Papa Bear is not a Bridge Player

The conservative media is playing up the notion that “No Trump” means that the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt.

The fact is that collusion with Russia has been proven in the Trump campaign – people have pled guilty and gone to jail for it.

Papa Bear picked those people to run his campaign. Even if he wasn’t guilty of collusion himself, he acted consciously to prevent the investigation from proceeding. He admitted on national TV that he fired James Comey because the Russia investigation was a “made-up thing.” That has been disproven.

Whether he is guilty of obstruction is unclear – he can always claim that he was simply acting based upon information provided by others. But you would have to be pretty clueless to believe that Trump didn’t knowingly hire a whole team of people that colluded with Russia, all while pursing a major and highly lucrative real-estate deal with Moscow, all while hiding tax returns that will show proof of collaboration in Russian money-laundering.

William Barr’s first act as Attorney General was to force the Mueller investigation to a close, and then give the President a clean bill of health. The Trump team and conservative media are on a full-court press, following Karl Rove’s dictum that “a lie told often enough eventually becomes the truth.”

And I recall the words of Revelation 13:

Who is like the beast? Who can stand up to him?

Woe unto you, America! This is no accident – this is a (P)Resident Evil.

Casting a Paul over the Republican Party

Obviously my continued focus on this issue reflects my sense that the GOP is no longer legitimately part of a nation that styles itself as “Under God.” They may continue to wrap themselves in the flag, but I’m going to do my best to beat them over the head with the cross.

Continuing the object lesson that “the end justifies the means” is a slippery slope to criminality, reports emerged yesterday that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan – and last-year’s chief strategist for Republican Congressional campaign efforts – made active use of information hacked by the Russians from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. These ties are under active investigation by the Mueller’s team, explaining  Ryan’s ongoing coordination of attempts by Trey Gowdy and Devin Nunes to undermine the House investigation of election interference, and recent smears against Mueller brought by the Republican Congressional delegation as a whole.

The singular piece of public evidence is a pre-election letter from Minority Leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to Ryan warning that use of the hacked material was to facilitate  Russian attempts to undermine America’s democracy

At the state level, one RNC operative that accepted DNC and DCCC materials from Russia has stated that he didn’t care where the information came from so long as it served the campaign. Clearly, the RNC is not applying its resources to ensure that its operatives are knowledgeable of and comply with election law. Winning is the only thing that matters to them, and it appears that Ryan himself was actively involved in the rule-breaking.

That Russia hacked the RNC and failed to provide the information to Democrats is a clear indication of Putin’s affinity for the Republican Party. It is now left to Mueller and his team to discoverer whether that affinity reflects criminal affiliation – and the degree to which the hacked information may make the Republican Party vulnerable to blackmail. For parity, I would hope that Ryan and others in the Republican Party would publish the hacked RNC data. As it is not national security information, it seems inevitable that it will become publicly available through the Mueller investigation.

RNC Half-Lives

The GOP caucus in the Senate has indicated that it is unwilling to defend Special Counsel Mueller from attacks by the Trump Administration.

Why? Why stand up for the most unpopular president in the modern era?

Because the Russians didn’t just hack the DNC. They also hacked the RNC. And I’m certain that when those e-mails are released, we’ll discover that Priebus and Giuliani and the rest were engaged in selling out the American public to the global community of elite money-launderers. How do we know this? Because it isn’t an isolated incident. The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, authorizing unlimited campaign spending by corporations under the ruse that they were “persons” with protected free speech rights, was a narrowly partisan decision (Republican appointees over-riding Democratic appointees). And it covered for the fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had been funneling illegal foreign money (primarily Chinese) into GOP coffers for years.

I’m certain that Mueller, in possession of thousands of Trump Transition e-mails, is already pursuing those links. We’ll see probably not only collusion with Russia and other foreign interests, but also collusion with the GOP Congressional Caucus in criminal misuse of government funds for political purposes in the Benghazi and Clinton e-mail server investigations.

The Congressional delegation isn’t fighting for Trump. They’re fighting for their Party. They’re fighting for their jobs. Jobs financed by foreign corporations whose only interest in American politics is that they gain a profit from their investments.

Stranger bed-fellows we have never seen. There’s no point calling them “low-life.” Their life expectancy is too low.

Maybe, in fact, they’re already dead, in the sense that they’ve sold their souls for power.

Maybe this is what the Zombie Apocalypse actually looks like. Not the undead wandering around mumbling “Brains…brains…” but “Rubles…yuan…”

Trump-Washed

I caught a little piece of an Oliver Stone interview last night. He was saying that after thirteen years of watching Trump be decisive and commanding on The Apprentice, very few except the politically sophisticated would be able to perceive the empty vacuum at the heart of his persona. Of course, about the time of the Access Hollywood recording, producers at The Apprentice let it be known that they had to work really hard to maintain that image. Trump was abusive during scenes, and arbitrary in his decisions. One of the challenges was building a back-story that justified his actions.

Coupled with this is the dominance of Fox News in Republican circles. Joy Reid was on with Chris Hayes last night, observing that the reason the Republican base still remains loyal to Trump is because Fox continues to tell them that the Russian interference scandal is nothing worth paying attention to.

Contrast this with Joseph McCarthy, leader of the Red Scare scandals of the 1950s. McCarthy would roll into town, make a bunch of baseless accusations against local politicians, and then leave. The press would publish front-page denouncements of McCarthy’s targets, followed by back-page retractions when the accusations were debunked. Lives were ruined by the asymmetrical publicity.

What undid McCarthy were the televised Congressional hearings. Before the cameras, he was revealed as a manipulative little weasel.

Of course, some among us see Trump in the same way, but his electorate has been conditioned to associate those traits with carefully-scripted moments of glory.

But what about his sons?

It was cathartic to see Donald, Jr. on Fox News last night. He came across as a whiny brat.

Trump, Sr. characterizes the meeting with Russian representatives as “opposition research” that “almost anyone” would pursue. If so, that’s an indictment of our political culture. Trump has long been cozy with organized crime figures, and draws his legal talent from a community of ugly intimidators – men that will not even bother to apply for security clearances that would never be granted. Is this where we have come as a nation? A political culture in which winning by any means possible includes crawling through the gutter with people whose livelihood requires corrupting virtue?

In the early hours this morning, I found myself musing that maybe Comey took the line he did against Clinton in part to create conditions under which that culture would be exposed. I know that it had invaded the FBI itself, where anti-Clinton zealots used Breitbart publications to motivate a criminal investigation of her family. This is a visible case of misuse of agency resources by political operatives, but what if elected officials all across the country are interceding in investigations to protect criminals that have contributed to the destruction of other candidates?

I personally don’t find that inconceivable.

J. Edgar Hoover ran the FBI as long as he did because he had files full of the dirty secrets that elected officials wished to keep hidden. Could it be that organized crime has its own database at this point, and is securing its influence by blackmailing the political class? The Russian government – now the most powerful organized crime ring in the world – may not be motivated only by its foreign policy goals to attack our political system. It may also be extending its power through organized crime, and collaborating with U.S. criminals to corrupt not just our political class, but our entire culture.

The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming!

RussianCodeWe are engaged in World War III. Vladimir Putin go the drop on us, organizing a disinformation campaign that has allowed nationalists throughout the Western World to rise to prominence, undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing hacked documents to support the Republican contention that she was unable to secure secrets.

Russia’s leading opposition figure released a video that both documents the luxurious lifestyle and the ownership structure that allows Putin’s inner circle to protect the wealth they have embezzled from the Russian people. The production include footage from drones flying over huge compounds owned by Putin’s second-in-command, Dmitry Medvedev, a man whose government salary is less than the U.S. President’s.

I don’t think that I need to make any claims regarding the source of this information. It’s almost certainly a tit-for-tat by our intelligence services.

In the last year of his term, the Obama Administration leveled a $700 million fine against DeutscheBank for facilitating embezzlement by Russian officials. Donald Trump netted nearly $60 million through the sale of an estate in Florida to a Russian kleptocrat. The key question in this war is whether American’s intelligence services have the means to hack the hidden accounts to drain away the funds, or means through financial accountability laws to freeze the assets.

If Vladimir Putin had a significant portion of his personal wealth seized by foreign governments, would he respond with a nuclear counter-strike?

It’s hard to judge. The similarities between Putin and Russia’s last strongman, Josef Stalin, are eerie. Stalin, too, sent state security agents around the world to assassinate actual and supposed enemies.

Stalin set the terms of the Russian campaign to build nuclear weapons. The program was driven by terrifying threats against failure, leading to short-cuts that left massive environmental degradation around many of the facilities. Russia eventually created a hydrogen bomb capable of vaporizing everything within a ten-mile radius of the explosion, with a 100-mile-wide fireball.

Stalin was motivated by threats against the Soviet system on his own territory, and may have seen nuclear weapons simply as a protection against invasion. Putin, however, feels free to cross international borders to achieve his domestic and foreign policy aims. Would he honor the constraints recognized by Stalin?

If he does, this war will proceed much as did WW II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Better, it will progress at internet speed. Putin has already seized two of Russian’s most senior information security officers, presumably believing that they were responsible for some of the information that appeared in the US intelligence briefing on Russian intervention in the presidential election. Given that Putin has engaged in a war with an invisible enemy pushing photons down optical cables, this kind of paranoid response is going to run out of control. While Putin is decimating the ranks of his information security office, the US side will tighten control over technical secrets at its facilities, preventing any future WikiLeaks releases, and focus narrowly on the weaknesses of Russian cybersystems.

Putin may rely on couriers to run the country, but you can’t move money and conduct cyber warfare by those means. His international web of criminal terror will be strangled.

What’s Foreign about Success?

When President Clinton’s team left office, they warned the incoming Bush Administration that some military response had to be mounted against Al Qaeda in the aftermath of the Cole bombing. The Bush security team, dominated by Cold War hawks, dismissed the warning as a Clinton albatross, and set off to renegotiate the arms treaties with Russia to allow construction of a nuclear missile shield.

The rest, of course, is history. Osama bin Laden, encouraged by U.S. flaccidity to believe that one last strike in the heart of America would cause us to curl up in a fetal position, set about planning the 9/11 attacks.

In the Middle East, we face a similar situation with Israel, still living in the memory of the Holocaust, and even after 60 years unable to build a lasting peace with its neighbors. They turn to America again and again for financial and military aid, but do not heed our requests to negotiate a lasting peace. Instead, as recent perusal of the Jerusalem Times reveals, they rewrite the history of Israel to present themselves as victims rather than armed aggressors.

I agree that the state of Israel should survive, but the conditions of that survival have to reflect the realities of the politics of the Middle East. That means, if we are going to pursue conflict against those that seek to destroy it, we must establish impeccable moral credentials. That means talking to the leaders of Israel’s enemies, and giving them the opportunity to participate in the success that comes with liberal economics. It means eroding the “American + Israel = Axis of Evil” rationale for suppressing Iranian dissent. Simply beating Iran down because Netenyahu says so is going to inflame the entire region against American involvement, bring terror back to us at home, and – given the asymmetrical practical realities in the region – ultimately result in Israel’s destruction.

So, people of Israel, you need to elect a different leader. And Republicans in Congress – you need to stop playing politics with Israeli lives.

The situation in Russia has similar characteristics. Arguably, Vladimir Putin is criminally psychotic, having recently awarded medals of honor to two members of the personal hit squad that has assassinated those attempting to document the costs to Soviet society of Putin’s psychosis (Metsov being the most recent). But the very fact that Putin caters to these men is a revelation of weakness. Where once he was heralded as the guarantor of economic stability in Russia, recent military adventurism (in Georgia as well as the Ukraine) has caused the West to unite in economic sanctions against Russia, and stimulated weaker neighbors to seek NATO membership. The oligarchy recognizes this, and so Putin is left with only one tool for managing opposition: murder.

The Soviet Union experienced such a reign of terror under Stalin, and one of the causes of Russia’s declining global influence in the ’70’s and ’80’s was the creation of a Politburo that ensured no one man would ever again wield that kind of power. Russians have experience with this kind of tyranny, and while it may take time, the oligarchy will not allow Putin to purge them as Stalin purged his foes. Putin’s adventurism is the death knell for his regime.

That President Obama defers to Germany’s Chancellor Merkel in this matter should be considered a blessing to us at home. It allows us to focus on the worsening situation in Syria and Iraq that is fanning sectarian tension and generating powerful sympathy for Iran among Iraqi Shias. That Merkel counsels against providing advanced lethal assistance to Ukraine reflects her nation’s experience in winning the Cold War. It was economic power that brought Germany back together, and it is economic power that will eventually hold sway in the Ukraine.

So, again, Senate Republicans, try to be good neighbors. Stop playing politics with the lives of our allies.