three articles about russia

There’s a lot I’d like to say here about how absurd the american center has become with regard to Russia, but I’ll leave it to Masha Gessen and Matt Taibbi.

Russia, Trump, and Flawed Intelligence

Despite its brevity, the report makes many repetitive statements remarkable for their misplaced modifiers, mangled assertions, and missing words. This is not just bad English: this is muddled thinking and vague or entirely absent argument. Take, for example, this phrase: “Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity.” I think, though I cannot be sure, that the authors of the report are speculating that Moscow gave the products of its hacking operation to WikiLeaks because WikiLeaks is known as a reliable source. The next line, however, makes this speculation unnecessary: “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

Or consider this: “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him.” Did Putin’s desire to discredit Clinton stem from his own public statements, or are the intelligence agencies basing their appraisal of Putin’s motives on his public statements? Logic suggests the latter, but grammar indicates the former. The fog is not coincidental: if the report’s vague assertions were clarified and its circular logic straightened out, nothing would be left.

It is conceivable that the classified version of the report, which includes additional “supporting information” and sourcing, adds up to a stronger case. But considering the arc of the argument contained in the report, and the principal findings (which are apparently “identical” to those in the classified version), this would be a charitable reading. An appropriate headline for a news story on this report might be something like, “Intel Report on Russia Reveals Few New Facts,” or, say, “Intelligence Agencies Claim Russian Propaganda TV Influenced Election.” Instead, however, the major newspapers and commentators spoke in unison, broadcasting the report’s assertion of Putin’s intent without examining the arguments.

The Russia Story is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media

Hypothesize for a moment that the “scandal” here is real, but in a limited sense: Trump’s surrogates have not colluded with Russians, but have had “contacts,” and recognize their political liability, and lie about them. Investigators then leak the true details of these contacts, leaving the wild speculations to the media and the Internet. Trump is enough of a pig and a menace that it’s easy to imagine doing this and not feeling terribly sorry that your leaks have been over-interpreted.

If that’s the case, there are big dangers for the press. If we engage in Times-style gilding of every lily the leakers throw our way, and in doing so build up a fever of expectations for a bombshell reveal, but there turns out to be no conspiracy – Trump will be pre-inoculated against all criticism for the foreseeable future.

The press has to cover this subject. But it can’t do it with glibness and excitement, laughing along to SNL routines, before it knows for sure what it’s dealing with. Reporters should be scared to their marrow by this story. This is a high-wire act and it is a very long way down. We might want to leave the jokes and the nicknames be, until we get to the other side – wherever that is.

Russia: The Conspiracy Trap

Russia has become the universal rhetorical weapon of American politics. Calls for the release of Trump’s tax returns—which the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) hopes to have subpoenaed as a result of its lawsuit alleging the violation of the Emoluments Clause—are now framed in terms of the need to reveal Trump’s financial ties to Russia. And the president himself is recapturing the campaign debate’s “No, you are the puppet” moment on Twitter, trying to smear Democratic politicians Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with Russia.

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.

More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. He may sacrifice more of his people, as he sacrificed Flynn, as further leaks discredit them. Various investigations may drag on for months, drowning out other, far more urgent issues. In the end, Congressional Republicans will likely conclude that their constituents don’t care enough about Trump’s Russian ties to warrant trying to impeach the Republican president. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables—with six Democrats voting to confirm Ben Carson for Housing, for example, and ten to confirm Rick Perry for Energy. According to the Trump plan, each of these seems intent on destroying the agency he or she is chosen to run—to carry out what Steve Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” As for Sessions, in his first speech as attorney general he promised to cut back civil rights enforcement and he has already abandoned a Justice Department case against a discriminatory Texas voter ID law. But it was his Russia lie that grabbed the big headlines.

writing and offlining

I’ve been feeling good for a few days now. Maybe especially since finishing the novella I was writing, though the title has already changed since writing that post. But I’ve been feeling good and positive. Chelsea’s parents are here, which is a good time, and my cat’s just being my cat, so that’s always awesome as well.

Been reading a lot of poetry, something I basically did not read at all last year, which is sort of odd. But I suppose I’m making up for it this year.

Don’t know what to say, really. Just feeling good, happy, productive.

I started a new novel today, too. Just finished the first chapter, even. It’s about terrorism and systemic violence and systemic power. It’s inspired a lot by the Tsarnaev brothers, oddly. I read Masha Gessen’s excellent book on the Boston bombing and it really got me thinking about all kinds of things, connecting the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and especially the way the FBI treated his friends or people he barely knew, to the way governments treat minority groups, dissidents, and certain demographics when they commit a crime. Also reminded me how much that event influenced my writing back in 2013. I think I wrote three stories directly because of that bombing.

It’s going to be a tricky novel. A very complex and complicated one. It’s going to require a lot of thought and planning. Speaking to Kyle Muntz about it this morning made me realize it’s definitely a novel, and possibly a very long one, and not a novella.

So I know I talked about my next project being about anarchism, but I’ve had pretty good luck with these recent novellas. So I’m deciding to just jump into the shiny new idea, rather than sit on it for a few months, like I used to.

And so I wrote the first chapter, and I’m extremely pleased with how it came out. Gives me more confidence to tackle this project. Also, I’ve decided not to share a whole lot of information about it while I’m writing it, which is sort of atypical of me, since I sort of use this site, in part, to dump extraneous thoughts about what I’m working on while I’m working on it.

Sort of unrelated but also kind of related, I’ve uninstalled the twitter app from my phone, so now the only social media on my phone is instagram. This is probably a dumb thing to talk about, but I did the same thing with the facebook app when I decided to cut down on my facebook time sometime last year or the year before. It was successful, since not having easy access to social media in my pocket will create enough of a barrier of access that I’m unlikely to devote a lot of passive time to it, which was all too easy when it was just a few thumb taps away before. Along with that, I’ve logged out of facebook and twitter on my computers, because, again, that little barrier of access (insignificant as it seems) is typically enough to keep me from spending a lot of passive time on either site.

Because passive time is kind of my disease. Probably most people suffer from it a bit. Instead of just not doing things, we’ll tab or thumb over to facebook or twitter and just start scrolling. Hours can get used up that way. I’ve mostly found it makes me less happy, which is not ideal.

I found, too, that when I cut down on facebook, it usually just means I spend more time on twitter, so this is kind of a symbolic way for me to back off both social media sites.

Intentionality is something Chelsea and I talk about a lot, and we’re both trying to be better about it. We want to be more intentional with our time and activities, since it’s so easy to just sit on a couch watching netflix while I have a laptop open and I’m scrolling through whatever. It’s not like it’s a terrible thing, but it often makes me feel like I lost time by being so passive about my evening, just letting various screens dictate my time.

And so this is part of it. Trying to avoid the passive scrolling and use that time for anything else. Like drawing maps, learning origami, writing, reading, or just actually watching the shows we put on netflix, instead of just creating a background noise to our passivity.

But, yeah, I’ll probably be offline a bit more.

You won’t miss me, because how many of you are even reading this? A blog is like a silent cry into a void! And mine’s no different.

Anyrate, I’ll be writing about terrorism for a while. Hopefully it doesn’t blow up on me the way Songs of my Mother did, but I do think it might be around 100,000 words, which is a lot of words to write.

I’ll let you know when I finish.