Just when I thought I couldn't be more disturbed about Donald Trump becoming president, an article appeared in the October 1, 2018 issue of The New Yorker that got me increasingly angry and upset.
Because Jane Mayer, who wrote "Russia Won" (online title: "How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump"), describes in convincing detail the findings of Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar with solid credentials who wrote a soon-to-be-released book, Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President -- What We Don't, Can't, and Do Know.
Download How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump | The New Yorker
Here's a few paragraphs from The New Yorker piece that give an overview of why Jamieson is confident that Russia made the difference in the 2016 presidential election.
She is seventy-one, and has spent forty years studying political speeches, ads, and debates. Since 1993, she has directed the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at Penn, and in 2003 she co-founded FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan watchdog group. She is widely respected by political experts in both parties, though her predominantly male peers have occasionally mocked her scholarly intensity, calling her the Drill Sergeant.
As Steven Livingston, a professor of political communication at George Washington University, puts it, “She is the epitome of a humorless, no-nonsense social scientist driven by the numbers. She doesn’t bullshit. She calls it straight.”
Indeed, when I met recently with Jamieson, in a book-lined conference room at the Annenberg Center, in Philadelphia, and asked her point-blank if she thought that Trump would be President without the aid of Russians, she didn’t equivocate. “No,” she said, her face unsmiling. Clearly cognizant of the gravity of her statement, she clarified, “If everything else is a constant? No, I do not.”
Jamieson said that, as an academic, she hoped that the public would challenge her arguments. Yet she expressed confidence that unbiased readers would accept her conclusion that it is not just plausible that Russia changed the outcome of the 2016 election—it is “likely that it did.”
An airtight case, she acknowledges, may never be possible. In the introduction to her new book, she writes that any case for influence will likely be similar to that in a civil legal trial, “in which the verdict is rendered not with the certainty that e=mc2 but rather based on the preponderance of evidence.”
But, she points out, “we do make most of life’s decisions based on less-than-rock-solid, incontrovertible evidence.” In Philadelphia, she noted to me that “we convict people on probabilities rather than absolute certainty, and we’ve executed people based on inferences from available evidence.” She argued that “the standard of proof being demanded” by people claiming it’s impossible to know whether Russia delivered the White House to Trump is “substantially higher than the standard of proof we ordinarily use in our lives.”
Her case is based on a growing body of knowledge about the electronic warfare waged by Russian trolls and hackers—whom she terms “discourse saboteurs”—and on five decades’ worth of academic studies about what kinds of persuasion can influence voters, and under what circumstances.
Democracies around the world, she told me, have begun to realize that subverting an election doesn’t require tampering with voting machines. Extensive studies of past campaigns, Jamieson said, have demonstrated that “you can affect people, who then change their decision, and that alters the outcome.” She continued, “I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.”
The effect of such manipulations could be momentous in an election as close as the 2016 race, in which Clinton got nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump, and Trump won the Electoral College only because some eighty thousand votes went his way in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
In two hundred and twenty-four pages of extremely dry prose, with four appendixes of charts and graphs and fifty-four pages of footnotes, Jamieson makes a strong case that, in 2016, “Russian masterminds” pulled off a technological and political coup. Moreover, she concludes, the American media “inadvertently helped them achieve their goals.”
There's a lot of interesting, and depressing, facts in The New Yorker story, and Jamieson's book surely contains many more. Some have been reported previously, such as the 126 million Facebook users reached by Russian disinformation posts, and the 50,000 impostor accounts acknowledged by Twitter.
Since, as noted above, only about 80,000 votes in three states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin -- gave the election to Trump, Joel Benenson, a Clinton pollster, is quoted as saying that 680,000 votes were cast in those three states for third-party candidates. So if only 12% of those third-party voters were persuaded not to vote for Clinton by Russian propaganda, the story says that Jamieson's theory could be valid.
Near the end of the story, I read about something I wasn't at all aware of, even though it was reported by the Washington Post six months after the election.
In 2016 the FBI had gotten unverified Russian intelligence describing emails that supposedly were written by Loretta Lynch, Attorney General in the Obama administration, and sent to someone in the Clinton campaign. The fake emails said that Lynch promised to go easy on Clinton, as regards her infamous email server, I presume.
FBI Director James Comey was worried that even though the emails had been assessed as 'junk," if they became public conservatives would make a big deal out of them. So Comey decided to bypass his superior, Lynch, and announce on his own the decision not to charge Clinton with any wrongdoing regarding how she handled her emails.
Mayer's story says:
Nick Merrill, a former Clinton-campaign spokesman, describes Comey’s actions as “mind-blowing.” He said of the intelligence impugning Lynch, “It was a Russian forgery. But Comey based major decisions in the Justice Department on Russian disinformation because of the optics of it! The Russians targeted the F.B.I., hoping they’d act on it, and then he went ahead and did so.”
Thus not only were the Russians successful in swaying voters to either vote for Trump, or not vote for Clinton, they also succeeded in influencing Comey to hold his press conference where he talked at length, often in ways that made Clinton look bad, about the decision not to charge Clinton.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic representative who is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told me that, if you take Comey at his word that the fake intelligence drove his decision to publicly censor Clinton in the first place—there are skeptics who suspect that Comey’s grandstanding moralism was a bigger factor—then “it probably was the most measurable” and “the most significant way in which the Russians may have impacted the outcome of the election.”
Bottom line: when Jamieson's book is released on October 3 (according to Amazon), it will be in the midst of the contentious effort of Republicans to confirm Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
The book will remind Americans that most likely it was Russian interference in the 2016 election that gave Trump his victory, and ability to shape the Supreme Court for decades to come. Thus both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are illicit nominees, which makes Michael Avenatti's call to enlarge the Court to eleven members when the Democrats return to power look quite fair.
Here I am, back again from another segment of the political spectrum.
I doubt the Russians made a big difference in the election. Trump won for reasons people on the Clinton side still don't understand. In a few words: People were fed up with the status quo and Trump sure wasn't that.
Clinton won the popular vote by a few million but Trump won the Electoral College vote. No one can argue that it was not a close election. Essentially, about half of America voted for Trump. Were all these people bamboozled by the Russians?
Regardless of that, let's see if Trump has done well as president. Here is a letter written to LeBron James, the basketball star, who has spoken harshly about Trump. I didn't spend hours fact-checking everything but I think it is a good one. Trump haters will agree with at least some of it...
August 6, 2018
Mr. Lebron James
The Los Angeles Lakers
2275 E. Mariposa Ave.
El Segundo, CA 90245
Dear Mr. James,
No one in my circles discusses French Modernist artists. That comforts me. Such a conversation would expose me as an illiterate on French Modernism, just as I am an illiterate on how to cook.
When I know nothing of subjects, my mouth stays closed. That's at least one difference in us. You are an economics illiterate. You prove it often. The dishonest "reporters" who cover you want to be your buddy. They won't embarrass you by being honest journalists and treating your words as economics illiteracy.
When you call Trump "a bum," none of them will tell you that statistics rank him as one of our best presidents for black Americans. His tax cuts and freeing us from absurd regulations have resulted in -- after only 18 months -- the lowest unemployment numbers ever for Hispanic and black Americans, and one of the lowest numbers for women.
DURING THOSE 18 MONTHS, TRUMP'S POLICIES CREATED ABOUT FOUR TIMES THE NUMBER OF MANUFACTURING JOBS CREATED DURING THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION'S LAST 18 MONTHS. Remember when Obama mistakenly told us "Our lost manufacturing jobs are not coming back." Maybe manufacturing job growth depends on a president who knows what he's doing.
As a professional journalist, I cringe at some of Trump's buffoonery, like repeating sentences and wearing us out with "great," "fantastic" and other empty adjectives. He is often coarse. He was not my candidate. But there's no question his policies have helped many more minority Americans than Obama. It's not even close. Today, he's working to free many black and Hispanic prisoners who, in his opinion, have been in prison too long for relatively minor offenses. Are you aware of that effort?
You need to look up Gross Domestic Product, adjusted for inflation, and learn what it means to everyday Americans. Learn what one GDP point means to employment, and see how Trump has kept the number climbing.
Your buddy Obama? In addition to being our worst foreign affairs president and worst military commander-in-chief, his economic numbers all deserved an "F." He is our ONLY eight-year president who failed to give us at least one 3% or higher year of adjusted GDP growth. EVERY other president achieved at least one year of 4.28% or higher growth. Aided by Vietnam spending, Johnson had an 8.48 year. The best peacetime year -- 7.83 -- belonged to Reagan. And Obama couldn't even score a 3!!! Look it up.
You say you would speak to Obama but not Trump? How tragically uninformed you are. Obama had BY FAR the worst debt accumulation record of all our presidents. His economic blunders added about $9 trillion to our debt. NO OTHER PRESIDENT EVEN CAME CLOSE. That indebtedness will fall to you and your children.
Poor families suffered most. Obama's awful job numbers forced a record number of people to take food stamps. Black household income under Obama fell steeply as black unemployment rose. Look that up, too.
But the worst part of what Trump inherited is that Obama, like Bush and Clinton before him, thought bribes and sweet talk were the best ways to deal with North Korea. As the North Koreans neared being able to wipe out Los Angeles with a nuclear-tipped missile, Trump became the first president to stand up boldly to the rogue nation. Notice North Korea, because of Trump, has stopped launching missiles over Japan? Notice North Korea has released political prisoners? Notice North Korea has begun to return remains of U.S. Service members? Absent sturdy spines, Clinton, Bush and Obama could not approach those major achievements.
Obama naively bribed the planet’s worst terrorist nation, Iran, with what was supposed to become a $150 billion handout. Did Obama not know many of those U.S. Tax dollars would help fund Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism? Of course he did. He just didn't care.
Remember the $800 billion of your and everyone else's tax dollars in his early stimulus for "shovel-ready jobs." Most of those tax dollars went to political cronies. He handed $500 million to Solyndra, a solar company run by boosters. The company soon went bankrupt. Our half-billion in tax money vanished with it.
Trump is often obnoxious, but people with courage can have that hangup. Obama always talked big, then feebly stood by when Putin infringed on Ukraine and annexed Crimea. But Obama's most cowardly move came when he warned Assad not to cross "the red line" in Syria. When Obama's warning was ignored, which Assad knew would happen, Obama did nothing. Does that make him a "bum?"
It makes me sad that you, as someone with a national voice would be so ignorant of economics, and also presidential decisions. I encourage you to do more reading and thinking as you watch the nation's GDP numbers rise and minority employment rise.
* Read about "Right To Try," which frees terminally ill people to sign a lawsuit waiver and take an experimental drug that might not be approved for many years. Democrats fought this sensible plan for years because it would cost them donations.
* Read about a Navy Obama left to Trump that struggled with about half its carrier aircraft unsafe to fly.
* Read about Trump's giving the VA the right to fire any employee who neglects or abuses a patient.
* Read about Trump's courage in challenging, actually demanding that, NATO partners to pay their fair share rather than keep mooching off the U.S.
You might also read the wisdom of two of the world’s brightest people, black intellectuals Dr. Thomas Sowell and Dr. Walter Williams. They have written many books. Sowell and Williams’ integrity, remarkable insights and clarity of expression cause their common sense to soar off the page to readers.
Or, you could ignore vital Trump decisions and remain an illiterate on both presidential achievement and economics. If you disdain knowledge and keep calling Trump or any other U.S. president a bum, people will begin to wonder who's the real bum.
Posted by: tucson | October 02, 2018 at 10:53 AM
haha yeah the $10,000 spent by russians on fackbook ads determined the election, how could poor hillary and her 1 billion dollars she spent on the campaign and having 90% of the media in the bag for her ever compete with that?????
Posted by: Salemander | October 02, 2018 at 11:23 PM
Now that Grassley has made the "found no hint of misconduct" remark and Collins has stated that “it appears to be a very thorough investigation”, a few more people will get a feel for the big picture. The cruel attacks on Ford and the way immigrant children are being treated prove the shameless indecency and the "true believer" level of devotion of those who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.
While our democratic form of government has lasted much longer than other comparable governments and may survive the current crisis, we might take comfort in the knowledge that there have been beloved dictators and kings - were it not for the fact that those leaders had something called "wisdom". Certainly no conscious and honest person would personify Trump as wise. Politics has entirely become marketing and the oligarch controlled media is effectively being used as data based advertising for their products. The current government is gaining more power every day and thoughts of reversal by democratic means may be a naive result of people's need for hope. We are now living in a country that closely resembles 1938 Germany. The overt racism of those in power have already established their easily identifiable targets for hatred (not so much Jews this time - Hispanics and Muslims would be the primary victims of choice). The massive "detention centers" (don't ya just love euphemisms?) that are now being constructed can easily be converted to "concentration camps" and "killing centers" if a major incident (real or contrived) brings about the suspension of all rights - with the support of the rubber stamp Supreme Court that will soon be established. The military, along with right wing militias and law enforcement, would enthusiastically and efficiently carry out whatever orders they receive. What may have been a well intentioned effort by gun rights supporters to arm themselves against potential tyranny is naive to the point of ridiculousness. No private groups could resist modernized government forces - to do so would be suicidal.
I hope I am wrong and I do believe that our Constitution is one of the greatest documents in history and if any country has the capacity to stop what is happening, it is this one. Nevertheless, the behavior of a cornered rat is just plain unpredictable. It will strike out at anything within its reach...imagining threats where they may not exist (I hear tucson thinking that I am the rat).
I once had a job working for the US government where I worked alongside Russians. They all had stories of the abject poverty and lack of rights that defined their lives. They also told of the atrocities that they were forced to carry out as conscripted military personnel. They dealt with the inevitable sense of guilt and PTSD by drinking (sometimes they drank vodka - they liked vodka - they still like vodka). But they found ways to be happy and supportive of each other and they survived. Also, I recently watched a video of a man in the war zone called Damascus. He was happy and optimistic. Interestingly, he was thankful for Trump's recent small gesture of attack (his desription) in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons - he condemned Obama for his lack of involvement.
(Hi tucson - I had a much milder version of this piece that I prepared in response to one of your recent, well thought out, and extensive posts but I hit some button by mistake and it evaporated into the ether so this is the follow up that was inspired by the Grassley and Collins statements. Surely even you must be offended by the blatant disregard for truth that they represent).
Posted by: Kurt | October 04, 2018 at 11:51 AM
I understand the frustration of losing a comment that you had put effort into and were satisfied with.
You're right, based on your comment above you do appear to me to be "the rat" you mentioned.
There is an impasse of perception between us that would be almost impossible to bridge with words on a blog. For example, I don't see border security as racism and hatred of Hispanics and Muslims. I see it as border security. Just border security. It's good to know the intentions of people coming into the country in the same way it's good to know the intentions of someone knocking on your door before you let them in. But you won't agree with that logic. You look at things through a different lens than I do. I don't understand you and you don't understand me. I think your lens is distorted. You think mine is distorted. What can we do about that? It's a crisis going on in America. It's dismaying.
I refer you to my comments posted under the thread "Everybody was talking to someone else at the Kavanagh hearing" as a response to part of what you said above.
Posted by: tucson | October 04, 2018 at 04:46 PM