Trump’s unknown financial connections to Russia may hold the key to the widening scandal

Deeper and deeper: Congress wakes up as Trump’s ties to Russia look more tangled and troubling than ever

Deeper and darker: Trump's unknown financial connections to Russia may hold the key to the widening scandal
(Credit: Getty/Drew Angerer/Klubovy)

There’s a joke going around about President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to the effect that he has the dubious distinction of having been fired by both Democratic and Republican administrations. But that’s not really very funny when you consider that he was fired by one for his erratic behavior and from the other because he was implicated in a scandal concerning possible connections to the Russian government.

Something has gone very wrong with our system that such a person could come so close to high levels of power in two administrations. But Flynn did. His short tenure and the circumstances of his departure have brought all the questions about Russian involvement in the campaign to the White House’s doorstep, where they cannot be ignored any longer.

I always had tended to believe that Trump probably didn’t really have any personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. Trump is such a serial exaggerator that his allusions to one struck me as hype. His great pleasure in being stroked with Putin’s compliments indicated that Trump didn’t actually know him. It’s also obvious that he truly admires Putin’s strongman leadership style and that’s disturbing enough.

Still, there has been the nagging sense for some time that there’s something off about the way Trump speaks about Putin. It’s obsequious and submissive, which is very uncharacteristic of his normal style and one cannot help but wonder why that is. Trump is not servile toward anyone in this world — except Vladimir Putin.  It would be one thing if we could chalk it up as another one of Trump’s weird psychological tics and hope that he isn’t so subject to flattery that he decides to help the Russian leader carve up Europe just to keep his approval. But it seems there’s more to it than that.

The Russian story has been bubbling under the surface for months, of course. The hiring of Paul Manafort, best known in recent years for his career as a lobbyist for pro-Russian Ukraine politicians — and a stranger to American politics since the 1980s — has seemed odd. Still, there has been no reason for serious suspicion since Manafort had once been partners with Trump’s good friend Roger Stone and had lived in Trump Tower at one time. Anyway, the world of political consultants is very small. So no big deal.

When the word came down that the Democratic National Committee had determined it had been hacked by what its security firm said were foreign actors associated with the Russian government, I don’t think anyone saw an immediate connection. But then came that weird incident at the Republican National Convention in July, when Trump representatives intervened to soften the GOP’s official policy on Ukraine. Again, by itself this would not be a huge deal. But when combined with Trump’s strangely passive attitude toward Putin and the hiring of a man who had spent years working in politics in the region, people started to wonder.

It was only a few days later that Trump made his shocking public invitation to the Russian government to “find” Hillary Clinton’s personal emails and deliver them to the media. He suggested afterward that he had only been joking. Maybe so.

Since that time suspicions have only grown. The U.S. government verified that the Russians had hacked the files of various people and institutions in the presidential campaign, the WikiLeaks dumps happened and we have learned that the FBI had been investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government since last spring.

Members of the mainstream media finally revealed that, except for Mother Jones, they had been sitting on an explosive dossier compiled by a credible opposition researcher with deep ties to Russia that suggested members of the Trump campaign, including his handpicked national security adviser, were in touch with Russian officials and that the Russians had some compromising material (or kompromat) on Trump himself. The infamous details of the kompromat have not been verified but other elements of the dossier appear to have some basis in truth.

Since Flynn was prompted to resign due to an inappropriate conversation with the Russian ambassador related to sanctions, one can no longer avoid asking whether Trump was personally involved. After all, those sanctions that Flynn apparently assured the ambassador would be revisited after Trump took office were imposed precisely because Russia had apparently interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf.

So here we are, with members of the GOP-led Congress finally rousing themselves to open a serious investigation. They sent around a memo telling the White House to keep all records pertaining to Russia, which is a start. Over the weekend, a startling new report appeared in The New York Times:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

This report was  characterized by Michael Weiss, senior editor of the Daily Beast, this way:

Jesus. Trump’s lawyer, a mobster and a Manafort-minted Ukrainian pol are trying to blackmail Poroshenko. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/19/us/politics/donald-trump-ukraine-russia.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share 

Both Manafort and Cohen were among those said to be under investigation by the government. The Trump business associate, Felix Sater, is the Russian-born “mobster” (and convicted felon) who has apparently also been a CIA and FBI informant for years. As Josh Marshall laid out in a Talking Points Memo piece, Sater’s story is bizarre and incredible — but no more so than the fact that the president of the United States has been financially connected with him for years.

We don’t have enough information to come to any conclusions about any of this yet. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias pointed out, however, there is a long list of questions that must be addressed. This growing scandal makes more clear than ever how unacceptable it is that we have a president who won’t properly divest himself of his business dealings around the world and refuses to even reveal what they are. It’s untenable. Trump cannot govern under these circumstances.

Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

Trump’s “America First” policies and the global eruption of economic nationalism

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By Nick Beams
21 February 2017

While the battle in Washington between the intelligence agencies, the media and the Trump administration over the question of Russia and Trump’s supposed ties to Putin is attracting most of the headlines, a conflict on the economic front is of no less significance.

Earlier this month, in response to Trump’s “America First” agenda and what it called his “divisive delusions on trade,” the Financial Times, the voice of British and to some extent European finance capital, warned that if the Trump administration continued on its present course, it would represent a “clear and present danger to the global trading and monetary system.”

The immediate cause of this unusually strong language was the claim by the Trump administration that the euro was significantly undervalued, operating to the benefit of Germany, which enjoys a trade surplus with the US.

The editorial called for other countries to “stand ready to resist bullying and not to let the US drive wedges between them.”

The Financial Times did not go any further, but the logic of this position is clear. If countries are to stand together to combat what are seen as American attacks, then the next step is the development of trade and economic agreements directed against the US—in short, a major step down the road to the kind of economic and currency blocs that exacerbated the 1930s Depression and played a major role in the drive to a second world war in the space of two decades.

No one has yet put forward the formation of such alliances, but the issue is assuming a larger presence in public pronouncements and no doubt in discussions behind closed doors.

Last month, speaking to the New York Times on the sidelines of the Davos summit of the World Economic Forum, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of the euro group of finance ministers, pointed to possible major shifts in orientation. “We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” he said. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then, of course, Europe will be looking for new friends.

“China is a very strong candidate for that. The Chinese involvement in Europe in terms of investment is already very high and expanding. If you push away your friends, you mustn’t be surprised if the friends start looking for new friends.”

So far as the Trump administration is concerned, China, and to some extent Germany, is the main economic opponent and threat to the economic pre-eminence of the United States. This orientation is one of the reasons for its conflict with the sections of the military and intelligence establishment that are pressing for a more open confrontation with Russia.

Trump has variously threatened to brand China a currency manipulator and impose tariffs as high as 45 percent on its exports to the US. While he has yet to announce any concrete policies and his positions so far have been set out only in tweets and similar remarks, the underlying position of the administration and the economic processes that are driving it were set out last September in a paper on the Trump economic plan authored by the then-business professor at the University of California-Irvine, Peter Navarro, and equity investor Wilbur Ross.

Since the election Navarro has become the head of Trump’s National Trade Council and Wilbur Ross has become commerce secretary.

The paper began by noting that in the period from 1947 to 2001, US gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent a year, but from 2002, that average had fallen to 1.9 percent, representing a 45 percent reduction in the US growth rate from its historical pre-2002 norm.

The authors dismissed the claims of the Obama administration that lower growth was a “new normal,” labelling that position “defeatist” and claiming that low growth was the result of higher taxes, increased regulation and the “self-inflicted negative impacts from poorly negotiated trade deals,” including NAFTA and China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The latter, they wrote, negotiated under Bill Clinton, “opened America’s markets to a flood of illegally subsidized Chinese imports, thereby creating massive and chronic trade deficits.”

China’s accession to the WTO, they argued, “also rapidly accelerated the offshoring of America’s factories and a concomitant decline in US domestic business investment as a percentage of our economy.” They noted that from 1999 to 2003, US investment flows to China were stable at around $1.6 billion per year, but jumped in the period 2004–2008 to an annual average of $6.4 billion a year.

In other words, according to their argument, the flow of investment funds to China, made possible by its accession to the WTO, is one of the chief causes of the long-term slowdown in US economic growth.

The authors also hit out at WTO rules, saying that the exemption of exports to the US from value added taxes (VAT) imposed by European governments and the fact that US exports to Europe are subject to these taxes was a form of discrimination against US firms. These conclusions form the basis for the discussion within the Trump administration on the possible imposition of taxes on imports.

They wrote that unequal treatment of US exports was an example of “VAT gaming,” and that the US should have demanded equal tax treatment for US exports.

“Since the WTO would be meaningless without the presence of the world’s largest importer and third largest exporter, we had the leverage then—and we have the leverage now—to fix this anomaly and loophole,” they asserted, adding the implied threat that “without the US as a member, there would not be much purpose to the WTO.”

The Trump administration’s denunciations of China as a currency manipulator have attracted most of the media attention. But Navarro and Ross were no less strident when it came to the European Monetary Union.

“While the euro freely floats in international currency markets, this system deflates the German currency from where it would be if the German Deutschmark were still in existence,” they wrote. This was the reason, they claimed, that the US had a large trade in goods deficit with Germany, some $75 billion in 2015, even though German wages were relatively high.

The paper gave a clear summing up of where the Trump administration sees the position of the US in regard to the struggle for global markets. Answering critics of the “America First” agenda, they wrote: “Those who suggest that Trump trade policies will ignite a trade war ignore the fact that we are already engaged in a trade war. It is a war in which the American government has surrendered before engaging.”

They held out the prospect that in pursuing a policy of what they termed “more balanced trade,” the US would be able to secure cooperation because US trade partners were more dependent on American markets than America is on their markets.

As with so many of Trump’s policies, the trade war agenda outlined by Navarro and Ross represents not so much a break from the policies of the Obama administration as a continuation of their basic thrust and, at the same time, a qualitative escalation.

The underlying strategy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its counterpart for Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, promoted by the Obama administration, was that privileged access to the vast American market for those countries that signed up would enable the US to force concessions upon them.

Both proposed trade investment deals specifically scrapped the system that had governed trade relations since World War II under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and then the WTO, which maintained that concessions offered to one country should be offered to all. This policy was in recognition of the damage done to the world economy and trade system through the formation of exclusivist blocs in the period of the 1930s.

Outlining the rationale for the proposed agreements in 2014, Obama’s trade representative Michael Froman wrote in a major Foreign Affairs article that “trade policy is national security policy,” and that the aim of the agreements was to “place the US at the center of agreements that will provide unfettered access to two-thirds of the global economy.”

He went on to explain that the post-war system was no longer adequate and that the US no longer held “as dominant a position as it did at the end of World War II” and had to build new “trade coalitions working toward consensus positions.” In other words, the development of new mechanisms whereby the US could counter its economic decline vis-à-vis its rivals.

The Trump policy is being driven by this same agenda, albeit in a different form. The underlying driving forces can be clearly seen.

First, there is the contraction in economic growth not only in the US but internationally. It has been estimated that the economic slowdown since the financial crisis of 2008 means that developed economies are one sixth smaller than they would have been had pre-crisis growth trends been maintained.

The contraction is even more pronounced in world trade. Since 2012, world trade has advanced by little more than 3 percent per year, less than half the average expansion of the preceding decades. As the International Monetary Fund has noted, between 1985 and 2007 real world trade grew on average twice as fast as global gross domestic product (GDP), whereas over the past four years it has barely kept pace. “Such prolonged sluggish growth in trade volumes,” it concluded, “relative to economic activity has few precedents during the past five decades.”

Even before the accession of Trump, the WTO noted the rise of protectionist measures. It pointed out that members of the G20 group—all of which pledged to eschew 1930s style measures—had, in the five months leading up to last October, been implementing an average of 17 trade constraints a month, a situation it described as a “real and persistent concern.”

In other words, the accession of Trump and his “America First” agenda of economic nationalism and a war of each against all is not some aberration, but the qualitative development of a trend that has been building up within the world capitalist economy over the past decade, but which is now coming to the surface with explosive force.

WSWS

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

trump-cia-speechedited

None dare call it treason:

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit 

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As The New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborated, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [such as other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation of Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the nonstory that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bona fides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as die-hard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spy craft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Trump in a type of political suicide mission because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought to not be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers so as to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal might occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay for Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons that Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents serve to only reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question in the hope that I am wrong.

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

How can we recognize our friends in the mixed-up world of Donald Trump?

Through the looking glass:

The enemies of our enemy are not our friends. It’s important to remember that during the next four years and beyond

Through the looking glass: How can we recognize our friends in the mixed-up world of Donald Trump?
Vladimir Putin; Donald Trump (Credit: Reuters/Maxim Shipenkov/Christopher Aluka Berry/Photo montage by Salon)
This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch.

You know you’re living in a looking-glass world when former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks out against one of Donald Trump’s executive orders. He’s a good example of how past adversaries of movements for peace and justice are lining up against our current adversary: the new president.

The United States, Cheney told radio host Hugh Hewitt, should not exclude people from our territory on the basis of religion. That was just a few days after Trump had signed an executive order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Such a move, said Cheney, “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.”

In the same interview, Cheney revealed the origins of his personal affinity for Muslim refugees. His own ancestors, he said, arrived on this continent to escape religious persecution. “They were Puritans,” he explained. “There wasn’t anybody here then when they came.” No one? It was a sparkling display of the European-American solipsism that so deeply marked the Cheney years in power.

Refugees, he acknowledged, do represent “a serious problem.” To begin to solve it, however, “You gotta go back and look at why they’re here. They’re here because of what’s happening in the Middle East.”

The refugees Cheney refers to aren’t “here,” of course, or what would be the point of Trump’s entrance ban? Otherwise, I’d have to agree with the former vice president: You do need to look at “what’s happening” but also — something he didn’t mention — what happened in the Middle East to explain their need for refuge. Refugees from Iraq and Syria (among other places) have indeed lost their homes and homelands by the millions, in significant part because of the very invasions and occupations that Cheney and his president, George W. Bush, launched in the Greater Middle East, radically destabilizing that part of the world.

The enemy of my enemy?

What should it mean for those of us hoping to resist the grim presidency of Donald Trump to find Dick Cheney, even momentarily and on a single issue, on our side? One thing it certainly can’t mean is that Cheney stands for the same “everything” that moved thousands of people to rush to U.S. airports, demanding the release of visitors, immigrants and green card holders detained under Trump’s new order. Although in the Muslim refugees of today he may indeed recognize a reflection of his Puritan ancestors, Cheney’s disagreement with Trump does not, in fact, make him a friend of the cause of compassion, justice or the rule of law.

Few of us who spent eight years opposing Bush and Cheney or who remember their record of invasions, occupations, torture, black sites and so much more are likely to imagine that his opposition to the ban on refugees makes him our friend. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take some satisfaction from where he’s landed on this issue.

It’s been harder, however, for many of us to find clarity when it comes to certain of the other war hawks who, for their own reasons, don’t trust Trump.

It’s a trap most of us avoided last summer when 50 members of the national security establishment, including former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and one of George W. Bush’s CIA directors, Michael Hayden, wrote an open letter warning the world that Trump lacked “the character, values and experience to be president.” We recognized that the letter signers themselves lacked the “character, values and experience” to comment. After all, in the Middle East and elsewhere, this bunch had helped to pave the way for Trump’s rise.

In recent months, as the Russian hacking scandal hit and Trump’s feud with the CIA gained ever more media attention, that agency has proven another matter. Here is a real danger to avoid: In our efforts to delegitimize Trump, it’s important not to inadvertently legitimize an outfit that most of us have long opposed for its vicious campaigns around the world. Just because Trump all but called its operatives Nazis shouldn’t lead the rest of us to forget its long history of deceit or accept its pronouncements at face value because they happen to fit what we would like to believe.

When Barack Obama said that there was convincing evidence Russia had used its hacking efforts to throw the U.S. election to Trump, the president-elect not surprisingly labeled the claim “ridiculous.” But there’s also been a bit of sympathy for the CIA in some odd places. For example, long-time CIA critic and Hullabaloo founder Heather Digby Parton (generally known as “Digby”) wrote at Salon that the CIA “understandably” felt there was something “a tad unfair” about the Trump transition team calling the agency “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” After all, they were under a lot of pressure from the White House back then. As Digby wrote, “It’s now known that Vice President Dick Cheney went out to [CIA headquarters in] Langley [Virginia] in order to personally twist arms and ‘stovepipe’ the intelligence report on Iraq.”

That’s certainly true, but it’s also true that the CIA director of that moment, George Tenet, assured President Bush that there was a “slam-dunk case” that Saddam Hussein had such weaponry. The fact is that the CIA caved in to pressure from top administration officials for the intel they so desperately wanted for the invasion they already knew they were going to launch in Iraq. That is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the agency’s integrity or political independence. An “independent” CIA is bad enough, but the CIA’s vulnerability to political pressure from the White House is another reason we should be cautious about using agency pronouncements as an instrument against Trump. That’s the slippery terrain we find ourselves on now.

Digby is certainly no admirer of the CIA, and her article wasn’t primarily focused on the quality of its intelligence under Bush, but on a far more recent turf war between the agency and the FBI. She rightly calls out FBI director James Comey for his 11th hour intervention in the election, the way he alerted Congress to the (vanishingly tiny) possibility that the hard drive on the computer that Anthony Weiner shared with his wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, might have contained evidence of Clinton’s failure to protect State Department emails. Nevertheless, the reader is left to infer that — at least when it comes to intelligence rather than clandestine operations — the CIA’s pronouncements might prove a reliable instrument against Trump, an urge that was relatively commonplace among opponents of the new president.

For example, the Atlanticwhich has carried excellent reporting about CIA deceptions, published a piece by Kelly Magsamen, who served on the National Security Council (NSC) under both Bush and Obama, expressing alarm at Trump’s plan to exclude the CIA director from his version of the NSC. (In fact, the new president reversed himself on the matter almost immediately.) It’s not surprising that Magsamen would have this view. For those of us who would like to dismantle the entire national security edifice, however, it would be shortsighted indeed to attack Trump by shoring up the reputation of an agency — the CIA — that, as former counterintelligence officer John Kiriakou has suggested, the country and the world “do not need.” Kariakou, you may remember, was jailed for discussing the CIA’s torture program with a journalist.

Support for America’s spooks has continued to resound in odd places. For example, there’s been much outrage expressed at President Trump’s bizarre behavior on a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In a performance that was indeed shocking, he used the occasion to complain about the way the media underestimated the size of the crowd at his inauguration, after which he asserted that God had stopped the rain during his inaugural address.

What many commentators found far more bizarre and disturbing, however, was that Trump gave his performance in front of a memorial wall commemorating CIA agents who had died on the job. Writing for the Huffington Post, Neil McCarthy claimed that the wall honors “un-named heroes who have died in our service.” In a New Yorker article headlined “Trump’s Vainglorious Affront to the CIA,” former Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Robin Wright chided the new president for his lack of respect for the agency’s martyrs. Trump, she suggested, should have followed the example of President Ronald Reagan, who on his first visit to the CIA told the assembled staff:

“The work you do each day is essential to the survival and to the spread of human freedom. You remain the eyes and ears of the free world. You are the ‘trip wire’ over which totalitarian rule must stumble in their quest for global domination.”

While I would never applaud anyone’s untimely, violent death, the fact that Trump (despite his denials) has been feuding with the CIA shouldn’t erase that agency’s history or just what those agents died defending. Trump’s annoyance shouldn’t magically transform an agency responsible for decades of violent and bloody coups against democratic governments in places like IranGuatemala, the Congo and Chile into an organization “essential to the survival and spread of human freedom.” Whatever pleasure we may take in Trump’s irritation, it doesn’t vindicate the murder of between 26,000 and 41,000 Vietnamese, many of them tortured to death, in the CIA’s notorious Phoenix program during the Vietnam War. It doesn’t erase the training in torture and repression its agents provided to dictatorships around the world. And it certainly doesn’t make the CIA’s use of terror and torture in its black sites as part of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” any less horrific or illegal.

Nor does the CIA’s future look much more promising than its past. When it comes to torture, its new head Mike Pompeo has clearly wanted to have it both ways. During his confirmation hearing, he proved unwilling to call waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods torture, but did acknowledge that they are illegal under a 2015 law, which limits interrogation techniques to those described in the U.S. Army Field Manual.

There are two problems with reliance on that law. The present Field Manual contains a classified annex, which permits among other things repeated 12-hour bouts of sensory deprivation and solitary confinement for up to 30 days at a time. Both of these are forms of the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment prohibited by the U.N. Convention against Torture. In addition, the manual itself is up for revision in two years. A new version might provide very different guidance.

But it’s not clear that Pompeo is actually wedded to the manual anyway. As Human Rights Watch (HRW) points out, in his written testimony for his confirmation hearing he “indicated that he would consult with CIA staff to determine whether the application of the Army Field Manual was an ‘impediment’ to intelligence-gathering, and whether it needed to be rewritten.” Note as well that Gina Haspel, Pompeo’s newly appointed deputy director at the agency, is notorious for her involvement in its black sites and torture practices in the Bush years (as well as the destruction of video tapes of waterboarding sessions — evidence, that is, of those criminal activities).

Trump himself supports such torture practices. On Jan. 25 he told ABC News that he still clings to his belief that torture “works.” His evidence? The testimony of “people at the highest level of intelligence” who “as recently as 24 hours ago” told him that it works “absolutely.” It seems likely one of those “people” was Gina Haspel, who has a good reason to cling to that same belief.

In reporting ABC’s interview with Trump, CNN, like most mainstream media, allowed itself to be distracted by the question of whether or not torture is an effective way of getting information from someone. It isn’t, as the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded in its landmark 2014 report. However, the question really shouldn’t be whether torture “works.” The question should be: Is it either moral or legal? And Donald Trump notwithstanding, the answer in both cases is no.

Pompeo is also a big fan of NSA-style mass surveillance and has called for the reinstatement of the NSA’s massive secret collection of telephone, internet and social media metadata. The telephone data part of the program officially expired in November 2015 as a result of the USA Freedom Act, passed earlier that year. Under the new arrangement, metadata is held by the phone companies, rather than directly by the NSA, which now needs a FISA warrant to get access to those records. Internet and social media records are still directly available to the NSA, however.

But that’s not enough for Pompeo. Human Rights Watch points to a 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which Pompeo urged Congress to “‘pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata’ — that is, records of communications, such as their dates, parties and durations — ‘and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.’”

HRW observes that, in spite of “repeated written and oral questions in the context of the hearing, Pompeo remained vague on what he meant by the potentially expansive and discriminatory term ‘lifestyle information.’” As one devoted to the lesbian “lifestyle,” I don’t find this particularly encouraging.

Fortunately for those of us who hope to see the national security state dismantled someday, as recent events have indicated, that edifice and its friends in both parties are not a seamless whole. There are runs and tears throughout its fabric, and part of our job is to help open those gaps wider — always keeping in mind that while politics may make strange bedfellows, there are some people you don’t ever want to sleep with. Even in the Trump era, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, at least not when that enemy is the CIA.

Enemies of enemies of enemies

If the CIA is the enemy of my enemy, then Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia must be the enemy of the enemy of my enemy. Is it therefore my friend?

This is a complicated and delicate question. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has just set its doomsday clock forward to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, 30 seconds closer to catastrophe.

In the shadow of nuclear war, who wouldn’t be eager to see tensions between Russia and the United States defused? At the same time, I become uncomfortable when some of my colleagues on the left appear to believe that any adversary of U.S. hegemony may represent a potential ally for us.

For example, the Nation’s Stephen Cohen, whose many years of writing on the Soviet Union served as an important corrective to the official narrative of the time, characterizes those who today are wary of Putin as “enemies of détente.” He points to a New York Times editorial whose descriptions “of Putin’s leadership over the years” were “so distorted they seemed more like ‘Saturday Night Live’’s ongoing parodies” and calls out Times columnist Paul Krugman’s “neo-McCarthyite baiting” of Trump for his admiration of Putin.

I can agree with Cohen that Krugman goes over the top when he refers to the present administration as the “Putin-Trump regime.” But it’s a mistake to equate legitimate suspicion of Russia and Putin with the efforts of Senator Joe McCarthy to discredit the U.S. left (and liberals) during the Cold War. The Russian Federation is not the Soviet Union, and distrust of Vladimir Putin is not McCarthyism.

Cohen is certainly correct that Putin has good reason to be wary of what he calls “NATO’s highly provocative buildup on Russia’s Western border.” But even if Russia quite rightly objects to the way NATO has moved east, it doesn’t prove that Putin’s government didn’t try to influence the U.S. election. Such things are hardly beyond the realm of possibility. After all, the United States has a long history of doing just that to countries around the world (as did the Soviet Union in its day).

That the Washington establishment opposes Russian challenges to the U.S. urge for global dominance doesn’t make Vladimir Putin any less an autocrat, or Russia under his rule any more a country to emulate. Indeed, on Jan. 27, the Russian parliament voted 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence. A week later, Putin signed the bill into law. Which way, I wonder, would Donald Trump go if similar legislation were on the table here?

What about friends? 

When the thieves who run our government fall out, we should be glad — and find ways to drive the wedge deeper. When John McCain does something we approve of, like objecting to Trump’s executive order on immigration, we can agree with him, but notice as well that, in the next breath, he says he supports Trump’s “commitment to rebuilding our” (already vast and unprecedentedly powerful) military.

There’s a difference between people who find themselves sharing the same adversary and people who can be, to use an old-fashioned term, in solidarity with each other. Those of us who oppose U.S. military adventurism abroad and inequality, racism and sexism at home need to remember who our friends are. The next few years must be a time of building broad coalitions and tightening the bonds among organizations and people who believe that, even now, a better world is still possible.

In the mixed-up looking-glass universe that is Trumplandia, we are going to need our friends more than ever. This is true domestically, which means, for instance, that tenants’ rights groups will need to keep jumping into struggles for immigrant rights (as is already happening in many places), and veterans’ organizations will need to keep on supporting fights to preserve Native land and water rights as in the struggle over the Dakota Access pipeline. It’s true on the international level, as well. We will need to build strong ties with people in Europe fighting the rise of the far right there, and to continue our solidarity with the victims of U.S. military actions around the world.

But it’s also true at the level of our individual lives. Now especially we need contact with the people we love to keep us strong and hopeful. Now is a good time to remind your friends that you love them and that you will have their backs. It’s a time to march together, but also to eat together. To strategize and organize, but also to make each other laugh. It’s a time to remember who our adversaries are, but also to cherish our friends.

Donald Trump has successfully buried the story that worries him most  

According to the consensus assessment of US intelligence agencies, Russian intelligence, under the orders of Vladimir Putin, mounted an extensive operation to influence the 2016 campaign to benefit Donald Trump. This was a widespread covert campaign that included hacking Democratic targets and publishing swiped emails via WikiLeaks. And it achieved its objectives.

That this story is constantly forgotten behind a barrage of daily nonsense is both maddening and astounding. At the very least, we know that …

• Trump’s campaign manager worked directly for Russia to subvert the government of the Ukraine, and was paid millions of dollars to generate “spontaneous demonstrations” in which US Marines were attacked in order to give Putin an excuse to seize Crimea.

• The Russian assistant ambassador is on record saying that, despite numerous denials, Russia was in contact with the Trump campaign on a regular basis.

• The only item where the Trump campaign forced a change in the Republican platform—the only item—was in modifying a plank to weaken the party’s stance on opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And Trump representatives said that concern came from Trump personally.

And yes, out there is a supposed folio of kompromat containing items that Russia feels it can use to put pressure on Trump and his team. But even if every disgusting item in that secret file is just a fantasy, how is it possible that this story has completely disappeared?

We honestly don’t know if there’s even any investigation into the Trump-Russia connection.

At Spicer’s first briefing, Anita Kumar of McClatchy did ask, “Has the president spoken to any of the intelligence agencies about the investigation into the Russian connections? And will he allow that to go on?” Spicer replied, “I don’t believe he has spoken to anyone specifically about that and I don’t know that. He has not made any indication that he would stop an investigation of any sort.” This was an important question that warranted a response that was less equivocal—and reporters could have pointed that out.

At the next day’s briefing, on January 24, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg asked Spicer about reports that Comey was remaining in his post and whether Comey and Trump had discussed “the Russia investigation and the parameters of that.” Spicer responded, “I don’t have anything on that.”

That’s what we have. Is Trump stopping the investigation? “I don’t know that.” Has he talked to Comey about it? “I don’t have anything on that.” That’s it.

In the two weeks before the election, it looked as if the Russian story was about to blow up. Reports on October 31 promised that there was an ongoing investigation, that a server inside Trump’s organization was in contact with a Russian bank, and that there was considerable information of Trump’s dealings with Russia which had not been made public. The next day, that story was utterly quashed in a New York Times story citing unnamed “law enforcement officials.”

Those same “officials” completely mischaracterized the Russian email hacking and the intent as it had been determined by the intelligence community.

And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.

Despite this, the New York Times has never revisited the story, or resurrected any discussion of the issues it killed—just three days after it had devoted the entire front page to the story of Comey’s letter on Clinton’s emails.

We’ve also learned that, no speculation required, Donald Trump’s new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed a $500 billion deal with Vladimir Putin that would vastly increase Putin’s ability to exert Russia’s military and economic influence in Europe and the Middle East. Kremlin commentators called Tillerson “a Christmas gift from the American people to the Russian people.” Notice that this gift exchange was strictly a one-way affair.

We know that Russians didn’t just “make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” as Donald Trump Jr. stated proudly, but that Russian oligarchs bailed out a failing Trump and secured both real estate and connections for their investment. Several Trump projects were Russian projects with a Trump brand.

The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources. In other words, after his business crashed, Trump was floated and made to appear to operate a successful business enterprise through the infusion of hundreds in millions of cash from dark Russian sources.

And that doesn’t even touch on Trump’s involvement with the emails stolen from the DNC and private individuals to assist Trump. In fact, that’s not even close to everything.

Let’s review:

  1. Donald Trump has frequently expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, viewing him as a “strong” leader who Trump “admires.” Trump has also given wildly differing statements on his personal relationship with Putin.
  2. Trump has, on multiple occasions, suggested a weakening of the NATO alliance.
  3. Despite this, Trump previously expressed support for Ukraine.
  4. After Trump hired Paul Manafort, a man who had worked for—and may still be working for—pro-Russian forces seeking to destroy the democratic government of Ukraine, Trump’s position on Ukraine changed to one that is far more friendly to Russia.
  5. Trump campaign staff, including former Rumsfeld assistant J. D. Gordon, halted the implementation of pro-Ukraine language in the GOP platform, and insisted on language that was much more supportive of Russia after saying they had to speak directly to Trump about the policy.
  6. One week after the change was written into the GOP platform, emails hacked from the DNC were released through Wikileaks. Both government and independent investigators have identified the hackers as being associated with the Russian government.
  7. Donald Trump suggested that Russia might also hack Hillary Clinton’s email server and recover 30,000 emails (which are not “missing,” but were personal emails deleted by a team of lawyers who reviewed the server).
  8. Trump later claimed he was being sarcastic, but within a week of his request, further hacks took place at the DCCC and the Hillary Clinton campaign. These hacks have also been identified as coming from Russian sources.
  9. Both Manafort and Trump issued denials that they had anything to do with the changes to the Republican platform, despite the many witnesses and despite having made no objection to the news as it was reported at the time.
  10. Trump, in an interview, seemed not only confused about the two-year-old invasion of the Ukraine, but gave apparently contradictory indications that, were he elected, he would cede the occupied Crimea to Russia, and that the Russians would withdraw from the Ukraine.

None of that is speculation. Not one word of it is theory.

So why isn’t this story getting any attention?

There has been no loud demand from the DC media (or most of the GOP) for answers and explanations. This quietude is good news for Putin—and reason for him to think he could get away with such an operation again.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/2/9/1631858/-Donald-Trump-has-successfully-buried-the-story-that-worries-him-most?detail=email&link_id=1&can_id=83f30841d6d752350b062a4ce92a0935&source=email-donald-trump-has-successfully-buried-the-story-that-worries-him-most&email_referrer=donald-trump-has-successfully-buried-the-story-that-worries-him-most&email_subject=donald-trump-has-successfully-buried-the-story-that-worries-him-most

Trump blurts out the truth about US killings and the media goes wild

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7 February 2017

The furor unleashed by the remarks of President Donald Trump in response to Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “a killer” during an interview broadcast Sunday has continued to reverberate, drawing hypocritical condemnations from leading figures in both the Republican and Democratic parities.

In response to O’Reilly’s denunciation of Putin, Trump stated: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

Trump went on to cite Iraq in support of his statement. O’Reilly’s face went slack. He clearly did not know what to say. The new leader of the “Free World” had wandered seriously off message.

As far as the capitalist politicians of both parties and the media are concerned, Trump committed an unpardonable offense: he—in this one instance, and for purely pragmatic reasons related to his immediate political needs—had said something true about US imperialism’s role in the world.

The official posture of outrage over Trump’s off-hand comment will have little effect on the broader public. Do the politicians and media really believe that the public is so naïve and its memory so short? The United States is a country where The Bourne Identity­ and its innumerable sequels–whose basic premise is that the US government is run by murderers–are among the most popular movies of the last twenty years. This premise is well grounded in fact. Over the past 70 years, presidents and other high government officials have been implicated in the authorization and implementation of countless atrocities. Many of these crimes have been substantiated in official government reports and congressional hearings.

In a review of Joshua Kurlantzick’s A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of the Military CIA, reviewer Scott Shane wrote in the February 3 edition of The New York Times :

“Speaking last September in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, Barack Obama mentioned a staggering fact: that the United States had between 1963 and 1974 dropped two million tons of bombs on the country, more than the total loosed on Germany and Japan together during World War II. That made Laos, which is slightly smaller than Michigan, the most heavily bombed nation in history, the president said. More than four decades after the end of the war, unexploded ordnance is still killing and maiming Laotians, and Obama announced that he was doubling American funding to remove it.”

Calling attention to information in Kurlantzick’s book, Shane noted: “In his first presidential term, Richard M. Nixon escalated the bombing from about 15 sorties per day to 300 per day. ‘How many did we kill in Laos?’ Nixon asked Henry Kissinger one day in a conversation caught on tape. Kissinger replied: ‘In the Laotian thing, we killed about 10, 15’–10,000 or 15,000 people, he meant. The eventual death toll would be 200,000.”

When it comes to killing, the US Government is without equal. In multiple wars of aggression, from Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and the proxy war for regime-change in Syria, US imperialism has killed and maimed tens of millions.

The chief accusation being leveled against Trump–by both supposed liberals in the Democratic Party and right-wing Republicans–is that he implied a “moral equivalence” between Russia and the US. This was a phrase used during the Cold War to justify every crime committed by the US and its allies, from Latin America’s bloody dictatorships to the Apartheid regime in South Africa, on the grounds that there could be no “moral equivalence” between the leader of the “Free World” and the Soviet “Evil Empire.”

There is, in fact, no equivalence. When it comes to killing and global thuggery, Putin is a small fry compared to the leaders of the United States.

That the Democratic Party jumps on this reactionary bandwagon only proves that there is nothing progressive whatsoever in its purported opposition to Trump. This was exemplified Monday by the remarks of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a supposed “left” Democrat and leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who suggested that Trump should be impeached for “wrapping his arms around Putin while Putin is continuing to advance into Korea [sic].”

Underlying the furor over Trump’s remarks are fierce divisions over US imperialist strategy and Washington’s preparations for war that have been brought into the open with the change of administrations.

These differences have been exacerbated by recent events in Syria. The Syrian government’s retaking in December of eastern Aleppo, the last urban stronghold of the US-backed “rebels,” represented a colossal setback for US policy in the Middle East.

There are bitter recriminations within the foreign policy establishment over the Obama administration’s backing off of its “red line” in 2013, when it nearly went to war over false charges of Syrian government use of chemical weapons. Within these circles, there are many who feel that a military intervention would have been better for US interests, no matter what new catastrophe it unleashed.

An article published in the Washington Post Monday, warning that the US faces “a far stronger Iran” after “years of turmoil in the Arab world,” spelled out the situation that Washington now confronts in stark terms:

“Iran and Russia together have fought to ensure the survival of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and they are now pursuing a peace settlement in alliance with Turkey that excludes a role for the United States. America has been left with few friends and little leverage, apart from the Kurds in the northeast of the country.

“Russia controls the skies over Syria, and Turkey wields influence over the rebels, but Iran holds sway on the ground …”

Talk of “respecting” Putin, possible collaboration with Russia against ISIS in Syria, and an easing of sanctions is not, as the Democrats have suggested, evidence of some secret control exercised by the Kremlin over Trump. It is, rather, part of a definite strategy of peeling Russia off from Iran in order to pave the way for a new war in the Middle East, while sharply escalating provocations against China.

Citing unnamed administration officials, the Wall Street Journal spelled this policy out on Monday: “The administration is exploring ways to break Russia’s military and diplomatic alliance with Iran… The emerging strategy seeks to reconcile President Donald Trump’s seemingly contradictory vows to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to aggressively challenge the military presence of Iran.”

Trump’s chief White House strategist and adviser, Stephen Bannon, a student and admirer of Adolf Hitler, no doubt views the administration’s pivot toward Moscow through the historical prism of the Stalin-Hitler pact, which set the stage for the Second World War, a war that ultimately claimed 20 million Soviet lives.

Putin’s government is susceptible to such maneuvers. It shares all of the stupidity, backwardness and shortsightedness of the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy headed by Stalin. Putin sits atop a regime that represents a rapacious clique of oligarchs who enriched themselves through theft of state property and the extraction and sale of the resources of the former Soviet Union. They are anxious to see US sanctions lifted so that they can accelerate their accumulation of wealth at the expense of the Russian working class.

Within the US political establishment and Washington’s vast military and intelligence apparatus, there exists sharp opposition to Trump’s turn in foreign policy. Immense political, military and financial resources have been invested in the buildup against Russia, from the coup in Ukraine to the deployment of thousands of US and NATO troops on Russia’s western border. There are concerns within ruling circles that a shift in imperialist strategy is reckless and poses serious dangers.

While popular attention and outrage have been focused on Trump’s anti-democratic executive orders imposing a ban on Muslims and refugees, ordering a wall built on the southern border, and laying the groundwork for a mass dragnet against undocumented immigrant workers, within the ruling class a serious fight is being waged over global imperialist strategy.

This fight over policy is between two bands of cutthroats, each of which is committed to an escalation of US militarism to further the profit interests of the US-based banks and transnational corporations. Whichever one wins out, the threat of world war, rooted in the crisis of global capitalism, will only grow.

Bill Van Auken

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/02/07/pers-f07.html

Mikhail Gorbachev: Appears ‘The World Is Preparing for War’

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‘Wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war,’ writes former Soviet leader

Mikhail Gorbachev, seen here in 2011, writes at TIME magazine Thursday: “It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.” (Photo: kris krüg/flickr/cc)

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that it appears “as if the world is preparing for war.”

Writing in an op-ed published Thursday at TIME magazine, Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his role in ending the Cold War, writes that the most pressing problem facing the world is “the militarization of politics and the new arms race.”

State budgets, he continues, claim austerity to sacrifice social spending, but easily back funding for weapons of war. At the same time, he writes of the buildup on Russia’s borders: “NATO and Russian forces and weapons” are now in close proximity “as if to shoot point-blank.” He continues:

Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.

While he and President Ronald Reagan agreed in 1985 “that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” now, “the nuclear threat once again seems real,” with “advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex […] rubbing their hands.” And that, he declares, is absolutely the wrong direction to solve the world’s ills. Instead, war of any kind must be abolished, he writes:

In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war—not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources.

He called on the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution—which should be put forth by U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin—that restates that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. ”

In 2014 Gorbachev warned that the world was “on the brink of a new Cold War”—a situation fueled in part by the U.S. being “tortured by triumphalism.”

More recently, in 2016, he said, “The window to a nuclear weapon-free world…is being shut and sealed right before our eyes.”

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that someday they will be used as a result either of accident or technical failure or of evil intent of man, an insane person or terrorist,” Gorbachev said.

Trump, however, out of step with most of the world, used Twitter to call for an expanded U.S. nuclear arsenal—a fact that contributed to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists this week moving its symbolic Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

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