IRON CURTAIN ON CHURKIN’S DEATH
The Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin died mysteriously last month, collapsing mid-morning in his office at the Russian Mission to the UN a day before his birthday. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and never seen alive again. Now, the New York Daily News inevitably wins the contest for the best lede: “An iron curtain has fallen on the autopsy results of Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, who died in New York last month, officials said Friday.” This is why tabloids exist and in essence, why we read them. Russian state-run TASS was naturally more sanguine but also had a job to do with its headline, “US forensic experts to refrain from publishing conclusions on Russian diplomat’s death,” because in their case, the living must be reminded of the dead.
McCAIN: PROVE IT OR WE WILL
Senator John McCain has a simple request of our beloved great leader: prove your allegations that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower or get over it. McCain told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, “The president has one of two choices, either retract or provide the information that the American people deserve. I have no reason to believe that the charge is true, but I also believe that the president of the United States could clear this up in a minute.” Now why would he do that, as it is counter to the destructive mission Trump is on? Senator McCain also noted that “There’s a lot of shoes to drop” yet in the scandal over Trump’s ties to Russia. He told “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper, “so far I don’t think the American people have gotten all the answers”.
PAUL RYAN SAYS NO PROOF OFFERED
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is on a similar page as Senator McCain on these allegations that Obama ordered Trump wiretapped, telling CBS’ “Face the Nation” and that what Trump tweets is “out of [his] control”. Ryan tried to keep focused on health care but noted, “We know the Russians meddled with our election. We said so before the election”. So he kicks it to the Congressional committees investigating. Stay tuned, but let’s face it, you will never change the channel on America!
From CBS News.
ROGER STONE CONVOS WITH DNC HACKERS
Roger Stone , a Trump surrogate and advisor so racist and rabid networks would not have him on TV, told The Washington Times on Friday that he had “innocuous” conversations with the DNC hackers last summer before the hack was revealed. Sorry Roger, there really is no such thing at this stage. He described his dialogue with “Guccifer 2.0,” a “self-described Romanian hacktivist” and suspected Russian front operation, as “perfunctory, brief and banal,” according to the conservative paper. In fact, the two seemed to have a fawning dialogue when it was clear they could be of use to each other. According to The Washington Times, the website “The Smoking Gun reported earlier this week that U.S. authorities had obtained private messages sent between the two accounts during the course of conducting a federal investigation.” The Smoking Gun is famous for, among other things, obtaining Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment lawsuit where he allegedly told one of his producers he wanted to rub her in the shower with falafel, the Middle Eastern food, when he meant loofah, the soft sponge.
From The Washington Times.
CARTER PAGE CONTINUES TO MAKE NO DAMN SENSE
Page, recall is “a little known investment banker who briefly served as a foreign policy advisor” on Trump’s campaign and is now asking the Senate intelligence committee to investigate whether his civil rights – not say all those people that the campaign he supported went after – were violated during the 2016. Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch… where is my page? Page, desperately probably still trying to do Russia’s dirty work for them and likely for money, seems to eagerly insert himself in the narrative. According to the AP, this was the week he “painted himself as a recurrent visitor to Trump Tower, the New York skyscraper that housed Trump’s campaign offices” dining at the Trump Café, drinking coffee at the Starbucks Trump Tower and dining at the Trump Grill. Last week, by contrast, he was busy delivering this letter to Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner in person to the Senate intelligence committee and BuzzFeed. Maybe their thinking must go, if we can purge all the adults and get lackeys in, we can build a case against not just Hillary but Obama too for something bigger than Tony Rezko! Everyday we work to prevent that whilst musing if only the nuclear exchange happened yesterday, we wouldn’t even be so fortunate.
CAROLINA – AND FLORIDA ON THE MIND
Why did Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev fly into several cities in the U.S. the same day Trump appeared in them? It is totally unclear! According to Business Insider, “Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev “categorically” denied through his adviser on Friday that he had ever met President Donald Trump”. Rybolovlev bought Trump’s Florida mansion for nearly double what Trump bought it for a few years earlier, so there is a connection and also a possibility that on such a high-end real estate transaction the purchaser and seller would never meet. The Daily Mail parses it in very simple layman’s terms, noting the value of the home, later demolished and sold off in parceled lots, dropped precipitously from the seriously inflated amount Rybolovlev paid for it. “For Trump, it was a potentially life-saving cash injection that let him stave off Deutsche Bank and avoid having to dump his very best New York buildings –Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street – at firesale prices,” according the The Daily Mail. “At the very least, it looks as though Trump owes Dmitry Rybolovlev a little gratitude.” As for the overlapping time the two men spent in different U.S. cities while Trump was on the trail? Business Insider reports, “It was the first time Rybolovlev acknowledged that he was on his jet when it landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, minutes before Trump’s plane landed and parked nearby.” Interesting only in light however of the real estate transaction since “Rybolovlev, who has never lived in the 62,000-square-foot house, has claimed at various times that it is a corporate investment, an asset for his family trust or perhaps a 6.2-acre playground for his equestrian-loving daughter.” Curiously given slight overlap in investment in the Bank of Cyprus with Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Rybolovlev also told Business Insider that “He has never met Wilbur Ross” through a spokesman, Sergey Chernitsyn.
DEUTSCHE BANK AND DIRTY MONEY
Democrats in Congress are calling for an investigation into the Department of Justice’s handling of an ongoing inquiry into Deutsche Bank, one of the Trump Organization’s largest creditors who the organization is currently $300 million in debt to at present. The top Democrat on the House financial services committee Rep. Maxine Waters “urged her Republican colleagues to launch their own investigation into the nature of Deutsche Bank’s money-laundering scheme, who participated in the arrangement and whether it involved any other violations of US law beyond the failure to maintain anti-money laundering controls.” Why would they want to do that if it might expose their rainmaker? Deutsche Bank has already been ordered to pay huge fines in the U.S. and the U.K. for the scheme which appears to have involved what is known in the vernacular as “dirty Russian money,” e.g. ill-gotten gains in raw materials usually taken from the state at the expense of the health, welfare and well being of the Russian people. Others, more familiar with money, will note that money does not care who owns it and question if “dirty money” is not simply the rebranding of blood money.
From The Guardian.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY
TRUMP AGAINST THE STATE
TIME Magazine has a long feature on Trump’s war with the bureaucracy he allegedly presides over. If we understand his Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s goals to be the “deconstruction of the administrative state” as the self-professed Leninist has claimed, this piece is a progress report of sorts. TIME Magazine asks the right question about this effort at institutional chaos: “Where does the so-called deep state or administrative state end, and our beloved 228-year-old constitutional republic begin?” There is also necessary historical context here since “There was a time when the kind of domestic spying abuse that Trump charged against Obama was widespread,” such as “During the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations” when “the FBI, CIA and NSA all used lawless investigative techniques to collect and pass along political intelligence to the White House”. Baby boomer ‘s mistrust of government, the roots of which was planted like a seed in their youth over such things and the Kennedy assassination, has germinated now in their old age and been used to maximum effect by Trump and Russia’s often overlapping propaganda. More disturbing yet is the resignation with which TIME Magazine observes that the dismantling of our state is real: “More damaging confrontations arise when Trump goes after other parts of the government, namely the courts and agencies charged with law enforcement.” There is the fine observation that, “Trump went to war against the state with the army he had, business-school ideologues and website provocateurs like Bannon, rather than with the army he should have wanted: experienced, cold-blooded lawyers.” That begs the question, why didn’t he? We should all be so grateful these people are not so good.
From TIME Magazine.
ACTIVE MEASURES WATCH WITH COMPLETE HORROR: DOD
Senator John McCain is complaining loudly to the Senate Armed Services Committee that Trump is doing us all a great danger and disservice by leaving so many positions unfulfilled atop the Department of Defense’s bureaucratic ladder. According to BuzzFeed, “only one of more than 50 positions at the Department of Defense requiring a nomination from the president has been confirmed,” which means only Mattis. Trump has named four people but Philip Bilden for Navy Secretary and Vincent Viola for Army Secretary have both dropped out. At a time when Russia is actively toppling our state over, this is a major handicap. Mattis has been unhappy in the past on pushback from the White House specifically Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, which is insane because neither has had anything but a life far, far from foxholes and trenches. What is it they say? That which does not kill you makes you stronger, but infantry will kill you. Sort of like the Russian foreign service these days.
ACTIVE MEASURES WATCH: STATE DEPARTMENT
Bloomberg notes that Tillerson offered no pushback on Trump’s severe budget cuts to his State Department, something wholly uncharacteristic for anyone heading any department anywhere unless they stand to profit from deals elsewhere or their power is derived from another source. Senator Lindsay Graham called the proposed 37 percent reduction of funding for “dead on arrival” – but it wasn’t. Senator Patrick Leahy sent a letter to Tillerson late last week stating his State Department, “appears unable to respond to the myriad foreign policy challenges facing our nation.” NPR notes the high number of vacancies, the gutting of the upper echelons of the Department, “Foreign governments are noticing all the vacancies — and so is Congress.” Mexico’s Foreign Minister was in Washington Thursday, which was not reported until Friday, when State Department spokesman Mark Toner made known the department had no clue he was in town the day before and met with White House officials including Jared Kushner, official son-in-law. Foreign Policy has an article by Robert Jervis on Tillerson’s powerlessness at the State Department. My concerns are quite the opposite from his: the power of those perceived as powerless, namely, Tillerson is quite accustomed to working on a level over everyone’s head as the former CEO of ExxonMobil. Current ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods met with Putin on Friday (covered by TRUMPISTAN WATCH “On the Agenda” Friday). Just because the roof is on fire does not mean someone is not hauling furniture out the back and making hundreds of millions in the process.
“BUT THIS IS WASHINGTON.”
David Ignatius takes a strike at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s shadow diplomacy in his Washington Post column. “As a former chief executive of ExxonMobil, Tillerson is accustomed to a world where a visible display of power is unnecessary, corporate planning is meticulous and office politics are suppressed,” Ignatius states, “But this is Washington.” Indeed it is and Tillerson presides over a department that has been sidelined and previously headed a company where the current CEO, Darren Woods, met with Putin on Friday. There is also some parlor room gossip: “Strangely, the 64-year-old Tillerson’s best opportunity is his friendly relationship with Jared Kushner.” Tillerson’s disagreement with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is loosely enforced already and hard to prosecute was reportedly welcomed by Trump and is compared by Ignatius to Mattis’ pushback on the issue of torture. In other words Trump seems to show some modest flexibility in the moment to voices of experience as expressed by white men he takes seriously. Tillerson did not get his pick of Elliot Abrams, Ignatius relays, because of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. “From the beginning, Bannon was a problem.” This gets good: “Trump seemed enthusiastic during an Oval Office meeting on Feb. 7 that included Tillerson, Kushner and Abrams. As they were leaving the Oval Office, Bannon, in a true ‘House of Cards’ moment, said to Abrams: ‘Huge fan.’ Several hours later, reportedly after Bannon showed Trump some critical comments Abrams had made about him during the campaign, Tillerson was informed that the nomination had been nixed.” I normally eschew “House of Cards” references since it is hardly entertainment when it is life, but I will let this one stand, especially since Ignatius lays out the cards in logical at this stage fashion: “Tillerson and Mattis can be the nexus for sound international strategy, working with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the new national security adviser.” The “Adult Swim” crew.
From The Washington Post.
SHIT DMITRY PESKOV SAYS
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov talks a lot of shit. Most of it is a smokescreen for the bad behavior of his boss, Vlad. On Sunday he told noted serial plagiarizer who still has a CNN show for some reason, Fareed Zakaria, that the “Russia is being demonized” and called it “simply impossible” that Russia would be able to intervene in the U.S. elections. Peskov also says the U.S. is “self-humiliating” (fine, I’ll allow that strike but it’s not well-crafted – do better Dmitry, do better — in America we strive!). He seeks to clarify the U.S.-Russian relationship because he believes we are in a situation like a bad marriage but omits how Russia behaves like an abusive demented grandfather. The New York Post, a Murdoch-owned media property, among other right-wing outlets (there is no more leaning right) seized on Peskov’s comment that the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak also met with “people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary.” Note to Dmitry Peskov: I’m sure the conversation were not at all the same AND maybe if Russia did not disrupt our democracy in a nuclear fashion with military grade psy-ops, hacking and possible collusion with a lunatic fringe candidate Russians helped keep afloat financially, and alter the bars of online discourse to accommodate, then maybe results would be different. Keep talking shit, Dmitry!
DEPARTMENT OF FEAR
Russia runs a classic of the genre of its disavowal of responsibility for stirring up bellicose reactions with a piece in Russian state-run Sputnik on the heels of a visit from Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to the Kremlin late last week. The title is a classic of the genre, “Germany Protests Russian Missiles, Forgets About NATO Buildup on Russian Borders”. What did the Russians exactly anticipate would happen when they violated the sovereignty of a European nation and annexed territory belonging to Ukraine by infiltrating Crimea with “little green men” and stoking a proxy war? The bonus here is this piece includes Tweets from one of the so-called rogue U.S. government accounts, this one the “Department of Fear,” which should give ample reason to question who created these accounts, why, and to what end. My informed guesses would be Russia created these accounts to sow chaos and to destroy America, as a land of dreams and opportunity and freedom.
RADIO MOSCOW: STORIES FROM OUR PRESS AND THEIRS
KITSCH IS THEIR ESPERANTO
Russia Beyond the Headlines featured an article by Gazeta.ru’s Fyodor Lukyanov with an obvious title but a not so obvious series of answers. At a time when nearly everyone who is not a complete Republican party hack, and even a few of those are questioning Trump’s Russia ties, a headline like “Why do the Kremlin and Trump speak different political languages?” is both provocative but offers an easy set of answers stemming from the U.S. and Russia’s divergent political histories and cultures. Milan Kundera said that kitsch was the natural aesthetic of all politicians. In any case, Lukyanov’s answers are genuinely insightful. For starters, in a divergence from longstanding U.S. policy, “Trump is absolutely not interested in changing Russia, or any other country”. This might at first glance seem like an obvious advantage to the Kremlin but it’s not because Putin’s rule is justified by a perpetual outside threat (sound familiar?), an adversarial West. Opinion polls show consistently the Russian people would prefer better relations with the West. How is this circle squared without a West that says things the Kremlin can spin as bellicose? Russia is not Trump’s concern. Trump is interested in remaking the rules of international trade to more closely resemble the mercantile rules that governed global trade in the 19th century, by “avoiding a trade deficit at all costs,” coupled with the belief that “the U.S. needs to achieve and maintain a positive trade balance with all countries.” The conclusion is succinct and spot on regarding the risks: “The U.S. under Trump is likely to make geopolitics subservient to the domestic economic agenda. In other words, Washington may start using military-political solutions to economic problems without hesitation, should such steps be deemed expedient. This asymmetry of approaches, coupled with the two countries’ nuclear arsenals and the obvious escalation of the overall military standoff, may result in Washington and Moscow losing a common language.”
TIME TO GET LUCKY12345
The New York Times profiles Russian cyber criminal Evgeniy M. Bogachev, who currently resides on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and also allegedly in Anapa, Russia, a “rundown resort town on the Black Sea”. Bogachev is one of six Russians sanctioned by Obama last December for hacking interference in the 2016 election. Using the online monikers “lucky12345” and “slavik” he showed he was much more adept at hacking, by infiltrating allegedly up to 1 million machines worldwide, than he is at creating good online aliases. The New York Times reports, “it is clear that for Russia, he is more than just a criminal,” as his exploits hacking hundreds of thousands of computers granting him “possible access to everything from family vacation photographs and term papers to business proposals and highly confidential personal information”. This is of concern because “It is almost certain that computers belonging to government officials and contractors in a number of countries were among the infected devices.” While this might have created “an irresistible opportunity for espionage” we also know the Russians are interested in way more than simply governments but have used their cyber offensive capabilities combined with psychological warfare techniques against entire populations such as the American electorate. According to The New York Times, “While Mr. Bogachev was draining bank accounts, it appears that the Russian authorities were looking over his shoulder, searching the same computers for files and emails,” usually for such clever things as “Department of Defense” and “Top Secret”. Maybe we need codes for such terms? In particular, the Russian state showed a keen interest in “information from military and intelligence services regarding fighting in eastern Ukraine and the war in Syria,” according to law enforcement officials and cyber-security firm Fox-IT. Bogachev’s Anapa-based attorney, Aleksei Stoskii told The New York Times, “The fact that he is wanted by the F.B.I. prevents me morally from saying anything.” Ukraine’s Interior Ministry which helps the FBI track his movements reportedly has a line in his file ““working under the supervision of a special unit of the F.S.B.” Russia: it’s all one big mafia where the war is between factions not against crime or criminals.
From The New York Times.
DADIN BACK IN THE SLAMMER
Prominent Russian dissident Ildar Dadin was arrested again two weeks after his release from prison on Friday after he staged a one-man protest outside Russia’s prison service, his wife and a witness told Reuters. In February, he was released from a Siberian jail “after becoming the first person to be jailed under new rules that made some forms of non-violent protest a criminal offence.” Initially sentenced to three years, his time on that earlier, similar charge was reduced on appeal to two and a half years. This time, he held a placard calling for a host of prison officials to be fired. Dadin “said he was being tortured and feared for his life” when he was in the Siberian prison prior to his release.
MAKINGS OF U SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICAN
A Russian-American writer who immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 and had not returned to Russia since 2013 revisits her native land in the days after Trump’s Inauguration to find a modern hellscape of cynicism and nihilism much like the on engulfing a fair many of us now in its very preliminary stages and to a fraction the degree of Russian instincts. Upon arrival at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, the author sees a racist chaotic landscape back home in the U.S. on the airport television reminiscent of “propaganda from the Cold War days.” “Over the next three weeks of walking freezing streets, riding the metro, and sitting at kitchen tables laden with food and vodka, I listen to Russian disdain for America and the general mistrust of governments, politics, and elections,” and in the process she finds Russians discover that she is no longer one of them, robbed of hope, tempered by despair, enlightened by the heaviness of Russian cynicism. She discovers “whenever I open my mouth, I’m rolled over as with a bulldozer. My opinion is dismissed as irrelevant, laughable: After living in America for nearly two decades, I’m too comfortable, in Russians’ eyes, to speak about their pain”. Can you imagine? I think for many of us it is hard to. My favorite is the woman who declares of our elections, “It’s a provocation!” As a Ukrainian-American friend reminded me shortly after Trump’s victory, Soviet people were not born as such they were crafted into homo sovieticus meticulously, over time.
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