Three Crises — Any one of which can kill you

Three Crises

Any one of which can kill you

April 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

There are three situations that are edging closer and closer to flash points that could create immense damage and in one instance, kill a sizable percentage of the human race.

The first is Putin and the Ukraine. The invasion and war has not gone well for Russia. Ukraine not only failed to fall in days to a Russian blitzkrieg, but the blitzkrieg itself flopped, something that was self evident the moment we saw that forty-file long convoy of tanks and other mechanized units along that two-lane highway. Poland and France didn’t fall because the Germans approached in single file. And at that, the Russians got off lightly; Ukraine could have turned it into a “highway of death.” As it stands, reports are that Russia has lost a full 10% of their overall military might in the seven weeks that they have tried to smash Ukraine.

Adding to Putin’s woes is the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian navy. While the military impact is negligible (the Russian flotilla in the Black Sea was there to look intimidating, since there was little in the way of practical military applications to be brought to bear. Turns out you can’t sink a country) the morale damage was massive.

Additionally, and of far greater impact strategically and tactically, Putin’s declared aim of pushing back on perceived encroachment by NATO on Russian borders has backfired massively. Finland, historically a thorn in the side of the Russian bear, is expected to petition for membership in the pact in the next couple of weeks, and Sweden is likely to be not far behind. Putin has made it clear that nearby nations not servile to Russia that aren’t in NATO are targets.

So speculation that Putin may resort to nukes both as part of his campaign of terror against Ukraine and his efforts to intimidate the west is growing. There’s no doubt in my mind that Putin has the requisite viciousness. Is he that insane, though?

The west, including the US, must make it clear that nuclear strikes against Ukraine or anywhere else is a line that cannot be crossed without dire and immediate consequences. We’ve managed to avoid a nuclear holocaust partially through dumb luck (we’ve had some really scary close calls, and those are just the ones we know about) and partially through the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. Any country that launches nukes dies. Much, and perhaps all of the world dies with it. Putin must be reminded of this, and be aware that a first strike will result in global nuclear war on the grounds that all is lost anyway. The last thing the world needs or can tolerate is a dictator that gets away with a nuclear strike. Perhaps, once again, we can step back from the abyss. Putin must know that we aren’t bluffing because we can’t afford to bluff.

The second is the behavior of the fascist right in America. Have you ever heard the term, “blood libel?” It’s a hateful story that first grew in medieval Britain and has spread throughout much of the world over the centuries. The most common variant is that Jews capture and kill a young Christian boy at Easter in order to put his blood in matzo balls. Supposedly, if Jews do this each year, in a different land, they will get the Holy Land back. If you’re thinking about 1947 and the State of Israel and how that might have diffused the libel then you don’t know conspiracy theorists very well. They still believe Jews drink the blood of virgin Christian boys. Who needs a reason when you’ve got a hobby?

The thing about conspiracy theorists is that they are gullible and easy to manipulate. To them, the world is a dark and dangerous place, filled with looming, sneering villains who stop at nothing to augment their power. Giving them “secret knowledge” of such horrors both allays and augments their fear and credulity.

All you need to do is invent an unspeakable act by a minority or adversarial group and then promote the hell out of it.

Claims that the Clintons and various other liberals run child sex rings have been making the rounds since about 2015, which was about when Trump and Putin decided America needed Trump. Supposedly, the sex ring was run in the basement of a pizza parlor. Never mind that the pizza place in question didn’t have a basement—weren’t you paying attention when I asked if you knew what conspiracy theorists were like? One guy even went in there with a semi-automatic and shot up the place.

Republicans have been deliberately electing—there’s no other phrase for it—the most vicious and stupid trash they can find to public office. People too stupid and too gullible to know they are being played, or the worse variant, the ones who know the truth and are part of the plan. That’s why the Jackson nominating process was smeared with political porn about how she was “soft on child pornographers” and why some of the louder specimens of the trash-American GOP have been calling teachers and supporters of Ukraine “child abusers.” Blood libels are great for the libelers, since they can pretend to a position of “protecting the children” while simply sinking to about the same level as a child molester.

The third flash point rapidly approaching is the climate. The physical climate. True to the models, as it gets warmer on average, it is also becoming wilder and more unpredictable. Antarctica saw temperatures last month that went a full SEVENTY DEGREES above normal. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit, but still… This time of year the normal day time high in New York City is 63 degrees. In order to replicate what happened in Antarctica, it would have to reach 133. In Mid April. Let’s not even think about July or August.

We all remember the heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, sending temperatures as high as 118 in British Columbia. That was only 40 degrees above normal.

In addition to all the myriad problems we’re expecting in the near future, heat domes seem to be a New Thing, and a potentially hideous one. Few cities in the world are prepared for temperatures in summer that are 40 degrees above the local norm. The death toll could be in the millions. Kim Stanley Robinson, in his recent novel “Ministry of the Future” had a three week heat wave strike India that was only 15 degrees above normal, and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. Suddenly we have to consider possibilities like 145 in Los Angeles, 120 in London, 145 in Sydney. We aren’t prepared for it because we can’t prepare for it.

In the meantime, the oil plutocrats—many are the same people who underwrite the blood libel crowd and are profiteering off the Ukraine war—are doubling down on fighting any effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption. And yes, that includes the oil companies that run those expensive ads about how green and responsible they are. They’re corporations; they exist to lie to us for profit. They are what prop up the disgraceful anti-American whores in congress, and they have think tanks devoted to the nomenclature used by conspiracy theorists and Putin about how “woke” child molesters spread “fake news” and the press cannot be trusted.

They are authoritarians, and they are herding us towards the edge of some very large cliffs, thinking they can control the situations and profit from them at the same time.

But it’s all coming to a head, and no, they won’t be able to control it when it does.

Unfortunately, nobody will be able to.

Still in the Fog — War continues to Russia’s detriment

Still in the Fog

War continues to Russia’s detriment

March 29th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

While the usual caveats about “the fog of war” still apply (nothing said by either side is true until proven) there are some things we can determine from the actual evidence.

Putin’s dream of a quick blitzkrieg takeover of Ukraine is in tatters. The battle lines haven’t moved in over three weeks now, and there are reports that Ukraine has actually recovered small amounts of ground back in a couple of areas. While actual numbers are not available, it’s clear that the Russians have paid a very heavy price in terms of both personnel and materiel, and the Ukrainians have suffered large civilian losses, mostly from the wanton shelling and bombing of civilian centers.

Russia has lost at least ten thousand soldiers, including six generals. There are unconfirmed reports of large defections and desertions, and one confirmed report of a Russian colonel who was fragged by his own troops, apparently by being run over by a tank. Not subtle, these Russians.

Peace negotiations are expected to open in Istanbul in a couple of days, and it’s widely believed that Putin is seeking a compartmentalization of Ukraine, as was done in the 50s in Korea, or the 60s in Vietnam. DMZs, in other words, with Russia holding a strip of land linking them with Crimea, which they already stole. There’s no reason to suppose that would work out any better than previous DMZs did, unless Putin is prepared to following in the footsteps of the Kim dynasty of North Korea and inflict such horror and deprivation on the people in his region that they remain too weak and cowed to put up any real resistance. Granted, as we learned with the Chechnyans, Putin is quite willing to engage in ongoing domestic terrorism against the populace.

Putin claims Russian bombing and shelling campaigns against Kyiv and other cities in the north will abate, although neither the Ukrainian government nor the west are inclined to believe that. Putin has already suffered an embarrassing set-back; he may not want to risk looking weak in the bargain.

Biden came out and said of Putin, “This guy has to go.” He later explained that he meant exactly what he said, but that it did not reflect a formal change in policy. The media is trying to describe that as a backing away from the original statement and twittering about how undiplomatic it all is, as if America didn’t invent the expression “regime change” back in the 90s. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the heart and soul of today’s GQP, suggested (and I’m not making this up) that America fly planes painted with Chinese markings into Russia and bomb them, in hopes of sparking a major war between the two major powers. Perhaps he’s hoping for lower land prices in both nations that he can exploit. And today—today!–he publicly asked Putin to drop whatever he was doing and dig up dirt on Hunter Biden. Aren’t you glad we got rid of that loon? One down, one to go.

Putin’s response? “It is time for us, for our people, to call on the people of the United States to change the regime in the U.S. early,” Russian TV host Evgeny Popov said, “And to again help our partner Trump to become president.” State TV being the bastion of independent journalism that it is, you know.

In the meantime, at least ten million civilians have been displaced in the Ukraine, with an estimated four to five million having fled the country altogether. The US has vowed to accept 100,000 refugees, and Canada has a three-year refugee status program with no limit on the number of refugees. The UK is offering £350/month to any household accepting refugees. While a welcome move, it’s unlikely to address the needs of more than about 10% of the refugees. Poland is taking the brunt of the exodus, and they are poorly equipped to handle it, and anti-Russian sentiment will only last so long as a buffer against Poland’s notoriously xenophobic culture.

And there’s also the possibility that the war will reduce one or both sides to pauperized failed states. Russia has been shown to be far weaker in terms of economy and morale than expected, and Ukraine is suffering bombardment the like of which Europe hasn’t seen since World War II. (American campaigns against Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq were far worse, of course, but the victims weren’t white, you know.)

One of the curious items is the reports that two negotiators in previous talks with Russia came down with symptoms consistent with novichok poisoning. The Guardian had a piece on this today, writing,

Guardian reporter based in Kyiv, Shaun Walker, brings us this analysis piece, asking: Why is Abramovich playing peacemaker after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Sanctioned billionaire Roman Abramovich is not officially part of the Russian delegation, but has apparently played a major role behind the scenes, jetting between Moscow, Kyiv and Istanbul since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Further questions about what role Abramovich was playing, and why, were raised on Monday, when the Wall Street Journal and investigative outlet Bellingcat claimed Abramovich and a Ukrainian MP were among three people to fall ill with symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning, during a round of negotiations in Kyiv in early March.

A source confirmed to the Guardian that Abramovich had fallen ill after the meeting, and had lost his sight for several hours. He soon recovered and was able to take part in later rounds of negotiations.

Aside from the poisoning claims, the emergence of the publicity-shy oligarch at the heart of peace negotiations has also surprised many.”

The West has brought many sanctions to bear, many aimed at Russia’s plutocrats. Perhaps they are having an effect. Certainly Putin uses kompromat and extortion to control his billionaires (including, it’s rumored, Donald Trump) but that can only carry him so far in the face of ruin.

Biden is right: no matter what happens in Ukraine, this guy needs to go. He won’t stop with an eastern partition of Ukraine. You can take that to the bank.

Smoke and Mirrors – The war in Ukraine

Smoke and Mirrors

The war in Ukraine

March 16th, 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

I’ve been fairly quiet the past few weeks since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. One reason for that is “the fog of war”–I have no idea of what the actual situation is beyond the blatantly obvious that you can see for yourself just by tuning into any non-fascist news network. For me, that would be the BBC, the CBC, and the Guardian. The US commercial networks (and again, I am limiting myself to the non-fascist ones, which means I’m not wasting time watching Fox or Newsmax or OAN) are, in the confusion and uncertainty, substituting speculation and wishful thinking for actual factual reporting.

Non-factual reporting, no matter how well-intentioned and sincere, is only one step removed from propaganda, and when there is evident bias, then it IS propaganda.

Since none of us know what is going on in Putin’s head, or in the Kremlin at large, take reports that he is desperate, on the ropes, facing a possible coup, etc., with a large grain of salt. Some of it may prove to be true, but at this time consider it on the same level of defamation of the foe that we see in all wars.

Back when the Germans captured Paris, a video circulated showing Hitler doing an absurd little “dance of joy.” The video was fake, just an snippet of Hitler looped to make it appear he was dancing. The intent was to make him look absurd and petty, and while he in many ways was, it actually backfired in some ways in that it humanized him and made him look like he had a sense of humor, neither of which were particularly accurate.

The pictures of Putin at his absurdly long table also needs to be deprecated, even though the image is accurate. Pundits say it shows a dictator who is paranoid, estranged from everyone except a few sycophants, isolated, and out of touch. It may be true, but it’s also exactly what you might expect to hear of a adversarial leader in time of war. Nor does it prove weakness on Putin’s part: Russia has a long history of leaders, strong-arm dictators who were widely hated but who nonetheless held power for decades. Much as I would like to see Putin fall, I interpret the media analyses of his isolation and weakness as being wishful thinking. Kremlin watching has been a major US government pastime since 1920, but nearly every major development over that century has taken American strategists by surprise. Little has changed.

As to the military situation in Ukraine, some generalities can be made. It isn’t going well for the Russians, they have taken significant losses in personnel and materiel. All these are also standard wartime claims, made by both sides, but there is a wealth of evidence to support the three items mentioned. As for anything more specific, the military leaders on either side generally understand the tactical and strategic maps little more than the armchair generals watching CNN. There’s an old saying “All plans die at the start of battle,” and leaders on both sides are tearing their hair out trying to figure out the true situation on the ground. It’s almost always going to be chaotic.

Claims of losses are also good reason for skepticism. Both sides will inflate enemy losses and minimize own casualties. Remember Vietnam, when you might hears that half a dozen Marines were injured, one by a misfiring beer can opener, while killing 12,500 Viet Cong? And that was from a country that had a free press at the time.

Claims about morale should be weighed carefully. That the Ukrainians are courageous, determined, and largely united in defense of their homeland is almost a given. Anyone raised in post-war London knows nothing stiffens the backbone of the resident population than lobbing bombs at them. Claims of Russian morale are backed by the mass arrests for protest (including one case where a silent “protester” was arrested for waving A BLANK PROTEST sign. It’s also a fact that Putin has mandated 15 years in prison for calling his “special operation” a war. Claims about the state of morale in the Russian military are harder to evaluate. Few Russian soldiers are willing to grant ‘man in the street’ interviews, it seems. I think it’s safe to say they aren’t exuberant about the way this situation is developing, though.

Russians do seem to be targeting cities and the civilian population, a curious approach for a country that is simply trying to bring lost children back into the fold of Mother Russia, but it’s hard to get a sense of the true scale when the cable news is showing the same dozen over and over, either because they can’t or won’t show more. There’s little doubt that the maternity hospital in Mariupol was hit by a large rocket shell, and while the Russians deny it, Occam’s Razor says it was them, although intent is less clear. In the instance of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, where hundreds of civilians, half of them children, had sheltered, intent seems more obvious. The theater had the word “children” written in large letters in the grounds surrounding the theater, and even after reporting began of the atrocity, Russian air strikes continued. That’s why, over 24 hours later, we still have no idea of the death toll.

It is safe to say the Russian economy has taken massive damage. Their stock market has remained closed for over three weeks now, and the ruble is quite literally worth less than a square of American toilet paper. This won’t translate to a popular uprising—Russian history makes that fairly self-evident. Nor is a revolt by the oligarchs likely. Like Putin’s pet American oligarch, Trump, most are bound to Putin because he maintains control over their reputations, their families, and their ability to enjoy their wealth. If they couldn’t overthrow Putin when they had money, what are they going to do now?

Yes, Putin has bitten off more than he can chew, and yes, what he is doing is a crime against humanity. And it is costing Russia and the Russian people almost as dearly as it’s costing the Ukrainians.

But beyond that, it’s all smoke and mirror, wishful thinking, and propaganda. If you think you know how it ends, you are delusional.

But to quote a line I’m known for using, “Don’t lose hope. Never lose hope.”

Putin’s Gamble — Uneasy lies the head…

Putin’s Gamble

Uneasy lies the head…

February 25th 2022

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Most of the discussion surrounding Putin’s move to invade and subjugate the Ukraine has been based on a realpolitik stance that Russia needs to have a “buffer zone”–a sphere of influence on its western flank that corresponds roughly to the Iron Curtain countries, the Warsaw Pact of the second half of the 20th century. The explanation goes that while Putin is never going to have Poland, half of Germany and the Czech and Slovenian areas under his control, he can subsume the Ukraine, possibly the Baltics, and in a fever dream, Romania and parts of Yugoslavia and rebuild much of the old Soviet empire.

The reality is a bit more complex. Russia is only a few bad harvests away from becoming a failed state. When the USSR collapsed, the economy collapsed with it, with the Ruble dropping to 2,500 to the dollar, about a 99.5% drop in value. Between 1991 and 1993, Russia lost nearly a third of its population—to starvation, to suicide, to drink. Boris Yeltsin took over the collapsed country in late 1991, inheriting a financial and social catastrophe that dwarfed the Great Depression of the 1930s.

By the end of 1993, Yeltsin had swept away the remaining pieces of the Soviet regime, including the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People’s Deputies. He then issued a stock voucher program that permitted Russian citizens to invest in private businesses, part of a glowing image of a “free market reform” that would lead to wealth and plenty for all.

Didn’t happen. Russian plutocrats snapped up most of the vouchers, offering as little as 1% of face value in cash to desperate and starving citizens, which led to a vast concentration of wealth. And of course the “free market reform” was totally unregulated, which led to an economic gang-rape of Russia by the resident plutocrats—which already included the sinister and corrupt future trillionaire, Vladimir Putin—and western corporations.

Russia is a vast country, even now larger than the US and Canada combined. However, it only has 144 million people, and a GDP of $4.1 trillion. By way of comparison, California, with just under 40 million people, has a GDP of over $3 trillion.

But that’s misleading. A large percentage of that Russian GDP consists of money games amongst the plutocrats, and oil and gas alone make up a entire half of the Russian economy. In terms of what economists like to call “the Main Street economy” Russia’s economy is about the size of Romania’s. Russia never recovered from the 1990s, not in any meaningful way.

Russia under Putin is as viciously repressive as it was in the Soviet days, only under communism people at least got some food to eat and a roof over their heads. It was a shitty existence, no doubt of that, but it was better than what the average Russian faces now.

About the only other significant difference between the Soviet Union and Putin’s Russia is that the flow of information isn’t as absolute as it was in the 60s, before satellites and the internet. So the citizenry get to hear about how deeply they are being screwed.

Putin is deeply unpopular in Russia. Only election corruption on a level Trump can only dream of keeps him afloat. He’s had to imprison, poison and murder political dissidents and opponents. He managed to install a puppet president in America, but the puppet turned out to be too incompetent to be of any real use other than as a huge intelligence leak. He also had a puppet in Ukraine, but again, he was an incompetent and the citizenry replaced him with someone willing to stand up against Putin. Much of the American puppet’s regime was devoted to trying to overthrow the non-puppet president of Ukraine.

There’s no hope the Russian economy will improve because just by himself he’s stealing an estimated 10% of it every year. His buddies take over half.

Invading Ukraine will make him look strong, and while the Ukraine is also just a few steps removed from also being an economic basket case, it does have vast stretches of rich farmland and other resources. He can at least pretend he’s doing it to improve the lot of the Russian citizenry, and some of them may even believe it for a year or two before reality crashes in.

It raises the possibility that other former Soviet Republics might take the implied threat posed by the attack on the Ukraine seriously enough to question if they might not be better off rejoining Russia as opposed to being bombed. Some of the nations are badly enough run that they may be considering it, and if nothing else, Putin might believe they are considering it.

If his gamble pays off, Putin buys time. He’s shrewd enough to realize that Biden can only go so far in imposing economic sanctions, and that ones that hurt the Russian plutocracy the hardest will exact a financial toll on the American economy, and American support for Ukraine is like Lake Winnipeg—very broad but very shallow. And of course Putin’s puppet-in-exile is still effectively the head of a national political party and he and the GOP are already propagandizing on Putin’s behalf.

Which leads to the real threat: that between trying to occupy the Ukraine and the growing discontent at home, he might soon be facing an organized and widespread revolt.

A former KGB apparatchik, Putin has to know that no amount of repression and propaganda and military might can save a regime that has lost support. The mighty Soviet Union died with only a handful of shots being fired simply because enough of the citizenry turned their backs and walked away.

He has nothing to offer his people, and even before this winter’s mad gamble, his position was becoming more and more precarious. Even as the blitzkreig rages across the Ukraine with blinding speed, in what should have been a moment of glory, he finds himself making wild, if veiled threats of nuclear war, and the head of his space program even threatened to crash the International Space Station into the United States, exposing the desperate madness that lies behind Putin’s actions.

The best Putin can hope for is that Ukraine doesn’t form an organized guerrilla resistance, and the same doesn’t happen at home. Otherwise, he is likely to die at the hands of the mob.

And if that happens, he won’t have any sympathy from the rest of the world.

Pre-Denouement — Death by a thousand cuts for the GOP

Pre-Denouement

Death by a thousand cuts for the GOP

November 10th 2019

This coming week will see live continuous broadcast of the impeachment hearings from Congress. The testimony is expected to be devastating for Trump, particularly in light of the fact that at this point, there is no doubt that he engaged in extortion and bribery in order to try to force the Ukraine government to fabricate a case against the son of Joe Biden, at the time his most likely rival in the 2020 election.

The GOP have already got the bad news that, by the very rules they set up themselves, they can’t bring in witnesses that don’t have any particular bearing on the issues at hand, so we won’t be seeing Hunter Biden, or Monica Lewinsky, or Alex Jones, or Yosemite Sam. We’ll be seeing the people who testified in closed sessions, and they will be spending the first half of their time being examined and crossed by professional lawyers, and the Congressmen will just have to wait to do their usual five minutes declaiming about how the Deep State caused Global Warming Which Doesn’t Actually Exist, or whatever. In other words, they aren’t going to be able to try by tantrum.

Oh, and they already ruled out making the whistleblower testify publicly. I guess they figure he already got enough death threats from the Trumpentrash, who had to settle for assassinating the Trump balloon.

Republicans are planning to swap out the comically inept Devin Nunes for a live cow…no wait, I misread that. They are planning to swap him out for the quicker witted and more vicious Jim Jordan, who is simultaneously trying to persuade prosecutors that he knew nothing—nuffink—about college athletes being raped on his watch. Nunes is the one suing the cow, I forgot. Creme of the crop, those two. So we won’t see the hoped-for distraction circus of demands for birth certificates, who killed Ben Ghazi, or Newt declaiming that people who bang their secretaries while holding public office are disgraces to the nation and ought to be shot.

But that’s all this coming week. Rachel Maddow isn’t going to get a wink of sleep, but she’ll be wearing a grin you would never want pointed right at you.

For right now, the GOP is doing a magnificent impersonation of the Hindenburg disaster, minus any vestiges of sympathy for the people on board. “Oh, the serpentity!”.

The party is disintegrating before our very eyes. Usually off-off year elections, involving three or four states, grab little attention outside of the states in question. But this year the elections revealed a shift in the electorate of 20-30 points toward the Democrats in all locales and at it’s biggest in the conservative suburbs. In Kentucky, Republicans were so dispirited they didn’t even try to steal the election after the fact.

Another Republican congressman announced his retirement, and I’m guessing that between now and February, another dozen will decide not to run for reelection. That may include a couple of Senators.

Meanwhile, Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, is suing Trump – yes you read that right. A president’s chief of staff is suing him. Even the late unlamented Allan Drury would have trouble coming up with a political situation more bizarre than that one. He wants courts to affirm that he can be subpoenaed, and if he is, he must testify, and non-disclosure agreements be damned. Imagine Leo McGarry suing Jed Bartlet. No, I can’t either. But that was a sane White House. In fact, until now, they’ve all been at least more-or-less sane. Goofy and inept, but not flat-out mad. Welcome to Trumptown. Mulvaney, who gleefully copped to several of the most serious charges Trump is facing and told the world to “just deal with it” is sane enough to know he needs a court to protect him from that madhouse.

The State Department professionals are in open revolt against Trump and Pompeo for their treatment of personnel who were guilty of nothing more than obeying the law and serving the public interest. In particular they are furious over the treatment of Ambassador Yovanovitch, who was seen as a impediment to Trump’s efforts at extorting the Ukraine in hopes of dirt on a political rival. Combined with similar reports from Justice, where Barr is seen as a pig and a disgrace, to the EPA and Department of Agriculture, who are being punished for being against pollution and admitting climate change is real, it looks like in-house coups are forming all over the place.

I wonder what the Joint Chiefs of Staff are thinking. Have they decided what they are going to do if Trump unilaterally launches military action against Iran, or California?

Then there’s John Bolton. He’s mad as the mist and snow himself, but it’s a integral kind of mad; he actually has some sort of moral pedestal he uses to support his views. So he’s genuinely unhappy that Trump is kowtowing to North Korea and letting the Russians use him.

The day before leaving office, and without telling Trump—or anyone—he unilaterally released $141 million of the $400 million in military aid to the Ukraine that Trump was holding up in hopes to getting dirt on the Bidens. Even Oliver North wasn’t that audacious when he defied Congressional dictates. It was a stunning development in some genuinely interesting times.

And this morning, he announced that he signed a book deal. I think even Trump is gonna figure that this isn’t going to be a book on Bolton family recipes for lutefisk. Although what Bolton will discuss will smell even more evil. As Garrison Keillor said, “that piece of cod which surpasseth human understanding.” Or John Randolph might describe at “like a rotting mackerel in the moonlight, it alternately shines and stinks.” Bolton may not be friends with Trump, but he’s definitely going to be chummy.

Bigger fish to fry this week. Enjoy.

Taylor’s Depth Charge — Damning testimony unravels Ukraine scandal

Taylor’s Depth Charge

Damning testimony unravels Ukraine scandal

Oct 22nd 2019

Bill Taylor, acting ambassador to the Ukraine, testified before several committees involved with the impeachment process today, and while his testimony left some Democrats white-faced and shaking in shock, and some of them, plus all the Republicans, stony-faced and visibly angry, what we do know comes from his fifteen page opening statement, which leaked about an hour after the testimony (nearly ten hours!) began.

Taylor’s statement, buttressed by meticulous contemporaneous records and backed by phone logs and minutes of some meetings, removed any possible doubt that Trump wanted a quid pro quo; swapping military and other support for the Ukraine (all support of any kind, it turns out) but only on the condition that Ukraine open an investigation into Hunter Biden, and whether his father, Joe, benefited in any way, or acted improperly.

The most striking thing about Taylor’s opening statement was not only that Trump, through his wiseguys, Guiliani, Barr, Rick Perry, Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, and special envoy to the Ukraine Kurt Volker, wanted this investigation, but that he, Trump, wanted President Zelenskiy to announce to American media that Biden and his son were under investigation.

Normally, requests for investigations such as possible corruption are done secretly. You don’t want to tip the suspect(s) or their cohorts. You don’t want to (possibly) embarrass the host country. You want to protect your assets there who brought you the incriminating evidence in the first place.

You don’t demand an investigation be announced to the US audience (CNN was supposed to be the vehicle for this) unless you have one aim and one aim only: you want to embarrass and throw a cloud of suspicion over the targets of the investigation.

Given his ethics, the only interest Trump could possibly have in investigating corruption is to see if there are any new scams for him to try. The notion of Trump fighting corruption is right up there with Tony Soprano fighting organized crime.

So: Quid Pro Quo. Check. Political considerations. Check. Illegal withholding of funds. Check. Three strikes, you’re out, Donnie.

I heard a Republican today say that the party wouldn’t fabricate fake scandals against political opponents in order to embarrass them and make it difficult for them to function. I hope his relatives are looking into nursing homes.

Speaking of which, remember “her emails”? Huge scandal from 2011 through yesterday. Probably cost Clinton the election, especially after that idiot FBI director, the feckless James Comey, blew up a chunk of her support by announcing that they may have to widen their investigation of the emails based on never-presented evidence. Polls suggest Clinton lost four points of support as a result of that. That made the races in some states close enough that Trump and the Republicans could steal the White House. Hillary still won the popular vote, but in a system rigged by slave owners and fostered by neofascist authoritarians, she lost the Electoral vote.

Well, they finally closed the case on the emails today. No deliberate malfeasance by Clinton. Absolved. Not a word uttered about how of the three Secretaries of State ALSO used mail on private servers, and many members of Trump’s chaotic administration, since. At least one CNN reporter said he regretted the overemphasis he placed on that story in 2016. Thanks, asshole. Now go learn how to be a journalist. They have schools for that.

And again, speaking of which…

This week we’ve been hearing about how Hillary called Tulsi Gabbard a Russian agent. Gabbard started out as a darling of the left, but then she spouted a whole bunch of anti-gay nonsense, and it became clear that her politics were pretty incoherent outside of withdrawing all US troops world-wide, a position popular with unilaterialists and Russian trolls.

Except Hillary didn’t call her a Russian agent. She simply said that a female candidate amongst the Democrats was being groomed by the Russians to run as a spoiler third-party candidate in the general election to help Trump.

Gabbard, not the sharpest object in the sock drawer, immediately assumed Clinton was talking about her and blew up. “The guilty flee…”? I dunno. Personally, I just think she’s a dope who has no business in politics. But she sure acted as guilty as Trump to some indirect prodding from a retired politician.

Except it turns out Clinton didn’t say anyone was being groomed by the Russians. The New York Times, former journalistic endeavor, made an “oops, we screwed up” announcement today, eight days later: Clinton didn’t say anyone was being groomed by the Russians. She said someone was being groomed by the Republicans.

Now, you could argue that these days that’s a distinction without a difference, and I wouldn’t strain myself to argue the point. The GOP is top-heavy with Russian stooges, that’s for sure. But it isn’t an accurate description of what Hillary said.

Maybe the Times decided to dress it up a bit, make it more lurid, sound like something the eeevviill conniving emailing Hillary SHOULD have said. I don’t know. Maybe the New York Times is just impossibly incompetent, and need eight days to figure out they used one proper noun when they should have used another proper noun. Tomorrow’s headline might read, “Former Ukraine envoy testifies President Carter pressured with Quid Pro Quo.” What’s in a name, right?

I’m not a fan of Clinton, I don’t like her policies. But I don’t turn into a Republican at the mere mention of her name, and neither should any one else. She isn’t evil incarnate, and she’s no more a warmonger than any average American. I would remonstrate that the Times should do better, but I’m not sure they could be arsed.

Meanwhile, that head of the festering nihilism of the American right, Donald Trump, is about to fall, thanks to Bill Taylor. Savor the moment.

Times We Live In – We all lead interesting lives now

September 25th 2019

My, but we live in interesting times, don’t we?

Following US politics right now is a bit like Kremlin-watching from aboard an out-of-control train. A whole lot of mysterious goings-on, happening far too fast to make any real sense of it. Here’s a caveat that any forecast I make is likely to be invalid ten minutes later because Developing News. So I won’t embarrass myself by trying.

Let’s see: 48 hours ago, 135 Democrats favored a formal start to the impeachment process. As of this evening, 219 do—a House majority.

The DNI office formally turned the whistle-blower report over to the House this afternoon, amidst swirling reports that the Trump appointee threatened to resign if Trump interfered with either the turning over of the report, or the Director’s plans to testify before the House Intelligence Committee next week. Trump denied the reports, but then, he would, wouldn’t he?

There was an astonishing report that he told President Zelenskiy today at their meeting that Nancy Pelosi was no longer Speaker of the House. Nobody is quite sure what the hell he meant by that, but if he fired her, she apparently didn’t get the memo. The poor dear still thinks she’s Speaker of the House.

Trump went out of his way to implicate Mike Pence in the mushrooming scandal. He told the media not once but several times to get transcripts of Pence’s calls to the Ukraine. He may have decided to throw his veep to the wolves in hopes it will take the heat off of him, an action that for Democrats would be Christmas and Mardi Gras and New Years’ Eve all rolled into one. The would love to go straight from President Trump to President Pelosi and avoid having to deal with the psuedo-religious freak.

The edited transcript the White House released of the phone call, which included 11 minutes of conversation in a 30 minute call, reminded everyone that Trump and Bob Barr are both liars who don’t mind altering evidence in order to obstruct justice. Mueller report “summary,” anyone? Barr will be in the same prison wing as Trump, Pence and McConnell before this is all over.

However, it also highlighted their utter incompetence. Not only did the transcript make it clear that Trump did withhold funds and press for the Ukraine to try and find dirt on Hunter Biden, but by the use of a single word, “though,” Trump make it clear that the aid was to be conditional on them finding something Trump could use against the man Trump feels most likely will be running for President against him next year.

Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed a demand that the Whistle-blower report be released to the House Committee. Yes, it’s required by law, and there’s no wriggle room on the issue, but respect for the law never stopped McConnell’s pack before, did it?

This afternoon, a GOP flak named Mike Murphy, with close ties to the Senate, told MSNBC that a discreet poll of GOP senators found 30 of them that might support impeachment at this time. It was already fairly clear that the GOP at large, while perfectly happy to work Trump’s corruption and viciousness to their advantage, were heartily fed up with the thankless task of protecting his ass.

Trump has the remarkable ability to demand loyalty of ‘his’ people, and then piss on their heads. And most Republicans have wet heads right now. Republican solidity is about to vanish, I think. Should be fun to watch!

Once the Ukrainian president was safely away from Trump this afternoon, a spokesman in the Ukraine, Serhiy Leshchenko told ABC News, “It was clear that [President Donald] Trump will only have communications if they will discuss the Biden case. This issue was raised many times. I know that Ukrainian officials understood.”

As a part of that story, ABC has a good recap of what happened with Hunter Biden and the Kyiv government, and shows how utterly futile Republican efforts to try to rebrand events as “The Biden Ukraine Scandal” are both futile and sad. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/ukrainians-understood-biden-probe-condition-trump-zelenskiy-phone/story?id=65863043

It was a part of GOP talking points the party released to the faithful (including, of course, Faux News) this morning. We know this because the charming incompetents of the GOP accidentally sent the same memo to all the Congressional Democrats, who gleefully showed it to the press. Ooops.

The pace, already torrid, may actually accelerate tomorrow. Keep an eye on the news. These are historic times.

And as the old Chinese curse has it, these are also interesting times.

Whistlestop – Trump’s crimes may have caught up

September 19th 2019

That big mushroom cloud over Washington, DC? Oh, that’s just the Whistleblower scandal. A still unidentified person with close access to the President overheard him making promises that were described as “disturbing and alarming” to parties on the phone unnamed but include a short list that includes Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and the President of the Ukraine. The informant went to the Inspector-General, who found the allegations “credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of urgent concern.” That finding mandated that within seven days, the Director of National Intelligence must turn the matter over to the intelligence committees of Congress. There is no latitude in the matter; the law is very specific about this. Further, under whistle blower laws, no other agency of government other than the DNI and Congress have any say on the matter, parties who may be the subjects of the whistleblower’s report may not discuss or take any action in the proceedings, and any attempt at retaliation against the whistleblower is a felony.

Only there is no Director of National Intelligence. Dan Coats quit about two months ago, and Trump promptly tried to circumvent the seniority of the organization by appointing a hack Congressman with no intelligence experience and whose only qualification seemed to be that he was an avid and staunch supporter of Trump. He was so unqualified even the Republicans in Congress couldn’t take it, and he had to withdraw from his nomination. Sue Gordon, a careerist in the organization and the second-in-command, became acting DNI. But several days after that, Dan Coats did something very peculiar; he approached his former number two and close professional associate at a meeting and told her she had to resign immediately. Chances are he didn’t even have to explain why he would make such a request so unimaginable under any other circumstance: their duties stood to cross paths with the vicious and corrupt Donald Trump, and his equally vicious and corrupt slug of an Attorney-General, Bob Barr. Trump then named some navy officer, a Joseph Maguire, to be acting DNI. Maguire has no qualifications, but due to either cowardice or corruption—or both—is steadfastly loyal to the criminal Trump.

And surprise surprise: Maguire is refusing to hand over the report to Congress, making the Kafkaesque argument that the whistleblower rules don’t pertain because the whistleblower isn’t actually a whistleblower. Bob Barr has inserted his flabby and spotted carcass into the struggle, quite illegally, making the same argument.

But the scandal itself continues to mushroom. It wasn’t a single incident, although the only one we know anything at all about is a claim that Trump promised the president of Ukraine unspecified favors if he would dig up dirt on the doings of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

That rings true. Last May it came out that Guiliani was planning to go to the Ukraine to make the same offer. I wrote about it at the time: “Giuliani planned to go to the Ukraine in hopes the present Ukraine government could dig up some dirt on Joe Biden. It’s illegal to solicit campaign interference from a foreign government, but Giuliani probably looked at Trump and figured that if the President does it, it must be legal, and blabbed his intentions to the press.”

Guiliani went on to describe Barr as “independent, brilliant and honest,” a description so outlandishly false that I figured he had to be lying about a lot else besides.

At the time, I wrote of Guiliani, “after about five minutes of speaking, Giuliani’s 32 kilobits of RAM is depleted, his buffer is empty, and the inadvertent truths start tumbling out. His eyes go blank, he starts sweating profusely, and Fauxnews suddenly has to go to commercial.” The only thing I got wrong there is that Guiliani’s meltdown occurred on CNN, rather than Faux. Chris Cuomo grilled the hapless halfwit of 9/11 thusly:

After CNN host Chris Cuomo questioned whether Giuliani had asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, Giuliani said, “No, actually I didn’t. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton.”

“You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden?” Cuomo followed up.

“The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko … dismissed the case against AntAC,” Giuliani said, referring to former Ukrainian prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and the Ukrainian-based Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC).

“So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden,” Cuomo said.

“Of course I did,” Giuliani replied.

“You just said you didn’t,” Cuomo responded.

If it was anyone other than Guiliani, I would have cringed in sympathetic embarrassment. But Rudy is about as likable as a Plantar wart, so to hell with him.

Trump tried to defend himself by Tweet, and didn’t do much better. “…anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem! …Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially “heavily populated” call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!”

So let’s see: Donald is arguing that he would only be appropriate and loyal because people were listening, and if he wasn’t appropriate or loyal, they might file a report. He’s saying this in response to a report that he said something inappropriate and disloyal on the phone to foreign leaders on multiple occasions. I see, Mister President. Do go on.

The Ukraine is the only one we know anything about, mostly because of Rabid Rudy. But phone calls in that time frame did include Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, two of Donald’s favorite dictators.

The plot thickens, nay, sets.

Trump must be in a full-blown panic right now. This is the smoking gun, the scandal that will take him down, and we’re just learning about it; it’s been brewing since at least last spring, when Rudy thought enlisting foreign aid to smear a opposing candidate in the election was a good idea.

This is going to be massive. It may end Trump and his criminal regime. Pay attention, now.

 

Biden His Time – Trump’s gone fishing

May 12th, 2019

Yesterday, Rudy Giuliani called Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, “independent, brilliant and honest.” Translated from Giulianese into Realspeak, that means that Barr is a servile flunky, dull-witted, and corrupt. Translating Giuliani is pretty easy, as it turns out. Just take whatever he says and invert it. Black is actually white, up is down, and Trump is wisdom and integrity personified.

But then after about five minutes of speaking, Giuliani’s 32 kilobits of RAM is depleted, his buffer is empty, and the inadvertent truths start tumbling out. His eyes go blank, he starts sweating profusely, and Fauxnews suddenly has to go to commercial.

He is the face of an administration that exists on typos, lies and cruelty. He’s a perfect match.

So why is he yakking about the Barrbarous One, anyway?

Well, Rudy managed to get his tail in a real crack this week. He planned to travel to the Ukraine as part of a mission to dig up dirt on the present leader of the Democratic thundering herd, Joe Biden.

Well, not Joe, actually. His son, Hunter. Hunter Biden.

Now, Hunter isn’t an angel. He got popped for cocaine in 2014 and got kicked out of the Naval Reserve as a result. He also joined the board of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Burisma Holdings, owned by Mykola Zlochevsky. Burisma in general and Zlochevsky in particular have been under a dark cloud of official suspicion of corruption for years, culminating in the Serious Fraud Office of the British government seizing some $23 million in Zlochevsky’s assets.

However, doing a fraud investigation on a Ukraine company is a bit like fishing for a particular turd in a septic tank. It’s dark, and there’s nothing to make a particular turd stand out. The Crown, confronted with systematic intransigence from the Ukraine government, eventually abandoned the investigation, unlocking the assets and paying the legal bills. That removed the legal liability, but not the suspicion. To give you some idea of how bad things are in the Ukraine, Zlochevsky, president of a natural gas company, had been the Minister of Ecology under the now-exiled Viktor Yanukovych.

It’s nearly as bad in the Ukraine as it is in Trumpistan, the former United States.

It doesn’t help that Hunter has close associations with Morgan Stanley and other Wall Street outfits. That doesn’t reassure as regards his business ethics and scruples. He’s was also banging his late brother’s widow after the brother, Beau, died. He proclaimed his love publicly, but this still had a fairly high element of creepiness about it. They broke up earlier this month, just about the time Daddy announced he was running for President. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.

Since the Ukraine activities ceased, he founded a hedge fund in China called Bohai Harvest RST, and the three billion dollar fund has involvement in various unsavory activities, such as mass surveillance and harassment of Moslems in China.

So it’s not too unreasonable to have questions about the activities of Hunter Biden.

But there’s never been any evidence that Joe Biden was involved in any of this. Indeed, as this was going on, his other son, Beau, was dying of brain cancer, which ensured Joe’s attention was elsewhere.

But the Ukraine thing was four years ago. Investigations went nowhere, and that particular turd eventually decomposed.

But now this month, Giuliani planned to go to the Ukraine in hopes the present Ukraine government could dig up some dirt on Joe Biden. It’s illegal to solicit campaign interference from a foreign government, but Giuliani probably looked at Trump and figured that if the President does it, it must be legal, and blabbed his intentions to the press.

I think the poor fool was honestly amazed at the reaction he got. In any event, he hurriedly canceled the trip, blaming Democrats and, weirdly, the Ukrainians.

Well, lo and fucking behold, here comes that Lion of Liars, the Parson of Persiflage, the Trumpty of Dumpty, Captain Pissmop himself, who declares grandly that Hunter Biden’s activities in the Ukraine need to be investigated, and is ordering his Attorney General, the “independent, brilliant and honest” William Barr, to open an investigation.

Yes, four years after the fact, and long after other investigations had closed on the matter.

Trump obviously feels that nobody should be near the White House who may have solicited illegal campaign meddling from foreign governments and been involved in shady financial dealings in the countries run by such governments. Why, to Trump, such a horrible situation was totally unthinkable.

So that’s why Giuliani was suddenly calling the sluggish William Barr “independent, brilliant and honest.” He needs some cover, and having Trump’s pet oaf of an A-G throw shade at Biden by attacking his son struck him as wise and patriotic (remember to translate from Giuliani to realspeak, now).

The remarkable speed with which Trump came up with the notion of having Barr investigate Hunter Biden tells us this: Trump originally told Giuliani to go to the Ukraine and get dirt from their government on the son of the now-leading Democrat he might have to face in 2020. If Trump hadn’t already known about it, he would have done what he usually does when Rudy does something exceptionally stupid and unexpected, and just left him to twist in the wind. The fact that he overreacted so quickly tells us he’s looking to cover his own ass, at least to the extent that he’ll give Rudy enough cover that Rudy won’t panic and blow the whistle on Trump.

And we think the Ukraine is corrupt.

If I ever run into Robert Mueller, I’m going to have to ask him what bait he uses to go fishing in the Trumpistan septic tank for a particular turd.

Well, Mueller will be appearing before Congress later this month. I don’t guess he’ll have any thoughts on Hunter Biden, but he will tell us about life in Septic Washington.

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