9:37 AM 12/6/2017 – Silence Breakers named Time magazine’s Person of the Year

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Collusion | IRRUSSIANALITY
Collusion
Yes, the Kremlin is worried about Russia’s own presidential elections – Washington Post
On the Night News Desk When Trumps Tweeting Starts

 

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Time names the #metoo movement as 2017 Person of the Year

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Silence Breakers named Time magazine’s Person of the Year

The anti-harassment #MeToo movement has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
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Sleeping straphanger ripped off for phone, license, and charge cards

See this story at BrooklynPaper.com.

By Julianne McShane

Brooklyn Paper

68th Precinct

Bay Ridge—Dyker Heights

Nodded, and robbed

A punk stole a man’s iPhone 7, driver’s license, and debit and credit cards when he was sleeping on the N train between the Bay Parkway and Eighth Avenue stops on Dec. 3.

The man told police that he got on the train at Stillwell Avenue at 3 am, and missed his stop at Bay Parkway because he fell asleep. He woke up at Eighth Avenue by 4 am, when he realized his phone — along with the accompanying wallet case and the aforementioned cards — was missing.

Cash grabber

A lout stole a little more than $700 from a Ridge man’s purloined debit card at an ATM on 18th Avenue at some point after Nov. 13.

The thief snagged the cash at the corner of 65th Street, according to a police report.

Stroller heist

A lowlife stole $300 in cash plus a woman’s debit card, two credit cards, and driver’s license from her child’s stroller after she left it briefly to drop off her child at daycare on Ridge Boulevard on Nov. 30. The theft occurred at some point in the 10-minute window between 7:40 and 7:50 am, when the woman briefly abandoned her childless stroller when she left it on the sidewalk at 71st street, according to the report.

Out of order

A no-goodnik stole a little more than $1,000 via money order after a Ridge man mailed it to his landlord from his Fourth Avenue home at some point after June 5.

The man mailed the money from his home between 72nd and 73rd streets after 10 am on the June day, he reported to police on Dec. 1. But a lout cashed the money order soon after he mailed it, he said.

Left it, lost it

A miscreant stole from a man’s wallet, citizenship card, two credit cards, and one debit card from his unlocked car parked on 14th Avenue at some point between Nov. 26 and 29.

The man parked the car at 81st Street at 4 pm on the 26th and returned at noon on the 29th to find the items gone, according to the report.

— Julianne McShane

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Thief robs Downtown hotel, but drops stolen cash trying to outrun cops

See this story at BrooklynPaper.com.

By Colin Mixson

Brooklyn Paper

84th Precinct

Brooklyn Heights–DUMBO–Boerum Hill–Downtown

Checking out

A thief robbed a Duffield Street hotel at gunpoint on Dec. 4, taking cash.

An employee told police that the suspect waltzed into the hotel between Willoughby and Fulton streets at 4:15 am, holding what looked like a gun inside his pocket and snarling, “Give me the money, or I’ll shoot.”

The thief fled with two cash registers containing $1,500, but cops were quick on the scene and a foot chase ensued along Prince Street that resulted in the perp making his escape, but leaving his ill-gotten gains for cops to recover, according to police.

Code breaker

Some goon stole a man’s phone on Pacific Street on Dec. 01, after the crook forced the victim into giving up his passcode.

The victim, 15, told police he was between Third and Fourth avenues at 4:31 pm, when the suspect snatched his phone and barked, “Enter your passcode, or I will f— you up.”

The teen duly complied, and the brute absconded with his $900 iPhone 8, cops said.

Teen terrorized

Two thieves robbed a 15-year-old boy on Livingston Street on Dec. 1.

The victim told police he was strolling with a friend near Flatbush Avenue at 3:45 pm, when some goon pressed an unknown object against his back, while an accomplice went through his pockets, pulling out his debit card and smart phone.

The crooks fled with their ill-gotten stuff, and a police search came up short, cops said.

Rough commute

Some crook beat and robbed a straphanger waiting at the DeKalb Avenue subway station on Dec. 1.

The victim told police he was standing on the Manhattan-bound platform at the station near Flatbush Avenue Extension at 3:20, when the crook snatched the phone from his hand and gave him a shove, before fleeing into the station with three other men.

Beats

Cops arrested a man who stole someone’s headphones inside a Main Street building on Dec. 1, before threatening with a pair of scissors.

The victim told police he forgot his headphones in the building between Water and Front streets at 8:30 am, and returned to find them in the suspect’s possession.

The 29-year-old suspect allegedly refused to hand the $300 headphones back, and at one point brandished a pair of scissors, shouting, “Come in and get them,” according to police.

Cops busted the suspect on robbery charges later that day, and recovered the victim’s valuables from the suspect’s backpack, according to police.

—Colin Mixson

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Dastardly duo jumps a man, steals his cash, and cuts him when he resists

See this story at BrooklynPaper.com.

By Julianne Cuba

Brooklyn Paper

88th Precinct

Fort Greene–Clinton Hill

Street stabbing

A pair of louts stabbed a guy and stole his cash on Myrtle Avenue on Nov. 28, police said. The 63-year-old victim told police he was walking near Washington Park at about 10:30 am when the two nogoodniks came up to him, and the first put his hand on his shoulder and then removed $152 in cash from his pocket, according to authorities. The second malefactor then tried to knife him when he told the baddies he had no more money, but he put up his hand to block the blade and wound up getting cut, officials said. The ruffians then threw him to the ground, and he hit his head, police said.

Phantom pilferer

A jerk broke into a woman’s Saint James Place home on Nov. 30 and stole her jewelry and electronics, police said.

Some baddie broke into the apartment through the front door between Greene and Gates avenue sometime between 3:30 and 5:30 and swiped a Macbook Pro, diamond earrings, $100 bills, gold rings, and a speaker worth a total of $3,050, according to authorities.

Bye bye bike!

Some weasel stole a woman’s keys and the CitiBike she was using on Willoughby Street on Nov. 24, police said. The woman told police she dropped her keys somewhere with the key ring attached and used it to access the bike for unlimited usage near Hall Street at about 4 pm, when she later got an email that she was still getting charged for someone using the bike, officials said.

In the blink of an eye

A goniff swiped a woman’s wallet from her purse as she was on a G train near Lafayette Avenue on Nov. 28, police said. The scofflaw must have reached inside the 39-year-old woman’s purse and grabbed her wallet aboard the Church Avenue-bound green bullet after she got on at the Classon Avenue station, police said. The woman hopped off near Fulton Street when she realized her bag was opened and her wallet with her driver’s license, five credit cards, BJ’s card, and Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association card worth a total of $45 was missing, officials said.

Dropped and gone

Some sneak stole a woman’s wallet at a DeKalb Avenue hospital on Nov. 29, police said. The 27-year-old said she dropped her wallet in the medical center near Willoughby Street at about 2 pm, with her Dominican Republic identification card, United States resident card, and two credit cards inside, and later got a call from one of the credit card companies that some baddie was charging them, according to authorities.

— Julianne Cuba

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Reefer badness: Two men busted for smoking marijuana on the street

See this story at BrooklynPaper.com.

By Colin Mixson

Brooklyn Paper

Reefer madness

Patrolmen at the 78th Precinct busted two men for allegedly smoking pot on separate occasions late last month.

One officer was near Prospect Place and Carlton Avenue at 1 am on Nov. 20, when he spotted a man smoking a joint on the street, cops said.

Police pinched another alleged pot smoker on Wykoff Street between Nevins Street and Third Avenue at 9:25 am on Nov. 25, after a patrolmen spotted him with a joint in his hand, according to police

Both men were arrested and charged with criminal possession of marijuana, cops said.

Teen terror

Cops busted a 16-year-old boy suspected of stealing a man’s phone inside a Hanson Place shopping center on Nov. 22, and then threatening to shoot him when he demanded its return.

The victim, 60, told police he stopped inside the mall between Hanson Place and Atlantic Avenue to charge his cell at 3:50 am, when the suspect approached him and started up a conversation.

As the pair spoke, the alleged crook slyly unplugged the man’s phone from the charger and slid it into his pocket, but he wasn’t slick enough and the older fellow called him out on it, cops said.

Not willing to hand over his illicit catch, the suspect reached into his waistband and the told victim he’d shoot him, according to police.

He didn’t get far after that, and New York’s Finest booked him that night on a robbery charge, cops said.

Pie guys

Police arrested two men, ages 45 and 53, accused of busting into a Fifth Avenue pizza joint on Nov. 22.

The suspects allegedly made numerous attempts to force their way into the pie spot between 10th and 11th streets at around 3:45 am, before finally breaking open the front door and letting themselves inside, cops said.

The pair hung around for a few minutes, but didn’t take anything and soon fled, according to police.

Someone from the restaurant reported the break in at around 2 pm, and investigators made short work of tracking down the suspects, who were arrested on attempted burglary charges later that day, cops said.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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This explains how social media can both weaken and strengthen democracy.

mikenova shared this story .

Yes, the Kremlin is worried about Russias own presidential elections – The Washington Post

mikenova shared this story .

 

Monkey Cage

December 6 at 6:00 AM

It’s a foregone conclusion that Vladimir Putin will win Russia’s March 2018 presidential elections, so why is the Kremlin fretting about turnout? And how is Russia’s big business supposed to help get people to vote? Here’s what’s going on.

Russia’s Central Election Commission is expected to formally kick off the campaign season sometime in mid-December, and Putin will likely declare his candidacy shortly afterwards. But Russia under Vladimir Putin is not a democracy. The Constitutional Court has deemed the country’s best-known opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, ineligible to register for the upcoming March 2018 election, citing two controversial financial-crimes convictions. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that both decisions were arbitrary and unreasonable.

In Navalny’s place, the election will feature Ksenia Sobchak, a television personality. Sobchak polls nationally at less than 1 percent — and her supposedly oppositional campaign has refused to criticize Putin.

Why do unfair elections even matter?

Putin’s regime represents what Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way term “competitive authoritarianism.” Elections in hybrid systems like Russia are not designed to determine who rules, but rather to signal the regime’s power and resilience to potential challengers.

Elections in these polities are often marred by abuses of state power, but they are nonetheless held and can be bitterly fought. It is tempting to disregard the results of such elections because of the extent to which they are manipulated by elites in power. Yet counterintuitively, the level of state control over the electoral process is itself a reason to pay close attention.

In his book “Patronal Politics,” Henry Hale points out that authoritarian regimes deploy every available resource to dominate elections, even when opposition candidates would not win a free and fair contest. Competitive, if unfair, elections send a potent message about the power of incumbent regimes.

A crushing electoral victory signals to potential opponents that they can expect the regime to remain in power, and that open opposition will be futile. But low turnout can communicate the regime’s potential weakness. Challengers may become empowered, while erstwhile allies consider defection to avoid falling on the wrong side of a revolutionary wave.

The Kremlin has high turnout goals for 2018

The “great power of expectations,” as Hale labels this phenomenon, drives Russian politics — and the Putin regime has set a high bar for itself. Last year, the Kremlin’s top political technologists established a “70 at 70” objective for Putin’s reelection in March 2018 — 70 percent of the vote with 70 percent turnout. In a recent interview, Russian political expert Tatyana Stanovaya remarked, “Putin just needs to be elected quietly and quickly, without fuss, with good turnout, and a good result.”

…but may struggle to meet them

September’s regional and municipal elections, though, showed Russians aren’t particularly excited about voting. The low turnout has left the Kremlin scrambling to boost voter enthusiasm for next March. Putin remains popular, but protest activity is rising, particularly in the provinces.

According to the Russian government’s own polling, public support for government policies is at the lowest level in nearly a decade. Russia’s regional governments remain under the Kremlin’s tight control, but they are increasingly at odds with federal policies.

In three regions, fiscal problems have become so dire that their governors circumvented official channels and appealed publicly to Moscow for bailouts. Foreign policy adventures — first in Ukraine, then in Syria — may have temporarily distracted Russians from problems at home, but public interest in both conflicts is waning.

The Kremlin has enlisted help from big business

Putin has publicly downplayed Russia’s low turnout but Kremlin policy tells a different story. Russian authorities have long included state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in their voter mobilization efforts, but “corporate mobilization” has taken on new significance this election cycle. Following record low turnout in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections, reports emerged that SOEs, rather than the ruling party United Russia, would drive get-out-the-vote efforts and socioeconomic monitoring in future elections.

Here’s how this played out in September’s regional and municipal elections. State-run energy giants Rosatom and RosHydro funded initiatives to monitor pre-election risks in the regions, and report the findings to the Kremlin. With the presidential contest approaching, Rosatom recently hired a contractor to file reports on socioeconomic conditions in the remote “closed cities” in which the company operates power plants. Rosatom’s former chief executive, Sergei Kiriyenko, is first deputy head of the Presidential Administration tasked with managing domestic politics.

The Kremlin increasingly expects SOEs to deliver investment and social services that struggling regional governments cannot provide. For instance, state-run Gazprom ratcheted up its spending on development projects this year, according to Bloomberg reporting. Despite initial plans to slash “non-core expenditures,” outlays on charity were up 60 percent 2017, reaching 26.3 billion rubles ($438 million).

The company built a patriotic theme park and a sports complex in the Siberian city of Irkutsk — projects that may provide temporary jobs and boost support at the polls for Putin next March. SOEs routinely subsidize economically impractical investments across Russia, especially in the country’s single-industry towns. Economists Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes have referred to a political imperative to “keep the lights on” in the Russian provinces.

Reuters report, meanwhile, suggests the Kremlin ordered major energy and utility companies to supply the Presidential Administration with news items that cast Russia’s leadership in a positive light. A memo to industry leaders requested stories “where it’s possible to say that state support helped lift the economy out of crisis” and benefited local residents. State-run media outlets are supposed to disseminate the stories to the public.

Prioritizing short-term political goals hinders Russia’s growth

Over the past decade, the Kremlin has allowed SOEs to monopolize and dominate the Russian economy. The regime is asking SOEs to leverage their weight and reach to ensure Putin wins a convincing mandate in the March 2018 election.

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But the tacit trade of market share for political help comes at the cost of competitiveness in Russia’s economy. Relying on corporations, rather than regional and municipal governments, to fulfill the state’s development goals also risks further atrophying of the country’s federal structure. Under Putin, the Kremlin has increasingly sought to circumvent lower levels of government, preferring instead to dictate policy from Moscow.

Choosing political goals over economic efficiency harms minority investors and will limit Russia’s potential to improve its ranking in the World Bank’s “Ease of Doing Business” report, once a key goal of Putin’s third term.

According to a Levada Center poll from late November, 67 percent of likely voters would vote for Putin, with anticipated turnout between 53 and 55 percent — not the 70 percent figure the Kremlin hopes to see. Trailing far behind are the nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the Russian Communist Party’s Gennady Zyuganov, each with just four percent.

Nonetheless, the logic of patronal politics demands that the authorities pull out all the stops to encourage a high turnout in an election Putin will surely win, even if their methods hinder Russia’s future development.

Christopher Jarmas is a master’s candidate in Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian area studies at Harvard University. Follow him on Twitter @jarmascm.

Collusion | IRRUSSIANALITY

mikenova shared this story from IRRUSSIANALITY.

The investigation into suspected collusion between US President Donald Trump and the Russian government has claimed its first three victims: one (Paul Manafort) for completely unconnected money laundering charges, and two (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn) for lying to investigators about things which were not themselves criminal, and which are therefore crimes which would never have happened had there never been an investigation. To date, the evidence of direct collusion between Trump and the Russians is looking a little thin, to say the least. Now, into this maelstrom steps Guardian reporter Luke Harding with his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russian Helped Donald Trump Win.

Collusion spends over 300 pages insinuating that Trump is a long-standing agent of the Russian secret services, and hinting, without ever providing any firm evidence, that Trump and his team acted on orders from the Kremlin to subvert American democracy. I’ll be honest, and admit that I picked this book up expecting it to be a series of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and to be utterly unbalanced in its analysis, and in that sense I’m not an unbiased reader. At the same time, I was interested to see if Harding had come up with anything that everybody else had not, and was willing to give him a chance. I needn’t have bothered. For alas, my worst suspicions proved to be true, and then some.

collusion

The first thing to note about Collusion is that most of it is padding. That is to say, that it consists mainly of a lot of digressions in which Harding describes people and events not directly related to the main story of collusion. Whenever a new character is introduced, you tend to get pages of background information, along with descriptions of various places they’ve been to, things they’ve done in the past, and so on. At the start of the book, for instance, Harding introduces Christopher Steele, who prepared an infamous dossier purportedly based on secret sources within the Kremlin, which made all sort of extreme accusations against Trump. We learn about Steele’s parents, his childhood, his education, his career, and so on. Harding recounts how he met Steele. We learn about how they tried one café, then another, who drank what, etc, etc. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book. There’s a lot of padding. This padding makes Collusion an easy read, and gives it colour, and the flavour of a spy novel. But none of it adds anything to our knowledge of Donald Trump and his relationship with Russia. It’s just filler, designed to cover up the fact that, when it comes to the matter of collusion, Harding doesn’t have a whole lot new to say and certainly doesn’t have enough to fill up an entire book.

The second thing to note is that Harding’s modes of argumentation and standards of evidence are not  – how can I be polite about this? – what I’m used to as an academic. Let’s take the example of Trump’s former convention manager, Paul Manafort, to whom Harding devotes an entire chapter, obviously on the basis that the Trump-Manafort connection somehow proves a Trump-Kremlin connection. The problem Harding has is that, despite pages of fluff about Manafort, he hasn’t got any evidence that Manafort is a Kremlin agent. In fact, he quotes one source – a former Ukrainian official, Oleg Voloshin – as telling him that when Manafort worked as a political advisor to Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich:

Manafort was an advocate for US interests. So much so that the joke inside the Party of Regions [in Ukraine] was that he actually worked for the USA. … He supported Ukraine’s association with NATO and with the EU. He warned Yanukovich not to lock up [former Prime Minister Iuliia] Tymoshenko. “If it weren’t for Paul, Ukraine would have gone under Russia much earlier,” Voloshin told me.

This is pretty funny behaviour for a Kremlin agent, and Harding has to admit that, “It’s unclear to what extent, if any, Manafort was involved in supplying intelligence to Russia.” This doesn’t fit with the conclusion that Harding obviously wants readers to draw – that Manafort was a Kremlin agent, and so Trump must be too. So, he comes up with something else: some of Manafort’s associates in Ukraine “were rumoured to have links with Russian intelligence.” Note the use of the word “rumoured”. It’s not exactly convincing, but it’s good enough for Luke, who uses it to tell a story about one such associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. Harding recounts that he contacted Kilimnik by email to ask him about his relationship with Manafort. Kilimnik responds by telling him that the collusion accusations are  “insane” and “gibberish”, and signs off his email with a bit of self-mockery: “Off to collect my paycheck at KGB. :))”

And here’s where it gets interesting. For Harding thinks there’s something suspicious about Kilimnik’s answer. He writes:

The thing which gave me pause was Kilimnik’s use of smiley faces. True, Russians are big emoticon fans. But I’d seen something similar before. In 2013 the Russian diplomat in charge of political influence operations in London was named Sergey Nalobin. Nalobin had close links with Russian intelligence. He was the son of a KGB general; his brother had worked for the FSB; Nalobin looked like a career foreign intelligence officer. Maybe even a deputy resident, the KGB term for station chief. On his Twitter feed Nalobin described himself thus:

A brutal agent of the Putin dictatorship : )

And that’s it. That’s Harding’s evidence. Just to make sure readers get the point, he follows the last line up with a double paragraph space. Stop and think what this means, he seems to be saying. Someone who “looked like a career foreign intelligence officer” uses smiley faces. Kilimnik uses smiley faces!!! Say no more.

This is the level at which Harding’s logic works. Harding recounts a meeting of Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House, a meeting which was photographed by someone from the Russian news agency TASS. As Harding tells us:

The Times put the photo of Trump and Lavrov on its front page. At the bottom of the photo taken inside the White House was a credit. It said: “Russian Foreign Ministry.”

Yet another double paragraph break follows,  just to make sure that readers take in the implication of what this means.

Take another example. We learn (which in fact we knew already if we’d been following this story) that Trump’s short-lived National Security Advisor, and former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, attended a conference on the subject of intelligence at Cambridge University, where he met a Russian woman, Svetlana Lokhova. Harding admits that, “There is no suggestion she is linked to Russian intelligence.” Nevertheless, he feels it necessary to tell us that Flynn later corresponded with her by email. He writes:

In his emails, Flynn signed off in an unusual way for a US spy. He called himself “General Misha.”

Misha is the Russian equivalent of Michael.

Again, Harding then introduces a section break, leaving this ominous fact hanging in the air. Think of what it means, he is saying!

This is typical of how Harding argues. He puts in some suspicious sounding fact, or asks some question, and then just leaves it hanging. The implication is that the question doesn’t need answering, that the most damaging and extreme answer is obviously true. There’s an awful lot of this technique in Collusion. Harding spends pages on a digression about Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybovlev before telling us that Rybovlev’s private jet sometimes parks next to that of Donald Trump. Seems suspicious, huh? Except that Harding tells us that, ‘The White House … said that Trump and Rybovlev had never met. This appears to be true.” But Harding isn’t satisfied, and asks, “Had he [Rybovlev] perhaps met someone else from Trump’s entourage during his travels? Like, for example, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen?” Later, Harding tells us that Rybovlev’s yacht was once at Dubrovnik at the same time as Ivanka Trump’s yacht. “Was this perhaps planned” he asks.

Harding’s method is to ask these questions, as if asking was itself proof of guilt. Trump borrowed money from Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank was bailed out at one point by the Russian bank VTB. “Was there a connection?” Harding asks. But Harding doesn’t answer these questions. In fact, one of the interesting things about this book is that again and again the author has to confess that the facts don’t really fit what he’s trying to say. For instance, when discussing Trump and Deutsche Bank, and trying to make it sound as if Trump was in some way connected to the Kremlin because he was borrowing from the Germans, Harding writes, “The sources insist that the answer was negative. No trail to Moscow was ever discovered, they told us.”

This isn’t a lone example. Harding spends quite a few pages discussing Carter Page, a businessman who appeared on RT and gave a talk at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and who at one point had a marginal role in the Trump election campaign. It’s clear that he wants it all to sound really damaging. And yet, he writes that Page’s “attempts to meet Trump individually failed.” So, it turns out that there’s not much of a connection there after all. Likewise, when discussing Russian computer hackers, Harding writes: “By the second decade of the twenty-first century the cyber world looked like the high seas of long ago. The hackers who sailed on it might be likened to privateers. Sometimes they acted for the ‘state’, sometimes against it.” This rather undermines his claim that the Russian state was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

In another example, Harding discusses the sudden death of Oleg Erovinkin, who worked for the oil company Rosneft. He speculates that “Erovinkin was Steele’s source deep inside Rosneft,” and was murdered because word of Steele’s document had leaked out. The murder, he implies, is proof of the dossier’s validity. Except that Harding admits that, “there was nothing suspicious about Erovinkin’s sudden death” and “Steele was adamant that Erovinkin wasn’t his source.” Yet this doesn’t stop Harding from writing that, “in the wake of the dossier the Kremlin did appear to be wiping out some kind of American or Western espionage network. … It certainly looked that way.”

I could give other examples, but I can’t make this review too long. The point is that Harding ignores his own evidence. He argues by innuendo, and on occasion he just lets his imagine run away with itself. Steele’s dossier alleged that Trump had hired prostitutes while on a trip to Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s response was to crack a joke about Russian prostitutes being the best in the world. But to Harding it wasn’t a joke. As he writes:

Putin may have been sending a second message, darkly visible beneath the choppy, translucent waters of the first. It said: we’ve got the tape, Donald!

I wish I could say that this book was a joke. If you were going to write a parody of the collusion story, this is perhaps what it would look like. Unfortunately, Harding is deadly serious and I suspect that a lot of uncritical readers will soak it all up, not stopping to reflect on the awful methodology. So, I end on a word of warning. By all means read this book. But don’t do so in order to find out the truth about Donald Trump and Russia; do so in order to understand the methods currently being used to enflame Russian-Western relations. In that respect, Collusion is really quite revealing.

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Collusion

The investigation into suspected collusion between US President Donald Trump and the Russian government has claimed its first three victims: one (Paul Manafort) for completely unconnected money laundering charges, and two (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn) for lying to investigators about things which were not themselves criminal, and which are therefore crimes which would never have happened had there never been an investigation. To date, the evidence of direct collusion between Trump and the Russians is looking a little thin, to say the least. Now, into this maelstrom steps Guardian reporter Luke Harding with his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russian Helped Donald Trump Win.

Collusion spends over 300 pages insinuating that Trump is a long-standing agent of the Russian secret services, and hinting, without ever providing any firm evidence, that Trump and his team acted on orders from the Kremlin to subvert American democracy. Ill be honest, and admit that I picked this book up expecting it to be a series of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and to be utterly unbalanced in its analysis, and in that sense Im not an unbiased reader. At the same time, I was interested to see if Harding had come up with anything that everybody else had not, and was willing to give him a chance. I neednt have bothered. For alas, my worst suspicions proved to be true, and then some.

collusion

The first thing to note about Collusion is that most of it is padding. That is to say, that it consists mainly of a lot of digressions in which Harding describes people and events not directly related to the main story of collusion. Whenever a new character is introduced, you tend to get pages of background information, along with descriptions of various places theyve been to, things theyve done in the past, and so on. At the start of the book, for instance, Harding introduces Christopher Steele, who prepared an infamous dossier purportedly based on secret sources within the Kremlin, which made all sort of extreme accusations against Trump. We learn about Steeles parents, his childhood, his education, his career, and so on. Harding recounts how he met Steele. We learn about how they tried one café, then another, who drank what, etc, etc. This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book. There’s a lot of padding. This padding makes Collusion an easy read, and gives it colour, and the flavour of a spy novel. But none of it adds anything to our knowledge of Donald Trump and his relationship with Russia. Its just filler, designed to cover up the fact that, when it comes to the matter of collusion, Harding doesnt have a whole lot new to say and certainly doesnt have enough to fill up an entire book.

The second thing to note is that Hardings modes of argumentation and standards of evidence are not  – how can I be polite about this? what Im used to as an academic. Lets take the example of Trumps former convention manager, Paul Manafort, to whom Harding devotes an entire chapter, obviously on the basis that the Trump-Manafort connection somehow proves a Trump-Kremlin connection. The problem Harding has is that, despite pages of fluff about Manafort, he hasnt got any evidence that Manafort is a Kremlin agent. In fact, he quotes one source a former Ukrainian official, Oleg Voloshin as telling him that when Manafort worked as a political advisor to Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich:

Manafort was an advocate for US interests. So much so that the joke inside the Party of Regions [in Ukraine] was that he actually worked for the USA. He supported Ukraines association with NATO and with the EU. He warned Yanukovich not to lock up [former Prime Minister Iuliia] Tymoshenko. If it werent for Paul, Ukraine would have gone under Russia much earlier, Voloshin told me.

This is pretty funny behaviour for a Kremlin agent, and Harding has to admit that, Its unclear to what extent, if any, Manafort was involved in supplying intelligence to Russia. This doesnt fit with the conclusion that Harding obviously wants readers to draw that Manafort was a Kremlin agent, and so Trump must be too. So, he comes up with something else: some of Manaforts associates in Ukraine were rumoured to have links with Russian intelligence. Note the use of the word rumoured. Its not exactly convincing, but its good enough for Luke, who uses it to tell a story about one such associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. Harding recounts that he contacted Kilimnik by email to ask him about his relationship with Manafort. Kilimnik responds by telling him that the collusion accusations are  insane and gibberish, and signs off his email with a bit of self-mockery: Off to collect my paycheck at KGB. :))

And heres where it gets interesting. For Harding thinks theres something suspicious about Kilimniks answer. He writes:

The thing which gave me pause was Kilimniks use of smiley faces. True, Russians are big emoticon fans. But Id seen something similar before. In 2013 the Russian diplomat in charge of political influence operations in London was named Sergey Nalobin. Nalobin had close links with Russian intelligence. He was the son of a KGB general; his brother had worked for the FSB; Nalobin looked like a career foreign intelligence officer. Maybe even a deputy resident, the KGB term for station chief. On his Twitter feed Nalobin described himself thus:

A brutal agent of the Putin dictatorship : )

And thats it. Thats Hardings evidence. Just to make sure readers get the point, he follows the last line up with a double paragraph space. Stop and think what this means, he seems to be saying. Someone who looked like a career foreign intelligence officer uses smiley faces. Kilimnik uses smiley faces!!! Say no more.

This is the level at which Hardings logic works. Harding recounts a meeting of Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House, a meeting which was photographed by someone from the Russian news agency TASS. As Harding tells us:

The Times put the photo of Trump and Lavrov on its front page. At the bottom of the photo taken inside the White House was a credit. It said: Russian Foreign Ministry.

Yet another double paragraph break follows,  just to make sure that readers take in the implication of what this means.

Take another example. We learn (which in fact we knew already if wed been following this story) that Trumps short-lived National Security Advisor, and former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Michael Flynn, attended a conference on the subject of intelligence at Cambridge University, where he met a Russian woman, Svetlana Lokhova. Harding admits that, There is no suggestion she is linked to Russian intelligence. Nevertheless, he feels it necessary to tell us that Flynn later corresponded with her by email. He writes:

In his emails, Flynn signed off in an unusual way for a US spy. He called himself General Misha.

Misha is the Russian equivalent of Michael.

Again, Harding then introduces a section break, leaving this ominous fact hanging in the air. Think of what it means, he is saying!

This is typical of how Harding argues. He puts in some suspicious sounding fact, or asks some question, and then just leaves it hanging. The implication is that the question doesnt need answering, that the most damaging and extreme answer is obviously true. Theres an awful lot of this technique in Collusion. Harding spends pages on a digression about Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybovlev before telling us that Rybovlevs private jet sometimes parks next to that of Donald Trump. Seems suspicious, huh? Except that Harding tells us that, The White House said that Trump and Rybovlev had never met. This appears to be true. But Harding isnt satisfied, and asks, Had he [Rybovlev] perhaps met someone else from Trumps entourage during his travels? Like, for example, Trumps personal lawyer Michael Cohen? Later, Harding tells us that Rybovlevs yacht was once at Dubrovnik at the same time as Ivanka Trumps yacht. Was this perhaps planned he asks.

Hardings method is to ask these questions, as if asking was itself proof of guilt. Trump borrowed money from Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank was bailed out at one point by the Russian bank VTB. Was there a connection? Harding asks. But Harding doesnt answer these questions. In fact, one of the interesting things about this book is that again and again the author has to confess that the facts dont really fit what hes trying to say. For instance, when discussing Trump and Deutsche Bank, and trying to make it sound as if Trump was in some way connected to the Kremlin because he was borrowing from the Germans, Harding writes, The sources insist that the answer was negative. No trail to Moscow was ever discovered, they told us.

This isnt a lone example. Harding spends quite a few pages discussing Carter Page, a businessman who appeared on RT and gave a talk at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and who at one point had a marginal role in the Trump election campaign. Its clear that he wants it all to sound really damaging. And yet, he writes that Pages attempts to meet Trump individually failed. So, it turns out that theres not much of a connection there after all. Likewise, when discussing Russian computer hackers, Harding writes: By the second decade of the twenty-first century the cyber world looked like the high seas of long ago. The hackers who sailed on it might be likened to privateers. Sometimes they acted for the state, sometimes against it. This rather undermines his claim that the Russian state was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

In another example, Harding discusses the sudden death of Oleg Erovinkin, who worked for the oil company Rosneft. He speculates that Erovinkin was Steeles source deep inside Rosneft, and was murdered because word of Steeles document had leaked out. The murder, he implies, is proof of the dossiers validity. Except that Harding admits that, there was nothing suspicious about Erovinkins sudden death and Steele was adamant that Erovinkin wasnt his source. Yet this doesnt stop Harding from writing that, in the wake of the dossier the Kremlin did appear to be wiping out some kind of American or Western espionage network. It certainly looked that way.

I could give other examples, but I cant make this review too long. The point is that Harding ignores his own evidence. He argues by innuendo, and on occasion he just lets his imagine run away with itself. Steeles dossier alleged that Trump had hired prostitutes while on a trip to Moscow. Vladimir Putins response was to crack a joke about Russian prostitutes being the best in the world. But to Harding it wasnt a joke. As he writes:

Putin may have been sending a second message, darkly visible beneath the choppy, translucent waters of the first. It said: weve got the tape, Donald!

I wish I could say that this book was a joke. If you were going to write a parody of the collusion story, this is perhaps what it would look like. Unfortunately, Harding is deadly serious and I suspect that a lot of uncritical readers will soak it all up, not stopping to reflect on the awful methodology. So, I end on a word of warning. By all means read this book. But dont do so in order to find out the truth about Donald Trump and Russia; do so in order to understand the methods currently being used to enflame Russian-Western relations. In that respect, Collusion is really quite revealing.

Yes, the Kremlin is worried about Russia’s own presidential elections – Washington Post


Washington Post
Yes, the Kremlin is worried about Russia’s own presidential elections
Washington Post
Following record low turnout in Russia’s 2016 parliamentary elections, reports emerged that SOEs, rather than the ruling party United Russia, would drive get-out-the-vote efforts and socioeconomic monitoring in future elections. Here’s how this played

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