Politics is not like the nursery.

Foremost among the larger issues at stake in the Eichmann trial was the assumption current in all modern legal systems that intent to do wrong is necessary for the commission of a crime. On nothing, perhaps, has civilized jurisprudence prided itself more than on this taking into account of the subjective factor. Where this intent is absent, where, for whatever reasons, even reasons of moral insanity, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong is impaired, we feel no crime has been committed. We refuse, and consider as barbaric, the propositions “that a great crime offends nature, so that the very earth cries out for vengeance; that evil violates a natural harmony which only retribution can restore; that a wronged collectivity owes a duty to the moral order to punish the criminal” (Yosal Rogat). And yet I think it is undeniable that it was precisely on the ground of these long-forgotten propositions that Eichmann was brought to justice to begin with, and that they were, in fact, the supreme justification for the death penalty. Because he had been implicated and had played a central role in an enterprise whose open purpose was to eliminate forever certain “races” from the surface of the earth, he had to be eliminated. And if it is true that “justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done,” then the justice of what was done in Jerusalem would have emerged to be seen by all if the judges had dared to address their defendant in something like the following terms:

“You admitted that the crime committed against the Jewish people during the war was the greatest crime in recorded history, and you admitted your role in it. But you said you had never acted from base motives, that you had never had any inclination to kill anybody, that you had never hated Jews, and still that you could not have acted otherwise and that you did not feel guilty. We find this difficult, though not altogether impossible, to believe; there is some, though not very much, evidence against you in this matter of motivation and conscience that could be proved beyond reasonable doubt. You also said that your role in the Final Solution was an accident and that almost anybody could have taken your place, so that potentially almost all Germans are equally guilty. What you meant to say was that where all, or most all, are guilty, nobody is. This is an indeed quite common conclusion, but one we are not willing to grant you. And if you don’t understand our objection, we would recommend to your attention the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, two neighboring cities in the Bible, which were destroyed by fire from Heaven because all the people in them had become equally guilty. This, incidentally, has nothing to do with the newfangled notion of `collective guilt,’ according to which people supposedly are guilty of, or feel guilty about, things done in their name but not by them – things in which they did not participate and from which they did not profit. In other words, guilt and innocence before the law are of an objective nature, and even if eighty million Germans had done as you did, this would not have been an excuse for you.

“Luckily, we don’t have to go that far. You yourself claimed not the actuality but only the potentiality of equal guilt on the part of all who lived in a state whose main political purpose had become the commission of unheard-of crimes. And no matter through what accidents of exterior or interior circumstances you were pushed onto the road of becoming a criminal, there is an abyss between the actuality of what you did and the potentiality of what others might have done. We are concerned here only with what you did, and not with the possible noncriminal nature of your inner life and of your motives or with the criminal potentialities of those around you. You told your story in terms of a hard-luck story, and, knowing the circumstances, we are, up to a point, willing to grant you that under more favorable circumstances it is highly unlikely that you would ever have come before us or before any other criminal court. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it was nothing more than misfortune that made you a willing instrument in the organization of mass murder; there still remains the fact that you have carried out, and therefore actively supported, a policy of mass murder. For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same. And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations – as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world – we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.”

— Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963

July 2017: Linkoln Memorial

I think I’m going to start opening all my link roundups with yet another scary survey.

“The most crucial variable predicting the success of a democratic transition is the self-confidence of the incumbent elites. If they feel able to compete under democratic conditions, they will accept democracy. If they do not, they will not.  And the single thing that most accurately predicts elite self-confidence, as Ziblatt marshals powerful statistical and electoral evidence to argue, is the ability to build an effective, competitive conservative political party before the transition to democracy occurs.”

Maybe this is what all the bots will eventually be for.

Rondon of Caracas Chronicles in Politico from April, on the narrative coherence of post-truth politics vs. the messiness of reality.

“Here is a secret that is not a secret. Here is a curse that is not a curse. Revolutions are not redemption. They will not save you, just as ours did not save us back in 1896, or 1986, or 2001.”

On the Twitter mob and the poverty of left-wing discourse.

Long before Junior’s emails upended all our theories, Julian Sanchez suggested that collusion may be the wrong question.  His central question— why in hell would the Russians tell the campaign?— is even more interesting now.

History tells us that we should head for the bunkers when the White House gets obsessed with Thucydides.  Everything can be found in The History of the Peloponnesian War, and that’s exactly the problem (Pericles’ funeral oration isn’t about democracy, though: it’s about Athenian exceptionalism).

A technologist explains his choice to leave government service.

Who was Moonlight Maze?

In Kazakhstan, a switch from Cyrillic to Latin script is a lot of hassle and expense to no obvious purpose.

Twitter is definitely bad but I will never forgive Bret Stephens for making me read the phrase “naked, grunting brain” with my own two eyes.

In honor of Independence Day, David Frum plays Variations On “American Exceptionalism.”

I’m on one of my occasional Raymond Chandler binges right now, and while I was out running the other day I was thinking about how the discontinuous narratives in noir fiction match real life much better than the elaborate constructs one gets in the more traditional mystery novel.  I was going to write something, but I found this essay on Farewell My Lovely at the LARB instead.

From all the way back in 2003, Slate’s compilation of the ‘poetry’ of Donald Rumsfeld is… well, anyway, read it.

Your captcha is part of a coming epistemological crisis. Magritte ain’t seen nothing.

Through requirements that social media companies to combat extremism on their platforms, governments are slowly but surely forcing the privatization of online counterterrorism.  The new arbiters of extremism are the low-paid, undertrained, and mostly unaccountable contractors on the moderation staff.  What could possibly go wrong?

“…after more than 70 years of great-power peace and a quarter-century of unrivaled global supremacy, Americans have lost their sense of tragedy. The U.S.-led international order has been so successful, for so long, that Americans have come to take it for granted. They have forgotten what that order is meant to prevent in the first place: the sort of utter breakdown of the international system, the descent into violence and great-power war, that has been all too common throughout human history.”

Foa and Mounk rebut the haters.

The Opsec Fail of the Month Award goes to [drumroll] Leonid Brezhnev.

Auribus teneo lumpum.

DISCLAIMER: All predictions should be viewed through the lens of how wrong I was when that I said there would never be a special prosecutor.

Since Douthat’s now-infamous Amendment XXV op-ed brought the constitutional shenanigans out of the depths of the Blawgs into the mainstream discourse, I’ve found myself asking yet again what we the opposition are expecting to accomplish.  Not-Trump is, in the abstract, a worthy goal, especially with no one worse looming on the horizon yet.  In practice, achieving not-Trump by not-electoral means is likely to bring with it a host of other, more interesting problems.  As a connoisseur I find these fascinating, but as a citizen I’m not so enthusiastic.  There are three constitutionally legitimate ways of achieving not-Trump before 2020: resignation, impeachment, or Amendment XXV. Resignation is boring and I’ll eat my hat if it happens. The other two options have a common obstacle: neither of them would have any popular legitimacy.

The advantage of impeachment is that it’s hard to call it undemocratic: it’s right there in the constitution and only elected officials are involved. However, the absence of consensus makes it unlikely that Congress will risk the process in the first place. Impeachment has to follow public opinion. Most likely we will only see action from Congress if a critical mass of Republican voters are demanding Trump gets the hook, otherwise it’ll just be Clinton Redux.  Then, I’m not persuaded by the argument that Amendment XXVing him is inherently undemocratic: it’s initiated by the cabinet, but it still requires the consent of 2/3rds of Congress if you’re going to make it stick. It doesn’t seem to be within the original intent of the amendment, which was to provide a mechanism for replacing the president if he was incapacitated but not killed in an assassination attempt, but creatively literalist legal interpretation is a noble American tradition.  Of course, that doesn’t matter: when the average member of the People can’t name their own senator, we shouldn’t expect them to grasp, let alone get behind, this sort of casuistic constitutional contortion.

The practical objection to Amendment XXVing him out is that the now-infamous groveling meeting where everyone except Mattis pledged their eternal love for Our Glorious Leader suggests that the cabinet would not be interested in doing any such thing. The speculative objection to Amendment XXVing him is that, if successful, it does nothing to solve any crisis of legitimacy—  it makes it far worse.  Theoretically it puts him where he can’t trash institutions or start a war on Twitter, but as soon as the process is started, we’ve got ourselves a Type II constitutional crisis. It begins with the most spectacular Twitter hissy fit ever seen in this mortal vale of tears and probably the firing of the entire cabinet. Next comes exhausting quarrels over the meaning of “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” both on the floor of Congress and in the public discourse. No consensus will ever be reached.  We’re stuck with a Mexican standoff in DC.  The conflict totally consumes Congress. Trump and Pence are both insisting on their authority, and the rest of the executive is trying to function with even less leadership than usual, since there’s neither the time nor the inclination to confirm replacements.  SCOTUS is trying to referee a situation that has no precedent except perhaps the Western Schism. At least half, and likely more, of the People won’t be having it.  The National Mall could fill with dueling protest camps. After that it’s probably not safe to make predictions.

In a piece called “The Guardrails Cannot Contain Trump”, Krauthammer vagueblogs at Douthat and despite the title goes on about how when guardrails are failing we must strengthen the guardrails. Krauthammer and all the other Very Serious People are correct insofar when you’re trying to keep a constitution together, tricks tend to be an own-goal, but we cannot say in advance that Trump will be worse than some kind of strange state of exception any more than we can say that such a state of exception will be worse than Trump.  The problem is that the Very Serious People don’t offer any serious suggestions on how we’re supposed to shore up the norms and institutions.  Our legislative deadlock is not new, and it’s not improving.  “Congress should redouble oversight” is just screaming into the void: the failure of the system is largely due to the longstanding unwillingness of Congress to properly perform its oversight role, or to exercise a number of other powers it constitutionally possesses over the executive.  The bureaucracy will fall: when the principled resign in protest, their positions get filled by weasels or go unfilled altogether.  Douthat’s idea is crazy, but at least he’s aware that we’ve run out of good choices.

When I started this post, I was convinced that neither impeachment nor Amendment XXV would happen.  After tonight’s Russia-Thing-related stories, I’m not so sure.   We’re out of good choices, but we have to choose anyway.

The Palestine Principles

I used to live in Jerusalem, for my sins, and when we finally got out of there, my friends and I set to work finding the general cases for the lessons we’d learned about surviving as politically questionable expats in an occupied city.  If you’re a middle-class young person from a G8 country, living at the mercy of what is often referred to merely as the Situation or somewhat more theologically as the Inshallah Factor has a bit of a learning curve to it.  While we were on the spot, the Moscow Rules had been bandied about a lot, so we tried to get our list down to ten, for symmetry.  Our rules were these:

  1. Everything is political, including this rule.
  2. The true partisan can rationalize anything.
  3. Assume nothing.
  4. Keep a low profile.
  5. It never goes smooth.
  6. Never go against your gut.
  7. Have an exit strategy.
  8. Technology is your enemy.
  9. Don’t try to disrupt known surveillance.
  10. Whatever you did, you’ll hear about it at the border.

When we wrote them, we meant these for the unaffiliated foreign bystander in places like the West Bank or Ukraine, but someone had proposed a general theory that once 1 and 2 held good in a society, it was only a matter of time before the rest would start to apply as well.  It’s starting to look like we’re going to find out.

June 2017: The Library of Alinksandria

Yet another troubling survey, this time on Americans’ views on the proper role of the media.

Tor Ekeland on oversentencing of hackers.

“Cyber operations coerce by imposing costs and destabilizing an opponent’s leadership. As costs grow and destabilization spreads, backing down eventually becomes less painful than standing tall, causing the adversary to comply with the coercer’s demands.”

In our latest installment of Don’t Piss Off The Nerds, the Turkish thugs who attacked protesters outside the DC embassy got the shit OSINTed out of them.

In hindsight suppressing that 2009 DHS report on violent rightist extremism was probably not the greatest idea.

Shadi Hamid on how Egypt could have gone differently and how to get democracy to stick more broadly.  He doesn’t address whether or not democracy can survive absent liberalism, and in the last paragraph there’s a very interesting potential rabbit hole about the consent of the governed.

No, Alan, the president does not have unilateral authority over the people investigating him and his top aides.

Much of the discussion surrounding the not-actually-very-illuminating leak on compromised voter systems revolves around whether or not the KGB achieved lateral motion and was able to compromise provisioning infrastructure.  Even if they didn’t, they succeeded, because we’re worrying about it.

There’s an unlikely alliance between anarchists in Exarchia and the Donbass separatists.  Idiot leftists continue to confuse Putin’s territorial revanchism for anti-imperialism, just because the US isn’t a fan of it.  Don’t be that guy.

Go listen to a very old Greek Marian hymn (but stay out of the comments if you value your sanity).

“… realist liberalism is the kind of liberalism that, perhaps surprisingly, most closely reflects the ethos of the modern novel: its astonishment at the extent of our incommunicable subjectivity, its conviction that each psyche contains (to quote the character from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead) “a little civilization.” Diverse by nature, we come to be ever more diverse as a result of social and political development. The further we are from violent anarchy, the less we resemble one another in our zeal for mere survival. My aspirations will not excite you; my vision for society will not motivate you; the justifications for government policy that convince me will not convince you.  Liberal institutions do not deny or seek to alter this state of normative fragmentation but, on the contrary, work with it and tend to celebrate it.”

Jack Goldsmith’s piece from February on il Douche’s tweets and the immigration EO bears re-reading now that the case is inching closer to SCOTUS.  In practice I think his predictions will hold, but I don’t believe it’s been thought through beforehand like he speculates.

A case study in watchman-watching: wardriving for IMSI catchers.

Bret Stephens should have written this last summer.

A growing number of Android apps have a charming habit of listening for ultrasonic beacons in sound produced by other devices.  Identifying the Big Brotherish potential in this kind of thing is left as an exercise to the reader.

This story in the New York Times about a Russian assassin in Kiev posing as a journalist is pretty wild.  I’m inclined to wonder what his exit strategy was going to be.

The Doubleswitch phishing attack has been used extensively against journalists and activists in Venezuela and elsewhere, both to cut off comms and to run info ops against the opposition off already-trusted accounts.  It’s probably coming here sooner or later.  Keep an eye on that story about all those DoD-linked Twitter accounts that got owned by bears.

Krauthammer on Article V.  Not all deterrence is MAD.

The Opsec Fail of the Month award goes to everyone involved in the Reality Winner leak.  This fills the blogger with acute second-hand embarrassment.  Honorable mention to Mike Flynn.

Batman’s the worst.

This is Radio Yerevan.

Our listeners ask us: “Is it possible to solve a problem which has no solution?”
We answer: We don’t answer questions related to terrorism.

Our listeners ask us: “Is it true that in Berkeley—”
We answer: Yes. Yes it is.

Our listeners ask us: “Can Leninism succeed in America?”
We answer: In principle, yes, once Steve Bannon returns from exile to resume his rightful place on the NSC.

Our listeners ask us: “What is the most permanent feature of the administration’s immigration policy?”
We answer: Temporary travel bans.

Our listeners ask us: “What do the directors of federal agencies have in common with the homeless and unemployed?”
We answer: They are all uncertain about their next day.

Our listeners ask us: “What should I do if a federal employee takes a seat at the bar beside me and starts to sigh?”
We answer: Demand he stop bashing the President at once.

Our listeners ask us: “What methods do Deep State leakers use in their subversive work against the White House?”
We answer: You can find our SecureDrop under ‘Contact Us’ on our homepage.

May 2017: URL of the Chaldees

Stop blaming Trump on the poor, she repeated incessantly.

David Frum of all people has written the only good article about The Generals I’ve seen.  This feels weird, but I’ll take it.

No, “robot privilege” is not the latest Social Justice™ talking point, but give it time.

APT28 continues to be at it, with some quality compartmentalization failage yet again.  By the time this is published, we might hear whether they’ve gotten any results.

Max Boot (I know, I know) on the inevitability of normalization.

Ha ha ha ha wow Laura Poitras really doesn’t want to talk about Wikileaks and the Panama Papers for some reason.

Back in his Noo Yawk days, our glorious leader liked to use mafioso intimidation tactics on business rivals and city officials.

The latest round of the Gorkening finds that his doctorate isn’t real and he was denied a security clearance in Hungary.  And then somehow I missed this when I read his ridiculous book, but this dumb fascist bastard thinks that the answer to terrorism is fusing the police, military, and IC into a single unified security service.  What could possibly go wrong?

Go listen to this version of Psalm 104 by the Yamma Ensemble.  In general, go listen to the Yamma Ensemble.

Mexico can make us sorry.

Like fighting Putin? There’s an app for that.  Identifying potential problems with this idea is left as an exercise to the reader.

Romans got lead poisoning from a grape must preserve called defrutum, not from lead pipes.  I learned this in Latin class, but I had forgotten it.

I burst out laughing in a crowded coffee shop at this video from Reason about the TSA.

Digital Forensics Lab on the origins and propagation of a Russian fake news story.  Don’t piss off the OSINT nerds.  It’s not worth it.

“If Russia did it, why is there evidence?”  Someone else wrote the screed about Greenwald and the Whataboutists that I keep starting and getting too mad to finish properly.

“Internet blockages, even when targeted at specific websites, are not necessarily rational decisions based on strategic thought. They are very often knee-jerk reactions by autocratic governments, or military juntas, to the loss of control over the society they rule.”

Facebook says they’re cracking down on information operations.

It’s as good a time as any to dig HST’s Nixon obit out of the archive.

Shadow Brokers didn’t just dump a bunch of code: they also may have doxxed NSA personnel, which is a new one.

Maciej Cegłowski on the inhumanity of algorithms and Silicon Valley’s refusal to acknowledge that they’ve created a “toolkit for authoritarians.”

Still more damn Straussians and also Yarvin (they’re called Claremonsters, Andrew).

Germany’s plague of hipster Nazis adds an interesting if regrettable layer of complication to haircut politics.

The culprits in the MU scandal were much more organized than one might think.  And apparently there’s even a Russian intel angle, because everybody and their maiden aunt has a Russian intel angle these days (can I still say “maiden aunt”?).  Minus one to Slytherin for two Bellingcat links in the same roundup.

The complete scumbag of the month award goes to Robert Fisher.  He shares the opsec fail of the month award with the NRO.  Security is hard.

Listen to the refugees. Start with Mujanović himself, Kasparov, Gessen.

You know what to do (although strictly speaking it should be CVNNVS NOBIS GRABENDVS EST).