He smiles at Putin and ignores global warming. He couldn’t be bothered to honor fallen American soldiers in France because there was rain in the forecast.
I’ve mostly blogged about politics since the beginning of the crisis (you know, the crisis known as “Individual-1”). Other topics haven’t seemed worth writing about.
But, even though Individual-1 is still happening, I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s because, two months ago, I took a break from American politics. At the end of June, I stopped reading the digital front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times and the U.S. edition of The Guardian. I also stopped looking at New York Magazine‘s “Daily Intelligencer” and Twitter. I was sick of my mind being polluted by the latest Individual-1 “news”.
Instead, I began looking at international or “world” news. (Even in the U.S., we’re part of the world, right?) I’m told my mood improved, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, even though some American news made it through. For instance, The Guardian puts selected American stories on their international page. And any other contact, direct or indirect, with the rest of humanity meant that I might be exposed to the latest turmoil and trouble.
Helped along by last week’s positive legal developments, I started looking at U.S. news again. I didn’t immerse myself in it as much as before, but this wasn’t a great idea. Even limited exposure has been depressing. This means I probably won’t be writing much until the November election — an event on which hope for America’s redemption rests.
Before going, however, I’ll mention a few articles I’ve come across that are worth reading.
First, philosophy professor Bryan Van Norden explains why people have a right to speak, but not necessarily to be heard. He argues that some people aren’t entitled to an audience:
Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole. There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas.
In other words, outlawing speech is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equal or deserve equal time in the “marketplace of ideas”. Otherwise, (quoting the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) “the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood”. And it becomes far easier to produce a political crisis like Individual-1.
On a related topic, a former Prime Minister of Australia writes about “the cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy”. The cancer he’s referring to is Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire “operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view”. Murdoch and his outlets like Fox News are one big reason why politics is so screwed up in the U.S. (Individual-1), the United Kingdom (Brexit) and Australia (five prime ministers in five years). Contrast that with politics in two other English-speaking nations, Canada and New Zealand. Their politics is a much more rational affair. Is it a coincidence that Murdoch doesn’t propagandize in either of those countries?
This week, James Fallows pointed out that it would only take one or two Republican senators to “serve as a check on [Individual-1’s] excesses”. As of now, the Republicans have a mere one-vote margin in the Senate. They will be ahead 51 to 49 after the late Senator McCain is replaced. As Fallows says:
Every [Republican] swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, not simply their own careerist comfort. And not a one of them, yet, has been willing to risk comfort, career, or fund-raising to defend the constitutional check-and-balance prerogatives of their legislative branch.
On a related topic, Brian Beutler explains why there is a natural alliance between Individual-1 and Vladimir Putin (who, of course, is no longer a Communist):
For the white nationalists in [the Republican] coalition [including the president himself], Putin seeks a global alliance of white nationalist parties, and is meddling in elections world wide to help those parties gain political power. But … even more garden variety conservatives see their interests and Putin’s coming into alignment. Putin is deeply hostile to LGBT people, and frames his hostility in religious terms. The Russian economy is built on a broken foundation of fossil fuel extraction. American conservatives aren’t killing journalists and … opposition leaders, but they are hostile to journalism and democracy, and increasingly comfortable with both propaganda and exercising power through minority rule…. Russia’s political identity is shaped by its aggrievement over the crumbling of its once-vast empire. The American right is similarly revanchist—not over lost territory, but lost demographic dominance and privilege.
For now, the GOP’s congressional leaders remain nominally committed to the western alliance, and to treating Russia as an adversary. But they will not check [the president] as he advances the opposite view. Elite conservative opinion is already shifting on the Russia question, and should Trump ever convince a majority of Republican voters that he’s right about Russia, the congressional leadership will follow suit. Putin seems to grasp that, too. What we’re seeing, across several different plot lines, is that in many ways Moscow understood Republicans better than Republicans understand themselves.
But let’s conclude with some good news. In an interview with The Atlantic, Senator Elizabeth Warren discusses “two aggressive proposals for overhauling American business”, i.e. making capitalism work the way it’s supposed to:
One [of her proposals] is the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require the largest corporations to allow workers to choose 40 percent of their board seats. [This] is meant to provide an antidote to short-term thinking in the biggest businesses—and to short-circuit the ease with which CEOs make decisions that enrich themselves at the expense of workers and the underlying health of their firm. A similar system exists in Germany, and it goes by the name “codetermination.”
A second set of proposals is what Warren calls the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Warren has called for a frontal assault on lobbying, including a lifetime prohibition that would prevent federal officeholders (including the president, members of Congress, and Cabinet secretaries) from ever becoming paid influence peddlers. Her argument is that lobbying undermines the functioning of markets, by permitting corporations to exert outsize control over the regulatory state and use government to squash competitors.
It’s also good news that there are only sixty-nine days until the midterm election. On November 6th, we can quicken the demise of the Republican Party. We should make the most of the opportunity.
In 1972, the German government founded the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), a foundation and think tank in Washington. It was a gift to the American people in recognition of how the Marshall Plan helped rebuild Germany after World War 2.
The GMF has now created Hamilton 68, a site that allows “tracking Russian influence operations on Twitter”. (The name refers to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers No. 68, in which he discussed foreign meddling in our elections.) If you visit the new Disinformation Dashboard, you can see what stories and topics Russia is pushing today. From today’s “Top Themes”:
The networks we track are engaged in disinformation. They amplify legitimate reporting when the content suits them, and they promote alternative media outlets that seemingly specialize in the production of disinformation, whether or not the outlets are controlled by the Kremlin. These outlets assemble stories from found objects – bits of information that may have some basis in reality. The final product will leap to conclusions the components of the story do not necessarily support, but which promote a distorted view of events to the Kremlin’s benefit. This past week we have seen Kremlin-oriented Twitter promoting content regarding non-lethal U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. Reality: the U.S. Navy is helping construct a naval operations center at Ochakiv. The promoted stories at Stalker Zone and Strategic Culture turn that into: “The Entire Black Sea Coast of Ukraine Will Become a U.S. Military Base” and “U.S. Military to be Permanently Stationed on [Ukraine] Soil” respectively. Such stories are produced continuously. Their effectiveness is based on cumulative impact.
Side note: A coherent response to events on the weekend in Charlottesville has not yet emerged (as of August 16), though we continue to watch for one.
They’re currently monitoring 600 Twitter users, “properly understood as a network of accounts linked to and participating in Russian influence campaigns”, officially or unofficially, knowingly or unknowingly. These include:
- Accounts likely controlled by Russian government influence operations.
- Accounts for “patriotic” pro-Russia users that are loosely connected or unconnected to the Russian government, but which amplify themes promoted by Russian government media.
- Accounts for users who have been influenced by the first two groups and who are extremely active in amplifying Russian media themes. These users may or may not understand themselves to be part of a pro-Russian social network.
Today’s top Russian tweet, according to the Disinformation Dashboard, happens to be from the government-run RT network (formerly Russia Today):
The top Russia hashtags for the past 48 hours have been “antifa” (anti-fascist), “maga” (Make America Great…), “boston”, “syria”, “isis” and “altleft”.
By the way, according to something called TwitterAudit.com, roughly 40% of DT’s 36 million followers are automated (i.e. fake).
Shining light on Russia’s propaganda efforts is a good thing, but I’d feel better if the president* and his minions were doing something to protect our upcoming elections. They’re not, because Russia is on their side.
Note: Whoever designed this graphic for GMF showing Putin releasing all those Twitter birds might as well have left the birds blue. Russia isn’t a Communist country anymore. It’s a right-wing kleptocracy, which is why the president* and other right-wing fanatics are so pro-Russia now. Putin leads the kind of government they aspire to.
Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Sufferings of the World” (1836):
In early youth, as we contemplate our coming life, we are like children in a theater before the curtain is raised, sitting there in high spirits and eagerly waiting for the play to begin. It is a blessing that we do not know what is really going to happen.
You tell ’em, Art.
Craig Unger, “Trump’s Russian Laundromat”, The New Republic:
A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money…. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics….
By 2004, to the outside world, it appeared that Trump was back on top after his failures in Atlantic City. That January, flush with the appearance of success, Trump launched his newly burnished brand into another medium.
[The Apprentice] instantly revived his career. “The Apprentice turned Trump from a blowhard Richie Rich who had just gone through his most difficult decade into an unlikely symbol of straight talk, an evangelist for the American gospel of success, a decider who insisted on standards in a country that had somehow slipped into handing out trophies for just showing up,” … Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observe in their book Trump Revealed. “Above all, Apprentice sold an image of the host-boss as supremely competent and confident, dispensing his authority and getting immediate results. The analogy to politics was palpable”….
Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.
I sometimes wonder how many of the millions of people who watched The Apprentice for years and years voted for this “poor person’s idea of a rich person” and whether DT’s shady business deals will ever catch up with him.
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, “Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting sure sounds like a Russian intelligence operation”, The Washington Post:
….everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election….
Had this Russian overture been rejected or promptly reported by the Trump campaign to U.S. authorities, Russian intelligence would have been forced to recalculate the risk vs. gain of continuing its aggressive operation to influence U.S. domestic politics. Russian meddling might have been compromised in its early stages and stopped in its tracks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies before it reached fruition by the late fall.
So the suggestion that this was a nothing meeting without consequence is, in all likelihood, badly mistaken.
Paul Krugman, “Takers and Fakers”, The New York Times:
… throughout the whole campaign against Obamacare, Republicans have been lying about their intentions.
Believe it or not, conservatives actually do have a more or less coherent vision of health care. It’s basically pure Ayn Rand: if you’re sick or poor, you’re on your own…. Specifically:
1. Health care, even the most essential care, is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t get insurance because you have a preexisting condition, because your income isn’t high enough, or both, too bad.
2. People who manage to get insurance through government aid, whether Medicaid, subsidies, or regulation and mandates that force healthy people to buy into a common risk pool, are “takers” exploiting the wealth creators, aka the rich.
3. Even for those who have insurance, it covers too much. Deductibles and co-pays should be much higher, to give people “skin in the game”…
4. All of this applies to seniors as well as younger people. Medicare as we know it should be abolished, replaced with a voucher system that can be used to help pay for private policies – and funding will be steadily cut below currently projected levels, pushing people into high-deductible, high-copay private policies.
This is … what conservative health care “experts” say when they aren’t running for public office, or closely connected to anyone who is. I think it’s a terrible doctrine … because buying health care isn’t and can’t be like buying furniture….
But think of how Republicans have actually run against Obamacare. They’ve lambasted the law for not covering everyone, even though their fundamental philosophy is NOT to cover everyone, or accept any responsibility for the uninsured. They’ve denied that their massive cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts, pretending to care about the people they not-so-privately consider moochers. They’ve denounced Obamacare policies for having excessively high deductibles, when higher deductibles are at the core of their ideas about cost control. And they’ve accused Obamacare of raiding Medicare, a program they’ve been trying to kill since 1995.
In other words, their whole political strategy has been based on lies – not shading the truth, not spinning, but pretending to want exactly the opposite of what they actually want.
And this strategy was wildly successful, right up to the moment when Republicans finally got a chance to put their money – or actually your money – where their mouths were. The trouble they’re having therefore has nothing to do with tactics, or for that matter with Trump. It’s what happens when many years of complete fraudulence come up against reality.
As Krugman writes elsewhere:
… everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows something about insurance markets is declaring the same thing: that the [Republican] bill would be a disaster. We’ve got the insurance industry declaring it “simply unworkable”; the American Academy of Actuaries saying effectively the same thing; AARP up in arms; and more [doctors, nurses, state governors, voters].
And yet, it still might become law this month. Why?
Jennifer Rubin, “The GOP’s Moral Rot Is the Problem, Not Donald Trump”, The Washington Post:
… for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, … elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party … with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.
We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House….
Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity….the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code”.
Helen Keller, Optimism: An Essay (1903):
The test of all beliefs is their practical effects in life. If it be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, then it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain. Schopenhauer is an enemy to the race. Even if he earnestly believed that this is the most wretched of possible worlds, he should not promulgate a doctrine which robs men of the incentive to fight with circumstance.
All right, Helen, the good news is that a Republican senator is recovering from surgery and won’t be in Washington this coming week. His vote would be needed to move the Republican bill forward, so the vote has been delayed, giving the opposition more time to terminate this horror show with extreme prejudice.
Adam Schiff is the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He represents a Congressional district in Southern California and is a former Federal prosecutor. On Monday, he delivered a 17-minute opening statement at a hearing on the Trump/Russia connection. He apparently didn’t have time to discuss the mountains of cash Russian sources have given the Trump Organization in recent years, but if you’d like an excellent summary of other aspects of the Trump/Russia connection, the video below is worth watching.
Or you can read the text of his remarks here.
One note of caution: Rep. Schiff spoke at a hearing at which the Director of the FBI and the Director of the NSA were invited to testify. That’s why, if you watch the video, you’ll occasionally see FBI Director Comey’s face. Being reminded that Comey walks among us is, for some of us, the stuff of nightmares.
I already had a title for a post called “The Big Picture on Health Insurance”, but that topic can wait. The T__p/Putin scandal seems to be growing. The British newspaper The Independent just made the story even more interesting:
(1) The ex-spy Christopher Steele who investigated Trump’s Russian connection eventually concluded that the FBI intentionally ignored solid evidence on the matter. In fact, Mr. Steele decided that there was a cabal in the FBI willing to cover up damaging information about T__p while the Bureau pursed a vendetta against Hillary Clinton;
(2) Back in the summer, when T__p downplayed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and simultaneously called for the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails, and when the Trump campaign later removed a plank from the Republican platform condemning the invasion, it was all done in response to a recent request from Russia.
If any of this is true, then T__p, people close to him and members of the FBI committed treason. Ideally, they would all end up in prison. There would also be a constitutional amendment allowing for a new election.
Even if these charges are true, however, it’s unlikely we’ll get a new election. That would require amending the Constitution, which would require cooperation from too many self-serving Republican politicians. T__p’s impeachment, however, followed by a stretch in a Federal prison, could easily happen. When they can’t avoid the truth anymore, the Republican sleazes in Congress will rush to get rid of the bastard.
One thing everyone needs to understand about the Orange Menace’s love for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is that Russia isn’t a Communist country anymore. Boris Yeltsin banned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union back in 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union was formally dissolved. Putin resigned from the party that year.
In 1995, Putin helped organize the pro-government “Our Home Is Russia” party. In 1999, he joined the new “Unity” party. That’s the same year he described Communism as “a blind alley, far away from the mainstream of civilization”. In 2008, during his second term as Prime Minister, Putin became the leader of the “United Russia Party”.
Although there are still quite a few Communists in Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is much less popular than United Russia. In this year’s election, Putin’s party got 54% of the vote. The Communists came in second with 13%.
Since Putin isn’t a Communist anymore, what is he? Here’s how Wikipedia describes United Russia:
The Party has no coherent ideology; however, it embraces specific politicians and officials with a variety of political views who support the administration. The Party appeals mainly to non-ideological voters; therefore, United Russia is often classified as a “catch-all party” or as a “party of power“.
In 2009 the United Russia Party proclaimed “Russian Conservatism” as its official ideology.
United Russia isn’t so much a political party that tries to win elections in order to carry out a set of policies. Instead, it’s one of the tools used by the rich and powerful to win elections so they can maintain their positions at the top of Russian society.
Putin began his political ascent when he was put in charge of the Presidential Property Management Department in the late 1990s. His job was to manage the transfer of overseas property belonging to the Soviet Union and Communist Party to the new Russian Federation. That process had been going on since the fall of the Soviet Union. But instead of being transferred to the new government, much of that property was “privatized”. In other words, it ended up in the hands of a small number of well-placed people, including Putin, who quickly became extremely rich.
In the words of the economist and lawyer James S. Henry, whose long article “The Curious World of Donald T___p’s Private Russia Connections” tells the sordid story in detail:
…One of the most central facts about modern Russia [is] its emergence since the 1990s as a world-class kleptocracy, second only to China as a source of illicit capital and criminal loot, with more than $1.3 trillion of net offshore “flight wealth” as of 2016…
[It was] one of the most massive transfers of public wealth into private hands that the world has ever seen.For example, Russia’s 1992 “voucher privatization” program permitted a tiny elite of former state-owned company managers and party apparatchiks to acquire control over a vast number of public enterprises, often with the help of outright mobsters.
A majority of Gazprom, the state energy company that controlled a third of the world’s gas reserves, was sold for $230 million; Russia’s entire national electric grid was privatized for $630 million; ZIL, Russia’s largest auto company, went for about $4 million; ports, ships, oil, iron and steel, aluminum, much of the high-tech arms and airlines industries, the world’s largest diamond mines, and most of Russia’s banking system also went for a song.
In 1994–96, under the infamous “loans-for-shares” program, Russia privatized 150 state-owned companies for just $12 billion, most of which was loaned to a handful of well-connected buyers by the state… The principal beneficiaries of this “privatization”—actually, cartelization—were initially just 25 or so budding oligarchs with the insider connections to buy these properties and the muscle to hold them.…
For the vast majority of ordinary Russian citizens, this extreme re-concentration of wealth coincided with nothing less than a full-scale 1930s-type depression, a “shock therapy”-induced rise in domestic price levels that wiped out the private savings of millions, rampant lawlessness, a public health crisis, and a sharp decline in life expectancy and birth rates.
Is it any wonder at all that Vladimir Putin, the man in charge of this highly successful criminal enterprise, is one of the Orange Menace’s favorite people? T___p built his real estate career on tax breaks from local government (a billion dollars from New York City alone), tax evasion, loans that were never repaid and a number of shady deals, while Putin should be made an honorary member of the Republican Party. Donnie and anti-Muslim, super-secretive white guy Vladimir have a whole lot in common.
It’s remarkable that the Orange Menace hasn’t said a bad word about Putin or Russia since he began running for President, even though he’s criticized just about everyone else on Earth. It isn’t just admiration on T___p’s part. There has been a lot of money involved. Mr. Henry proceeds:
… For many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization, the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its worst.
The nine-lived Trump, in particular, had just suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies. So the massive illicit outflows from Russia … from the mid-1990s provided precisely the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed. As Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, [said] in September 2008 (on the basis, he said, of his own “half dozen trips to Russia in 18 months”):
“In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
All this helps to explain one of the most intriguing puzzles about Donald Trump’s long, turbulent business career: how he managed to keep financing it, despite a dismal track record of failed projects.
According to the “official story,” this was simply due to a combination of brilliant deal-making, Trump’s gold-plated brand, and raw animal spirits—with $916 million of creative tax dodging as a kicker. But this official story is hokum. The truth is that, since the late 1990s, Trump was also greatly assisted by these abundant new sources of global finance, especially from “submerging markets” like Russia. [T___p and Putin] are not evil twins, exactly, but they are both byproducts of the … scams that were peddled to Russia’s struggling new democracy.
So, maybe the Orange Menace did something very bad on one of his trips to Russia and they’re blackmailing him. Maybe one of his fundamental desires is that the U.S. and Russia form an alliance to make weaker countries give up their nuclear weapons (as reported here). Maybe he sees Putin as an ally in the fight against Islamic radicals or a coming war with China. Maybe he views Vlad as a role model, since Putin often has his critics and enemies murdered. It seems likely, however, that it’s mostly about the money.
(For a look at one way Putin plans to rake in the rubles once the new President and the Secretary of State from Exxon are in charge, take a look at this. There’s a whole lot of oil just north of Russia.)