Wagging the Dog

Wagging the Dog

The dropping of the “Mother of All Bombs” on an obscure target in Afghanistan brings back memories of movies. The first was the really bad Charlie Sheen 1991 send-off of Top Gun, Hot Shots. “Topper Harley” drops a bomb on Sadaam Hussein “ the mother of all targets.” But the actions of Trump World this week brings to mind another fine film of the 1990’s, Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. This story, filmed in the middle of the Clinton sex scandal, stars De Niro as the political operative for the President, colluding with film producer Hoffman to create a war in Albania to distract the public from the President’s sexual activities with a Girl Scout.

In 1998 Al Qaeda launched terrorist bombings against the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Clinton retaliated with missile attacks on Al Qaeda sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. Critics claimed that Clinton was “wagging the dog” to distract from his ongoing political problems as the Senate proceeded with impeachment.

This past week we had three military actions. While some may see all of these actions as justifiable, they also may be seen as “wagging the dog.” The first was the missile attack on the airfield in Syria in response to Syrian chemical weapons use. Fifty-nine cruise missiles were launched at a previously warned airfield in Syria, at an approximate cost of $800,000/missile (Newsweek ). That’s a total of over $47 million in missiles that did a minimal amount of damage: the Syrian’s launched a conventional bombing mission from that airfield the next day.

The second was the transferring of the Carl Vinson Carrier strike group from Singapore to near North Korea, in an attempt to intimidate Kim Jong-un to stop testing ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. The concern: with the well documented paranoia of Kim, he may well react to this intimidation by responding with the self-same missiles and nuclear weapons, and of course, we have now given him a primary target. He can’t reach the continental US with a missile (yet) but he certainly could take a stab at the Vinson Group in nearby seas. (Reuters)

The third was what triggered the flashback to the drug fueled Charlie Sheen and Hot Shots. The US dropped the GBU-43/B, a 30’ long by 3’ wide 11 ton bomb also known as the “MOAB”, the Mother of All Bombs. The bomb is estimated to cost $15 million. It was dropped on a ISIS cave complex in Afghanistan, reportedly killing 36 ISIS soldiers (at a cost of $416,666 a piece) and perhaps collapsing the tunnel complex. While it’s use this week was against ISIS, many commentators suggest that it was to send a message to others, including Assad in Syria and Kim in North Korea.

The net effect, we spent $62 million plus the cost of moving the Carl Vinson Strike Group, to essentially kill a few Syrians and ISIS soldiers and damage some planes and buildings.

It seems that this could have been done with a lot less dramatics and at a far smaller cost. But it certainly “Wagged the Dog”. We weren’t talking about the advances in the Russian connection investigation, we weren’t talking about the over $21 million the President has spent going to his Mira Lago Resort, we weren’t talking about the signing of a law which allows states to withhold federal money from Planned Parenthood. We were watching videos of missiles taking off, carriers moving, and giant phallic bombs.

President Trump will have to act in foreign policy. I hope that he can find a way to do so through diplomacy as well as explosions and death. But discussions, even between the old friends Putin and Tillerson, won’t distract from the internal problems Trump faces. Blowing stuff up “wags the dog.”

Passover and Easter Eggs

Passover and Easter Eggs

It’s been a bad week in Trump World. Sean Spicer, Presidential Press Secretary, tried to make a comparison between Assad of Syria and Hitler making Hitler the “good guy.” That normally is a non-starter in any conversation, as Spicer blithely stated that at least Hitler didn’t use chemical warfare against civilians. He was right, except for a large part of the 10 million executed in the gas chamber of Death Camps (Spicer called them Holocaust Centers) by various chemical compounds: OOPS!!! It almost made you feel sorry for him as he tried to walk the statement back again and again and again.

It does demonstrate three things. First, these guys aren’t as smart as they ought to be. Second, they read way too much alt-right news. newsmax This is similar to the Trump “Obama wiretapped me” tweet generated from a Breibart article (Washington Post).
Third, it demonstrates Spicer and a lot of the Trump Administration are insensitive to Jewish history and anti-Semitism. Just so everyone is clear: a concentration camp is where Jews and other minorities and “undesirable” people were sent to work as slave laborers and die. Death camps were places where those same people were executed upon arrival. Holocaust centers are museums or other places commemorating the events of the Holocaust. You don’t die there. It seems pretty basic. That this compounded gaff took place during the Jewish celebration of Passover only makes it worse.

The second ridiculous statement comes from Eric Trump, son of Donald. Eric stated that firing missiles at Syria was in fact proof that his father did not collude with Putin ( Time). It proves nothing of the sort. The United States carefully bombed an airfield, but warned the Russians we were coming well in advance, and carefully avoided putting the airfield out of commission, destroying some buildings and Syrian aircraft. We carefully did nothing that would alter the calculus between the US and Russia, and while the war of words have heated up between the two countries, nothing of substance has changed. This attack was neither evidence for or against a possible collusion between Trump and the Russians.

But the “Easter Egg” (more in the gaming sense) of the week, was the disclosure that a FISA warrant was issued for surveillance of communications by Carter Page, Trump campaign foreign affairs advisor (Washington Post). Months ago we talked about the possibility that Carter Page was the “go-between” from the Trump campaign to Russian Intelligence (Drip-Drip-Drip).

Page’s role in the Trump campaign is murky at best. At one point, Trump named him as one of his policy advisors, but the campaign later distanced themselves from Page. How he got into the Trump organization in the first place is still obscured. Page’s role in the Russian connection was first identified through the “Chris Steele Report,” the incendiary document which outlined the Trump connections to Russia. Steele claimed that Page was the go-between from Russian Intelligence to the Trump campaign.

The revelation that a FISA warrant was issued means that the FBI had probable cause to believe that a crime was being committed or that an intelligence issue was at stake. The “drip-drip-drip” continues, as the FBI does a classic investigation, working from the bottom up.

The second “Easter Egg” was from Trump himself, as he distanced himself from Steve Bannon, calling Bannon a “nice guy” who came into the campaign “late” (New York Post: New York Post
It may well be that Trump’s loyalty to the folks that work for him will again turn into his favorite phrase: You’re Fired.

And the final “Easter Egg” week involves Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager from March through August of 2016. Manafort has continued to deny taking any money “under the table” from pro-Russian Ukrainians. When those same Ukrainians fled their country, a journal was discovered with notes showing $12.7 million in payments to Manafort. Manafort denied that this was correct. The AP news service has reported that they have actual transaction receipts for $1.2 million (AP – AP
This validates part of the journal claim, and makes Manafort look like a liar, especially since the money was laundered through dummy corporations set up in Belize.

Page under surveillance, Manafort laundering illegal money, Flynn hiding ties to Turkey: the drip-drip-drip of the Russian scandal continues. It can be clouded for a time by missiles over Syria, but inexorably the investigation draws tighter and tighter around the Trump campaign. It will take time.

Fly the Friendly Skies

United Airlines stock has dropped today: Damn Right! United can’t get what it deserves for the actions not only of its employees, but of their management in the Chicago “re-accommodating” incident. If you missed this one: a man was seated and buckled in on a United flight out of Chicago. At the last minute, the United management realized that they had “overbooked” the flight by 4 seats. This “overbooking” was not caused by selling the seats to passengers, it was caused by a deal with regional airline Republic that United would move their personnel (4).

United offered $800 and a hotel room for anyone willing to give up their seat: three took the deal. United than randomly selected the fourth guy to go. He refused, and Airport security bodily dragged him from the plane, busting his lip. He then ran back onto the plane, chanting “…I have to go home, I have to go home…” as other passengers looked on. Finally the entire plane was cleared, and he was taken off on a stretcher.

United’s CEO apologized for the “re-accommodating” incident. He didn’t apologize for United using security like goons to further the company’s financial agenda. He didn’t apologize for exposing the passengers on the plane to this kind of violence, and he didn’t apologize for his company’s crass attitude towards an actual paying customer.

And, while the passengers on the plane were all willing to video the incident, and a few spoke out (including one telling the security guards “good job”) no one stood up for the guy being dragged off of the plane.

So what does this incident tell us about United Airline? First, your safety and security are only worth $800 and a hotel room. After that, it’s onto the goon squad. Second, United is more interested in its corporate contracts than it is individual customers. Third, United is willing to go to pretty much any length to get what it wants, including bodily harm to its passengers.

We all know that the ticket we hold on an airline is completely conditional. We know the plane can be delayed, changed, cancelled, or our seat “contract” withdrawn for any number of reasons, which the airline is not held accountable for. We know this is the “price” we pay for modern aviation, though we wouldn’t accept this kind of business arrangement for any other kind of transaction (well you did buy a new car, but we going to give you a different one, and by the way, we won’t deliver it for a while, and we just might completely change our mind.)

A lot of the accommodations we make with airlines are actually reasonable. What we do expect is that the airline will recognize that those accommodations also imply a greater duty of the airline to take care of their passengers. What should United have done differently?

Well, I would be willing to bet that if $800 and a room wouldn’t do it, $1600 and a room would have. I’d also be willing to bet that United wishes they had offered $1600 now!!

But what I really get from this incident, is the cavalier way that we accept this kind of authoritarian violence. That those security officers,the passengers, the crew and the ground personnel would all find these actions acceptable, that is the biggest concern. If this passenger was drunk, disorderly, or in some other way dangerous, than perhaps these actions would be justifiable. But he was simply a guy who wanted to go home. He could have been you or me.

In a “new” society, where the cries of “Black Lives Matter” have receded into the background as the smokescreen of “Trumpian America” fills our world, it is a ongoing question: what level of violence are we willing to accept in our day-to-day lives? And on a more specific matter, should United pay any cost for these actions?

I don’t generally fly United, they don’t usually go where I want to go, but I’ll make sure not to do so now. That will be the language they understand, not common decency, but cash on the barrelhead.

Phantom of the White House (unmasking the smokescreen)

Phantom of the White House (unmasking the smokescreen)

Picture this: the President’s National Security Advisor is given intelligence showing that the Russian government was intervening in the United States Presidential election. The Advisor then sees that in the course of the campaign, it appears that one of the Presidential campaigns is coordinating it’s efforts with the Russian attacks. As the Advisor reads through the intelligence, it shows that Russian intelligence representatives are having conversations with Americans about this effort.
(see October 6th, after the “Bus Tapes” when the Podesta emails are released per the prediction of Roger Stone)

Whatever political party is in power, and whatever political party is campaigning for the Presidency, it would be unreasonable, incompetent, and probably malfeasance if the National Security Advisor did NOT take all legal measures to find out what was going on. It IS legal for the National Security Advisor to ask the “owner” of the intelligence (in this case the National Security Agency) to “unmask” the names of the Americans on the other side of those conversations.

President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, did exactly that. She did exactly what we would expect of any National Security Advisor of either party to do. She saw a threat to our core national interest, the choosing of the President, and acted appropriately to try to find out what was going on.

All the other nonsense about this is just a stall and a smokescreen. Fox News, the Daily Caller and the like have pulled out all the stops on Susan Rice, from Benghazi to her original roles in the Clinton administration. None of that has any relevance to this issue.

If Susan Rice had “unmasked” Americans named in the intelligence reports (Michael Flynn for one) for political reasons, wouldn’t she have done more to actually influence the election before election day? If she tried to disrupt the Trump campaign, wouldn’t that information have been more influential on October 7th? At least give her the respect to think that if she “playing” this card, she would have actually played it.

It is just another distraction, another “shiny ball” to keep the public distracted, and to give Senators like Rand Paul the opportunity to show “righteous indignation.” It is amazing to me that those Republicans, some of whom were as damaged by the Russian actions as Hillary, still stand up for Trump (or stand silently by) as the evidence of Russian actions grow.

By the way – just announced – Steve Bannon removed from National Security Council – look for the quiet removal of Ezra Cohen-Wotnick soon…

This is NOT a new story

This is not a new story

I just finished watching the local Sunday news interview show. The local news anchor had a representative of Trump and a representative of the opposition to talk about the administration. The representative of Trump made the statement that former NSA Director Clapper and current FBI Director Comey had both stated that there is no connection to criminal action by the Trump Administration and Russia. Her line was: “there is no there, there”.

The statement was allowed to go uncontested by both the moderator and the opposition representative. The statement is patently false, and a great example of what has happened to our view of “facts” in the past two years. Both Comey and Clapper did state that there was no connection – to statements made that the Trump campaign and transition team had been tapped by the Obama administration. Those statements did not address connections of the Trump campaign and transition team to Russia. “There is no there, there,” better applies to the statement made about the “ Obama tapping fake-news controversy” on Donald Trump’s twitter account.

It’s been going on for several years. The media has agonized over how to cover these statements. If they correct every falsehood, if they call them LIES, then they are declaimed as being biased and unfair. So the “little” untruths are passed over, the half-truths (Clapper and Comey did say something that sounded a little like this) are left uncontested, and the public is left confused.

George Orwell predicated this alteration of truth in “1984.” When we read the novel back in the 1960’s, we related to Winston Smith, the main character who saw through the lies. We were arrogant in our view that it couldn’t really happen, and in the year 1984 marveled at how Orwell got it all wrong. We now live in a true Orwellian world, just a little later than he thought, where the truth is altered to match the political ideology of the teller.

This is the unspoken crisis that our political world faces. As we realize the depth of dis-information the Russians and others were able to place into our political thought, it’s difficult to see what “the fix” is? How do we get back to a point where we can at least agree on the truths? And it’s not just the Russians, certainly there is enough money in our political system, particularly in this post “Citizens United” decision world (NYT – How much has Citizens United changed our political world), that others will follow the Russian game plan to alter the body politic.

We, all of us, the politicians, the media, the private citizens: we all have a duty to define the facts and debunk the lies. Our public lives are currently infected with lies: whether we call them half-truths, opinion, alt-facts, or Russian mis-directions. The cure, the inoculation against manipulation, is to call the truth true, and non-truths lies. It has to happen every time, so that we can find a baseline of healthy truth again. This is the test of whether our nation will survive foreign and domestic terrorism on the truth. How we respond to this test, will determine the fate of our Republic.