Welcome to 2017: heading to the polls

Last January I remember a bunch of troubling things happening shortly after the new year, like a new round of fighting in Kashmir, a new North Korean nuclear test, and another episode in the Iran-Saudi conflict, and, hey, I guess in hindsight we should have had some idea it was going to be a shittier-than-usual year. My point is that writing about those things became sort of a “welcome to 2016” series even though when the year began I hadn’t intended to write anything like that. But now I figure it’s a tradition, and even though we’ve managed to get through the first four days of the year without any potentially world-altering crises cropping up–and yes, I get that it’s early–I’m going to try it again this year. This time, again barring any major crises, I’ll look at a few things that I think might play out over the course of the year that maybe don’t have the potential to kill us all–unless one of them does kill us all, in which case, well, nobody will be around to remember I just wrote that. I’ll scatter these around here and there over the rest of the month.

For today I’d like to talk about something fairly mundane–politics, and primarily elections. Elections happen all the time, even in countries where they don’t mean much (by which I mean places like, say, Syria or Uzbekistan, but feel free to insert your American election joke here), and only very rarely do the results of any particular election wind up truly threatening mankind (feel free to insert your 2016 joke here). But there are a few elections coming up this year that may be of some importance, and there’s also a developing non-electoral political story that bears watching. To wit: Continue reading

The importance of circumspection

Cybersecurity is, along with many other things, not my forte. So if I get terms wrong here or otherwise screw up, please leave some constructive criticism in the comments.

The story of this weekend was the release of almost 20,000 emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s servers by…somebody (we’re getting to that) at some point in the past couple of months, and distributed via WikiLeaks. The emails are very embarrassing, as you’d expect, and in particular appear to confirm the suspicions of Bernie Sanders supporters (and Sanders himself) that the DNC was effectively working on behalf of Hillary Clinton throughout the primary process, when it was supposed to be a neutral party. This is not exactly revelatory, but it’s one thing for a candidate’s partisans to suspect that the party is screwing their candidate over, and quite another for tangible proof of that screwing over to suddenly surface. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has, mercifully, agreed to step down from that job after this week’s convention, something she could have done years ago to the party’s great benefit. The hope is that Sanders supporters will be mollified enough at her departure to put aside their renewed frustration with the primary process and stay in, or come in to, the Clinton camp. We’ll see.

While the Democrats actually are in disarray, the more controversial aspect of this story has to do with the provenance of the DNC hack. Ostensibly the hack was conducted by one person, “Guccifer 2.0.” The problem is that nobody really has any idea who “Guccifer 2.0” is or if he/she even exists. By contrast, the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike investigated the DNC intrusion a month ago, well before these emails were released, and concluded that they were undertaken by two adversaries, “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear,” that are known to be connected to Russian intelligence agencies. Further research since CrowdStrike announced its findings seems to support the idea that the hackers were Russian, at least to my again admittedly untrained eyes. There are also people who will tell you that WikiLeaks is basically an arm of Russian intelligence itself, though I’m unconvinced of that. The CrowdStrike piece, of whose existence I have to shamefully admit I had no idea until a couple of hours ago, strikes me as the most definitive collection of evidence in support of the new conspiracy du jour, that Russia hacked the DNC and released these emails in order to help Donald Trump, because Vladimir Putin wants Trump to be elected in November.

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall put together probably the most comprehensive collection of the evidence being used to suggest that Trump is working, albeit probably unwittingly, on behalf of Putin’s nefarious schemes for world domination. It’s a compelling collection of what are still largely circumstantial links, but the whole thing takes on a “where there’s smoke” kind of a feel. The upshot is that: Continue reading