With New WaPo Revelations, Team of Rats Clearly Acting Like Rats

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Last night, the Washington Post broke the story that the initial wildly misleading and dishonest statement regarding the fabled Don Jr. Russia meeting was dictated by the President himself. The statement, if you recall, basically said “we met one woman and it was all about adoption, and come on, so what?”

This turned out to be not exactly the case.

That’s interesting, because it again shows the President to be an inveterate, indeed instinctual liar, whose relationship with the truth is analogous to the one he has with women, which is: I can do whatever I want to it. It is breathtakingly arrogant, in its assumption that if he says something, we’ll all believe it (or rather, that it will become truth, because he’s Trump, so what he says goes). It’s also incredible in how much it complicates the life of his son.

I don’t know if there are any legal ramifications here; I sort of doubt it. But the real upshot of the story is that while the sources are anonymous, and this will surely be disputed, they all came from within the White House. This isn’t just leaking about how Reince is a jerk or anything like that. These are senior officials saying that the President is deliberately complicit in misleading the American people about his administration’s, and his family’s, ties to Russia.

That’s partly because I would imagine the ship is clearly sinking. Mueller is zooming in on the money, which is what this has always been about. But as much as anything, it is because it is clear that the President has zero loyalty, and is willing to discard anyone to benefit himself. Now, this has been clear literally forever, and anyone who ever believed otherwise is an idiot, but even idiots have to understand the game now.

Here’s the proof. This is my favorite part of the whole thing.

Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

Yup. It was Jared Kushner, who loathes the press, never speaks to it, and who consistently lied on his disclosure forms, who was pushing for transparency and openness. Amazing how he and Ivanka are the ones who come out good in this story. I wonder who the sources would be.

Let’s call him “Jared K.”

Like I said, I don’t think anything will come of this qua this. It might demonstrate that Trump knew more about the meeting than he let on, though it doesn’t have to. He might have heard of it that day, and decided that, in his wisdom, he’d be able to handle it. That’s very plausible!

But the story itself shows the extraordinary dysfunction of this White House, and more than that, the willingness of top inside sources to attack the President himself, and throw him under the bus before they get run down. It’s sort of exciting, but also another reminder of how much a disaster we’ve inflicted upon ourselves. It’s what happens when you have a government of the worst, by the worst, and for the worst.

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With Trump’s Pardon Inquiry and Mueller Investigation, We’ve Entered The “Not Even Pretending” Portion of the Show

OK, so, put on your Rawls veil of ignorance for a minute. Nice, thank you. That’s one sweet-looking veil. No, I get it, it’s painted like a War Boy. Yeah, Fury Road, cool. Anyway, the point is, with it on, you don’t know anything about the Trump Presidency. Hell, you don’t know anything about Donald Trump. You don’t hate him or love him, and have zero pre-conceived notions about his moral probity, his sense of ethics. You have no knowledge of anything about the Russian collusion investigation.

Good? Now peep these headlines.

NYTimesTrump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators

WaPo: Trump’s lawyers explore pardoning powers and ways to undercut Russia investigation

Now, again, not knowing anything, at the very least you’d think there was something hinky going on, right? People who aren’t worried about an investigation don’t look for ways to undermine it and certainly don’t think about pre-emptively pardoning themselves. Right?

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Malorossiya: Ukrainian Separatism, Mapmaking, and The Continued Restlessness of History

 

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This seems optimistic, to me

 

Dateline, Donetsk:

Separatists in eastern Ukraine have proclaimed a new state in the territories they control.

More than 10,000 people have died in fighting after Russian-backed rebels took control of parts of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in April 2014.

Ukraine signed a ceasefire deal with the separatists in 2015, which provided for a gradual return of the areas into Kiev’s fold while giving them some autonomy, but the agreement was never fully implemented.

Donetsk News Agency has quoted separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenkoas saying that the rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk would form a state called Malorossiya.

Zakharchenko is calling for a three-year transition period in which to establish his new state, which will encompass not just the land annexed by Russia, but all territory that is Russian-leaning, including a great swath of the breadbasket between the Dniester and the Dnieper.

That seems ambitious, and it seems that our man in Donetsk Zakharchenko might have gotten a little ahead of his skis on this one.

Sputnik International has quotes from less-than-thrilled Russians on this, because of course it does.

“This is an unexpected initiative, and from my point of view, it diverges from the general line of actions prescribed by the Minsk agreements… The solution of the problems of Donbass, which have accumulated and are often urgent, has been initially and continues to be within the Minsk process agreed by all sides, and not within the unilateral initiatives announced today,” (Chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin) Kosachev said.

It makes sense why Russia wouldn’t be terribly happy about this. After all, the Minsk agreements muddle through the question of Crimea, since no one really seems to know how to make Russia leave. And continued unrest in the east works out well, since it leaves a divided and distracted Ukraine, one in which Russia has a lot of power.

It stands to some reason that Russia would have a lot of influence in the new Malorossiya, obviously. Their interference is what led to the schism, and they have been supporting the rebels. And the schism was even possible because Ukraine’s east historcially leans toward Russia. The fact that they have Russia in their name seems a good clue too, as does the proposal of unity between them, Russia, and Belorussia.

But that doesn’t always work out, as Russia knows. Belarus, under the never-dying Bond villain Lukashenko, has started to make overtures toward the west. For a long time he held out hope of a political union with Russia where he became the boss, but realizing that wasn’t happening, and realizing he could maybe play both sides, he has started teasing Putin with thoughts of Western alliances.

Now, Lukashenko is an annoyance to Putin, not a threat, but it goes to show you that life is pretty unpredictable. So there is no way of telling what can happen in a new independent state. What is conveniently violent and unsettled now might soon be settled, peaceful, and demanding respect.

And really, the whole thing seems kind of silly on its face, like a flighty rebel dream. “Soon, we’ll have all the Ukraine!” But really, there’s no reason for this to be absurd.

All of Eastern Europe is unsettled. The current map has only been in place for a decade, and a map from 1991 would be out of date in 1996, just as a map from 1989 would be irrelevant a couple of years later. It wasn’t just Eastern, Mitteleurope and the West (depending on where you define Germany) were shook by the beautiful cataclysms of 89.

But it is the east where the map has been going nuts since the Ottoman Empire started to dissolve, the Balkan Wars shattered the peace, and the late-era dominance of Austro-Hungary, and of course the empire-shattering WWI really made things impossible to follow. New countries were created (Yugoslavia, short-lived, and then long-lived, and then destroyed), old ideas were made real (Poland, also sort of short-lived, and then enslaved by the Soviets), and disparate lands coalesced only to be swallowed (the Ukraine).

 

Not pictured: pretty much everything

 

So what we know of the map is, at best, 100 years old, and even that not really. There’s no reason why Ukraine can’t be divided up, at least no historic reason. There are political and economic and maybe moral reasons why it shouldn’t, but just because we’ve come of age in a time where the Ukraine was a real, unified, independent state encompassing those exact post-Soviet borders, including Crimea, doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be.

History doesn’t work that way. We thought we were in a freeze, and that the world was permanent. Which is weird: no one ever thought that maps couldn’t change. I know the Cold War had a weird feeling of never-endingness to it, but then the maps changed enormously over the next few decades. Yet we act as if what the world is at the moment is the way it is now and shall always be. We base our politics around it. We base our emotional maps around it, and react violently if there is a disruption.

This isn’t me being a Malorossiyan nationalist or anything. It’s not a good idea, for a number of reasons. But I think it is dangerous when we scoff at the idea of changing national borders. Borders are artificial. What’s more, they are new.  The problem is that the passions contained within those borders, and stoked partly because of those borders, are real. Even if they are manipulated they are real.

That’s the challenge of the 21st century. How do we handle the nation-state when transnational identity is so strong for so many but intense, smaller nationalisms are strong for an equal amount, in reaction to the first group? I don’t have any answers, but if we think the globe spinning in our office is the gospel, and any deviation is the ravings of heresiarchs, we have no chance of meeting the danger.

 

 

Trump’s Cybersecurity Fiasco: The Idiot Presidency in Two Tweets

So, if you are a Donald Trump supporter, you have to believe that Trump didn’t think it would happen, didn’t believe it would happen, but tweeted about the discussion anyway, just to give people a chance to comment on it. That he thought it was worth discussing whether “election hacking, & many negative things, will be guarded”, but then had already decided it couldn’t happen.

Now, it is pretty easy to make fun of this. Trump said something monumentally, catastrophically stupid, was promptly and bipartisanly mocked, and rescinded it while trying to save face. That is sadly par for the course for this Presidency. But let’s take a step back, because I think there is something bigger here.

One of a few things happened. One is that Trump suggested the idea, which even I don’t think happened (although, who knows?). Another is that Putin had the idea, and Trump promptly and swiftly turned it down, but then, why would he say they had a discussion about keeping the election safe? Maybe he meant to say he turned it down, but then realized he couldn’t say that he didn’t trust the Russians, because that undermines his undermining of our intelligence services, so just backpedalled to save face.

But there is another option here. And it is that Putin made the suggestion, and Trump accepted it, or at least said it was worth looking into. He would have done this through a combination of wanting to please Putin, to be on the same side as a tough white nationalist authoritarian, and from his own inability to admit to himself something might have been hinky about his monumental landslide election. That seems about right

So why did Putin do it? Because, and I think this is key, they wanted to see what they could get the President to say. Putin had to know Trump would be scorned and mocked for making this public. Even were the Kremlin not behind the hacking (they were), the perception that they were would make any offer absolutely laughable. I truly think Putin wanted to see how much he could get away with.

And he made the President look like a jackass, one both weak in the face of Russia and ready to back down when revealed to be a fool. He’s keeping the system roiled. It was a power play, pure and simple, and Russia easily triumphed.  It’s wrong to say he support Trump, per se. There are certain policy similarities, such as “NATO bad”, but more than that, Putin supports western disorder. And with Trump, he has pure disorder. It’s chaos he can easily manipulate.

Myself, I am not yet so tired from all the winning. Does that start soon?

Qatar and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, War in Syria: The Dangers of Unserious Leadership in Fragile Times

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I’m not saying that to be a successful President you have to understand what this map means. But you actually kind of do…

America has been rightfully consumed with the subdued opera of the Comey hearings, in which members of both parties accepted as a stipulation that the President was a grotesque, habitual liar, and that his best defense was he literally has no idea what he is doing, so how could he be obstructing justice? I don’t know the legal ramifications of this, but even as the GOP desperately tried to downplay Comey, which seems to imply a return to the status quo, I think there will continue to be a steady drip of revelations. Comey implying that Sessions is dirtier than we (well, the media) thought might be the first major crack. No one is going to want to be the last person to go down for this.

But think again about the essential shrugging reaction even senators from his own party have to the essential nature of Trump: sure he’s dishonest and completely incapable of being President, but is that illegal? Maybe for the former, probably not for the latter. But that’s not the issue: the issue is that it is extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous domestically, and potentially catastrophic abroad.

There could be few worse times to have a blundering, spite-filled, ego-driven ignorant man as President of the United States. The post-WWII order was crumbling, but just as importantly (if unremarked), the post-WWI order in the Middle East (and much or Eurasia) is crumbling and reforming in unexpected and difficult ways as well. This is a hinge moment for a huge part of the world, and with his disaster-junkie approach to things, Trump can’t help but make it enormously worse. And it starts, of course, with Qatar.

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Russia’s Caspian Problem: Weird News Update About the Workings of the World

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Every day, there are millions of stories that don’t make the headlines, and don’t get written up in the papers, but that reflect the slow and grinding way the world really works. They reflect the tiny changes in policies, the historical patterns that ebb and flow but are never really absent, the way that past actions impact present decisions, and the way that political abstractions like “countries” and “borders” crash against the real world.

All of these factors are interesting, and I think especially so to Americans, a nation which is nearly unique in trying to ignore history, the ramifications of decisions, and geopolitical realities. But all that is catching up.

I bring this up due to a neat little story by Paul Goble in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, called “Collapse of Russian Shipping in Caspian Put’s Moscow’s Regional Strategy at Risk.” Even though shipping in the inland sea is booming, Russian ports, a key part of both its North-South and East-West regional strategies, is drying up. It’s about how the other Caspian nations are essentially colluding against Russia to starve its seaports, creating new regional alliances based on both underwater rights and the laws that govern surface territory, all hinging on the question: is the Caspian more like a lake or like an ocean?

What then is going on?  The answer can be found in the complicated politics of the Caspian region, the continuing difficulties the littoral states have in demarcating the seabed, as well as growing tensions among some of these states with Russia. And because that is the case, the decline of freight traffic at Russia’s Caspian ports in the first quarter of 2017 is even more significant than might appear at first glance.

In Soviet times, Moscow and Tehran divided the Caspian into two unequal zones, a division that even then had important implications because of the oil and natural gas reserves discovered on the seafloor as well as due to the rising trade between the Soviet Union and Iran. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the number of littoral states increased from two to five: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan thus become involved in talks about delimitation and trade on the Caspian alongside the Russian Federation and Iran.

For 25 years, these five littoral states have been unable to reach an agreement on the division of the seabed, something Moscow has exploited to block many pipeline projects that would not have involved Russia. Yet, at the same time, that deadlock has led to expanded contacts between other pairs of littoral states and increased shipping between and among them—again to the exclusion of the Russian Federation (Abo.net, April 18, 2016; Natural Gas World, May 6, 2017). Now, Moscow’s policies have returned like a boomerang to limit its future role in the region.

Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan call for treating the Caspian as a lake rather than an ocean, an arrangement that would divide the seabed among the countries but leave surface commerce open to all. Whereas, Turkmenistan and Iran want it to be treated as a sea and be divided totally into five sectors. Despite suggestions at a January 2017 ministerial in Baku that the five Caspian littoral states would sign an agreement overcoming the divergence of positions (see EDM, May 8), the participating foreign ministers could not even say when such a meeting would occur this year, an indication that they remain far apart (Mfa.gov.az, Azernews.az, January 25).

This isn’t a headline story, and nor should it be. Could you imagine if you got a buzz on your phone signifying a news alert and it was this? “Russia, Turkmenistan Remain Deadlocked on Oceanographic Nomenclature!” Holy shit, you’d be furious.

But that’s a reflection of how, regardless of the way time feels right now, the world doesn’t work in headlines. People come and go, and the decisions they make are momentous, but slow patterns of geography and history grind underneath their feet, constraining and shaping their actions.

Moscow’s centuries of expansion, whether as Russia or the Soviet Union, influence its relations with its former vassal states, as well as Iran, not to mention the ethnic federal entities that actually border the Caspian (most notably restless Dagestan, whose port revenues were seen as a guarantor of some stability). Russia also has no non-arctic  oceanic sea ports; it is a continental power. That’s why it is so aggressive in the Caspian and Black seas, as a way to control the Eurasian sphere.

But its aggression can often backfire, as we see here, when its oppressive thumb led other states to pair with each other and Iran, bypassing Russia, and perhaps putting its regional goals in check. This gives more lie to the “Putin is a flawless puppet master” myth. I still think Russia will rue their cruel Middle East adventures. He just got lucky with America and Trump.

But then, what choice did Putin have, with the Caspian? He was dealing with the legacy of an empire that rushed from the colds of northern Europe to the sunbaked sea, colliding with Iran and with other ancient Muslim nations, having to bloodily hack their way through the Caucuses to get there.

The sea is what mattered to Russia, as an easier way to get across the continent. And then, after WWI, for its insane abundance of oil and natural gas. This was heightened in WWII, when Hitler diverted a good chunk of his invading army south to secure the oil fields near Baku. And certainly, after the fall of the USSR, Russia fought to hang on to it Caucus territories both to stay by the sea, and to avoid letting the rest of its hard-fought empire, which we take for cartographical permanence, from spiraling away.

These things matter. History matters. Geography matters. America, whose long racial history is catching up with it, which is seeing the impact that its centuries of continental aggression and century of global aggression have wrought, and who is slowly learning the real lessons of geography, needs to understand that. Russia does. Iran does. The butchers of the ISIS and al Qaeda do. It’s time we do, too.

The “Chemical Weapons” Fiasco Is A Result of Not Understanding Syria or Russia; or: Spicer Is an Idiot, But He’s Also Carrying Water for Idiots

 

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“Ok, but…” No! Just don’t start that way. It’s SO easy

 

Look, it’s not hard. Normal people don’t slip up and say things like “Hitler never gassed his own people!” Most people don’t even start sentences with “At least Hitler…”  That’s Human Speaking 101, and something that, if your entire job is to talk, you should have learned. So one can reasonably come to the conclusion that Sean Spicer isn’t particularly good at his job.

One can also, when riding in the wake of Seanspicerholocaustcenterdumbassgate, draw darker conclusions. This is an administration that didn’t mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day,  and it is one that employs not just Steve Bannon, but the ludicrous and grotesque pro-Nazi bigot Sebastian Gorka. It’s attracted the very worst elements of American politics, people who were more repulsively fringe than Steven King, mucking up from the bile of the hardest right. Every half-bright sexless bigot like Steven Miller with an axe to grind gyered and gimbled their way to the White House.  They were drawn by Donald Trump, who himself is a half-bright bigot. Like attracts like.

So yeah, you could say that hearing some perhaps mixed messages about Hitler contributed to Spicer’s confusion Choitner discusses that, but also gets closer to the real issues, which is that Spicer has to flip-flop almost daily.  Or not even flip-flop: wrench around based on the ill-informed whims of above-mentioned half-bright bigot.

The horrible weight of electing someone who never deeply considered any policy before, other than spouting off about headlines he skimmed, much like every other ill-informed paper-reader, is beginning to really press down on us. Our allies have no idea what to believe. Russia doesn’t even pretend to take us seriously. It has zero interest in listening to the administration, because, as we said yesterday, it is clear the administration doesn’t know what it is doing. Hell, right now, Putin is leaving Tillerson twisting in the wind.

Vali Nasser goes in-depth about why Russia will stay with Assad, and it is pretty clear that no one in the Trump administration has given these reasons much thought. They seem to believe that suddenly believing Assad “should go” is tantamount to a coherent policy that should be respected. I still think that Putin is making a mistake, and that even if things are going “well” right now, he’ll still end up broken on the rocks of an impossible conflict, but his short-term logic requires him to stay. And it certainly doesn’t require him to listen to an administration that has believed in what they are saying for about 15 minutes.

Trump likes to say he is “unpredictable”, and sell that as a virtue. And, to an extent (or rather, in neutral conditions) that could be true. But he isn’t “unpredictable” as part of some clever game; he’s unpredictable because he has no idea what he’s doing. His talk of not letting enemies know what he is going to do is pure bluster: he has no plans, no goals, no strategies, but couldn’t ever say that. So, like with everything else in his entirely empty life, he spun that off as a virtue. Oh, I can’t tell you what I am going to do, you’ll have to wait and see, but it’s great. Super great. I know more about everything that everyone, you’ll see. It worked during his days as a real estate and promotional carny, and it somehow worked during the campaign. He became President.

But it doesn’t work when you actually have to do things. When his casinos failed after empty promises, he declared bankruptcy. That’s something you can do when you are rich. He always had a system that would pick him up after he failed. But that doesn’t exist anymore. There is no backup. You actually have to produce, and you can’t suddenly have a coherent foreign policy when you’ve never actually thought of one before.

That’s where we are at now. A huckster who claimed that he was unpredictable as a way to mask his total ignorance is in a position where there is no net. He acts entirely on emotion and whims, never actually thinking things through. Eric Trump, showing the family gift for argument by evidence-free and indeed self-evidently counterfactual assertion, told the Daily Telegraph that his father was a “great thinker, practical not impulsive,” and added, “Believe me he thinks things through.” The last sentence also showed the family flair for relying on a non-existent wellspring of reliability.

This isn’t just snark. Pointing out the way this family runs is to point out how they are running the country. You can see that with Syria. One day it’s “Assad? He’s ok, I don’t care” and then “Well we should do something about that maybe” and then “Did we get good press for blowing things up? Then our position is that he’s big-league worse than Hitler. Got it Spicer?”

So no, Spicer can’t handle it. Partly because he’s an idiot, of course. But partly because he’s working for people with no idea what they are doing. In a way, he’s doing us all a service. If they had someone good at their job, they might be able to spin this in a way where you could potentially believe that the Trump administration knew what they were doing, that our allies wren’t terrified, that we weren’t being buffeted on the whims of an old man who is equal parts terrifying and laughable. Spicer’s wild incompetence does us the kindness of laying bare the enormoity of our world-historic mistake.