ON THE AGENDA
Donald Trump is to address a joint session of Congress, and the nation, this evening. According to POLITICO, “White House officials reluctantly acknowledge they could use a reset,” since Bannon tried utilizing Trump’s first 10 days for a series of ill-advised executive orders bent on “destroying the administrative state,” in the words of his Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) speech last Friday. Beyond the first ten days though, Trump’s first month in office has been one of “legal fights, internal staff drama, revelations related to Russia, a shake-up of Trump’s national security team and the signings of numerous executive actions” to say nothing of large scale protests, several Congressional and criminal investigations and unusual developments in civil-military relations. The markets on the other hand appear to be very happy and have rallied for the last 12 days straight now, topping records in anticipation of this evening’s speech. Keep expectations though very low for anything beyond echoes of former genocidal Serbian leader Slobodon Milosevic, because White House aide Stephen Miller responsible for the gem of an Inaugural speech about “American carnage” will be the author of whatever fearful, pseudo-tough guy fury Trump will unleash. Bonus: conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt gives us an alternative draft of history of what Reagan Republicans wish (but we ALL know is very unlikely) for Trump to say to Congress tonight in The Washington Post.
GUNS BEFORE BUTTER
Trump has released his opening salvo in the forthcoming budget showdown with Congress before his address to a joint session of Congress and the nation tonight, calling for an increase of $54 billion more in defense spending, which represents an increase of 10 percent according to The Washington Post. In order to pay for this bump in the Pentagon’s budget, he plans to cut social and domestic programs and trim the budgets of the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as foreign aid. Spending would not just increase for the military but also various law enforcement agencies, including local police as well as border enforcement.
The White House now stands accused of “withholding information from Congress” concerning the possibility of loans from Trump or officials involved in his campaign or team and the Bank of Cyprus, which is partly owned by a close associate of Putin’s, Viktor Vekselberg. Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross served as Vice-President of the Bank of Cyprus since 2014. Democratic Senators said they waited two weeks for answers that did not come and have sent several letters requesting further answers. Ross said he planned to step down from the bank but even as he was confirmed Monday night, had still not answered much about his relationship with Vekselberg or Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former vice-chairman of the bank and KGB agent. Cyprus’ economy collapsed in 2013 in part because of the capital flight of wealthy Russians who had diverted offshore accounts elsewhere due to the collapse of the Cypriot banking sector.
From The Guardian.
IT’S NOT A PROFILE, IT’S A PORTRAIT
Former President George W. Bush has a new book out with the unbelievably original title of Portraits of Courage (yes, it is called that) and is using the opportunity to speak out ever so slightly in veiled WASP ways against Trump. He called the press “indispensable to democracy. We need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be addictive, it can be corrosive.” He discusses Putin and “getting him to accept the notion of an independent and free press,” an evolved stance from soul gazing into Putin’s eyes back in the day. As for Russia, “we all need answers.” Bush defers to Senator Richard Burr and suggests if Burr recommended an independent prosecutor, “it would have a lot more credibility with me.” Lauer quotes Bush after September 11, 2001 and his kind words on Islam and Bush reiterates, “a bedrock of our freedom is our ability to worship freely… People who want to murder the innocent” are not from any particular faith but rather evildoers. There is the Bush we all remember. “I am for an immigration policy that is open,” and Bush appears to chortle when Lauer raises “American carnage” from Trump’s Inaugural speech. Well worth the watch to see someone who was once the first hit on Google when you searched for “miserable failure” on his own fraught journey towards rehabilitation. The old adage is true for certain, we don’t know what we have until we no longer have it.
From NBC News.
WHAT HOUSE INTEL CHAIRMAN DEVIN NUNES CALLS “A FAVOR”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, claims there is no evidence to suggest contacts between ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn or other members of Trump’s team and Russian officials. Instead, his focus is on leaks that he termed “major crimes.” “As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist,” Nunes said, which if remotely true contradicts the reason for Flynn’s resignation, namely allegedly withholding from the Vice-President that he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Nunes also reportedly made contact with Reince Priebus and was given the phone number of a reporter by Priebus to refute allegations of Trump officials’ contacts with Russia. Russian state-run Sputnik provides horrific quotes from Nunes statements Monday to the effect that Flynn was doing the U.S. “a favor”. Come again? Meanwhile, Axios also reports that White House spokesman Sean Spicer tried to connect CIA Director Mike Pompeo with reporters to refute the story.
For the first time, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would recuse himself if necessary from investigations into Trump and his team’s contacts with Russian officials in favor of an independent prosecutor, if necessary. It is unclear what “if necessary” means beyond extreme political pressure or inability to find a roof for cover for himself should the issue become so spectacularly sensational, as many suspect it will be in due time.
My Senator, über mensch Dick Durbin is back from a Congressional delegation to Ukraine “and other countries he said were worried about Russia.” Durbin said he was asked by “one Polish leader in Warsaw… If you don’t take Russia’s invasion into your election seriously, how will you take Putin’s invasion into Poland?” Leaders in Eastern Europe told Durbin that hybrid warfare with Russia is an ongoing “part of their political scene.” He elaborated, ““They look at the United States and say, this great power for democracy is going to stand by and let Putin make a mockery, try to make a mockery of your election? …And it leaves them, you know, struggling to understand.” As far as investigations and the idea of a special prosecutor, as much as he likes the idea, the power is in Trump appointee and noted white supremacist Attorney General Jeff Sessions hands who can also slow down the FBI investigation. Durbin hopes Comey moves forward but the trust issues are obvious following the letter he sent to Congress just before the election concerning emails found on a laptop belonging to the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Obviously there are issues of conflicts of interests infecting the system of checks and balances like a virus developed in the aftermath of the cancer of Trump.
A LIE OF COMPULSION
Trump told healthcare executive Monday meanwhile that he has not called Russia in 10 years, an obvious lie. This is patently false as he went to Moscow in a very public visit for the Miss Universe competition in 2013. Also presumably he is excluding his recent chats with his main man crush, Putin, and all the contacts his team has had with various Russian officials and mobsters, and the numerous tweets of praise he has sent out about Putin, often disparaging his fellow American citizens and previous leadership in the process.
Slate breaks down what we know about Trump’s ties to Russia. It’s a bit of a Cliff’s Notes of what is known to date about election meddling, from the Steele dossier, about ousted National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, some possible back channels, Trump’s businesses in Russia and Trump’s public statements and positions on Russia. A few officials are missing: Carter Page, Roger Stone, and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
The New York Times spoke with political observers of the Kremlin from academia, government, diplomacy and journalism and it appears very clear that the situation of general chaos in Washington now is one Putin hopes to exploit for maximum gain. Politically as well as militarily, Moscow is testing Washington right now whether it is buzzing a warship in the Black Sea or sending a spy ship to wade off the coast of Delaware. The Editor in Chief of Echo of Moscow Alexei A. Venediktov said, “They [the Kremlin] think he is unstable, that he can be manipulated, that he is authoritarian and a person without a team.”
From The New York Times.
“ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE”
The New York Times does a fine job of reminding us that Trump’s beloved phrase for describing the media as “enemies of the American People!” has deeply totalitarian roots in communist regimes like those of Leninist and Stalinist Russia or Mao’s China and before that, in Jacobin terror. All slaughtered people like lambs, all sought to control hope and life, but dignity prevails when hope never dies. The New York Times notes that First Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev who initiated de-Stalinization sought to do away with the phrase “enemies of the people” because “it eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight.” At the end of the day, the victory is not simply economic or militarily won but who can show that their citizens enjoy the greatest protections under the law and live lives free of fear that gives birth to academic and scientific accomplishments that propel nations forward. Omitted: Trump’s tendency toward self-aggrandizement and total narcissism, as such the perception of his enemies as those of all of humanity is well within his character.
From The New York Times.
PSYCHOMETRICS AND BREXIT
The Observer reports that Trump campaign contributor and Cambridge Analytica investor hedge-funder Robert Mercer is also – surprise! – close to Brexit campaigner, UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader and Member of European Parliament (MEP) Nigel Farage. Over the weekend, it was also revealed in The Washington Post that Mercer is a part owner in conspiracy hub Breitbart News, where White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon was previously the site’s editor. Now it turns out Mercer “donated” Cambridge Analytica’s services to directing undecided voters towards the leave vote on the social network Facebook, something that was not declared to the UK’s electoral commission. Communications Director of Leave.eu Andrew Wigmore told The Obersver that it was the “longstanding friendship between Farage and the Mercer family” that led to the donation of services.
From The Observer.
RADIO MOSCOW: STORIES FROM OUR PRESS AND THEIRS
ACTIVE MEASURES WATCH: FOREIGN POLICY
The Wall Street Journal reports that former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is in talks to be the number 2 at the U.S. Department of State after the White House vetoed Elliot Abrams due to his remarks about le douche a l’orange during the campaign. Not only is Huntsman seemingly competent and knowledgeable with an impressive resume and the possibility of being a moderating influence, this is great news for a deeply personal reason. My friend, public interest lawyer and former independent Beijing City Councilman Xu Zhiyong, who was jailed after disappearing in August 2009, and is jailed currently, was suddenly freed upon Huntsman’s arrival to post. However any enthusiasm should be tempered by the fact that Huntsman also insulted Trump during the campaign for his misogyny. So all together now, everyone hold your breath!
From The Wall Street Journal.
LEARN TO LOVE DEEP STATE
New York Magazine spoke with Obama’s former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2013 and 2014 about how current Defense Secretary James Mattis can stand up to the president. Hagel conflicted with Obama and did not last long so if deep state is to save our democracy, might not be the best fountain of wisdom to drink from, however, Hagel reminds us that the Secretary of Defense “has to deal with more than just military issues. He’s got to deal with the politics of that job everyday,” in particular with regard to the White House, the Hill and the media. Naturally, Hagel challenges the utility of placing White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon on the National Security Council and artfully deflects back to Trump on questions of whether “deep state” is out to get him, citing his denigrating attacks on the intelligence community as both provoking consequences but also demoralizing to the individuals who work in the U.S. national security apparatus. Hagel advises potential whistleblowers to consider allies in Congress as an alternative to press leaks as well.
From New York Magazine.
…SINCE PRAVDA AND GREENWALD HATE IT (ALL TOGETHER NOW!)
Russian state-run Pravda has a Glenn Greenwald-quoting article on why deep state is plotting a coup against Trump. If that is occurring, can we please call it a counter-coup to the one Russians staged here? To do otherwise would be to obfuscate the truth, something a newspaper called Truth in Russian would know a tremendous amount about. According to Russian state-run Pravda “it is a war for the very soul of the nation.” In a long series of block quotes that run the gamut from historically inaccurate to outright conspiratorial, we get the sort of leftist compendium of Bannon-style nonsense that should leave no doubt that Putin seeks to play both the polarizing ends of the left and the right.
From Russian state-run Pravda.
GOLD STAR DAD AGAINST TRUMP
Bill Owens, the father of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens killed during a raid in Yemen just after Trump took office told The Miami Herald that he refused to meet Trump. Owens said he is disturbed by Trump’s attacks on fellow gold star parents, Khizr and Gazala Khan, last summer. The family had requested a private ceremony but Trump was en route to Dover Air Force Base. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him. I told them I don’t want to meet the president,” Owens said. He questions the timing of the raid the week after Trump took office and wants an investigation into his son’s death. Owens said he “did not want to make a scene about” not meeting Trump, “but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him.”
From The Miami Herald.
RUSSIAN-BACKED RUBES VOTE FOR RUBLES
The Council of Ministers in Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic voted by decree to adopt the Russian ruble over the Ukrainian hryvnia “in a move that will plunge the region’s already struggling peace process into further turmoil.” The decision will come into effect on March 1. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the Russian currency, which depreciated tremendously in recent years, is a “reliable… and international currency,” but this is much more a case of pleasing the boss than bowing to reality. Following a recent Kremlin decision to accept passports issued by the regions’ separatists along with those in Donetsk who are backed by the Russian state, it seems like one step closer to an effort at outright annexation as occurred in Crimea in 2014 following the EuroMaidan protests and the assassinations of 100 innocents on the square on the order of now ousted Russian-back President Viktor Yanukovych.
From The Independent.
A PROBLEM FROM HELL
A Russian-backed group, Eastern Alternative Citizen Association, in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska has “filed a request to honor Russia’s late UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin” with a bust in his memory in the town of Srebrenica. The town that was the site of the largest postwar massacre of 10,000 Muslim men and boys by Serbian paramilitaries backed by Serbian nationalist leader Slobodon Milosevic and supported by the Russian state in 1995, Serbian news outlet B92 reports. The request, submitted to the municipality, requests that a suitable location be found for the Churkin memorial. The head of the organization supports Churkin because he worked to block a British UN Security Council resolution on the genocide at Srebrenica.
IT IS A CRIME TO CALL A CRIMINAL A CRIMINAL
The Moscow Times has a story on the sentencing of a 19 year-old teenager Alexander Gozenko, who was sentenced to 160 hours of “community service” for insulting a nationalist hooligan with a derogatory term, citing a Russian news site Mediazona. The conviction “is just the latest example of how Russian courts liberally interpret laws against hate speech, often using the criminal code to protect ‘social groups’ that are defined by no immutable qualities, such as the police, state officials, and now ‘vatniki.’” Vatniki is the derogatory term Gozenko used against nationalist hooligans who the Kremlin believes to be great patriots. While an imperfect parallel, there is a case to be made that the liberal application of hate crime legislation to include law enforcement and elements of the security state as opposed to vulnerable minorities finds a parallel stateside in so-called “Blue Lives Matter” legislation.
From The Moscow Times.
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