Official Report on Russian Hacking Recommends Actions by Organizations

In order to understand what is happening in the world, everyone should look at the new DHS/FBI Report on the Russian hacking.  It is here.  This para introduces the chilling facts:

This Joint Analysis Report (JAR) is the result of analytic efforts between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.

The document lists extensive steps that organizations should take to protect themselves and to check for attacks.  While most of us probably do not think of ourselves as part of this world, we all need to be vigilant, if only because of the stakes.  The more active, the more potentially at threat.

“Loose systems sink democracy.”

The Post Presidency — No, No, Not That One, Not Obama’s But Trump’s

If you know anyone who still denies that Republicans have been playing with fire, ask them what they think the Trump post-presidency will look like.

Regardless of who succeeds him, there are bound to be endless undercutting tweets, constant attacks on any even mild criticism of his prior presidency or policy changes from it, absolute disregard for truth, ongoing contempt for the norms of both political and human discourse, demonization of opponents and minorities, and repeated deligitimization of the political system.

And, if Trump or his choice will have been defeated in the election, this will all be then be accompanied by continuing attempts to undercut the result and the legitimacy of the election and his successor.

Those enablers who will have brought this on themselves will know who they are.  I trust it will be some comfort to them that they will have brought it on all of us too.

Bottom line.  Regardless of whether he is removed by impeachment, the procedures of the 25th Amendment, the completion of two terms, or denial of reelection, by the time he is gone he must have no legitimacy left with any group beyond the absolute fringe.  This is the responsibility of all, but the more a group has enabled him so far, the greater their responsibility in the days to come.  The question is if and when they will realize it.

Understanding The Wisdom and Weaknesses of Trump’s Promises

Trump has surely made a lot of promises.  Maybe it is time to analyze how voters really think about promises and the failure to keep them.  Some thoughts.

1.  Many voters treat affirmative promises as symbolic rather than specific, regardless of how specific the words appear to be.

Thus, the promise to build a wall is not expected to be kept by a physical wall.  Rather it would be kept by sending a strong unqualified message of exclusion, accompanied by strong acts of the kind others would not perform.

Moreover, the phrases that go with the promise, like “beautiful,” can often be designed to signal intentional use of hyperbole.  That the hyperbole often generates overreaction on the other side is a further plus.

In other words, such promises are easy to wriggle out of, and effective at winning elections

2.  On the other hand, voters take “negative promises” i.e. promises to not do or cause something specific, very seriously indeed.

These tend to be the promises that, if broken, sink presidencies.

When George Bush senior said: “Read my lips no new taxes,” it would have been far better for him, but not the country, if he had meant it.

Although some have argued that Johnson did not promise to keep the US out of Vietnam, all agree that the public thought that he did.  Thus his failure to keep this perceived promise doomed his presidency and much else.

Most recently, Obama’s promise that no one would “lose coverage” under Obamacare, while only technically incorrect, when shown to be inacccurate, was one of the major reasons that public support did not increase significantly after implementation.

Breaches of such “negative promises” are obviously much harder to wriggle out of, because of their specificity, and because they can not usually be said to have been met in other ways.  For example, the phrase “lose coverage” could not be redefined in the public mind to “have appropriate coverage available.”  (The dishonesty of the media coverage, while breathtaking, obviously hurt, and it is illustrative that revealing the dishonesty did not mitigate the damage much.

Moreover, the breach of these “negative promises” serves to undercut not only credibility, but often perceptions of competence and reliability, and that does ever further harm.

3.  There are advantage for candidates of promises treated by voters as symbolic rather than specific.

For a candidate, having a promise treated as symbolic is obviously a huge advantage.  It means that you can get a value, a goal, an alignment of perception, communicated to your potential voters.  Moreover, it means that many voters will not think through whether they really want the specific to happen.  This cycle there is so much evidence of voters who want their candidate to promise something, because it expresses their anger, their need to be heard, or their tribalism, without really wanting it to be done.  The obvious example is Obamacare.  While many of us would regard voting for a candidate who promises something you do not want to happen as hard to understand, not so for many of these voters.

Moreover, the really skilled candidate can present a specific promise, knowing that different voting blocks will read it as a different metaphor, thereby having their cakes eaten in many flavors.  That can be achieved by the right “dog whistle words,” by techniques such as careful selection of delivery location, staging, surrogates, etc.

4.  But there are also problems, for those then seeking to govern, in promises treated by voters as symbolic rather than specific.

The problem comes when you have to govern.  It will turn out you have made a lot of maybe inconsistent promises.  While inconsistent promises that are perceived as specific are more of a problem than those perceived as metaphorical, even the metaphorical ones can create problems.  The trick is to find ways to deliver specific “achievements” that show compliance with the symbolic versions of promises, while minimizing their overall lack of consistency.  That is not so easy

5.  To attack failure to keep affirmative promises, its a mistake to focus only on the specifics of the promise, unless you can persuade that the specific failure itself is symbolic of the failure to do what was generally promised.

The Mexico wall promise is an obvious example.  Voters do not really care about the specifics of a barrier.  But they care about their jobs and getting back the perception that the USA is for them first. Failures on either front will be potentially disastrous for Trump.  But the “Us first” failure opens him up to attack more from the right.

Homework:  Using the criteria introduced above analyze the promise that follows, from the Washington post list (#282):

“Together we will make American wealthy and prosperous again. We will make America strong again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again.”

No credit given for analyzing the obvious false assumptions in the promise.

For Extra Credit:  Using the criteria, apply to all the 276 promises listed here.


Memo to World: Just Ignore Everything Trump Says

After the latest Trump brouhaha , this time the on again and off again new arms race, the lesson is simple.  We, the whole world, has to learn to completely ignore what he says, with two exceptions below.

The reason for the no-attention policy is that Trump is so all over the place, and the motives of he and his team so complex or irrational, or changing, that relying on anything will cause gross errors in strategy, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Most likely this is all intentional misdirection.  The danger of misdirection, of course, is that when people figure out what you are doing, the risk is that you are giving away what you are trying to hide.  Think of the D-Day deception.  The more a magician does with one hand, the more you know you have to pay attention to the other hand.

We all have to focus on appointments (terrifying), formal proposals (not clear yet) and other actual actions.  So, mere talk of an arms race, irrelevant.  Appointment of a warmonger or weapons contract advocate, scary and happening already, but yet cause for action.  Ordering a new weapons system, finally proof that the anxiety was right and now actionable.

If you really know the context of the words, including the bureaucratic situation, Trumps mood and context, and the interests in play, you may, repeat may, be able to make some inferences, but be really careful.

The only exception to this rule is that is words can be a guide to his mental state (relevant under the 25th Amendment) and to what can be best called his “psycho-strategy,” In other words how he intends to get inside the brains of those who would support or oppose him.

The other exception, of course, is that is his behavior opens every opportunity to de-legitimate his intellectual, moral and political authority.


Memo to Brits: Get a Constitution — and Fast

The Brits have always been so proud that we (I have dual citizenship) have no constitution.  While there are writings that attempt to capture the custom of centuries, in the end there are no formal rules.

Well, today, Politico has a US focused article that highlights the dangers.  With the heading “Trump writing his own White House rules,” and the subhead “He is shining a light on how much of the American political system is encoded in custom and how little is based in the law,” the article reports:

President-elect Donald Trump has said he might do away with regular press briefings and daily intelligence reports. He wants to retain private security while receiving secret service protection, even after the inauguration. He is encouraging members of his family to take on formal roles in his administration, testing the limits of anti-nepotism statutes. And he is pushing the limits of ethics laws in trying to keep a stake in his business.

In a series of decisions and comments since his election last month — from small and stylistic preferences to large and looming conflicts — Trump has signaled that he intends to run his White House much like he ran his campaign: with little regard for tradition. And in the process of writing his own rules, he is shining a light on how much of the American political system is encoded in custom, and how little is based in the law. .  .  .

“If it’s not written down, you can get away with it. That’s the new premise. And that’s pretty staggering,” said Trump biographer Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations that Built an Empire.”

It is a measure of how seriously this is all taken that discussions of overall permanant changes and how to minimize them are already on the table.

“It will expose how well other institutions function when one of them is operating outside the normal framework,” said attorney Robert Bauer, who served as White House counsel to President Obama. “If you have a president who is going to push hard against standing limits and expectations, are other institutions, like the Congress, going to step into the breach? Are they going to take on a more muscular role than they otherwise would?”   .  .  .  .

As the Trump transition figures out the biggest hurdle of all — how to separate Trump from his business interests at home and abroad — experts said the next best thing to following any legal requirements will be catastrophizing the consequences Trump risks opening himself up to if he does not divest and place his assets in a blind trust.

Wow, “catastrophizing.”  In other words, maximizing the overall consequences.

For the US, this highlights we are already in a very high stakes time, at least at large as during Nixon’s reign, but surely much larger, since operating on so many fronts.

For the UK, or indeed its fragmented parts if that is what is happening, the message is “write it down now, in enforceable form, with an enforcement mechanism.”  If not, regret will be in order.

Legitimacy After the Electors and The Russians Have Spoken

I have previously written to make the point that a President legally elected without a popular vote majority has legal and constitutional legitimacy but not political or moral legitimacy.

That is still true, and hopefully helpful, but no longer a sufficient analysis.  Now I offer a number of additional propositions that would apply in a reasonably healthy republic.  (The word President should apply with equal force to  a “President-elect.”

A President whose formally legal election has been conclusively proved to have been procured by crime or external influence does not enjoy legitimacy of any kind beyond the formal title.

A President, about whose election serious questions have been raised by credible US government institutions as to whether crime or external influence produced the result, is one whose legitimacy is in serious doubt.

A president faced with such serious doubt about their legitimacy should regard it as their first task to resolve that uncertainty, regardless of risk to their continued power.

The duty in this situation of other political and legal actors, and indeed of citizens, is to take every step to resolve that uncertainty, regardless of consequences to their careers or institutional roles.

During the period of uncertainty during which the facts and outcome impact are being explored, the President and other political and legal actors should refrain from actions that assume the legitimacy of the President, other than those actions immediately necessary for the defense of the nation, and those actions that were not in any way at issue in the election as to which doubt exists.

If, after exhausting all efforts to discover the facts and the impact of those facts, doubt remains about what caused the result, the President and the political and legal system should should consider the President to have only qualified legitimacy, with the President’s duty to act on behalf of all Americans being even greater than usual, their responsibility to seek consensus and common ground overwhelming, and with any claims of authority for controversial actions illegitimate.

Finally, it must be emphasized that, if we are to take our Constitution seriously, these principles should apply even when President who had a majority of the electoral college also had a majority of the popular vote, they apply with even greater force when the formal winner did not win even a plurality of the popular vote.

I would urge people to talk with those of all political persuasions about these principles, not in order to delegitimize the apparent victor, but in order to create some consensus about the principles that should guide the nation’s actions.

I believe these principles to be unassailable (although I would welcome suggested improvements).  What would surely be more in dispute is what has to be done if and when a President and/or party fail to follow them.

For Obama Choosing a Russian Hacking Response Should Be Easy — Reveal and Undercut Russia’s Lack of Transparency

After mulling it over since the election, I now think I have the core principles and approach at least initially thought through.

The basic principle, as in any conflict, is to play to your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.  (That for each side the greatest strength and greatest weakness may be the same only underlines this generalization.)

In our case, our greatest strength is in fact our transparency.  It was our overall transparency that made the leaks more effective and interesting.  The problem was that we are not yet so transparent that they had no effect.

The Russians’ (or rather the Putin’s gang’s) greatest weakness is their lack of transparency, although they would probably regard it as their greatest strength.

So, the overall strategy is simple, to take steps to increase the long term transparency of the Russian system, while showing the extent and consequences of its lack of transparency.

The exact steps matter less than the approach — which is a huge advantage, because only those with deep knowledge of the details can make informed decisions about which tactics will threaten the least risk to our current intelligence gathering activities, while causing the most internal political disruption (most of which will occur inside the system, and not in public.)

Among the steps that might be particularly appropriate:

To Increase Long Term Transparency:

Building the kind of tools that Russians (and the people that work with them) can use to communicate internally without giving themselves away to the Russian security apparatus.

Doing the same for external communications.

Making access available to the record of Russian changes of “truth,” (the “memory hole trap”.)

To Demonstrate the Current Lack of Russian Transparency, and Its Impact

Revealing details of how the Russian media is controlled, particularly with respect to internal scandals and external influence.

Revealing details of how the Russian election system is controlled.

Showing how the hacks is connected to the Russian Government, therby showing that future such steps will be counterproductive in the end.

Of course, every such step has its risks.  Secure communications can be used by terrorists.  Somehow, however, as a nation interested in both transparency and security, I am confident that we will do a far better job than the Russians.  To take no action is to risk surrender.