Peace process at risk from whom?

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Actually, the Provos pretty much have gone away.

 

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams warned today that any coalition deal between Britain’s grievously wounded Conservative Party and the Democratic Unionist Party would put the Northern Ireland peace process at risk.

Given that the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which Adams denies ever being part of despite all evidence to the contrary, has been on ceasefire for more than 20 years, to call this a hollow threat seems generous at best.

Or, as Adams frequent critic, former Republican prisoner and blanket man Thomas ‘Dixie’ Elliot, put it on Twitter:

Certainly there was a time when the kind of warning Adams gave carried real menace. But that was before 2005, when the Provos stood the vast majority of their activists down and dismantled the bulk of the operational capabilities that allowed them to prosecute their war against Britain and the Northern Irish statelet.

While command, intelligence, and internal security structures were allowed to be remain mostly intact after 2005, as British security services were compelled to acknowledge in 2015, what armed capability the PIRA retained in the years since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement has been largely used to cow – and occasionally quiet – opposition to the political direction taken by Adams and the leadership of Provisional Republican Movement.¹

None of this is to say that a deal between the Tories and the DUP is a good thing for Northern Ireland in general or for the stability of the Six Counties in particular.  It’s just that the time is long past when Adams or any other leading figure in the Provisional Movement could credibly warn that  peace there is threatened if they don’t get their way.

This is not to say that the peace that has held for two decades is assured. There are any number of armed Republican dissident groups (sometimes derisively referred to as “alphabet soup” IRAs) fully capable of causing some degree of mayhem even if not on the horrific scale of the Troubles. And Loyalist paramilitaries like the Ulster Defense Association, while also on ceasefire, never went so far as the PIRA in dismantling their structures and remain active to this day, primarily menacing their own communities.

But it’s really hard to say what Adams is driving at in his warning. The Provisionals are not about go back to war, and Adams and his comrades neither speak for nor have influence over the armed groups that could.

So while Sinn Fein and its supporters have good reason to vigorously protest any arrangement that further empowers the DUP, they have little actual leverage to apply.  Claims of a threatened peace process hardly qualify anymore.

¹I go into some detail on this in research I published last summer in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence.

The Comey hearing — live blog

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Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee begins in a few minutes. Once it starts I will post live updates.

You can watch C-SPAN’s live stream here.

I haven’t tried this before, so it will either be really cool, or a total and complete disaster that I will end up deleting part way through. Check back often and see which it is.

Before it gets started, you can read his opening statement here. Updates will be posted below.

***

Time for the hearing has expired. Let me try to figure out what I think we’ve learned:

  • Comey read Trump’s character as fundamentally dishonest, a liar that he needed to protect himself and the FBI from. The president’s subsequent actions and statements demonstrate that Comey got it right.
  • Comey was being narrowly literal when he told Trump that the president was not, at the time, personally under investigation. But he knew, and reiterated repeatedly today, that this very likely could change as the investigation into the relationship between Trump’s campaign for the White House and the Russian government moved forward. Asked if Trump himself colluded with the Russians, Comey said he could not answer that in open session.
  • Comey did not inform the White House that the president’s requests concerning Flynn and the Russian investigation were out of line because those requests themselves were of “investigative interest” and he didn’t want to risk warning the White House.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be in this way deeper than we have known up to now.

More is sure to come in the days ahead.

12:35 pm — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is now asking questions, rather incoherently to be honest, about the FBI’s investigation about Hillary Clinton’s emails. Even Comey is having trouble figuring out just what McCain is getting at. Wow, McCain looks and sounds bad, physically but especially mentally. Which is not exactly what I thought I’d be writing when McCain’s turn came.

12:28 pm — Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) gets Comey back to the main point: That Comey took Trump’s requests as direction to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. And another critical point gets repeated by Comey: That any investigation of the campaign could naturally come back and touch the candidate on whose behalf that campaign was being conducted. In short, just because Trump was not personally under investigation at the time DID NOT MEAN that he might not be a target of investigation in the future.

12:20 pm — Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) comes back to an earlier point raised by another Republican. If nothing Trump did slowed down the investigation, what’s the big deal? Oh, I don’t know, maybe something to do with our fundamental norms of justice and the rule of law in a democracy?

12:13 pm — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) asks a series of questions whether anyone connected to Trump campaign tried to hide, encrypt, or destroy evidence of communications with the Russians. Once again, Comey says he can’t answer that in an open setting. But she seems very, very interested in what AG Sessions knew about the Russia investigation both before and after he recused himself.

12:08 pm — Cotton: Did Flynn lie to you or to other FBI agents? Comey: I don’t think I can answer that in the open. Cotton: Did you ever close the Flynn investigation? Comey: I don’t think I can answer that openly.

12:05 pm — But Comey will not say any of this amounts to obstruction of justice by President Trump. “That’s up to Bob Mueller,” the independent counselor.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) wants all of the memos Comey wrote about his interactions with Trump turned over to Congress. Comey says sure.

Another bombshell by implication — Cotton: Do you believe Trump colluded with Russia? Comey: That’s a question I don’t think I can answer in open session.

11:58 — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) asks Comey if the president ever expressed any interest in or curiosity about Russia’s intervention in the election. Answer? Nope, not after the initial briefing.

So what was Trump interested in? Whether he was personally under investigation. What wasn’t the president interested in? What the Russians did.

11:53 — Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) seems to imply that Trump’s “light touch” on the Flynn question is no big deal if it didn’t slow down the FBI’s work. Comey’s take is very different. Points to the “chilling effect” it would have had for his investigators to know that the president had kicked Comey’s direct superiors out of the Oval Office before looking him in the eye and asking him to let the Flynn investigation go.

11:47 — Comey: The Russian ambassador, Kislyak, who met with Flynn, Sessions, and son-in-law-in-chief Jared Kushner, is not himself an intelligence agent. He just knows everything about Russian intelligence operations in the US.

11:42 — Sen. Angus King (I-ME) finally turns the discussion back to Russian meddling instead of Trump, why Comey had a friend leak his Flynn memo. But it doesn’t last. Now asks Comey if he the director had asked for the dinner meeting with Trump, as the president had claimed in a TV interview. Comey says no, the president’s claim is not accurate. Q: Is that an accurate statement? A: “No.”

King then gets Comey to make the obvious point: Just because Trump was not under investigation when Comey was director doesn’t mean he isn’t under investigation now.

11:34 — Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) — One more Republican getting Comey to AGAIN say that Trump was not personally under investigation. Clearly this is the agreed talking point.

11:31 — Let’s recap the bombshells so far:

  1. Comey memorialized his meetings with Trump in detailed memos because he knew Trump was a liar and wanted to protect himself and the FBI.
  2. Sessions involvement in the Russia affair cannot be discussed in open session.
  3. Comey didn’t want to warn the White House that the things Trump was asking for could be the subject of investigation.

11:24 — In addition to “investigatory interest,” Comey didn’t want to warn the White House.

11:16 — The Sessions point is very, very interesting. Two things: First, Comey can’t talk openly about reasons why the AG had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. That cannot be good. Is Sessions a target of the independent investigator, or a subject of a counter-intelligence investigation? That later now seems likely. Second point: Comey himself asks a very interesting question — if Sessions had recused himself from Russia-related issues, why was he involved in firing the FBI director?

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) now asking the questions. Yet another Republican senator who seems deeply invested in hearing Comey say, one more time, that Trump was not personally under investigation at the time of his firing. Why?

Collins now wants to know why Comey didn’t have someone tell Trump that his questions and requests were out of line and how things are supposed to be done? Comey says, first, we did. But second, because Trump’s requests were of “investigatory interest.”

11:11 — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR): Why did you and the rest of the FBI leadership keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of the loop? Comey: There were things which I can’t talk  about in open session concerning Sessions and Russia that helped influence the decision. This seems a bombshell to me, but apparently Wyden didn’t notice because there’s no follow up.

11:01 — Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) up next. His questioning is a little underwhelming. In earlier hearings Rubio has been focused, probing, and relatively aggressive. I’m struggling to figure out what he’s trying to accomplish this time around.

Seems to be carrying water for Trump, which is frankly surprising. Rubio wants to know why the fact that Trump was not under personal investigation was never leaked given that virtually everything else in this case seems to have. Comey basically shrugs his shoulders.

10:55 — Comey is connecting the dots. Given that Flynn had been fired before, the very next day Trump says he hope’s Comey can let Flynn go. That’s why he took it as direction from the president to drop the investigation. “I’ve seen the tweet about tapes. Lordy I hope there are tapes.”

Asked about what he thought Trump meant when he asked Comey to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation, Comey says he viewed that as another plea for Comey to say in public that Trump was not personally under investigation. Comey then discussed that request with his senior leadership team (who were in the room when Trump made the “lift the cloud” call). Says they were as shocked and troubled as he was.

10:47 — Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) is now up. Asks if, while Comey was director, the president was himself under investigation. Comey confirms that he was not.

Did the president obstruct justice? Risch is trying to get Comey to agree that the president saying that “he hopes” Comey lets Flynn would not amount to obstruction. Comey pushes back — I took it as direction.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) takes over. “Why do you believe you were fired.” Comey: “I take the president at his word” that I was fired over the Russia investigation.

10:41 — Comey says it was “literally true” that Trump was not a personal target of investigation, but that there was disagreement among his team at FBI as to whether he could really say that given that the investigation into the campaign could ultimately touch Trump as the candidate in question.

Comey “knew something was about to happen” when Trump told everyone in the Oval Office to leave so he could talk to Comey privately. Determined to document everything that was said, in unclassified form, so that the truth could be discussed within the FBI and the government. Warner points out that also allows the committee to get those memos as well. They can’t be shielded behind secrecy claims.

10:38 — Comey created the records because he knew he might need to defend himself and the FBI in the future. And this, he reiterates, was due to both the nature of the conversations but because of the character of the individual he was meeting with.

This is remarkable. Comey essentially is calling Trump out for his dishonesty. This is why he kept the records he kept. He read Trump’s character and did not trust him.

10:35 — Vice Chair Warner’s turn. Starts to walk Comey through the meetings with Trump that the former director detailed in his written testimony. Why did you feel you needed to keep a written record? Comey: “I was concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting.”

Damn!

10:28 — Burr brings up the Steele dossier (of peeing Russian hooker fame). Comey says he cannot talk about the details of the dossier in open session because it treads on the ongoing investigation.

Comey says he first became aware of Russia-connected cyber intrusion in 2015. “Massive effort” to target multiple US political groups, parties, non-profits, etc. Says he learned data was stolen in late 2015 or early 2016 and that he briefed Obama administration on this. Victims of the hacking and data theft were also informed.

10:25 — Burr begins the questioning. Asks if Comey has any doubts about what Russia did in the 2016 election. Comey: “No doubt.” But Comey says Trump did not ask him to stop the Russia investigation.

Burr: Was Trump trying to obstruct justice? Comey says he will leave it to the special investigator to determine if Trump’s request to “let Flynn go” amount to criminal obstruction.

10:19 — Comey makes brief opening statement; will not reiterate his written remarks, which are in the record. Says the president, after his firing, chose to defame both him and the FBI. “Those were lies, pure and simple.” Wow! Comey calls Trump a liar right out of the box.

10:17 — Warner lays out a case pointing directly to President Trump’s efforts to derail the investigation into Russia. “This is not a witch hunt. This is not fake news.” Comey is sworn in and will testify under oath.

10:08 — Burr in opening statement lays out what he wants Comey to clarify: Exactly what did he think Trump was asking him to do? What was the full nature of Russia’s activities, and the extent of collusion (if any) with it. Notes that this is about an attack not on any particular candidate (Clinton) on behalf of another (Trump), but an attack on American democracy, and that this is of concern to every American, regardless of political party or partisan loyalty.

Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va) reiterates that this hearing is not about refighting the election, but about getting to the bottom of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election. “What the Russians did and why they were so successful,” so that we can prevent this from happening again. States emphatically that we cannot allow “anyone” to prevent the truth to come out. I take that to mean the president specifically.

Warner then recounts White House denials of any  contacts between Trump campaign figures, Trump associates, Trump appointees and Russian officials or surrogates. And accuses Trump of appearing to co-opt or persuade the director of the FBI from investigating these links. “Think about it: the President of the United States asking an FBI director to drop an investigation.” After Comey’s refusal “he was fired.”

10:04 a.m. — Comey enters the chamber and takes his seat at the witness table. Chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) welcomes him. Closed session will follow at 1 p.m. Burr asks members to refrain from asking questions about classified matters until then.

“I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard …”

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I’ve never been a Bob Dylan fan. I always thought he got more credit than he deserved early in his career, making his name by stealing and performing other people’s work. (Fans may differ in their assessment of Dylan’s early years.)

His close association with the Baby Boomers – he’s been labeled the spokesman for their generation for as long as he’s been around – leaves a sour taste in my mouth given how readily that already privileged group traded their youthful idealism for selfish comfort and materialism.

Dylan’s own career arc, from leftie-folkie protest singer to corporate shill, licensing his music to the likes of Apple, Pepsi, Google, Kohl’s, Chrysler and other carmakers, and Victoria’s Secret, to name but a handful, perfectly mirrors his generation’s transformation.

And I cannot stand the man’s singing voice.

But … Dylan could write songs. Transcendent songs. That’s why he was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, in recognition of the beauty, power, and artistry behind his lyricism. As the Nobel Committee put it, the prize is “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Yesterday, Dylan’s Nobel Lecture was released. It provides fascinating insight into how he understands his influences and his acceptance of the idea that his lyrics in fact constitute literature after all. It also shows off the poetic expression for which he is rightly honored.

Here’s a bit of it:

By listening to all the early folk artists and singing the songs yourself, you pick up the vernacular. You internalize it. You sing it in the ragtime blues, work songs, Georgia sea shanties, Appalachian ballads and cowboy songs. You hear all the finer points, and you learn the details.

You know what it’s all about. Takin’ the pistol out and puttin’ it back in your pocket. Whippin’ your way through traffic, talkin’ in the dark. You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man and that Frankie was a good girl. You know that Washington is a bourgeois town and you’ve heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek. And you’re pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums and the fifes that played lowly. You’ve seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.

I had all the vernacular all down. I knew the rhetoric. None of it went over my head – the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries – and I knew all the deserted roads that it traveled on, too. I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day. When I started writing my own songs, the folk lingo was the only vocabulary that I knew, and I used it.

But I had something else as well. I had principals and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.

The entire lecture is worth reading. Or better yet, listen to Dylan read it himself.

The daily train wreck

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I’m going to admit this freely:

I cannot keep up with the Trump Administration. Why? I’ll let David Brooks explain.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.