp” he can easily do so by starting with himself.  If there is nothing to hide, if there is “no there, there” then shine a light on his business dealings, detail where the conflicts may arise, detail how he will build a fire wall between himself and his business dealings and release his tax returns, as a start.

There is no need for a witch hunt.  There is no need for the president-elect to be challenged at every turn as the public increasingly wonders about his intentions and probable conflicts of interest.  Just do the right thing.  The same thing that every president and presidential candidate has done for decades. Tell the truth.  Put it out there.  Let the chips fall where they may.  Let the American people follow the money and see where it leads.

Recall that the theme song for Mr. Trump’s “reality” show The Apprentice was For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays.  It could become the president-elect’s theme song as well.


It’s Not Funny Anymore

“What in the wide, wide, World of Sports is going on here?”

— Slim Pickens as “Taggart” in Blazing Saddles

I made a promise to myself, and to many others, that I would give President-Elect Donald J. Trump a chance to prove himself as our next president.  After all, I reasoned, he has yet to take office, has not had any Cabinet officers confirmed or proposed any legislation to the Congress.  I thought to myself, let’s give him a chance and see what he actually does rather than what he might do.

Too late.  Mr. Trump is already showing us what kind of president he will be.  In so doing, it appears to me that he has forgotten that he is not yet the president.  We only have one president at a time and currently Barack Obama is our president, like it or not.  Yet Mr. Trump has already meddled in foreign affairs, the market place, labor union affairs, and other areas properly the purview of the person that is the president.  In addition he continues to refuse to reveal anything about his business interests, or tax returns or any other aspect of his dealings that may well impact his decisions as president.  Mr. Trump was to have a news conference this Thursday to outline how he will deal with all of those interests, but he announced yesterday that the news conference has been deferred to an unspecified date in January. Don’t count on him actually holding it.  Despite frequent promises, he has not held a news conference since 27 July 2016.  In that one, he famously invited the Russians to hack Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails.

My biggest concerns with his actions thus far relate to national security.  He has been reckless in his statements and actions to date.  One can argue that in the United States domestic economic concerns are the biggest motivators to the voting public.  However, the number one role of a national government is national security.  If the government cannot protect its citizens from all enemies foreign and domestic, then it has failed.  Otherwise, there is no ability to focus on any other aspect of government.  I find that Mr. Trump is woefully uninformed and reckless in his actions thus far and has already put our national interests in jeopardy.  One can only imagine what may take place once he assumes the office.

If you have only glanced at the news (real news, not fake news) you know that Mr. Trump has muddled our relations with both China and Taiwan.  His original conversation with the Taiwanese President sent shock waves through our diplomatic corps and the Chinese were not amused.  This week, Mr. Trump compounded the mess by saying in an interview on Fox News Sunday that in essence, his comments on China and Taiwan was an opening gambit in trade negotiations.  This thrilled Taiwan because now they are considered bargaining chips in our relations with China.  Their take away over the last 48 hours is that Mr. Trump would not expand the relationship with Taiwan but rather bargain them away as a pawn if it meant a “good deal” with China on trade.  In only a few days he managed to scare and to irritate both a friend and a foe, without stating any clear policy to move forward.

There are always new policies and ways of doing business with each new administration.  But as they say on Monday Night Football, “c’mon man!”

Most troubling, and seriously dangerous, is Mr. Trump’s reaction to the profoundly disturbing news that the Russian involvement in the presidential election is much deeper than imagined.  As I have written in this space before, it was disturbing to me that during the campaign the discussion was about the juicy tidbits in the hacked information and not that it was illegally obtained through the auspices of a foreign nation.  If you have not recently read about the intricate details, there is a primer in the New York Times that provides the outline of the case and what is known and unknown.

In short, the Russians have been acting deliberately to interfere with our election in a wide variety of ways.  One can argue whether the intent was to “merely” undermine the integrity of the democratic process or whether it was actively trying to derail Secretary Clinton’s campaign in order to help Mr. Trump.  Either way, we as a nation should be outraged and demand an investigation.

Unless you are Mr. Trump or his advisers that is.  They repeatedly called the notion “laughable” and “ridiculous.”  Or as Mr. Trump said on Sunday;

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. I don’t know why, and I think it’s just — you know, they talked about all sorts of things. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”

— Mr. Donald J. Trump on Fox News Sunday on 11 December 2016

This followed a Friday night press release where they ridiculed the CIA and Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that he does not take the daily intelligence briefs because “I am a smart person.”

It baffles me why Mr. Trump and his advisers didn’t just say something along the lines of this:

We are deeply troubled by the revelations of possible Russian intrusion into the 2016 presidential election.  While there is no evidence that the election results were tampered with or otherwise illegitimate we welcome the Congressional investigation into what happened in order to confirm the basic tenets of our democracy.  President-Elect Trump looks forward to working closely with the intelligence community to keep our nation safe.

Here is the problem.  He must believe that the CIA and other intelligence agencies — which are unanimous in their conclusion that the Russians tried to influence the election, but not on why they did so — are not good at their job and politicized.  Either or both assumptions are dangerous to our well-being.  Today Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and later of the CIA wrote an opinion piece that explains the danger.  The question is not really about whether or not there are political overtones to the Russian involvement or what their intent may be.  The real question is why Mr. Trump refuses to seek the assistance of the intelligence agencies in solving problems and to use the information to help inform his decisions.  An adversarial relationship with the intelligence agencies is not going to help protect our nation.  To be dismissive of the information that they provide is reckless.

Through my personal experience and confirmed by all knowledgeable accounts, the members of our intelligence communities work very hard to keep us safe.  More importantly in this context, they are career professionals that have faithfully served both Republicans and Democrats.  They are apolitical. They seek only the facts.

There are cultural differences between the agencies, which could be used to the new president’s advantage rather than as a weapon to delegitimize their efforts.  For example, the CIA lives in a mushy world where the preponderance of evidence gives them signals to interpret events and to predict potential adversarial relationships in order to inform decision makers as they set policy.  They themselves do not set any policies.  The FBI on the other hand, has a different culture.  They are a law enforcement agency that works to convict criminals and others in a court of law.  They must gather proof beyond a reasonable doubt that can stand up in court.  An entirely different mission.  Add to that the fact that the CIA is focused on the international scene and that the FBI has an internal domestic focus. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are areas for disagreement as to the degree of surety about a particular case.

Look at it another way.  Many CIA employees risk their lives to gather information to keep our nation safe.  How motivated are they going to be to do so if the Commander-in-Chief basically calls them liars and political operatives attempting to “re-litigate the election”?

As a side note, but related, Mr. Trump seemingly due to his thin skin and lack of understanding, attacks anyone that he surmises does not support his election.  And that happens to anybody that does not tout his “landslide” victory.  I have yet to conclude whether Mr. Trump’s numerous untruths are the result of wishful thinking, studied ignorance or outright lies.  I suppose it could be all three, but it is continual. Let’s just use the election results as an example.  Mr. Trump claims that he won the election in a landslide.  The fact is that his percentage of electoral votes ranks him 46th out of the 58 presidential elections in our history. Not even the top half.  He is also losing to Secretary Clinton in the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes — her total is more than that received by any presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama — a result he claims is the result of “millions” of illegal voters that otherwise would have afforded him the outright win.  There is no proof of any voter fraud, much less “millions.”  I could go on but I don’t have enough time or space to enumerate the misinformation that comes from him and his aides — even if I just limited it to the last seven days.

This is dangerous.  We need an informed and truthful president — or at least one that doesn’t create his own facts.

Even more troubling is his cozy relationship with Russia and seemingly endless admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Let’s take a look at but a few examples.

Mr. Trump’s son said that Russian investors are a major factor in the family business.  Or more precisely he said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Members of his campaign and future administration have close business ties with Russia, including his national security adviser LT General Michael Flynn, USA (ret.).  He famously sat at a banquet with Mr. Putin and lambasted American news media outlets during a Russian propaganda television broadcast.

Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State is a personal friend of Mr. Putin and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013.  Oh, by the way, Mr. Rex Tillerson, as the CEO of Exxon-Mobil, has done a lot of business with Mr. Putin and other Russian oligarchs over oil.  Secretary-nominee Tillerson is a staunch advocate for removing sanctions against Russia imposed after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. He is quoted as saying the sanctions cost his company one billion dollars.  I am sure that will have no bearing in his dealings with the Russians.

I have no doubt that Mr. Trump did not personally collude with the Russians to interfere with the election and I am equally sure that no actual votes cast changed as a result of the Russian actions. I do feel strongly that their actions did impact the election, but it is impossible to know whether the outcome would have been any different without the Russian efforts.  Mr. Trump will be our president.

That said, I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate the extent and intent of Russian interference.  I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate Mr. Tillerson’s ties to Russia and his other dealings.  I think it perfectly reasonable to investigate Mr. Trump’s business dealings and relations with foreign powers. I think it perfectly reasonable for Mr. Trump to continue to receive pressure to release his tax returns and to build a firewall between himself and his businesses — just like everyone that works for him will have to do.

Thankfully, members of the Senate are going to do that on a bi-partisan basis.  They should dig deep and hard.  The point is not to undo the election.  That will not happen.  The point is make sure that undue influence from foreign powers is deterred in future elections and to make sure that going forward, the ties to Russia that are obvious to all but Mr. Trump do not inhibit the national interests of the United States of America.  Our nation and citizens come before the business interests of the billionaires that apparently will be running our country.  Let’s keep the pressure on Congress to provide the over sight needed to keep our nation safe.

 

 


Just The Beginning

In my lifetime, an election was usually a beginning.  Most of the time, it was a positive beginning as proponents of opposing candidates and political parties were happy or sad, justified or disappointed, but generally supportive of the process and willing to give the new president a chance to see what he could accomplish.  The election was over, and so most folks took a time out and turned towards the holidays and the approaching new year, and didn’t think much about politics again until Inauguration Day or later.

This year I worry that the most fractious campaign in our lifetimes will not end on Tuesday at the voting booth.  Two flawed candidates are limping towards the finish line, but I am not sure how things will play out when the results are tallied.  I am out of the prediction business as I have no idea who will win on 8 November but you already know what I think as to which of the two will do less harm to our country. That said, I do try to be balanced, or at least fair, in presenting my views in this space.  I will endeavor to do so again today, but I am concerned that not everyone involved in the two campaigns, the most ardent supporters or haters as the case may be, will be satisfied with the outcome.  I am worried that  some will not only be upset about the results but that they will act on their dissatisfaction in negative ways.  And let’s be blunt, when one candidate whines about the election being “rigged” because he is losing, suggests that “poll watchers” go to the inner city to make sure that voters are not “cheating” and other similar statements, the probability of a conflict increases greatly.  (And I note that he only cites the “inner cities” — code for minority areas — and not rural areas or small towns. He often suggests that they exercise their Second Amendment rights while watching the polls. Can you imagine what would happen if a group of armed African-Americans showed up in a small town in Kansas to watch the voters vote?)

Having said that, I am more worried about the impact on our form of government, our law makers ability, indeed their desire, to do their jobs and the unpredictable actions of our fellow citizens.  Which ever candidate wins, there are huge problems ahead.  Let’s look at a Hillary Clinton victory first.

Votes are yet to be counted, results are yet to  be certified, and no one knows who will win on Tuesday. Yet, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Michael McCall (R-Texas) Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, as well as Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), among others, have already stated publicly that they plan to begin impeachment proceedings against Secretary Clinton should she be elected.  Additionally, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), John McCain (R-Arizona) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), among others, have clearly stated or with a wink and a nod hinted at confirming none (repeat: none) of Secretary Clinton’s appointments to the Supreme Court.  Wow.  Even with a sense of leavening that these statements were made under the stress of campaigns and the emotions of the moment, these men still made astounding, and frankly, un-American statements about using the law of the land to punish an election winner that they do not like. The will of the people be damned, I suppose.   You will note that there is a pretty good likelihood that the Democrats will regain control of the Senate, yet I have not heard a single Democrat running for office promise not to confirm Mr. Trump’s nominees or that they will begin impeachment proceedings against him as soon as he is sworn in as president.

Some argue that there is no need for nine justices and that we have had different numbers on the Supreme Court over our history.  True.  But there have been nine since 1869.  With Justice Scalia’s untimely death early this year, the Court has been functioning (although deferring some cases until a ninth judge is confirmed) with only eight.  However, if the Republicans follow through on their threat, what is the right number?  Seven?  Six?  No one knows what deaths may occur, or retirements may occur, or other unforeseen circumstances that would further reduce the number of Justices.  Really? And what happened to the current Senate Majority Leader’s,  Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), promise that the next president gets to nominate a Justice, and of course the fact that our current president (we only have one at a time) has a nominee on the floor for going on seven months?

As if that is not enough, Mr. Trump himself made a similar promise in the second debate this fall.  In the context of the “lock her up!” cries at his rallies, he made the following statement in response to a debate question about it should he be president.

“I am going to instruct my Attorney General to get a Special Prosecutor to look into your (Clinton’s) situation.”

The next day he reiterated his plan to prosecute Secretary Clinton when he is president.  Besides being unheard of in American politics — no winning president has ever threatened to jail his losing opponent in our history like we are some kind of third world banana republic — it also exhibits Mr. Trump’s desire to use the government for his personal vendettas.  It also demonstrates his lack of knowledge in that president’s are not authorized to order specific criminal investigations of individuals, not to mention political opponents.  To lose the impartiality of the Department of Justice in order to pursue his own ends would undermine the very fabric of justice in our country.

These examples alone would be cause for alarm as to what will happen after the election.  Actions that could destroy the delicate balance between a functioning two-party system and one where the rule of law and our Constitution is used only as a prop when it suits one’s purpose.

Of additional concern, and this really really bothers me, is the ongoing hacking of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.  By the Russians.  And I have heard very little concern expressed about it by any Republican, and especially none by Mr. Trump himself.  Indeed, last summer he invited the Russians to hack Secretary Clinton.  This is serious, people.  And yet all I hear about is what is in the emails and not that they were illegally stolen by a foreign government and used to disrupt our election.  (By the way they may be embarrassing but there are no “smoking guns” about illegal activity and I would argue that any large organization or campaign would be embarrassed if their internal discussions and unvarnished proposals were made public.)

Intelligence and law enforcement officials are preparing for some kind of additional cyber attack before, or on, election day.  The attack could come in any number of ways, but will probably be designed to further undermine the perception of a free and fair election process.  Democrats and Republicans should both be deeply concerned about this prospect.  But it seems to be of little concern as compared to petty fighting over minor issues.

Let’s look at a Donald Trump victory.  My concerns for our nation are not in any way lessened should Mr. Trump win.  As hard as it is, I will momentarily forget that the man is temperamentally unsuited for the office, and that he has shown a remarkable lack of intellectual curiosity to learn even the basics of how the government works under the Constitution or our most basic foreign policies.

Mr. Trump currently has approximately 75 lawsuits actively pending against him.  Many are long-standing complaints against him ranging from discrimination to failure to pay contractors.  Most notable, a trial in a class action lawsuit against him for fraud surrounding Trump University starts 28 November.  That is one of three state lawsuits against Trump University.  The Trump Foundation is also under legal scrutiny for illegal fund-raising efforts and for violating laws on how such money may be spent.  It is a long list.  How does that impact his ability to carry out the duties of his office?  How will the trials be impacted if he is president?  This creates yet another opportunity for the public perception of justice to be tainted by politics.

Mr. Trump continues to refuse to release any of his tax returns so we know nothing of his business dealings, except for what he chooses to brag about. Multiple responsible inquiries have shown him to be far less successful in business than he gives himself credit for having accomplished.  (By the way, it was pointed out that his final 2015 tax returns were due about two weeks ago.  There is nothing to stop him from releasing those as he would not know if they were going to be audited.  Not to mention that the Internal Revenue Service repeatedly stated that there is nothing stopping him from releasing them while under audit.)

The primary reason this is important, among many reasons, is that he claims to have extensive business dealings overseas, which is the basis of his claimed knowledge of foreign policy.  If so, we should know what those dealings might be so that potential conflicts of interest may be identified.  What checks and balances would be in place to make sure that foreign policy decisions were made to further the interests of the United States and not merely to help his business?  Without this knowledge it is possible that foreign agents could compromise our interests overseas.

In this vein I find his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin troubling.  I am not so bothered by Mr. Trump’s claims that Mr. Putin is “a great leader.”  Strange, but less troubling than the fact that the Russians are hacking and attempting to influence our election.  The Russians, and others, are using propaganda, psychological operations (PSYOPS) and intelligence to undermine our election and thereby demonstrate to their own citizens that there is no such thing as a real democracy, it is all a sham and rigged by the powerful.  This message to their own people, by using us as an example, can be very effective in keeping their own power.  Mr. Trump received classified briefings on this effort.  And yet, in the debates, he claims that there is no evidence that the Russians are involved and further claims that he does not trust the U.S. intelligence agencies.  Wow again.  He either willfully ignores the information he is given, or he is frighteningly uncaring, or he is glad that it is going on, especially if it helps him.  Any one of those reasons are scary.  Perhaps most scary would be that he does not believe the information because he already knows it all — a statement he has repeated concerning foreign policy, military affairs, and a host of other issues.  (“I know more about ISIS than the generals do.  Believe me.”  — 12 November 2015)

Here is the kicker and perhaps the most dangerous of all the unknowns.  How will the American people react over the long run?  My question reflects how we ended up in our current presidential predicament. In my view, the current atmosphere was created by politicians promising to do things that they could not, or in some cases, never intended to deliver.  Many of our fellow citizens feel abandoned by their government and suspicious of the leaders in Washington.  Mr. Trump tapped into that and we are now on the verge of being one vote away from him as president.  Many will rejoice and think “finally, we have someone to change things.”

That is what is worrisome.  Hear me out, please.  First, we have prominent Republican law makers promising that if Secretary Clinton is president they will block essentially everything she tries to do and tie her up in impeachment hearings and other vindictive investigations and hearings — mostly about things they have been investigating for four years or more and have yet to find anything of substance. In other words, more of the same from the last six years.  Lots of promises but no substantive action. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place? What makes Republican law makers think that more dysfunction and lack of, you know, actual governing is going to make things better?  Four more years of doing nothing is not going to heal the country and it will not endear the Republican party to future voters. Such an approach is more than a little short-sighted politically and not good for the future of our nation.

The first test is coming up soon.  On 29 September 2016, about 36 hours before the government would shut down, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded until 9 December and then promptly left town and haven’t been in session since.  They must now come back in a lame duck session to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. However, the members of the Freedom Caucus, the Republican Tea Party group, are threatening to block all federal funding unless certain of their pet demands are met.  They are also threatening to unseat Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) as Speaker of the House if he doesn’t go along with their demands, which run counter to the overall objectives of the Congress as a whole.  Welcome to the post-election honey moon.

Most disturbing to me is that during his campaign Mr. Trump promises many things that he cannot do under the Constitution or that are unlikely to be supported by the Congress.  When that happens, will the country react with more disappointment and lack of trust, or will something else occur?  Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric has often bordered on inciting violence and I fear that rather than finding himself frustrated in not being able to do what he wants, he will put out “a call to action.”  No one knows what form that call may take, or more to the point, how some on the fringe may interpret it.  Whatever the case, it will not be good for our country.

I hope that I am wrong and that my worries are unfounded.  But the indicators are not good.  There will be no post-election honey moon and the prospects for civil political discourse to address urgent issues and to keep our nation on track are not promising.

Or as cartoonist Walt Kelly said in his comic strip Pogo:

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 


Cold War II (continued)

With all of the attention surrounding the circus that is our presidential campaign season, it is possible to overlook other developments of significance.  To my mind, one of those significant others is our increasingly deteriorating relationship with Russia.

As I wrote back in July when I focused on the role of NATO and the increasing belligerence Russia is exhibiting towards the Baltic States, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees his role as the one individual that can, and will, restore Russia to its previous glory.  Since then he has continued to create discord around the world. In particular, he has helped to further inflame conflict in Syria and Ukraine.  Just yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry pulled all of the United States’ negotiators from Geneva where they had been trying to work with the Russians to come up with a political solution to the civil war in Syria and thereby try to save some of the many civilians at risk in Aleppo and other areas of Syria.  A cease-fire attempted last month failed when Syrian and Russian, or at least Syrian assisted by Russian, aircraft bombed an aid convoy trying to provide humanitarian relief to those trapped in the city.  Since then negotiations aimed at restoring the cease-fire and creating more confidence building measures that might give a chance for a political settlement of the strife had been ongoing.  Additionally, the United States had been working on an agreement to work with the Russians in a coordinated military effort against terrorism in the region, especially against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or as most people in the U.S. call it, ISIS).  All of it went out the window when the Russians turned their full military might from the air on Aleppo in a brutal assault, even as negotiations were underway.  What future course may be taken to alleviate the situation is up in the air, but it does lead to an increased probability that Russia and the U.S. will be working at cross purposes to fight terrorists in the area and increases the probability of Russian and U.S. military forces coming into contact with each other.

In retaliation for the United States withdrawing from the Syrian negotiations, the Soviets, oops, I mean the Russians, suspended a nuclear agreement signed in 2000 between the two nations that called for the disposal of each nation’s stocks of weapons-grade plutonium.  While the Russian suspension of the treaty is mostly symbolic (both countries intend to continue to reduce their stockpiles) it does serve to show how the relationship has deteriorated and it also provided the Russian government an opportunity to complain about actions it believes the United States is taking to undermine Russia.

And what are those actions that so enrage Vladimir Putin you may ask?  Foremost among them is the continuing deployment of NATO forces to the Baltic states and the enforcement of the sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. In Ukraine last August, President Putin raised tensions as he claimed that the Ukrainian government was moving to attack Crimea, the area Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The tension persists and even though it is currently relatively quiet, nothing is totally quiet along the front as periodic fighting continues and lives continue to be lost. Further exacerbating the toxic atmosphere in Ukraine, Dutch investigators clearly linked the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 over Ukraine in July 2014 to the Russian supplied separatists.  All 298 people onboard were killed.  Despite continued Russian denials, the investigation showed a missile battery moved from Russian territory into rebel held territory and then returned to Russia after the incident.  Russian actions in the area continue to be a threat to the rest of Ukraine and Europe, and President Putin seems to be relishing his ability to turn conflict off and on. Keep an eye on developments there as the rest of the world becomes increasingly distracted by the U.S. presidential campaign, events in Syria, and the fight against terrorism.

What is troubling to me about President Putin is his world view.  While we have competitors and adversaries in China, Iran, and other spots around the world (President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines seems to be gong off the reservation for example), they have a different world view than does President Putin.  Most nations of the world know that they are economically tied to the global economy which is powered by the United States.  This does not stop actions antithetical to our interests, but it does serve to temper them.  President Putin on the other hand, sees the world and especially Russia’s relationship to the United States, indeed politics in general, as a zero sum game.  Whatever hurts the U.S. helps Russia and vice versa.  Add to this that his country is not doing well economically and like most dictators, he is creating international foes in order to distract the citizenry from their troubles at home.  This makes him ever more dangerous.

In this context, I am amazed that more reporting is not being done on the breaches of cyber security that occur almost daily in the United States, and most especially, the hacks that impact our free and independent elections.  Of particular note are the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the release of scores of emails concerning the primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the attempts to get into the election processes of individual states, most notably Arizona and Illinois. Experts point their collective finger at the Russians as being responsible for these and other equally egregious cyber attacks.

While individual ballot boxes are not connected to the internet, and therefore cannot be hacked, there are other processes that are computer driven and may be susceptible to attack.  Among these are voter registration lists.  Imagine if large numbers of people show up to vote and are not allowed to do so because their names were expunged from the voting rolls or are otherwise tampered with so as to take away their ability to vote.  Add to that one presidential candidate that is already talking about how the vote is rigged if he doesn’t win and that his supporters should go to the polls in urban areas to watch others vote to make sure that everything is on the “up and up”  because “that would be one hell of a way to lose, I’ll tell you what.”  (Incidentally, in study after study and in court cases concerning voter identification laws, there has been absolutely no evidence of voter fraud changing or even slightly influencing the outcome of any national election, despite urban myths and legends to the contrary.)

I am not a conspiracy theorist and do not want to be misquoted so I will say up front, I do not think that the Republican nominee is in any way aiding or abetting or otherwise involved in the Russian hacking efforts, even though last July he famously invited the Russians to hack his Democratic opponent’s emails.  However, I find it disconcerting that thus far, only Democrats have suffered the embarrassing revelations of the Russian hackers.  I would be willing to bet that a number of Republican accounts have been similarly hacked, but clearly the Russian hackers are trying to influence the election in one direction.  One could speculate as to why that is, or even if there is some kind of reverse bizarro world logic that it could backfire on the other candidate.  I don’t know, but clearly there is an effort to influence the outcome.  It is bad news for our nation when a foreign power attempts to influence our elections and we do not stop it.

Ultimately, whether or not the attacks are successful at actually changing ballots, the real effort on the part of the Russians is to delegitimize our election process, call into question the results and spread further hate and discontent in an already fractured election process.  Besides being cyber warfare, it is most especially also classic psychological warfare aimed at undermining the United States, our policies, and our stature in the world.  Vladimir Putin and his cronies are ready and willing to fill the void left by the United States should their efforts be successful.

Unclear to me is whether or not our own cyber warfare forces deployed to counter the Russians and/or to similarly attack them in a way that sends a signal to knock it off or suffer the consequences.  It is a tricky situation for the U.S.  It is generally accepted that the United States has superior cyber warfare capabilities, but to deploy them now, in the month leading up to an election, and risk a wide-spread cyber war that could impact the election results dramatically (not in vote manipulation necessarily but rather in a wide-spread crisis that impacts infrastructure, banking or some other target that causes far-ranging panic) is a tough decision.  On the other hand, we do not know where or when the Russians (and possibly others) might strike anyway if not deterred from doing so.  A difficult choice.  Unknown, of course, is whether such a counter sign of our capabilities and willingness to punish the Russians in our own attack has already been demonstrated to the Russians by our cyber forces under a stringent top secret operation.

Regardless, our next president must be prepared to deal with the Russians and do so with eyes wide open.  Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States and he never will be.  He has one goal and one goal only — to turn his economically depressed country into a super power at the expense of the United States of America.