Saturday, March 31, 2018

Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

I've been so remiss publishing here, a mea culpa to my readers hardly suffices.  

But now that I've finished writing and publishing Russia's Americans, jumping through Createspace, Kindle, and Amazon's endless hoops, I will only write and publish blogs. 

Since New Eastern Outlook gets first dibs,   there is a delay of several days until they appear here.

Xi’s Elevation

(February 28, 2018, NEO, reposted on Russia Insider on April 2, 2018)
China has done away with presidential term limits, suggesting that Xi Jin Ping could rule the country until he dies, provoking a backlash among the country’s opposition and taunting in the ‘democratic’ world. But if you think about it dispassionately, it’s amazing that otherwise rational people can believe it’s better to have a leader who cannot fulfill his promises than one who can prevent special interests from sabotaging the greater good — as long as he is elected! I understand the lure of ‘democracy’ (‘rule by the people’ — in reality in ancient Greece, rule by free, home owning males…). But do most Chinese contest Xi’s agenda of making their country an equal player on the world stage while lifting their great numbers out of poverty to become the decade’s most ubiquitous tourists?

Xi observes, British PM gulps

The label ‘authoritarian’ is relatively recent and refers to strong leaders who are elected by universal suffrage but whose ‘authority’ allows them to pursue goals that are in the interests of the majority. In Russia, after some house-cleaning following a disastrous decade under Boris Yeltsin, who literally gave away the store, Vladimir Putin made it clear to those who benefited, known as oligarchs, that they were free to continue business as usual, as long as they didn’t get in the way of his plans to bring his country up to Western living standards while resisting its social agenda.
The American media regularly claims that Putin’s comfortable majority was achieved by a rigged 2011 election, and that his 80+ ratings are faked. It seems more likely, however, that the average Russian recognizes that ‘managed democracy’, Vladimir Putin’s name for what we call ‘authoritarianism’ prevents the popular will from being thwarted by individual interests. 
Dictators are perfectly acceptable to the US when they’re our dictators: from Fulgencio Batista in Cuba to the Saudi Royal family, the policy probably played a major role in the 9/11 attack and in Saudi being allowed to use US weapons against tiny Yemen. Yet Trump’s success among less educated American voters suggests that they too would welcome a president who would not be prevented by Congress from fulfilling his electoral promises, whether or not they realize that single payer is more efficient than privately billed healthcare, or that climate change is a major threat. It’s no secret  that the US Congress is more likely to reflect big business than society at large, (as currently seen in the standoff with the National Rifle Association, a major election contributor), but few observers draw the obvious conclusion: far from being the most powerful man in the world, the American President is prevented from doing anything that interferes with the pursuit of wealth by the few. 
In 1944, against a groundswell of concern for the democratic process, FDR won a fourth presidential term because Americans did not want an untried leader in the midst of two wars. (Unfortunately, Roosevelt died soon after that election, leaving President Truman to formulate the disastrous American policy toward the Soviet Union that brought us Cold Wars I and II.) Today, FDR’s presidency would be considered ‘authoritarian’: he pretended not to see that Japan was preparing to attack Pearl Harbor, so that a shocked nation would finally be willing to declare war on both Japan and Germany. He is famous for packing the Supreme Court, and although they were milder than would have wanted the Progressive Movement, he wrung workers’ rights and protections out of Congress by famously telling his advisors “Make me do it.” He is still revered today, while one of the polities that ranks highest on key governance criteria is Singapore, a tiny, multi-ethnic country that was led by the same man for four decades. 
More recently, after achieving independence from Great Britain, Lee Kuan Yew moved Singapore’s Third World economy to First World affluence in a single generation. According to Wikipedia
“Lee Kuan Yew's emphasis on rapid economic growth, support for business entrepreneurship, and limitations on internal democracy shaped Singapore's policies for the next half-century. Freedom House ranks Singapore as "partly free” and The Economist ranks it as a "flawed democracy", however the ruling party gets 83 of 89 seats with 70% of the popular vote, while in the mid-eighties, Gallup reported Singaporeans’ confidence in the government and judicial system among the highest in the world.
Note Wiki’s admission that “Although Singapore ranks among the top countries for ‘order and security’, ‘absence of corruption’, and ‘effective criminal justice’, gatherings of five or more people require police permits, and protests may legally be held only at the Speakers' Corner, this multi-lingual (English, Chinese and Hindu), country is among the top internationally in education and government supported health care.” 
Although the system is classified as authoritarian, there is absolutely zero chance that a US president will declare that its leader ‘has to go’. And that is because Singapore combines entrepreneurship with socialist citizen protections, as does Europe and as most developing strive to achieve. Only in the US is the social safety net open to debate.
When campaigning for the people’s vote, presidential candidates present a to-do list which, if implemented, would theoretically serve the majority. But in so-called ‘democracies’, even when a president enjoys a congressional majority, the financial rewards to individual representa-tives for supporting private interests guarantee that the people’s business will be relegated to the back burner. How does this square with the popular will?
Considering the ability of Congress to thwart the winner’s program, why does the presidential election dominate the news for more than a year? One reason may be to keep Americans from noticing their government’s aggressive behavior around the world. Surrounded by ‘advisors’, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that the president of the most powerful nation in the world is a figure-head, expected to do as he is told by the financial/industrial/military complex. The media’s job is to chronicle that obeisance, spinning American values into a veritable cocoon around its ‘exceptionalism’, leaving voters no mental space to independently evaluate world events or other leaders.
And yet, polls suggest that if the American electorate were presented with the portrait of a leader anonymously based on the words and actions of the Russian president, they would prefer him/her to any American president of recent memory, as Donald Trump has remarked. American voters will probably never get to participate in that experiment, for the simple reason that Russia is the largest country in the world, with a treasure-trove of resources, in close alliance with a country whose own ‘managed democracy’ has brought the greatest number of people out of poverty in history, and that the US is determined to bring both to heel. 
Today, ’authoritarianism’ is applied equally to the Saudi Arabian monarchy, where women have just been given permission to drive, and to China and Russia. Few Americans know that in 2000, when Vladimir Putin was called upon by Boris Yeltsin, America’s ‘man in the Kremlin’, to replace him for health reasons exacerbated by a drinking problem, state employees weren’t getting their paychecks on time — if at all — and virtually nothing had been done to build a fair liberal —or social democratic — system, ten years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. (When Vladimir Putin declared that this event had been the biggest geo-political catastrophe of the twentieth century, he was not, as the Western press claims, alluding to the demise of Communism, but to the terrible social conditions in which the dissolution of the vast territory left most Russians.) 
At forty-eight, thanks to his steadfastness as a KGB officer in the last months of East Germany, then as advisor on international affairs to the mayor of St Petersburg, briefly head of the KGB, then Prime Minister to Boris Yeltsin, Putin had the credentials to win election a few months later. While tagged as simply ‘a former KGB officer’ in the US, the truth is that the Russian president’s previous-jobs prepared him extremely well for the challenge of reviving the largest country in the world, home to 160 ethnic groups speaking some 100 languages and practicing four different religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam—(estimates for this latter ranging from 5% - 14%).
The Western media claims that President Putin’s 80%+ ratings reflect a herd mentality, the result of centuries of autocratic rule under the Mongols, the Tsars and the Communist Party. In reality, unbeknownst to most Americans, today’s Russians enjoy vacations abroad and the latest cars, and I can attest that restaurants and cafes do a brisk business, while train stations and airports bustle like any in the West.

The twenty-first century is light years beyond the founders’ agrarian society, whose relatively simple goals could be voted up or down by individuals and their neighbors. ‘Really existing’ democracy has proven ever more difficult to achieve as populations and threats grow larger. Given the finality of both nuclear war and climate change, a managed democracy supported by the majority is a better 21st century choice — if its representatives across the globe cooperate rather than allowing one country to impose its will.   

Kelly vs Putin: A Clash of Civilizations

(Published on NEO circa March 14)

The main takeaway from Megan Kelly’s two-hour long interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin is that with Communism gone, the US and Russia are dealing with a clash of civilizations. Not the barbaric east versus a sophisticated west — or even the lumbering grizzly versus the high-flying eagle — but much more importantly in the age of instant annihilation, cooperation versus ‘gotcha’.
To her credit, Kelly has labored mightily to consign to the ‘dustbin of history’ the image of the dumb blond: maintaining just the right body angle to the camera, blond wavy locks set off with just the right shade of (wine-raspberry) lipstick and delicately contoured green eyes, it’s too bad that her intelligence serves a relentlessly adversarial agenda. (In a short interview with an American colleague, Kelly mentioned that President Putin had ‘tried to be nice off camera, saying how much he cared a bout his grandchildren’, so even before watching the interview we knew that its purpose was not to promote understanding between two nuclear-armed countries but to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on ‘a relationship that could only be adversarial.
Kelly was not interested in finding out how the president of the largest country in the world, whose popularity ratings have been in the eighties for almost two decades, brought Russia back from desperate straights, even less in his worldview, but exclusively in why he developed certain weapons rather than others (trying to show her mastery of complex weapons systems), with respect to disarmament agreements that each side accuses the other of abandoning — the interview coming on the heels of President Putin’s roll out of new deterrents — and most importantly, whether he sent Russian citizens to disrupt our recent presidential election. 
Kelly attacked Putin from all angels on that matter, trying to elicit the disdain for the rule of law that viewers expect from a leader routinely described as a ‘thug’. She faltered, however, however when the president pointed out that he had a law degree, jumping in with “I do too”, instead of pointing out that perhaps the relatively new Russian legal system might still have a few kinks, which would have been a more polite (I hesitate to say ‘friendly’!) approach.
Asked repeatedly, in a tone that implied that this would be the right course, whether his government intended to take legal action against the thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian companies accused by Robert Mueller of ‘meddling’ in our 2016 election, Putin patiently explained that this could not happen unless the accused had violated Russian law. Refusing to extradite them, as Kelly seemed to think would be proper, he repeated: “Send us documents, the prosecutor will look at them”.  This was the only point at which the superbly controlled Putin became ever-so-slightly animated, his interlocutor clearly not compre-hending why he should insist on following internationally recognized legal procedure.
Almost two hours of repeated attempts on Kelly’s part to obtain a confession of bad behavior from the Russian president suggested that she harbored not the slightest suspicion that American ‘democracy’ is in reality the most elaborate form of oligarchy the world has ever seen.  Or that she recognized it was no match for a gold-plated billionaire with a Bronx accent who prefers deals to war, and whose troops are armed and ready to ‘take their country back’….
Kelly also appeared to have bought the idea that a leader exclusively tagged as a ‘former KGB officer’ would do a ‘gotcha’ in retaliation for Hillary’s backing of 2011 anti-Putin demonstrators. Apparently, it did not cross her mind that instead of indulging in  childish tit for tat, any election mischief that may have taken place — hardly comparable to the US’s practice of ‘regime change’ — would have been triggered by NATO’s steady drang nach osten, in flagrant violation of promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev that the western military alliance would not move one inch beyond a reunited Germany’s eastern border.  
Surely any responsible head of state would take seriously the threat posed to his country when foreign troops and tanks line its historically vulnerable border? (At one of the many international fora organized by the Russian President last year — and routinely ignored by the US media — he wondered with his hallmark irony whether this massive military ‘exercise’ was Washington’s way of ‘bringing democracy’ to Russia…..) 
When Kelly asked him whether he had ‘groomed a successor’ Vladimir Putin responded that one would surely arise when the time came. His hope was that Russia’s new leader would continue the progress he had overseen, whether in terms of agriculture, high tech, education or universal health care. Asked about his much covered but short-lived opponent, Alexei Navalny, the president recognized that in certain cases a conviction for fraud might not prevent someone from running in an election, the problem was that Navalny’s platform had only one plank: beating corruption (which he correctly noted exists to a greater or less extent in all countries). Kelly was smart enough not to mention the other candidate, daughter of Putin’s former boss, Xenia Sobchak, who was invited to the US and featured on television, but showed her lack of political acumen by declaring that if she were to visit Crimea, she would access that part of Russia by way of Ukraine.

Kelly’s interview deliberately steered clear of the fact that Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping are replacing the so-called ‘rules-based’ international order designed by ‘the center’, with a cooperative order elaborated by ‘the periphery’, where most of the world lives, in a civilizational turning point.


(This article was posted on NEO on March 4, 2018, and continues to be relevent.)
I’m wondering whether in the political science lexicon there is a word to describe a polity in which suspicion, investigations and an unusually elaborate system of laws play a determining role. There have been a number of terms to describe the American system and its military-industrial complex. But since the investigation of President Richard Nixon and the White House aides who organized a break-in of the Democratic Party Headquarters in Washington’s upscale Watergate building, it would appear that the legal tool-kit — as well as attitudes toward investigations, have evolved in a very worrying direction.
Since Donald Trump became president, another worrying trend is gathering steam, and that is the relationship between Trump family businesses — in particular those located in foreign countries — and individual members of the family working in the White House, that is, other than Donald Trump himself, his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, also a real estate developer‘Clearances’ are issued by the FBI for all government employees who are expected to be exposed to ‘classified’ material, that is documents considered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to require protection from ‘foreign’ eyes because of their security status. Clearances come in several levels, all of which require extensive investigation of an individual’s past. When I was investigated after being hired by President Carter’s Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs (in charge, among other things of the Fulbright Program that brings high-level political and cultural ‘opinion-makers’ from all over the world to discover the superiority of America), I sat in a room without windows for eight hours while one agent asked me questions and the other observed my visible reactions.  At that time, in the late seventies, the fact that I had lived for years both in Western and Eastern European countries, caused the FBI a great deal of angst — so much so that, although they found no evidence of my having participated in ‘dangerous’ organizations — they really didn’t want to deliver me a clearance, even though my work would probably never entail me being exposed to classified documents. (The matter was eventually resolved in my favor because the head of security at the State Department had failed to solicit the head of personnel’s authorization to subject me to a lie detector test, which I passed.)
As the Mueller investigation continues to make daily headlines, I cannot help but notice how much more convoluted security investigations have become since the seventies.  Now the FBI not only wants to know where a person has lived and worked, but who they may have interacted with, and whether he/she could be subject to blackmail by anyone they have encountered. This is because the US has a ton of mainly military secrets that it wants to keep even its allies from discovering.
Now, with the Trump White House, a new factor comes into play, and that is, the extent to which foreign business dealings would constitute a ‘conflict of interest’ for someone who inevitably has access to secret information, including military information. Although the United States raised itself up on the conviction that ‘What’s good for Ford Motors is good for America’, there has never been a President whose past has been solely devoted to multi-million dollars ‘deals’. (The recommended path to a political career has traditionally been the law…) The fact that Donald Trump put his two sons, Don Jr and Eric, in charge of the family’s vast empire, hardly changes the fact that it could benefit from dinner-table talk with the president.  
Not to mention the money the Trump Empire makes when foreign dignitaries stay at Trump hotels, in particular the one in Washington….

The President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also heads a high stakes family real estate business, and it has recently come to light that while he was working on his father-in-law’s campaign, he was desperately seeking cash to bail him out of a bad building investment: Immediately what runs through any FBI — or journalist —mind is: what state secrets might Kushner consciously or not have disclosed to, for example, Qatari bankers?  The smoking gun is alleged to be the fact that Trump abruptly joined the Saudi-led chorus of condemnation against that tiny country for its ties to Iran.  (Although this was originally seen as simply consistent with Trump’s efforts to ditch the 5+1 deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program..)
Although son-in-law Kushner had been charged by the President with finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem — no less! — he cannot hope to do that job while being denied access to classified documents (all political documents receive a classification, ranging from ‘classified’, to ‘secret’ , ‘top secret’ and beyond.)  The FBI’s decision that it could not, in good conscience, deliver him even the lowest security clearance, implies that the United States government is far from having a free hand to pursue US foreign policy: it must abide by the decisions of professional investigators, who have no expertise in that area.
And yet, what the media continues to worry about, like a dog chewing a bone, is whether Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the Democratic Party’s servers in order to prevent Hillary’s election! Because if he did, that would have been an attack on our ‘democracy’! (Rarely, an unusually brave journalist will delicately refer to America’s policy of ‘regime change’ abroad, but only, as one high level official put it recently, ‘for very good reasons.’) The inference is that the Russian president tampered with the most valuable thing the US has: it’s ‘democracy’; never mind whether or not it delivers a decent standard of living to all and keeps its people safe.  

The US’s  latest decision to send two destroyers into the Black Sea (the equivalent of Russian destroyers patrolling the Mississippi Sound), was intended to "desensitize Russia" to the presence of US military forces there, yet it can’t stop complaining about bots. (Maybe if it hadn’t habituated the average Joe to fake news, it wouldn’t assume that he swallowed a Russian version thereof…..)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Latvia Now!

The Guardian revealed today that in 2012-2013 — at the time when the Obama administration was trying to ‘reset’ relations with Russia, Donald J. Trump and a band of Russian and Latvian acolytes were trying to put together a deal to build a casino in Riga.  And (gasp!) a couple of the people involved in that effort were among the attendees at the infamous June 6th 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower, at which ‘dirt’ on Hillary was supposed to be discussed but wasn’t.

I generally regard the Guardian as pretty reliable when it comes to facts, but this time so much is missing that I wonder whether part of the story simply disappeared in a technical glitch. According to best journalism practices, the facts I’m referring to concern the situation of Latvia from 2012 to the present.  In 2012, Latvia was an independent Baltic country with a western-oriented government. Vladimir Putin was being reelected for a second term, and Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Secretary of State, was  supporting the Russian opposition, that carried out several noisy demonstrations against the president and his alter-ego, Dmitri Medvedev, who had enabled Putin’s program to modernize Russia to continue unchallenged by agreeing to be president while Putin was Prime Minister.  This heretofore unheard of complicity hardly ranks alongside Citizens United, but thousands of Russians had become convinced since the disintegration of the Soviet Union that it was aways a bad idea for the same person to rule for too long.  In order to emulate the West, Russia had to have a two party system, in which money played the determining role, leaders were rotated out of the White House following at most two four-year terms, and the 1% saw to it that their needs were met.
But I’m digressing. Back to Latvia, a Baltic country whose pre-war fascist government was taken over by the Communist Soviet Union, to once again gain independence with that country’s demise in 1991. Latvian (like its brother Lithuanian)  is unrelated to Russian. Russians have lived in Latvia for several generations, however they are denied citizenship unless they can pas an exam in Latvian. Like all the other countries of Eastern Europe, it aspired to be part of ‘the West’, which meant being admitted to the European Union and NATO.  Latvia achieved this dual goal in 2004 and in 2015 it held the rotating presidency of Council of the European Union.
In 2014, Latvia was anointed The Capital of European Culture, thus in the lead-up to that designation what could have been more normal than Trump’s initiative than to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex in Riga, the capital, with Russian and Latvian businessmen?
Well, that initiative has been swept up in Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation of whether Trump colluded with Russia to gain the presidency in 2016! (While Russia was anointed as US ’enemy’ in 2016, in the case of Latvia, we’re talking about a country that has been a member of NATO since 2004! Not to mention that since June 2017, it has proudly welcomed NATO troops, as announced on the NAT0 website

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg paid tribute to Allied forces during a ceremony on Monday (19 June 2017) to mark the deployment of the NATO multinatio-nal battlegroup in Latvia. It is one of four now fully de-ployed to the eastern part of the Alliance in response to the changed security environment. Canada is leading the NATO battlegroup in Latvia, Germany and the United Kingdom are leading similar forces in Lithuania and Estonia, while the United States commands a NATO battlegroup in Poland.

As the White House descends into utter chaos, with the President proposing its long-time physician to run the vast Department of Vete-rans’ Affairs, appointing a women who ran the now illegal water-boarding program to head the CIA, and hiring an obscure former Alabama prosecutor to defend him against accusations of physical threats made against a porn star on his behalf, is ‘Latviagate’ likely to yield the evidence needed to impeach him?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

US Media Take on Xi-Kim Meeting

In the lead-up to talks between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, the latter supposedly made his first trip abroad since becoming the leader of North Korea, his green train with yellow stripes seen gliding into a station in Beijing.
First of all, given the discreet nature of North Korea-China relations, the US, for all its technology, is probably not in a position to know that this is Kim’s first live meeting with the China’s Xi (who, by the way, just obtained life-long power). For decades, the US media has correctly pointed out that North Korea is overseen by China.  But even the fact that the train is identified as 'the same oone used by Kim's grandather to travel to Beijing -- is not expected to remind Americans of China-North Korea history, so the presstitutes treat the latest events as unique.
The idea thuy came up with, that “China wanted to get into the act” is ridiculous.  Who is it that has been keeping North Korean people in food and fuel?  Going back to the beginning of the standoff with the US, we had correctly identified China as the North’s backer in the nineteen-fifties war for control of the entire Korean peninsula.  Alas, the day’s fleeting demands always take priority over history for the western media, so although Kim clearly wanted the world to know about his meeting with Xi, it is announced in the US as a first  between the young trouble-making client and the head of the most populous country in the world, its sole purpose to enable China to ‘not be the third world leader’ to have a one on one with Kim!

 Here’s hoping that the powerful youth movement inspired by he irrelevance to the modern world of a colonial constitutional amendment, will include in its review of government performance how Americans are informed on their country’s foreign policy.

Petty and Dangerous

We’ve seen government by tweet, and even firing by tweet (former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, no less), then we saw a high-level justice (sic) department figure being fired a few days before his legal retirement, the aim being to deprive him of his pension!
We can only hope that this petty act would fail to stand in a court of law, however, many dangerous things have happened since Donald Trump became president, for example the fact that US policy toward Qatar was affected by how that country treated the president’s son-in-law’s request for a business loan.
More ominously for Americans, President Trump is ‘packing the courts’ with judges who will back the ultra-right policies of former White House aide Steve Bannon (who recently told members of France’s National Front to shrug off accusations of racism, and is involved, together with the billionaire Mercers, in Cambridge Analytica). Trump’s reluctance to follow through on a decision to raise the minimum age for purchasing a fire arm from 18 to 21 may not be due to the National Rifle Association’s financial power, as observers assume, but to the need to keep his base armed and ready to ‘take back’ the country from students who have suddenly awakened to the failures of the current system after seventeen people were gunned down in an up-scale Florida high school.
There is unanimous agreement that the student protests were the start of a process that could achieve what the sixties movement failed to do: move the political needle to the left, starting with voting out of office members of both parties who take NRA money.

What may be still be disastrously missing, however, is sufficient awareness of the deep state’s determination to take on Russia and China.  When it comes to the only countries that could challenge the United States as ‘leader of the (sic) free world’, adult ‘progressives’ appear to be looking nervously over their shoulder at McCarthy’s ghost, and this reflex could well carry over to the current generation, if the media has anything to say about it.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

US Teens: Fighting for Our Lives

The most remarkable thing about yesterday's rally in Washington D.C. organized by students who survived the shooting at a Florida high school five weeks ago was its professionalism. Maybe they had coaches - even eleven year old participants were at ease at the microphone in front of a crowd estimated by the usually skeptical press at close to a million -- but their passion and determination were spontaneous -- and deep. (Unexplained is MSNBC’s claim that people marched against guns in cities around the world.)
As in every political rally in the US today, music played a big role, with well-known singers performing and egging on the crowd’s commitment to change.  The reason why the sixties protest movement missed that mark was perhaps because Black Lives Matter was still in the distant future, opposition to the Vietnam War dominating the headlines. (Although school shootings affect all communities, Black Americans are the most often victims of gun violence, and they figured prominently in yesterday’s event.) But raised clenched fists were also ubiquitous, and recent polls show that socialism is making a comeback among American youth. 
Whatever the explanation for the sixties failure to breach the barriers against socialist thought, America’s politicians now see the writing on the wall: change is coming and it is not likely to stop with a revolution in gun laws. (This makes the New Yorker’s decision to feature a dozen teen-age gun enthusiasts all the more shocking, but the US’s most sophisticated weekly often allows sophistication to win out over intelligence…)
The least we can expect from this movement, whose rallying cry was ‘register and vote’, is that, together with the Me Too movement that is propelling female candidates, it will help the Democratic Party take back congress in the mid-term elections, but the new representatives may be much farther to the left than ever envisaged by Hillary Clinton. The very notion of abolishing the NRA suggests the hope that the state will, on questions of life and death, overrule private initiatives.
The question is whether President Trump’s appointment of a rabid war-monger, Robert Bolton, as his National Security Advisor, shocking even many Republicans, will allow the country to indulge in peacetime elections in the fall. Since this appointment does not require the assent of Congress, the best we can hope for is that Trump intends it either as a distraction from testimonies by women with whom he had extra-marital affairs, or as a bargaining chip against impeachment for collusion with Russia.
On the other hand, the president’s recent career advice for students was ‘Don’t run for president’.  Maybe I was not so far out on a limb when I wrote that he might resign in order to avoid the latter 

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