Saturday, May 27, 2017

Getting Closer: Evaluating Yesterday's Tales of Kushner

Friday evening was awash in revelations and tales of Kushner.  Late Friday and Saturday brought evaluations.

First, to highlight again a paragraph from last night's Reuters story that I added as a late update to last evening's post:

"FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official."

This was highlighted on Lawrence O'Donnell, where the Atlantic's David Frum speculated on the possibility that the family empire owes money to Russian banks, and that's part of this relationship.

It was also pointed out that the term most bandied about--"back channel" contact--was inaccurate in a practical sense.  A back channel contact is usually between lower level representatives (sometimes not officials at all but business execs or journalists) reporting to higher levels.  In this case, Kushner (who would soon be one of the highest level members of the White House staff) was seeking direct but secret contact with the Kremlin, or high level officials that might include Putin.

Today Atlantic has a story by Adam Serwer, with these paragraphs:

Communicating with Moscow using Russian facilities could have shielded Kushner’s correspondence from U.S. intelligence agencies, without denying their Russian counterparts the same access.

“The only reason you would operate that way is if you were hiding something from your own government. That's it. That's the only plausible explanation," said Nada Bakos, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former CIA analyst.

Commenting on part of the Times story that said the back channel was to discuss Syria, Jon Finer, a former US State Department aide to John Kerry, was skeptical. Discussing Syria "just doesn't seem tremendously credible or urgent on the timelines they were seeking to operate,” said Finer. “It begs the question of what this was all about. Until we know that, we don't know if this is a bombshell, or just people who didn't know what they were doing."

On the question of the inexperienced Kushner not knowing what he was doing, several pundits noted that the very experienced Michael Flynn was also present when the proposal was made.  At least one also noted that Flynn was a known skeptic of American intelligence agencies.

In terms of an overall evaluation, the piece ends: “Collusion between the campaign and the Russian government would obviously be devastating for the administration,” Finer said. “But you don't need to get anywhere near that far to be disturbed by what's been revealed already—unprecedented and unexplained contacts between an adversarial government meddling in our election and people in ever-closer proximity to the president himself, after denials that proved false and alibis that don't make sense.”

Apropos of that notion, Byron Wolf's commentary at CNN was headlined: It's getting harder to say Russian meddling didn't actually help lead to Trump's victory and Clinton's loss.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Secrets From Who?

The Washington Post appears to have broken two stories about the Russian connection late Friday.  A story asserts that the Senate Intelligence Committee is asking for R campaign documents.  Reuters finds an interesting detail:

"The Senate Intelligence Committee, investigating Russian meddling in U.S. 2016 election, has asked President Donald Trump's political organization to hand over all documents going back the campaign's launch in June 2015, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing two people briefed on the request.

The letter from the Senate panel seeking all documents, emails and telephone records arrived at Trump's campaign committee last week and was addressed to its treasurer, the Post said.

This marked the first time the Trump campaign organization has been drawn into the bipartisan committee's investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election, it said."

I don't know if addressing it to the treasurer is a pro forma thing or whether it's a follow the money thing.

The other story is getting the bigger play: Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin.

This happened during the transition, between election and inauguration.  One question will be whether this channel was intended to continue operating after the inauguration.

Kushner's proposal allegedly involved using Russian "diplomatic facilities," which in reference to the Russians probably means their spy equipment.

I see a couple of immediate outcomes of this story.  First, any possible future narrative that seeks to say that members of this regime were innocents suckered and sucked into the sinister Russian web is just about blown in advance. According to this story this was Kushner's proposal, and the Russians were at first surprised and even freaked out about it.

Second and most importantly, who was not supposed to know about this secret communication, and kept from knowing what was being communicated?  The short answer so far might be everybody--including the Republican Congress.

This is more than yet another apparently amateurish, let's do it like we do in business arrangement, blithely ignoring existing institutions and all the inconvenient rules and laws that pertain.  This is a serious challenge not only to all institutions of the federal government (including intelligence agencies and the military), but to the people currently in office, including elected members of the Republican party.

If this is perceived as a slight to R congressional leadership especially, the regime may find it is out of friends on Capitol Hill.  That alone could make this story a real watershed, if another was needed.  

Update: The New York Times confirms major elements of the Post story and adds details here.  Reuters reported yet more unreported Kushner contacts during and after the campaign, and this nugget:

"FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official."

Reuters added in summary a context that so many reports forget:

The contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials during the presidential campaign coincided with what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was a Kremlin effort through computer hacking, fake news and propaganda to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House and damage his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

David Frum of the Atlantic underscores this political connection, the two halves of the story: the resources that Russia committed to electing our dictator apprentice (including Facebook ads revealed last week) and these Kushner contacts.

Frum also connects (as I did yesterday) the money--the Russian banks-- and the dictator apprentice's refusal to disclose finances to this political result, the takeover of the US government, with this Watergate-punned question: What does he owe and to whom does he owe it?

Thursday, May 25, 2017


On the same day our dictator apprentice was busy advancing Russian foreign policy by berating NATO allies in Brussels, President Obama was speaking before a cheering crowd in Berlin and meeting with a clearly pleased Angela Merkel.

Besides his nuanced discussion of international issues and democratic governance in a public forum in which audience members asked questions, President Obama provided the succinct message of the day: "We can't hide behind a wall."

The Washington Post noted that in a Pew poll last summer, some 86% of Germans and 77% of Europeans generally said they had confidence in President Obama.  The then-Republican presidential candidate got all of 9%.

CNN noted that President Obama's White House photographer Pete Souzza has been posting his photos on his Instagram account--"And the photos Souza shares seem to be anything but random."

 CNN reproduced several images that showed a clear difference with something in the news concerning the current regime.  I don't know if Souzza was there in Berlin in 2008 when candidate Obama drew a crowd of 200,000.  But that might have been a good photo for Thursday.

Governed By Greed

On Thursday NBC and then the Washington Post reported that indeed it's Jared Kushner: he is the White House official that the FBI/Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in a US election wants to talk to, especially about some of his meetings with Russian officials.

This fits into what seems likely to be the master narrative that someday may emerge from all this.  That a chaotic family empire was rescued by at least one major Russian bank, possibly directed personally by Putin but in any case within his power, and working with Russian government spy agencies.  That these financial relationships (which probably still continue) at some point led to political relationships, so that activity on behalf of the Republican nominee became at least part of Russia's meddling with the US election, with some level of coordination and cooperation between Russians involved and members of the campaign.

This likely involvement is one feature of this regime that is unprecedented in American history.  All the signs are there, from lies about contacts to openly public behavior.  The regime denies what US and allied intelligence agencies all say: that Russia deliberately interfered in the US federal election campaign.   Russian officials, including a known spy, are hosted in the Oval Office more warmly than actual allies, and given highly classified information.

And also on Thursday, when our dictator apprentice spoke in Europe, he made inflammatory statements damaging to the western alliance, calling it into question--sowing confusion and discord that benefits above all that country whose name starts with R.

Why?  Why would Americans act against their own country to benefit a hostile foreign power?  Look at the rest of that foreign trip.  Look at the lovefest in Saudi Arabia, where the White House regime made a $110 billion deal to sell arms to that nation, including weapons that can be used in its known efforts to suppress human rights.  And as many media stories recounted, the deal was chiefly engineered by Jared Kushner.

Soon after that deal was made, another was announced: Saudi Arabia's $20 billion investment in a private US company called Blackstone, which (according to the Bloomberg report) just happens to have financed major real estate deals of Jared Kushner.  Blackstone is positioning itself to make big bucks on infrastructure--which just happens to be one of the few big spending items in the proposed federal budget.

This may not be the first private deal to follow shortly after an official visit by Kushner and his wife Ivanka; China is a country that comes to mind.  Kushner is of course the son-in-law of the dictator apprentice, and Ivanka is his daughter.  All of these family members are involved in international business on a large scale, and none have truly extricated themselves from these businesses and their financial arrangements, including those with the autocratic national government regimes that receive gaudy praise and personal visits and phone calls.

Never has the president had family members in such powerful positions with so little oversight who continue to make deals for their businesses while representing the US government at the highest level.  Never in modern history has a US chief executive refused to make public everything about his private financial affairs.  None has failed to separate himself meaningfully from private businesses.

Why not--except to hide ways to profit by their positions?  Has any White House official ever been in position to profit so much while in government?  And we can only guess what's going on with the Cabinet.  Who is going to keep an eye on them?  Jeff Sessions?

But at least until now, all of this is so far from the immense public scandal it should be, at least judged by history, that the dictator apprentice's company could essentially spit in the eye of the Constitution by refusing to even pretend to take that document's emolument clause seriously, which forbid the chief executive from taking money from foreign governments.  And the story didn't cause a ripple.

Which brings it all back to Russia and the why are they doing this?  It's Greed.  It's greed so large and pervasive through this administration, and so boldly evident, that the word needs to be shouted at a decibel level to shatter human eardrums in order to give some sense of its proportion.  Greed and all that flows from it.

That doesn't explain why a lot of Americans don't seem to care about it, which is the bigger, more profound and more consequential question.  But remember what makes a Dark Age dark.  It's forgetting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Not Healthy, Not Wealthy, Unwise (with Updates)

You're living in a neighborhood you'd rather not live in, or you're having trouble paying the mortgage or the rent, and you see strange people around, probably poorer than you are.  One reason you can't afford to move is the proportion of your income you must spend on healthcare.  So who do you blame?

Do you blame the strange people you can see, or the super rich you have never seen, who run the corporations that export jobs and together haven't raised the average American wage in a decade, who lost little in the Great Recession and have mightily prospered since while you lost and have not recovered?

The ACA at least helps with medical care, and in certain cases it can be the difference between life and death, or some security and certain ruin.  The CBO analyzed the Republican-passed replacement, and found how devastating it will be for tens of millions of Americans--cutting them off from healthcare insurance, offering them extremely expensive policies when they're sick and utterly inadequate policies otherwise.

Michael Grunwald in Politico put it succinctly:

"Obamacare has had plenty of glitches, especially for the small minority of Americans who don’t get their insurance through the government or their employers, but it basically succeeded in taking some of the top 1 percent’s money to improve the health security of the bottom 99 percent.

The GOP wants to take money that the government has been spending on the poor and working class—mostly for expanded Medicaid coverage or tax credits to help moderate-income families afford their premiums—and give it back to high earners.

...what’s really being contemplated is a gigantic redistribution from health to wealth."

This was the agenda all along, and it is behind the regime's proposed budget: enrich the rich.  It's just an extreme version of the basic Republican plan.  It can be so extreme--and so extremely obvious--because of what Shadowy stuff has been stirred up to obscure this, or in the minds of way too many, make it not matter. They don't call it blind rage for nothing.

On a somewhat different matter, when a reporter tweets that a Montana congressional candidate has just body slammed him and "broke my glasses" on election eve, the cynical response has to be, this guy just got elected.  The "broke my glasses" especially.  The Republican candidate was charged by police with misdemeanor assault. We'll see what level of civilization proves out at the polls on Thursday.

Update: Apparently this assault was witnessed by, of all people, Fox reporters, and it seems to have been a good deal uglier than the reporter's tweet suggested.  According to NPR:

According to three Fox News reporters who were in the room preparing for an interview with the GOP nominee, Gianforte "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground ... then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, 'I'm sick and tired of this!' "

The Ginaforte campaign claims the reporter was the aggressor but witnesses from Fox News make that awkward for Fox News to agree with.  Meanwhile the Borowitz headline is REPUBLICAN HEALTH-CARE PLAN LACKS COVERAGE FOR INJURIES RESULTING FROM BODY SLAMMING.  Satirical but true.

Apparently there's a lot of early voting in Montana in this statewide race, so nobody knows the possible impact of this story on an election that experts guess is close.

Second Update: The Republican Ginaforte won the Montana seat in the US House of Representatives.  Before he goes to Washington, he'll have to answer to the charge of assault on a reporter.  Who knows, he may get a medal for it from this White House.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Me and the Future

I started this blog with the future as its intended main subject, or at least its orientation.  Because I was looking forward from the present, with the past as a resource (including my own past), my age didn't seem to matter.

In the past year or so, since I turned 70, I began to be uncomfortable with this approach.  The "Captain Future" moniker denoted a certain irony, a particular playfulness about an heroic mission, but that no longer seemed enough.

There are two basic problems.  First, for a number of reasons that include my age, I've become more of a stranger to important features of contemporary culture.  I don't follow the latest popular music, I've given up trying to be at least familiar with the latest films and television, and more recently even the latest books.  The names of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar winners as well as the celebrities about whom the supermarket tabloids have frenzied stories about, are mostly complete blanks to me.

This is part of a natural turn away from the rolling present, with what now appear to be wearying and meaningless repetitions.  Especially after the last election, I felt the same way about politics.  I wore myself out over Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes.  And it changed nothing but my blood pressure.  I knew pretty much what was coming with this regime, though I confess it's happened faster, more thoroughly and relentlessly than I might have expected.  I didn't want to be doing play by play on self-defeating politics--especially not on that level--anymore.

So even before the election I had planned to transition out of this site into something that dealt more directly with my concerns as I age, as well as a site that seemed more honest about my point of view as it is particular to my age.

I didn't do so, partly out of inertia (a characteristic of aging, of course), partly because as small potatoes as this site's 10,000 hits a month may be, it's not nothing.  But the decisive factor was the world of pain I would likely be inviting by labeling a site--and myself--by age, and especially by my generation.  I couldn't think of an identity that would cover what I wanted to do.   And I definitely didn't want to be limited by defending the appallingly vilified baby boom generation.

So I've stuck with this site, though I've gradually added posts that reflect my newer point of view, which is from being older.  I am interested in the past I experienced, and look to it for texture and meaning, even if it isn't the most serious stuff in the world.  But I've noted that in terms of "hits" (which suggest but do not guarantee readers) these posts did pretty well. "The Lone Ranger Rides Again" is right up there with "100 Days of Solipsism."

(On another of my blogs, the less visited but personal favorite called A Blue Voice, the all-time most popular posts are my autobiographical exploration of "Christmas 1951."  I've thought about abandoning this blog for that one, and who knows?  I may still do it. But it currently gets far fewer visitors.)

But the point about writing about the future is, I don't necessarily share enough of the same present with the cultural mainstream.  I don't have the same references, I certainly don't have the same experiences--especially since I don't have (and don't want) a smart phone, nor do I text and skype and so on.  I'm not on Facebook or any social media.  So my experience is from an outsider, a minority point of view.

Well, maybe it always was.  And maybe, even without announcing my age and generational membership in every post like one of those smarmy "full disclosure" statements after 18 paragraphs of praising your employer or your brother's new book, I will almost helplessly indicate my point of view by the very references and even the vocabulary I employ.

In any case I'm not going to keep up any pretenses. Part of that is the attitude that suddenly arrived with my retirement from the comical responsibilities I did have for the past decade or so.  It happens to be perfectly expressed by one of those maddeningly repeated slogans on t-shirts and mugs: "Don't want to/don't need to/can't make me/ I'm retired."     

But there's also another pretense I'm giving up, which is that I'm competing for readers (sorry, I meant clicks) and power on the Internet.  If I cared about that, I'd be flogging this stuff on Facebook and Twitter, as well as learning all the dubious tricks of attracting "traffic."  You know what? Don't want to/don't need to/can't make me/ I'm retired.

Now back to the future which is already in progress... I said there were two basic problems I was dealing with in writing about the future (I should really make this another thread got it.)

The second is the H.G. Wells problem.  At the end of his life, in the midst of his final illnesses, Wells wrote his final book, called Mind at the End of Its Tether.  Seventy years later, in his 2016 end of the year rants on The Well,  science fiction writer and futurist Bruce Sterling chose it as a cautionary tale about old guys writing about the future.   

He called it a "tragically ludicrous last book" that's totally apocalyptic. "In this book, the great speculator is elderly, exhausted, politically disillusioned, fatally ill and also the Atomic Bomb has been detonated. So he's like: Welp! That's it! No More Future!"

"For him, yes, that's true," Sterling notes. "Personally, he's toast: no more HG
Wells."  He calls it "just human egotism and frustration talking. Like: things didn't go my way, and the threats seem dire and mounting, and, therefore, there can be no world."

That's unfair to Wells and his work, but there is that one undeniable point: at a certain age, the end of the world is certain and likely to be soon.  That is, the end of the world for you.  There is the possible bias on your judgment therefore, to at least emotionally conclude that the world is also fated to end soon for everybody else.

Well, Wells wasn't wrong exactly--some of the failures he described may well be implicated in civilization's apocalyptic ending in historical time.  For me, it would be comforting to be able to believe that it's only my age that makes me fear for the future.  But as time goes on it becomes clearer to me that the climate crisis alone--and certainly in conjunction with the Fifth Great Extinction that's on track to happen--is going to vastly change the course of the future, and by most peoples' standards, for the worse.

There's plenty of evidence that those changes have begun, and plenty of science to suggest that the disruptions are going to get worse.  I have my ideas about the nature of the future into the next century, and it's not all shiny and bright.  There are a lot of hardships ahead in coming decades.  But there are also lives to lead that in some ways may be better lives, at least in terms of purpose and meaning.

But I have to be sensible that my intuitions may be colored by the imminence of my own future ending.  The nice way of putting it poetically is as a candle that flickers for awhile and suddenly blows out.  But the image that returns to me is of a figure bobbing in the ocean, suddenly disappearing into the depths and instantly covered by the sea, with no indication that anything was ever there.

But just as being old may color the future darker, being young colors the future just as much, and probably more violently.  An attraction to images of doom for some, but also identifying with the heroic survivors.  Or an anxiety, even denial, and an angry demand for hope.  The future is a fraught subject for everyone.

Besides, being older can also color the future brighter, based on doomsdays already survived.  In any case, it seems important to declare the age bias.  I just don't quite know how to do it.  But for the moment, it won't be by consigning myself to a geezer ghetto on the Internet, or by becoming an online Baby Boomer punching bag.

My philosophy of the Internet is "If you build it (or write it) they will come, or not."  As I wrote on another and since abandoned site: "This is the Internet I believe in: access to a backlist forever, from anywhere, at any time. An Internet for individuals as well as the swarm of the moment."

Maybe I don't go viral, but who wants to be a disease? I'd like to have readers, even lots of readers, who (by the way) really aren't the same as "clicks."  But in the end I write because that's what I do, that's been my purpose.  The Internet publishes it, for any reader in the world to find.  Anytime.  Now....or in the future.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Psychology of Tyranny.3: Invasion of the Internet Snatchers

On every imaginable issue, the current Washington regime is relentlessly and invariably choosing to do or propose what is cruel, unnecessary, shortsighted and destructive--in other words, evil.

But this swarming rule of the societal Shadow occurs while there's another notable phenomenon: the Internet as the playground for the unconscious.  The two look to be related.

First there were the extreme right wing blogs.  They not only promulgated extreme views, they used extreme language of ad hominem accusation, derision and vilification.  They specialized in demonizing their ideological--and soon mostly political party--adversaries.  Perhaps they were imitating extreme right talk radio, but they made their mark accelerating it.  Some--such as Brietbart--became rabid right institutions, allied with both the official R party and such precursor movements and organizations as white separatists and the Klan.

Then came the toxic commentators (many, as we now know, on the payrolls of extreme right organizations and at least shadow components of the Republican Party, if not the party itself) and the trolls.  They infect every thread on every subject, driving out sincere and thoughtful discussion, destroying the possibility of nuance or simple correction, and driving away disgusted and demoralized readers.

But politics is not the only Internet septic tank.  The centralization of everything in a few "social media" sites has made them the magnets of evil.  The Guardian's articles on Facebook and its struggles to control these raging manifestations of the societal Shadow suggest the extent of its reign.

Some of this is obviously due to the lack of control over these outlets--there are few or no gatekeepers for comments or social media posts, nor are there any standards for sites that call themselves political or news sites.  When the name of the game is attracting attention ("attention" being the old word for "clicks"), the more outrageous the better.

But if that's all this was about, it would likely have died down by now.  Instead it's gotten worse.  Together with hackers and various other criminals using email and other online manifestations to steal and extort, the rampant exploitation of Shadow violence and hate threatens to collapse the Internet entirely.

With the Shadow loose and growing stronger as it consumes and incorporates everything available to it, like some 50s horror movie Blob, it has moved from the murky underworld to the bright screens everywhere, and now into political power in the USA.

From 100 billion dollar deals for arms dealers to suicidal policies on the climate crisis to destroying lives by subverting healthcare and threatening the already threadbare safety net,  the rule of evil rages on, with self-righteous contempt.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Psychology of Tyranny.2

Probably the key concept in the theory of the unconscious is that it works its will irrationally by convincing you that you are behaving with complete rationality.  So it isn't that certain "fake news" items simply find gullible minds.  Those stories find minds primed to believe them by unconscious fears, resentments, anger, envy plus combinations of all that and more.  Supported by your own group affiliations.

So many Americans believe that crime is rampant and perpetrated by minorities and immigrants, that immigration is taking away their jobs, that foreigners are terrorists especially if they are of a certain religion or ethnicity.  They believe that whites and/or white males are discriminated against, and a black President favored blacks who got a free ride while they suffered.

 Facts say otherwise.  But there are places to go to find these beliefs reported as facts, and certainly there are politicians who live off these beliefs, one of them the current resident of the White House.

Certainly there are cases of all of these things being true.  So they become inflated for ideological and political purposes, and amplified by Fox News etc.  Blaming minorities and immigrants for the plight caused primarily by big business and the super-rich has long been an effective weapon the rich yield to keep power.  They did it when they owned newspaper chains, and they do it now when they own cable news conglomerates.

But the fears are ancient, of the Other, the strange.  Desperation feeds fears, causing people to act in self-destructive ways.  One of those ways politically is to oppose societal support--for instance, government supported healthcare for all---even if it benefits you, as long as it doesn't benefit the people you believe are evil, lazy and/or immoral.

That's behind the cruelty of the Republican healthcare plan, and the reported budget proposals to slash Medicaid and other programs for the poor.  It doesn't matter that the white majority benefits from these programs more than anyone else.  It's a combination of the image that nonwhite benefit most, or just that nonwhites benefit at all.  Update: So even though as Politico reports the regime's budget proposals hit their own voters hardest, they might not care--as long as Others are also hurt.

It also leads to situations in which the Republican administration's attack on Obamacare while the Republican House passed an extreme and unworkable replacement is causing so much uncertainty and chaos that insurance companies are bailing, which Republicans then use as an argument in favor of their plan that is causing them to bail.

Ideological arguments in the William Buckley era used to paper over these motives.  But that pretense is over.  Hardly anyone bothers anymore.  It's the naked unconscious, the Shadow operating in the light.  What could be clearer than threatening a black Congressman with lynching for daring to advocate impeachment.

Expressing such sentiments is extreme, but what was too extreme for prime time a few years ago is now mainstream.  The unconscious is loose.  It is the emperor in the invisibility cloak.