Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Public's 'Right to Know'

Reposted from New Eastern Outlook

The 1967 Freedom of Information Act, which allows individuals to require government agencies to release documents upon request, was enacted to combat government secrecy while protecting the individual right to privacy.  Since that time it has been a valuable tool as well as an excuse for journalistic excess. Currently, among other weightier matters, it is being invoked by the mainstream media to justify unending coverage of the legal fine points related to the payment of 130 thousand dollars to a sex worker who appears to have had an affair with Trump after his wife gave birth to their son, and of whether the payment would be considered as an illegal campaign contribution by Special Counsel Mueller.
As the war in Syria drags on, with Turkey bludgeoning Syrian Kurds to ward off Turkish Kurds; as President Putin, tired of seeing his Western border lined with NATO troops and tanks, lays out his latest weapons; as fascism takes many guises in many parts of the world, (Alt-Right guru Steve Bannon featuring as keynote speaker at France’s National Front, for example), the public’s ‘right to know’ is foremost about who is appearing in front of a Grand Jury (a  legal investigative body) to answer for Russia-related crimes; next is whether ‘Javanka’ (the Jared-Ivanka couple) will soon return to their New York lives, which generals will be next to leave the Trump administration, and finally, how the president will organize his meeting with the nuclear-armed ruler of North Korea — in that order.
To the extent that time allows, the public will be told that several Trump aides as well as the head of the private security company Blackwater, Erik Prince just ‘happened’ to be in the Seychelles Islands (one of the most off-beat places in the world  surrounded by the Indian Ocean), meeting with UAE officials at the same time as a Lebanese-American businessman was meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian government-controlled wealth fund.  
Prince testified to a congressional grand jury that the UAE officials suggested he get to know the Russian over a beer.  According to the Washington Post “We chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations with the USA… I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladi­mir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism.” 
Given the deep state’s determination to lead Russia into a knock-down drag-out war in order to get at its vast mineral wealth, Prince’s reasoning would naturally lead to an incoming administration seeking cooperation trying to set up a ‘back channel’ to the Russian government. In the eyes of the media, however, which knows which side its bread is buttered on, that channel is more likely to be about shady business deals.

The inconvenient principle of the public’s right to know explains why American news analysts invariably throw cold water on any idea which, in a normal society would be played up as possibly leading to better international relations. President Trump’s spur-of-the-moment decision to accept Kim Jong Un’s invitation for a four-eyes summit is met with warnings that the president could be ‘played’ by his younger counterpart (North Koreans, like Russians and Iranians, never to be trusted).  Personal diplomacy must be shunned in favor of a carefully curated agenda hedged in with every precaution for failure, exactly the opposite of the approach increasingly favored by leaders of other nations, starting with Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, to name but a few.

As I listen to the MSM’s enumeration of all the things that could go wrong, I realize that this is the Beltway’s standard operating procedure (SOP): Seen round the world as boisterous and demanding, the United States exhibits a different face to its citizens: ‘The world is full of dangers, we cannot trust anyone (hardly our allies), and we  should never expect things to turn out well. An overwhelming military and a quick trigger finger is our best bet when it comes to interacting with the world spread out below our ‘city on a hill’. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Read This! A Texan in Ukraine

I'll soon be back posting regularly, now that my book, Russia's Americans, is finally in print and on-line.  I'll post that link tomorrow. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend this post from Russia Insider:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Economist’s Latest Stab at Journalism

The Economist, a British weekly devoted to politics and business, has been published continuously since September, 1843. In 2015, its average weekly circulation was a little over 1.5 million, about half of which were sold in the United States.  
This is no small-time rag.
That is why, when it lies, my rage is almost physical.  I cannot understand how it is possible for those who write and edit the Economist — and I am referring in this specific case to its publisher, a lady by the high sounding name of Zanny Minton Beddoes — to commit to print egregious lies with the confident tone of pure truth.  
In its latest issue, Beddoes writes, without a qualm, that:
“Perhaps because Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, thought the CIA was fomenting an uprising in Ukraine, the Internet Research Agency, backed by an oligarch with links to the Kremlin, set up a trolling team….”
This is even worse than the US MSM professing to believe that Putin made mischief to get back at Hillary for inciting riots ahead of his last election.  For deceit outranks stupidity.
A few lines later, Beddoes declares, with the solemnity of an Oxford don: 
“For democracy to thrive, Western leaders need to find a way to regain the confidence of voters. This starts with transparency.”

Watch Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland brag to the Washington Press Club that the US spent five billion ‘assisting’ Ukraine’s ‘democracy’ movement in December 2013, just two months before demonstrations began in Kiev’s Maidan Square whose purpose was to topple the pro-Russian democratically elected President, Victor Yanukovych (the same one whose image Paul Manafort polished, btw).

        Those who believe the MSM claim that we helped democrats win in Ukraine, should read this: .
The Economist’s publisher warns that  “Conspiracies are wrong in themselves and their extent raises worries about the vulnerabilities of Western democracies.”  Maybe coups d’etat don’t qualify as ‘conspiracies’…? 
Finally, Beddoes admits that “Retaliation and deterrence also matter—not, as in the cold war, through dirty tricks, but by linking American co-operation over, say, diplomatic missions, to Russia’s conduct and, if need be, by sanctions."She tries so hard to sound worldly — the Economist’s default style —that we can only guess at the more complicated thought she was trying to convey.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Winning Ticket?

Last Sunday 60 Minutes whether deliberately or not, offered Americans a purple presidential ticket, when it interviewed Rex Tillerson. and featured Oprah Winfrey managing thirteen people with diverse political opinions around a table.
Aside from looking presidential, Rex Tillerson exhibits a deeply rooted authority that comes assorted with a worldview never before seen in an American leader.  Affirming that he is still a boy scout (he actually led that organization for a time) and that, while ‘riding for the brand’, ‘his word is his bond’, one can see why he was able to form a relationship with Vladimir Putin, who also backs traditional memes, and from which each side benefited.  Nor is Tillerson likely to fear Putin and Xi’s vision of a ‘multi-polar’ world, which after all, literally embodies the scout’s code of benevolence toward others, favoring cooperation over conflict.
As for Oprah, it hardly seems necessary to dot the i’s and cross the t’s: she would bring warmth to Tillerson’s gravitas, and her lively mind will never confuse Korea with Crimea.  In recent years, groups of congresspeople have tried to work together across the aisle, but the inclination to cooperate has at best tantalized the rest of the country.  
Although presidents usually pick at least one cabinet member from the other side, there has never been a purple ticket.
Think about that: presidents rely on their veep for many things, implying that they must belong to the same party. (Think of the arm-twisting the veep is charged with on Capitol Hill on behalf of the President’s agenda.  How could he be from the other side? )
Now think again about the possibilities a Tillerson/Winfrey ticket would open up: when Rex is being too nice to big business, Oprah would come in and remind him of the needs of the people she represents.  The fact that the supporters of each would be constantly watching them would create a unique situation.  In fact, that situation would be somewhat similar to those those which exist in parliamentary systems in which the largest parliamentary party governs in coalition with others.
The likelihood of a radical change in American politics is remote, however it is conceivable that following the radical Trump presidency, nothing will seem too risky to consider.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Wife Beaters

Twenty-some years ago, Bill Clinton, the President of the United States was impeached for having an affair with a White House intern.  If the current president is impeached, it will not be for touching women’s private parts and keeping wife-beaters at his side. 
The departure of two close Presidential aides after former wives and girl friends produced evidence of violence against them, gave female pundits a chance to excoriate the President for defending the perpetrators without a word of sympathy for their victims. But why did they wait so long to condemn Trump? His misogyny has been on display for at least two years. Maybe they didn’t realize that even if, as women a class are accused of — or acknowledged as — ‘wearing the pants’, individual women continue to be victimized. 
Nor did this just happen; it was programmed by the kind of entertainment Americans have been served for decades, including both the vulgarization of women’s bodies for advertising, and senseless violence. Even personal interactions once unanimously condemned now proliferate, as the world separates like a failed mayonnaise into white and non-white, traditionalists and modernists, sincere and pharisee. But where once the latter were confined to a small temple in a small town, today they are heard worldwide, and their power extends to nuclear weapons. And no, it is not wrong to conflate wife beating with war that would end life as we know it. Sexual misconduct is not unlike political bullying: claiming exceptionalism, the United States treats other countries, including its allies, as inferior, setting the standards by which others are judged, and leading the battle against those judged wanting. 
Never imgining that the fun it was having during the 2016 campaign would put the candidate they were mocking in the White House, the media brought us a president, and at least one general, who openly insult women. In what only appears to be a lighter note, the mocking reactions of French female personalities to the ‘Me Too’ campaign suggest that male power plays compensate for clumsiness on the part of The All-American lover. (It has also crossed my mind that the temper tantrums of intelligent, sophisticated men aiming for high places but uncertain as to their chances, could signal a tendency to choose less brilliant wives, then berate them for their inferiority.) 
This brings us to Steve Bannon, another wife-beater, who heads a vile Alt-Right website that combines sophomoric anti-feminism with white supremacy. When he was introduced to the American public as Trump’s campaign manager, his scruffy appearance made him seem merely uncouth, rather than a dangerous demagogue. After months at the President’s side, Bannon left the White House, declaring sotto voce that the president had failed in the role of figurehead in his war against the world’s rainbow majority. With the continued cooperation of a media at once shocked and admiring, Bannon used the latest White House blunder to warn that women will ultimately rule the world.
Whatever the psychological key to men’s emotional and physical attacks against their partners, Americans need urgently to realize that women bashing is an integral part of White Supremacy politics. which will outlive the Trump Administration. If the Bannons have their way, Trump's exit is likely to be followed by violence on the part of the gun-toting element of his faithful. While the new supremacists are unable to handle sexual liberation, rewriting it as misogyny, the old KKK is ready at any moment for a makeover, high time for the appearance of ‘Black Panther.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

If You Had Been Watching - II

Sunday is usually a slow day for news, but even so, why do the networks repeat ad infinitum what they have been saying all week, rather than turn to the rest of the world?
On any hour of any day of any week, things are happening around the world that Americans will never know about. In the past hour, watching France 24, I learned that the Greeks are demonstrating for the nth time against the tiny country of Macedonia ‘usurping’ the name of Greece’s northernmost province, an issue that rises up whenever there is a moment’s respite from really important issues such as the country being forced to leave the euro.
Kurdish female fighter
Staying with Eurasia, US ‘ally’ Turkey’s foray into Kurdish areas in Syria puts both the US and Russia ill at ease because their official policies are to respect nationalist aspirations. Syrian Kurdish fighters are related to the Turkish Kurds fighting for an independent Kurdistan that would include Turkish — as well as Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian land, and Turkey takes the threat more seriously than do its neighbors.  
That may be why the Kurdish all-female brigades based in Kobani, Northern Syria, plah such an important role. Their drill sergeats are as tough as any men and they cry but vow to avenge their fallen. (Turkey, in its incarnation as the Ottoman Empire was referred to as ‘the sick man of Europe’ in the nineteenth century, but has throughout history been a thorn in Russia’s side, is officially a US —  and European — ally, but, with ups and downs, it’s moving closer to Russia. ) 
Moving westward, France 24 follows a group of African migrants taking the ‘high road’ from Italy to France, that is, one that runs through an Alps mountain pass between the two countries.  Following the closing of the more convenient border between Italy’s Ventimiglia area and that of Monaco/Nice, these young men climb through two feet of snow, with the help of local French mountain volunteers.  As in their grandparent’s days, when European Jews were helped to cross from France to Spain, and thence to the new world, today’s French locals keep isolated cabins stocked with clothes, food and firewood.  Cell phones allow refugee minors to contact members of the new ‘underground railway’, who locate them up using GPS and lead them in sneakers through two feet of snow to French villages on the other side, where inhabitants open their homes and help them start applications for refugee status.
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel and her social democratic counterpart, Wolfgang Schulz have announced they’re actually ready to form a coalition government, more than three months after the last election. That will reassure the rest of Europe, where the waters are rising even though it’s the dead of winter.  
The French English-language channel follows the Washington soap-opera, but doesn't treat it any differently from the other stories. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Now I'm Really Freaking Out!

I thought I'd seen everything when it comes to the idiocy of the American mainstream media, but today, Nicole Wallace and her crew almost made me scream:  they're all upset over the fact that someone from the Trump White House met with some Russian covert agent (at least that's what they're calling him...) in what has to be a serious security breach.

Putin, Erdogan and Berlusconi

\Like they don't know that notwithstanding all the mud slinging upon the Kremlin, the US is sort of cooperating with Russia on the Syrian battlefield -- if only to avoid a fatal clash.  President Putin has repeatedly called for this cooperation to be maintained, and with Turkey having entered the fray, it's even more important that the two superpowers keep their lines of communication open.  (Never mind that each is hoping to gain/retain Turkey in their corner as the maybe not so crazy Erdogan plays them against whoever else is around.)