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Est. April 5, 2002
June 29, 2017 - Issue 705

Russia and the U.S.
Spy Vs. Spy?


"The hacking affected the election that gave
the world Trump, an often-failed billionaire
businessman who had no interest in politics,
other than how and when it affected his
businesses and curbed or enhanced his bottom line. 
Not a very auspicious way to enter the political field."

Kid’a you good lookin’, but you don’t know what’s a cookin’…

-From the 1950s hit song “Mambo Italiano” by Rosemary Clooney

Go no further than the U.S. Congress to find hundreds of representatives of the people who do not seem to know what’s cooking (and lots of them are not that good looking) in the netherworld of spying and hacking or otherwise meddling in the affairs of other nations.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of news outlets and websites that try to explain how, or if, the Russians have hacked computer systems of the nation or states or the Democratic Party in the approach to last November’s presidential election that resulted in a political neophyte who has become the president, Donald Trump.

So-called “intelligence agencies” of the federal government and untold numbers of other have been trying to determine the extent of the hacking by Russia of various computerized systems in the U.S. and to what extent, if any, the hacking affected the election that gave the world Trump, an often-failed billionaire businessman who had no interest in politics, other than how and when it affected his businesses and curbed or enhanced his bottom line. Not a very auspicious way to enter the political field.

During the Republican primaries, he was aided by other know-nothing politicians and a ragtag bunch of Tea Partiers, who wanted to crash the big party. Not to be left out, though, the media gave him untold amounts of free air time, as he went from coast to coast, making really stupid promises (most of which even competent politicians could not deliver) and lying at every stop. It's what he lives by. That, and the art of the “deal,” one of his favorite topics.

Trump was so outrageous in his public statements and comments that he received more free television time than other candidates who paid for their time. The more outrageous he became, the greater his following, and it was not just working-class folks who supported him, but his support also came from the middle class, who rightly felt threatened by their slipping position in the economics of the nation.

The race, once Hillary Clinton had secured the Democratic nomination, was supposed to be a shoo-in for her. All the polls said it, but the big poll, the general election, was a shocker and though she won the popular vote, she lost the Electoral College vote and the White House went to the candidate who thought running the country would be a “piece of cake.” But it was just as complicated as he discovered providing health care for the nation was complicated. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” he told a meeting of governors last February. Nobody? Probably most of the governors had an inkling about how difficult it is to provide health care to 320 million in America. As usual, he did not.

But Clinton immediately began blaming numerous individuals and organizations and even her own party for her loss. But the biggest culprit, she indicated, was the Russians. That’s how the Russian hacking furor started. Ever since, the country has been seething with charges about hacking, domestic and foreign, and the blame for the Democrats’ loss has been the big story since, regardless of the condition of the nation and the people.

The U.S. government claimed that its 17 “intelligence agencies” came up with the conclusion with “high confidence” that Russia hacked the 2016 presidential election, but so far, there has been no evidence about any details. They used the “high confidence” label to cover their lack of specific details of the hacking. And, there were reports in the media that the report from the U.S. agencies was done by three or four individuals, involving only three or four of the 17 agencies.

Charges have been flying since then, recalling Mad Magazine’s regular feature, “Spy vs. Spy,” in which after a while, no one knew who the spy was spying for or against. Although experts have claimed that there were no instances of actual tampering with voting machines that would have affected the outcome of elections, it is not clear that such is possible, although there have been suspicions of voting machine tampering in earlier elections, since electronic devices have been used to cast ballots.

The Washington Post this week published a long piece that purported to explain the hacking and revealed that Russian hacking was known in the last year of the Obama Administration, which, according to the paper, only did minimal damage control and did not raise it as a national issue. For that, President Obama was sharply criticized, especially by Trump, who tried to use that fact to shunt some of the blame onto Obama. His own relationships in Russia may only be financial, but those relationships and his financial investments and arrangements in many other countries are sitting conflicts of interests that await investigation by government agencies, but not likely until after the Russia affair blows over.

Some may think that the “Russia affair” should be the primary agenda item for the whole country, but there are dozens of other things that cry for investigation, not the least of which is the Republican proposal in both the Senate and the House for a health care bill that would deprive 22 million off their health insurance, which the GOP would have you believe this is universal health care. Whose pockets are being lined? Why, they told us. It would save money by throwing working class and middle class families out of the health care program and give the savings to the top 10 percent. In Trump’s view, his “Trumpcare” cuts are vital to keep money flowing into his pocket and the pockets of those in his economic class.

The flap over Russian interference in a U.S. election is serious, as would most interferences in the electoral process, one of the foundation aspects of a free and open democracy. But, until it is known how the Russians or anyone could meddle and actually change the outcome of an election, it must be placed in the same context of the meddling by Americans in our own political system. Let us start with the pollution of elections by unlimited money of billionaires and millionaires that turn elections any way they want them to be. Political observers in the U.S. speak freely of oligarchs in other countries, but the oligarchs in this country can sway elections as they wish, right now.

Then there is the problem of voter suppression, at which Republicans have become experts. There is plenty of evidence that their practice of purging the voter rolls by the hundreds of thousands of (mostly) black and other minority voters has readily turned elections to their bought candidates. The GOP can do it with ease, because they have the money or can turn to their benefactors for any amount of money they need to win elections. And, because Republican candidates have the money to run in needlessly expensive elections, they can swamp the voters with scurrilous attack ads, with virtually no response by other candidates, who cannot compete in the money gathering. And, because incumbents have great power, there are places that are gerrymandered to the degree that they can’t lose. Also, the duopoly of the Republican and Democratic Parties in most elections keeps most third or fourth parties effectively off the ballot. Not only do the smaller parties not have money, they do not get the exposure of their ideas and platforms that the duopoly candidates get in televised debates, since minor parties are excluded from national and most other debates.

The electorate is not fooled by those who would have the people believe that this is still a democracy. That’s why about half of eligible voters cast ballots in a typical election. They are not wrong, according to studies that show exactly that the people are right: They have little effect on national (or state) policy by casting their ballots or participating in opinion polls. A study released in 2014, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, showed that the people’s instincts about democracy in the U.S. tended to be right. In the study, released through Cambridge University Press and the American Political Science Association, they found, “A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. We report on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.”

One conclusion was that, “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.”

In a word, that means that the people have very little influence on the direction of their government, either in domestic or foreign policy, despite having the vote. But the rich and powerful corporations are the ones directing the path of the nation. If that isn’t subversion of democracy, then subversion is not possible. In other countries, it would be called oligarchy. If the U.S. is not an oligarchy yet, that condition is a short trip around the corner. There is no need to look to foreign powers to “hack” the democracy here. It’s already been hacked.

Anyone who wants an example of what oligarchy brings, look at the Senate version of the “national health care” bill that was withdrawn this week, because the votes weren’t there. Yes, even some of the Republicans were ready to vote against it. But, the billionaires, the corporations, and others who pretty much control U.S. politics also were against the bill, because it was not cruel enough. Twenty-two million kicked out of health care coverage was just not enough. For now, Trumpcare will have to go back for a remake. We can look forward to more of the same.

It’s rather pitiful that the U.S. appears to be a giant, floundering to find how a smaller country (Russia) has been able to outwit it in the game of international spying (now hacking). Does the U.S. not have the expertise to detect attempted hacks or thwart them, or is it outdone by another country? It does not speak well of American expertise. If it were possible to shame the oligarchs, they should be ashamed. Don’t look for that. They are shameless. And, don’t look for changes soon.

The U.S. like a bus full of kids and the first-grader way in the back, Donald, has been invited to drive the bus to school. Strap on your non-existent seat belts! Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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