Politically Correct: The Acidic Evil That Is American Politics

Politically Correct: The Acidic Evil That Is American Politics

Good evening folks, tonight I wish to speak with you about a subject matter that is not near or dear to my heart, it is called political correctness. This subject matter touches each and every one of us on a regular basis in our daily lives. In its simplest form political correctness is the attempt to avoid offending anyone at anytime regardless of the subject matter. I believe that when most of us hear the term political correctness it is not a smile that crosses our face, it is more likely to be a disgusted frown. Today if a person says anything about a subject matter when it may in any way shed a light of truth on the events of today, if that truth in the slightest degree has any measure of negatives then you will be labeled as a hater. There was a time in this country when people were allowed to be honest in their speech but unfortunately that is not the case these days. Now if you say anything about anyone person or persons even if you are speaking the total truth to the best of your knowledge, you have become a hater or some kind of a bigot whom is very likely to be sued in court because you dared to be honest. In the past we could describe a dirty old man in simple terms/truths, these days political correctness (stupidity) airbrushed the truth stains away so that you don’t offend that dirty old man. These days that person is a sexually focused chronologically gifted individual. Laziness is now referred to as motivationally deficient. I am now no longer short being only five feet eleven and three-quarters inches tall, I am vertically challenged because I didn’t make it to at least six feet. It is comforting to know that I didn’t really have trouble with algebraic equations in college, I simply had a memory deficiency.

 

We could all just sit back in our Lazy Boy recliners with a glass of Jose Cuervo in one hand and a big blunt in the other and just sit back and laugh at American politicians and media talking heads as they spout this stupidity. The scary part of this is that what we the people call stupidity/political correctness, some of the fore mentioned people cultivate this ignorance as their personal gospel. This ignorance is a gospel of re-education and it does show via the ignorance and apathy we see and hear when today’s streamlined, bought and paid for politicians open their mouths. Today at almost all of our college campuses as well as the secondary and primary schools this re-education propaganda is widely referred to as diversity education. This ignorance that our politicians and the media push down our throats tries to please everyone all of the time and to never offend anyone any of the time. This is a nice story line if it were in a small child’s fantasy or Fantasy Island handbook but in the real world it is simply poison. Most all of us adults know that political correctness if allowed to play out and to become the laws of the land, we are all doomed to be the laughing-stock of the whole world. Today if people dare attempt to speak the truth about real world issues they are branded as haters or we are people with stone-age ideologies. Truth is that when people do dare to speak the truth on real issues what you say will most likely offend some people whom do not happen to agree with you. When we are cultivated away from the truth and told we can’t say such things isn’t this the same thing as saying to advance in our society today that you must either be and idiot, or an habitual liar?

 

For those who might think that this mental disease is a spin-off of the 1960’s and 70’s hippy drug culture then you need to crack open some college level history books and increase your knowledge on this subject matter. My friends, political correctness has been around and practiced through other cultures around the world far longer than any of us have been alive. Political correctness is really nothing more than cultural Marxism in some professors views and I can’t say that I disagree with them. If we compare the basic tenets of political correctness with classical Marxism the parallels of the two are very obvious. When Marxist Communists take over a country such as Russia, China, North Korea or Cuba the personal freedom of speech ceases to exist.

 

I leave you tonight with just one last observation, isn’t it amazing how much Russia and her politics have turned to look more like our politicians rhetorical babbling? Or, is it more correct to say that our government is starting to look more like the Russia of President Putin or even that of Germany of the mid 1930’s in that free honest intelligent conversation can be construed as a hate crime? Is political correctness in places like D.C., Hollywood and New York City going to be a nail in America’s coffin? Time will tell us all what the truth is but I totally have my doubts that anyone alive today will live long enough to see that day. Friends, good night, stay well, God Bless.

Putin’s Kremlin subverting Israeli democracy?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(FOLKS, THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT ARTICLE, PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO READ THIS)

Is Putin’s Kremlin subverting Israeli democracy? A Russia expert thinks so

A devastating, complacency-shattering interview with Ilya Zaslavskiy, one of the world’s leading experts on Moscow’s overt and covert designs on the West

Main image by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

WASHINGTON, United States — Despite the global headlines about Russian meddling in foreign elections, Israeli experts have thus far expressed little concern that it could happen here.

At Tel Aviv University’s CyberWeek cybersecurity conference in June, for instance, Israeli officials made light of the impact of fake news and foreign influence campaigns on Israeli society. Fake news is a “nuisance,” Eviatar Matania, head of the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, told a panel at the conference, not a major threat. Other speakers said they had seen no signs of Russian influence campaigns targeting Israel.

But the recent release by researchers at Clemenson University of three million Russian troll tweets created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency between 2012 and 2018 paints a different picture.

Reporters from Israel’s Channel 10 News found that tens of thousands of the tweets dealt with Israel and the region and some were written in Hebrew, indicating they were indeed targeting Israelis and people who care about Israel.

Ilya Zaslavskiy, a Washington, DC-based expert on Russia and head of research at the Free Russia Foundation — a nonprofit led by Russians abroad that says it “seeks to be a voice for those who can’t speak under the repression of the current Russian leadership” — told The Times of Israel that he would be extremely surprised if Russia weren’t carrying out covert influence campaigns in Israel.

“We now know for a fact that Russia has been interfering on a massive scale in US, German and UK elections and referendums,” said Zaslavskiy, who is also a member of the advisory board at the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative and an academy associate at Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) think tank.

Ilya Zaslavskiy (Courtesy)

“We know that they intervened in the Catalonia referendum as well as a referendum on Ukraine in Holland. They continue to interfere in the US midterms and they have been meddling in all sorts of local elections in Eastern Europe. and the post-Soviet space,” he said. “So why wouldn’t they interfere in Israeli elections when Israel is so important to their strategic interests?”

Asked why Israel is of interest to Russia, Zaslavskiy, who is Jewish and immigrated to the United States from Russia as a young adult, said that “Israel is of strategic importance to the Kremlin  — because Israel is actually one of the forces that could contain Russia, could prevent some of the abuses that Russians are carrying out.”

He cited, for instance, developments in Syria. “Israel is not a great friend of Assad, but now the Israeli government has sort of accepted that Russians uphold him and have got a foothold in Syria,” he said. Asked how things could have been different, Zaslavskiy replied “Israel could have been more vocal and critical about Russia’s role in Syria.”

This December 11, 2017 photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watching troops march at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

More generally, “you could have expelled some of the Russian oligarchs, you could have prevented some of the money laundering,” he said. “You could actually impose some sanctions on Russia and limit their influence in your country.”

Why hadn’t that happened? During a deeply disconcerting interview in the US capital Zaslavskiy offered some insights. And as the conversation developed, he moved rapidly beyond election meddling to a wider, nightmare vision of an ascendant Russia, with Western democracies weakened and outflanked. Regarding Israel specifically, he described covert, Russian-led processes already unfolding that he believes are undermining the rule of law and democracy itself, and set out specific measures that he believes must urgently be taken if the decline is to be halted and contained.

An existential danger

Zaslavskiy believes that both Israel and the West face an existential danger from Russia unless the problem of covert and overt Russian influence is fully acknowledged and decisive measures are taken to combat it. He says most of the West fails to grasp the gravity of the threat, which includes not just efforts to meddle in elections but the exporting of corruption and criminality from post-Soviet countries to the West, thereby undermining democracy itself.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 11, 2018. (AFP/ Pool/Yuri Kadobnov)

In a recent report for the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative entitled “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West,” Zaslavskiy argues that the West did not in fact win the Cold War and that its norms and values, like democracy and the rule of law, are very much in peril.

“When the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, it was widely believed that Western-style democracy and liberal capitalism based on free elections, separation of powers and the rule of law would eventually take root in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other regions emerging from the Cold War,” he writes. “Even when ex-Communist Party leaders and representatives of Soviet security services returned to power throughout the former Soviet Union (FSU) in the late 1990s to mid-2000s, mainstream political thought never once doubted the inevitability of democracy’s march across the globe. Experts debated speed and direction, but rarely questioned the ultimate destination.”

The West has largely failed to export its democratic norms and is instead witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system

In reality, Zaslavskiy goes on, “the West has largely failed to export its democratic norms and is instead witnessing an increasingly coordinated assault on its own value system. This destructive import of corrupt practices and norms comes not only from post-Soviet kleptocratic regimes like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, but also from China and other countries around the world whose ruling elites now possess far-reaching financial and political interests in the West.”

The new norms being exported to the West, which he dubs neo-Gulag norms, include the idea that those in power are the only real and rightful decision-makers and that the rest are ultimately “prison dust.”

Another such norm, he writes, is that “everything and everyone is for sale, or at least susceptible to manipulation or some form of control.” And finally, the Russian ruling elite believes that “individual human life does not matter anywhere, unless it is someone from their inner circle or equally as powerful as they are.”

The Times of Israel sat down with Zaslavskiy at a cafe in Washington, DC, to discuss the connections between Putin, Israel, organized crime, election meddling and the decline of democracy in the West.

The Times of Israel: There has been a lot of talk about Russian influence campaigns and Russian interference in elections. What aspect of this threat do you think people in the West are failing to grasp?

Ilya Zaslavskiy: They are failing to grasp two main things. First they think that the corruption, criminality and anti-democratic developments that happen in a place like Russia have very little to do with their own life or their own country. That’s the first delusion.

Today, everything is so much more integrated. When criminal groups supported by security services are allowed to do things in their own country, they immediately export their practices and values to the West, to safe havens where they can actually not only keep their money but can continue their activities.

There are many oligarchs of Jewish background from the post-Soviet space, from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, who earned their money in a very dirty way in the 1990s and 2000s, and now they’ve moved to Israel

The second thing people fail to realize is that, unlike during the Cold War, there are open channels of business that these kleptocrats can exploit to export their norms and practices legally.

You see a lot of money from kleptocratic countries pouring into the West and paying for lawyers, lobbyists, PR people, even journalists, as well as former security people and security companies. In Soviet times this was not possible. Today, a Russian kleptocrat can continue his criminal activities in the West in broad daylight, without being prosecuted and hardly being covered by the press.

How might this be happening in Israel, and how might Israelis not be aware of it?

There are many oligarchs of Jewish background from the post-Soviet space, from Russia, Kazakhstan and the Caucasus, who earned their money in a very dirty way in the 1990s and 2000s, and now they’ve moved to Israel.

Some have Israeli citizenship and operate abroad and some operate in Israel. It’s not only that they have a luxurious lifestyle, throw fancy parties and buy amazing real estate. That’s another delusion in the West. Many Westerners believe that oligarchs bring their dirty money to their new country but merely as consumers.

In fact, they start to invest in assets — in strategic assets, in politics and in newspapers.

The vast majority of oligarchs can be hired on an ad-hoc basis by the Russian state or Kazakh state, and can be exploited for political purposes by this kleptocratic state.

I recently co-authored a report — “How to Select Russian Oligarchs for New Sanctions?” — that explains why and under what criteria the US government should add oligarchs like the Alfa Group oligarchs to sanctions.

There are very powerful figures with lots of money, lobbyists and PR support in Israel. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu shows up at events with some of them.

Let’s say you have an oligarch who is close to Putin. What would they be doing in Israel? Why should Israelis care?

They can do multiple things. First, they can normalize Kremlin narratives about Israeli interests.

For example, the way they present Russia’s place in the Syrian conflict, in relations with enemies of Israel like Iran, or concerning the Soviet diaspora in Israel.

I’m sure they help promote Kremlin propaganda about the Second World War and Russia’s [ostensibly] almost exclusive role defeating the Nazis. And they peddle the Jewish veterans’ theme with the orange and black St. George ribbon. It’s a ribbon that commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazism that has come to be associated with Russian propaganda against Ukraine and against the West — how the West never really stood up to the Nazis, for example. These are not just historical narratives; they are very useful for today’s politics.

Above and photo at top: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, on May 9, 2018. Both men are wearing the orange and black St. George ribbon (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

But the other thing oligarchs can do in Israel is to co-opt the elite, under the guise of cultural and charity events. They can throw fancy parties with caviar and beautiful women and invite politicians. They have held these receptions around Western capitals. I have followed some of these in London, as well as here in Washington.

Why would a Russian oligarch own a newspaper or TV station?

They may have financial interests and hope to make money but for many of them it is not done for commercial purposes. The reason is to support politicians through the media, and that allows you to get a foothold in the government. You do nice things for the government and then they do nice things for you in return. You establish a relationship and it’s a long-term thing.

It’s all very interconnected. The payback is not immediate but it’s a very solid investment.

Let’s say a Russian oligarch moves to Israel and starts investing in all kinds of businesses and giving money to charity. Why not just assume he’s retired?

No one from that world of state security or organized crime is off the hook because the Russian state has too much compromising material on them, as well as incentives. Also, if you don’t comply you can be eliminated. There is now a book on how Putin most likely ordered killings of dozens of people inside Russia and outside Russia who did not comply with his interests, including from his own security services or organized crime.

A file photo taken on September 14, 2004, shows Alexander Litvinenko (L), a former Russian intelligence agent, speaking at a press conference in London. (AFP PHOTO / MARTIN HAYHOW)

For example, he first used polonium not on Alexander Litvinenko but most likely on Roman Tsepov, who was part of the organized crime group in St. Petersburg in the 1990s that allegedly worked closely with Putin during his rise to power. It’s easier for anyone to comply. There are many oligarchs abroad that he uses on an ad-hoc basis. It’s switch on, switch off. It’s not too demanding or too crazy, and it’s actually acceptable to most of these people.

What’s the connection between the Russian state and organized crime?

In Soviet times there were three worlds that were distinct — with separate, even contradictory, goals. There was the Communist Party, the security services and organized crime. Organized crime was more or less antagonistic to the Soviet regime.

Organized crime and its networks have become part of the Kremlin’s political instruments abroad, including in Israel

Under Putin these three worlds collided and fused and learned from each other. Security services now oversee the businesses of organized criminal groups. Organized criminal groups carry out the political building and conduct operations for the Kremlin. The ideology of the Communist Party was thrown down the drain but the cynical and pragmatic practices, like co-opting the far right, co-opting the far left, co-opting Christianity or Judaism, remained.

You co-opt whoever is important to you in any given country. You can even contradict yourself in different countries but just divide and rule through all these channels — through ideology, through organized criminal groups, through corruption. Organized crime and its networks have become part of the Kremlin’s political instruments abroad, including in Israel.

If there were a Georgian or Russian oligarch who wanted to open hundreds of call centers throughout Israel and scam people abroad out of money, is that something that co-opting the elite would allow them to do?

Yes. But compared to corruption in Russia which involves billions for a single road or pipeline, binary options and forex are a relatively small-scale fraud. Russia as a state is also involved in hacking and dodgy cryptocurrencies; we now know that for a fact from Robert Mueller’s investigation. Russia as a state, especially its security services and associated oligarchs, are involved in all sorts of dodgy things, including in the digital realm.

Someone like Putin would not follow specific criminal activities like binary options, but he sits at the top of a pyramid and there might be levies that make their way from an Israel-based criminal enterprise all the way to the top.

Why would a Georgian or Russian criminal decide to put call centers in Israel of all places?

For a variety of reasons. Corrupt Russian money penetrates any vulnerable spot in the world. The criminality has not just penetrated Israel. It’s in Europe, in Asia, the Middle East and the US.

Why do there seem to be many Jewish oligarchs?

It’s a very useful topic to anti-Semitic circles and it’s not true. Maybe in the late 80s and 90s indeed there were a lot, perhaps too many, visible Jewish oligarchs because of the legacy of the Soviet era and tsarism. Jews had been marginalized and pushed into the black market. They traditionally had math skills, due to the way they were raised, and they helped each other, as does any minority network; ethnic minorities tend to help each other.

Under Putin, I think it’s a specific propaganda tool to expose Jewish oligarchs much more than the rest of the oligarchs. “Oligarch” is actually no longer a useful term in my view, because it suggests that they still have some power. They lost all their power to Putin. Their only currency today is loyalty, it’s not dollars.

Half of the major Jewish events that I see here in Washington, the fancy ones where you can co-opt elites, are co-sponsored by Russian oligarchs

Whatever dollars they have in their accounts can be taken away from them at a snap. Yes, they can store their money offshore but they can’t stop working for the Kremlin. Most of them still own too much in Russia and there are too many hooks and levers on them.

There is no distinction between public and private property in Russia. Everything is owned in one way or another by the Kremlin. So the money that they give as donations, very often they are asked to give the donation. And they have no choice but to give it.

Actually, the Russian state tries to present some of these oligarchs as if they are no longer with the regime, as if they are now in the West. It’s all very misleading. I could count actual Russian oligarchs who are completely removed from the Russian state with one hand.

What about Leonid Nevzlin?

Well, Nevzlin is one of the exceptions. He was ousted from Russia. Mikhail Khodorkovsky too.

I don’t like the term oligarch. I prefer the term handlers, operatives, maybe agents, rich agents. Many of them are actually front men for the money that they ostensibly have. It’s not actually considered fully their money. I’m sure they’re representing some of the Kremlin money, just under the guise of it being their money.

Just to return to your question about the Jewish oligarchs. Currently there are many rich and powerful security people around Putin. They are mostly Russian or a variety of nationalities, but they are secretive and very well protected. Some of the federal ministers as well. Most of the Russian Duma and government are millionaires. They’re just officials but they have the lifestyle of a mini-oligarch.

Should we feel sorry for the oligarchs? It sounds like they can’t escape their gilded cages.

Well some of them managed to escape and these are very exceptional, but obviously at a very high cost to themselves.

There are actually many whistleblowers and refugees from the Russian regime, some of them reformed, some of them not. London has a lot of people like that. Some of them managed to take out some money while others didn’t. They lost a lot, some involuntarily because they fell out of the system. Only few deserve any kind of empathy. Otherwise it’s a very complicated and dark world.

Why do oligarchs give so much money to Jewish and Israeli charities, especially religious ones?

It’s co-option and soft power, and they may be even be using these charities to give political donations.

For themselves, it’s reputation-laundering and legitimacy. It also allows them to advance narratives that are useful to the Kremlin — like about World War II.

If you look at the list of art galleries, museums, and all sorts of Jewish organizations, in New York, Europe and Israel that are associated with Putin’s oligarchs, you will be absolutely amazed

For instance, this whole debate about Ukraine. Russia tries to say the current government is a Nazi government, and how all of western Ukraine and their parties are anti-Semitic, how the West opened a second front in World War II at too late a stage and did not help Russia. The Kremlin can co-opt Jews to promote these narratives.

And then there are the May 9th celebrations [V-Day, commemorating the surrender of the Nazis in 1945] by Russia around the world, including in Israel on a large scale now.

Funding Jewish charities also gives them access to people. If you have a high-level event at the Metropolitan Museum or the Museum of Jewish History, you get access to politicians so you can co-opt them. If you look at the list of art galleries, museums, and all sorts of Jewish organizations, in New York, Europe and Israel that are associated with Putin’s oligarchs, you will be absolutely amazed and stunned. MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum, operas, Carnegie Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery. The list is endless.

Half of the major Jewish events that I see here in Washington, the fancy ones where you can co-opt elites, are co-sponsored by Russian oligarchs.

I’m sure that Russian oligarchs have managed to co-opt many politicians in Israel.

Look at [the rise in Russia of] Chabad. People in Chabad say, “We are just promoting the Jewish legacy. At least there is no anti-Semitism under Putin.” They find all sorts of excuses [to be supportive of Putin]. Before Putin, Chabad was a marginal group, at least in the former Soviet Union.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman seen with Russian-Israeli World War II veterans, as they take part in the Veterans Day parade in honor of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany, at the Knesset. May 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

What is the Russian ruling class’s goal in Israel?

To create an environment — a political environment and economic environment — where it’s too difficult for Israel to resist some of the strategic interests of the Kremlin in the region. Not to oppose Russia’s interests.

But they’re also interested in subverting democracy. A strategic goal for the next few years is to subvert democracy in the West. In some ways they have already succeeded, and the appetite comes with food, as they say. So once they subvert democracy, the goal is to advance more corruption, more vested interests and then just turn the whole West into a corrupt world.

Why do they want to turn the West into a corrupt world?

Because then you can engage in what Russians love, which is realpolitik. Whoever is strong gets his own zone of influence and no one else can interfere. Russia would like to divide the world into zones of interest.

Look at what they did with influencing the American elections and possibly Brexit.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and US President Donald Trump talk as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. (AFP/Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev)

By the time of the 2016 elections in the United States, Russians already had all sorts of Putin understanders and supporters in the press, in the lobbying groups, in business circles, in chambers of commerce, among politicians, even in Congress. They have all these people who are associated with Russia through attending events at the Russian Embassy, going to conferences in Russia and Europe, sitting on boards of Russian companies or galleries associated with Russian money. It’s all done through open channels.

There are several think tanks in Washington which are completely subverted by Russians and that put forward narratives useful to the Kremlin about everything — from Ukraine, to Israel, to corruption. That acts as a force against an independent press, independent thinking, because you can pollute the whole policymaking and debating environment

They also influence think tanks and their debates and narratives about Russia. There are several think tanks in Washington, for example, which are completely subverted by Russians and that put forward narratives useful to the Kremlin about everything — from Ukraine, to Israel, to corruption — and that acts as a force against an independent press, independent thinking, because you can pollute the whole policymaking and debating environment.

Why does Putin want to destroy democracy? Because it competes with his patronage system?

Yes. If I had to judge, I think it’s just his enormous lust for power and he’s a control freak. He just can’t get enough. But maybe, some people suggest that his circle pressures him. I would imagine they pressure each other and it’s a constant game of power, so he has to stay afloat and show benefits.

You’ve said you think journalists are not writing enough about Putin and his oligarchs?

I see it as a huge problem that the Western press is just incapable of covering many of these topics. The press has been marginalized by the internet, so it’s a global trend. Newspapers have lower budgets, they struggle more for advertising, there is much more private and partisan ownership of media outlets. These are all global trends but they influence coverage on Russia also.

Even high-level, big outlets like The New York Times and Guardian face extremely aggressive, litigious teams of lawyers and lobbyists of these oligarchs who have infinite pockets and can afford long legal fights.

Many newspapers don’t have proper foreign country correspondents. If they do, they have to write quick articles, like one per week without delving into difficult topics. Then there is a vicious cycle where complicated cases about Russia are not covered in the West and so there is no interest about them. And since there is no interest there is no coverage.

The first stage is that you lose transparency, democracy and good governance. Israel is already losing that

Very often I found that I wasn’t able to put important topics out there just because it was too complicated for the journalist to write. Not even because of libel issues or because of time constraints. He or she would say, “My editor will not take it through because it’s too complicated. It delves too much into Russian detail.”

Most amazingly, most major media outlets do not have a full-time Russian translator and researcher who can fully devote his or her time to the most basic background research for the few investigative journalists that these outlets struggle to support.

What will happen to Israel if it does nothing about the corrupt kleptocratic influence you describe?

The first stage is that you lose transparency, democracy and good governance. Israel is already losing that. There is no longer separation of powers. There is prevalence of the executive. There is organized crime and no one takes action against it. The police do nothing. This is the first step.

Israel may give up many of its positions in Syria very soon. I can’t exclude that.

What definitely will happen if we continue on the current trajectory is that the entire West will turn into some kind of Hong Kong. where superficially it is democracy. It has some kind of elections, it looks capitalist and there is modern technology, but in reality a corrupt, non-democratic government actually runs it.

For the average person what does that mean? That you’re either a criminal or you’re poor?

Exactly, if you don’t become part of the corrupt network, you’re much worse off. You’ll be on the sidelines, as happens now in post-Soviet states. There will be growing income inequality, shady deals, no social mobility and all these problems that are associated with semi-corrupt authoritarian states.

There may still be some semblance of democracy. The press will do fewer and fewer investigations and more entertainment and brainwashing. It will be much more partisan — so the only differences of opinion you can get is from vested interests, not from independent and objective civil society.

What can be done?

It’s a very harsh, difficult choice. The first step is acknowledgement of what is going on, followed by investigations and revelations of all these things.

I am not even sure what can trigger such acknowledgement and exposure. Even the meddling in US elections has not triggered the United States enough, although at least something is happening.

After this acknowledgement happens, you need a very robust policy of containment. There is no other choice.

People walking near Red Square in Moscow, Russia. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Some money flows have to be stopped; some people have to be kicked out of your country, or even stripped of their Western citizenship. There must be much stricter anti-money laundering and due diligence of companies, and auditors should hire Russian or Georgian or Chinese translators to look into the background of people trying to buy assets in the West.

Security services have to have a major say in any strategic purchase related to security, defense or the national interest.

And then obviously there should be more funds for independent investigative reporters. I am friends with an organization called the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). They tell me that to train one proper investigative journalist and to keep him safe and to keep him protected from libel suits, you have to have a budget of about $300,000 a year, maybe $400,000.

If your readers care about Israel, about keeping it democratic, there should definitely be some civil society efforts

When societies start investing in investigative journalism like that, that’s when the job will be done. And it can’t be one investigative journalist. You have to have dozens.

If your readers care about Israel, about keeping it democratic, there should definitely be some civil society efforts, some donations, some Kickstarters. Ultimately people should understand that this will hit them back in terms of their own welfare and their access to democratic institutions, but ultimately even economically.

It could happen in very unexpected ways. Your child could end up in a war with Syria, or some conflict instigated by Russia somewhere in the world. In a way this is a repetition of the 1930s. No one thought that events in Nazi Germany would have any repercussions for the United States. But then the country ended up fighting the Germans when it was too late.

Could this covert Russian influence constitute a factor in a future Israeli war?

The West is like a small clean lake, or relatively clean lake, in the middle of a swamp. And the floodgates have been opened

What people in general in the West should understand is that the West and NATO are now becoming a minority force in the world; the power of the United States is declining. These large authoritarian states are taking over if not the world then at least Eurasia, countries like China and Malaysia that are not going to become democratic any time soon. The richer they get, the more authoritarian and the more aggressive and expansionist they become.

Democratic countries are becoming like an oasis in the desert. A better metaphor is that the West is like a small clean lake, or relatively clean lake, in the middle of a swamp. And the floodgates have been opened. It’s not like the small lake will clean up the swamp. It’s the other way around. So unless you close the doors and put some filters in place, you will be taken over as a swamp as well.

It won’t be easy. Consumption in the West will have to be scaled back from those money flows from Eurasia. Some industries will have to suffer, especially those that benefit from gas and oil contracts, as well as lobbyists, PR people, lawyers, all offshore accountants and real estate people. They will have to suffer; they will not make as much money.

But the society as a whole will benefit and be able to hold on to its values, like due diligence and good governance.

In terms of Israel specifically, if this does not happen, then I think the NATO alliance will be marginalized and might have to be involved in conflicts it doesn’t want. And then Israel will be much more on its own against its foes, and might not receive as much American help as it might hope to in such circumstances.

So all this has direct security implications for Israel as a society, and Israel as a state, unfortunately.

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COMMENTS

John Brennan: President Trump’s Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

John Brennan: President Trump’s Claims of No Collusion Are Hogwash

That’s why the president revoked my security clearance: to try to silence anyone who would dare challenge him.

By John O. Brennan

Mr. Brennan was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2013 to 2017.

Image
CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

When Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s internal security service, told me during an early August 2016 phone call that Russia wasn’t interfering in our presidential election, I knew he was lying. Over the previous several years I had grown weary of Mr. Bortnikov’s denials of Russia’s perfidy — about its mistreatment of American diplomats and citizens in Moscow, its repeated failure to adhere to cease-fire agreements in Syria and its paramilitary intervention in eastern Ukraine, to name just a few issues.

When I warned Mr. Bortnikov that Russian interference in our election was intolerable and would roil United States-Russia relations for many years, he denied Russian involvement in any election, in America or elsewhere, with a feigned sincerity that I had heard many times before. President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated those denials numerous times over the past two years, often to Donald Trump’s seeming approval.

Russian denials are, in a word, hogwash.

Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft. Electoral politics in Western democracies presents an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives. The very freedoms and liberties that liberal Western democracies cherish and that autocracies fear have been exploited by Russian intelligence services not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation, increasingly via the growing number of social media platforms.

Having worked closely with the F.B.I. over many years on counterintelligence investigations, I was well aware of Russia’s ability to work surreptitiously within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power. Like Mr. Bortnikov, these Russian operatives and agents are well trained in the art of deception. They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters. Too often, those puppets are found.

In my many conversations with James Comey, the F.B.I. director, in the summer of 2016, we talked about the potential for American citizens, involved in partisan politics or not, to be pawns in Russian hands. We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives, which the United States intelligence community publicly assessed a few short months later were to undermine public faith in the American democratic process, harm the electability of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and show preference for Mr. Trump. We also publicly assessed that Mr. Putin’s intelligence services were following his orders. Director Comey and I, along with the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, pledged that our agencies would share, as appropriate, whatever information was collected, especially considering the proven ability of Russian intelligence services to suborn United States citizens.

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

Image
Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka and campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in July 2016, hours before he accepted the Republican nomination for president. A few days later he called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s emails.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do — and what they actually did — to win the election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets. A jury is about to deliberate bank and tax fraud charges against one of those people, Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman. And the campaign’s former deputy chairman, Rick Gates, has pleaded guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators.

Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him. Now more than ever, it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference — from Mr. Trump or anyone else — so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.

John O. Brennan was director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2013 to January 2017.

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Greek Spat Exposes Putin’s Waning Clout in European Backyard

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

Greek Spat Exposes Putin’s Waning Clout in European Backyard

Monday, 13 August, 2018 – 08:30
When Greece, traditionally among Russia’s closest friends in Europe, expelled two Russian diplomats last month for trying to wreck a deal with the neighboring Republic of Macedonia, it exposed Moscow’s deepening frustration at President Vladimir Putin’s loss of influence in a key strategic region.

Russia’s being squeezed out of the Balkans by the expansion of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, leaving the Kremlin with diminishing clout in southeastern Europe. There’s little chance of reversing that trend, according to four people in Moscow familiar with its Balkans policy.

“NATO membership of course is bad for us,” said Leonid Reshetnikov, a former head of Russian foreign intelligence who also served as an agent in Greece and the Balkans. “What can we do? They are clearing this territory” of rival influences, he said.

Russia’s deep historical and cultural ties to the Balkans made the region a preserve of pro-Moscow sentiment that ensured warmer relations than with much of the rest of Europe. Now Balkan states are becoming bound in with the West as they gravitate toward the EU and NATO.

Even amid divisions within the EU and questions raised by President Donald Trump about the US commitment to its NATO allies, the blocs still exert a strong pull in the region with their promises of rising trade and living standards, strengthened rule of law and security guarantees. Russia’s shrinking geopolitical reach is a historic setback for Putin, even as the Kremlin leader’s global power appears to be on the march, from Syria to meddling in US politics.

“Russia is acting pretty passively,’’ said Alexander Dugin, a nationalist thinker and one-time Kremlin adviser who promotes a vision of Russian dominance across Europe and Eurasia. “It needs a plan of action.”

Greek Expulsions

Greece expelled the Russian envoys after accusing them of bribing officials in an attempt to block the accord that settles a dispute over the Republic of Macedonia’s name and allows it to start talks on NATO membership. Russia’s foreign ministry accused Athens of joining in “dirty provocations,” prompting a Greek demand that “the constant disrespect for Greece must stop.”

Russia on Monday summoned the Greek ambassador to inform him that the foreign ministry was retaliating with reciprocal diplomatic measures in response to the expulsions.

Under the deal with Athens, the Republic of Macedonia will become the Republic of North Macedonia after Greece objected that the former Yugoslav republic’s title implied a territorial claim on its province with the same name.

‘Derail It’

Greece is “fully determined” to ratify the agreement, said Costas Douzinas, a member of the ruling Syriza party and head of the parliamentary committee on defense and foreign relations. “If the Russians continue to attempt to derail it, the reaction will be strong.”

Even the pro-Russian Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government, accuses Moscow of meddling, even as it opposes the accord. There’s “first-hand information that there was Russian interference in Greek matters,” the party’s vice president, Panos Sgouridis, said by phone. “It’s crucial that Greece’s national sovereignty is protected.”

The Republic of Macedonia plans to hold a referendum on Sept. 30. The deal is opposed by President Gjorge Ivanov, while Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has accused unnamed Greek businessmen sympathetic to Russia of inciting protests against it.

Last month, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a consortium of investigative reporters, cited the Republic of Macedonia’s Interior Ministry documents as saying that Greek-Russian billionaire Ivan Savvidis paid 300,000 euros to opponents of the accord. A representative for Savvidis denied the claim.
‘Enemies of Russia’

The former Yugoslav republic “will be in NATO,” said Frants Klintsevich, a member of the defense and security committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament. Moscow views the expansion of the alliance as reinforcing “the circle of enemies around Russia,” he said.

The tensions follow accusations by Montenegro that Russia was behind a failed coup attempt during 2016 parliamentary elections in a bid to derail its entry into the U.S.-led military alliance last year. Two Russian intelligence officers are among 14 people charged with the plot by Montenegrin prosecutors. Russia denies any involvement.

Konstantin Malofeev, a wealthy Russian businessman and Putin ally, who’s been sanctioned by the EU for backing insurgents in eastern Ukraine and has cultivated links to far-right parties in Europe, warned ominously of a backlash in Greece. A June opinion poll in Greece showed almost 70 percent of Greeks opposed the agreement with the Republic of Macedonia.
Serbia Shift

Russia’s sometimes heavy-handed efforts to stem the West’s growing influence have provoked alarm, particularly after the 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine. Moscow’s fear is that it may be left without partners in the region.

Albania and Croatia are NATO members, while Bosnia and Herzegovina says it wants to join, though Bosnian Serbs with ties to Russia threaten to block any attempt. Even Russia’s closest regional ally, Serbia, has joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace cooperation program. Meanwhile, the EU has dangled the prospect of membership as early as 2025 for Serbia and five other Balkans states.

Ranged against Russia are the US and its European allies.

US Vice President Mike Pence spoke by phone to Tsipras and Zaev on July 5. He later tweeted that “successful implementation’’ of the agreement “will open the door to European integration’’ for the Republic of Macedonia. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said July 30 that it’s in the EU’s “strategic interest” to expand into the western Balkans.

“It will be a very big blow” for Russia if Serbia, which NATO forces bombed in 1999 during the Kosovo crisis, eventually joins the alliance, said Nikita Bondarev, a Balkans expert from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, which advises the Kremlin. “We will become almost friendless in southeastern Europe.”

(Bloomberg)

Trump’s Russia Admission Is No Mere Scandal. It’s a Betrayal.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BLOOMBERG NEWS AGENCY)

 

Trump’s Russia Admission Is No Mere Scandal. It’s a Betrayal.

Accepting help “to get information on an opponent” was an ugly and unpatriotic act.

So much for national loyalty.

Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

During a presidential campaign, accepting help from Russia “to get information on an opponent” is an ugly and unpatriotic act. It casts contempt on the countless people who have put their lives on the line for our republic and the principles for which it stands.

In 2007 and 2008, I was honored to work with the campaign of Senator Barack Obama as an occasional, informal adviser. I received plenty of ideas from friends, acquaintances and strangers about how to win the presidency.

No offers of help came from anyone associated with a foreign government. But if they had, my only question would have been this: Do I go directly to the FBI, or do I go to people in a higher position in the campaign, and ask them to go directly to the FBI?

Like many millions of Americans (Republicans and Democrats alike), I had long been hoping that the 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower, including Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer connected with the Kremlin, involved issues of adoption policy (as the White House previously told us).

Last weekend, President Donald Trump disclosed, “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent.”

Americans should never forget that the Soviet Union played a heroic and indispensable role in winning World War II. And Trump is right to insist that the United States has a keen interest in maintaining a peaceful, cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.

But it should go without saying that the highest loyalty of any candidate, and any president, is to his nation, not to electoral victory. The Russian government has been working to weaken, undermine and destabilize our country.

No candidate for high office, and no presidential campaign, should even think about accepting Russia’s help “to get information on an opponent.”

This conclusion is not merely a matter of common sense. It is linked with the deepest fears of those who founded our nation. Many people are puzzled by the constitutional provision limiting eligibility for the presidency to “natural born” citizens. But it attests to the founders’ desire to ensure something they prized perhaps above all: loyalty.

In the decisive debates over the impeachment clause, James Madison pointed to the risk that a president “might betray his trust to foreign powers.” Focusing on the electoral process itself, George Mason asked, “Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment?”

As far as I am aware, there is as yet no evidence that the meeting at Trump Tower had any effect on the 2016 election, or that the president knew about the meeting at the time. But here is a general principle: Successfully enlisting Russia’s help to procure the presidency would count as a high crime or misdemeanor within the meaning of the impeachment clause – whether or not it’s technically a crime within federal law.

But is it a federal crime? Federal law makes it unlawful “to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation . . . from a foreign national.” A contribution includes “any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” Lawyers are now discussing, and disputing, whether “information on an opponent” counts as “anything of value.”

Let’s put the legal niceties to one side. In my view, it was reasonable for President Trump to say that as a matter of principle, professional athletes ought to show respect for the American flag and the national anthem. “E pluribus unum” is the motto on the nation’s seal. It dates from the period of the Revolutionary War.

Seeking Russia’s help, to get “information on an opponent,” is worse than a scandal. It is a betrayal.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Cass Sunstein at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at [email protected]

Trump Should Have To Pay For “The Wall” With His Own Money!!!

 

Do you like being made a fool of? I am not just talking about being made a fool of only within your own family, clan or city. I am not even talking about being made a fool of only within your own country, I am talking about being made a fool of in every corner of every country on the planet. If you are one of the people who were believing the stupid B.S. that Trump kept yelling out to his supporters during his campaign speeches about “whose going to pay for the wall? Mexico,” then my friend, he was simply playing you for a fool and an idiot! If you are not totally aware of it by now, Mr. Trump is an habitual liar, he proves it to the whole world everyday when he opens his mouth or when he Tweets.  Mr. Trump is and has been playing ‘his base’ for a fool since he first said he was going to run for Office. Normally I would consider a person a total fool when they themselves are an habitual liar whom knowing that, believes their own lies as truth, this seems to fit Mr. Trump quite well.

 

Do you like being lied to, being made a fool of? I don’t and when a jerk goes up to a microphone and starts spouting obvious lies to me and to everyone else, it upsets me. Even though I knew that there was and is no chance that Mexico was/is going to pay for a Border Wall at the Mexico/U.S. Border I still didn’t appreciate Mr. Trump playing millions of the American people for fools on this subject matter. It is true that shortly after Mr. Trump took office that he had a phone call with the then President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto and “the Wall” was discussed. Yet in that recording which Mexico’s President released Mr. Nieto told Mr. Trump that Mexico was not going to contribute to Trump’s Border Wall. Mr. Trump then all but pleaded with Mr. Nieto for Mexico to pay for The Wall because if Mexico didn’t (and I quote) “it would make him look like an idiot to his base.”

 

Mr. Trump’s election slogans like ‘The Wall’ and the one about Hillary Clinton and the slogan “Lock Her Up” were just propaganda and lies to his Base, and to the rest of the American people, and in fact, to the world. Concerning the Hillary propaganda of ‘lock her up’ I knew well that this would never happen. Just like ‘The Wall’ Mr. Trump was playing to the ignorance of the people. Folks, Donald Trump and both of the Clinton’s hung around in the same groups up until about 2015, all three of these people have proven themselves to be very crooked and habitual liars. Folks, isn’t it only very logical that all three know enough dirt on each other to fill up Lake Erie with their feces? If President Trump had indeed ordered the DOJ to investigate the Clinton’s for their crimes do you honestly believe that Bill and Hillary would have stayed quite about the deeds of Citizen Trump? Friends you don’t bite the tail of an Asp unless you know that their teeth have been pulled out by their roots first. Honestly I believe that Russia’s President Putin has major felony issues on Mr. Trump and that for those reasons interfered in the 2016 Elections to get Mr. Trump elected President of the U.S.. Now that this happened President Putin has himself a puppet in the Oval Office. I wish that these things were not the truth but I totally believe that history will prove me correct on these issues.

 

The conclusion in my letter to you today is simple and the title of this article pretty well spells out my belief concerning the physical dollar cost of the Wall that Mr. Trump wants built. Only a total dummy would have believed that Mexico would ever pay for Trumps’s Border Wall, it is difficult to believe that even he was that stupid. So, being that Mr. Trump promised the American people that this Wall would be built and that we the people would not have to pay for it, and he knew that Mexico would not, then isn’t it only proper, fair and correct that this habitual liar pay for this Wall out of his own money if it is ever actually built?

Trump’s Base Would Pick Putin Over Any Democrat As U.S. President

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST AND ‘MSNBC’)

 

Reagan’s Son: Trump’s Base Would Pick Putin Over Any Democrat As U.S. President

“The most important thing to them is that Trump seems to hate the same people they hate,” Ron Reagan says.

The son of former President Ronald Reagan believes Donald Trump’s political base is so consumed by hatred for the Democrats that they would vote for Vladimir Putin to be America’s president instead of virtually any member of that party.

“They really aren’t in touch with reality. The most important thing to them [is that Trump] seems to hate the same people that they hate,” Ron Reagan told Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Thursday. “That’s the real Trump derangement syndrome.”

On the other hand, they like the people Trump likes, Reagan said. Russian President Putin’s popularity is rising, he noted.

“If it was left just up to Trump’s base, they would elect Vladimir Putin as president of the United States over virtually anybody with a D after their name,” he added. “If Trump seems to love Putin, they’ll love Putin, too.”

A revved-up Matthews groused that if President Barack Obama had committed an antic like one of Trump’s, he “would have been keelhauled.”

Reagan responded: “You’re absolutely right. No previous president could have gotten away with even a tenth of the things that Donald Trump has.”

Absolute Fact: Donald ‘FAKE PRESIDENT’ Trump: Guilty Of Treason Against America

(THIS ARTICLE SO COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Stelter: Trump’s ‘hoax’ tweet means the press has even more questions to ask

Play Video

‘Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?’

When historians look back on the Trump presidency, they’ll say that last week was the moment something changed — the week when uncomfortable questions about Russia moved into the mainstream in a whole new way.

Trump’s odd behavior with Russian president Vladimir Putin got people talking last Monday, when the two men met in Helsinki, and the criticism continued all week long, evincing deep concern about the relationship between two of the world’s most powerful men.

And if Helsinki was fresh kindling for a raging fire, Trump poured even more fuel on it Sunday night. With the click of a button, he tweeted that “Russia” — shorthand for the Russian interference campaign in 2016 — was “all a big hoax.”

He seemed to be contradicting his own claims that he believes US intelligence.

Now the White House press corps — and members of the public — have even more questions for the commander in chief.

It remains to be seen if Trump will take questions this week, or if press secretary Sarah Sanders will hold daily briefings. There have only been two on-camera briefings so far this month.

But it is shaping up to be another week filled with questions about Trump’s loyalty.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election. Why didn’t he do something about it? Why didn’t he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax, that’s why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!

“It’s bewildering, why the president would go back and call this a hoax,” veteran political analyst David Gergen said on CNN.

On any level it is astonishing to see a sitting president contradict his own administration this way. Intelligence agencies, congressional leaders, and outside experts have all assessed that Russia was responsible for a sweeping attack on the US election in 2016.

Trump has given lip service to this assessment, saying he accepts the intelligence community’s conclusions, while acting like he does not.

The repeated walk-backs have sowed confusion and left the press corps scrambling to keep up. What should journalists take more seriously: Words Trump reads from a script, or his out-of-the-blue musings on Twitter?

Most of the times when reporters have shouted questions to him in recent days, he has declined to answer. So he’s done most of his talking in tweet form.

He continues to claim regularly that the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in 2016 is a “witch hunt.” Numerous Trump administration officials say it is not a “witch hunt.” They also say the Russian effort is ongoing.

But on Wednesday, Trump left people wondering if he believes the Russians are still actively interfering in American politics.

To be clear, Trump’s director of national intelligence Dan Coats says yes. Coats recently said it was “undeniable.”

But when ABC’s Cecilia Vega asked “Is Russia still targeting the US, Mr. President?” Trump responded “Thank you very much. No.”

Vega was one member of a small press pool that was allowed inside the beginning of a Cabinet meeting. When Trump said “no,” Vega followed up: “No, you don’t believe that to be the case?”

Trump was again heard saying “no.”

News outlets sent out breaking news alerts. But then Sanders claimed he was saying “no” to answering questions from the press corps.

This explanation made little sense because, after he told Vega “no,” Trump continued fielding questions from other reporters.

So there’s ample reason for journalists to try to ask again: “Is Russia still targeting the US?”

With regards to Trump’s treatment of Putin and Russia, national security experts and journalists have been citing the fact pattern and saying there’s something strange going on.

“No rational president would act this way if he weren’t being blackmailed on some level,” Republican congressman turned MSNBC host Joe Scarborough commented. Scarborough has been harshly critical of Trump for more than a year.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, a liberal-leaning website, wrote that Helsinki “made cautious, prominent people start to come to grips with the reality” that Trump is “under some kind of influence or control by a foreign adversary.”

This story remains, at its heart, a mystery. The Trump-Putin meeting is still shrouded in secrecy. One way to solve a mystery is by asking the right questions until answers start to emerge.

Russia: Keep an Eye on the Magnitsky Act

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF MOTHERJONES.COM)

 

Keep an Eye on the Magnitsky Act

ITAR-TASS/ZUMAPRESS

Back in 2016, when Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya met at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, the alleged topic of conversation was the Magnitsky Act.

Now bear with me here. The Magnitsky Act is named after Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, who discovered a $230 million fraud among Russian tax officials back in 2009. Naturally Magnitsky himself was arrested, since the powers-that-be in Russia don’t abide these kinds of accusations, and he was eventually beaten to death while he was in prison. His friend Bill Browder was outraged and publicized what had happened, which led to Congress passing the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in 2012 by a vote of 92-4. Russia, as expected, was infuriated, because it targeted the country’s most powerful oligarchs in the only way that really hurts them: by freezing their money and their travel overseas. Julia Ioffe explains:

The first decade of Putin’s rule was a bonanza for state security structures. Using tactics similar to those used in the Browder-Magnitsky case, government officials, especially those in Putin’s native FSB, enriched themselves….They pillaged and nearly wiped out small and medium-sized businesses in Russia, jailing many of their owners in the process. Government programs and projects were dreamt up not to be built or actualized, but to allow their proponents to pocket parts of the state budget.

….Back then, a Russian businessman told me it felt like “the day before Pompeii,” with everyone stealing as much as they could as quickly as possible—and then whisking it out of the country….The families of the Russian elite often don’t live in Russia. They live in Paris, in London, Geneva, New York, Los Angeles. That’s where their money lives, too, and where their children go to school and where their families seek medical treatment—which is one of the reasons the Russian education and medical systems are falling apart, robbed by corruption of what little resources they had.

….What made Russian officialdom so mad about the Magnitsky Act is that it was the first time that there was some kind of roadblock to getting stolen money to safety. In Russia, after all, officers and bureaucrats could steal it again, the same way they had stolen it in the first place: a raid, an extortion racket, a crooked court case with forged documents—the possibilities are endless. Protecting the money meant getting it out of Russia. But what happens if you get it out of Russia and it’s frozen by Western authorities? What’s the point of stealing all that money if you can’t enjoy the Miami condo it bought you? What’s the point if you can’t use it to travel to the Côte d’Azur in luxury?

So far, 49 of Russia’s richest and most powerful oligarchs, all of them friends of Putin, have been targeted by the Magnitsky Act:

  1. DROGANOV, Aleksey O.
  2. KARPOV, Pavel
  3. KOMNOV, Dmitriy
  4. KHIMINA, Yelena
  5. KRIVORUCHKO, Aleksey
  6. KUZNETSOV, Artem
  7. LOGUNOV, Oleg
  8. PECHEGIN, Andrey I.
  9. PODOPRIGOROV, Sergei G.
  10. PROKOPENKO, Ivan Pavlovitch
  11. SILCHENKO, Oleg F.
  12. STASHINA, Yelena
  13. STEPANOVA, Olga G.
  14. TOLCHINSKIY, Dmitri M.
  15. UKHNALYOVA, Svetlana
  16. VINOGRADOVA, Natalya V.
  17. BOGATIROV, Letscha
  18. DUKUZOV, Kazbek
  19. LITVINOVA, Larisa Anatolievna
  20. KRATOV, Dmitry Borisovich
  21. GAUS, Alexandra Viktorovna
  22. TAGIYEV, Fikret
  23. ALISOV, Igor Borisovich
  24. MARKELOV, Viktor Aleksandrovich
  25. KLYUEV, Dmitry Vladislavovich
  26. STEPANOV, Vladlen Yurievich
  27. KHLEBNIKOV, Vyacheslav Georgievich
  28. AKHAYEV, Musa
  29. SUGAIPOV, Umar
  30. KRECHETOV, Andrei Alexandrovich
  31. DAUDOV, Magomed Khozhakhmedovich
  32. ALAUDINOV, Apti Kharonovich
  33. GRIN, Victor Yakovlevich
  34. STRIZHOV, Andrei Alexandrovich
  35. ANICHIN, Aleksey Vasilyevich
  36. KIBIS, Boris Borisovich
  37. URZHUMTSEV, Oleg Vyacheslavovich
  38. LAPSHOV, Pavel Vladimirovich
  39. ANTONOV, Yevgeni Yuvenalievich
  40. PLAKSIN, Gennady Nikolaevich
  41. LUGOVOI, Andrei Konstantinovich
  42. KOVTUN, Dmitri
  43. BASTRYKIN, Alexander Ivanovich
  44. GORDIEVSKY, Stanislav Evgenievich
  45. MAYOROVA, Yulia
  46. KATAEV, Ayub Vakhaevich
  47. PAVLOV, Andrei
  48. SHESHENYA, Alexei Nikolaevich
  49. KADYROV, Ramzan Akhmatovich

So what’s the point of all this detail? Just this: Britain passed its own version of the Magnitsky Act earlier this year. Ditto for the Netherlands. Estonia too (“we won’t leave such unfriendly steps without a due response,” Russia threatened). There’s even a move afoot to pass an EU-wide Magnitsky Act, which would truly be a disaster for Russia’s elite. So perhaps it’s no surprise that at the Helsinki summit Putin specifically called out Bill Browder, the man who’s probably more responsible than anyone for getting the original Magnitsky Act passed. Here’s what Putin said:

Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States, and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Well, that’s the personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal.

This is not the kind of personal shout out we usually get from Putin at these events. But he’s desperate. So with all this out of the way, let’s go back in time to the Trump Tower meeting and ask again: what was that all about? Well, it was about the Magnitsky Act, which the Russians urgently want repealed. But it was also about delivering dirt on Hillary Clinton. And this is the dirt: $400 million in sketchy campaign contributions from Bill Browder and his cronies. That didn’t work out—largely because it wasn’t true—but not for lack of trying. No matter where you turn, the Magnitsky Act is staring you in the face. If there’s any single thing that Vladimir Putin is pissed off about, this is it.

So what did Putin and Trump talk about in their secret 2-hour meeting with no aides present? If I had to take a guess, I’d say it was the Magnitsky Act. Keep an eye on this over the next few months.

Is President Guilty Of Treason?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

Putin weaves KGB trade craft and attention to detail in a remarkable meeting with Trump

Putin weaves KGB tradecraft and attention to detail in a remarkable meeting with Trump
Russian President Vladimir Putin shown at a news conference in the presidential palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. (Anatoly Maltsev/EPA/Shutterstock)

 

At a rally before cheering supporters this month in Montana, President Trump declared nonchalantly of his then-upcoming summit with Russia’s leader: “I have been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”

But on Monday, with a world audience looking on, the summit looked far more like a culminating moment in the political life of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

The 65-year-old Russian president was by turns commanding and confident as he stood side-by-side with Trump at a news conference, artfully mixing in occasional expressions of boredom or bemusement as he spoke. Virtually unchallenged by Trump, he asserted that Moscow has “never interfered” in an American political contest, and would not do so in the future.

That, of course, flies in the face of U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow mounted a comprehensive campaign against the U.S. electoral system in 2016, and is pressing ahead with that effort, with midterm elections just four months away.

For Putin, a former spymaster who once lamented the breakup of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century and has long sought at least symbolically equal footing with the world’s only other nuclear superpower, Helsinki was a moment of triumph.

The Aurus Senat presidential state car of Russian President Vladimir Putin idles during a welcome ceremony at Helsinki Airport in Finland on Monday.
The Aurus Senat presidential state car of Russian President Vladimir Putin idles during a welcome ceremony at Helsinki Airport in Finland on Monday. (Mikhail Metzel / Kremlin/Sputnik)

 

But while the joint news conference was perhaps the apex of Putin’s nearly two decades on the global stage, it was also in some ways a return to his roots. The Russian leader made explicit reference to his long career as a KGB operative, alluding almost teasingly to his intimate knowledge of tradecraft even as he listened to the U.S. president cast doubt on the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.

“I was an intelligence officer myself,” he said dryly at one point. Asked directly by a U.S. reporter whether he had compromising material on Trump, Putin dodged the query by pointing out that hundreds of American business figures had visited Moscow, as the U.S. president did years before his candidacy.

“Do you think we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them?” the Russian leader asked scornfully.

Later, in an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, Putin categorically denied that Russia had anything compromising on Trump. “Unlike you, unlike the United States, we don’t do this. We don’t have enough resources,” he said.

It was in 1999, in a chaotic and floundering post-Soviet Russia, that Putin was plucked from relative obscurity as a KGB functionary to assume first the post of prime minister and then the presidency. He has never since been out of power.

To survive in the cutthroat world of Russian politics, Putin drew upon the ruthless persona he cultivated during his intelligence career. Few serious challenges to his power have emerged, but when they have, critics and human rights groups say he has repeatedly shown himself willing to sideline foes by deadly means if necessary.

Over the years, Putin learned ways large and small to keep adversaries off balance, once bringing a dog to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was known to fear them. In Helsinki, he employed a longtime strategem, keeping Trump waiting for nearly an hour as he arrived late for the summit’s start.

And he carried over a long-held habit from his intelligence days: strict attention to detail, with the ability to regurgitate arcane information at will.

Putin crisply demonstrated his comprehensive grasp of policy questions, including provisions contained in decades-old arms treaties; Trump, by contrast, seemed confused during a pre-summit meeting with Finland’s president as to whether the host country is a member of NATO. (It is not.)

At the news conference, Putin was studiedly bland in characterizing the closed-door talks with the U.S. side, discussions that included more than two hours spent one-on-one with Trump. “Businesslike” was his description of the summit talks.

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a joint news conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland.
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a joint news conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland. (Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

 

But his veteran foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was freer to telegraph the Kremlin’s sentiments, wearing a broad smile as he entered the room where the news conference was held. Russian media afterward quoted him as summing up the summit as “fabulous … better than super.”

In Helsinki, Putin reverted to a classic Kremlin playbook when U.S. reporters asked him about election interference, protesting that he had not been provided with the details of accusations against his government, and offering Russian investigative assistance to get to the bottom of the affair.

That echoed Moscow’s response to the poisoning with a military-grade nerve agent this year of Russian turncoat spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil. A British woman died and her companion was seriously sickened after apparently coming in accidental contact with a remnant.

Like any good KGB case officer, Putin managed Monday to weave subtle and not-so-subtle threats into seemingly conciliatory statements.One was directed at the American-born British financier Bill Browder, who made billions in Russia before running afoul of the Kremlin.

Browder has lobbied governments around the world to adopt a sanctions-imposing mechanism named for his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died under suspicious circumstances in Russian custody. In offering to “assist” in the U.S. probe of Russians accused of meddling in the U.S. presidential election, Putin suggested that Russian authorities should be allowed to question U.S. intelligence officers who, he suggested, were complicit in supposed tax violations by Browder.

At the news conference, Putin did not even have to offer up defenses for Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula or the downing that year of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine that killed some 300 people. Trump in essence did that for him, saying he held “both countries responsible” for the fraught state of U.S.-Russia relations.

In Putin’s early years in power, his heavy hand with the country’s oligarchs and mafia impressed the West, and domestically, Russians embraced his policies even as he stifled independent media and muzzled critics.

There was no indication that Trump brought up Putin’s pitiless style in confronting perceived enemies, but in the Fox interview, aired hours after the summit, Wallace pressed the Russian leader on opponents who “wound up dead.” Putin retorted: “Haven’t presidents been killed in the United States?”

Putin’s course toward a more authoritarian government became most apparent four years into his presidency, when two former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine, sought to turn toward the West. The Kremlin perceived this as a threat, and Putin tightened his grip on dissent at home.

Then came massive street protests in Ukraine over the decision by Ukraine’s then-president, a Putin ally, to not sign an association agreement with the European Union. Putin sent in troops to Ukrainian Crimea, organized what was derided as a sham referendum and annexed the peninsula.

The United States and the European Union placed harsh economic sanctions on Russia for the Crimean annexation, and Putin’s position on the world stage deteriorated. Meanwhile, he was praised at home for defying the West, but economic malaise and dissatisfaction over corruption have dragged down his approval ratings.

Heading into the summit, Trump insisted that personal chemistry with Putin would be key to resolving U.S.-Russia tensions. At the news conference, the U.S. leader suggested that the initial one-on-one meeting, with only interpreters present, had eased prior antagonisms.

“That changed as of about four hours ago,” Trump said, referring to the time frame of the start of the private session. “I really believe that.”

Putin, though, swiftly pivoted to a far more realpolitik-style description of the relationship between the two, declaring that both leaders pursued the interests of their own countries.

“Where did you get the idea that the president trusts me?” he asked. “Or I trust him?”

Special correspondent Ayres reported from Helsinki and Times staff writer King from Washington.

5:05 p.m.: This article has been updated with reaction, background, Fox interview.