Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Last Call For The Party Is Over

I keep pounding the gavel on this point, but it remains valid: Trump was the inevitable metastasized symptom of a broken, cancerous Republican party that has aided and abetted his perfidy and really has been broken all my life. The Nation's David Klion nails them to the wall for it.

It’s rarely recalled now, but back in May 2017, The Washington Post published the transcript of a conversation from June 2016 among the House Republican leadership, in which House majority leader Kevin McCarthy made clear that he was aware “the Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp research that they had on Trump” and speculated “there’s two people, I think, that Putin pays: [Representative Dana] Rohrabacher and Trump.” Amid laughter, House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted that the conversation remain off the record, adding, “What’s said in the family stays in the family.” Ryan would later claim he and McCarthy were joking.

The point here isn’t necessarily that Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, solicited illegally obtained documents from Russian officials. There are other plausible candidates who might have done that. The point is that Russiagate, which is widely understood to be a scandal surrounding Donald Trump’s close associates like Paul Manafort, may go wider and deeper, and could implicate at least one member of Congress. 
Moreover, it seems that the Republican leadership was at the very least aware of this possibility, amused by it, and did nothing whatsoever to alert the public or any relevant authorities. They were happy to enjoy the benefits of Russian interference and said so openly among themselves. Similarly, as the Post reported, when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was informed of Russian interference in September 2016 in a meeting with President Obama and other senior officials, he threatened to cast any public announcement of the threat as partisan politics. It’s not a stretch to say McConnell deliberately undermined national security for partisan advantage, a decision that has paid off with the signing of a massive tax cut for the wealthy and the looming establishment of a durable right-wing majority on the Supreme Court. 
In other words, Russiagate isn’t just the narrow story of a few corrupt officials. It isn’t even the story of a corrupt president. It’s the story of a corrupt political party, the one currently holding all the levers of power in Washington. After Trump groveled before Putin in Helsinki, many Republicans in Washington proclaimed their solemn concern, just as they did when the president expressed his sympathy for the white supremacists in Charlottesville last year. But all of them are fully aware that they are abetting a criminal conspiracy, and probably more than one.

I can't stress this enough.  While it's still reasonable to argue whether or not Trump is a willing Russian ally or compromised asset (or both), there's no question that the rest of the GOP is covering for him out of fear of legal consequences and the toxic base that dredged them all out of the swamp and put them in charge of the country.

Shortly after the Trump-Putin press conference, federal prosecutors announced the indictment of Maria Butina, a Russian national in Washington, DC, who, unlike the 25 Russians the special counsel has so far indicted, was arrested over the weekend. Butina, who in 2016 attempted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, is accused of operating as a foreign agent to gain influence in Republican political circles and advance the interests of the Russian Federation. Working on behalf of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank, she appears to have brokered ties with the National Rifle Association and conservative religious organizations, which she herself accurately identified as the financial backbones of the Republican Party in Congress. 
Butina is a colorful example of an increasingly common phenomenon in Washington: foreign nationals, not only from Russia but from dozens of other countries, who blur the line between lobbying and spying until it’s imperceptible. This is what the evisceration of campaign-finance laws has yielded: a capital where American corporations and foreign governments see every official as being for sale. 
Mueller, who knows more than anyone in the media about the extent of the Russiagate scandal and never leaks, isn’t telling us that Trump colluded and obstructed justice—we already know that, because we literally saw Trump request on camera, in the summer of 2016, that Russia hack the Clinton campaign, just as we later saw him bluntly admit to the world that he fired James Comey to end the Russia investigation. 
Instead, we are being told something much more frightening: that Russiagate doesn’t end with Trump and his inner circle, that some members of Congress may be implicated, and that the Republican leadership therefore has a personal stake in preventing anyone beyond Manafort and a few other flunkies from being held accountable. Mueller and the FBI are giving everyone a glimpse at the scale of official corruption in Washington, and they’re warning us that they aren’t going to be able to rein it in all by themselves.

As I've said, there will be no legal solution to Trump.  There may not even be a viable Constitutional solution.  It will be 100% political.  The GOP that created Trump as its avatar has to be shattered and its power along with it, and until that happens, we are all in dire trouble.

A Sudden PR Opening At Mordor, Inc

Now that former disgraced FOX News chief Bill Shine (canned a year ago for aiding and abetting Roger Ailes's culture of sexual harassment at the network) has settled into his new job as Trump Regime Propaganda Head, it seems his first job is to shuffle the deck chairs on the Trumptanic and to let Politico know that current Mouth of Sauron Sarah Huckabee Sanders will soon be departing.

Bill Shine, the newly appointed White House deputy chief of staff for communications, has quietly begun asking friends and associates for their opinions about who could succeed Sanders if she leaves in the coming months, according to two people familiar with those conversations.

Shine, in a brief interview, denied having such conversations. “I have not had a meeting or discussion about this,” he said last week, noting he had been on the job for only a short time. Shine praised Sanders and called her a “total team player."

Although no decisions have been made about successors, an unofficial shortlist is already emerging among Trump White House alumni, former campaign aides and other backers of the president.

At the top of the list is Heather Nauert, the current State Department spokeswoman and former Fox News host. Nauert has impressed White House aides with her steady performances in Foggy Bottom. Multiple people close to the White House pointed out that Nauert remained in Trump’s good graces even when the president soured on former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Nauert’s Fox News pedigree, paired with her close relationship with Trump and her ability to stay on message and remain calm under pressure, makes her a “no-brainer” for the job, according to one person close to the White House. Nauert, who did not respond to a request for comment, has told associates that she’s unsure whether she would want the job, but people who know her believe she’d take it if asked.

Other possibilities include Bill Hemmer, a Fox News reporter; Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News host who recently left the network to join a pro-Trump outside group; Treasury Department spokesman Tony Sayegh, who worked closely with the White House on its overhaul of the tax code and used to be a Fox News contributor; and White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah.

Guilfoyle is dating Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., a fact that could complicate her appointment as press secretary, and several associates of the president said she is unlikely to get the job.

“There will be people who will want the job,” said former George W. Bush chief of staff Andrew Card. “The best way to get the job is not to apply.”

The prospect of losing Sanders, who is widely liked in the White House and is seen by her colleagues as a deft communicator and defender of the president, has some close to Trump in panic mode, worrying that it’ll be difficult to find a suitable replacement who can stand up to withering scrutiny from the public.

Who would want that job?” one former administration official asked, summing up the feelings of many in Washington, who note that being the public face of Trump’s presidency can be a thankless and frequently impossible task.

Now I'm not sure if Sanders wants out, or if Shine doesn't think she's up to it any more (and both can be true) but to have your new boss come in and then two weeks after he arrives a story pops up in Politico about your eventual replacement, well, you're not long for your current position, sorry.  I won't be sad to see her go, and I don't have any sympathy for her enabling this regime to lie on a daily basis to the American people and the world.

It's clear that Shine was brought in to coordinate the regime's response with the state media officials at his old network as the Mueller probe moves into the endgame stages, and Sanders is not up to that task. Her replacement has to be far more ruthless and sinister instead of the "slightly baffled soccer mom about to call your district manager" routine Sanders brought to the table for the last year or so.

I do know this, whoever does replace Sanders will have to be a better liar than she is, because she's terrible at it.  Her tell that she's lying is "her mouth is open".  And frankly, I'd like her to get a new job at a federal prison as an inmate depending on what she was party to. 

Of course, that goes for a lot of current regime employees.

A Syria's Reflection

Steven A. Cook at Foreign Policy reminds us that the Syrian civil war is all over but the shouting, and while there's an untold number of losers in the seven-year conflict, the winner, by knockout, is Vladimir Putin.

There probably isn’t anyone inside the Beltway who hasn’t been told at some point in their career about the dangers of reasoning by analogy. But that doesn’t mean such lessons have been regularly heeded. The Syrian uprising came at a fantastical time in the Middle East when freedom, it seemed, was breaking out everywhere. The demonstration of people power that began in Daraa—coming so soon after the fall of longtime leaders in Tunisia and Egypt—was moving. It also clouded the judgment of diplomats, policymakers, analysts, and journalists, rendering them unable to discern the differences between the region’s Assads and Ben Alis or between the structure of the Syrian regime and that of the Egyptian one.

And because the policy community did not expect the Syrian leader to last very long, it was caught flat-footed when Assad pursued his most obvious and crudely effective strategy: a militarization of the uprising. In time, Syria’s competing militias, jihadis, and regional powers, compounded by Russia’s intervention, made it hard to identify U.S. interests in the conflict. So, Washington condemned the bloodshed, sent aid to refugees, halfheartedly trained “vetted” rebels, and bombed the Islamic State, but it otherwise stayed out of Syria’s civil conflict. Lest anyone believe that this was a policy particular to U.S. President Barack Obama and his aim to get out of, not into Middle Eastern conflicts, his successor’s policy is not substantially different, with the exception that President Donald Trump is explicit about leaving Syria to Moscow after destroying the Islamic State. While the bodies continued to pile up, all Washington could muster was expressions of concern over another problem from hell. Syria is, of course, different from Rwanda, Darfur, and Srebrenica—to suggest otherwise would be reasoning by analogy—but it is another case of killing on an industrial scale that paralyzed Washington. It seems that even those well versed in history cannot avoid repeating it.

Many of the analysts and policymakers who preferred that the United States stay out or minimize its role in Syria came to that position honestly. They looked at the 2003 invasion of Iraq and decried how it destabilized the region, empowered Iran, damaged relations with Washington’s allies, and fueled extremist violence, undermining the U.S. position in the region. It seems lost on the same group that U.S. inaction in Syria did the same: contributed to regional instability, empowered Iran, spoiled relations with regional friends, and boosted transnational terrorist groups. The decision to stay away may have nonetheless been good politics, but it came at a noticeable cost to Washington’s position in the Middle East.

The waning of U.S. power and influence that Syria has both laid bare and hastened is a development that the policy community has given little thought to, because it was not supposed to happen. By every traditional measure of power, the United States, after all, has no peer. But power is only useful in its application, and Washington has proved either unable or unwilling to shape events in the Middle East as it had in the past—which is to say, it has abdicated its own influence. That may be a positive development. No one wants a repeat of Iraq. In Washington’s place, Moscow has stepped in to offer itself as a better, more competent partner to Middle Eastern countries. There haven’t been many takers yet beyond the Syrians, but there nevertheless seems to be a lot of interest, and the conflict in Syria is the principal reason why.

Contrast the way in which Russian President Vladimir Putin came to the rescue of an ally in crisis—Assad—with the way U.S. allies in the region perceive Obama to have helped push Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office after 30 years, much of it spent carrying Washington’s water around in the region. The Egyptians, Saudis, Emiratis, Israelis, and others may not like Assad very much, but Russia’s initial forceful response to prevent the Syrian dictator from falling and then Moscow’s efforts to will Assad to apparent victory have made an impression on them. Syria is now the centerpiece and pivot of Russia’s strategy to reassert itself as a global power, and its renewed influence in the Middle East stretches from Damascus eastward through the Kurdistan Regional Government to Iran and from the Syrian capital south to Egypt before arcing west to Libya

This is all Putin's sandlot now, for better or for worse.  We're on our way out, because the new boss controls the old boss as it is.  Sure, the US used to be a lot better at propping up dictators, but that was then.  Now it's Assad and Erdogan, Kim and Durterte, with Eastern Europe looking on and Moscow laughing at all of it.

The Great Realignment is coming, and when the dust settles, we're going to be several chairs down the row in the pecking order.

And Russia will be ahead of us.  That, you can count on.


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