Do Numbers Count?: Russia/Ukraine/Trump

Do Numbers Count?

We did not have, until now, any way to connect our president, Donald J Trump to any actual criminal conduct in either Russia or Ukraine. We had no concrete proof of high crimes and misdemeanors. The House of Representatives would not have voted to hold a formal impeachment inquiry without considerable evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Many Americans have seen the president’s disregard for our constitution, our traditions, and our system of checks and balances as worrisome. Books have been written on the subject, like How Democracy Dies by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. No matter how many times the Republicans say this is all about overturning the 2016 election, there are plenty of Americans who know this is not the case.

But I have to ask, do numbers count? Even without proof that Trump had actually done anything unconstitutional or unlawful the number of connections between Trump’s campaign staff and Russia and Ukraine during the 2016 campaign and immediately after the inauguration, the number of Trump references to Russia, and his interactions with both Russia and Ukraine are extraordinary. America does not usually have a lot of business in this part of the world, the part that was in a Cold War with us, that isolated itself behind an Iron Curtain. It could all be about business, but talk of getting rid of the sanctions on Russia is definitely about politics.

In fact Russia is in the process of invading eastern Ukraine in an attempt to annex (steal) several Ukrainian oblasts (provinces). Still Ukraine has many connections to Moscow and all this activity by Trump’s guys may have been, in part, an attempt to open a back door into Putin’s Russia. Although many attempts were made by many “friends” of Trump to open such a back door, there is no proof that any of these attempts actually succeeded. Perhaps this explains Trump’s continued hyper-interest in Ukraine.  An article in today’s Washington Post suggests that Trump has actual animosity towards Ukraine. Or perhaps Trump has no faith that he can win an election without cheating.

As we approach the 2020 election we again begin to hear more and more references to Russia and those sanctions and to Ukraine right up to the moment of the now famous phone call. (As I write this Jonathan Capehart is reading aloud the transcript of this Ukraine/Trump phone call in front of a crackling TV fire a lá Franklin Roosevelt thus beating Trump to it). You would think with all the hair-on-fire reactions to Trump’s coziness with Putin and Russia and his campaign staff’s many illegal financial ops in Ukraine that Trump would have stayed far away from Ukraine in the run up to this elections.

 

But it seems that once he gets a bee in his bonnet he cannot let it go and the current bee in his bonnet is a whole hive. Biden and his son Hunter are bees buzzing around in Trump’s brain because he likes to have plenty of dirt on potential political opponents so he can effectively demonize them. Then he is still after Hillary and still trying to help out his whatever, Putin, by pursuing a discredited theory that it was actually Ukraine that interfered in our 2016 election thus getting Putin off the hook and closer to seeing those sanctions go away. Why an American president is so obsessed with Putin, and other dictators and why Americans are traipsing all over Kiev in Ukraine are questions we want to know the answers to.

Here are names connected with Trump and with Ukraine: then and now:

Then: Mueller investigation

Leshchenko, a Ukrainian legislator fighting corruption. He exposed the illegal payments made by Mr. Yanukovych’s party to Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair

Michael T Flynn – resigned as national security advisor – 1 week earlier a sealed proposal was delivered to his office, outlining a way for Trump to lift sanctions on Russia.

Felix Sater – a business associate who helped Trump seal deals in Russia

Michael Cohen – president’s personal lawyer who delivered the sealed proposal to Michael Flynn. Michael Cohen is married to a Ukrainian woman and tried to help relatives start an ethanol business there so he, at least, had legitimate business in Ukraine. He delivered the sealed proposal which suggested a way to bring peace between Russia and Ukraine, (this was written by a Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko trying to rise in the political opposition movement in Ukraine with the help of Paul Manafort). This proposal was not sanctioned by the government of Ukraine.

It was thought that Trump possibly wanted to end Russian sanctions and wanted to create a back channel to Moscow through Ukraine.

[As I make this list Rachel  Maddow is talking about a new article by David Ignatius which says president Poroshenko of Ukraine was trying to get a meeting in the oval with the newly installed president Trump. He wasn’t getting anywhere until Giuliani went to Ukraine. Magically, after this visit in 2017, Ukraine stopped an investigation into Paul Manafort and then Poroshenko got his meeting with Trump and his javelin missiles.

Rachel asks, was this a rehearsal for what Trump did recently? Was this a quid pro quo he got away with which emboldened Trump to try again. There have been references to the Black ledger case. This ledger included the name of Paul Manafort and the huge sum he had been paid, but after the “bargain” with Poroshenko the Black Ledger disappeared – poof.]

Back to my list:

Rick Gates – a Trump campaign aide was Manafort’s longtime junior business partner.

Alex Vander Zwaan – London lawyer, had contacts with Rick Gates and another unnamed person based in Ukraine.

Konstantin Kilimnik , Russian/Ukrainian– a longtime business associate of Manafort and Gates.

Sam Patten – Republican operative and lobbyist – pleaded guilty because he was not registered as a foreign agent for his work with “Ukrainian bigwigs”

During the Mueller investigation we learned the following from reporters who investigated the people called in to testify:

“Donald J. Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition, according to a New York Times analysis.”

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/01/26/us/politics/trump-contacts-russians-wikileaks.html

and, in case you are not a New York Times fan,

“There are now more than 101 known points of contact between the Trump campaign and Russian-government linked people or entities, including 23 meetings or calls.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-campaign-russia-government-contact-timeline-2018-7

Now: Impeachment inquiry

Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman (these two have been indicted for campaign finance violations.) Rudy Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine on behalf of the president were happening long before the fateful phone call.

“The three amigos” all were busy in Ukraine pushing Trump’s agenda:

Rick Perry was the Head of Energy Department–  after being called to testify before the impeachment inquiry he quit his cabinet position

Kurt Volker – US Special Representative to Ukraine

Gordon Sondland – US ambassador to EU

Bill Taylor – US chargé d’affairs in Ukraine who questioned holding up military aid in exchange for “oppo” information for the 2020 election

Ukrainian oligarch – Dmytro Firtash has been mentioned in connection with these events. There is a current attempt to bring him to America to testify.

Three Ukrainian Presidents involved because each had involvement with Americans connected to Trump:

Petro Poroshenko

Viktor Yanukovych (former president – said to be “stooge of Putin”)

Zelensky – current president of Ukraine

Viktor Shokin – Prosecutor General in Ukraine – forced out for blocking prosecution of corrupt officials and oligarchs

Lutsenko – new prosecutor general – also at war with anti-corruption group backed by

Serhiy Leshchenko – a liberal legislator and journalist who fights corruption

Marie Yovanovitch – US Ambassador to Ukraine recently relieved of her duties for no apparent reason. – She said the new prosecutor was still blocking corruption probes.

Conspiracy theory – Lutsenko said that George Soros was involved with Biden and Hunter Biden. He said that Yovanovitch gave him a list of people not to prosecute, which she says did not happen.

When did we ever spend this much time and energy and have this many Americans who were not spies interacting with Russians and Ukrainians and bugging Ukrainian presidents? (Right now on my TV Louie Gomert – (Rep.) is threatening Civil War if Democrats impeach Trump, which makes me nervous because Democrats are not the ones who have been stockpiling guns. Don’t they sound a bit desperate?) (Michael Steele (who has distanced himself from the Republican Party, asks, would we really have a Civil War over this man, over Trump, really?) This Russia-Ukraine-Impeachment is obviously incendiary.

Ukraine is known to be a very corrupt country, which means that the government protects oligarchs who basically steal from the Ukrainian people and the treasury like a bunch of crooks. Trump seems to many of us to be our most corrupt president ever, perhaps because he is  so crude and so blatant about it. Is this simply a case of crooks of a feather flock together? Except this is like a flock of crows that wants to pick our government clean and leave it as road kill. This amount of interaction with a nation which governs by fear and intimidation, a nation with a system of government we have fought against (Vietnam, Korea) losing the lives of our young men and women, should be problematic to all Americans. Why isn’t it?

And Ukraine is fighting for survival right now, both survival from corrupt and selfish men, and in an actual military operation to repel Russia from its threatening position within its borders. Despite Ukraine’s internal struggles we find Trump’s “troops” all over Ukraine selfishly “phishing” for Trump’s dirt on an opponent to “fix” the 2020 election (and possibly end those sanctions on Russia by blaming election interference in 2016 on Ukraine, not Russia). Since when have we been so cavalier about a nation so at risk. Given all of this it is not really out of line to hope that Trump gets stung by one or more of those bees he can’t seem to get out of this bonnet.

After I posted this article two more interesting reads came up in online news media:

https://www.thedailybeast.com/andrii-telizhenko-source-for-ukraine-collusion-allegations-met-rep-devin-nunes

 Michelle Goldberg’s article explaining more Ukraine complexities.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/opinion/trump-ukraine.html

 

 

Photo Credit: From Google Image Searches – New York Post

Being Nice to Dictators

Being Nice to Dictators

This is what American foreign policy has come to. We give dictators whatever they want in order to keep the peace and to keep migrants from flooding Europe and by extension, eventually, America (and for oil). Today Trump announced that he will end the sanctions against Turkey in exchange for a cease fire in the land grab against the Kurds in Syria and to end the presence of a minority group despised by Turks for reasons that are rooted in ancient animosities. Ending sanctions may not be a done deal yet, but it most likely will be. Next the Russian sanctions will end by executive decree because Trump likes to imagine that he is a strong man, despite the fact that he is just a corrupt bombastic pawn.

Once again the president exerts his executive power as if Congress does not exist. He does not see this as breaking an oath to uphold the Constitution because he sees the executive branch as all-powerful and he finally has a Chief Justice who agrees with this self-serving interpretation of our founding documents. Once again the president of America chooses to please Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey, both “strong men.”

We have been wary of backing these men because their goals in Europe (and now in the world) are imperialistic as well as political, and because the spread of authoritarianism was something we have opposed for decades as democracy offered the world more freedoms. Now that capitalism has spread everywhere, perhaps we see that greed was our true goal, and now that we achieved our economic goals our humanistic goals of encouraging nations towards democracy have become expendable.

So we remain silent as the citizens of Hong Kong demonstrate to preserve freedoms they already own from being taken away. China’s business is China’s business, until one day in the not-so-distant future it becomes our business. We don’t want a war with China, but we should take a principled stand in support of human freedoms and telegraph that we mean what we say. We do not usually knuckle under to dictators until now when the economy of the entire world is so tied to the new capitalist China that stock portfolios trump humanitarianism.

China has also become a bit scary. It is so big and it is a giant machine run by one man. There is no way to be disloyal to the leader in China except from jail or from exile. Capitalism run by one leader is intimidating enough; the thought of a military with unlimited human resources run by one leader who demands absolute loyalty is terrifying. If we are afraid to stand up to China on the small things, I think we can one day expect to have to face this giant on some fairly big things, or perhaps we will just capitulate and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Isn’t love of freedom the reason we are usually not nice to dictators?

Of course we can’t have this conversation without a few words about North Korea and the mythic-dispenser-of-cruelty-to-his-own people, and dictator supposedly in a “love affair with our President. Sometimes people are so convinced of their own deity that no amount of “tough love” will change the way they behave. North Korea is a bit quieter but it could be a silence that is covering up a plan to treat the world to some future dastardly deeds with killer results.

It is difficult to believe that someone as egomaniacal as Kim Jong-Un plans to go peacefully into the sunset. Exactly what his plans are it is difficult to discern but if he ever teams up with Russia, China, and Turkey he will have access to some pretty enormous pieces of world real estate and whatever assets and weapons the leaders of these nations choose to grant him. Perhaps this is the reason that Trump thinks cozying up to all of these nations is a necessity right now. Sadly what seems to be the case is that he would like to become a member of this “strong man” group.

Goodbye freedom. Goodbye Republic. Goodbye democracy and free speech, including freedom of the press. Learn to follow orders blindly and just do the tasks assigned to you by the Big Brothers and you will be fine. Life will be a grim business and mercifully short. This could be our future if we don’t figure this out now. This is what being nice to dictators wins us.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-poised-to-make-statement-on-turkey-syria-situation-amid-mounting-concerns/2019/10/23/809d3e80-f5a1-11e9-a285-882a8e386a96_story.html

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – BBC

The Supreme Court Horror Flick

The day’s events have made many of us disconsolate and distraught all the way back to when Trump won the 2016 election, but for some reason the retirement of Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court tipped the scales towards grief, and a resignation to the reality of these destructive events. Until that point it seemed as if the damage could be easily undone if political attitudes shifted to the center, left, or even further left. Having a court that leans hard right for decades means that right wing extremists will continue to have a decisive edge far into the future. It means that we the people have a lot to lose.

Roe v Wade

Everyone talks as if losing Roe v Wade, losing the right for women to control their own bodies is the only thing we stand to lose. And it is a big loss. Many have no memory of pre-Roe truths in women’s lives. Younger people have always had contraception. Abortion has always been an option. Without control of their own reproductive rights women’s lives will either cycle backwards into more archaic patterns or women may choose to rebel and practice sexual abstinence, at least in situations where pregnancy might result. This would all be life-changing for women and for men too.

Health Care

However Roe v Wade is not the only staple of modern American life that could be curtailed or overturned. Health care is being pared away by this administration. They are joyful at the prospect of ending coverage for people with preexisting conditions and replacing lifetime caps for coverage. They can make these changes without the court, but there will be no Supreme Court to rein them in. As state after state offers health care plans that are just grabs for consumer dollars, plans that offer no protection in the event that the insured actually gets sick, cases that go to the Supremes will uphold the insurance companies right to giant profits over the needs of ailing people every time.

Immigration

There will still be Federal district courts and there are still liberals on those courts. They have been very helpful in stopping the most inhumane practices of an administration intent on racial cleansing through closing America off to asylum seekers. We are told that every one of these people seeking refugee status is telling a “fake” story and that they do not deserve our compassion. These people may actually be gang members coming to kill you in your beds, coming to rape your daughters. Fearmongering.

But, taking children away from parents is just a bridge too far. None of us signed on for this. The entire world, except for a few interested dictators, is aghast. Not saving data that would allow these children to be reunited with their parents is unimaginable. We knew mass deportation would feel Nazi-esque, but we were Trumped. He owns the levers of governance. This feels like we may be worse than that Hitler crew because we swore we would never, ever repeat those atrocities and yet we are well on our way. With a Supreme Court that is partisan and loyal to the President rather than the Constitution we could well uphold even worse behavior.

Economics

Some people, Trump’s people don’t seem concerned about these things. They seem to be happy with the idea of “white” America. However, mostly they seem to think that Trump is some kind of economic genius. They love the tax cuts. Why? They believe in the tariffs. Most economists are very worried about a trade war and think the tariffs will work against American business and trade. Trump and the GOP believe that there should be few to no regulations on businesses and corporations so they are throwing out decades of rules that helped end the worst practices of Capitalism. Unfettered Capitalism can be as brutal as it wishes. Trumpers love to see Trump dishing out restraints against China. But studies prove that endeavors that include only “yes” men (and this includes a one-sided Supreme Court) usually fail. Dissent is essential to the health of a business and, even more so, of a government.

Pollution and Climate Change

Donald Trump just made asbestos legal again. Since when did American laws respond to the whims of one, possibly nutty, man. He says that if we had used asbestos in building the World Trade Center those buildings would still be standing. And what he doesn’t say, because he doesn’t care, is that the workers would all be dead or dying of mesothelioma. He loves coal but people’s lungs don’t. He has a picture in his head of times when smoke was pouring into American skies and industry was booming along. All that matters to Trump and his people is money. There is a lot more to a society that functions well for all than just money. If people lose all their safety, their health, and their rights what will be left to make life worthwhile? The whole world of trade will just be one big company store. If the Supreme Court cannot rule against the administration when concerns are placed before it, or when the Court refuses to take cases so it will not have to buck the system, then there is no democracy, there is only the illusion of democracy.

Mueller Investigation

Perhaps we place too much hope in the possibility that Mr. Mueller will eventually reveal how corrupt our President truly is, perhaps even proving that he has dabbled in treason in order to “win”. But our concerns that the Supreme Court could take the sting out of this investigation in any number of ways adds to the difficulty of getting to the bottom of Russian meddling in American politics, of whether that meddling affected the outcome of the election, and whether or not Donald Trump played a role in the Russian behaviors in 2016. We are not really convinced by assurances that this will not happen from the current nominee

Foreign Affairs

For the most part I don’t think the Supreme Court rules on our role on the foreign stage. I don’t think they can insist that we stay in NATO or on the committees in the UN that we have recently resigned from (having to do with human rights) because that is a duty of Congress. But once again the dissent that exists in Congress is powerless right now to place restraints on a leader intent on running roughshod over our friends and allies and cozying up to authoritarians. It was demoralizing and embarrassing to watch our President’s behavior in Europe and in the UK this week. (He liked it better when they called it England – smack your head.)

As I prepare to watch America’s future unfold with this party and this President in control and swollen with the power of it all, I believe I will have to do it the way I watch a horror flick. I will have to place my hands over my eyes and peak out through my fingers every so often.

Examining Republican Myths

Republican economic myth 3 big

The Economy

Why are we still hearing the whine of Republicans like gnats buzzing our brains by way of our ears, saying things like they do not dare let Democrats get their hands on the economy and that they might be able to cast an extremely reluctant vote for Hillary if she moderates her agenda for the economy? I seem to recall that the Republicans were in office when this country went into the Great American Recession in 2008. I keep thinking (don’t you) that it was lack of regulation on banks and investment firms that created a housing bubble which was destined to burst and do real damage to millions of Americans. I have, with many other middle class Americans, waited for some of that “trickle down” to get into my bank account but that hasn’t happened. We have examined these Republicans myths many times.

So, my question is, why do Republicans still think that they should be put in charge of the American economy? Why do they think that the same policies that tanked the American economy are what we need to set it right? These are the same Republicans who obstructed the Obama administration so much that he was never really allowed to stimulate the economy as much as he would have liked and who then want to use the slow recovery meme against the Democrats in the 2016 election. I guess they think we have very short memories, or that they are so popular (or that their media brainwashing has been so effective) that the truth does not matter.

Thomas Friedman, who leans right, wrote about this in yesterday’s New York Times. He cites Hillary Clinton’s progressive agenda as being anti-business and he suggests that her policies will discourage, rather than encourage investment and innovation. Although Hillary may not have been addressing business interests lately, she knows that this country’s engine of growth is business, employment and a spirit of invention that keeps us striving to break new ground. He makes it sound as if she will replace industry with infrastructure, private with public, but she is not advocating any such dichotomy. She is saying that improvements in infrastructure will boost employment, but will also push economic growth and make it easier and less expensive to do business in America.

Republican myth 3 big

Foreign Affairs

I also keep hearing a chorus, sort of like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, softly chanting a refrain that tells us the heroic tale of the mighty Republicans who are much better at foreign affairs and winning battles than those dumb Democrats who seem to think that we can rely on diplomacy, alliances, and hit and run soldiering. In this version of the Republican myths they blame the Democrats, especially Hillary, for the chaos in Libya and they tell us that Obama and Hillary are to blame for the upheavals in the entire Middle East as if we have already forgotten who took the lid off the pot in Iraq (43). As if the internet played no part in the events of the turn of this century.

They are caught in a narrative that suggests that complex world events have simple causes. According to Republicans people can’t cause climate change, but one person, acting on his/her own can topple empires and create global political chaos with well-intentioned but clumsy advice. Yes Obama backed off from the “red line” in Syria, but where would we be right now if he didn’t? I suppose in GOP-world we would be shut of Assad, the Syrian people would not be flooding Europe (so that their children can have some quality to their lives), and there would be no ISIS. But this is all hypothetical and we might just be stuck sending our sons and daughters into a situation that is still in flux and cannot be solved with powerful rifles and dead soldiers.

They insist that ISIS would not exist if Obama had never brought the troops home from Iraq and the rest of us insist that ISIS would not exist if Bush had never sent our troops to Iraq. By artificially speeding up an awakening that probably was inevitable but perhaps not quite so imminent chaos was loosed on the world in the sense of the conflicting sects of a religion that we once saw as monolithic but which was not, in the sense of how the Islamic religion, which has been left in a peaceful-seeming equilibrium will eventually either temper its fundamentalism with modern secularism or will wall itself off in an ecstasy of purity and either turn its back on the rest of us or force our foreheads to the floor. I think Bush would have done better by all of us if he had gone directly to Afghanistan and left Iraq alone, although the taunting of Saddam Hussein was hard to ignore. Once the Middle East awakened to the 21st century, some Muslims with disgust, some with interest, the changes we are experiencing there were probably inevitable.

The GOP shows no more prescience or military brilliance when faced with our current dilemmas than the Democrats and, in fact, because they do not like to approach the problems we face with any delicacy, their desire to stomp around using the dusty boots of America’s children, and their bombast would actually be harmful. Many people believe that Hillary Clinton is too hawkish to conduct our foreign affairs in these combustible times, but I like to think that Hillary is unlikely to turn Obama’s foreign policy approach aside and become an avenging Amazon. She has too much compassion for women and children to leave the effects of her decisions on them out of the equation.

The GOP, if you really consider the past seven or eight years and the mistakes of G. W., has nothing to offer us on either the American economy or our foreign policy, but Hillary will still take their stand on these issues into account because she wants to unify, rather than divide, America. The Republicans cannot be trusted to do the same if they are in control.