What’s Going On With Oliver Stone? Heck, What’s Going On With America?

“The Russian people have never been better off.”

—Oliver Stone, in The Guardian, June 12, 2017

No matter what you think of some of his kooky views, or any of his movies that sprang from those views, the following 7-minute interview of Oliver Stone demonstrates that there is something weird going on in his head. But more than that, given what we have seen with Tr-mp and his strange affection for Vladimir Putin, and given how many conservatives and leftists are willing to openly embrace the Russian thug, this short interview demonstrates that a) there is something weird going on in the United States and b) we should be grateful that there are still Stephen Colberts around to point it out. Watch:

That Thing

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers embarrassed themselves. Now that’s not new for those who choose to associate or stay associated with Tr-mp, but it was at times cringeworthy. And kind of sad to watch.

There was one good thing about their ridiculous refusal to answer the questions of aggressive Democrats (including Angus King, who was great) about the report in The Washington Post that Tr-mp tried to get the two intelligence chiefs to interfere in the Russia investigations. That one good thing was that through their refusal to answer, rather than deny the essence of the story, they did confirm that the Post got it right. Tr-mp did try to interfere. And how Coats and Rogers felt about it, as Senator King made clear, had nothing to do with it. Either Tr-mp tried to interfere or he didn’t, and now we know, through inference, that he did.

That leads me to a quick take on former FBI Director James Comey’s “Statement for the Record” that he submitted to the same Senate committee we saw in action today, prior to his testimony tomorrow. Since the statement has been released, there has been plenty of analysis of it. It’s generally a fairly damning document (and its early release by the committee will give members time to obtain more details from Comey), in terms of how much interference, sometimes with a wink and a nod, Tr-mp tried to inflict on Comey. But I just want to look at one thing that hasn’t got much, if any, attention in the statement.

When I first read the document, I focused on something I found odd. It comes at the end, when Comey is describing the last time he talked with Tr-mp. Here is the relevant part:

On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I “get out” that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.

He said he would do that and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

Now, first, it is obvious “the cloud” Tr-mp is speaking of is Tr-mp himself. He is the cloud that gets in the way of his ability to do his job. He simply doesn’t have the ability. But, second, my attention was directed at Comey’s lack of interest, or curiosity, in what Tr-mp meant by “that thing.” That lack of curiosity to find out what Tr-mp meant seems very odd to me, especially in the context of  Tr-mp’s “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal” preface. Comey says he “did not reply or ask him what he meant.” Why? Why wouldn’t the FBI Director, who clearly by the time of this call was worried about interference from Tr-mp, not want to know what “that thing” meant?

It appears to me Tr-mp was directly suggesting that he had some “understanding” with Comey or that he had been trying to obtain some understanding or that he wanted Comey to think he would tell others he in fact had such an understanding. In other words, Tr-mp may have been purposely suggesting that Comey had been compromised by all of their discussions or that he saw it that way and might tell others about it. So, why wouldn’t Comey, knowing he would document this very important conversation, want to get Tr-mp on the record about such a crucial matter? It could have been impeachment-worthy information. Wasn’t obstruction of justice ever on Comey’s mind?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But if I were on that committee tomorrow, I would ask him. It’s strange behavior to me. But I suppose, given what got us in this Tr-mpian nightmare, much of Comey’s behavior has been rather strange.

If It Were Only Chaos

Now we know why the Intelligence Community was so afraid of Agent Orange. And now we know why there have been so many leaks. These dedicated patriots, many of them conservatives by nature, are trying to save the country.

I’ve heard a lot of talk since yesterday about how much chaos surrounds the Tr-mp administration. Oh, if it were only that simple. Chaos can be fixed. Order can be restored. But there is nothing that can mend the mind of the man whom a minority of misguided Americans put in charge of the country. He is unfixable. There are no repairs available for what is wrong with Tr-mp. What is wrong with him was sold as a feature of his programming, not a bug.

I said last week that Tr-mp corrupts everything he touches. Up until yesterday, everyone who defended Tr-mp said Lt. General H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, was one man Tr-mp could not corrupt. He would act as a check against the excesses and unstable nature of a seriously flawed chief executive. It didn’t turn out that way.

McMaster came out yesterday, after it was reported by the Washington Post that Tr-mp gave away top secrets to his Russian friends, and essentially covered for Agent Orange by shooting down a straw man, by denying something the Post article had not alleged. But the point of McMaster’s quickly arranged appearance was to get this on the record: “I was in the room,” McMaster said, “It didnt’ happen.” Well, “it” did happen. Just this morning, Tr-mp admitted as much in a tweet that he has “the absolute right” to share with the RImage result for trump meets with russiansussians whatever he wants. Sorry, General McMaster. Tr-mp corrupts everything and everyone. You’re just the latest. And, no, I don’t know where you go to get back your reputation. I guess you should have known better to start with.

The meeting in which Tr-mp gave away this Top Secret information to the Russians was, as Tr-mp tweeted this morning, “an openly scheduled W.H. meeting.” Openly scheduled, yes. But the meeting was supposed to be with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. It turned out Putin had asked Tr-mp to also meet with the controversial Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, the man at the center of the many Russian collusion investigations. And of course Tr-mp met with Kislyak, a fact we would not have known if it were not for a Russian-controlled news agency releasing photographs of the jovial meeting. American journalists were not allowed in. Go figure.

Essentially, as we have all learned, whoever happens to hold the office of the President of the United States is above the law. He can do anything he wants, including risking the lives of intelligence operatives by blabbing secrets to our enemies. The Founders’ assumed, as they put together the Constitution, that the impeachment option, a political remedy not a legal one, would be enough to hold the president, particularly one without integrity, accountable. But the Founders, as brilliant as some of them were, did not and could not imagine the Republican Party as it is now constituted. It is a party whose leadership knows Tr-mp is dangerous but also knows it needs his disturbed cult followers in order to hold on to power and pass an agenda that a majority of Americans do not want. Tr-mp represents their only chance to turn that agenda—an agenda of, by, and for the wealthy—into the law of the land. And they appear more than willing to risk the integrity of the country to get it done.

We have seen Tr-mp’s obscene coddling of despotic thugs, Russian and otherwise. We have heard him beg the Russians to help him get elected. We have heard him threaten to jail his political opponent. We have seen evidence of his campaign’s collusion with the Russian effort to destroy Hillary Clinton. We have seen Tr-mp flirt with obstruction of justice by firing the FBI director, the man who was investigating possible criminal conduct by the Tr-mp campaign, and then threatening him with “tapes” that may or may not exist. Through all that and more we have heard pundits talk about how we are on the “verge” of a constitutional crisis. “We’re not there yet,” some of these pundits say. “But we’re close.”

Hooey.

We are in a constitutional crisis. And we have been since January 20 at 12:01pm. Tr-mp may be above the law when it comes to all the things he has done, including this latest dangerous loose talk to the Russians. But he is not above the political constraints found in the Constitution, if Republicans, who control the Congress, will respect that old, deteriorating document. There is little hope they will use the remedy of the 25th Amendment—the “our president is nuts” remedy—because that would be too much to admit: Republican leadership aided and abetted a sick man. But there is another, simpler way.

Since he took office—forgetting everything else—Tr-mp has violated the Emoluments Clause. There is no question about that. With all the chaos and confusion, it is easy to forget that simple fact. This vulgarian is openly crapping on the Constitution by making money off foreign governments. And now it is time to remember that simple fact. Now it is time for all of us to put pressure on the only entity that can stop Tr-mp and save the integrity of our democracy: the Republican Party. We have to force Republicans to impeach and then convict this man for violating the Emoluments Clause, even if all the other terrible things he has done are perfectly legal.

I know it is a long shot at this point. I know there isn’t much hope in that possibility. But it is all we have.

Again, here you go:

A directory listing all House phone numbers: http://www.house.gov/representatives/

A directory listing all Senate phone numbers:  https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

republican flip flops.jpg

Tr-mp Is Dismembering Democracy. What Are You Going To Do About It?

“The Russia-Tr-mp collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

—Donald J. T-mp, May 8, 2017

Most of us wouldn’t have the power to fire the person who is investigating us or our friends for wrongdoing. In fact, there is only one person in our system of justice who has that power. Normally he goes by the name of POTUS. In Tr-mp’s case, he holds that title illegitimately, but the power behind that title remains. Thus, Americans are waking up today to the fact that the checks and balances on executive power they always believed were part of our system are mostly not formal checks and balances. They are discovering that many meaningful restraints on such power are found in the personal intImage result for trump and comeyegrity of the person who holds, legitimately or not, the office of the President of the United States. And that is the problem.

Tr-mp, as has been obvious for years and years, has no personal integrity. He is a fraud. He is a low-class grifter who may have collaborated, either directly or through his aides or advisors, with a foreign adversary to achieve an office for which he is patently and painfully unfit. We know that last summer he begged the Russians for help. He is corrupt, but unfortunately his corruption does not end with himself. He corrupts what he touches. And since he has no regard for the integrity of the presidency or our democratic institutions, he has, to no one’s surprise, corrupted the office and is trying like hell to corrupt our justice system and the democracy dependent on it.

This morning I heard Condoleezza Rice, promoting her new book on democracy, say the following about the Comey firing—which, according to reports, happened just days after he “requested more money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election”:

I would caution everybody to step back, let our institutions work…I have confidence that we’re going to get to the bottom of whatever happened…

“Let our institutions work,” said the prominent Republican who refuses to admit that Russian interference had an effect on the outcome of the election. Well, okay. Let’s look at some of those institutions. At least one of them is working pretty well through this latest crisis. The press has done a decent job of not just reporting the facts behind the firing, but has featured a lot of outrage over what has happened. Such reporting and commentary, though, is necessary but not sufficient to save ourselves. Thus, let’s look at another one of Rice’s institutions, the Congress, especially the two parties that run it.

Let’s start with her Republican Party. If that institution is the only thing standing between our experiment with self-government and a rather rapid descent into the abyss of crippling cynicism regarding our political system, then we are the most miserable of people. So far, Tr-mp’s unseemly and classless and self-serving firing of FBI Director James Comey has been greeted with mostly mild criticism by mostly a handful of Republicans. GOP leadership seems to be just fine with it, no matter what message it sends to the country and the world. Republicans simply have too much invested in Tr-mp to place the country’s fortunes over their own. So, with all due respect to Ms. Rice, one institution that will not come to our rescue in these perilous times is her Republican Party.

Now on to the Democrats. In the House, they are mostly powerless. The House is not an institution that values the role of the minority, therefore Democrats can make a lot of noise but can’t make much happen. The Senate is different. The minority can play a role there, especially with 48 reliable votes and a handful of courageous Republicans. A good start would be to insist on, as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer diDems threaten to bring Senate to a crawl over FBI firingd today, some kind of special prosecutor to take over the Tr-mp-Russian investigation. But that’s not enough. Democrats should not do any legislative business, on any issue except Russian involvement in our last election, with Republicans until an independent investigator, with full powers to prosecute if necessary, is in place. Period. Nothing. Democrats can vote to keep the government lights on and continue to be part of investigations into Russian interference in our election process, but that’s it. Everyone should stop pretending that there isn’t a very dark cloud, that got darker with the Comey firing, hanging over this administration. The fact that the Russian foreign minister and Henry Kissinger both visited the White’s House today, of all days, is the perfect illustration of how dark the cloud is.

But, let’s be realistic. Democrats aren’t going to stop working with Republicans, at least they won’t stop doing it for long (they are using special Senate rules today to shut down committee meetings, but aren’t saying if they will continue to do so or employ other slow-walking tactics until Republicans relent). They will likely consider that to be too risky politically. But they will continue to try to use social media and television appearances to publicly pressure Republicans and the Deputy Attorney General at the Justice Department to do the right thing. Will that work? If it does, it will take some time. That’s where one other institution comes in. We The People, with the help of the press, will have to save our democracy.

Kellyanne Conway came out of hiding this morning and appeared on CNN. She told Chris Cuomo:

I don’t know why people are so surprised when Donald Tr-mp…who…has been a disruptor all of his life, when he comes to Washington and does the same, people express shock and awe.

A lot of folks voted for Tr-mp because they wanted him to blow up the system. With the Comey firing, no matter what you thought of Comey’s actions over the last year, Tr-mp has now blown a large hole in the confidence most of us had, such as it was, in our justice process. Tr-mp is a political system terrorist and he has a lot of people, jihadist-like cult followers, who are pleased with his work. In fact, some of them want more of it. More IED tweets. More rhetorical pipe bombs. More firings and bad hirings. More creation of destructive distrust of critical institutions. If they succeed, America, as we knew it just a year ago, will be a distant vision. If the people who want Tr-mp’s America are indeed a majority, are really a majority of We The People, then we are doomed and America, as an “idea” that the Condoleezza Rices rightly promote in books about our democracy, is a failed experiment in self-government.

But as we saw on election night last November, as we see in polling today, Tr-mp’s terrorists are not a majority. They act like it, but they’re not. And, like their leader, they specialize in bullying. They talk tough. They act like they’re in power to stay. And they will be in power to stay if the rest of us throw up our hands and give up. It’s up to us to fight back, and there has been, over the last several months, good signs that we are fighting back. Let’s keep it up. Contact Democrats in Congress, especially in the Senate, even if they don’t represent your district or state, and tell them not to do business with Republicans until a special prosecutor is in place with full decision-making powers. I once argued for a 9/11-like commission to look into all this. Not now. Tr-mp has shown, through his urgent eagerness to fire Comey, that he has something serious, and I mean serious, to hide. We don’t have time for what may be a years-long commission. We need an expedited, yet thorough and fair, investigation by someone Tr-mp can’t touch.

And we need it today.

________________

Here is a directory listing all House phone numbers:http://www.house.gov/representatives/

Here is a directory listing all Senate phone numbers:https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

Agent Orange: Putin’s Greatest Weapon

CNN’s big story yesterday (“US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians“) began this way:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Tr-mp communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Tr-mp campaign’s ties to Russia, according to one source.

The story made clear the obvious: “The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation, the officials said.” It is obvious the FBI cannot yet prove such collusion, because if it could, charges would be recommended. But something else is obvious to me. Look at this paragraph from the story, referencing FBI Director James Comey’s appearance before Congress earlier this week:

In his statement on Monday Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Tr-mp campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

What is obvious here is that we already know at least one American who has acted as “an agent of a foreign power.” His name is Donald J. Tr-mp. The foreign power is Russia. The leader of Russia is Vladimir Putin. Tr-mp has said quite a lot about both Putin and Russia. Here are some examples:

“Look at Putin—what he’s doing with Russia—I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done—whether you like him or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period. Forget about image.” (October 15, 2007)

“Putin has big plans for Russia. He wants to edge out its neighbors so that Russia can dominate oil supplies to all of Europe. Putin has also announced his grand vision: the creation of a ‘Eurasian Union’ made up of former Soviet nations that can dominate the region. I respect Putin and the Russians but cannot believe our leader allows them to get away with so much…Hats off to the Russians…”(December, 2011)

“I do have a relationship [with Putin], and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.” (November, 2013)

“I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!” (March 21, 2014, three days after Putin annexed Crimea)

“Well, he’s done an amazing job of taking the mantle. And he’s taken it away from the president, and you look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, okay, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit. Interestingly, I own the Miss Universe pageant. We just left Moscow. He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong.” (April 12, 2014, less than a month after Putin annexed Crimea)

“They say it wasn’t them. It may have been their weapon, but they didn’t use it, they didn’t fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you’ll probably never know for sure.” (October 14, 2015, responding to U.S. intelligence assertions “with confidence” that pro-Russian separatists shot down a commercial airliner over Ukraine, killing 298 people)

“I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, [Putin’s] getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well.” (September 29, 2015)

“It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” (December 17, 2015)

“If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him. I’ve already said, he is really very much of a leader. I mean, you can say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a terrible thing’ — the man has very strong control over a country.” (September 7, 2016)

This next one deserves a video clip. It has to do with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer in Russia who turned on his superiors because he found links between Russian government officials and Russian mafia groups. After he fled to London and obtained asylum, he worked as a consultant for British intelligence. He also wrote about how the FSB used murder and mayhem in Moscow to make Vladimir Putin more popular, after Putin was corruptly handed power by a corrupt Boris Yeltsin. In November of 2006, Litvinenko was almost certainly poisoned to death by the FSB, on the orders of Putin, according to an official British inquiry. Technically, and gruesomely, he suffered cardiac arrest resulting from acute radiation syndrome, which he got from ingesting a fatal dose of polonium 210. Here’s how Tr-mp responded to that British inquiry in January of 2016:

“I don’t know if he did it,” said Tr-mp. “The fact is he hasn’t been convicted of anything,” said Tr-mp. “Many people say it wasn’t him,” said Tr-mp. “So who knows who did it?” asked Tr-mp. This man, so willing to give a killer named Putin the benefit of every doubt, is the same man who viciously and publicly demanded the execution of five teenagers, four black and one Hispanic, who were accused of raping a jogger in New York’s Central Park in April of 1989. The five kids were convicted. But it turns out they were falsely convicted, as DNA evidence later showed. They spent more than ten years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Less than a month after the alleged rape, and more than a year before the trials, Tr-mp paid for a full-page advertisement in all four major New York newspapers: “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!” shouted the headline on the now infamous ad in 1989.  As Jamil Smith wrote:

Image result for BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!Rather than call for civic healing, Trump’s ad called for blood. Indulging in a classic myth about law enforcement and ignoring the more systemic causes of crime, Trump wrote that “if the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop.” Calling for enhanced police powers, he then scoffed at the idea that compassion should be shown toward youth in urban areas who commit offenses. “I no longer want to understand their anger,” his ad reads. “I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.”

You can see how Tr-mp has a Putinesque affection for the use of fear as a means of manipulating and controlling the population. After all, it is partly how he managed to sneak into the White’s House. Even after the Central Park Five were exonerated, even after the city of New York reached a $41 million settlement with them, Tr-mp would not budge from his original, fact-free, authoritarian position:

They admitted they were guilty. The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.

Even in the face of absolutely contrary evidence Tr-mp continued slandering these men. Yet, he will not speak ill of a real killer, Vladimir Putin. That makes it easy to see why people like Slate’s William Saletan calls Tr-mp “Russia’s press secretary.” About Tr-mp’s peculiar affection for all things Russian, Saletan wrote:

Tr-mp has engaged in this behavior all along. He has exploited the material Russia hacked and leaked. He has minimized Russia’s misconduct. He has disputed, and often scorned, evidence of its guilt. He has ignored U.S. intelligence. He has bragged about Putin’s admiration of him. He has mocked Democrats and Republicans who side with U.S. intelligence against Russia.

All of this, and much more, can plausibly be related to what the Russians are doing here and elsewhere around the world. They are weaponizing information, particularly false information. And they are using weaponized information to muck up politics in democratic countries. It is political warfare. And it is quite obvious that Tr-mp has been their best asset, their most effective information weapon. He has praised Wikileaks (“I love Wikileaks,” he said in October of 2016 and at other times), which Russia successfully used as an information weapon against Hillary Clinton. According to ThinkProgress, Tr-mp entioned Wikileaks 164 times during the last month of the election. On October 12 he said:

And one of the big advantages of me having a rather large microphone, and meaning a lot of people are listening, is that I can talk about Wikileaks and we are live, it’s amazing. Boom boom boom.

Boom boom boom. Those are Putin’s information bombs going off, detonated by Donald Tr-mp, who a few weeks later bombed his followers’ faith in our democratic experiment:

The Wikileaks revelations have exposed criminal corruption at the highest levels of our government.

All of this is bad enough, all of this unpresidents Tr-mp, all of this makes him illegitimate. But I still can’t get over what he said on July 27 of last year, which I will publish again:

I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I know nothing about him other than he will respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. If it is Russia, which it probably is not, nobody knows who it is.

But if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason. Because it shows how little respect they have for our country when they would hack into a major party and get everything. But it would be interesting to see — I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That will be next.

Somewhere around the time Tr-mp spoke these quasi-treasonous words, the FBI began its investigation into possible ties between the Tr-mp campaign and Russia. You can talk about Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, and anyone else you want to in connection with this distressing and dangerous affair. But at the center of it all is Donald J. Tr-mp, the man who attacks anyone and anything with little or no evidence, but cannot find it within his disordered brain to call Vladimir Putin what he is: an authoritarian killer who is doing his best to undermine democratic governance in order to revive a Russian Empire. And the reason Tr-mp won’t call out Putin is because the ruthless Russian killer helped make Donald Tr-mp president and Donald Tr-mp knows it.

As usual, the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, put all this in its proper context:

Many of the Tr-mp campaign’s personnel, including the President himself, have ties to Russia and Russian interests. This is, of course, no crime. On the other hand, if the Tr-mp campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history.

As far as I’m concerned, Tr-mp has aided and abetted the Russians. The moral record is clear, even as the legal record remains in doubt. All you have to do is open your mind to the stunning fact that we have a man in the White’s House who has acted, deliberately or due to a defect in his mental health, “as an agent of a foreign power”—Agent Orange.

Agent Orange.jpg

Tr-mp. Russia. Scandal. Won’t Go Away.

A new Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found the following:

Voters disapprove 54 – 32 percent of the way President Donald Tr-mp is handling U.S. policy towards Russia…

American voters support 66 – 30 percent an “independent commission investigating potential links between some of Donald Tr-mp’s campaign advisors and the Russian government.” The only listed party, gender, age or racial group opposed is Republicans, opposed 64 – 30 percent.

A total of 61 percent are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about President Tr-mp’s relationship with Russia. A total of 62 percent of voters say alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election is a “very important” or “somewhat important” issue.

As the great Steve Benen pointed out this morning:

Health care and wiretap conspiracy theories have helped push the Russia scandal off front pages, but the controversy continues to move forward in a way the White House should find alarming.

The Russia scandal may be off the front pages, but it was front and center on the Rachel Maddow show last night. In case you missed it, watch and learn and then wait:

Never Let A Tragedy Go To Waste: The Ever Predictable Fox “News”

First there was the stupid and tacky tweets from a Fox “News” radio host and frequent contributor to the TV side of Fox’s propaganda machine. He somehow found the death of 295 people a perfect vehicle to exercise his hate-Obama muscles.

todd starnes tweetThen, this afternoon, even before the fires had gone out around pieces of that downed Malaysian airliner, Fox “News” Channel’s Gretchen Carlson, whose presence on TV is responsible for many dead and wounded Amerian IQs, interviewed someone billed as a political adviser to the Ukraine government.  His name was Tyler Harbor, someone I had never heard of. So, I searched the intertubes and found nothing there. Must be a new guy Fox found. In any case, for some reason Carlson thought him worthy of a segment to discuss what may have happened in Ukraine.

And, quite predictably, he put the blame on Obama. He said the tragedy was “almost” as much our fault as it was Putin’s. He said it didn’t matter to the Ukrainians whether the Russians or the Russian-backed separatists shot down the plane. It’s all the same to them. And we should have done something to stop what is going on there. Except, he said, folks in the Obama administration “really don’t want to help.”  And he told us that the United States used to be a leader and a world power until “this president” mucked it all up.

All in all, Mr. Harbor, whoever he is, was a perfect Fox guest. I’m sure he’ll be back on the air real soon.

Oh, I almost forgot. You’ll be happy to know that Mr. Harbor says that he doesn’t “necessarily” mean that we should put “boots on the ground” to fix the mess in Ukraine.

Not necessarily.

Oh, my.

How To Think About Obama, Putin, And Toughness

On Monday President Obama expanded the sanctions against Russia, which, of course, still won’t quiet his critics, many of whom think he should, even without help from reluctant Europeans, do much, much more to try to keep Vladimir Putin from destabilizing and perhaps eventually annexing parts or all of Eastern Ukraine.

What that “much, much more” entails is never made clear, since it is obvious the Europeans—whose interests clearly run much deeper than ours—want to go slow in terms of putting pressure on the Russians. For some of the President’s most virulent critics, there is nothing our wussy President could do, short of starting a war, that would shut them up.

In that context, White House correspondent Ed Henry, pretending to be an objective journalist on a cable network pretending to do the news, did us all a favor yesterday by asking President Obama, who was in the Philippines, a question that only a Fox addict could appropriately love:

ED HENRY, FOX “NEWS”: …as you end this trip, I don’t think I have to remind you there have been a lot of unflattering portraits of your foreign policy right now.  And rather than get into all the details or red lines, et cetera, I’d like to give you a chance to lay out what your vision is more than five years into office, what you think the Obama doctrine is in terms of what your guiding principle is on all of these crises and how you answer those critics who say they think the doctrine is weakness. 

Asking his question, the fair and balanced Fox correspondent managed to get in:

1. The whole “red lines” controversy that right-wingers have used to bash the President.
2. The idea that Obama does not have a “guiding principle” for his foreign policy, another criticism that right-wingers hurl at him constantly.
3. And most important, the notion that President Obama lacks toughness and is a weakling on the world stage.

All of that must have pleased Henry’s bosses and earned him a bonus. But, as I said, we should also thank him because his loaded question allowed President Obama to demonstrate to sane Americans how lucky we are to have him in charge rather than some tough guy blabbing on cable TV or pecking on a keyboard at The Weekly Standard. First he began with a shot at Fox:

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Ed, I doubt that I’m going to have time to lay out my entire foreign policy doctrine.  And there are actually some complimentary pieces as well about my foreign policy, but I’m not sure you ran them.

No, Ed didn’t run them. Fox didn’t run them. And for one good reason: There isn’t anyone at Fox who would dare say anything complimentary about President Obama. That would be a good way to get yourself on the wrong side of the Republican’s War on the Unemployed. But the real attack on his critics on Fox and elsewhere—finally and decisively from the lips of the President—was directed at those who constantly say his balls are too small for the job. I will quote Obama extensively and all Americans should read all of the following with thankfulness in their hearts:

Typically, criticism of our foreign policy has been directed at the failure to use military force.  And the question I think I would have is, why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous costs to our troops and to our budget?  And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?

My job as Commander-in-Chief is to deploy military force as a last resort, and to deploy it wisely.  And, frankly, most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests. 

So if you look at Syria, for example, our interest is in helping the Syrian people, but nobody suggests that us being involved in a land war in Syria would necessarily accomplish this goal.  And I would note that those who criticize our foreign policy with respect to Syria, they themselves say, no, no, no, we don’t mean sending in troops.  Well, what do you mean?  Well, you should be assisting the opposition — well, we’re assisting the opposition.  What else do you mean?  Well, perhaps you should have taken a strike in Syria to get chemical weapons out of Syria.  Well, it turns out we’re getting chemical weapons out of Syria without having initiated a strike.  So what else are you talking about?  And at that point it kind of trails off.

In Ukraine, what we’ve done is mobilize the international community.  Russia has never been more isolated.  A country that used to be clearly in its orbit now is looking much more towards Europe and the West, because they’ve seen that the arrangements that have existed for the last 20 years weren’t working for them.  And Russia is having to engage in activities that have been rejected uniformly around the world.  And we’ve been able to mobilize the international community to not only put diplomatic pressure on Russia, but also we’ve been able to organize European countries who many were skeptical would do anything to work with us in applying sanctions to Russia.  Well, what else should we be doing?  Well, we shouldn’t be putting troops in, the critics will say.  That’s not what we mean.  Well, okay, what are you saying?  Well, we should be arming the Ukrainians more.  Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian army?  Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economcost of iraq waric pressure that we’re applying?

The point is that for some reason many who were proponents of what I consider to be a disastrous decision to go into Iraq haven’t really learned the lesson of the last decade, and they keep on just playing the same note over and over again.  Why?  I don’t know.  But my job as Commander-in-Chief is to look at what is it that is going to advance our security interests over the long term, to keep our military in reserve for where we absolutely need it.  There are going to be times where there are disasters and difficulties and challenges all around the world, and not all of those are going to be immediately solvable by us. 

But we can continue to speak out clearly about what we believe.  Where we can make a difference using all the tools we’ve got in the toolkit, well, we should do so.  And if there are occasions where targeted, clear actions can be taken that would make a difference, then we should take them.  We don’t do them because somebody sitting in an office in Washington or New York think it would look strong.  That’s not how we make foreign policy.  And if you look at the results of what we’ve done over the last five years, it is fair to say that our alliances are stronger, our partnerships are stronger, and in the Asia Pacific region, just to take one example, we are much better positioned to work with the peoples here on a whole range of issues of mutual interest.

And that may not always be sexy.  That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows.  But it avoids errors.  You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.  But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.

As far as I’m concerned, with that answer President Obama executed a perfect spinning headlock elbow drop on his war-hungry critics. Which ain’t too bad for a supposedly weak leader. We picked the right man for the job after all.ambassador mcfaul

Related to that, Michael McFaul, former United States Ambassador to Russia (who is now a Professor of Political Science at Stanford), said something important this morning on MSNBC regarding Obama’s alleged lack of toughness toward Vladimir Putin:

This talk of toughness, if I could just add a little historical perspective, do you know how many government officials the Bush administration sanctioned? Zero. Do you know many Ronald Reagan sanctioned after the crackdown in Poland? Zero. General Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, who ran on “roll back Communism”? Zero. So, you know, let’s have a little perspective here…

Okay. Will do. Since I’ve previously discussed George W. Bush’s failure to do anything about Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008,  let’s get some perspective on Eisenhower and Reagan in relation to the Russians during the Cold War.

Eisenhower agreed to hold, in 1955, the first meeting between Soviet and Western leaders since Potsdam in 1945, where, as the Miller Center put it,  he proposed “an ‘Open Skies’ program that would have allowed both sides to use aerial air surveillance to gather information about each other’s military capabilities.” Khrushchev rejected the idea, but can you imagine if President Obama had been the first to propose such a thing? What would his critics have said? (The idea was later taken up by President George H. W. Bush in 1989 and an “Open Skies Treaty” was signed in 1992, with Russia as one of the signatories.)

A little more than a year after that Eisenhower-blessed 1955 meeting, the Soviets invaded Hungary, bombing Budapest and moving in armored units to put down a revolt against the country’s oppressive Communist government. Over 2500 Hungarians were killed. And what did Eisenhower, our national war hero, do? Nothing. Thankfully, he sort of had an idea that wars were easy to start and hard to end.

Turning to Ronald Reagan, let’s remember that, like Eisenhower, the conservative president vigorously pursued arms control treaties designed to limit nuclear weapons. Reagan fiercely hated nukes and actually wanted to make a deal with the Soviets to get rid of them altogether. (According to the Heritage Foundation, “Reagan came to believe that the biblical story of Armageddon foretold a nuclear war.” Yikes.) To that end, he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (dubbed by its critics as “Star Wars”), which included a space-based laser that was supposed to shoot down incoming missiles. (Some say he got the idea from a movie he made in 1940 called “Murder in the Air,” which introduced an “inertia projector” attached to a dirigible. The inertia projector eventually shot down the bad guy’s plane. Yikes, again.) Famously, and quite surprisingly, Reagan repeatedly offered to share the new missile defense technology with the Russians. If Obama had done that, he would have been excoriated and likely impeached. (Sarah Palin attacked him anyway out of ignorance or stupidity, your choice.)

During Reagan’s first year as president, in December of 1981, the Soviets finally forced the Polish government to squash Solidarity, the anti-Soviet trade union movement led by Lech Walesa. The government imposed martial law, arrested the movement’s leaders, and fired on Polish strikers and demonstrators, killing and injuring many. And what was tough-guy Reagan’s response? Some rather mild sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union. The Europeans weren’t eager to do too much (sound familiar?) and the Reagan administration, as noted by Arthur Rachwald, “favored a flexible approach to Poland—a policy of carrots and sticks…” Rachwald writes:

..the Reagan administration’s considerable restraint made Warsaw hopeful that an improvement in relations was possible. The real test of Reagan’s long-term intentions toward Poland came at the beginning of February 1982, when the United States had to decided whether to pay $71.3 million in interest to U.S. banks that had made government-guaranteed loans to Poland. Several senators, including Patrick Moynihan, argued in favor of declaring Poland bankrupt. Such a decision would eliminate Polish exports to the West and make the Jaruzelski regime a financial ward of Moscow. This step would be the ultimate form of economic pressure on Warsaw and Moscow.

The Reagan administration, however, believed that declaring Poland insolvent would have irreversible consequences on Polish-U.S. relations.

Thus, Ronaldus Magnus paid the interest due and limited the damage inflicted on the two countries in hopes that future progress could be achieved. (Does that sound familiar, too?) Rachwald says:

The decision not to declare Poland bankrupt was a clear message to Warsaw that mutual relations were not beyond repair, and that the key to Poland’s access to Western markets and credits was in General Jaruzelski’s hands.

Well, as we know, it took eight years after that Polish crack-down on Solidarity before the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. Eight bleeping years. Sometimes it is hard to judge what toughness is. Sometimes being tough involves resisting the desire to be seen as tough. Sometimes it is, as President Obama suggested, settling for singles and doubles and only the occasional home run, as we try to “steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.” Regarding the present crisis in Ukraine, former ambassador Mike McFaul said quite wisely this morning,

I think we should judge this by what happens eight years from now, not by what happens eight days from now.

Amen.

 

How To Get A Job On Fox “News”

I watched President Obama’s press conference on Tuesday at The Hague. Man, oh, man. What is it about those ABC News guys?

First, a little background:

When Fox “News” first opened up its fairly unbalanced doors in 1996, a 23-year veteran of ABC News, Brit Hume, joined them. Hume had been ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent, and at Fox he was the anchor of Fox’s “Special Report” for ten biased years.

In 2003, another prominent ABC News correspondent, Chris Wallace, joined Fox. Wallace, son of Mike, still hosts the closest thing−and sometimes it isn’t that close−to a real news show on the network, “Fox News Sunday.”

John Stossel, who for years was a correspondent and co-anchor of ABC News’ 20/20 program, left ABC in 2009 to join Fox “News” and Fox “Bidness” Channel, where he preaches his libertarian ideas to, if not the choir, at least the gullible.

Earlier in 2009, Michael Clemente joined Fox as a Senior Vice President of News, after spending 27 years at ABC News, including a stint as senior broadcast producer for ABC’s World News Tonight and later for 20/20. His last job at ABC News was as Senior Executive Producer of the ABC Digital Media Group.

If you happen to watch Fox “News,” you will see Rick Klein, who is a “regular guest.” Except that Rick  Klein is the Political Director for, uh, ABC News! Now, I understand that ABC does not have its own cable news platform, but why allow your Political Director to appear so often on Fox? Is it because occasionally Fox promotes his stuff for ABC? If so, ABC News ought to be ashamed of itself.

All of which leads us to Tuesday’s press conference at the Hague. Jonathan Karl, who is currently ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent, actually asked President Obama these questions:

Mr. President, thank you. In China, in Syria, in Egypt and now in Russia we’ve seen you make strong statements, issue warnings that have been ignored. Are you concerned that America’s influence in the world, your influence in the world is on the decline? And in light of recent developments, do you think Mitt Romney had a point when he said that Russia is America’s biggest geopolitical foe? If not Russia, who?

If that sounds to you like something John McCain might ask, or something that Reince Priebus might ask, or something that Sean Hannity might ask, you have good ears. Karl is apparently auditioning for Roger Ailes and, as a long-time Fox monitor, I’d say he is well qualified for a job on the network. Or just about any reactionary operation. Here’s how a few right-wing sites reported on Karl’s performance at The Hague:

right wing responses to karl

And my personal favorite, posted by Jonathan Karl’s Fox friend Greta Van Susteren, includes a proud shot of the ABC News correspondent:

greta and jon karl

As you can see, Karl is something of a journalistic hero on the right. But that’s not just for what he did at The Hague yesterday. When you examine Karl’s body of work, you see why the right-wingers love him so.

He started his reporting career in a right-wing organization created to promote conservative journalism on college campuses, the same kind of collegiate journalism that gave us people like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. Karl also worked for Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which is basically Fox “News” in print. He has written articles for the right-wing Weekly Standard (including this embarrassing piece), a publication that helped bring us the Iraq War.  At ABC News, if you watch his reporting, you see a clear bias in favor of Republican talking points, including the need for austerity and tiny tales of government waste. Because I like Diane Sawyer, I frequently watch her newscast, and the best one can say about Karl’s reporting is that it slants to the right; the worst one can say about it is that, well, Karl is an undercover reactionary.

Nothing demonstrates his conservative bias better than his infamous mishap involving the Fox-created Benghazi scandal. Karl went on the air last spring and unethically fed into the Fox Benghazi narrative by erroneously “quoting” from an email that he himself had not read. The false quotes, presented as “exclusives,” made it appear that the White House (read: Barack Obama) and State Department (read: Hillary Clinton) had “dramatically edited” the famous Benghazi talking points used by Susan Rice on all the Sunday news shows. We found out later that Karl was fed his false information by, uh, congressional Republicans. He sort of apologized for the error and ABC News should have sort of fired him, but on he goes.

Given Karl’s track record, you have to wonder why President Obama, who has publicly compared Jonathan Karl to Fox’s Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry, didn’t answer Karl’s question this way:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Wow, Jonathan! Isn’t ABC treating you well? Aren’t they paying you enough? Did Roger Ailes promise you a job and a raise if you came here to the Netherlands and tried to claim how weak I am on the world stage? Isn’t that Fox’s “Obama meme du jour”? No, wait. They’ve been saying that for some time now. But, congratulations anyway! I think you’ve got the job you obviously want whenever you want it. I look forward to not calling on you at my next presser. Oh, and tell Mittens that Mr. President said “hey.”

Instead of that, President Obama, soberly and thoughtfully, answered in a way that demonstrated what real strength is and why we are fortunate the American people chose him to lead the country in these perilous times:

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jonathan, I think if the premise of the question is that whenever the United States objects to an action and other countries don’t immediately do exactly what we want, that that’s been the norm, that would pretty much erase most of 20th century history.

I think that there’s a distinction between us being very clear about what we think is an appropriate action, what we stand for, what principles we believe in, versus what is, I guess, implied in the question, that we should engage in some sort of military action to prevent something.

You know, the truth of the matter is, is that the world’s always been messy. And what the United States has consistently been able to do, and we continue to be able to do, is to mobilize the international community around a set of principles and norms. And where our own self-defense may not be involved, we may not act militarily. That does not mean that we don’t steadily push against those forces that would violate those principles and ideals that we care about.

So yes, you’re right, Syria — the Syrian civil war is not solved. And yet Syria has never been more isolated.

With respect to the situation in Ukraine, we have not gone to war with Russia. I think there’s a significant precedent to that in the past. That does not mean that Russia’s not isolated. In fact, Russia is far more isolated in this instance than it was five years ago with respect to Georgia and more isolated than it was certainly during most of the 20th century when it was part of the Soviet Union.

And what we have to make sure we’re…putting all elements of our power behind finding solutions, working with our international partners, standing up for those principles and ideals in a clear way.

There are going to be moments where military action is appropriate. There are going to be some times where that’s not in the interests — national security interests of the United States or some of our partners, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to make the effort, or speak clearly about what we think is right and wrong. And that’s what we’ve done.

With respect to Mr. Romney’s assertion that Russia’s our number one geopolitical foe, the truth of the matter is that, you know, America’s got a whole lot of challenges. Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength, but out of weakness.

Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades — since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.

And so my response, then, continues to be what I believe today, which is Russia’s actions are a problem. They don’t pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan, which is part of the reason why the United States, showing its continued international leadership, has organized a forum over the last several years that’s been able to help eliminate that threat in a consistent way.

%d bloggers like this: