Friday, February 2, 2018

Distractions, Distractions

Wow!  We have a great controversy!  A squib of a memo by the House Intel Comm has completely devoured the media.  A constitutional crisis!  Egad!  In two weeks, or maybe two months, it will be nothing.  But for now, well, very very very serious. At a minimum it has distracted everybody from Trump'sz gloriously successful State of the Union speech, which was so well received until this distraction that he thinks will bring about the end of that nasty Mueller investigation.

However, it now appears that this follows an older pattern.  When really serious stuff shows up in Trump World, the world is easily distracted by some much more minor scandal that gobbles up media and public attention.  So, during the campaign there was an important moment when it was reported that emails of the DNC had been hacked by Russians and handed over to Julian Assange and publicly leaked, with these memos being drip drip drip leaked day by day through the campaign.  But did this rather serious report get any public attention?  No no no. We had a much more important scandal to distract us with its outstanding shockingness.  It was the Grab 'em by the Pussy tapes, that, shock! were supposedly going to completely upend and end Trump's campaign.  Within a few weeks again it was no big deal, distracted by further scandals, but in the meantime the more serious matter of Russian serious intervention in the US election barely ever made it to any public attention at all, although we have been living with that attention to it ever since.

So what might this soon-to-be-forgotten memo be distracting us from (and I recognize that it is more serious than the grab 'em distraction)?  Well, buried on the inner pages of WaPo yesterday and scattered across secondary parts of the internet is a curious story that looks a lot more important than this nothing memo. Not only did Trump on the day befor his SOTU speech violate the Constitution by failing to obey a 515-5 vote in Congress to impose further sanctions on Russia for interfering in the US 2016 presidential election, but this astounding action was preceded by an apparently historically unprecedented event, the visit to Washington by the directors of all three of the top Russian intel agencies prior to his decision to ignore the mandate of the Congress.  Is anybody paying attention to this ultimate payoff to Putin for all the barely hidden Russian money in his unreleased tax returns?  Not with this wonderful distraction of this squib memo. 

So, who are these unprecedented visitors to Washington?  The one garnering the most attention is Sergy Navryshkin, director of the SVR, the Russian equivalent of the CIA, the main foreign intel agency of Russia.  In the Soviet era it was a dirzectorate of the KGB, and it had managed to get its own HQ in a suburban area of Moscow, obviously imitating Langley in the Washington NoVa suburbs even down to its architecture.  He is especially shocking in that in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, Navryshkin was placed under a travel ban by Obama.  But, hey, that was Obama, and whatever he did is a negative to be undone by Trump.  As it is he is reported to have met with his US opposite number, CIA Director, Michael Pompeo, rumored to be the next Secretary of State when Tillerson is finally tossed, and a former Oklahoma congressman known to be a Trump inner loyalist. Supposedly they discussed terrorism, which they might have actually discussed a bit.

But then CIA Director Pompeo also met with Aleksandr Bortnikov, Director of the FSB, the  domestic intel agency of Russia, essentially its equivalent of the FBI, also a former directorate of the former Soviet KGB, whose HQ is in the actual notorious old HQ of the KGB and earlier Cheka in downtown Moscow on Lubyanka Square, a location where many people took bullets to the head.  Supposedly they also discussed terrorism.   As it is, I would think Bortnikov should have spoken with the current FBI director, his obvious opposite number, but, well, there are no reports of that happening.  But, hey, who is paying attention?  We are all obsessed with the nothing squib memo!

And finally we have the really murky one, the reported visit of Lieutenant General Igor Korobov, the director of GRU, the main Russian military intelligence agency.  Neither WaPo nor any other source I have been able to track down so far, but will check further, has reported with whom this character met. Presumably it was at a minimum one or more of the more than 10 US intel  agencies housed in the Department of Defense.  The two most prominent of those are the NSA and DIA, but the DOD contains more secret agencies, such as the NRO.  Frankly I suspect this is the real story, although for those who have managed to get past the distraction of the Nunes memo, to get to this they have to get past the shocking visit of the formerly banned SVR chief, Navyshkin story.  But, hey, when you have so many Russian spy chiefs visiting just before the US president ignores a Congressional law to impose further sanctions on Russia, well, who can keep track of all this, and who cares?  I mean, that Melania is upset over Donnie paying off a prostitute is much more important!

Addendum: Further checking has yet to turn up whom GRU chief Korobov met with in Washington, although I imagine it will eventually become public.  If it does not, well, this would be far more serious and disturbing than any of this, up there with Trump futzing seriously with starting a war with North Korea.

Barkley Rosser


ProGrowthLiberal said...

Maybe Team Trump have been trying to distract us from their discussions of abusing an attack on North Korea as a ploy to retain control of the House: said...

It occurs to me that the still barely reported discussions GRU Chief General Korobov had with who knows whom at DOD may have centered on the possible war on North Korea Trump seems to be gearing up for. This may be a good thing as that is much more dangerous than terrorism or these sanctions deals and shenanigans by Trump. I would guess the Russians have some very serious things to say about this, and it is probably just as well that what it is be kept quiet.

ProGrowthLiberal said...

Check out this story on how Carter Page eventually landed his Ph.D.

Page comes across as a goof ball because he is a goof ball.

Calgacus said...

This is all predicated on the preposterous idea of "Russian interference", and incredibly claims that there was not enough attention paid to this non-event. The non-event status has been rather clearly proven by the complete failure of the "investigation" to turn up anything. All the while completely ignoring the credible and well-supported source of the email leak (not hack).

As bad as Trump is, the complete contempt for truth, logic, evidence and sanity shown by the mainstream media, the "investigators" and most Dems do nothing but make him look good, look like the most stable genius around ;-).

Here are a couple of pieces by a voice of reason, Stephen Cohen. Russiagate is Dangerous, Will Washington Get the Memo?.
‘Russiagate’ Zealots (Mainly Democrats) Have Become a Major Threat to US National Security.

ProGrowthLiberal said...

Stephen Cohen? The same fellow who applauded Putin for annexing Crimea! I sense we have a Russian bot here.

ProGrowthLiberal said...

From Calgacus link:

Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University, says Russiagate has now become "much more than McCarthyism."

I guess Cohen is peddling some book or something. Accusing those who are investigating Russiam tampering of McCarthyism? I guess the dishonesty in defense of the DONALD has no bounds.

Calgacus said...

What Russian tampering? I'm old fashioned. I think that one should present evidence before accusing people. And not ignore more credible alternate stories to Russiagate.

Not that I care, but there IS also an alternate story to "we have a Russian bot here." (meaning moi). The alternate story is that there is in fact nothing to Russiagate, as (I claim) the evidence indicates, and that much of the media by incessant repetitions of extraordinary but inane charges against someone disliked for other reasons, Trump, has convinced far too many that something called "Russian tampering" actually happened.

However this conviction is based on no reason at all, except for this incessant repetition. People really can disagree with each other without being bots. I don't think you are one, nor is Rosser. Just people who have lowered down their skeptical guard. said...


So, there was no meeting in Trump Tower between top Trump people with several Russians, who have intel and Putin connections, to get dirt on HRC. So, shortly after that there was no move by Trump and his aides to intervene specificslly in the GOP platform to soften call for sanctions on Russia? Going further back, is it not the case that Russian oligarchs, some with criminal connections and some with Putin connections, were the main financiers of Trump in 2009 and after? And is this not why Trump refuses to release his tax returns?

I could easily add quite a lot more, but I think the first two items alone, combined with Trump issuing a false statement about the Trump Tower meeting, is evidence what you claim there is "no evidence" of. I understand there are people claiming the Russians were not responsible for the hacking of DNC memos, but US intel agencies all say they were. They may be wrong, but that looks like pretty strong evidence offhand.

Calgacus said...

About meetings - well as soon as the main stories that started it all are discarded the hydra grows a new head. I don't and can't keep up with them all. Yeah, Trump people have talked to Russians. So have I. So have you. Is that a crime?

The standards of prosecution in Washington are corrupt and insane, and quite literally inverted. Peccadilloes and plausibly innocent meetings - the sort that every incoming adminstration has had - are absurdly enlarged into crimes. While the worst felonies by the powerful are not even seen as such, can not be seen as such by the inmates of the DC insane asylum.

Why should the US sanction Russia? The world's leading international lawbreaker is the USA. Russia & China have a far better case to sanction us. Would that the US behave as well as they do. Trump partly ran on a saner foreign policy in some respects, why should he be blamed for fulfilling a promise? Is he allowed to want to live?

The bloodthirstiness of the genteel-seeming cruise-missile liberals, the murderous "humanitarian" interventions of this self-worshipping haute monde are what scares me and many others. The blowhards who tend to be Republicans - not so much.

I understand there are people claiming the Russians were not responsible for the hacking of DNC memos, but US intel agencies all say they were.

What "hacking"? There was a leak. There is no reason to believe in the hacking story and a much more plausible but rarely heard alternative story on the leak. As people like Ray McGovern IIRC note, in view of the enormous capabilities of the NSA, this dog that did not bark is evidence that there was no hacking.

They may be wrong, but that looks like pretty strong evidence offhand.

Professional liars, who have a long and unblemished record of lying, who don't even actually say that there was hacking is not strong evidence. (The inflation of equivocal statements from 3 or 4 agencies to 17 or "all" is noted by many who haven't discarded their distrust of official stories.)

This is getting to be like a Raymond Smullyan Knights & Knaves puzzle. If people who can think better would not immediately assume that Trump & Putin etc are Knaves and their accusers are blameless Knights and use the same intelligence that they apply to puzzles to the real world, things might look different. Putin and Trump and Assange and the media are all Normals. But looking at their statements logically, it seems to me that on the Knight to Knave spectrum on this issue, the order is Knight Assange then Putin, Trump, the intelligence agencies, with the mainstream news sources (MSNBC, WaPo, NYT etc) clearly playing the Knaves here. said...

Um, Putin is a knave. He has had people I knew personally murdered. He also annexed territory from a neighboring country in 2014, which is what triggered the sanctions that Trump and crew intervened in the GOP platform to have removed. I think that the last time the US annexed territory it was in the 1890s.

Is the US killing people with drones now? Yes. Is Russia killing civilians in Syria now? Yes.

As for people who lie, we have not remotely come close to having as big of a liar as president as Trump is ever, with over 2100 certified lies in his first year as president, more than five per day.

Anonymous said...

Don't take Stephen Cohen seriously. He has been nursing a broken ego since 1991, when Gorbachev's star (and thus Cohen's star) waned. His "McCarthyism" schtick is from criticism he has received from academic colleagues, all of which is both tame & pretty legit.

ProGrowthLiberal said...

"Don't take Stephen Cohen seriously. He has been nursing a broken ego since 1991, when Gorbachev's star (and thus Cohen's star) waned. His "McCarthyism" schtick is from criticism he has received from academic colleagues, all of which is both tame & pretty legit."


Bruce Wilder said...

Apparently, irony is now so difficult to absorb by either perpetually "outraged" partisan tribe that its appearance constitutes a constitutional crisis. Whataboutism rulz!

Yes, the Clinton campaign went to the Russians for dirt on Trump and that became part of the basis for an investigation of the Trump campaign going to the Russians for dirt on Clinton.

The DNC and Podesta emails revealed something about the Clinton campaign -- hmmm, can't quite remember what that was, the accusation that the Russkies did it looms so large, it clouds my memory!

Russian annexing Crimea followed what event? The U.S. overthrowing the elected government in the Ukraine? Was that it? Trump's blustering is supposed to be raising the risk of war in Korea. Meanwhile, the Russiagate hysteria is increasing the risk of war with that other nuclear power, the only other one on earth with enough nukes to end civilization.

Manafort is indicted and Tony Podesta resigns. Hmmm. The Congress re-authorizes FISA without substantive debate and then Republicans two weeks later complain that FISA is being abused while some Democrats defend the FBI as a pillar of the Republic.

Partisan tribalism is completely out of control and, yes, the Media's fixation on Trump's antics is compounding this strange form of political dementia.

If I had greater tolerance for following the endless Twitter stream of daily outrages, I could probably triple my list of instances of double, triple and quadruple standards at play. If I could stomach Rachel Maddow some afternoon, I am sure I could reduce the IQ of all around me by 15 points with a breathless account of some conspiracy against the Republic.

Deep breaths, people. Get some perspective. Then, you may begin to understand that it is all much worse than you have imagined. Much worse. said...

Wow, Bruce Wilder, you are someone I have respected up to this point, but speaking of IQs falling, I have never seen something so idiotic and baseless coming out of you. You should be ashamed of yourself, that is, after you pick your brain back up out of the toilet where you seem to have accidentally dropped it and can think again.

Last time I checked the biggest revelation from the Podesta tapes was that the DNC had favored Hillary over Bernie. Except that everybody already knew that. Not much of a revelation.

Sorry, but while the US clearly supported the Maidan uprising, saying that the US "overthrew" the regime is pure stupid garbage. Have you turned into some Russian trollbot? Is this post actually from Bruce Wilder or some zombie machine with Bruce imprisoned in a trash can somewhere?

And suppose that it was true that the US had overthrown the previous regime? Why on earth would that justify Russia annexing Crimea? How far out of your effing mind are you? Many people think Russia played a major role in getting rid of the earlier Tymoshenko regime (with her being tossed into prison on trumped-up charges). Would that have justified Ukraine annexing a chunk of southern Russia, or maybe the US annexing Sakhalin Island? Really, these are logically equivalent.

Regarding Trump scaring people, and especially the South Koreans, with his "bloody nose" talk, I suggest you look at Josh Rogin's column in this morning's WaPo. Moon and crew went along with Trump's wish to give him credit for the Olympic developments with North Korea, but supposedly Trump was furious at them for not dong as he wanted (he did not want any of this), and supposedly while they are trying to be polite about it, the South Koreans are completely disgusted by and afraid Trump will start a war with North Korea without their approval. According to Rogin, the top thing Pence needs to do is to convince them that Trump will not do that, but Pence has stopped I nJapan to get help from Abe in strong arming the South Koreans into obeying Trump, apparently unaware that the Southy Koreans hate the Japanese and are currently having a major fight with Abe.

As for "Russiagate" increasing the danger of a nuclear war with Russia? Again, such a claim is brain-in-toilet idiocy of the worst sort. When and why and how did you lose it so badly?

As for your weird timeline that rushes from Manafort to Podesta to FISA to the FBI, just how much vodka did you down before writing that bit of incomprehensible and absurd gibberish?

I agree that partisan tribalism has gotten out of hand, but it looks to me that the main push to this has been coming from the GOP side with the Dems finally responding in self-defense.

As for what we should be worrying about and what all this raging twittering is about, I remind that my post noted that the Nunes memo appears to have been a successful distraction from Trump's failure to obey Congress to increase sanctions on Russia, which you make no mention of. But, hey, I guess you think that increasing sanctions on Russia would have increased the danger of nuclear war with them, or at a minimum justified them annexing Alaska.

Bruce Wilder said...

Yes, I do think increasing sanctions on Russia carries significant risk of antagonizing that country, a nuclear power. I would recommend you consider the views of Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University:

I do not disagree on one point: Republicans started the fake outrage media cottage industry with their nonsense. I have no sympathy for the Birther-in-Chief, who created the most extreme forms of this sort of partisan tribalism.

As for the rest, my previous comment was meant to read as sarcasm. The "toilet" remark -- well, I am going to trust you to see that is going way over the top. said...


Well, certainly increasing sanctions on Russia annoys them, but I do not think it increases the chance of nuclear war much. Did you live through the Cold War? It was regularly argued by some that we should never respond to anything they did because, gosh, it might increase the chance of a nuclear war. In terms of recent events, it is my understanding thst it has been Russia under Putin that has taken to violating existing nuclear weapons agreements between the US and Russia.

I am well aware of Cohen's views, and I seriously disagree with many of them. If you want to push specific ones of his ideas, I am fully prepared to take apart those I disagree with. Do you really want to insist on Russia being fully justified in annexing Crimea? Really?

As it is, I am not sure which of your remarks are sarcastic and which are not, given that I do not think much of any of them aside from the one about partisan tribalism. So, sorry, I am not inclined to modify my previous remarks. You are usually much more perspicacious than that.

Bruce Wilder said...

"Do you really want to insist on Russia being fully justified in annexing Crimea? Really?"

fully justified is doing work there that should not be done at all. Why adopt the tone of moral incredulity? What good can it do? How does it aid understanding?

Were Putin's calculations regarding Russia's interests beyond your comprehension? Was America's intervention in Ukraine's politics wholly legitimate? Could Putin's reaction not be anticipated?

High moral dudgeon about alleged Russian "meddling" in an American election seems to me incompatible with the attitude that American and European intervention in Ukrainian politics was not at least both morally problematic in principle and imprudent with regard to long-term American and Western interests. Some reports quoting Victoria Nuland suggest the scale of U.S. interference in Ukraine was orders of magnitude greater materially than Russia's alleged "meddling" in 2016. You can say Russia's plays for Ukrainian influence were also orders of magnitude greater, but the question I am raising about American policy is why escalate the contest by promoting a government overthrow and the installation of factions intensely hostile to Russian interests? And, then pretend to be shocked when Russia acts to defend what it regards as its vital strategic interests?

You would certainly be correct if you surmise that I do not regard Russia's annexation of Crimea as some iconic Great Crime Against Humanity. Crimea was never very Ukrainian. It is a Russian-speaking region with weak historic ties to ethnically Ukrainian regions. Within Ukraine, Crimea enjoyed a high degree of political autonomy from Kiev. And, the major naval port was a Russian-Ukrainian condominium. With annexation, Crimea went from being the richest province of Ukraine to being among the poorest provinces of European Russia; the economic prospects of most people improved markedly despite financial disruption. The position of the Crimean Tartars is the closest thing to a point of moral concern.

I believe in bringing moral judgment to bear in assessing foreign policy. Making the world safe for democracy is still a good beacon for American policy, imho, even if we have not been doing it well or honestly for a long time. Good moral judgment would withhold support from regimes like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and keep us out of Iraq. But good moral judgment does not reduce analysis to a "he said, she said, he started it, no she hit me first" narrative embarrassing on an elementary school playground. It does not substitute anger for reason.

Putin's seizure of Crimea threatens to set a problematic precedent, especially if you think we should be working toward negotiated settlements as a way of resolving conflicts. I am not saying U.S. support for the Maidan Revolution "justified" Putin's actions. I am saying that U.S. policy was morally problematic and also arguably a bad precedent itself. Moral judgment that can appreciate opposing points of view is necessary to devising the kind of strategic gameplay that leads to norms of trust and mutual accommodation. Failing to see the untoward consequences and blowback from U.S. aggression and insisting on seeing Putin as evil becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. Making alliances with politicians with grievances against Russia in places bordering Russia like Estonia or Ukraine is not a sensible course.

I am also saying that true moral judgement sees gradations. Russia's annexation of Crimea, in the great scale of such things, is not something truly terrible. (cf Timor-Leste or Israel's occupation/blockade of the West Bank and Gaza) said...

Well, indeed you think that Putin was pretty justified in annexing Crimea, despite a minor caveat. Victoria Nuland's support for the Maiden uprising justifies it in your eyes (for the record I did not support Nuland's intervention). I hope you notice that I said a big zero about Russian intervention in the US election.

Ukraine and Crimea are both sharply split. You seem to avoid mentioning other groups in Crimea other than Russian speaking Russians and Tatars. I suspect you do not understand the complicated nature of the place.

What I find immoral about Putin is having political critics and rivals gunned down in the streets of Moscow. US policies have a lot of problems, but not a single nation in Europe or North America besides Russia regularly have government critics gunned down in the street (oh yes, there is Turkey), to go along with being the only such nation to be annexing territory of neighbors. Sorry, Putin is actually seriously evil, a disgusting corrupt murderer.

You think nations once ruled by the former USSR, like Estonia and Ukraine, should not have politicians criticizing Putin? Really? I get it. Like the US needing to kiss Putin's behind because he might annex territory from a neighbor, these dipshit little countries should really kiss his ass. And their desire to join NATO is obviously completely illegitimate. I mean, he would never invade any of them or subject them to cyberattack or annex their territory, never.