Category Archives: news

Back Home in Tartu

I have just returned from my trip to the States! It’s great to be home again!

Not too long ago, August was a time when Americans took a break from the news.   It was a time, for example, when we could laugh at Jimmy Carter fending off a killer rabbit from a row boat. Anyone remember that one? I loved the opportunity to retreat from the buzz and chill out. By way of contrast, this August, we got a threat of nuclear war with North Korea, terror attacks, Charlottesville, and the president riffing on the fine neo-Nazis doing their thing in Ccharlotesville. I need a break from my break!

BTW, I am not ht eonly one. VC Al Wenger wrote this in his “blogging break farewell”

I will be disabling all notifications on my phone and checking email only twice a day. Given all the craziness here in the US and elsewhere in the world, I have been spending too much time on news and I am looking forward to this break to dial things down.

The “checking e mail only twice per day” speaks volumes about where we are these days.

The suprising thing is that the above tsunami of horrendous news bites was not a surprise at all. It is just par for the course these days and Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House is not likely to change this.

So what will change this? Getting beyond Trump will help. While no one knows how the Trumpster’s tenure in the White House will play out, there are signs that the dude is increasingly isolated. I heard on the news the other day that not a single Republican senator was willing to come on “Meet the Press” to defend him after Charlottesville.

But getting beyond Trump will not get us beyond the type of politics that gave us Trump. That is a whole other matter. And it is a matter that will have to be dealt with if American politics is ever to get back to some degree of normalcy.  It boils down to this simple proposition – American conservatism has to free itself from the loony right.  The first step is that the loony tunes calling themselves conservatives have to be drummed out of office.

Will that happen? I will be paying extremely close attention to the next election cycle to see. It may be one of the most important in my life time. And I am hopeful. I get the sense that lots of folks are fed up with the ongoing silliness we get from the right. Will they vote dem? Stay tuned!

The Supreme Court Will Take Up the Trump Travel Ban

One should first take a deep breath. Then one might shout out “WTF!” Then perhaps one can summon up the peace of mind to consider the US Supreme Court’s recent decision to take up the Trump Administration’s “temporary” Muslim travel ban.

Let us first dispense with the obvious. The travel ban itself is ludicrous. No one — including the Trump Administration itself  — has offerd any plausible reason why such a temporary travel ban directed at citizens of certain countries would affect the security of the US in any way — other than negatively. It is simply the will of the executive. So be it. And the rest of us are stuck talking about why such a ridiculous piece of executive will should or should not be put into effect. This is absurd.  In othe words, even if the US Supreme Court says that Trump can have his tavel ban, none of us should feel safer. That is not what this is about.

We might also dispense with a second obvious issue.Banning peoples from certain countries who are of a particular religious group  is disriminatory  on its face. That is obvious. Every court that has addressed this issue has said as much. Now the US Supreme Court says  “maybe not”. WTF?

So why has the US Supreme Court decided to allow the Trump Administration to go ahead with a watered down version of tis temporary travel ban while the Court takes up this case? The obvious answer is that the Court is pandering to the executive. The Court doesn’t want to assert that law in the abstract should defeat the will of the executive, even if that will is ludicrous and discriminatory. The Court wants to give the executive time to think it over. The Court hopes that perhaps cooler heads will prevail.

Is there anything to think over? I think not.

And what are the practical effects of this decision? As Issie Lapowsky points out, the Supreme Court has only allowed the ban to cover persons from the listed countries who have no credible evidence of a bona Fide relationship with a person or entity in the US. In other words, this is now a refugee ban. Why allow that? The Court seems to be signalling that in that area, the president’s powers to retrict entry into the US are not limited.

Living the Heroic Story of Agent 40 in Mosul

It started like this

Agent 40 … worked as a taxi driver (in Mosul) during the Islamic State occupation … . Beginning in 2015, he wrote detailed reports that helped the coalition destroy 14 major targets, including a meeting of Islamic State leaders, a militant court, and several car bomb assembly plants.

Agent 40 was very brave and very clever. In his own words

If I saw many nice cars in some position, I would park nearby, walk around, and see,” he said. “Sometimes I’d pick up some passengers who would tell me what was going on.”

Occasionally he drove militants and overheard their conversations.

The information that he provided led to the deaths of perhaps 87 ISIS fighters and high officials.  But …

Islamic State fighters conducted a surprise inspection of Agent 40’s house and found his wife using a forbidden phone. They waited for him to return and then promptly arrested him, beat him, and shoved him in a cell with seven other men. After they went through the phone and saw the videos he took, they sentenced him to execution.

Things were looking very grim

As he sat there waiting to die, the building quaked, and one of the walls exploded into pieces from an airstrike on an adjacent building. Through the smoke, Agent 40 saw four Islamic State bodies sprawled on the ground. He and six fellow prisoners made their escape through the hole caused by the airstrike — he believes the eighth prisoner was killed.

This is just one of the brave men and women in Mosul fighting as volunteers against ISIS.

They deserve our respect.

So Why did Trump Invite those Russian Dudes into the Oval Office?

The truth is that we do not know.

It did not play well in the press, nor would anyone have expected it to play well in the press. Indeed, if anything, it strengthened the impression that Trump is in Putin’s pocket. Even Trump probably understood that would happen. So he tried to do the meeting without US press coverage. And he screwed that up by allowing a Russian cameraman into the room.

But why do it at all? And why did he do it at this particular moment? There must have been a reason. Here is my best guess.

Trump knows that he is in political trouble. He fired Jim Comey — a desperate move — on May 9. The Russians invaded the oval office just a few hours later on May 10.

I think there is a connection. I do not think that Trump would have agreed to the meeting if he didn’t believe he could get something useful out of it. Some sort of good news. A deal on Syria? Ukraine? Announcing a deal just now would have helped shift the story and justify Trump’s argument that the Russians are not such bad guys. You just have to know how to deal with them. He may also have reasoned that Putin would try to help him by offering something.

Errr … things did not work out that way. Certainly, Putin sent Lavrov into the meeting. Indeed, according to Trump, the meeting was Putin’s idea. Why?  Whatever the reason, it was not to do a deal at that moment. And that is bad news for Trump – if Putin had wanted to help Trump he would have offered some sort of deal. He did not. Not only that, the Russians prominently leaked photos of the meeting that made Trump look stupid.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Putin thumbed his nose at Trump.

So why would Putin do that? Putin may have come to the conclusion that his intervention into the US election has backfired. It got Trump elected but this has not significantly changed US policy. Moreover, Putin is caught out as a menace.  When he tried the same tactic in the French presidential election, he was humiliated. Putin may have concluded that he can not destroy NATO by hacking elections. At least not in the current political climate. So Trump, especially now that he is politically weakened,  is not all that useful.

Or Putin might be thinking that he can squeeze Trump further before doing a deal. I think that this would be a strategic mistake. A lopsided deal proposed by a president sinking in the political mire would not likely pass the senate. And it would harden attitudes against Russia even more than they are hardened now.

Any other possibilities? Putin might just want to enjoy seeing Trump squirm. He may also be calculating that humiliating Trump helps to further diminish American prestige around the world.

And of course, we now know that Trump leaked highly classified information that the US got from its partner Israel to the Russians in that meeting. This story appeared in the Washington Post from anonymous sources. Did the Russians leak this too? Who knows. The fact is that it was leaked from someone in the room. And the fact is that leaking the story further damaged Trump politically. Again, Trump is caught out as foolish and perhaps even buffoonish.

Errr … and one more thing. So much for Trump’s self-advertised brilliant negotiating skills. From a negotiator’s perspective, this episode was a disaster. It is one more bit of evidence that Trump the brilliant deal maker is a myth.

Keep this in mind. Trump is desperate for something to distract the press from the various investigations. But he is dealing from weakness.   And so, we should be wary of any “blockbuster” news coming out of the White House just now.

Stay tuned.

quick follow up More recent reporting confirms that Trump held the Russia meeting to attempt some sort of negotiation.

Another government official who spoke to the Times said Trump was using a “negotiating tactic” with Lavrov when he explained the “pressure” he faced (from Jim Comey).

The Times wrote: “The idea, the official suggested, was to create a sense of obligation with Russian officials and to coax concessions out of Mr. Lavrov — on Syria, Ukraine and other issues — by saying that Russian meddling in last year’s election had created enormous political problems for Mr. Trump.”

This might be called the “beached whale” tactic and it is pretty pathetic. Trump would be the beached whale here. Why beached whale? If you are close by, you need to get the whale back to sea before it starts to stink.

James Comey Got Sloppy at a Critical Moment

This boggles the mind.

James Comey has an important job as director of the FBI. He was involved in highly controversial stuff before the last presidential election and after.  The decisions that he made and the comments he made about those decisions are HUGELY important.

In light of this, you would think that the dude would remember what happened. And you would be dead wrong.

Comey just testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee where he was asked lots of questions about what happened. It was his second chance to explain stuff.

AND COMEY TOTALLY SCREWED UP WHEN HE EXPLAINED HOW CLINTON EMAILS GOT INTO ANTHONY WEINGER’S LAPTOP.

We are not talking about making a mistake over an obscure detail. Here is what Comey said

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss.

Problem number one

According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so.

Problem number 2

It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.

In other words, in his testimony, Comey gave a totally false impression that Abedin was engaged in a regular practice of doing something that — had she intended it — would have violated the law. So what next?

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found. On Monday, the FBI was said to be preparing to correct the record by sending a letter to Congress later this week. But that plan now appears on hold, with the bureau undecided about what to do.

Given the importance of the matter as a political question — not to mention the importance to Comey regaining his own credibility — one would have thought that the man would have been prepared to testify. Apparently, he was not.  WTF!

Life in Checnya: Demonstrating is Dangerous for Your Health

I have not heard a lot of news coming out of Chechnya for a long time. That is because it is too dangerous to report from there. But Vox just came out with this story

LGBTQ people wanted to have a pride march in Chechnya. Then 100 gay men were abducted by police.

And this was not just a temporary detention. According to the story,  a number of the men were tortured and 3 were killed.

Yikes!