Sunday, July 31, 2016

Something to Know - 31 July

Mike Luckovich

Today's infomercial about Trump and his campaign's ties with Russia come from CNN.   The drums keep drumming the theme:  (viewing with the link is better than the copy-and-paste from the website)

Trump says Putin is 'not going to go into Ukraine,' despite Crimea

Washington (CNN)Donald Trump said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin won't make a military move into Ukraine -- even though Putin already has done just that, seizing the country's Crimean peninsula.

"He's not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want," Trump said in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."
    "Well, he's already there, isn't he?" Stephanoploulos responded, in a reference to Crimea, which Putin took from Ukraine in early 2014.
    Trump said: "OK -- well, he's there in a certain way. But I'm not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you're talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he's going away. He takes Crimea."
    Stephanopoulos interjected to note that Trump has suggested he could recognize Russia's claim on Crimea over Ukraine's -- and Trump didn't back away from that possibility in the interview.
    "I'm going take a look at it," he said. "But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also ... just so you understand, that was done under Obama's administration."
    Trump added: "And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it's a mess. And that's under the Obama's administration with his strong ties to NATO. So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don't blame Donald Trump for that."
    Stephanopoulos also pressed Trump on changes to the Republican platform removing calls for the provision of lethal weapons so the people of Ukraine can defend themselves, which Trump said he had nothing to do with.
    And he asked about Trump's claims in recent years that he has a personal relationship with Putin.
    "I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin," Trump said.
    "Just so you understand, he said very nice things about me. But I have no relationship with him. I don't -- I've never met him," said Trump.
    But in a November 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump had said of Putin: "I got to know him very well because we were both on '60 Minutes,' we were stablemates."


    Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association  aid and abet violence.

    - An American Story

    Saturday, July 30, 2016

    Something to Know - 30 July

    Darrin Bell

    Nothing really new to pass on.   Just trying to keep the drums beating on this thing with Trump and Russia.  Sure wish we could all see is tax records:

    How entangled with Russia is Trump?

    A protester at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)
     Opinion writer July 29 at 8:51 PM 

    To gauge the opportunism and hypocrisy that define Donald Trump's Republican Party, consider this: Imagine the scalding rhetoric that would have boiled from the likes of Newt Gingrich, that Metternich of many green rooms, if Hillary Clinton had offhandedly undermined the collective security architecture of U.S. foreign policy since NATO was created in 1949.

    Vladimir Putin's regime is saturating Europe with anti-Americanism, buying print and broadcast media, pliable journalists and other opinion leaders, and funding fringe political parties, think tanks and cultural institutions. (Putin is again following Hitler's playbook; read Alan Furst's historical novel "Mission to Paris," set in prewar France.) Putin is etching with acid a picture of America as ignorant, narcissistic and, especially, unreliable. Trump validates every component of this indictment, even saying that the U.S. commitment to NATO's foundational principle — an attack on one member is an attack on all — is not categorical.

    Gingrich, who is among the supposed savants who will steer Trump toward adulthood, flippantly dismisses Estonia, a NATO member contiguous to Putin's Russia and enduring its pressure, as "some place which is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg." Gingrich thereby echoes Neville Chamberlain's description, three days before Munich, of Hitler's pressure on Czechoslovakia as "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."

    It would be fanciful to suggest that Trump read a book, but others should read Svetlana Alexievich's "Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets," an oral history of post-Soviet Russia, 1991 to 2012. A recurring theme is Russian nostalgia for the Soviet era: "We had a great empire — stretching from sea to sea, from beyond the Arctic to the subtropics. Where is it now? It was defeated without a bomb."

    Nostalgia coexists with Soviet-era memories like this: Twenty-seven people share an apartment with one kitchen and one bathroom, including a mother of a 5-year-old daughter and a childless woman. The mother is secretly informed against. Before being sent into the gulag for 17 years, she begged the childless woman to take care of her daughter, who comes to call the woman "Mama." After the real mother serves her sentence, under perestroika she sees her police file and recognizes her informant's signature — her childless friend. The mother went home and hanged herself.

    Putin's constituency of nostalgia, writes Alexievich, is in the grip of "the narcosis of old ideas" acquired when "the state had become their entire cosmos, blocking out everything else, even their own lives." She repeatedly records longings for the days before the eruption of ethnic hatreds to fill the void left by the melancholy, long withdrawing roar of socialist faith.

    During one ethnic pogrom, "the youngest girl climbed a tree to escape . . . so they shot at her like she was a little bird. It's hard to see at night, they couldn't get her for a long time. . . . Finally, she fell at their feet."

    Putin's supporters include those who, in the words of one of Alexievich's interlocutors, "feel like they were defeated twice over: The communist Idea was crushed," then Russia was looted by a feral crony capitalism. Putinism is bitter nostalgia on the march, and Putin is as interested in the U.S. presidential election as Trump and some of his aides are in Russian wealth. Read Franklin Foer's Slate essay "Putin's Puppet":

    "We shouldn't overstate Putin's efforts, which will hardly determine the outcome of the election. Still, we should think of the Trump campaign as the moral equivalent of Henry Wallace's communist-infiltrated campaign for president in 1948. . . . A foreign power that wishes ill upon the United States has attached itself to a major presidential campaign."

    It is unclear whether any political idea leavens the avarice of Trump and some of his accomplices regarding today's tormented and dangerous Russia. Speculation about the nature and scale of Trump's financial entanglements with Putin and his associates is justified by Trump's refusal to release his personal and business tax information. Obviously he is hiding something, and probably more than merely embarrassing evidence that he has vastly exaggerated his net worth and charitableness.

    In Wednesday's news conference, Trump said, "I have nothing to do with Russia." Donald Trump Jr. says, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

    Trump Sr. can end the speculation by providing information. If, however, he continues his tax information stonewall, it will be clear that he finds the speculation less damaging than the truth would be, which itself is important information.

    What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

    Read more from George F. Will's archive or follow him on Facebook.


    Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association  aid and abet violence.

    - An American Story

    Friday, July 29, 2016

    Something to Know - 29 July

    Stuart Carlson

    There is an underlying story that is developing that may or may not be fully revealed (which could be a disaster for Trump).   The association of money flowing from the Russian Mafia, and business dealings by Trump in Russia is full of speculation, and has a lot of investigative journalists working overtime.   Trump recently said that he's never spoken with or met Putin, but the archives of video and sound clearly show that he has.   If we were to get a real view of the IRS records, we just might find the money trail showing something not beneficial to Trump or his "Truthiness":

    For Vladimir Putin, the best thing about Donald Trump is simply that he is not Hillary Clinton.PHOTOGRAPH BY SERGEI GUNEYEV / THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION / GETTY

    Why Vladimir Putin would prefer Donald Trump rather than Hillary Clinton in the White House is not hard to parse. Yes, Putin and Trump have exhibited a certain affinity for each other—Putin has called Trump a "very colorful, talented person," and Trump has returned the favor, declaring Putin "a leader, unlike what we have in this country"—and they share a political style that reveres strength, elevates cynicism to a virtue, and plays loose with the truth. But, for Putin and those around him, the best thing about Trump is simply that he is not Clinton.

    In Clinton, Russian leaders see a potential President who would keep in place, or even strengthen, policies that have proved extraordinarily unwelcome in Moscow. Readers in America, where critics of President Obama's foreign policy have for years painted him as feckless and disengaged from the world, might be surprised to learn that in Russia he is caricatured as exactly the opposite: an expansive and reckless President who has not been shy about throwing U.S. might around in ways that have damaged Russian interests. Among Russian politicians, Obama has become the personification of a U.S. sanctions regime that has done real harm to the country's economy. Clinton is thought to be the next in line, and maybe worse.

    The Kremlin sees "no reason to expect anything positive from a Clinton Presidency," Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs and an influential thinker in Moscow on foreign policy, told me this week. As Putin and his allies understand it, Clinton is the standard-bearer of American liberal internationalism, a world view the Russians see as hubristic folly—the same school of thought that sought to remake Russia in its image in the nineteen-nineties, and that later, after those attempts failed, sought alternatively to punish Russia or to ostracize it from the international community. It doesn't help Clinton's image inside the Kremlin that she voiced support, however quietly, for anti-Putin protesters in late 2011, when she was serving as Secretary of State. For the country's ruling élite, Lukyanov said, the prospect of a Clinton Presidency carries the "spectre of unfinished business, this idea that Russia has to change somehow."

    Given all this, Lukyanov told me, it is only logical that Trump generates more enthusiasm in Moscow's political circles. He is everything that Clinton is not: he speaks admirably of Putin, hints at lifting sanctions and recognizing Russia's claims in Crimea, and appears largely uninterested in defending Ukraine or the Baltic states from Russian interference or outright aggression. "The essence of his foreign policy is isolationism, a notion that the United States shouldn't always be getting involved in other people's business—let them decide," Lukyanov said. "It's what Russia has been saying all these years." When I spoke to Igor Korotchenko, the editor of National Defense magazine and a frequent bombastic guest on Russian state television, he put it even more bluntly. "Trump is appealing because he is not anti-Russian, not a Russophobe, not set on spiteful relations toward Russia," Korotchenko said.

    A Trump Presidency might be appealing to Putin, but that doesn't mean that the two men are somehow plotting together—as some have alleged this week, after cybersecurity firms and U.S. intelligence agencies blamed Russian hackers for orchestrating the release of thousands of e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Those who make the argument about some kind of plot also point to Trump's recent comments questioning U.S. responsibilities in nato, and the Trump campaign's removal of language from the Republican Party platform about supplying arms to Ukraine. (It is worth remembering, though, that declining to supply Ukraine with offensive weaponry is the official policy of the Obama Administration.)

    To imagine Putin engaging Trump in a covert alliance is to see the discipline and coherence of a master strategist where there is, most likely, the opportunism and appetite for risk of a high-stakes gambler. Gleb Pavlovsky, a former political adviser to Putin turned critic, explained how the Putin system comes to life "in moments of heightened and extraordinary situations." Sixteen years into his rule, Putin does not have "a regular regime, with a normally functioning bureaucracy and institutions—everything has an improvisational character," Pavlovsky said. In his view, Putin will happily make the most of whatever mess Trump makes, but he is not inclined to work on Trump's behalf. "If something happens somewhere, then great," Pavlovsky said. "But he is not going to do it himself. He's not Lenin or Trotsky—he's not going around starting revolutions, but he is going to use them."

    Like many of Trump's supporters in America, Russian politicians and officials see the Republican candidate as a potential savior, one with the power to make a generation of grievances and setbacks disappear. Valery Garbuzov, the director of the Moscow-based Institute for the U.S.A. and Canada, a storied state research center that, in Soviet times, provided the intellectual arguments for détente, spoke to me about the "blind faith" that many Russian officials have placed in Trump. They believe that he will show up and act like "the savior for everything wrong in U.S.-Russian relations," Garbuzov said. On Wednesday, I talked with Andrei Klimov, a Russian senator and deputy head of the senate's foreign-affairs committee, who spoke about Trump in cautious, but positive, terms. "Americans should choose whomever they want," he told me. "If the next American President wants to reconfigure relations with Russia to make them more constructive, we are ready to meet him—or her—halfway."

    What's missing from much of the speculation about Trump and Putin's relationship, and about the Trump boosterism in Moscow, is an acknowledgment that a Trump Presidency might not necessarily be a good thing for Russia. Trump is an unpredictable and hotheaded leader, under whom relations could easily sour or turn far more confrontational than they have been under Obama. Both Trump and Putin have created political personas based on strength, with each serving as avatars of national might and rebirth for their electorate. How could either one ever give in to the other? One could imagine a summit meeting between Trump and Putin going brilliantly—or flaming out so spectacularly that Trump calls for war planes the next day. Konstantin von Eggert, a political commentator who hosts a talk show on Dozhd, an independent Russian cable channel, told me that Russian officials think that with Trump as President, "no matter what happens, they win." But members of Russia's ruling class don't think about the long term. They worry only about maximizing advantage and outflanking rivals in the present; von Eggert warned that, today, they may "welcome Trump—but perhaps at their own peril."

    Meanwhile, Trump himself is making explicit appeals to Russia. On Wednesday, Trump publicly called on Russia to locate the tens of thousands of e-mails that Clinton had deleted from her private server. "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the thirty thousand e-mails that are missing," he said. Whether Trump was making a bad joke or a serious request for foreign espionage in the service of his campaign, Pavlovsky told me that Putin will consider the remarks "politically inappropriate," a sign of immaturity and lack of discipline, which are attributes that turn him off.

    As my colleague Adrian Chen has pointed out, the narrative of Trump as an agent of Putin mirrors the maddening and conspiratorial mythmaking that lies beneath much of Russian political discussion, in which the hand of Washington is never far away. Russian politicians and officials regularly overstate both the reach and the influence of U.S. Presidents. (Putin once complained to George W. Bush that the United States was purposefully sending low-quality chickens to Russia.) A Russian parliamentary deputy I spoke with this week laughed at the American media's fascination with Trump as somehow doing Putin's bidding. "It's just like we do it," he said. "The explanation for why we have such bad roads is that it's all Obama's fault."

    Covering Trump, American journalists and political analysts risk turning into their Russian counterparts and falling into a Moscow-style, labyrinthine parlor game, in which answering the question "Who benefits?" is considered a form of proof. In Moscow, the belief in conspiracies is a tempting salve for impotence and irresponsibility—forces beyond our control have already decided things, so what can we, as lowly citizens, do about them? But the real explanation for why Trump is on the verge of the Presidency can be found in the United States, not Russia. Putin can quietly cheer for Trump and even add some sideshows to this year's carnival election, but he can't himself deposit Trump in the White House. That's a job that Americans may do all on their own.

    Joshua Yaffa is a New Yorker contributor based in Moscow. He is also a New America fellow.


    Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association  aid and abet violence.

    (Donald Trump и национальная ассоциация винтовки помогают и подстрекают расправу.)

    - An American Story

    Wednesday, July 27, 2016

    Something to Know - 27 July

    Tom Toles

    From the Kensington News Bureau (a college friend and former editorial contributor to CBS News and KPFK), we have this news story that we should all know.   It concerns the association of Donald Trump's business world with Vladimir Putin and the Russian Mafia.  I will say no more, but to ask you to read the following article, and see how it relates to Trump and the current campaign, and its possible impact and outcome:


    Trump & Putin. Yes, It's Really a Thing


    Let me start by saying I'm no Russia hawk. I have long been skeptical of US efforts to extend security guarantees to countries within what the Russians consider their 'near abroad' or extend such guarantees and police Russian interactions with new states which for centuries were part of either the Russian Empire or the USSR. This isn't a matter of indifference to these countries. It is based on my belief in seriously thinking through the potential costs of such policies. In the case of the Baltics, those countries are now part of NATO. Security commitments have been made which absolutely must be kept. But there are many other areas where such commitments have not been made. My point in raising this is that I do not come to this question or these policies as someone looking for confrontation or cold relations with Russia.

    Let's start with the basic facts. There is a lot of Russian money flowing into Trump's coffers and he is conspicuously solicitous of Russian foreign policy priorities.

    I'll list off some facts.

    1. All the other discussions of Trump's finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

    2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here's a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration ...

    Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

    "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets," Trump's son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

    3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump's largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld. But that's not the most salient part of the story. As the Times put it,

    "Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians "in favor with" President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a "strategic partner," along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt."

    Another suit alleged the project "occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia."

    Sounds completely legit.

    Read both articles: After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.

    Trump's tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you're keeping score at home: no, that's not reassuring.

    4. Then there's Paul Manafort, Trump's nominal 'campaign chair' who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump's campaign.

    5. Trump's foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you're not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom's role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

    6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states. Of course, Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, not only in the abstract but often for the authoritarian policies and patterns of government which have most soured his reputation around the world.

    7. Here's where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump's larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM's Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there's a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump's backing but because he simply didn't care. With one big exception: Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it's worth (and it's not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue - in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform - speaks volumes.

    This does not mean Trump is controlled by or in the pay of Russia or Putin. It can just as easily be explained by having many of his top advisors having spent years working in Putin's orbit and being aligned with his thinking and agenda. But it is certainly no coincidence. Again, in the context of near total indifference to the platform and willingness to let party activists write it in any way they want, his team zeroed in on one fairly obscure plank to exert maximum force and it just happens to be the one most important to Putin in terms of US policy.

    Add to this that his most conspicuous foreign policy statements track not only with Putin's positions but those in which Putin is most intensely interested. Aside from Ukraine, Trump's suggestion that the US and thus NATO might not come to the defense of NATO member states in the Baltics in the case of a Russian invasion is a case in point.

    There are many other things people are alleging about hacking and all manner of other mysteries. But those points are highly speculative, some verging on conspiratorial in their thinking. I ignore them here because I've wanted to focus on unimpeachable, undisputed and publicly known facts. These alone paint a stark and highly troubling picture.

    To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump's direction, combined withthis much solicitousness of Putin's policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He's the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out 'what's going on' as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.

    There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Even if you draw no adverse conclusions, Trump's financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That's simply not something that can be waved off or ignored.



    Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of


    Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association  aid and abet violence.

    - An American Story