The Outsider Perspective brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! Trump is making his first major international trip this week. That hasn’t stopped action back home, and I’ll be focusing on that this week. First up, I’m going to go into the major conspiracy theory running across the right-wing media this week. Next up, I’ll cover the “bombshell” stories surrounding Trump/Russia. Finally, I’ll wrap up with a look at universal healthcare and what it means for America’s world power.
Unsolved DC murder underscores the fever-dream swamp of conspiracy theorists on the right
In one of the stranger stories to pop up in the news, several right-wing outlets and pundits began pushing a conspiracy theory on how Wikileaks came to possess the DNC’s emails. The gist of the discussion was that Seth Rich, a former DNC staffer, had copied all the internal DNC emails and sent them to Wikileaks. Then, after he was found out, Rich was murdered by the DNC. Fox News and Sean Hannity promoted the theory:
When Seth Rich’s Gmail account received an alert this week from Mega.com, attempting to start a new account on a website created by the New Zealand-based Internet businessman and convicted hacker Kim Dotcom, his family knew that something was off.
Over seven frenzied days, Dotcom had become a leading purveyor of the theory that Rich, a staffer at the Democratic National Committee who was shot dead near his home in Northeast Washington last summer, had supplied DNC documents to WikiLeaks and was killed as a result. Multiple security analysts and an FBI investigation have tied the release to hackers with ties to Russia. D.C. police have said repeatedly that they think Rich was slain in a random robbery attempt.
According to experts and Rich’s family, the emailed invitation from firstname.lastname@example.org appeared to be an attempt to gain access to Rich’s email. Joel Rich, who monitors his late son’s Gmail account when new emails come in, did not click the link. Dotcom had not worked at Mega itself for years, but he was promising on Twitter to prove that the younger Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks — and Fox News host Sean Hannity was telling his 2.37 million Twitter followers to be ready for a revelation.
Hannity had invited Dotcom to appear on his show for what he said on Twitter would be a “#GameChanger” interview. The implication: that Dotcom would finally offer evidence of his claim that Rich had sent internal DNC documents to WikiLeaks before his death.
The theory has no evidence to back it, just random questions. There’s no proof connecting Rich to the released emails or anyone with the DNC or Clintons with murdering Rich. Fox News was forced to issue a retraction. Seth Rich’s shooting is another unsolved crime in Washington DC, a city where nearly a fifth of all homicides go unsolved, and close to half of all robberies goes unsolved.
Also ignored by the theory: We know and can connect the email hacks, delivery to Wikileaks directly to the Russians. Wikileaks is nothing more than a front for Russian intelligence. The Senate subcommittee responsible for investigation the matter drew the same conclusions: The Russians hacked the DNC, RNC, and anyone they could. It was a major cyber attack with the purpose damaging anyone who dared challenge the Kremlin’s policies.
None of this has deterred conspiracy theorists. Which, somewhat interestingly, dovetails perfectly with Kremlin misinformation efforts to discredit any evidence that they interfered with the 2016 election. It is a tragedy to see truth sold out so easily by conservatives, just to live in an echo chamber that tells you everything is alright:
The consequences of such an allegation are staggering to contemplate. For the theory to be true, its believers have to demonstrate that Rich leaked to WikiLeaks, that someone in the DNC (or the Clinton camp) in turn had Rich murdered, that the D.C. police are intentionally slow-walking the investigation, that the major intelligence agencies (namely the CIA, FBI, and NSA) are together either deliberately concocting a story about Russian interference or too stupid to recognize an inside job, and finally, that the remainder of official Washington is either oblivious to or colluding with conspirators who’ve damaged relations with Russia in hopes of bringing down a president. Oh, and did I mention that the family of the slain young man is also either in on the conspiracy or unaware of its existence?
But, sure, I suppose it’s the New York Times that has a problem spreading fake news.
So who is the source of these rumors, you may ask? Julian Assange. In a Dutch interview, Assange insinuated that the origin of the DNC leaks was a murdered staffer. The conspiracy theory spread from there.
Here is what you need to know about Julian Assange and Wikileaks as a source:
- Wikileaks is a front for Russian intelligence. Whatever they do is in furtherance of pro-Putin forces across the globe. Specifically, Wikileaks seeks to harm the United States and other pro-NATO countries as much as possible.
- Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, calculates all his actions to benefit Russia. He runs Wikileaks as a Russian intelligence asset.
- Every single US intelligence agency points to Russia as directly responsible for conducting cyber attacks on US citizens and specifically: hacking the DNC (among others). The Russians hands were all over the stolen documents; which means anything to the contrary that tries to exonerate Russia, is highly suspicious.
The sole source of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory emanates from Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and Russian intelligence. They began “asking questions.” In turn, that makes people like Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and others nothing more than “useful idiots.”
I use the term useful idiots for a reason. In the 20th century, the Soviets were fond of using liberals and communist sympathizers in the media and academia to defend itself. When the West would accuse the Soviets of atrocities, useful idiots would trot out to assist the Soviets. Among the supported actions: the extermination of Ukrainians through a human-made famine that tNew York Times journalists defended.
Useful idiots are a dangerous tool of Kremlin propagandists. They spread misinformation and support the Kremlin against their country. That betrayal of one’s country is why I have no pity for people like Sean Hannity losing advertisers for pushing the Seth Rich conspiracy. It’s the free market ridding the United States of a useful idiot. Betrayers of the US deserve to lose that battle.
Flynn and Manafort continue to be sore spots for the Trump administration
I tend to only write about the Trump/Russia story when we learn something new. I’m changing that this week because I want to talk about why so many of these stories tell us nothing. A lot of “new” stories that come out are just variations on a theme containing information we already know. A recent NYT story illustrates this point perfectly: “Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer.” This story went viral immediately. At first glance, this may seem like a bombshell, but it’s not. Here are the key passages:
American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.
The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.
Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.
First, it’s not remarkable Russians would seek influence, leverage, or an inside track with any administration official. Such behavior is standard operating procedure for Russian intelligence. They do this across the world in all governments. If you study Russian espionage against the US, you will find similar methods predating the Soviets. The Russians want an ear inside the White House for spying purposes just as much as leverage or influence.
It’s not even surprising who the Russians are targeting in the Trump White House. Paul Manafort actively took money to support the pro-Kremlin government in the Ukraine. We also know the Kremlin used Manafort to launder money for other dictators. Manafort also set up bank accounts in Cyprus, which has long been utilized by the Russian criminal underground to launder money. We’ve known a good deal about Manafort’s dangerous ties to Russia for years.
The same goes for Michael Flynn. We’ve known Flynn cozied up with the Russians a long time ago. We also know that Flynn lobbied for other governments in his brief stint in the White House, while accepting money for his lobbying. In short, Flynn and Manafort are easy targets for the Russians. And this is nothing new; I‘ve been writing about the problems for these two since last July. But the influence attempts aren’t happening because of Manafort and Flynn; it would have happened regardless. These two were simply easy, compromised marks. It’s good that Trump got rid of them.
What these stories highlight is “why did Trump hire them in the first place?” and “why does Trump continue to give them cover?” There is no evidence of collusion between Trump and the Russians. If there was evidence, I suspect we’d have seen it by now. So why does Trump surround himself with people who are compromised by the Russians? That’s a question rehashed stories and government leaks don’t answer. So while stories like the one the NYT published inform us of things we already know, they aren’t answering the key questions in the investigation. Hopefully, the independent counsel investigation by Robert Mueller will respond to these issues.
Universal Healthcare or the world’s strongest military: You can only choose one
California lawmakers were able to get the first cost analysis of a proposed law that would create universal health care coverage. The proposal would create a single-payer system where the State of California would take over the entire health care coverage industry. The cost was astronomical:
The latest stop on this magical mystery tour of progressive health care plans is California, where U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) has been campaigning on behalf of a proposed state-run single-payer system. On Monday, state lawmakers in Sacramento got their first look at the price tag for the proposal, which rings in at a whopping $400 billion annually.
The Sacramento Bee notes that, even after accounting for an estimated $200 billion that could be saved by replacing current state-run health programs with the single-payer program, the state would still need to come up with $200 billion annually.
This year’s state budget in California, by the way, is about $180 billion. That means that implementing a single-payer health care system would require doubling (at least) the state’s current tax burden. The analysis of the health care proposal presented to lawmakers on Monday suggests a 15 percent increase to the state’s payroll tax to provide the necessary revenue. (emphasis mine)
There is no such thing as free healthcare. You pay for that healthcare one way or another. California already has payroll taxes, so the proposed 15% tax increase would come on top of current taxes. So take out 15% of every single one of your paychecks, and you get a taste of what California is proposing.
I bring this up for one reason: the national progressive movement is trending towards universal healthcare. Democrats wanted a public option in the original Obamacare legislation (moderate Democrats killed that plan). And this means Democrats will move towards making single-payer a party plank. The debate over healthcare is only beginning. The costs should be clear: telling the US government to eat the cost of all healthcare is INCREDIBLY expensive. For California, that means double their current budget. It’s so expensive that every country considering single-payer has to make a choice: do you want universal healthcare, or do you want a military that allows you to dictate terms on the global stage? I’ll explain.
The modern world order, which is the post-WWII era, has been a peaceful time in world history. The wars that have taken place pale in comparison to the conflicts waged by Europe for centuries. The US military has purchased that peace. The United States is the first global power in history to control the world’s oceans successfully. Nothing happens on the world’s seas without US permission.
The United States controls the seas and sits on the two largest oceans. This power gives it unparalleled control over all global commerce. The result of that command has been an explosion of the free market across the globe. The American order combined with capitalism has throttled extreme poverty. Global poverty overall has fallen below 10% for the first time in the history of humanity (think about that for a while). Capitalism was allowed to thrive because the United States military provides the global umbrella for capitalism to flourish. Some countries have rejected that and chosen socialism or communism. Their populace has paid the price (see Venezuela).
But overall, American exceptionalism, military strength, and capitalism have produced the world you see today. The cost of socialized medicine has long been apparent. To afford socialized medicine a country must weaken its military and use the savings to pay for a single-payer system. You can see this across Europe. Nations that have chosen universal healthcare have weak militaries on purpose. They live on the strength of America’s military power. Without America, these countries would be vulnerable.
In a sense, with the world living off America’s military, this is where you get the push from Trumpian conservatives that the world needs to pay their fair share. That sentiment makes sense. NATO countries should pay the amounts they pledged for security. It does not make sense if you choose to wreck that order if you don’t get payments. America dictating the global terms keeps the world safe. China and Russia cannot be trusted to maintain a free and secure world. America remains to lead the free world. Letting the world to pivot around our strength keeps the world free and safe.
Look at the world today. The world is shrinking back towards a pre-WWI stance. Countries are moving towards a more isolated, closed system. Nationalism, which can take good and bad forms, is growing across Europe. We are witnessing a regression of European states as they forget the lessons of the world wars. America is the only power capable of checking this regression and fencing in Vladimir Putin.
Nothing that I’m saying here is new in political or military theory. But the debate over universal healthcare should be honest. If you choose that path, you weaken a pillar of the modern global order. You undermine American military strength because it’s impossible to pay for both universal health care and a superpower military. We can only pick one.
I choose the military. I believe there are other ways to bring health care prices down. Weakening the military and dumping massive costs on the US taxpayer is not the ideal path. A global American order is more important than any universal healthcare plan. The debate on healthcare has to encompass the full costs of increasing the scope of government to include healthcare.
Best of the internet this week
The Fourth Circuit Distorts the Law to Defeat Trump’s Travel Ban – David French, National Review
A strange madness is gripping the federal judiciary. It is in the process of crafting a new standard of judicial review, one that does violence to existing precedent, good sense, and even national security for the sake of defeating Donald Trump. We’ll call this new jurisprudence “Trumplaw,” and its latest victim is once again the so-called Trump travel ban. The perpetrator is the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
This afternoon, the Fourth Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction on Trump’s temporary halt on immigration from six majority-Muslim countries — each of which is either a state sponsor of terrorism (Sudan and Iran) or overrun with terrorist violence, with entire regions under jihadist control (Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia). Indeed, some of these countries no longer have a recognizably functional government.
Here is the essence of the court’s ruling: Trump’s campaign statements were so grotesque that they not only (1) hurt the feelings of a Muslim resident so much that he was granted standing to challenge an executive order that did not apply to him, but also (2) rendered an otherwise lawful executive order so damaging that the harm to the plaintiff’s feelings (and his wife’s possibly delayed entry into the United States) outweigh the government’s asserted national-security interest in pausing to reexamine foreign entry from hostile and war-torn countries.
Since Trumplaw is such a novel form of jurisprudence, it’s exceedingly hard to square with existing precedent. So, when existing precedent either doesn’t apply or cuts against the overriding demand to stop Trump, then it’s up to the court to yank that law out of context, misinterpret it, and then functionally rewrite it to reach the “right” result.
Time to panic? Young Republicans ditching GOP like never before – Kirstin Soltis Anderson, The Washington Examiner
It’s been reported often and for many years that Republicans are losing younger people, but what is most shocking about the Pew study is the narrow window in which this wave of defections occurred. In the relatively short time frame of December 2015 to March 2017, nearly half of all young Republicans left their party at some point, with roughly a quarter bidding the GOP adieu for good.
No other group, by age or party, wavered so much or defected in such substantial numbers.
Let’s think about where things stood in December 2015. By that time, Republicans had already had such epic and long-standing struggles with young people that I’d written a whole book about it. Additionally, Republicans had already had a bruising start to their primary season. Donald Trump was the top story in America, the center of every debate stage. At least four presidential primary debates had occurred on the GOP side.
The half of young Republicans who left the party were not ones who left in 2008 because of former President Barack Obama, or ones who left over Republican obstruction in Congress, or even ones who left over the emergence of President Trump as a front-runner in the GOP. By December 2015, those folks were long gone.
No, the half of young Republicans who wobbled or left the party altogether were die-hard enough to be on board with the GOP all the way through the moment that Trump sat well atop the primary polls.
How Far Should Societies Go to Prevent Terror Attacks? – Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
It isn’t that terrorism, or gun deaths, are unimportant; or that status quo policies are obviously correct; or that those who want to do more are necessarily incorrect; or that it is wrong to point to costs of inaction when making one’s case for action. The problem with these arguments is the implication that disagreements about what policies to pursue are rooted in some people caring enough to stop children from dying horribly, and others not so much. In fact, there are deep disagreements about the likely effects of many policies. And while the willingness to adopt some policies even though dead children will result is real, it is also universal; if you favor allowing cars to drive faster than 25 miles per hour, or allowing kids to ride in them, then you are willing to say that a certain amount of deaths are the price we pay to live as we want.
Unless you are willing to mandate tracking chips in everyone’s bodies, so that counterterrorism authorities can know the locations of all people at all times—and forbid the purchase of fertilizer, pressure cookers, bolts, and knives, all common terrorist weapons—then you too are unwilling to take measures that would stop an undetermined number of civilians from dying horribly, and you believe that “a certain amount of terrorism is just the price we have to pay to live the way we want to live.”
To put it so bluntly is politically incorrect. But to hold the contrary position, that we will pay any price to end terrorism, is morally monstrous and incompatible with the Constitution.
No free society could survive the latter posture.
Anti-Anti-Trump is the new safe space for conservatives – Charlie Sykes, The New York Times
While there are those like Sean Hannity who are reliable cheerleaders for all things President Trump, much of the conservative news media is now less pro-Trump than it is anti-anti-Trump. The distinction is important, because anti-anti-Trumpism has become the new safe space for the right.
Here is how it works: Rather than defend President Trump’s specific actions, his conservative champions change the subject to (1) the biased “fake news” media, (2) over-the-top liberals, (3) hypocrites on the left, (4) anyone else victimizing Mr. Trump or his supporters and (5) whataboutism, as in “What about Obama?” “What about Clinton?”
For the anti-anti-Trump pundit, whatever the allegation against Mr. Trump, whatever his blunders or foibles, the other side is always worse.
But the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.
The opioid epidemic tightens its grip on America – Salena Zito, The New York Post
Opiate abuse kills 91 people a day in the US, according to the CDC, and much of the problem is concentrated in Rust Belt counties where Trump won big in the presidential election.
Many voters in these states switched their support from Barack Obama and the Democrats to Trump, hoping to shock the political class into noticing the problems in their communities.
In an interview with me two weeks ago, Trump said his campaign goals remain the same.
“I told people I would help them, and I will,” he said, pointing to the bipartisan task force on opioids he created, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the driver’s seat. Christie has earned high praise for his work on addiction in New Jersey. In his budget, Trump also proposed $500 million to fund addiction prevention and treatment and recovery services.
But there are still doubts about whether he can tackle the problem in time. Trump has not yet named a drug “czar,” and after news leaked that the White House was considering deep cuts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, alarm bells went off in Congress. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed that report, saying the budget is not in its final form.
Lane needs resources to track the sources of illegal drugs, to go into schools and start educating kids on the dangers, and he needs politicians to stop saying they are going to help and to start actually doing something.
The West Is Pushing Back on Kremlin Lies — Without America – John R. Schindler, The Observer
Last week I was in Prague, participating in the STRATCOM 2017 summit—and it was a week very well spent. Sponsored by the European Values think-tank, a top-notch Czech NGO devoted to defending liberal democracies, it brought together 330 experts from 29 countries to discuss the threat to all our societies presented by Russian propaganda and disinformation.
Fittingly hosted in Prague, which as I recently explained has a serious problem with Kremlin espionage and subversion, STRATCOM 2017 is unique in its size and scope, bringing together a diverse group of security practitioners, politicians, think-tankers, journalists, and related experts from across the Western world. In Prague, they meet and speak frankly under Chatham House rules, sharing ideas and best practices. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else—and certainly nothing remotely comparable in the United States.
That’s because America is several years behind Europe in grappling with the corrosive effects of Kremlin-pushed Fake News on our societies. As the summit made abundantly clear, this is a necessary fight if we want to protect Western democracy and civil society from Vladimir Putin’s disinformation machine and his helpers in our midst. However, it’s painful to admit that Washington really isn’t in this fight at all, more than three years after Putin seized Crimea, invaded Ukraine, and initiated Cold War 2.0. This, notwithstanding that Kremlin lies in recent years have played a noxious role in misshaping American politics and elections.
Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Crippled U.S. Spying Operations – The New York Times
The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.
Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades. It set off a scramble in Washington’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies to contain the fallout, but investigators were bitterly divided over the cause. Some were convinced that a mole within the C.I.A. had betrayed the United States. Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Years later, that debate remains unresolved.
But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A.
Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.
Satire piece of the week
(click through for the picture, it’s gold)
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