What did the president know and when did he know it?

The reporting in the Washington Post makes clear that both Trump AND Pence have been aware that Flynn had been compromised by Russian intelligence, and have been aware for some time. We are not sure now how all the investigating into this will go. The press will be focusing on this with extraordinary intensity and with a White House that leaks like no other….and will now begin gushing like the Oroville Dam. Congressional investigations are inevitable. A special prosecutor seems at some point to be likely. And the FBI and CIA and several other agencies have been investigating as well, indeed, Flynn’s resignation seems to be the result of those investigations. And should both Trump and Pence be found to have been party to a conspiracy to hide the fact that Flynn had been potentially turned by Putin, then both Trump and Pence could be forced to resign. None of this is likely, but it is well within the realm of the possible without resorting to paranoid conspiracy thinking. In which case, unless Pence were to go first and a replacement chosen by Trump before Trump resigned, Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House, will be president. People are no doubt talking to Ryan about this right now, telling him he has to be ready because there is an outside chance that he will constitutionally required to take the path of president. And that is how weird this is getting, and getting there so fast. Because we simply do not know. How much did the president know, I have heard asked several times on television tonight, and when did he know it. If you are old enough to remember the Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker’s double question to John Dean will send chills down your spine. It seems so impossibly unlikely that any of this could happen, but then Watergate began as an odd little burglary, and this seems to be so much more.

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Paranoid chant

I keep thinking of Russia, of Russia….

I am thinking that at least part of the reason that senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham folded on Rex Tillerson is that without Tillerson there is no State Department presence in the White House. Foreign policy would be controlled by ultra-nationaliist Stephen Bannon, who wrote Trump’s extremist inauguration address, and National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, who is under investigation for his contacts with Russia and whom much of the intelligence community (both in the US and internationally) assume is a Russian intelligence asset. Keep in mind that both McCain and Graham, as senators, have been briefed on the investigation into Flynn and know much, much more than either the press or public. The notion that they have to approve a nominee for secretary of state who is also close to Vladimir Putin must turn their stomachs, but intelligence probably shows that, unlike Flynn, there is no evidence that Tillerson is actively colluding with the Russian government. And Tillerson, at least, judging by his answers to the senators during his hearing, might provide a moderating hand. Right now we look to a general named Mad Dog Mattis, as secretary of defense, to be the sole moderating force in the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the Arctic ice is still melting.

Backing Trump has a geopolitical advantage for Russia in that Americans–divided as we are between those who refuse to believe the Arctic ice is melting and those who refuse to accept the fact that it cannot be unmelted–will continue to pretend that the Arctic Ocean is not a few years away from being blue water. Putin has invested heavily in making the Arctic a Russian lake–massive infrastructural investment, a huge state of the art fleet of ice breakers, the establishment of shipping routes, laying legal claim to most of the waters as being part of the landmass of Siberia, etc, etc–and the US has done nothing. NOTHING. We would not even replace the worn out ice breakers we had. A Trump presidency just ensures Russia that now, on the cusp of their most successful geopolitical coup since conquering all of eastern Europe in the Second World War, that the US will continue to pretend that there is nothing of interest north of Canada. But what Putin knows and that we don’t is that once the Arctic is open water, then the world will no longer be on an east-west horizontal axis. It will be on an up and over the top axis, and whoever is master of the Arctic is master of the world. The Arctic is about to become as central to everything as the Mediterranean was in classical times, and stupidly, beyond stupidly even, Americans have rendered it politically incorrect to even think about that. For conservatives the Arctic is not melting. In fact, it’s getting colder. For the Left, we can return it to its stark frozen beauty if we try hard enough. Neither side can be further from reality–the Arctic is melting at a phenomenal rate, and nothing will ever freeze it again, not for thousands of years. It’s a done deal. Not that it matters politically what we do, anyway. There was one and only one nation with the naval and scientific capital to keep the Arctic an international ocean, and it was the United States. Otherwise we’ve left it to Canada, Iceland, Denmark and Norway. Feeble compared to Russia, sure, but each of those four has more capacity in the Arctic than we do. We have nuclear powered carriers in the Persian Gulf and South China Sea and Mediterranean and not even an icebreaker in the Arctic, where the future of the world lies. You have no idea how stupid we Americans will look in a generation standing on the shore as the summer sun never sets on the gleaming blue Arctic Ocean. We won’t even be able to read the road signs. They’ll be in Cyrillic.

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From the Japan Tines, 11/1/2015, not that anyone in the U.S. noticed.

We can only imagine what Putin imagines when he sees crowds in the street

(December 27, 2016)

Russians No Longer Dispute Olympic Doping Operation said the New York Times.

Russia is for the first time conceding that its officials carried out one of the biggest conspiracies in sports history: a far-reaching doping operation that implicated scores of Russian athletes, tainting not just the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi but also the entire Olympic movement.

Over several days of interviews here with The New York Times, Russian officials said they no longer disputed a damning set of facts that detailed a doping program with few, if any, historical precedents.

“It was an institutional conspiracy,” Anna Antseliovich, the acting director general of Russia’s national antidoping agency, said of years’ worth of cheating schemes, while emphasizing that the government’s top officials were not involved.

A lab director tampered with urine samples at the Olympics and provided cocktails of performance-enhancing drugs, corrupting some of the world’s most prestigious competitions. Members of the Federal Security Service, a successor to the K.G.B., broke into sample bottles holding urine. And a deputy sports minister for years ordered cover-ups of top athletes’ use of banned substances.

The article goes on and on, the details just as seamy, the sweep of it just as inexplicably corrupt. The Russian officials admit to an “institutional conspiracy”, but deny the government–that is, Putin–was involved. Considering just how involved he is in the Russian Olympics program, that seems a little disingenuous.

While the Olympics are is only a game, and not a war, nor a presidential election, I’ve always thought that this massive doping scheme is a perfect symbol of the Russian KGB-state kleptocracy’s complete contempt for the concept of fair play. Putin’s regime believes everything should be fixed so the Russian kleptocratic leadership wins. There is no ideology there anymore, Russian socialism is dead, it’s all about greed and power and stealing. And by the time Putin is gone and his regime runs its course, the country will be an empty husk.

But apparently Vladimir Putin is terrified of revolution. Of a repeat of Kiev in Moscow. In some ways he is more like the Shah of Iran than anybody else, robbing his nation blind while forces as yet unknown, unseen and unrealized might be stirring up, ready to suddenly explode and destroy him. Russia is a state that really could implode suddenly and without warning, as it has done twice already in the last 99 years (in 1917 and 1991). Revolutions can take centuries, far longer than a single life span, and Russia may only be halfway through what began in 1917 (twice in one year in fact, with the democratic revolution in February and the Bolshevik in October). Or the revolution of 1905, which followed the catastrophic loss to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War and brought forth the Constitution of 1906 and the beginnings of their experiment with democracy. Or maybe even when Czar Alexander II freed the serfs in 1861, or when an anarchist blew him sky high 20 years later. Wherever we set the opening, Russia’s revolution is nowhere near the final curtain. The last four have begun with mobs in the street. We can only imagine what Putin imagined when he saw the crowds in the street in 2012. The elections had been crooked as hell and hundreds of thousands of people were very angry. He set the army and police and nationalist thugs on them. That worked in 1905. It didn’t in 1917 and 1991. And it worked again in 2012. But Putin knows the pattern of Russian history this past 110 years. For every successful repression there is an unsuccessful repression. It is only a matter of time. Russian dramas have a certain inevitability, the characters trapped in events they have no control of. Sometimes it’s the plot of a story. And sometimes it’s the sweep of history.

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Moscow, 2012

Making America (and Russia) great again.

Here are the last three tweets from Comrade Donald.

Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only “stupid” people, or fools, would think that it is bad! We…..

have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and….

both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!

Notice he still refuses to acknowledge the implications of the hack. Nor does he admit any notion that we must respond. Most remarkable of all is the final tweet, in which he believes that Putin and he can work together to solve “some of the great and many pressing problems and issues of the WORLD”. Putin, billionaire, is someone Trump thinks he can work with. Only people as smart and successful as billionaires can fix our problems. Certainly not “stupid” people, or fools (which apparently includes just about everyone who doesn’t read RT, Breitbart or watch Sean Hannity.) I’ve suspected this affinity of Trump’s for his fellow billionaires was the reason for his Putin bromance. He sees Putin as a businessman rather than as a crooked authoritarian, and Putin’s viciously kleptocratic impulses are not a problem for Trump (indeed, they might be a positive). And he clearly thinks that he and Putin are intellectual equals. Well, maybe Putin is the smarter of the two (Trump always knew V. Putin was very smart!), which is why The Donald seems to bow to Vlad’s judgment and wisdom. Afterall, he just flatly rejected the thinking of the entire US intelligence establishment because he trusts Putin. And while all this might seem completely inane (if not insane) to us stupid fools, it makes perfect sense once you realize that the world has many great and pressing problems and only comrades Donald and Putin can fix them. There is no one else on the world scene that Trump sees as a worthy equal partner. No one. Certainly not the inscrutable Chinese, nor any of the losers in NATO nor that loathesome European Union. No one else is smart enough to be on the plane of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin (though Trump’s plane, he would point out, is much nicer, with gold trimming and beautiful stewardesses and everything). No one else is great enough. No one else understands the art of the deal. Certainly no one else can make America (and Russia) great again.

Putin, of course, must think Trump is a jackass.

Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and a worm, turning.

Julian Assange seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. And Edward Snowden has been awfully quiet lately. Dots are being connected. Assange will be exposed as a Putin flunky soon enough. As if working for Putin’s TV news network wasn’t proof enough. He once brazenly threatened to release documents that would blow the Putin kleptocracy wide open. So he promised dramatically. I remember waiting to see what he released, but the promised day came and went without any document dump. There followed creepy rumors that agents of the FSB (the post-Soviet KGB) had threatened bodily harm and more if those documents were released. Putin takes his privacy very seriously. Assange caved in without any public explanation and was given his own show on RT for being a good boy. His involvement with Putin has increased vastly since then, and he is nothing but a Russian tool now. Hard to tell now if he has been an innocent stoolie for Putin in 2016, dutifully dumping hacked Democratic Party documents provided by the Russian intelligence networks, or if he is still under a Russian gun, no more a free operator than a mafia flunky.

Assange certainly knows after this past week just how incredibly cheap his life is now. Americans would love to offer him protective custody in return for spilling his story. On the other hand, he is completely useless to Putin as an operative anymore. Indeed, it would be best if he were silenced permanently. Assange used to claim that Obama or the CIA were trying to kill him. He’d dramatically duck away from windows (snipers, he said) and peak out from behind curtains, scanning the street and rooftops. He would brag about how Hillary wanted to kill him with a drone. But he is not hiding from the Americans now. He is hiding from Russian assassins, who have worked with impunity in London for decades. He must look at his Ecuadorian benefactors and wonder which of them would be willing to allow an assassin in to poison him. In 1939 Stalin ordered Beria who ordered Pavel Sudoplatov who ordered Nahum Eitingon who ordered Iosif Grigulevich who ordered Ramón Mercader to murder Leon Trotsky. It took more than a year of sneaking and planning and conspiring, but Trotsky was tracked down to a well guarded villa in Mexico City and murdered. Compared with our buffoonish attempts to kill Fidel Castro, it was a slick, professional job, even if it was finally done with an ice pick. Since then, KGB and FSB methods have only improved. A sly jab with an umbrella. Polonium-210 in a cup of tea. Quick and simple and invisibly done. Still, the Russians can take a long, long time before striking. The condemned in Russian prisons never know when the shot will come to the back of the head. Sometimes in days. Sometimes immediately. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it never does come. Imagine Julian Assange now. Paranoia must coil through him like ungrounded electricity.

And Edward Snowden? He knows that the way he got into Russia wasn’t exactly the way he told everybody. It was an FSB operation. Dozens of grey suited, gun packing FSB agents swarmed him when he first got off the plane in Moscow, as if taking possession of him bodily. He certainly stopped controlling his own destiny at that point. He’s being held in relative comfort and illusory freedom as an intelligence asset. And he knows that Putin might well have seen everything he took with him from the NSA to Hong Kong. Snowden must know now he blew it when he defected to Russia. That he could have stayed in China, but alas it seemed more likely back then that the Chinese would turn him over to the Americans. That certainly would never happen in Russia. But it turns out that in all likelihood he’d be safe now in China, while in Moscow he is currently at the mercy of Vladimir Putin. Snowden’s life too potentially hangs by a thread. Safe for now, but who knows what direction Russia will go in? Will the purges return? They could. In which case Edward Snowden is certainly a dead man. Remember that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the 100,000 American workers who had been invited to the Soviet Union with great fanfare in the early years of the Depression were later secretly murdered by the NKVD–predecessor to the KGB and FSB–in the killing fields of the Great Purge. The remainder disappeared into the Gulag. So there is legal precedent for quietly disposing of idealist Americans when that deep seated Russian xenophobic paranoia rears up again. Snowden must be quietly desperate to cut a deal with Obama. Suddenly he is an intelligence asset for the United States. Which means he will never get out of Russia alive. If he stays quiet, though, he could survive. After all, he knows more about American intelligence operations than he does about Russia’s. Assange, though, the man who knew too much, is almost certainly a dead man. Were this a Cold War spy thriller he would be a dead man, anyway. But this isn’t a movie, this is reality. A cold comfort for Julian Assange that must be.

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Vladimir Putin

If you look at Putin for what he is–the chief gangster in charge of the world’s largest kleptocracy–his meddling in our politics, in Germany’s, in France, is not that much different than Al Capone’s interference in Chicago politics, and Illinois politics, and even as far away as Washington D.C. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the logic is there. You cannot understand Vladimir Putin without understanding that Russia, for him, is no more a country than was Zaire for Mobuto or the Philippines for Ferdinand Marcos. Each used his position as head of state not to govern so much as to peel off vast wealth from the national economy. It is vital, for Putin, to have democratic regimes back on their heels, questioning their own processes, and run by men who owe Putin more than just a little for their success. We still look at Russia and see ideology but it’s not ideology at all, it’s just a vast criminal enterprise. When the KGB became the FSB and took over what remained of the Soviet Union, the game utterly changed in ways that most westerners cannot get themselves to see. It is no longer communism, it’s not even socialism, it’s crony capitalism reduced to it’s ugliest, most cruel and debased form. And now it has given us Donald Trump. Is this an existential crisis for us? What if instead of FDR that Huey Long had become president in the Depression? Is that where we are now? I’m not sure. It is all so unsettling. I woke up this morning and turned on the news, afraid of what might have happened while I was asleep.

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Our new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, as Exxon CEO, discussing oil with Vladimir Putin.