The President Must Be Made Aware Of The Danger He Is Trying To Hide

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Of the twin issues before the House Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, the foreign incursion into the election process, foreshadowed by implicit references . . . → Read More: The President Must Be Made Aware Of The Danger He Is Trying To Hide

Trump's Presidency Is A Death Watch

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In the glare of sensationalism, important narratives are missed. Rachel Maddow loves these narratives, long stories tying rich decision-makers and governments together; her latest about the Bank of Cyprus, Trump lender . . . → Read More: Trump’s Presidency Is A Death Watch

Going Rogue: The Boehner-Netanyahu Subterfuge

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Behind the objections to the Iran framework is a new alliance of power politics.

. . . → Read More: Going Rogue: The Boehner-Netanyahu Subterfuge

When Reason Stops Short

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DDUnlike bullets and political rhetoric, reason often stops short. Like bullets and rhetoric, reason often puts forth a single-sided, unchallenged view. Thinking is no longer a safe zone: it is used for deadly purposes. Political leaders and armies have conscripted reason into their arsenals. Insurgents and students deploy it in the service of their cause. As we review the cases, we see reason how reason stops short and trends farther and farther from the truth. It does its most damage when it stops short. Here’s proof.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin says he still recognizes Viktor F. Yanukovych as Ukraine’s president. Nobody has heard from Yanukovych since February, when he gave a press conference after he had disappeared and turned up in Russia near Ukraine’s border. It is a globally accepted practice that when a head of state flees a country voluntarily, has no popular or party support, no longer controls the military, can no longer appoint ministers or cabinet members, and no longer has signatory authority, that person is considered to have been stripped of the power of office. But in Russia, in the logic and reason of Putin, such a person still holds high authority. Reason stopped short.

The recent Ukrainian national election won by a billionaire chocolate maker, Petro Poroshenko, a former Ukrainian foreign minster and trade minister who knows Putin well, was not enough to convince Putin otherwise. Putin’s reasoning not only falls short but steps into a big hole—it ignores the overwhelming presence of a connected series of irrefutable facts. Putin is the communist president who would be the Russian empress Catherine. His subjects silent, fearful of laughing, afraid he or his agents will hear snickering, he declares he is sartorially arrayed in the regalia of power, when his closet (and coffers!) are empty and his tenuous rewriting of history is in free fall.

Putin positions his army on the edge of his reason. Looking down the barrels of very large guns spread across their borders, local populations and even nations rarely object to his fallacies and delusions. Armed threats are persuasive; his words make no case.

Nigeria is a first-class exhibit for reason gone awry and stopped short. The Nigerian government and army and the Northern insurgency of Islamists, Boko Haram, the group who recently kidnapped 296 school-aged girls (followed by another kidnapping of eight more girls), both attack reason in the depth of the heart: the safety and security of children. Continue reading When Reason Stops Short

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Democrats: Speak Up!

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DDSmall-time Republicans and big-time media money have been able to change the political messaging in this country by openly calling for an agenda of false rebellion in the name of freedom that actually exerts greater control and is more expensive. Many people hear the previous sentence as: “Republicans have changed the political agenda in the name of freedom.” One of the ways Republicans are successful is they offer a complicated subterfuge and dissemble pieces a few at a time. Democrats respond by talking among themselves (as this piece does!) instead of to the country.

Messages that dissemble or only speak to insiders create a disconnect, but only one of these disconnects has leverage with voters, and it is the Republican choice. Republicans confine truth to the background and focus on the places where logic has become disconnected—the places where things terribly wrong can be easily examined, using lies and blame.

In the global pop news of the moment, the Russia seizure of Crimea, a preposterous event in the modern world where respect for the sanctity of borders is the first principle of international relations, Republicans avoid this first principle and the details of Russia’s energy exports being controlled by a state-owned corporation (which means its revenues are paid to the state not the private sector). Republicans avoid the analysis of how important the massive spider-work of Ukraine’s pipelines is to Russia’s efficient transmission of gas and oil to Europe. They avoid the fears Russia has internally of becoming a country influenced by its Muslim population in its southern regions (14 percent of its population).

Instead, Republicans have created a public narrative which comes close to defending Putin’s actions by blaming Obama for not defending America’s imperialism. It is circulating as if Russia is ideologically free of imperialist tendencies. In essence, it seeks to elevate the false illusion of Russian “strength”—which is its criminality—over the policy of President Obama to allow each country to find its internal stability with a minimum of big power influence.

Imperialism is a big idea with a long history, and blame is short and sweet. Blame is the lemonade made from the political lemons handed your opponents—if you are Republican.

But no evidence supports the GOP recipe (except magical thinking!) that Putin or any Russian leaders have based moves or calculated Obama’s response into their positions and military actions.

Beginning with the Russian revolution itself, the partitioning of Germany after World War II, the 1950s invasions of several eastern European countries, the placement of missiles in Cuba, the support of insurgencies in Africa, the invasion of Afghanistan, and most recently Chechnya, Georgia and Ossetia, there is no predictive proof that a country with a long history of using military force within its region, through a variety of governments, under a variety of leaders, is tempered by American or European reaction!

Blame doesn’t need proof, just popular sentiment; blame Obama.

History and facts show the contrary. Russia plays no zero sum, either/or game; it views its interests singularly. Weighing the importance of the pipelines through Ukraine to the West and the sudden toppling of its puppet, Viktor Yushchenko (who cut bait), had far more to do with Putin’s moves than any imagined review of Obama’s policies.

Putin would be insulted at the idea he contemplated or was influenced by Obama’s policies, rather than acting on his own. He would vehemently argue his view is what is best for Russia and Russians faced with a neighbor whose family income had dropped 25% in 20 years and was leaning heavily westward in search of opportunities missing in the 1930s state-owned Russian political economy.

Putin ignored Barack and did what Russians have always done. Republicans did what they have always done: ignore truth and blame Obama.

Even at home, in the face of one of the most magnificent political successes since the passage of social security, by a President whose failure was an avowed goal of the Republican Party and the House of the national legislature, even with seven million people enrolled in health care through the new marketplace, without demonstrations or riots in the streets, with no more upheaval than paid commercials and very long, calm lines of last minute enrollees, Republicans still plan to run against “Obamacare” in November. It will be an ultimate test of blame against truth, dissembling facts against critical thinking, of bias versus logic. Continue reading Democrats: Speak Up!

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Russia's Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot

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DDVladimir Putin is an authentic throwback. No country, not China or North Korea—or the US—has made the bold move he accomplished in under a month. As the head of state of Russia’s government, he ordered and executed the grab of another state’s sovereignty by passive force of arms, using a series of sham excuses and a phony plebiscite to install Russian hegemony over a territory that a week ago belonged to Ukraine.

That basket of facts alone is worthy of sharper focus and penetrating discussions, but US politicians, Russian specialists, and media keep talking around it. The story wanders away to ask what Putin will do next. (Will he invade Ukraine—ignoring that he already has!) Those who see news as prophecy ask how will Europe and the US respond—all without any real sense of the gravity of what Putin has already done. His announcement that Crimea is now under Russian political and military control, and his signing an agreement to annex a territory that a week ago had only local officials without sovereign power to enter into an agreement to turn its territory and governance over to another country, is monumental.

Except Native Americans, no nation has achieved a land grab from another country without a protracted armed struggle in more than a century.

Even five years ago, when Russia recognized the independence of the small territory of South Ossetia from Georgia, it did not annex it.

What makes Putin’s announcement so precedent-setting is that it began without threats or troops, as part of the debate about Ukraine’s internal affairs, in the name of a Ukrainian president who was deposed by the shadow of his own fears. Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been under siege from Ukraine’s population, who wanted a closer alignment with the West, especially in trade, finance and travel.

Instead, Yanukovych turned toward Russia. Especially after Putin offered him a $15 billion loan agreement, to finance his government and his wildly out-of-line corruption. Citizens took to the streets. Unprepared, inept, Yanukovych caved and left the country voluntarily, landing in Russia where he held press conference near Ukraine’s border, asserting he still held the presidency and his overthrow was illegal. He held his press conference on February 28th, promising to fight for Ukraine.

In the meantime, Ukrainians were busy touring his off-the-books house and private zoo. He hasn’t been heard from again. He played no role in the present Russian action, except to provide a reason for Russia to ignore the interim government and claim it threatened Crimea and was anti-Russian, putting Crimean citizens of Russian heritage at risk.

Yanukovych’s ouster, however, saved Russia $15 billion and gained them Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula—in less than three weeks. (Of course, he loses his house.)

Here are five reasons to focus not only on the next moves for all sides, but where the state of affairs is now: Continue reading Russia’s Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot

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Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

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StormyMondayEven before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.

Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.

Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.

Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!

The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14

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Ukraine: No Rules, No Foul

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DDThe real story in Ukraine is what happens when somebody doesn’t play by the rules. It is one of the great examples of conflict resolution unresolved. It is frothed with personalities and political interests, historic sleights and economic targets, military force, diplomacy and big money rolled into a global storm. It’s also an old-fashioned tale. So far, without terrorism.

The old Cold War, which the Ukraine conflict resembles, was always about resources and territory—hegemony—never about markets and state collapse or ideological goals. The old Cold War displayed raw, unvarnished power. The annual military parades in Moscow with the latest Soviet hardware and massed troops in lockstep were designed to reassure its citizens at home and the world abroad of its power and fierceness and its absolute domination within its sphere.

The Soviets’ largest Cold War failure came in Afghanistan. Attempting to prop up a puppet regime, the Soviets were dragged into a long-term fight that proved unwinnable for the same reasons the Americans later discovered.

The December 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, surprisingly, was swift and without violence or troop movements—unlike what we see in Ukraine. Its most notable feature was the orderly transfer of power to new national entities. In less than a month, new governments were in place in the 12 republics that were its former satellites.

The Soviet flag had been taken down, the Russian flag hoisted. Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned and handed power to Boris Yeltsin.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine represent a backward step from the rule of law, the recognition of the democratic rights of people to pursue self-determination, and the right of state sovereignty and inviolate national borders.

The Russians made their move too soon. They showed up in unmarked uniforms like thugs. But I’m getting ahead of the story. It begins with the moral and political failure of the elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Soviet puppet whose gift was greed and a taste for big ticket extravagance, especially palatial residences. His weakness was an utter forfeit of skills for leadership and leveraging Ukraine’s national interests in its courtship by West and East.

To both sides, Ukraine is a vital interest.

He only had eyes for Russia.

The people of the Ukraine saw their future differently. Why be linked to a country whose economy was backwards, mired in the 1930s, without modern manufacturing, no thriving tech sector, no robust consumer sector, and failing infrastructure—and no plans for modernization?

Ukraine, on the other hand, with roughly 30% of Russia’s population, is in the top five global grain producers. With broad plains of fertile farmland, it is attractive to a Russia that still has trouble feeding itself. With modern market reforms, including financing credits, risk insurance, land reform, mechanized farming, this sector could increase its production and economic returns dramatically.

Ukraine also has well established industries in machine goods and aerospace.

But energy is Ukraine’s sweetest spot. And many of its energy projects and facilities are located in Crimea and UKRAINE_GAS-945Eastern Ukraine, the areas with the largest numbers of ethnic Russians, areas showing support for Russia’s intrusion. Ukraine is a scatterwork of gas and oil pipelines, many leading to Europe, mostly supplied by Russian production in gas and oil. Ukraine is a big buyer of Russian oil and gas, and also a big reshipper through its critical pipelines.

These pipelines are what Putin eyes as the prize. In offering $15 billion to Ukraine before the president turned chicken, left the country while claiming the powers of office, holding press conferences on Russian soil, Russia planned on leveraging its economic assistance for hegemony over Ukraine’s energy sector, especially its pipeline rates. Moreover, Ukraine oil reserves rank it 50th in the world. Yet it imports all of its natural gas supplies from Russia. Already, Putin has ended Ukraine’s pricing discount. Continue reading Ukraine: No Rules, No Foul

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Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

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StormyMondayAlready a month overdue, the President’s budget proposal is expected to drop Tuesday. Various House committees are already poised to posture, pontificate and proclaim their dismay, disgust and dudgeon, or – as it’s known in Washington – hold hearings.

The Senate will follow suit, and the liveliest of its proceedings will probably be the Wednesday appearance before the Armed Services Committee of Defense Secretary Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey. The witness panel will have the “best” seats in town at the pathetic spectacle of Republican committee members snuffling about that uppity President trying to destroy America’s ability to defend itself. Any day now, James Inhofe or Saxby Chambliss will realize that the President’s proposed cuts could leave the nation wide open to invasion… by Kenya.

Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington this week. His Monday schedule includes meetings with President Obama and with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, plus a meeting and press conference with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Netanyahu’s standard call for a hard line against the supposedly grave and gathering threat of Iran might not garner much enthusiasm from American politicians suddenly more concerned with reality in Ukraine than hypotheticals in the Middle East. Tuesday, though, Netanyahu addresses this year’s AIPAC conference, where he’ll undoubtedly find plenty of people very, very enthused.

Work is slated to begin Monday morning on a two-year, $60-million restoration of the Capitol Dome, the first such work there since 1960. A covered walkway in the Rotunda during renovations will ensure safe passage into and out of the Senate and House, which will themselves remain broken indefinitely.

However, DC is expected to receive between five and eight inches of snow this particular Stormy Monday, so the restoration schedule could be off to a rough start. Weather has already been cited for the postponement of a planned Monday evening Senate cloture vote in the confirmation proceedings of controversial nominee Debo P. Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

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Stormy Monday, 5/27/13

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If this week brings some blessed relief from IRS-gate, AP-gate and Benghazi-gate, it will probably be because  Salute-gate has crowded them out of the headlines. Republicans have presumably been availing themselves of the long weekend to decide whether the “incident” is proof that the President hates: a) the Marines, b) white people, c) America, or d) all of the above.

After a weekend visit to tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, the President will tour the Jersey Shore Tuesday to survey the progress of post-Sandy recovery measures with frenemy Chris Christie. It’s a fitting way to underscore National Hurricane Preparedness Week. Then he returns to a disaster area of a different sort, Washington DC, to confront whatever set of talking points the GOP will have settled on to express their dismay, disappointment, disgust and derision that the President went and spoiled the whole doggone War on Terror TM.

Who knew that the namby-pamby filibuster “reforms” the Senate implemented back in January wouldn’t change a damned thing? Everybody except Harry Reid, who last week suggested that he’s considering scrapping the cloture requirement entirely in order to speed up Senate confirmation of nominees. Fresh from a Memorial Day weekend filled with barbecue and regret, Reid and Mitch McConnell resume yelling at each other about the issue on Tuesday.

The same day, 115,000 employees at the IRS, HUD, OMB and the EPA return to work after an extended long weekend resulting from Friday’s sequester-related furlough, which applied to roughly five percent of the federal workforce. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/27/13

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