Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category
James Comey is the strangest, most mysterious man in the known universe. And boy, does he have a poker face. What is his deal? What is his game? Officially people in the world of politics still vouch for his integrity. But the rest of us mortals can probably say: “Comey, I hate you. I love you. I hate you. I love you. I hate you. I like you. I’m not sure. I hate you. Huh?”
Most citizens probably never gave Comey much thought until his press conference announcing FBI would not recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for using a private e-mail server, although Clinton was very very naughty. The bizarre “She broke rules but we won’t prosecute” announcement brought out angry responses from Republicans and grudging gratitude from Democrats. When Comey was called to explain his actions before Congress, Democrats shielded him. Then the tables flipped when 12 days before the election Comey sent The Letter, making Republicans dance with joyful glee and sending Democrats into apoplectic fits of rage. There is no doubt that The Letter swung the election to Trump. Through all this Comey was investigating Trump’s connections to Russia. FBI started their investigation at the end of July. (July 27th is when Trump called on Russia to hack Clinton’s e-mails, but rumors of Trump’s relationship to Putin were already swirling. See Robby Mook/Jake Tapper clip below.) How in the world does the head of the FBI throw one candidate’s candidacy into chaos while knowing that the other candidate may be colluding with a foreign power to manipulate the election? These actions are inexplicable. And through it all Comey’s Mona Lisa smile is infuriating.
Now again Comey, with Trump installed in the White House, has unleashed the wrath of the Republicans and weary excitement from Democrats in Congress. Democrats need him. Republicans and Trump need him to shut up. If you’re keeping score, Comey has pissed off Republicans more often than Democrats. But he also handed Republicans the ultimate gift: The Presidency of the United States. What is his deal? What is his game? Will we ever actually know? Or will his motives and actions forever be the source of speculation? What will history books say about James Comey?
Of the people within Trump’s administration who seem likely to go down hard are Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone. (Davis Nunes says he’s never heard of Page and Stone… make of that what you will… ) CNN put together a handy guide to Stone’s public comments regarding his connections to Assange, WikiHacks and Guccifer 2.0. These are great for when Stone says he didn’t know anything about anything. The timeline spans from August 10, 2016 (“Stone tells a local Republican Party group in Florida “I’ve actually communicated with Julian Assange”) to March 20, 2017 (“It’s only fair that I have a chance to respond 2 any smears or half truths about alleged “Collusion with Russians” from 2day’s Intel Hearing.”) I hope Stone starts prepping himself for a stone cold cot.
One of the sources of concern to Trump and Co. is Alfa Bank. The second largest private bank in Russia it came to some people’s attention when it was caught trying to communicate with a Trump server. The original story on the bank’s strange behavior came to light before the election, but the story was dismissed by almost the entire media. NY Times infamously dismissed it on October 31, 2016 with the following headline: “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” And with that, the media’s interest in the Trump/Putin connection died. The only person who followed up on it was a Republican writer Louise Mensch. She reported days later (late evening of November 7, to be exact) that the FBI had a FISA warrant to examine communications between Trump’s campaign and a Russian bank. Mensch claims the NY Times (Erich Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers wrote the article) knew about the FISA warrant. And that they even interviewed then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid about it. But threw out the entire Reid interview and buried the FBI/FISA detail. She continues to question Lichtblau on twitter about why he did these things and he largely ignores her. Meanwhile Alfa Bank is now claiming they have been hacked and are suing one of the analysts who examined their suspicious communications with Trump organization.
The information on Trump’s connections to Russia were discussed in public as early as July 24, 2016 by Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. On CNN’s State of the Union, on the first day of Democratic convention, Mook told Jake Tapper there were great concerns regarding potential Trump campaign collusion with Russia, stolen DNC e-mails published via WikiLeaks, and RNC’s watering down of Republican platform on Russia/Ukraine. These are now all vital parts of FBI’s investigation that could sink Trump and will most certainly sink many of the key players of his campaign. The media did not investigate this story until it was too late. (Notice also the chyrons on the Mook/Tapper video. An intellectually dishonest representation of the e-mails being published by WikiLeaks.) The media dedicated all of their resources to the Clinton e-mails. They dedicated no resources to potential collusion between Trump and Russia. This will always be one of the great journalistic disasters of all time. Perhaps greater than their failure to vet the Iraq War (NY Times again.)
Which brings me to Donald Trump himself. I won’t use any of the big words like sociopathic or narcissistic. I think he’s just a man who has never in his entire life had to deal with consequences for any bad behavior. Rich white man. If he did anything wrong, he got a gold star from daddy and lawyers took care of the fallout. He said and did as he pleased. No blowback on anything his entire life. 70 years of this. Imagine what this complete lack of accountability and self-awareness can do to a human brain. He goes bankrupt 7 times? Meh, someone will take care of the fallout and get him more loans. Wife isn’t pleasing anymore? Meh, someone will take care of the divorce and settlement. Being sued for racial discrimination? Meh, someone will take care of the settlement. This is a man who has thrown money at his problems and the problems went away for 70 years. He behaved during his campaign the way he has behaved his entire 70 years on Earth. Badly. Rude, arrogant, mean, vicious, malicious. Said everything that came into his head. And the crowds adored him. Think about what a crowd of 10,000 people chanting “Lock her up!” can do to your brain. Adoration. Say and do anything you like – and TV gives you hours of non-critical coverage. The crowds go crazy. Your approval ratings go through the roof. Your opponents, seasoned politicians all, go down in flames. And you don’t even have to do anything different! It just happens. For a man who has spent his entire life with zero accountability runs his campaign the same way – and he is rewarded with the Presidency of the USA. Think what that does to your brain. Everything he has ever done and said has been vindicated. He does not recognize that things are different now. His brain can’t process this information. Incapable of self-awareness or awareness of others. For 70 years he has done as he pleased, said as he pleased. And an army of Yes-Men have enabled and encouraged his delusions for 70 years. But it is different now. He is stunned that his inauguration crowd isn’t as big as his predecessor’s! (A Black Man!)
“No, it’s just not possible. Fake news! The Black Man wire-tapped me! Obviously. Why do I have to retract this? I don’t have to do anything I don’t want. I want to golf. Why can’t I golf? I said I want to golf! This is my resort! This is my home away from gilded home in NYC! I’ll do what I want! I’m President! I won! I did everything the way I always do! And I won! People love me! They all voted for me! All voted for me! Because I’m President! Those who didn’t vote for me have no right to exist! Deep state is out to get me! How else to explain that these things I said are being held against me? I always say what I want! Why are you ganging up on me?! I’m not a puppet! Tillerson will go to Russia! Because I said so! Because I won! This is a conspiracy to destroy me! You can’t tell me what I can and can’t say about Putin! You don’t like Putin? Too bad! I love Putin! I’ll say what I want! I won! I’m President! And you are nothing.”
I will finish on a completely different note. It is a story of love, regret and perseverance.
Through all the madness music has been a great source of solace to me. (Classical music and opera generally, but then…) Here is my favorite performer Madonna, in a “pirate” recording of her classic song “True Blue” at Barclay Center in Brooklyn on September 19, 2015, as part of her “Rebel Heart Tour.” Two nights earlier Madonna celebrated 30 years since her Madison Square Garden debut with a concert at MSG. (Amy Schumer was Madonna’s opening act at the NY shows in 2015, that’s why Madonna gives Schumer a shout-out in the clip below. At that tour way back in 1985, “The Like A Virgin Tour,” her opening act were the Beastie Boys.)
“True Blue” was written in the mid 1980’s by Madonna as a declaration of love for her then-husband Sean Penn. He was in the audience at MSG two nights earlier and there is private video of him watching Madonna singing the song. At Barclay’s (one of the two times I watched this show), Madonna told the story that after the MSG anniversary concert she received a letter from Penn. In it he wrote that watching her perform that night, after so many years and everything they’d each been through, he really appreciated everything she had accomplished and he acknowledged he was a fool to not have recognized her talents when they were married. “Thirty years!” Madonna screamed to the audience. “Thirty years I’ve been waiting for those words! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is marriage and why I will never get married again.”
Last time she sang “True Blue” live was in 1987, just as her marriage to Penn was falling apart.
On March 4th, The Thing in the White House sent out a bunch of angry tweets blasting the previous President for wiretapping Isengard Trump Tower. “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Then 30 mins later: “How long has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” When asked to clarify this insanity, The Thing’s minions really could do nothing but heee and hawww. The Thing read it somewhere, they said. NY Times! Louise Mensch! BBC! Naturally once reporters dug deeper, they found that NO, none of those reports talked about wiretapping. Mensch broke the story on her right-wing blog HeatStreet on November 7th about the FISA warrant, but all she said was that a FISC court granted permission to “examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.” In question was a mysterious communication between two Russian banks and a server in Trump Tower. (David Corn of Mother Jones broke the story of the two banks and Trump Tower, but all media dismissed it as a bizarre conspiracy theory a couple of weeks earlier.) In the follow-up reports to Mensch’s story, BBC and the failing NY Times confirmed a FISA warrant, but nobody mentioned wiretaps… except Breitbart and then The Thing in its Tweets. Ahhhhh, the plot thickens. Where did Breitbart get the information about wiretaps at Trump Tower and did The Thing just leak top secret information in a series of Tweets? Sure seems that way. Will anybody hold him accountable? LOL.
There are fleeing moments when it feels like Lady Lindsey Graham and Hero John McCain might hold The Thing accountable for the numerous impeachable offenses it has committed. Earlier today Graham tweeted: “An attack on one political party should be considered an attack on all. We must push back on Russian election interference at home & abroad.” That sounds great! However it should also be noted that Graham had lunch with The Thing earlier in the day.
“Great lunch meeting with @POTUS today. President Trump is strongly committed to rebuilding our military which is music to my ears. (1/3)
President Trump is in deal-making mode and I hope Congress is like-minded. (2/3)”
“How good was the meeting with @POTUS?
I gave him my NEW cell phone number.”
Somebody responded: “1-800-DOOR-MAT?” And then “You, sir, are a profile in courage.”
And that, folks, is Lindsey Graham summarized in a handful of tweets. We have to get used to the notion that no, Graham and McCain won’t hold The Thing accountable for anything until they’ve gotten what they want from him: tax cuts for the rich, bigger military, gutting ACA, etc. etc. etc. Then maybe, possibly, once that’s all done, they’ll throw The Thing overboard.
Speaking of handing out cell numbers, can anybody afford a new cell phone after Republicans pass Trumpcare? Jason Chaffetz, the man who investigated Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails to death, and who doesn’t think there is any reason to look into Trump’s connections to Russia, went on CNN to start selling Trumpcare to America.
Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. And so, maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions for themselves.
This is, of course, patently absurd. An iPhone unsubsidized by a phone company might cover one month’s premium for a single person. How many iPhones does Chaffetz think people buy? Of course, Chaffetz himself doesn’t have to buy his own phone. He gets one from work. His cell bill gets covered too. “How much does an iPhone cost” is the new “How much is a gallon of milk?” and Chaffetz doesn’t know the cost of either.
Overall Trumpcare is going to gut poor people into oblivion. It gives tax breaks to the rich, provides insurance companies with tax deductions on CEO salaries, will raise costs of premium, reinstate caps, gut preexisting conditions. Millions of people will lose their insurance. Many of them were Trump voters. Sadly many of them were not. But they will suffer also.
Why do Republicans hate poor people? It’s a question that has been asked often and there are many answers. As it came up again in the current Trumpcare discussion, I was reminded of a scene in E.M. Forster’s great novel “Howards End.” In the 1910 novel Forster explored 3 groups of people from 3 different classes: the extremely wealthy and conservative Wilcoxes, upper middle class but liberal Schlegels, and poor but aspiring for something bigger Basts. The Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, try to help poor Leonard Bast, but their well-meaning interventions in his life, as well as not-well meaning interventions from the Wilcoxes, prove disastrous. He loses his job as a clerk in an insurance company after following bad advice from patriarch Henry Wilcox. When the impetuous Helen (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the magnificent film, with Emma Thompson as Margaret) tries to make her case for helping the poor to the condescending 1%-er Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins in the film), the following exchange takes place. Written in 1910, “Howards End”is still relevant in 2017.
From Chapter 22
He [Henry Wilcox] raised his finger. “Now, a word of advice.”
“I require no more advice.” [said Helen]
“A word of advice. Don’t take up that sentimental attitude over the poor. See that she doesn’t, Margaret. The poor are poor, and one’s sorry for them, but there it is. As civilisation moves forward, the shoe is bound to pinch in places, and it’s absurd to pretend that any one is responsible personally. Neither you, nor I, nor my informant, nor the man who informed him, nor the directors of the Porphyrion, are to blame for this clerk’s loss of salary. It’s just the shoe pinching–no one can help it; and it might easily have been worse.”
Helen quivered with indignation.
“By all means subscribe to charities–subscribe to them largely– but don’t get carried away by absurd schemes of Social Reform. I see a good deal behind the scenes, and you can take it from me that there is no Social Question–except for a few journalists who try to get a living out of the phrase. There are just rich and poor, as there always have been and always will be. Point me out a time when men have been equal–”
“I didn’t say–”
“Point me out a time when desire for equality has made them happier. No, no. You can’t. There always have been rich and poor. I’m no fatalist. Heaven forbid! But our civilisation is moulded by great impersonal forces” (his voice grew complacent; it always did when he eliminated the personal), “and there always will be rich and poor. You can’t deny it” (and now it was a respectful voice)–“and you can’t deny that, in spite of all, the tendency of civilisation has on the whole been upward.”
“Owing to God, I suppose,” flashed Helen.
He stared at her.
“You grab the dollars. God does the rest.”
It was no good instructing the girl if she was going to talk about God in that neurotic modern way. Fraternal to the last, he left her for the quieter company of Mrs. Munt.
“Don’t ever discuss political economy with Henry,” advised her sister. “It’ll only end in a cry.”
“But he must be one of those men who have reconciled science with religion,” said Helen slowly. “I don’t like those men. They are scientific themselves, and talk of the survival of the fittest, and cut down the salaries of their clerks, and stunt the independence of all who may menace their comfort, but yet they believe that somehow good–it is always that sloppy ‘somehow’ will be the outcome, and that in some mystical way the Mr. Basts of the future will benefit because the Mr. Brits of today are in pain.”
Also, in brief: Richard Steele, the British spy who wrote the infamous “pee pee” dossier, has resurfaced. While American Senators want to hear him testify about what he knows.
WikiLeaks is dumping top secret CIA documents.
And contrary to earlier denials that he’s never met the Russian Ambassador (a man nobody has ever met), a newly unearthed article in the Wall Street Journal from last April says that Trump met with the Russian Ambassador and greeted him warmly.
What’s on your mind Widdershins? This is an open thread.
Don’t blink anyone! You might miss a major development from the White House. The Drumpfster Fire Shit Show is showing no signs of slowing down. No amount of Russian hooker urine can extinguish it. It’s the Chernobyl and the Fukushima meltdowns combined and the fallout will span the globe. Although not if you ask a Republican. Everyone is just great if you ask a Republican! Everything is going according to plan…
In a matter of a day Drumpf held an emergency situation room meeting in the middle of a dining room and fired/accepted resignation/encouraged retirement of a man named Flynn. First, the Mar-al-Lago disaster. Picture it: Drumpf, Japanese Prime Minister Abe, wives and friends, are having a wonderful $20,000 (give or take) dinner surrounded by dozens of their closest friends/donors. When suddenly news arrives that North Korea (which would within the next 24 hours assassinate the rightful heir to their throne by two female assassins who poisoned him with a dart in the middle of a Malaysian airport!!!!), anyway, before a 007/Jason Bourne assassination of a perceived rival and brother, North Korea’s demented leader launched a missile towards Japan. So naturally, Drumpf and PM Abe go into full Presidential mode by hunkering down at their dinner table, cell phone flash lights activated, figuring out how to respond. Their dozens of closest friends/donors are witnessing this, taking photos, posting to facebook. Because an international crises as reality television is where we are right now. This is all perfectly normal! All the Republicans think so! HRC’s e-mail server: bad. Classified documents about a rogue/crazy country that may start a nuclear war disseminated and discussed in a crowded room: good. Nobody wanted to miss the entrée. When you paid thousands of dollars for access, you better get a good show.
Oh, and let’s not forget Rick. Rick is The Man. Rick carries a briefcase with him that contains the nuclear codes. Rick is posing for photos with guests. Rick is The Man!
And then, if you can believe our lives, that wasn’t even the craziest thing that’s happened all week. The crazies thing that’s happened all week (writing this on Tue night) is we are finally getting real evidence of Russia setting up a Kremlin satellite office in Washington DC. I won’t go into the Michael “Lock Her Up!” Flynn details because we are watching this shit develop in real time. But as of now, Rethuglicans still don’t think there’s any reason to investigate anything. Paul Ryan, McTurtle, Chaffetz, all say there’s nothing to see here and let’s move on. Rand Paul says it’d be crazy for Republicans to investigate other Republicans. And it’s hard to argue with his logic! Give this for Rand Paul: he’s not lying. He’s not pretending that there are any principles at stake. It’s all about party loyalty. Which was an interesting thing I realized when I was talking to a Republican friend on Monday. She doesn’t really care about Trump one way or the other. She just cares that a Republican is in power. She detested “Barry.” She thinks McTurtle “is a pussy” who allowed Barry to get away with everything. Hillary is the biggest criminal ever. So there we are. For many people who still support Drumpf, it’s really just about Republicans being in charge.
And Mike Pence is being built up as the victim in all this. Supposedly Pence had no idea Flynn had spoken to the Russians about lifting the sanctions. LOL. Is this just the beginning of setting up Pence as a man of principle who would make a great POTUS-46? And do you know who else is the victim in all this? Michael Flynn if you believe this nonsense.
In any case, so far HRC’s only comment on this topic was a re-Tweet of a comment by Philippe Reines.
I get a feeling that the only person who might be enjoying all this insanity is HRC and maybe Obama.
I also think that considering Hillary Clinton’s vast criminal network and the trail of murdered bodies she has left behind over the decades, Michael Flynn is lucky to still be alive.
In the meantime, do not unbuckle your seatbelts. There is a lot more of whatever this is to come. Even as I write this CNN says they have names of Trump campaign officials who spoke to the Russians, but not releasing names yet because they are waiting for comment from the White House. And Drumpf’s staff, which includes a former contestant from his show, getting into a physical altercation with a reporter. Or maybe not. Apparently a secret recording was made but it may have been edited before being played for some journalists. This is our life, welcome.
I leave you with a song I’ve been listening to for a couple of weeks, since I’ve discovered this remarkable young singer. Troye Sivan is 21 year old South African/Australian and this song, “Heaven,” is a balm for the soul. He wrote it about the pain and joy of coming out as gay, for all the people who have done it before him and for those who will do it in the future. “Without losing a piece of me, how do I get to heaven? … So if I’m losing a piece of me, maybe I don’t want heaven.”
The problem with the Russians is that they are always fighting a world war. No matter what it is. An actual World War or the Eurovision contest. The public and the government treat the two with equal ferocity and dedication. When the Soviets formed a human shield around Stalingrad in 1943 they beat back the Nazis with the same fanaticism with which they try to defeat foreign pop singers, especially the transvestites. Wall-to-wall coverage on the news, front page headlines, celebrity coaches, personal visits and encouragements from members of the government – all the way up to Comrade Putin – it’s literally all the same thing to them. There is always an enemy at the gate, ready to destroy Mother Russia and all that is Holy about it. Sometimes the enemy carries a machine gun, sometimes a microphone. But to come in second is to come in last.
So when the mighty Soviet Union fell, something Vladimir Putin once declared to be the greatest tragedy to befall His people, it brought with it festering and oozing scars of humiliation and anger. USSR fell not because it was incapable of functioning, but because the West destroyed it. The West – and Reagan specifically – happily embraced this view of events. But they underestimated just how deeply these events cut the Russian people.
The West – and America as its face – have always been the Enemy of Russia. As much as the Russian public is obsessed with American money, culture, fashion, etc., it also views it as a perversion of purity and righteousness which Russia represents to its people. It is very much like Gollum and The One Ring. It hungers for The West and hates it in one breath. This belief among the general public that the West generally and America specifically are always trying to destroy Russia should not be underestimated. It’s why the Russians love strongment leaders like Putin. These leaders are the forces who will protect the people from Western interference. Because the West wants all that is Russian: to take it, eat it, consume it and destroy it like it destroys everything. The West is an agent of greed and sexual perversions – and Russia is always under attack. They believe these things with the sincerity of saints.
Russia’s rejection of The Other has over the years taken on odd forms. For example, in his day Tchaikovsky’s music was seen as too European, his embrace of Europe suspect. The real champions of Russian music in the 19th century were The Mighty Handful, consisting of Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Cui, Balakirev and Borodin. They deeply resented the fact that Tchaikovsky was conservatory trained and attacked formal education of music. Though they tolerated Tchaikovsky himself, Rimsky-Korsakov once wrote that “Tchaikovsky’s Conservatory training still constituted a considerable barrier between him and us.” (None of the Five received a formal education in composition.) To this day Russia – a deeply homobigoted country – refuses to acknowledge that Tchaikovsky was gay. Russia – also a deeply racist country – refuses to discuss that Alexander Pushkin, its greatest poet, was half black. These ideas are revolting to them, too Other.
So as we learn more details about Russian interference in American elections, we must understand that this is Russia’s war for survival. The attempt to reverse decades of what they see as humiliations at the hands of the West – and America specifically. Russia is like a Holy Land, its people its righteous pilgrims, and the barbarian Western hoardes are at the gate.
The news of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf (and they are now attempting to take down Angela Merkel too), isn’t news to anyone who paid attention before November 8th. Hillary Clinton discussed it in the 3rd Presidential debate on October 19th.
CLINTON: Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States.
TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.
CLINTON: And it’s pretty clear…
TRUMP: You’re the puppet!
CLINTON: It’s pretty clear you won’t admit…
TRUMP: No, you’re the puppet.
CLINTON: … that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.
So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We’ve never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 — 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.
WALLACE: Secretary Clinton…
CLINTON: And I think it’s time you take a stand…
TRUMP: She has no idea whether it’s Russia, China, or anybody else.
CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.
TRUMP: She has no idea.
CLINTON: I am quoting 17…
TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.
CLINTON: … 17 intelligence — do you doubt 17 military and civilian…
TRUMP: And our country has no idea.
CLINTON: … agencies.
TRUMP: Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.
CLINTON: Well, he’d rather believe Vladimir Putin than the military and civilian intelligence professionals who are sworn to protect us. I find that just absolutely…
TRUMP: She doesn’t like Putin because Putin has outsmarted her at every step of the way.
But for reasons that will spend decades trying to understand, the story never found traction in the media or among the patriotic Americans who supported Trump. John McCain and Lindsay Graham were silent. The New York Times did not cover the story above the fold of its print edition, like they covered FBI’s announcement that they were looking at Anthony Wiener’s computer with 3 stories above the fold in a single edition. I suppose we should be grateful that finally people are taking notice, although Mitch McConnell prefers not to drag Trump into it.
This was a very long game played by Putin. One really should try to admire it, if one was not the victim of it. Putin will have Trump’s election engraved on his own tombstone. “Here Lies Vladimir Putin, Wrestler of Bears, Shirtless Horseback Rider, and Conqueror of America.” Putin is making Russia Great Again. With the assistance of Julian Rapist Assange and Glenn “Leftwing Dictators are grrreat and Putin totally has nothing to do with this election” Greenwald. Bernie Bros reposting fake news stories on social media and the American news media that never met an e-mail it didn’t like to speculate about. Soviet leaders spent decades trying to bring Red Russia to Blue America. Putin has finally succeeded. Putin has put a momentary numbing balm on Russia’s persecution mania.
Note that the color Blue in Russia represents homosexuality. That depraved Blue America has taken on the color of Red Mother Russia means so much to them. Hail Comrade Putin! We thought we would all have to learn Chinese in the new century. I suggest people start taking up Russian instead.
Happy Friday the 13th Eve , y’all. For those with paraskevidekatriaphobia, get back under your beds. It’s safer there, and you can catch up on all of this over the weekend. For those of us still up and reading we have a treat – a guest post by our (like The Daily Show) Senior Russian Contributor, DYB.
I have watched the latest news from Russia, all the while scratching my head. During the Fabulous Fifties, we were taught to duck and cover our heads while crouching under our school desks whilst the atomic bombs rained down upon us, which is even more of a head-scratcher. We learned of the Czar, Anastasia, the Revolution, the gulags and so forth, and then Mr. Gorbachov tore down that wall. Since then, any number of Eastern European nations have emerged from the old Soviet bloc, and I have lost any grasp, tenuous that it may have been. I am not really capable of assessing the current developments, or even pronouncing the names correctly – just trying saying “Boris Nemtsov” with a Southern accent. So without further ado, here is D’s most welcomed post:
On February 27, 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot in the back four times. He was shot within view of the Kremlin. This may be significant not just for the poetic imagery (Nemtsov was a Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under Yeltsin and was a leading critic of Putin and his policies), but also because one may wonder how the assassins managed to kill a man as famous in Russia as Nemtsov and flee the scene of the crime. There can also be no doubt that Nemtsov, as a leading opposition figure, would be followed by the Russian secret service. There’s also the issue of the security video which shows the killing: except that the actual shooting is obscured by a snow-plow. Unusual not only for the perfect timing of the passing vehicle, but also for the fact that there was no snow on the ground. So how did someone manage to shoot Nemtsov in the back behind a perfectly timed slow-moving vehicle in the most heavily guarded area of Moscow – and disappear?
Boris Nemtsov was a well-known liberal figure in Russian politics. He served in Yeltsin’s government (including as First Deputy Prime Minister, a post Putin would later occupy) and was once introduced to Bill Clinton by Yeltsin as his most likely successor as President of Russia. Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, current opposition leader and Mentsov’s friend and sometimes rival, compared Nemtsov to Clinton in an op-ed he penned for the Wall Street Journal. Nemtsov’s career crashed along with the Russian stock market in the late 1990’s. But he remained in the public eye, taking on Putin’s authoritarian rule, his regime’s corruption and the recent war in Ukraine. At the time of his assassination Nemtsov was in Moscow to lead an anti-war rally in Moscow and said he was about to publish documents proving Russian government’s leading role in the war in the Ukraine. The rally would become mass protests against his murder.
Russian media, at least Putin’s 4 main channels (you can read novelist Gary Shteyngart’s by turns hilarious and horrifying binge-watching of Russian television in this NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/22/magazine/out-of-my-mouth-comes-unimpeachable-manly-truth.html?_r=0 ), didn’t even cover the protests. Instead they showed musical showcases (think Dancing/Singing/Skating/Diving/Etc. With The Stars), movies and TV serials. Putin’s response so far has been of the “well isn’t it terrible” variety. Putin’s minions are blaming the West and maybe other opposition leaders for the death. They claim that either Nemtsov’s liberal colleagues had him killed to create a martyr or Muslims did it or the West is out to make Putin look bad. All scenarios are preposterous, of course, but reason and logic are in short supply. We only know that Putin keeps finding ways to silence his critics. From journalists like Anna Politkovskaya (assassinated), to human rights lawyers like Sergei Magnitsky (beaten to death in jail), former secret service agents Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned by plutonium), businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky (imprisoned), musicians Pussy Riot (also imprisoned), and political critics/rivals Alexei Navalny (still imprisoned), and now Nemtsov (assassinated)*, it is fascinating how Putin’s critics find themselves either in jail or dead. Putin has promised to personally oversee investigation into Nemtsov’murder.
The authorities did indeed just manage to arrest some men, claiming confessions have already been given. The men are Chechens, naturally. Well, we will probably never know if these exact men were involved; and most importantly, we are not likely to ever know on whose orders were they acting. But there is reason to fear that Putin’s rule has entered a dangerous new phase: the killing of not just little-known critics (previous victims like Politkovskaya and Magnitsky were not famous), but public assassinations of very well-known leaders. This death is a big threat and few critics of the Kremlin are likely to see it any other way. Going forward it will be interesting to see if the public falls back into indifference and fear of Putin – or if this murder will galvanize the opposition.
(*the list is nowhere near exhaustive.)
Good Thursday, Widdershins. Things are happening in the Ukraine at a rapid pace. I freely confess that, despite being a child of the Cold War, I do not have enough regional knowledge or savvy to walk us through any discussion. Therefore, we have asked our DYB to update us on this geopolitical nightmare, and he has graciously agreed to do so. Chatblu
It has now been one month since Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine and ran into Russia’s welcoming arms. After a hastily arranged vote, overseen by armed men without any country’s insignia (at the time Putin declared the armed men were not Russian. After all, he smirked, you can buy a soldier’s uniform in any costume shop), the public voted overwhelmingly to secede. The Crimean government claimed that turnout was over 95% and that of those 83% voted to join Russia. This is a little odd considering Ukrainians make up about 25% of the Crimean population and Tatars – very much not friends of the Russians – 12%. I always thought Russians had superior math skills and perhaps this proves everyone else has been doing it wrong this whole time. Still, Putin eagerly declared the election legitimate and quickly accepted Crimea back into the Russian fold. The UN decried the vote as a sham. And new report by the UN found “killings, torture and arbitrary arrests in the buildup to the March referendum that led to its annexation by Russia.”
They said they heard numerous reports of vote rigging in the March 16 referendum, when residents of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to unite with Russia, and expressed concerns about the conditions under which the vote took place, citing harassment and abductions of journalists and activists who were opposed to it, as well as the presence of armed militias.
Some of the journalists and activists who disappeared have since been released, but had been tortured, the report said.”
And Putin also finally admitted in his annual marathon Q&A on Russian television that the uniformed soldiers were Russian after all. So what? You want to make a federal case out of that? How else can you ensure a fair and balanced vote if not by presence of your own armed militia?
With Crimea essentially gone the situation in the Ukraine is not improving. Putin is a master destabilizer. His forces (he says they’re not his, but see what he said about the soldiers in Crimea wearing costumes, not Russian uniforms) have declared their independence from Ukraine in at least 10 towns in Eastern Ukraine. Putin expressed his shock at the whole thing, claiming Ukraine is on the brink of a civil war. One can only recall the immortal moment in “Casablanca” when Claude Rains can’t believe there is gambling going on in Rick’s back room.
“Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. It is scary. And I hope that everyone who is responsible for making decisions at the moment — I mean both, the current Ukrainian authorities, who we can’t consider legitimate, but these are the authorities who came to power as result of a coup — has brains to avoid driving the country to such shocks,” he said at a news conference Tuesday in Moscow.
It is really astonishing to hear Putin talk about it as if he has played no role in the fiasco. He is pretending to remain outside of it all. Who? Me? What did I do? He is not delusional. He’s simply playing his part in destabilizing Ukraine, so he can then walk in and say his presence is essential to keep the country from tearing itself apart. And, naturally, to protect the ethnic Russians. The same ethnic Russians who handed out flyers to people leaving a synagogue in Donetsk – one of the towns that has declared its independence from Ukraine – ordering all Jews older than 16 years of age to register with the authorities or have their possessions confiscated. (And for all this trouble they must pay a fee of 50 US dollars.)
So far the Ukrainian authorities have not done much to stop the pro-Russian militias from occupying public buildings and declaring their independence. The authorities are asking them nicely and are having exactly the results you’d expect. Of course going after them with force will leave Ukraine with the prospect of having Putin declare that ethnic Russians are being abused and require Russian military to protect them. It’s hard to win here. But it’s also hard to see what Putin thinks he’s going to achieve. Yes, the Soviets have always thought of Ukraine as an extension of Russia itself. (Putin has already started calling the Eastern part of Ukraine “New Russia.”) And he certainly would love nothing more than to have Ukraine in its own sphere, instead of European, which is where much of Ukraine would prefer to be. If nothing else, it would be a nice middle finger to Europe and the US, which have long tried to bring Ukraine into their fold. (But not into NATO; contrary to what Putin keeps saying, there were no plans for Ukraine to join NATO. Not from NATO’s side, not from Ukraine’s.) But occupying Ukraine with Russian military would work out about as well as US’s occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. That would truly unleash chaos. It would cost Russia not just blood, but also a colossal amount of money. It is money it doesn’t actually have. Its economy, which exists only because of its reserve of natural gas, shrank enormously even before the Ukrainian fiasco and the (fairly weak) sanctions Europe and US have imposed. Putin might be the biggest rock star of Russia today. But when the economy shrinks to levels not seen since Yeltsin’s catastrophic rule (which the public probably remembers well), Putin’s popularity will sink along with the mood of his people. And no amount of his media’s anti-Western/anti-gay/anti-Ukrainian propaganda will help with a cold and starving populace. And Putin, if there is an ounce of brain matter left in his head, knows it.
Meanwhile in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, authorities are gearing up for new elections on May 25th. So far the leading candidate for Presidency appears to be the billionaire Petro Poroshenko, the Chocolate King owner of a massively successful confectionary manufacturing group. Poroshenko largely subsidized the Maidan protestors with supplies, which has already led to pro-Russian forces to accuse him of staging the entire coup so he can be President. This is when they are not blaming the US of staging the coup, when they are not blaming Europe of staging the coup, when they are not blaming neo-Nazis of staging the coup. My mother said on Russian television they were speculating that the US intended for the coup to take place in 2015, but somehow the plan got away from them. Don’t ask because I can’t explain what that means either. The boxer Vitali Klitschko, who initially intended to run for office himself, has since declared that he will support Poroshenko instead. Yulia Timoshenko, former darling of the Orange Revolution and President who spent years in prison on legitimate charges but politically motivated prosecution for corruption, is running too. (The man who put her there was Victor Yanukovich – who fled Ukraine but insists from his safe house in Russia that he is still the legitimate leader of Ukraine – was found to have a personal palace with his own private zoo, lake, large collection of expensive cars and a golden toilet. But these are just details.)
And in a meeting in Geneva (in the same hotel where in 2009 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once gave her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the infamous “Reset” button) Ukraine, Russia, Europe and the US came together to try to stabilize the situation and were wildly successful at being laughably pointless. Although I suppose we can at least be grateful that they didn’t throw shoes at one another. After the meeting Russia has continued to provoke, Ukraine continues to be helpless, Europe continues to worry how it all affects their demand for Russian gas, and the US is worried about how best to stay out of the whole thing. One thing we know for sure: Ukraine is mighty sorry they gave up their nuclear weapons in 1994. After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine ended up with a stockpile of more nukes than the UK, France and China combined. But they agreed to give up the nukes and shipped them back to Russia. Russia, the US and the UK then signed the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances promising that all countries would respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It would appear that that Memorandum might need a new reset.
This is an open thread.