Sunday, July 22, 2018

Watch very closely

Our world,  international community, values and honor are  morphing along with them

PuPu and the puppet

By Sean Illing
Mikhail Fishman is the editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times, an English-language weekly newspaper published in Moscow. The paper is well-known for its criticisms of Russian President Vladimir Putin; indeed, it was targeted twice in 2015 by Russian hackers and has been attacked repeatedly by pro-Kremlin pundits.
A Russian citizen and an outspoken critic of Putin, Fishman has covered Russian politics for more than 15 years. For the last couple of years, he has monitored the increasingly bizarre relationship between Putin and Trump, with a particular focus on Putin’s strategic aims.
In this interview, originally conducted in February 2017, I ask Fishman how Trump is perceived in Russia, why Putin is actively undermining global democracy, and what Russia hopes to gain from the political disorder in America.

Sean Illing

From your perch in Moscow, how do you see this strange relationship between Putin and Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

It is strange. It looks a bit irrational on Trump's part to be sure. Why does he have this strange passion for Putin and Russia? I have to say, I don't believe in the conspiracy theories about "golden showers" and blackmailing. I don't believe it exists and I don't believe it's a factor. But this, admittedly, makes the whole thing that much stranger.

Sean Illing

You’re obviously referencing the explosive Trump dossier published by Buzzfeed in January. What makes you so skeptical of the claims in that dossier?

Mikhail Fishman

Two things. One, I've been a political journalist for 15 years working and dealing with sources in Russia and elsewhere. And frankly, a lot of this appears shallow to me. I'm sure Russia has plenty of dirt on Trump, but I can't accept without hard evidence much of the what I've heard or read.
Second, this still has the ring of a conspiracy theory, this idea that the Kremlin has blackmailed Trump into submission. I'm generally opposed, on principle, to conspiracy theorizing. So I'm just skeptical until there's concrete evidence.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about Trump and Putin as individuals. How are they different? How are they similar?

Mikhail Fishman

I would prefer to talk about how they're different, because those differences are so obvious and extreme. They come from very different worlds. Putin is an ex-Soviet intelligence officer with all that that implies. Trump is a colorful American businessman and showman.
In their habits, they're radically different. Trump is a posturing performer, full of idiotic narcissism. He appears to be a disorganized fool, to be honest. Putin, on the other hand, is calculating, organized, and he plans everything. He also hides much of his personal life in a way that Trump does not.
Then there's also the fact that Putin is so much more experienced than Trump. He has more than 15 years of global political experience. He knows how to do things, how to work the system. He makes plenty of mistakes, but he knows how to think and act. Trump is a total neophyte. He has no experience and doesn't understand how global politics operates. He displays his ignorance every single day.

Sean Illing

What is the perception of Trump in Russia? Is he seen as an ally, a foe, a stooge?

Mikhail Fishman

The vision of Trump is basically shaped by the Kremlin and their propaganda machine — that's what they do. During the election campaign, Trump was depicted not as an underdog but as an honest representative of the American people who was being mistreated by the establishment elites and other evil forces in Washington.

Sean Illing

The Kremlin knew that to be bullshit, right? This was pure propaganda, not sincere reporting, and it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton.

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. All of it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton. Putin expected Trump to lose, but the prospect of a Clinton victory terrified him, and he did everything possible to undermine her.

Sean Illing

Why was he so afraid of a Clinton victory?

Mikhail Fishman

Because he knew that would mean an extension of Obama's harsh orientation to Russia, perhaps even more aggressive than Obama. Putin has experienced some difficult years since his 2014 invasion of Crimea, but he didn't expect this level of isolation. He saw — and sees — Trump as an opportunity to change the dynamic.

Sean Illing

A lot of commentators here believe the most generous interpretation of Trump’s fawning orientation to Putin and Russia is that he’s hopelessly na├»ve. Do you buy that?

Mikhail Fishman

That's a good question. Why does he like Putin so much? I think Trump sees Putin as a kind of soulmate. Let's be honest: Trump is not a reflective person. He's quite simple in his thinking, and he's sort of attracted to Putin's brutal forcefulness. If anything, this is what Trump and Putin have in common.

Sean Illing

Has Putin made a puppet of Trump?

Mikhail Fishman

Of course. This is certainly what the Kremlin believes, and they’re acting accordingly. They're quite obviously playing Trump. They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician. Putin is confident that he can manipulate Trump to his advantage, and he should be.

Sean Illing

In other words, Trump’s a useful idiot to them?

Mikhail Fishman

Exactly. The Kremlin is limited in their knowledge about what's going on in Washington, but they see the chaos and the confusion in Trump's administration. They see the clumsiness, the inexperience. Naturally, they're working to exploit that.

 Trump at the Smithsonian

Sean Illing

What’s the long geopolitical play for Putin? What does he hope to gain from the disorder in America?

Mikhail Fishman

The first thing he wants and needs is the symbolic legitimization of himself and Russia as a major superpower and world player that America has to do deal with as an equal. He wants to escape the isolation of Russia on the world stage, which was what the campaign in Syria was all about. Putin has grand ambitions for himself and for Russia, and nearly every move he makes is animated by this.

Sean Illing

How much of this, from Putin’s perspective, is about discrediting democracy as such?

Mikhail Fishman

He didn't believe Trump would win, so he was preparing to sell Clinton's victory as a fraud. And this is part of his broader message across the board, which is that democracy itself is flawed, broken, unjust. Putin actually believes this. He doesn't believe in democracy, and this is the worldview that he basically shares with Trump: that the establishment is corrupt and that the liberal world order is unjust.

Sean Illing

But Putin’s interest in undermining democracies across the globe is about much more than his personal disdain for this form of government. He wants to point to the chaos in these countries and say to his domestic audience, “You see, democracy is a sham, and it doesn’t work anywhere.” That serves as a justification for his own anti-democratic policies. In the end, it’s about reinforcing his own power.

Mikhail Fishman

That's true. But again, this what Putin really believes. He does not believe a true and just democracy exists anywhere. This is the worldview they've been spinning for years and they've really internalized it.
For Putin, this is very much a zero-sum game. The West is the enemy. America is the enemy. Whatever you can do to damage the enemy, you do it. The more unrest there is in America, the better positioned Russia is to work its will on the world stage. He wants to divide democratic and European nations in order to then play those divisions to his advantage.

Sean Illing

A pervasive concern in this country is that Trump admires Putin’s strongman authoritarianism, and seeks to replicate it in America. Do you think this concern is well-founded?

Mikhail Fishman

I think it is. Again, it comes to back what Trump and Putin have in common. They're both male chauvinists. Trump probably admires the fact that Putin is the kind of guy who feels the need to ride horses shirtless; it appeals to his authoritarian instincts. But this is about much more than imagery.
They are both illiterate people in a way. They're not widely educated. They do not believe in institutions. They see democratic institutions as burdens, impediments to their will. They don't believe that social and political life should be sophisticated; they think it should be simple.
And this sort of thinking naturally concludes in one-man rule. I think Trump will fail, but there’s no doubt that he shares these authoritarian impulses with Putin.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Brother of Canada's Notorious Rob Ford becomes Ontario's Premier

Progressive Conservative Party leader Doug Ford 
Doug Ford is a Trump fan, but can he "make Ontario great again"?

 Doug Ford - the brother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford - is the new premier of Ontario. Who is this populist politician taking the reins of Canada's most populous province?
In 2010,  his brother, Rob Ford rode a wave of support from the city's suburbs straight into the mayor's office of Toronto.
His vow to end government waste and the disrespect of taxpayers resonated with the so-called "Ford Nation", a coalition of voters who felt ignored by the decision-makers downtown.
Trailing along behind him came his older brother, Doug Ford, who was elected as city councillor and who championed his brother's proposals to cut city waste - to "stop the gravy train" to city hall.

Rob Ford's tenure as mayor of Canada's largest city was tumultuous, most notably marked by his admission to using crack cocaine while in office. He also got wasted drunk on many occasions in public. Toronto's citizens often turned a blind eye to Rob's excesses because he was a popular figure,
During those raucous four years, between 2010-14, Doug Ford proved more than willing to jump into the fray to defend his brother against the critics and speculation about the mayor's drug use and drinking.
Doug Ford (L) reacts to someone in the city council chambers while Rob Ford looks on

Arguing with someone in city council
On Friday, Doug Ford was sworn-in as the premier of Ontario - one of the most powerful political positions in Canada - after running a successful campaign for the centre-right Progressive Conservative (PC) party. 
He won the election for Ontario, home to Canada's industrial heartland and its most populous province, with a very similar message to that of his late brother's: the party is over with the taxpayers' money.

His win leaves some who worked alongside the brothers in Toronto speculating what life might be like under a Doug Ford government.  City councillor John Filion sat behind Mr Ford in city council chambers for four years, and recalls the 53-year-old businessman as being funny and "very affable" when they would go for lunch together. That changed back in city council chambers.
"He can be friendly one minute in a social context and then want to knock your block off the next in a political context," says Mr Filion, who wrote a book about the Fords, 'The Only Average Guy'.

Mr Ford, who once described himself to Mr Filion as a "scrapper", is unlikely to back down from a brawl now that he's graduated from city hall to Ontario's legislature.

Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford arrives to vote in Toronto with his family
                Doug Ford with wife and two of his four daughters
Mr Ford is known for his plain-speaking style and frequent attacks on media and the elites whom he once described as "drinking champagne with their pinkies in the air".
During his time as city councillor, he fought publicly with acclaimed author Margaret Atwood over proposed library cuts; accused the city's former police chief of leaking information about Rob Ford to journalists - later apologising under threat of a defamation suit; and told fellow councillors "Why don't you shut up and sit down?"
His campaign for Ontario was unapologetically populist. ( someone who appeals to working class people, who feels their needs are ignored  by elite politicians)

He vowed to end government waste, promised to fight for "the little guy", to cut energy cost, reduce the price of oil and gasoline, lower provincial income tax and slash the price of beer ( a real crowd pleaser.)

A woman cheers while holding a Doug Ford campaign sign
Ford Nation lives on

It's a message that resonated with the 40.5% of Ontario voters who cast ballots for PC candidates, giving them 76 of the 124 seats in the province.
"People  say 'populism' like it's some sort of awful thing," his campaign director Michael Diamond complained
"There's no shame in a government for the people and by the people. It's their money, it's their province and so it should work for them."
 His background ... coming from a well to do family … becoming president of his father's company, as well as his brand of politics and brash demeanor have invited comparisons to Donald Trump.  Mr Ford has indeed voiced his personal support for the American leader.

Mr Filion says he sees similarities between the two politicians in the "need for attention, the us versus them [mentality], the inability to see things from anyone else's perspective, the feeding of the [political] base, the antagonism towards anyone who says anything negative about them".
Others have pointed out he can be light on facts.
On the campaign trail, Mr Ford frequently touted that "we saved the taxpayers over $1.16bn"during his time at city hall - a figure widely disputed by fact checkers who suggested the former mayor and his team actually saved the city some $893million.
He was also dogged by family chaos during the campaign. His brother's widow, Renata, filed a lawsuit alleging Doug and another brother, Randy, had mismanaged the family business and mishandled her late husband Rob's estate. Both men have strongly denied the claims, which have not been tested in court.
Ford Nation, the dedicated political base that fuelled the rise of both Rob and Doug Ford, make up about 5% of the province's voters, says Mr Coletto.
"There is not a real clear demographic, or regional or even socio-economic profile of them," he says.
What unifies them is an affinity for the Ford family, a sense that politics and society have become too politically correct, and that there's a "condescending elite class that has lost touch with ordinary folks".
The PC campaign was given a boost outside its core support in the 7 June election by widespread voter fatigue with the Liberal Party, which had been in power in Ontario for 15 years.
"There was a great desire for change, a growing angst among a higher income segment of the electorate who felt life was getting way too expensive," says Mr Coletto.
"Ford appealed to voters who just wanted some relief."
The new premier will face hurdles in his promises of prosperity. The province's economy is most at risk in Canada if the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations with the US turn sour.
Mr Ford has said he stands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on trade matters and rising protectionism.
While some economists have praised some of his commitments, including a planned corporate tax reduction, others have raised concerns about the potential cost of his plans.

Birds fly over Hamilton Harbour near steel mills in Hamilton, Ontario
 Ford is against the carbon tax
Mr Ford's win riled up progressive activists in the province, who are already planning to fight against any public sector job losses, the premier-elect's promise to hold the minimum wage at $14 per hour, his plan to revise the province's sex-education curriculum, and his vow to challenge the federal government's planned carbon tax. He's already stirring the cauldron and upsetting people.

On election night, as it became clear Ford was headed to victory, one left-leaning Toronto city councillor exclaimed,
"He'll enjoy poking a stick at anything the lefties hold near and dear," 
"And he'll just love that we're out there marching and carrying placards against him.
"It'll be a sign that things are working as they should."

The Putin 'offer' to Trump is an effort to expose Russian leakers—and kill them

Hunter             Daily Kos Staff            Dartagnan          Community        Tuesday July 17, 2018
Yes, Republicans, Trump Is In Fact A Corrupt, Traitorous Russian Tool. But You Knew That.
The Puppet and his Master.
 David Remnick from the New Yorker on the remarkable events over the last 24 hours::

Trump’s penchant for bald deception and incoherence is not an aberration. It is his daily practice. The vague sense of torpor and gloom that so many Americans have shouldered these past two years derives precisely from the constancy of Trump’s galling statements and actions.

And yet what happened in Helsinki on Monday will not be so easily forgotten. Just as the President’s comments following the torchlit white-supremacist march last year in Charlottesville made it clear that racism was at the core of his character and his political strategy, the contemptible remarks he delivered alongside of Vladimir Putin seemed to mark a turning point, even for some of his most ardent defenders. In the course of a single European journey, Trump set out to humiliate the leaders of Western Europe and declare them “foes”; to fracture long-standing military, economic, and political alliances; and to absolve Russia of its attempts to undermine the 2016 election. He did so clearly, repeatedly, and with conviction. Republicans in Congress (but not enough of them) and a selection of commentators on Fox News declared that Trump’s performance in Helsinki had been disgraceful.

One of the hardest things for any human being to admit is that he/she was wrong. It’s a kick in the stomach. It basically amounts to admitting you’re a fool. You’ve been snookered. You’ve been taken.

If any Republican voter could validly claim that excuse, I’d be happy to listen. But I probably wouldn’t believe it.

Republicans—and by that I mean every single person who voted for this person-- knew what they were buying into already. They winked at the racism, chortled at the misogyny, and pulled that lever anyway because they wanted to stick it to the rest of Americans who were forced to watch in silent horror at this abomination to our Democracy. When Hillary Clinton brought up the fact that Trump was a Russian puppet, they laughed and laughed.

Some of them were acting out on their worst impulses. Some of them were all about “shaking things up.”  Some of them were all about “abortion” or that some brown or black person was going to be allowed to get a big-screen TV and maybe raise a family just like them. Maybe some of them thought that the American experiment was just a means of “entertainment.” And for some of them, maybe it still is.

They just didn’t care. Didn’t give a damn about the rest of the country. Didn’t care about their own children’s futures, for that matter. All they cared about was themselves.

They just never dreamed their chosen Leader’s utter betrayal of all things American would be so nakedly obvious that he’d sell his own country out in front of a billion sets of eyes across the world.

But here we are. We’re stuck with a traitor in the White House.  One beholden to a man whom historians believe came to power by blowing up an apartment complex full of people.

Because you put him there.

You own this, Republicans, whatever your “reasons” were.  Maybe this is the “new normal” for you. I just hope you can justify that to your children.

Those of us who actually care about the country will see you on November 6.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Helsinki will never be the same


Putin's poodle: Trump sells out U.S. intelligence agencies with the world watching

Before the entire world Monday, the self-styled tough-guy, America-First President revealed himself to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s poodle.

Putin flatly denied what every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded, what new indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller now underline: That agents of the GRU, the intelligence agency Putin used to work for and still leads, spearheaded 2016 presidential election interference.

The Russian president counters the mountain of evidence with an empty and robotic assertion: “the Russian State has not interfered and will never interfere in internal American affairs.”

Associated Press reporter — and Daily News alum — Jonathan Lemire gave Trump a binary choice: “who do you believe?”

At first, the man it pains us to say is our President refused to answer the question. He attacked Democrats for losing the election and dissembled, weaving together bits of conspiracy theories. Then he got down to brass tacks: He believes Putin.

Trump gets chance to stand firm against Putin — and completely blows it »
“Coats said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said, referring to his director of national intelligence. “Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia.

That sound you hear is the head of the U.S. executive branch stabbing his intelligence agencies in the back in order to side, against all evidence, alongside the leader of a country that meddled in an American election and wants to do it again.

Trump, in fact, blessed Putin as “extremely strong and powerful” in his denial — words he would never assign to the reams of proof compiled by the top four American intelligence agencies — and talked up the Russian president’s “incredible offer” to have his own agents review what U.S. officials have found.

He derides reports with which he disagrees as “fake news,” then buys the Russian narrative hook, line, sinker, pole and boat.

Ignorant about decades of Moscow meddling, from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, to Cuba and Eastern Europe, Trump says relations have “NEVER been worse.” Worse than the ignorance is the finger-pointing: He blames “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt.”

Reporter forcibly removed for waving sign at Trump, Putin press conference in Helsinki »
Nothing about Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Or its complicity in the shooting down of a civilian airliner. Or its meddling in the 2016 elections.

“We’re all to blame,” said the American President Monday, the foreign-policy equivalent of his “both sides” drivel after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

It would be high comedy if it were not a national tragedy. And a national emergency.

New York Daily News Scorches ‘Treason’ Trump With Brutal New Cover

The president sparked outrage when he refused to publicly condemn Russian leader Vladimir Putin for Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.
By Rebecca Shapiro
The New York Daily News hammered President Donald Trump with its Tuesday cover, suggesting that his refusal to publicly condemn Russian leader Vladimir Putin was treason.

During a news conference Monday in Helsinki, Finland, Trump would not blame Russia or Putin for interference in the 2016 U.S. election, saying “we’re all to blame” for poor relations between the two countries. U.S. intelligence and government officials have concluded that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

So the New York Daily News reacted to Trump’s remarks with a brutal illustration and headline, accusing the president of siding with an enemy over his own country. The illustration alluded to a statement Trump made during his presidential campaign that he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose voters.

.@realdonaldtrump derides reports with which he disagrees as “fake news,” then buys the Russian narrative hook, line, sinker, pole and boat. 
An early look at Tuesday's front...

Trump’s comments after his meeting with Putin sparked outrage Monday, with even Republican leaders and Fox News hosts slamming the president. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.” Fox Business host Neil Cavuto called Trump’s behavior “disgusting.”