Category Archives: opinion

Thinking about The Danger of Lost Cohesion

By now, the evidence is rather strong that the Russian government is pursuing a policy to interfere in the internal affairs of countries in the west. Some may say, “What is the big deal? The west did this for many decades around the world!”

And those folks have a point. Countries in the west have played fast and loose with rules and decorum to advance their interests in the developing world.  The “great game” where west and east vied to build oil pipelines that would give them a strategic advantage over one another is a case in point from long ago.  And we need not go that far back in time to find more.

Conceding that point, however, does not mitigate the dangers that we face now. Those dangers are from losing trust and cohesion that makes cooperative governance work. If those are lost, strong men are needed to “restore order”. And once strong men appear on the stage, it is very hard to get rid of them.

This scenario is playing out in the US now. How much social cohesion has been lost? Are US democratic institutions able to withstand the current threat? We shall see. That is not the point of my post here.

My purpose instead is to posit that such a strategic game is afoot. It is not ideological. It is not even a matter of historical imperative (for example, a projection of Russia’s phobia about being invaded from Europe). It is instead a forward looking strategy to gain power and use power to benefit a clique of mutually connected goons whose main objective is to stay in power. To stay in power, they sew the seeds of mistrust and destroy cohesion among the people that they can influence.  We see that this game can be played well when you know what you are doing.

With that in mind, we might pause as we use media channels and ask ourselves — are the people behind the messaging trying to build or weaken trust in the system that governs us? Are they constructive or destructive, regardless of whether they are conservative, liberal, progressive, or independent?  Are they building or weakening networks?

In other words, we need to have a political dialogue not just about issues but also about how we discuss issues.


Trump to Aides: Just Start Firing People!!!!!

This is beyond ridiculous.

First Trump fires the Secretary of State — out of the blue — just after that secretary criticized Russia.Then the President lies about why he did it.The when the head of the NSA dares to criticize Russia, rumors swirl about his imminent firing.And,BTW,we learn that the Kremlin had a veto power over Trump’s appointment of the Secretary of State.

And btw, Trump also fired the secretary of state’s spokesman BECAUSE he dared tell the truth about what happened.

This is a lot of smoke for a place where Trump says there is no fire. And it is just a snippet of the larger story.

And then there is the sad saga of Andrew McCabe. Trump’s attorney general fired McCabe 2 days before he was set to retire early.Why? Good question.  Could it be that McCabe is a witness to what happened to Jim Comey — also fired by Trumpo?

This comment seemsapt

“When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”

Former CIA Director Brennan.

AND while all of this is spinning out of control, the Republicans in Congress  are doing what? NOTHING!!!!

After Lamb …

Sorry if you arrived at this post thinking it was about the dessert course for dinner. It is instead about politics and it is a very big deal.

After the election of Donald Trump, many people sensed that something was not right. Trump had too many conflicts of interest, suspicious relationships, and too little understanding of how government worked. The Russia thing is also a big, weird negative. And as his presidency went forward, that sense became more a reality. Again and again, Trump has lowered America’s expectations of itself and its standing in the world. Moreover, he has gotten away with stuff that would have had Republicans howling at the moon if Obama had even thought about them.

But Republicans have protected Trump. They thought that they could get away with that by passing a big tax cut — even though that tax cut dramatically favors the rich. Calling it a tax cut would be enough.

Bottom line: This game stinks. If there were ever a party in a western democracy more deserving of getting booted out of power than the Republican Party now, I cannot think of it. So what about the midterm elections?

As of January,there were 238 Republicans in the House, compared to 193 Democrats. Roughly speaking, we need around a net 21 seats to change hands to flip control away from the Republicans to the Democrats.

Last night, there was a special election in a Congressional district that Trump won by 20 points – the 18th district in Pennsylvania. It has not sent a Democrat to the House for over 2 decades. It should have been a slam dunk for Republicans. The Democratic candidate, Conor Lamb apparently just won by a razor sharp margin.

And this is not the first surprise dem win in special elections.

Here is the kicker

There are roughly 120 House seats currently controlled by Republicans in districts that are not as solidly Republican as Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District.

If the dems take half of those races — and after last night that is a real possibility — they will have a roughly 40 vote margin in the House. That is very exciting for people who want to move beyond Trump and the party that is protecting him.

The Senate  also presents interesting prospects. As of January, 2018,  there are 51 Republicans and 47 Democrats. 2 Independents (Angus King and Bermie Sanders) caucus with the Democrats.  Democrats are defending 25 seats in 2018 while Republicans are defending just 8.

Looking at the map –

There are most likely dem pick ups in Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, – 5 of the 8 that Republicans are defending.

Republicans are looking for flips in Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota, Florida, Montana, Minnesota, Ohio,  and New Jersey — 9 of the 25.

In other words, the dems have a lot more “skin in the game”, defending 25 seats where 9 might be shaky. There is more to lose. But if the tide is rising in their favor, they are more likely to hold onto risky seats and win weak Republican seats. In other words, despite the Senate will flip as well if there is a net 3 for dems.

This is a very big deal. And it is a very big story. If you are not involved, get involved. If you are involved, ramp it up! Now is the time to push!

Off With Tillerson’s Head!

So the Donald has — out of the blue — fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. What is going on? Trump said it was no big deal. Bull! It is always a big deal when you fire a secretary of state.

Trump said it was about the Iran nuke deal? Bull.

My bet is that it had to do with Tillerson’s negative reaction to the attempted assassination of a Russian double agent by Russian authorities.

Call me crazy, but Trump will not tolerate any negative comments about Russia.

Putin Thumbs His Nose at Basic Western Norms … and More!

In the bad old days, it was presumed that countries had agents running around who did bad things. You know, the James Bond sort of stuff. Killing people was part of that, but not the only part. One had to be prepared to “do what was needed” to protect national interests. And that might not be limited to individual agents. Covert military operations too had their proponents, among them JFK.

Was this actually the case? I am not an expert, but I assume that it was, especially during the Second World War, and the Cold War that followed. The OSS, Gestapo,  NKVD, CIA, KGB, MI6, FBI and so on fought their battles without the knowledge of , let alone consent of the general public.

The extreme bloody mindedness of the Nazis in using such nasty tactics  (mainly those terrible camps) was one of the motivations for creating the United Nations. The hope was that if the most powerful countries generally adhered to UN norms, they might become more civilized. Sadly, that has not happened. The threat of mutual nuclear annihilation has deterred massive wars, but not proxy wars, and not other types of nasty behavior. The UN is not useless, but it is not a leading force for global change either. Nations and transnational corporations (TNC’s) are not constrained to avoid moderate forms of nastiness if it is in their interests. Yes, TNC’s can be nasty and don’t like the UN either. They became happier when the UN Centre for Transnational Corporations was disbanded in 1993. To be more precise, in classic UN fashion, its budget was transferred, while its operations were curtailed.

Over the decades, there were attempts, at least in the west, to reign in  the worst abuses of covert operations. I am thinking of the Church Committee as an example. But during the Cold War, those attempts generally ran up  against the perceived harsh reality that one could not trust the Soviet Union or China or other nasty actors to do the same.  As I recall, it was like bad weather. One had to live with it and hope it didn’t get too far out of hand.

But then the Cold War ended. The Soviet Union collapsed. And everyone thought that we were entering a new era.  Exporting the “rule of law” to the former Soviet Union was supposed to fix things. In short, the results were at best mixed. When it comes to commerce, legal institutions have facilitated more transactions than ever. But one cannot say that the era is defined by the rule of law. To the contrary, power games continue, as do nasty ways of advancing powerful interests – all basically ok as long as they don’t take us all too close to nuclear war.

The recent poisoning of a double agent in the UK by a Russian nerve agent shows us that Mr. Putin is still playing this game with gusto. If anything, he has upped the ante. He wants everyone to know that he did it.  In a sense, he is shouting out “Up yours human rights lawyers!”

One’s first reaction is to think whether he is more confident with  Donald Trump in the White House. That may be so, but Putin’s disdain for and overt use of  assassination predates Trump. You might recall that Litvinenko was murdered in similar fashion in London back in 2006.

And of course, Putin’s disdain should be put in context. We also have the seemingly endless proxy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria. Oops! And let’s not forget Ukraine. No one really understands the ultimate legalities of these conflicts, let alone how to end them. Meanwhile, everyone understands who suffers the most – civilians caught up in the mind numbing violence.  And I do not mean to exclude other places where rogue actors perpetrate outrageous crimes against peoples, while pretending to be upstanding adherents of constitutionally based legal regimes. And of course, there are the shadowy bandit like groups who behead people, kidnap little girls, etc.  in the name of various alleged causes that can be difficult to fathom. This is not the path towards more rule of law and less coercion for aggrandizing power.

So where is this leading us?  Long ago, one might have argued with a straight face that rigorous enforcement of human rights norms would turn the tide, and civilize the “bad actors”. And one might have hoped that global standards for the “rule of law” would emerge. Does anyone still think that way? I do not propose that we junk these norms nor the institutions that attempt to enforce them. I do suggest that we consider that we have no legal tools in our legal toolbox to fix this problem. We could create such tools if we were of a mind to do so. But at this stage, it appears that we are not of a mind to do so.

Sadly, that means that we will likely muddle forward as we are now. Double agents and vulnerable groups of people beware!

Ostrich Alert! Here Comes the GOP House Intel Report!

This is not a huge surprise. The Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee signaled a long time ago that they had no interest in finding out what happened between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.  For example, did they even demand that witnesses answer questions? No.  On the other hand, GOP Chair, _Devin Nunes, was very interested in finding any potential wrongdoing … by the FBI and Justice Department.

So here we are. The GOP is about to release an absurd report that finds no collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russian operatives. Only one member from the GOP is objecting.Rep Tom Rooney (who is retiring) said this

“We’ve gone completely off the rails, and now we’re just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day’s news. … We’ve lost all credibility”

The rest are holding their noses and signing on.

The Democrats will issue a separate report. And that report is likely to say that despite shoddy investigation, there is evidence of collusion. We know about at least 4 episodes that suggest it

  • Papadopoulos knew back in April 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Clinton. Was it just a coincidence that a random Russian dude with Kremlin ties told him?  I doubt it, but the GOP Intel Report thinks so. Mueller most likely knows more, given that Papadapoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is a cooperating witness
  • Papadopoulos  has admitted that the Trump Campaign knew that the Russians had those thousands of stolen Clinton e mails that were posted on WikiLeaks. Why did  he share that info? Who did he tell? What did the Trump folks do with the info? The GOP Intel members don’t care. Mueller probably knows a lot more than we do about that
  • Before Trump took office, Mike Flynn bent over backwards to assure the Russians that the Trumpsters would get rid of Obama sanctions pronto. Why was that so important? Flynn has pleaded guilty and is cooperating. Mueller probably knows more.
  • And of course, the infamous meeting set up through Donald Jr. that the president lied about. If this was not attempted collusion, what was it?

You can read more here.

The bottom line is simple. We know enough about what happened and is happening to draw the conclusion that Trump has something going on with Putin. It is likely that this translated into cooperation during the election. It is likely that whatever drives that thing is not over. And that is highly troubling., no matter what Devin Nunes and his band of GOP ostriches say in their report.

Yo Donald! Don’t Forget the Iran Nuke Deal!

A while back, Barrack Obama invested a huge amount of political capital to complete a deal with Iran that  stopped them from developing a nuclear weapon. It was a complicated negotiation because Iran wants to develop peaceful uses for nuclear technology. But the deal was done, signed, and ratified.

Donald Trump hated it and hates it still. As president, he refused to certify that Iran is in compliance. In other words, he has been a pain in the butt on this issue. Why? Who knows.

So now, Donald is considering doing a nuke deal with North Korea. Think for  a moment. If you were a policy advisor in North Korea, how would you view Trump’s track record on nuke deals? Would you trust him?

Methinks not.  Too bad for Donald. Too bad for the US!