Donald Trump has been silenced on social media since losing the election and stoking the Jan. 6 insurrection, but the Republican Party remains monomaniacally focused on carrying out his dirty work.
Pro-Trump factions are taking over the GOP at all levels and purging the former president's enemies, but MSNBC's Hayes Brown wrote that Trump's control over the party is so thorough that Republicans don't even need to be told how to carry out his grudges.
"Without Trump's constant interjections to sway priorities, Republicans are basically working on autopilot, like a computer in a post-apocalyptic world still running protocols based on the last commands put into its mainframe," Brown wrote. "It's the kind of plodding, relatively long-term strategic thinking — even if it's in the interest of short-term goals like winning elections — that's impossible with Trump looming over you, dropping new tweets into his feed every few hours that upend whatever you've been working on."
Trump's silence also allows Republicans to do their dirty work in the shadows.
"Trump had a way of making every day feel like the end times," Brown wrote. "The relative calm of the Biden administration has had a soothing effect, which has benefited the GOP's efforts. It's not necessarily that Trump is pulling the strings from the shadows. But there's a definite upside to his lack of visibility for the officials laying the groundwork to make the next presidential election easier to throw to the GOP's candidate."
Wake up, people -- we're under attack: America isn't treating the Colonial Pipeline security breach seriously enough
Whether the cyber-attacks that shut 5,500 miles of oil pipeline this weekend are coming from private crooks or a state-sanctioned effort is almost beside the point. Somehow our response to this attack, as the big one apparently triggered by what looked like Russian-sponsored hackers on government agencies and companies last month, ought to be generating a lot more urgency.
The idea that a small group of bad guys in a faraway darkened room can control our electric grid, our fuel supplies, our business functions, our very defenses virtually at will should be as frightening as the prospect of powerful bombs in the likes of Iran or North Korea.
In 10 minutes, these same people will be in a position to send electric cars and trucks awry or kill appliances of industrial-scale built with Internet or network connections.
Instead, what we're hearing is much concern about whether oil and gas costs are going to go up in the next weeks as the result of immediate shortages in delivering 2.5 million barrels of oil a day or almost half of production across the East Coast. Actually, if operations are restored within a week, even that result is unlikely.
What we're not hearing our Democratic and Republican leaders on the barricades over cyber at anywhere near the volume we hear harangues about nonexistent election fraud already six months old or whether so-callef socialism is going to end the American Dream as we know it or about a dozen cancel culture disasters that some perceive.
Instead, our Congressional leaders seem content holding occasional check-in hearings and leaving the actual work to the Cyber Command agencies to resolve.
It might be nice to see an approach to international policing approach the fervor of our continuing community policing debate.
One might even call such defenses critical to, um, infrastructure in a realistic look at current technology.
It might be nice to see an approach to international policing approach the fervor of our continuing community policing debate.
In the next week, the administration is expected to issue an executive order intended to bolster the security of federal and private systems after two major attacks from Russia and China in recent months caught by surprise American companies and intelligence agencies.
Meanwhile, Colonial Pipeline, a private company, is being tight-lipped over whether it plans to pay a ransom demanded by the suspected criminal hacker group, or has already paid, or when normal operations will resume from closings ordered to prevent further problems from the hackers.
The FBI, the Energy Department and Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md., all have dived into the detective work, along with FireEye, a private security company hired by Colonial.
This time, officials said they believed the attack was the act of a criminal group, rather than a nation seeking to disrupt critical infrastructure in the United States. But at times, such groups have had loose affiliations with foreign intelligence agencies and have operated on their behalf. That doesn't make it better.
Ransomware is the uncharted attempt by evildoers to threaten damage to computers connected into a network, encrypting the business data that control increasingly vast operations in return for payment of millions of dollars and the decryption code. It's kidnapping without emotion. When backed by state powers, it veers into somewhere beyond espionage and into an actual act of war.
The recent disclosure of a massive breach of government agencies and corporations explains sanctions against Russia last month. If there is more retaliation planned, we won't know about it until Moscow's red lights turn green. We still don't even know how deep and wide the break was. In either case, this is where I'd like to see all that Law & Order haranguing wasted on suppressing votes and threatening jail time for peaceful protests go instead. Where's the Blue in these cases? Where's the send-troops-to-Afghanistan-for-20-years demand?
Colonial Pipeline, based in Georgia, said the ransomware attack Friday affected information technology systems and that the company moved proactively to take certain systems offline, halting pipeline operations, to forestall further damage.
I've worked in news companies that dealt with hackers who entered networks that were private and not connected to the Internet, and experienced both in the fear that our newsroom operations could be touched—they weren't—and in the difficult creation of defensive shields and practices. Hackers often can find doors opened through getting an employee to unintendingly allow a malicious piece of software to enter through an otherwise innocent-looking email. Or they can criminally seek to obtain employee identification information allowing more direct access.
It can be hard to protect against in a working environment or a society that prizes individualism over security, which is exactly where America finds itself. We're relying more and more on machinery and the networks that increasingly operate it, often without human intervention. That creates opportunity for bad guys.
The Associated Press notes that while there have long been fears about U.S. adversaries disrupting American energy suppliers, ransomware attacks by criminal syndicates are much more common and have been soaring lately. The Justice Department has a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks across types and size of businesses or agencies.
So far, the advice in the security industry and government alike is akin to coronavirus—take heed of the problem and take common-sense steps toward hardening network defenses. There are no vaccines that outlast the latest and greatest hacker attempts.
Attacks by criminal syndicates operating out of Russia and other countries reached epidemic proportions last year, costing hospitals, medical researchers private businesses and state and local governments and schools 10s of billions of dollars, AP reports. Average ransoms paid in the United States tripled to more than $310,000 last year, as compared with the cost of an average outage of business for 21 days for each incident, according to security firm Coveware.
American cyber folks say that some of these criminals have worked with Russia's security services and that the Kremlin benefits by damaging adversaries' economies and cover for intelligence-gathering.
Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration's deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technology, told AP that the government has an effort under way to help electric utilities, water districts and other industries defend themselves. The goal seems to be to ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block attacks. The White House has announced a 100-day initiative aimed at protecting the country's electricity system by encouraging owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks.
U.S. Cyber Command and the Department of Homeland Security last month released details on eight code files attributed to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service that were used in the so-called Solar Winds attacks discovered earlier this year. The disclosure was described as part of "Hunt Forward" operations to generate insights to understand the source of attacks.
It's not exactly 100 million shots of vaccine in the arm in 100 days, but it is a start. I'd prefer that we wipe out the bad guys rather than issuing sanctions and warnings to protect ourselves.
It is a compulsion. It may be an addiction. Whatever the cause, it reeks of desperation. Every day the problem is getting worse.
The American news media is obsessed with Liz Cheney. The hope peddlers and other happy pill-sellers have anointed the Wyoming congresswoman, along with Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, as valiant warriors, "responsible" and "traditional" Republicans who will somehow rehabilitate their party from the rise of neofascism and its assault on democracy.
This quest for respectable and honorable Republicans is a function of a profound, pathetic desire to return to a pre-Trump version of "normal," a time before the standing norms and rules of American democracy were shattered by Trump and his political cult.
In reality, Liz Cheney and other "respectable" and "traditional" Republicans are wolves in sheep's clothing. She supported almost all of Trump's policies. She did not denounce or otherwise choose to leave the Republican Party out of protest or disgust or principle.
Cheney is no savior or defender of American democracy. Her "traditional" Republican performance is a political gambit, a means to secure more power in the future and perhaps even become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 or beyond. In too many ways, Liz Cheney is best described as a "friendly fascist."
In her much-praised recent Washington Post op-ed, Cheney wrote:
While embracing or ignoring Trump's statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes, that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country. Trump has never expressed remorse or regret for the attack of Jan. 6 and now suggests that our elections, and our legal and constitutional system, cannot be trusted to do the will of the people. This is immensely harmful, especially as we now compete on the world stage against Communist China and its claims that democracy is a failed system.
Cheney concluded her op-ed by writing, "History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be."
Signaling to her right-wing political bonafides and motivations — using language purportedly meant to repudiate Trump's coup attempt and his assault on democracy — Cheney chose to attack the Democrats for their "ridiculous wokeness." Such language is a racial dog whistle, a coded message that the Democrats "caring too much" about social justice and human rights for Black and brown people.
Predictably, too many of the professional smart people in the mainstream commentariat took the bait.
At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait offers an analysis of why other House Republicans are likely to oust Cheney from her leadership position:
What they want, in other words, is for Cheney to put aside her concern about the survival of democracy in America and instead focus on matters that unite the Republican party's authoritarian and democratic wings. They're demanding, in so many words, ideological collusion. She should cooperate with Trump for the benefit of their shared opposition to Biden's agenda. Trump and his allies in the party and conservative media can continue propagating their big lie and organizing for the next assault on the system, and they can try to divert that energy to halt Biden's plans to raise the capital gains tax, which after all, is the really important thing in their minds.
Cheney, of course, shares the party's objectives on nearly every one of these issues. It is because she is such a partisan, conservative Republican that her dissent is so significant. There is no hidden agenda at work, no subtext of quiet sympathy for Biden's policies. Cheney believes in right-wing policy and settling control of government at the ballot box.
The Republican party is sliding into authoritarianism at a terrifyingly rapid clip. To stand by is to let it happen. Republicans who have reservations about this trend have tried quiet hand-wringing for five years. It hasn't worked. Somebody has to fight back, and Cheney has volunteered for the role.
The more complex (and depressing) truth is that the Republican Party's slide into neofascism, white supremacy and racial authoritarianism has been a long process, one that occurred gradually over the course of several decades. Trumpism is not some aberrant outlier, separate and apart from the Republican Party's agenda and orthodoxy. Trump's presidency and his movement are the logical result of that party's downward evolution, a type of endgame where friendly fascism and authoritarian impulses have been replaced with political sadism and outright contempt for democracy.
To elevate Cheney as a defender of American democracy is to fundamentally misinterpret Trumpism and the Republican embrace of neofascism and white supremacy, reducing it to a discrete moment in American political history.
Political scientists have shown that today's Republican Party has more in common with far-right political parties in countries like Hungary and Poland than it does with mainstream democratic parties in Europe. It is also clear that the Republican Party has dragged the Democrats (and American politics more generally) further and further to the right through a process known as "asymmetrical polarization." One obvious result is that the most "liberal" Republican is now far to the right of the most conservative Democrat, which was clearly not true in earlier eras.
As the Republican Party became more anti-democratic and pro-fascist, Liz Cheney actively enabled and contributed to that outcome. In short, she helped to create Trumpism, and should not be allowed to wash her hands of a mess that has stained her permanently.
Adam Serwer of the Atlantic offers a summary, writing that the Republicans' "rejection of the rule of law is also an extension of a political logic that Cheney herself has cultivated for years":
During the Obama administration, Cheney was a Fox News regular who, as was the fashion at the time, insisted that the president was secretly sympathetic to jihadists. She enthusiastically defended the use of torture, dismissed the constitutional right to due process as an inconvenience, and amplified the Obama-era campaign to portray American Muslims as a national-security threat.
Until the insurrection, she was a loyal Trumpist who frequently denounced the Democratic Party. "They've become the party of anti-Semitism; they've become the party of infanticide; they've become the party of socialism," she said in 2019. Her critics now, such as Scalise and the buffoonish Representative Matt Gaetz, formerly gushed over her ability to bring, as the Times put it in 2019, "an edge to Republican messaging that was lacking."
That "edge" was Cheney's specialty from the moment she emerged as a rising star in the GOP. In 2010, Cheney launched a McCarthyite crusade against seven unnamed attorneys in the Obama-era Justice Department who had previously represented terrorism suspects held in the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay. The Bush administration's assertions of imperial power in the War on Terror violated the Constitution many times over — the conservative majority on the Supreme Court agreed — and the lawyers who represented detainees were defending the fundamental constitutional right to counsel. They were affirming the integrity of the American legal system; Cheney smeared them as terrorist sympathizers, as The Enemy.
Yes, it is better that Liz Cheney stands up for the truth about Trump and the election than to oppose it, which puts her at odds with a political party in which truth is the enemy.
But her present position does not expunge her past positions. The sword she's falling on is one she has spent her political career brandishing.
If Cheney is punished by her own party, I will not applaud, but I also will not sob. I sit silently in acknowledgment, as one does, when karma swings low and performs its function.
At the end of President Biden's speech to Congress last Wednesday, he and Cheney exchanged pleasantries with one another. When criticized by her fellow Republicans for this gesture toward political normalcy, Cheney responded on Twitter: "We're different political parties. We're not sworn enemies. We're Americans."
That statement is essentially false. Republicans increasingly view the Democratic Party and its supporters as existential enemies. Trump and his followers are so committed to their hatred of the Democrats and multiracial democracy that they launched a lethal assault on the Capitol as part of a coup attempt. The Republican Party as a whole aided, abetted and supported that criminal assault.
The sooner Democrats realize that it is they who are in a literal existential fight for the existence of American democracy, and that today's Republicans have no limits in terms of how far they will go to achieve and keep power, the safer the future of our nation will be.
An old adage suggests that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the case of Liz Cheney, this is simply not true. For the most part, the hope peddlers in the news media will not tell the American people that painful truth. For the sake of American democracy, one can only hope that the leaders of the Democratic Party are not suckered by Liz Cheney's friendly-fascist performance.
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