Sunday in the Sun + 17 September ’17

SundaySun

image: Russian-Belarusian military exercises in 2013 near Kaliningrad. Some analysts fear that this year’s version could be a prelude for military aggression. CreditAlexey Druginyn/Ria Novosti/New York Times

 

The word for the week is Zapad.

Or, Zapad-17, to be somewhat more precise.

In this brave new world, same as the old world, Veishnoriya is a fictional country that is “backed by the West and intent on driving a wedge between Russia and Belarus. The scenario also includes two other fake countries, Lubeniya and Vesbasriya, which form a coalition with Veishnoriya to menace Russian security.”  Russia claims they intend to deploy something like 13,000 troops in this exercise, yet they’ve ordered 4,000 railway cars to move these troops “to the front.” NATO thinks they’ll send upwards of 100,000 troops, and so people from Poland to Estonia, and even poor little ole Sweden, are in a tizzy.

Why? Because the last time the Russians held an exercise of this type, they moved into Crimea, then stepped up intervention in eastern Ukraine after shooting down a Malaysian 777…

Why? Because Russia has been conducting non-stop asymmetrical political and psychological warfare operations in the region for five years, undermining the credibility of western political institutions generally, and NATO more specifically…

Why? Because, well, the Russian Duma, or parliament, burst out in gleeful joy when their assumed puppet, Donald Trump, was elected last November. And just this week we received another friendly reminder of Russian intentions when another member of the Duma stated our intel agencies had been asleep at the switch while Russia’s intel agencies helped elect Trump. So, what about this latest admission?

Fake gnews? Part of a new disinformation campaign? A slip-up of Price Vlad’s part? Well, read the article below  (way below, like near the end of this post…) for more.

And yet, oddly enough, the basic fact of the matter is that most people in the United States have absolutely no idea what Zapad is, what it means (literally: West), or what waits, patiently, just out of sight, right around the next bend in the road. Let alone why.

Of course, the odds of Russia moving into the Baltic states is practically zero just now. Putin has yet to fully reconstitute his military, though he has Russian industry working overtime to correct that oversight. No, the real issue is Trump has turned into something of a disappointment to them. For whatever reason, Trump has abdicated the traditional role of the president in conducting foreign policy, effectively turning this over to the military. It is doubtful there is a group more distrustful of Soviet, er, excuse me, Russian intentions anywhere on earth than the men and women who typically dwell inside a pentagonal-shaped structure just across the creek from the White House. The men surrounding Trump came of age in the twilight of the Cold War, and they know Russia for what Russia really is: the evil empire in the Star Wars cycle of stories, led by Darth Vlad. They’ve all read Kennan’s so-called “long telegram”, and his “X article”. They were schooled in the era of NSC-68, Kennan’s policy of containment and Dulles’s elucidation of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” To these people, Russia means Putin, and Putin means the complete reconstitution of the Soviet empire – and that ain’t a good thing, for anyone. They know who Putin is (ex-KGB, sleeps in a coffin full of earth from his birthplace), and they know about the oath he swore when Gorbachev sold out the empire and went into retirement (vengeance has something to do with it, I think). Our generals watch our representatives to the UN try to pass resolutions for sanctions against North Korea and they nod their heads when they hear Russia work against the common good, again, because that’s what Russians do, right? They are the fly in the ointment, humanity’s paranoid step-children intent on burning down the house whenever they don’t get their way. The hemorrhoid that just won’t go away, if you will.

So yeah, we have Putin now, and not Stalin, but like the song says, meet the new boss, same as the old boss, because the song remains the same (and boy, am I mixing musical metaphors, or what?)…

It was probably safe to assume, until a year or so ago anyway, that Republicans hated Russia, and Putin, too. With the election of Donald Trump that hatred appears to have wafted away, turned into something akin to admiration. To put it more succinctly, many Republicans appear to admire Putin’s authoritarian tendencies these days, and many, I think it’s now plain to see, would like to administer some of those same remedies to the American body politic, especially the fourth estate, but let’s not get into that food-fight right now. It’s counter-productive to talk about reality these days, and far more interesting to indulge in the latest musings of the Kardashians, or Kanye Whoever. Golly, we have so many distractions on hand, don’t we, so just ignore the rain, because the sun’s out, isn’t it…?

So yeah…Zapad. What will happen in Belarus next week? A lot of people are looking on right now, wondering just how far Putin will go this time. Because Putin has always looked to exploit any perceived weakness he finds within his paranoid worldview, and it’s doubtful there’s ever been a weaker man-child in the White House than Donald Trump. As Trump confronts literally life and death issues in Florida and Texas, not to mention the fat kid with the bad haircut – and now that his political base is in an uproar over his surprise negotiations with key Democratic lawmakers, Putin couldn’t ask for better conditions to ramp up the pressure.

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On the subject of books and such, a couple I picked up this week seem worth passing along. The first is a new Brookings Institute release, Beyond Snowden, by Timothy Edgar. It’s about digital privacy in the age of the NSA, an agency that can sweep up any and everything you do online, and no matter where you live. After the Equifax hack, this takes us to a whole new level of paranoia… The second, Close to the Edge/How Yes’s Masterpiece Defined Prog Rock, comes from noted rock reporter Will Romano. Of course, you might have guessed by now I read almost everything about Yes, but I’m enjoying this one as it goes into the specifics of the music as well as the difficulty Yes had bringing this music to life (nineteen-minute-long tracks were still kind of frowned upon in the early 70s). Just started this one, but so far, so good, and if you enjoyed this kind of rock you might enjoy reading about the era, as well as learning something about the complexity of the music Yes struggled to create. If you’re not familiar with Close to the Edge, try the two more accessible tracks And You and I or Siberian Khatru before tackling the eponymous, and very obscure, first track. It’s on iTunes.

And, speaking of music matters… A little modern prog was on my radar this week too, as Steven Wilson’s latest, To The Bone, passed my way. Wilson is continuing to mine Pink Floyd’s vocabulary, which is, I think, fine for most people who grew up inside “old school” rock. You’ll hear signature phrasing and vocal passages that might remind you of King Crimson and early Genesis, as well. Whatever, it ain’t rap and it sure ain’t hip-hop, and the vocals sure don’t sound like chipmunks-in-heat, and that works for me. Anyway, if you don’t want to buy the album, try the slow-building Detonation for a sample, or the more sedate Song of Unborn. All in all, a very good album of richly layered structure. The title track is a little political but feels like Dark Side of the Moon.

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In the gnews this week:

Hillary Clinton’s post-election memoir, “What The Fuck Went Down (and why didn’t my homeys get off their fat asses and vote for me?)” is reportedly a bitter tear-fest, yet I’m seriously not interested in reading it, but I did find one item about the whole thing in the gnews this week that did interest me. Recall if you will how Trump et. al ., at the Republican Convention last summer, called Hillary all sorts of bad names, and that Trump led the assembled deplorables in chants of Hang the Bitch! and Lock Her Up! (etc., etc., ad nauseum). Okay, got that scene firmly in mind now?

Now, do you recall how, not so long ago, Republican alt-right crazies were up in arms about something similar? “We recently had,” Hillary said in an interview this week, “this big kerfuffle ― this condemnation of Kathy Griffin ― for the picture she had of herself holding a head of Trump like a play on Perseus holding the head of Medusa”. Griffin was questioned by the Secret Service about this, by the way, so why wasn’t Trump, or why weren’t Trump’s minions, similarly excoriated? “I had left the State Department one of the most admired public servants in America,” Clinton writes in her book. “Now people seemed to think I was evil. Not just ‘not my cup of tea’ but evil. It was flabbergasting and frightening.” So, what do you think? Simple hypocrisy, or do you see this as part of a larger pattern? 1933 ring any warning bells to you too? Or 1984, perhaps?

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The Trumpmeister has been lauded for his response to Harvey and Irma, and bravo for him, and for his performance. Now, consider this:

WASHINGTON ― As President Donald Trump basks in positive assessments of his handling of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, he might consider two words to help explain things: “Thanks, Obama.”

While he’s at it, he could probably also thank the so-called “deep state,” and offer a wave of gratitude out the window of Air Force One over Gainesville, Florida ― home of former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate ― as it flies to Naples, the site of much of Irma’s devastation, on Thursday.

Because while Trump has enjoyed praise from frequent critics for his leadership during the storms, two of his favorite nemeses are making his job a lot easier.

Former President Barack Obama appointed Fugate to turn around the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the system he left behind is the one Trump inherited heading into this year’s hurricane season.

“Trump’s riding on the shoulders of Obama,” said James Fraser, a Vanderbilt University professor who has done research on disaster mitigation. “It’s heartening to know that in this case, the Trump administration is not trying to undo something the Obama administration did to help people.”

Trump has lauded his own FEMA administrator, Brock Long, for his running of the agency. But Trump did not even nominate Long for the job until April 28, and Long didn’t begin at FEMA until June 20, after the start of hurricane season. And of the 23 slots available for political appointees at the agency, only 12 have been filled, counting Long’s. The other responsibilities are being handled by non-political career employees.

Trump didn’t even nominate people for the two other FEMA positions that require Senate confirmation until mid-July. One of those, Daniel Craig, withdrew his nomination after NBC News reported about a federal investigation of Craig during his earlier stint at FEMA from 2002-2005. The probe found that Craig appeared to have improperly lobbied his former co-workers within a year after leaving the agency, helping secure more than $1 billion in contracts for a client as part of the Hurricane Katrina recovery. (read more here) But also consider Trump & Co were about to chop a good percentage of FEMA’s budget before these two storms came round.

Irma surge

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If you’ve found yourself wondering why the Scalia Supreme Court nomination obstructionism was such a big deal, here’s the article you’ve been waiting for, validation for all your conservative dreams-come-true:

 

On Tuesday evening, the Supreme Court blocked two rulings by a federal district court that would have required Texas to redraw its state and federal congressional districts. The lower court had ruled that the Texas Legislature illegally gerrymandered these districts along racial lines and ordered new maps for the 2018 election. But by a 5–4 vote, the Supreme Court put that order on hold, ensuring that the gerrymander will remain through 2018. The decision may also indicate that the five Republican-appointed justices will eventually reverse the district court’s decisions altogether.

The Supreme Court’s abrupt intervention is a devastating blow to the years-long fight against race-based voter suppression in Texas. Since 2011, federal courts have ruled nine times that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters. Before Tuesday, civil rights advocates had good reason to believe that the judiciary would finally put a stop to the Texas GOP’s anti-democratic chicanery. Now it seems that the high court’s conservative bloc may thwart this progress and force Texan minorities to continue suffering under a self-perpetuating and racist system of vote dilution.

Voting rights activists have been suing Texas over its discriminatory legislative districts since 2011. They claim that Texas’ GOP-dominated legislature intentionally gerrymandered the state after the 2010 census to dilute the voting power of minorities, particularly Latinos. Both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act prohibit race-based vote dilution. Thus, the plaintiffs in these cases have argued that either the Texas Legislature or a federal court must redraw these maps to remedy their unlawful gerrymandering. Texas has fought these lawsuits tooth and nail, recognizing that a race-blind map would contain fewer seats for Republicans in both the state legislature and the federal House of Representatives.

Earlier this year, a three-judge district court issued a series of opinions and orders that seemed, at long last, to vindicate the plaintiffs’ claims and mitigate the current gerrymander. By a 2–1 vote, the court ruled that Texas had engaged in intentional discrimination when drawing two federal congressional districts. The court also held, by the same vote, that 11 of Texas’ state House districts were impermissibly tainted by the intentional dilution of minority votes. Moreover, the court found that another House district constituted outright racial gerrymandering. Finally, the court ruled that nine House districts violated the “one person, one vote” principle of the Equal Protection Clause.

To back up its conclusions, the majority wrote two lengthy opinions and released a comprehensive 151-page findings of fact. It directed the legislature to draw new maps that would remedy the current plan’s legal defects. If the legislature proved unable or unwilling “to take up redistricting,” the majority noted that the court would draw remedial maps itself.

Texas promptly appealed these decisions to the Supreme Court. As election law expert and Slate contributor Rick Hasen notes, this appeal was arguably premature, as the court had not even drawn up remedial maps yet. But the court’s five conservatives decided to weigh in anyway, putting the lower court’s rulings on hold until the justices resolve the case. (All four left-leaning justices dissented from the orders.)

This “aggressive” intervention, as Hasen puts it, is an ominous sign. Progressives have been hoping that Justice Anthony Kennedy might join the liberals to curb both partisan and racial gerrymandering. But Kennedy already voted with the conservatives in a 5–4 decision to block a lower court order compelling Wisconsin to fix its partisan gerrymander. Now he has voted with them once again to block an order compelling Texas to fix its racial gerrymander. Kennedy’s eagerness to let both states maintain their unfair redistricting schemes may suggest that he does not want the courts to enter this political thicket. Or it might simply indicate that he wants the chance to hear a full argument and weigh in himself—probably decisively—before they do.

Still, Tuesday’s decision is troubling for two other reasons. First, the court’s conservatives have, for the time being, denied Texas voters their lone recourse to bring democratic elections back to the state. By “packing and cracking” Latino voters—concentrating most in a few safe Democratic districts, then distributing the rest in safe Republican districts—Texas has largely done away with contested races. The result of many elections is preordained; even though the state is increasingly diverse, most districts are gerrymandered to protect the incumbent party. Latino voters who were placed in a dark-red district cannot cast meaningful ballots for a Democrat as it is certain to be outweighed by Republican votes. Only the courts can put an end to this cycle. They should not abdicate their duty out of fear that partisans will attack their legitimacy.

Second, the Supreme Court’s intervention is a powerful reminder of how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s blockade of Judge Merrick Garland continues to damage American democracy. As political scientist Daniel Nichanian points out, this blockade continues to help Republicans salvage their other illegitimate power-grabs, like Texas’ gerrymander. McConnell ensured that arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch would take Garland’s seat, maintaining a five-justice conservative majority. And of course, on Thursday, Gorsuch provided the fifth vote to preserve Texas’ racial redistricting. McConnell held that seat for a reason. And Gorsuch is voting exactly as McConnell hoped he would.

Tuesday, in short, was a terrible day for voting rights, for genuinely contested elections, and for basic democratic principles. The Supreme Court’s conservatives have cast serious doubt on the judiciary’s capacity to alleviate gerrymanders—including race-based redistricting—that turn general elections into a joke. And with Gorsuch’s help, they have guaranteed that at least one more election cycle in Texas will take place under a map that was gerrymandered with the intent to dilute Latinos’ voting power. If Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives next year, they could have this decision from the Supreme Court to thank.

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If you’re at all interested in why Democrats will lose big next year, here’s a fairly concise explanation: the left’s political elite are still out of touch with their base. Want the bigger picture ? Try this one on for size:

The Democratic Party’s leadership is clearly beholden to the political center and the interests of their wealthy donors—as is evident from their lack of support for the Medicare for All bill. Democrats in the House and Senate are increasingly coming out in support of the Medicare for All bill, which Bernie Sanders is set to introduce on Wednesday afternoon. But instead of riding this wave of progressive support and the popularity of Medicare for All to draw a significant contrast against Trump and the Republican party, Democratic Party leaders are obstructing its momentum.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recently reiterated she will not support Medicare for All, claiming she is opting to preserve the Affordable Care Act. She has made similar comments in the past, including a hypocritical claim earlier this year in which she said, “The comfort level with a broader base of the American people is not there yet. It doesn’t mean it couldn’t be. States are a good place to start.” Pelosi hasn’t supported single-payer healthcare in her home state of California either, nor has she ever co-sponsored a Medicare for All bill in the years since Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., began introducing it in 2003. The comfort level with the American People is there, the discomfort lies with Democrats so beholden to their donors on this issue that they won’t even bring themselves to co-sponsor legislation. They are laboring under the false pretense that doing so will expose flaws in the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile polls and surveys increasingly show most Americans support Medicare for All, and that support has surged in the past year.

The best way to preserve the Affordable Care Act, until an improved system replaces it, is to support Medicare for All to provide healthcare as a right to all Americans. Pelosi is not alone in her rejection of Medicare for All. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., House Democratic Party Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., DNC Chair Tom Perez and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., are also holdouts against the bill. Only Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., have signed on as co-sponsors to to the bill, while the top leader of the Democratic Party continue to treat the policy as a nuisance.

These establishment Democrats need to get on board for Medicare for All, or get out of office. Progressive policies like this are becoming mainstream, and a surge in popularity for this policy is a testament to the success progressive activists are finding in the wake of Trump’s Presidency to fix the Democratic Party so as to represent voters’ interests, not wealthy donors. Progressives are underrepresented in the Democratic Party, especially in the party’s leadership, with some of the most moderate Democrats occupying top positions. Their leadership has dragged the Democratic Party into the ground over the past decade. Pelosi, Schumer, Hoyer, and Lujan are relics of a Democratic Party that embraces stagnancy and preserves the status quo over change.

So there, take that….

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I know I’ve written about hamburgers before (yes, folks, we cover everything under the sun, even if it is raining), but in case you missed it, hamburgers were invented by a gent named Fletch Davis, in Athens, Texas, and that happened sometime around 1900. This fact has been enshrined by no less an august body than the Texas Legislature, and should you be anywhere near Athens on September 23 (next weekend), you’ll find a festival of sorts going on down on the town square dedicated to ole Uncle Fletch and his noble creation. Remember, though, that in those days the ideal hamburger was garnished with mustard, pickles and onions. No bacon. No guacamole. No bleu cheese. No fried egg. No shoe-string potatoes. Mustard, pickles and onions…got it? Oh, and did you know that the first burgers were served on freshly sliced white bread? Try it…you’ll like it.

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VladTrump

So, here’s the Russia article I promised…intact and just for you, served hot off the grill.

So as the story rages onward and upward, now a lower level Russian politician, one Vyacheslav Nikonov has decided to admit during a pretty recent television appearance (this past Sunday to be exact, during a weekly political show called “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov.”), that American spies “slept through while Russia elected a new US president.”

Not the wisest of things one could go on live television and say, I mean our intelligence community aside from letting intel walk out of its front doors is, actually pretty good at gathering intel on it’s own and then using it to create a little havoc in one’s life.

It does actually get better, according to Vyacheslav;

“To achieve world dominance the US overextended themselves. Because the most recent tendencies, economical, military, even tendencies in the intelligence which slept through while Russia elected a new US president.”

“It’s just ridiculous, what kind of intelligence in the USA one can even talk about?”

“The US sagged in all these aspects for the past two decades. This superpower is losing its ability to define the world.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I am in love with this man, meet my future ex husband, Vyacheslav Nikonov, AKA Captain Obvious. ***wedding date/divorce party to follow***

All kidding aside, he is actually making a couple of valid points here:

Yes so what, Russia did meddle in the election by spreading fake news through obtained intel which they stole. Which, correct me if I am wrong here (NSA, I am looking in your general direction), our very own US intelligence agencies do on a fairly regular basis, not only to innocent American’s but, to other nations, countries and basically the entire world.

What’s more is that our very own intelligence agencies have in fact, been known to use stolen intel to meddle in the affairs of other nations.

Secondly, yes our intelligence community was in fact sleeping through the entire election or so it would appear, with the exception of James Comey, who I am guessing already had a pretty good idea that Russia was in fact meddling and who may or may not have made the choice to let that one slide, for a brief period of course.

And third, yes, America the superpower, well, we are losing our footing as a world leader. Which I believe Russia sought to speed that up and watch us fall over the proverbial cliff by meddling in the election.

What truly makes this worse is that right after Trump was elected, Vladimir Putin attempted to set a plan into motion for the full normalization of of relations between the US and Russia, across all major branches of government, according to some newly released documents and Andrew Weiss, the VP of Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

And Andrew isn’t wrong, nor is is he alone in that thought.

So yes Russia did in fact feel that they could better control a Donald Trump vs. a Hillary Clinton, what they did not factor in was that, no matter what, an investigation into the meddling and Trump and his team being part of that, was always going to inevitably happen.

That is all thanks to one, James Comey who is very much a man who simply does not put all of his cards on the table at once.

He is after all the one responsible for making sure that the investigation would go on, even after his firing.

So now Trump and his team are doing everything that they can to discredit James.

Hell, even I found myself upset by some of what James did and did not due through the Hillary Clinton email scandal, but that was then and this is now.

I can see now, that James may have seen clearly more than the rest of us did at the time and he is a man with a purpose.

Either way, not any of this stops what we now know to be factual, Russia did meddle in the 2016 election, not to mention that we are looking at an extremely high possibility of a collusion between, trump, his team and Russia to meddle in the election.

As for our intelligence communities here in the US, they may very well have been asleep at the wheel, but if i were a Russian Politician, I would not be mocking them for it because unlike me, a Russian Politician is more of a public figure and your more easily found.

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Happy reading, y’all. Seeya around the campfire, and if you happen to be hangin’ in Hokkaido this weekend, why not join us online and check out some of the old “duck and cover” drills preserved over at YouTube. I wonder if the fat kid with the bad haircut will shoot his load at you guys first, or over here, like maybe at Seattle??? Anyway, maybe watching Dr Strangelove one more time will be more fun this time.

Adios. Or should I say…Zapad…?

strange-2

6 thoughts on “Sunday in the Sun + 17 September ’17

  1. It’s good to see you writing more again.
    Your mentioning ‘Yes’ got me to delve into an almost forgotten heap of LPs and some memories.
    Thank you.

    Like

  2. The really scary thing is the Russians have always played the long game, and are masters of Maskirovka – the art of deception. What if they wanted us to think that they meddled in our election, even if they couldn’t really effect it, or better yet, by their perception of having some influence, effect the outcome without all the work really necessary? And by so diminishing whoever wins the election? Little wonder they make such good chess players.

    Like

    • Russia, China, Japan…all are good at the long game. We might be better at it if we weren’t always rendered very nearly impotent by partisan infighting. Even Roosevelt was constantly battling Republicans to get anything passed, yet I guess the fact of the matter is John C Calhoun had learned how to exploit the weaknesses in our Constitution by the 1820s, and damn near succeeded in tearing the country apart. Washington, in his farewell address, warned the two-party system would be our undoing, and while he may be “right” the sad truth is power corrupts. That seems to be a constant, no matter the country or time, yet our current level of dysfunction is doing more to undermine the credibility of democracy than at any time in our history; that Republicans are paying lip-service to our constitution and undermining our institutions of governance only serves to validate Washington’s concerns, and is there room for any meaningful long game when the nature of the United States is in such a perilous state of flux…?

      Like

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