Clint Watts Sums Up What Trump’s Collusion With Russia Really Means

 

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Pictured: Me engaging in Godwin’s Law times, like, a million.

 

One of the most irritating parts about living in this madhouse political time is that the very worst people are suddenly influential. I literally couldn’t believe that, as of late, we were having a Sebastian Gorka moment, with his “ideas” being discussed on serious television programs, not to mention that he had actual influence in the White House. If you paid attention at all to CT, he was always this fringe idiot who was inexplicably taken seriously by a few people, but thankfully very few. He was more a persistent irritant. That he suddenly was everywhere was as boggled and distorted as the fact that some reality show idiot was being saluted by Marines.

But, on the other hand, people who you respect, who should have always been listened to more than bigoted fascists like Gorka, suddenly have their own moments, to help us explain how the reality TV dummy is President. For the last few months, that’s been Clint Watts. His testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday clarified what we should be talking about when looking for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian provocateurs.

Clint’s appeared on this blog a handful of times (which I’m sure is a thrill), first about foreign fighters, and then more Trump-y stuff, and over at the old joint we had a neat little roundelay about drones. So when the Senate called for his expertise, I knew we were in for something good. What I didn’t expect was him to draw the parallels between Trump and Russia so clearly.

“I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room. The reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”

That’s the money quote right there. What we see, clearly, is that there doesn’t even need to be active collusion to say that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians in order to influence the elections. They purposely amplified Russian propaganda, giving it even greater attention, which, as he pointed out, is the whole goddamn point of propaganda.

And, furthermore, he was saying that because the Russians wanted to demonstrate that they could influence the election, because you don’t want to be subtle in doing so, the Trump amplification was, in addition to helping his horrorshow campaign, aiding and abetting Russia’s position as a power capable of doing such things.

And that’s part of Russian’s entire 21st-century purpose. They are a weakened superpower practicing asymmetrical warfare in the zone of influence. They want to intimidate and bully their Eurasian neighbors, as they jostle with China and form tenuous, loose-handshake alliances with Turkey, and Iran (and to an extent India) for continental dominance. They are playing the Eurasian game on multiple overlapping fronts, and being able to show their power is more important to them than using it, given their diminished resources.

And Trump, through his vanity and lack of self control, helped them do so.

I don’t know if any of this is actually actionable. The way I drew it here, I don’t think it is impeachable, though maybe there is an obscure law about helping Russia become more powerful.

But this is also just the beginning. That Michael Flynn is asking for immunity is…odd, since no one has accused him of any crimes (sure, the Logan Act, but I haven’t heard anyone seriously say he might be prosecuted for that). He’s either acting under a superabundance of caution or knows he’s got some problems coming his way. Either way, as soon as the investigation moved away from Nunes’s doltish coverups to an actual Senate hearing, dude got spooked. He knows it is serious now.

And that’s the point. It clearly goes much further. That literally everyone in the administration is compromised, in some form or the other, by Russia, and that they are being the opposite of forthcoming is too much smoke. As Charlie Pierce said, to assume that it stops with mere amplification is “to believe to the point of fanaticism the power of coincidence.”

If you live long enough, you see Donald Trump become President. But maybe if you live just a bit longer, you’ll see him become a disgraced ex-President.

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El Salvador Believes Water is Worth More Than Gold

 

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Different people might have different ideas about this picture

 

I was just reading this book that came out last year, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, which isn’t so much a telling of the US from the native point of view, but rather looking at US history as essentially being about Indian removal. There’s a passage where the author, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, talks about the gold rush, and the enormous depredations inflicted on the indigenous people in the European-American rush for gold. Some of the worst slaughters of the Indian Wars were to remove natives from their land, so that the Americans could get gold. (Remember, Custer was in the Black Hills to drive out the Sioux so newfound gold fields would be safe for Americans.)

In talking about the actions of the gold bugs, who brought torture and rape and disease and death to the natives, and who fought and killed each other over it, she mentions, almost as an aside, that for the natives, “gold was irrelevant.” Which is wild when you think about it: it had always been there, but was just sort of an interesting rock, until some other people came for whom it had imaginary value, and then it suddenly became death.

And that’s just the first-level horror. The miners choked the streams with silt, and of course, runoff from mining pollutes water supplies all around, leeching into aquifers, into the bodies of fish and anything that eats fish, and throughout whatever path the dirty water flows. That’s one of the lingering effects of mining, and it is why the US has been trying to regulate the industry as part of the Clean Water Act. That’s going away with the Trump administration, but there are some places which show us it is possible.

In this case, El Salvador.

SAN SALVADOR — Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining, environmental activists said.

Declaring that El Salvador’s fragile environment could not sustain metal mining operations, legislators across the political spectrum approved the ban, which had broad support, particularly from the influential Roman Catholic Church.

Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water.

“Today in El Salvador, water won out over gold,” Johnny Wright Sol, a legislator from the center-right Arena party, wrote on Twitter.

Now look: I’m not going to sit here and, you know, romanticize life in El Salvador. In some respects, it seems like a crummy place to live. But that’s sort of the point. Gold is really valuable, and I’m sure it could be used, but El Salvador is looking at long-term (and short-term) consequences of putting profit over elemental needs. It seems like the smart thing to do, and the obvious thing to do, which is why it is all the more bewildering that the dominant political party in the United States doesn’t seem to think so.

It’s essentially a continuation of the consistent project, which has been a 500-yr struggle to turn the indigenous land into capital.  It’s a past and present we can’t reckon with, and increasingly, it makes the future a more shaky proposition.

On Brexit Day, an Elegiac Read on England

 

Image of Sutton Hoo by Marc Atkins, via LRB

Sutton Hoo © Marc Atkins/marcatkins.com

Sutton Hoo © Marc Atkins/marcatkins.com

 

Today (or, I guess, yesterday), as Theresa May officially initiated Brexit, throwing the European project into disarray, and continuing the long and nightmarish trend of advanced countries saying “LEAVE” to the modern world that got Donald Trump elected, I read a beautiful little piece in the London Review of Books about the burial ground of a 6th-century Anglican king. This article, by Rod Mengham, was written with Brexit in mind without mentioning it, by showing the whole sweep of English history, whether it was insular or expansive. It’s a beautiful little drizzle of a read, in which you get the scope of time and our current politics.

But it’s worth remembering that the version of English spoken by Rædwald also evolved into Swedish, not to mention Danish, Norwegian, German and Dutch. There is a case for saying that Sutton Hoo does not mark the beginnings of Englishness, but its end: no money, no Christianity, no island mentality. Whoever was buried in Mound 1 did not die in the ship, but he did live in one, conceptually – his people were joined by the sea, not bounded by it.

It’s also worth reading for the comment section, which discusses if Rædwald could count as UKIP.

 

 

Pakistan and Climate Change: Presented Without Comment

 

Image result for pakistan flood 2016

Pakistan takes steps to politicize tragedy

 

Sigh...

The Pakistan senate’s approval of the Climate Change Act on March 17 was warmly welcomed by many as a step in the right direction for a country that is battling the growing threat of climate-related disasters.

The bill, authored by senator Zahid Hamid who heads the climate change ministry, was passed to ensure the country meets its obligations under international conventions relating to climate change and address its effects. Though ranked 153rd in terms of greenhouse gas emitting countries, Hamid told the senate it was the seventh most vulnerable country to climate change. The bill had already been approved by the National Assembly.

With this new law, Pakistan has joined the ranks of a handful of countries that have passed legislation to specifically tackle the impact of climate change, said Michal Nachmany who has been leading a global review of climate legislation at the Grantham Institute. As of 2017 there were over 400 laws relevant to climate change and energy, according to the institute’s review of 99 countries. However, there are just a few countries like Finland, United Kingdom, Denmark, Kenya, Australia, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Micronesia and the Philippines that have passed climate change acts.

OK, just one comment: Pakistan officially believes in science more than the Republican Party.

Climate Change Madness: The Real World vs. Trump

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Pictured: Success!

On the one hand:

The year 2016 made history, with a record global temperature, exceptionally low sea ice, and unabated sea level rise and ocean heat, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Extreme weather and climate conditions have continued into 2017.

On the other:

After weeks of rumors and delays, President Trump signed an executive order on climate policies Tuesday at the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency—an agency the Trump administration tried to hit with a $247 million cut for the current fiscal year, according to Politico, and is seeking a 31 percent budget cut for next year. The order includes a number of actions to undo Obama-era decisions addressing the greenhouse gas emissions that have already warmed the world’s climate about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s.

Remember, to these malicious turnips, who are essentially saying that the US is pulling out of the Paris Agreement, success can be measured by dooming the entire species.

You know who doesn’t dig this? Exxon. 

Oil giant Exxon Mobil is urging Donald Trump to keep the United States signed up to the Paris Agreement on climate change. In a letter to the President’s special assistant for international energy and the environment, a senior Exxon official described the historic international deal as an “effective framework for addressing the risks of climate change”.

Exxon!

But you know who has a completely coherent and not at all illiterate and incomprehensible message of reassurance? The man with the nukes himself, Dancin’ Rick Perry!

As part of the announcement, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said, “America’s leadership, the president’s leadership, on how we achieve energy independence while improving our environment in this country and abroad is determined more by the actions that this president is taking than at any time.”

It’s too bad there won’t be any history classes in the Aftertime, because they’d have a field day with this.

Yemen, Mosul, and a Strategy of Civilizational War

WASHINGTON — The senior United States commander in Iraq said on Tuesday that an American airstrike most likely led to the collapse of a building in Mosul that killed scores of civilians this month…

“My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties,” said General Townsend, who commands the American-led task force that is fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But he asserted that “the munition that we used should not have collapsed an entire building.”

On the one hand, the tragedy of Mosul was “one of those things” that happen in a war, and clearly not intentional, and obviously pales in comparison to the flagrant bloodlust of ISIS. It doesn’t pale to the hundreds killed, of course, and that’s exactly the other hand. It’s hard to say if this one specific incident was an outcome of the Trump administration loosening the rules on engagement, giving fewer restrictions about civilian casualties, or if it could have happened regardless, but we need to be prepared for more of these stories.

Because, while letting on-the-ground commanders have more freedom, and more coordination with local officers fighting ISIS, is theoretically a sound strategy in a vacuum (and there have been reports that Iraqi commanders are happy), we aren’t in a vacuum. We’re in the Trump administration, which has been openly hostile to the Muslim world. Mass civilian casualties won’t be seen as an outcome of war. They won’t be seen as terrible accidents by genuinely committed and largely decent military people who want to destroy ISIS and liberate the people of Iraq and Syria from medieval teenage monsters. It will be seen as an outcome of Trumpism.

And the problem might be that this is exactly what Trump and his people want.

Steve Bannon might be a slight outlier when it comes to dreaming of religious holy wars, but he isn’t that far off. For years, the GOP has been saying that the fight against ISIS is a war of civilizations, and of civilization, and that it is essentially an existential struggle in which the US might be destroyed. This is wrapped up, and exacerbated by, general hostility to Muslims. It also “confirms” and strengthens that hostility.

Part of that is the rhetorical tomb Republicans walled themselves in. Because Obama (correctly) didn’t consider ISIS more than just a very dangerous terrorist group, they had to imagine them as Nazi hordes landing on Floridian shores. And because Obama actually did act aggressively to fight ISIS, they had to ramp up the rhetoric to pretend that MORE had to be done, because Obama, of course, was a wimp and really probably wanted ISIS to win. Senator ISIS, he surely thought, had a great ring to it. So they’ve convinced themselves for years that a massive blitz was needed.

It goes deeper than that. It’s partly because the GOP is, by and large, a bunch of non-military types who pump themselves up with reflected glory, and that means elevating every threat to an existential level. But it is also because the GOP is, by and large, made up of religious bigots and hysterics who despise Islam and want the US to fight a Christianized battle against it. They’ll say against terrorism, but the two have a 1:1 conflation in the GOP mind.

So that’s where the new rules come in. It’s a way to push that battle forward, and that sounds good to Donald Trump, who 1) is a bigot; 2) thinks he’s tough, and 3) is too lazy to come up with a plan other than “kill”. So again, his personal pathologies perfectly line up with mainstream Republican goals, “mainstream” here meaning “lunatic”.

We see this in Yemen, probably more than in Iraq and Syria, largely because Yemen is off the map, for the most part, and seen as an ideological playground and a place in which one can experiment. It’s where the Special Forces-Drone strategy was tested by Obama, and it’s where Trump will test his “anything goes”s strategy.

The administration is expanding its role in Yemen, as the Soufan Group reports. It wants to expand help to the Saudi-led war against the Houthis, the large majority of which is a war crime. It is doing this because it believes that the Sauds are our friends, and that they can help broker Jared Kushner’s regional peace deal. They are doing this because they believe that the Houthis are essentially Iran, and that this is a war against Iran. They don’t believe Yemen actually exists, save as a battleground for their experiments.

But mostly, they are doing this because they can. They want this war, which is why they are expanding Yemen’s “area of active hostilities“.  This is a war of civilizations, against the Muslim tide. That they are doing this in conjunction with shutting down our borders from refugees, and specifically targeting Muslims, is not a coincidence. It’s a plan. Or, if this is a mistake, and they actually think that they are doing something positive for world peace, as opposed to Western domination, then they are doing an excellent incidental job of persuading people otherwise.

Yemen is facing a terrible, devastating famine, which will further destabilize the region. Can you imagine the Trump administration, which is gutting foreign aid, even pretending to care? The war in Yemen is not inherently regional; it’s a local battle steeped in Yemeni history and geography, and can only be resolved by taking that into account. Can you imagine Bannon or Trump or Kushner knowing any of that history, or even pretending to take it into account? Of course not.

And none of that is chance. They might be all bluster, but this isn’t a blunder. It’s a global tragedy, but it is intentional. They want a civilizational battle, and that’s essentially in lockstep with the majority of the Republican Party. The moral outrage of their actions is terrible enough. But knowing that any fleeting victory is ledgered against an ever-expanding and irresolvable conflict makes what happened in November a world-historic disaster.

Monday Quick Hits: Robots, Water, and Keystone

 

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“So I says to Mabel, I says…”

 

Did everyone have a good weekend? I had a great weekend. Lots of family, and lots of toast to Trump’s and Ryan’s failure to devastate the lives of millions of people. But this victory is, I think, just a pause. The battle will be to pressure Republicans, who seem to be a bit nervous about ruining the lives of their constituents, to make positive changes to the ACA, rather than repeal it.

Admittedly, they’re in a bind. The Times reported some anecdotes about people in GOP districts shocked that their reps would even think about such a thing, and might not vote Republican again. But then, there are also lots of GOP voters who, having been told that Obamacare was basically the forward thrust of creeping Bolshevism, are mad that it wasn’t repealed. So they are caught in a dilemma, namely: how do we do the things we’ve been saying we were going to do now that people have learned exactly what it is?

So now the question for Democrats is: how much should they work with Republicans? They are, thankfully, not eager to make some kind of “grand bargain” in order to help out the Republicans. The goal should be to fix Obamacare, working where you can to lower costs and make sure that insurance companies stay in. The talk of the “death spiral”, always exaggerated, is made possible by the threat of repeal. With that out of the way, for now at least, it could be possible to woo nervous Republicans to fix the bill at the margins, essentially working around Paul Ryan. That’s why the continued pressure from the outside is the only way to heighten their fear, and maybe force their hand to do the right and sensible thing and fix Obamacare.

Or, you could be like the President, who seems eager to watch the whole thing spiral out of control.

The “do not worry” is an especially nice touch.  He’s got a plan!

-Re/Code had a little story today about how PwC estimates, offhand, that the US could lose 40% of its jobs over the next 15 years thanks to automation. While there would of course be jobs created by automation (engineer, repair, etc) most of these will be high-skill jobs for people with advanced education. This is more than an unemployment trend; even if PwC’s numbers aren’t strictly accurate, this is economic devastation. This is something that can fundamentally alter society.

Massive unemployment of that sort needs to be ameliorated with something like a Universal Basic Income, or, failing that, an effort to create new work around infrastructure, tourism, or more. But there needs to be a collective effort grouped around the ideas that 1) the common good actually exists; and 2) that self-government is a good thing.

This isn’t something private markets can fix alone; indeed, it is the private market that will be at fault. There needs to be collective action to help the less educated and more vulnerable people in the new economy–the same ones who have been hurt for decades by market forces. That many of these are your stereotypical Trump voters (though they will be joined by millions of white collar types as well) represents an opportunity to convince them that the government is not the enemy, and that, in fact, this kind of intervention is the heart of the American experiment.

Of course, we’re debating whether or not it is ok if people just, you know, die because they don’t have employer-based insurance, so consensus on this seems a long way off.

-But we do have an answer on Keystone! That answer, of course, is “yes”. Trump signed off on Keystone on Friday, saying in a signing ceremony that:

It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North American and energy independence.  This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families — and very significantly — reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America.

It’s important to note, in the interest of being strictly accurate, that none of this is true. And it is just weird to talk about reducing “our dependence on foreign oil” right before you introduce the President of TransCanada, above and beyond the fact that this isn’t how the oil markets work. The sludge pumped over the largest underground aquifer isn’t going to be shuttled to your car. It goes into the global markets. I honestly don’t know if Trump understands this. I also wonder how he would reconcile the “lower costs” with the fact that, while Keystone was blocked, gas prices plummeted.

It is also good to note that this isn’t a done deal. As the TransCanada President reminded the United States President, they face resistance and lawsuits in Nebraska, where people don’t want a Canadian pipeline bringing dangerous material across their lands and into their water. That led to this exchange.

Trump: So we put a lot of people to work, a lot of great workers to work, and they did appreciate it.  And they appreciated it, Russ, very much at the polls, as you probably noticed.  And so we’re very happy about it.

So the bottom line — Keystone finished.  They’re going to start construction when?

MR. GIRLING:  Well, we’ve got some work to do in Nebraska to get our permits there —

THE PRESIDENT:  Nebraska.

MR. GIRLING:  — so we’re looking forward to working through that local —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll call Nebraska.  (Laughter.)  You know why?  Nebraska has a great governor.  They have a great governor.

MR. GIRLING:  We’ve been working there for some time, and I do believe that we’ll get through that process.  But obviously have to engage with local landowners, communities.  So we’ll be reaching out to those over the coming months to get the other necessary permits that we need, and then we’d look forward to start construction.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  I’m sure Nebraska will be good.  Peter is a fantastic governor who’s done a great job, and I’ll call him today.

Remember that the head of an oil company is talking about working with local communities and landowners, and the President of the US is saying he’ll call the governor to get it done. That’s a true populist man of the people right there.