Voices from Russia

Sunday, 21 May 2017

21 May 2017. THIS IS RUSSIA…

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Obama wore a “bicycle helmet”… Putin doesn’t. Putin doesn’t wear a helmet driving a Harley trike, for Chrissake…

BMD

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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Barack Obama is Using His Presidency to Cash In, But Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter Refused to Do So

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Defenders of Barack Obama’s decision to do things like accept a 400,000 USD (22.8 million Roubles. 2.76 million Renminbi. 25.68 million INR. 548,000 CAD. 532,000 AUD. 368,000 Euros. 312,000 UK Pounds) check for a speech to a Wall Street brokerage house argue that the former president might as well cash in… everyone else does. That was Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s defence of Obama:

People are like, “Why doesn’t he not accept the money?” No, fuck that. So the first black president must also be the first one to not take money afterwards? No, no, no, my friend. He can’t be the first of everything! Fuck that, and fuck you. Make that money, Obama!

This argument, while common, comes from historical ignorance. It assumes that presidents have always found a way to leverage their political connections post-presidency to make money from interest groups and wealthy political actors. However, that isn’t the case. It used to be the norm for presidents to retire to ordinary life after their stint in the White House… just ask Harry Truman. When the Democratic president was getting ready to leave the White House in 1953, many employers approached him. The Los Angeles Times noted:

If he’s unemployed after he leaves the White House it won’t be for lack of job offers … but [he’s] accepted none of them.

One of those job offers was from a Florida real estate developer, asking him to become a “chairman, officer, or stockholder, at a figure of not less than 100,000 USD”… the sort of position that’s commonplace today for ex-politicians. Presumably, had Truman taken the position, it would’ve been a good deal for both parties… the president’s prestige and connections would also enrich the company. Truman declined. He wrote of his refusal to influence-peddle:

I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialise on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency.

Although he had a small pension from his military service, Truman had little financial support after leaving office. He moved back into his family home in Independence MO. He insisted on being treated like anyone else. He’d tell people not to call him, “Mr President”, and settled into an ordinary routine once he was back in Independence. He’d take a morning walk through the town square. He kept an office nearby where he would answer mail from Americans. He chose to engage with just about anyone who walked into his office… not only people who wrote him big checks or invited him onto their private yachts and private islands. He once said:

Many people feel that a president or an ex-president is partly theirs… they’re right to some extent… and that they have a right to call upon him.

Indeed, his office number was in a nearby telephone directory. He eventually agreed to write a memoir for Life magazine, but it was a lengthy project, which paid a far-from-luxurious stipend. Truman’s modest life post-presidency moved Congress in 1958 to establish a pension that provides an annual cash payout as well as expenses for an office and staff.

Nevertheless, Gerald Ford shattered precedent when he joined the boards of corporations such as 20th Century Fox, hit the paid speech circuit, and became an honorary director of Citigroup. However, his successor, Jimmy Carter, who grew up in a modest home in Plains GA, didn’t follow Ford’s example. He refused to become a professional paid speaker or join corporate boards. He moved back to Plains and a crowd of neighbours and supporters welcomed him home. He quickly made himself busy as a nonprofit founder and a volunteer diplomat. He did make money post-presidency…but by serving ordinary people, not the élite. He wrote dozens of best-selling books bought by millions of people across the world… the post-presidency equivalent of small donors. Carter explained his thinking to the Guardian in 2011, telling them:

My favourite president and the one I admired most was Harry Truman. When Truman left office, he took the same position. He didn’t serve on corporate boards. He didn’t make speeches around the world for a lot of money.

The presidents who came after did not choose the same path. At a time when Japan was a major trade rival with the United States, Ronald Reagan flew to Japan for a series of paid speeches after he left office. He accepted 2 million USD (114 million Roubles. 13.8 million Renminbi. 128.4 million INR. 2.74 million CAD. 2.66 million AUD. 1.84 million Euros. 1.56 million UK Pounds) for a pair of 20-minute speeches to the Fujisankei Communications Group. An additional 5 million USD (285 million Roubles. 34.5 million Renminbi. 321 million INR. 6.85 million CAD. 6.65 million AUD. 4.6 million Euros. 3.9 million UK Pounds) went for expenses related to the visit. Both Bushes also joined the paid speech circuit, and the Clintons made over 100 million USD (5.7 billion Roubles. 690 million Renminbi. 6.42 billion INR. 137 million CAD. 133 million AUD. 92 million Euros. 78 million UK Pounds) from banks and other corporations, shortly after the Clinton presidency deregulated Wall Street. Bill Clinton lamented to a student group in 2009:

I never made any money until I left the White House. I had the lowest net worth, adjusted for inflation, of any president elected in the last 100 years, including President Obama. I was one poor rascal when I took office; but after I got out, I made a lot of money.

Obama was hardly facing poverty. He already has a 65 million USD book deal (3.705 billion Roubles. 448.5 million Renminbi. 4.173 billion INR. 89.05 million CAD. 86.45 million AUD. 59.8 million Euros. 50.7 million UK Pounds) and that 200,000 USD annual pension (11.4 million Roubles. 1.38 million Renminbi. 12.84 million INR. 274,000 CAD. 266,000 AUD. 184,000 Euros. 156,000 UK Pounds). By joining the paid speech circuit… his spokesman Eric Schultz told the press that paid speechmaking will be a fixture for the former president… Obama was making a conscious choice. Obama could have been like Truman or Carter, but instead chose to be like Bush and Clinton.

1 May 2017

Zaid Jilani

The Intercept

https://theintercept.com/2017/05/01/barack-obama-is-using-his-presidency-to-cash-in-but-harry-truman-and-jimmy-carter-refused/

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Why Do Progressives Like War?

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Liberals are supposed to be anti-war, right? I went to college in the 1960s, when students nationwide were rising up in opposition to the Vietnam War. I was a Young Republican back then and supported the war through sheer ignorance and dislike of the sanctimoniousness of the protesters, some of whom were surely making their way to Canada to live in exile on daddy’s money while I was on a bus going to Fort Leonard Wood for basic combat training. I can’t even claim that I had some grudging respect for the antiwar crowd because I didn’t, but I did believe that at least some of them who weren’t motivated by being personally afraid of getting hurt were actually sincere in their opposition to the awful things that were happening in Southeast Asia.

As I look around now, however, I see something quite different. The lefties I knew in college are now part of the Establishment. They’re retired limousine liberals. Now, they call themselves progressives, of course, because it sounds more educated and sends a better message, implying as it does that troglodytic conservatives are anti-progress. However, they also did a flip on the issue of war and peace. In its most recent incarnation, some of this might be attributed to a desperate desire to relate to the Hillary Clinton campaign with its bellicosity towards Russia, Syria, and Iran, but I suspect that the inclination to identify enemies goes much deeper than that, back as far as the Clinton Administration with its sanctions on Iraq and the Balkan adventure, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the creation of a terror-narco state in the heart of Europe. More recently, we saw the Obama meddling in Libya, Yemen, and Syria in so-called humanitarian interventions, which turned out to be largely fraudulent. Yes, under the Obama Dems, it was “responsibility to protect time” (R2P) and the entire world trembled as they let loose the drones.

Last Friday, I started to read an op-ed in the Washington Post by David Ignatius that blew me away. It began “President Trump confronts complicated problems as the investigation widens into Russia’s attack on our political system”. It then proceeded to lay out the case for an “aggressive Russia” in terms that the MSM have repeated ad nauseam. Of course, it was lacking in any evidence, as if we should regard the opinions of co-opted journalists and highly-politicised senior officials in the intelligence community as sacrosanct. Not coincidentally, these are the same people who reportedly recently been working together to undercut the White House by leaking and then reporting highly sensitive transcripts of phone calls with Russian officials.

Ignatius is well-plugged into the national security community and inclined to be hawkish, but he’s also a typical a WaPo politically correct progressive on most issues. Therefore, here was your typical liberal asserting something in a dangerous fashion that hasn’t been demonstrated and might be false. Russia is attacking “our political system!” The WaPo isn’t alone in accepting that Russia is trying to subvert and ultimately overthrow our republic. Reporting from the New York Times and on TV news makes the same assumption whenever they discuss Russia, leading to what some critics have described as mounting American “hysteria” relating to anything coming out of Moscow.

Rachel Maddow is another favourite of mine when it comes to talking real humanitarian feel-good stuff out one side of her mouth while beating the drum for war from the other side. In a bravura performance on 26 January, she roundly chastised Russia and its President, V V Putin. Rachel, who freaked out completely at Donald Trump’s election, is now keen to demonstrate that Russia has corrupted Trump and the Kremlin now controls him. She described Trump’s lord and master Putin as an “intense little man” who murders his opponents before going into the whole “Trump stole the election with the aid of Moscow” saga, supporting sanctions on Russia and multiple investigations to find the underlying cause of “Putin’s attacks on our democracy”. Per Maddow, Russia is the heart of darkness and, by way of Trump, has succeeded in exercising control over key elements in the new administration.

Unfortunately, people in the media like Ignatius and Maddow aren’t alone. Their willingness to sell a specific political line that carries with it a risk of nuclear war as fact, even when they know it isn’t, has been part of the fear-mongering engaged in by Democratic Party loyalists and many others on the left. Their intention is to “get Trump” whatever it takes, which opens the door to some truly dangerous manoeuvring that could have awful consequences if the drumbeat and military buildup against Russia continues, leading Putin to decide that his country is being threatened and backed into a corner. Moscow has indicated that it wouldn’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons if someone confronts it militarily and it faced defeat. The current wave of Russophobia is much more dangerous than the random depiction of foreigners in negative terms that’s long bedevilled a certain type of American Know-Nothing politics. Apart from the progressive antipathy towards Putin personally, there’s a virulent strain of anti-Russian sentiment among some self-styled conservatives in Congress, best exemplified by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Graham recently said:

2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.

It’s my belief that many in the National Security State convinced themselves that Russia is indeed a major threat against the USA and not because it’s a nuclear power that can strike the USA. That appreciation, should, if anything constitute a good reason to work hard to maintain cordial relations rather than not, but it’s seemingly ignored by everyone but Donald Trump. No, the new brand of Russophobia derives from the belief that Moscow is “interfering” in places like Syria and the Ukraine. In addition, it’s a friend of Iran. That perception derives from the consensus view among liberals and conservatives alike that the US sphere of influence encompasses the entire globe as well as the particularly progressive conceit that Washington should serve to “protect” anyone threatened at any time by anyone else, which provides a convenient pretext for military interventions that they euphemistically describe as “peace missions”.

There might be a certain cynicism in many who hate Russia, as having a powerful enemy also keeps the cash flowing from the Treasury into the pockets of the beneficiaries of the military-industrial-congressional complex, but my real fear is that having been brainwashed for the past ten years, many government officials are actually sincere in their loathing of Moscow and all its works. Recent opinion polls suggest that that kind of thinking is popular among Americans, but it actually makes no sense. Though involvement by Moscow in the Middle East and Eastern Europe is undeniable, calling it a threat to US vital interests is more than a bit of a stretch as Russia’s actual ability to make trouble is limited. It has exactly one overseas military facility, in Syria, while the USA has more than 800, and its economy and military budget are tiny compared to that of the USA. In fact, Washington is most guilty of intervening globally and destabilising entire regions, not Moscow. When Donald Trump said in an interview that when it came to killing the USA wasn’t so innocent it was a gross understatement.

Ironically, pursuing a reset with Russia is one of the things that Trump actually gets right, but the new left won’t give him a break because they reflexively hate him for not embracing the usual progressive bromides that they believe are supposed to go with being antiwar. Other Moscow trashing comes from the McCain camp, which demonises Russia because warmongers always need an enemy and McCain never found a war he couldn’t support. It’d be a tragedy for the USA if both the left and enough of the right were to join forces to limit Trump’s options on dealing with Moscow, thereby enabling an escalating conflict that could have tragic consequences for all parties.

17 February 2017

Philip Giraldi

Unz Review

http://www.unz.com/pgiraldi/why-do-progressives-like-war/

When Disinformation is Truth: Dems and Progressives Jump into Bed with Neocons to Demonise Russia

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“The downside of playing chicken with a nuclear-armed Russia is the end of life as we know it”.

The anti-Russian McCarthyism that has spread out from the USA to encompass the EU, Canada, and Australia has at its core an implicit recognition that neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy have failed. Recently, when I asked a European journalist why this anti-Russian hysteria took root among mainstream European political parties, he answered with a question:

Do you think they can run on their success in handling the recession and the refugees?

In other words, European voters are angry about the painful economic conditions that followed the Wall Street crash of 2008 and the destabilising surge of immigrants fleeing from Western “régime-change” wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Therefore, like the Democratic Party that doesn’t want to engage in a soul-searching self-examination about Donald Trump’s victory, the European “establishment” parties need a handy excuse to divert criticism… that excuse is Russia, a blame-shifting that allowed them to slough off nearly every recent criticism of establishment government officials as “Russian disinformation”. It doesn’t even matter anymore that the criticism may be factual. Today, they deem even truthful information “Russian disinformation” or Russian-inspired “fake news”.

We saw that in the Canadian mainstream media’s denunciations of Consortiumnews.com for running an article that pointed out that Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland misrepresented her family history to white-out her maternal grandfather’s role editing a Nazi newspaper in Poland that demonised Jews and justified the Holocaust. Virtually every mainstream outlet in Canada rallied to Freeland’s side when she dismissed our article as Russian disinformation. Only later did a few newspapers grudgingly acknowledge that our story was true and that Freeland knew it was true. Nevertheless, the attacks on us continued. They labelled us “Russian disinformationists”, with no evidence needed to support the slander and no defence allowed. Although it’s arguably a small example, the Freeland story reflects what is happening across the Western MSM. The MSM dismisses almost every independent-minded news article that questions the establishment narratives on international affairs as “Russian propaganda”. The few politicians, academics, and journalists who don’t march in the establishment’s parade are “Moscow stooges” or “Putin apologists”.

The Russian Resistance

This anti-Russian hysteria began some years ago when President V V Putin made it clear that Russia would no longer bow to dictates from Washington and Brussels. Russia bristled at the encroachment of NATO on its borders, rejected the neoconservative agenda of “regime change” wars in Muslim countries, and resisted the US-backed putsch ousting the Ukraine’s elected president in 2014. However, the anti-Russian frenzy gained unstoppable momentum with the 2016 US election. The shocking upset of their presidential choice, Hillary Clinton, by the boorish and buffoonish Donald Trump horrified Democrats, liberals, and neoconservatives. After this bitter defeat, the losers looked for scapegoats rather than order up a serious autopsy on how they lost to the “unelectable” Trump, i.e, by choosing a corporate candidate associated with neoliberal economics and neoconservative war policies. Blaming Russia became the easy excuse that could unify the various pro-Clinton camps. Therefore, the Obama administration… in an unprecedented step… sought to poison the well for its successor by having the US intelligence community put out evidence-lacking allegations about Russian “meddling” in the US election to elect Trump.

The promoters of this Russia-did-it narrative merged with the “#Resistance” movement to do whatever was necessary to push Trump out of office. It didn’t seem to matter to them that they had very little evidence that the Russians actually did meddle in the election. The chief claim was that the Russians gave WikiLeaks the Democratic emails revealing the DNC’s sabotage of Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign and the emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta exposing the contents of Clinton’s hidden speeches to Wall Street and some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation. WikiLeaks denied getting the material from the Russians, but… more to the point… there was no evidence of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, as even Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman acknowledged. The WikiLeaks disclosures also weren’t a major factor in Clinton’s defeat, which she primarily blamed on FBI Director James Comey briefly reopening the investigation of her using a private email server while Secretary of State. Still, the absence of evidence didn’t deter Democrats, liberals, and neocons from spinning a vast Russian conspiracy theory that ties together Trump’s past business dealings in Russia with the notion that somehow Putin foresaw that Trump would become US President, an eventuality that nearly every American pundit considered impossible as recently as last year. However, sceptics of the Trump/Russia conspiracy… if they dare note that Putin would need the world’s best Ouija board to foresee Trump’s victory… must then prove that they are not “Russian propaganda/disinformation agents” for having these doubts.

New McCarthyism and Maddow

Given the emergence of this New Cold War, I suppose it made sense that we’d soon have a New McCarthyism, although it may have come as a surprise that the liberals and the MSM are leading this witch-hunt, albeit with important assistance from neocons, who’ve long engaged in smearing the patriotism of anyone who doubted their geopolitical genius. Remember back in 1984 when US Ambassador to the UN Jeane Kirkpatrick, an early neocon, denounced traitorous Americans who “blame America first”. However, it appears now that their hatred of Trump blinds so many liberals (and even progressives) that they haven’t thought through the wisdom of their new alliance with the neocons… or the fairness of smearing fellow Americans as “Putin apologists”.

Meanwhile, MSM news organisations have abandoned even the pretence of professional objectivity in their propagandistic approach toward anything related to Russia or Trump. For instance, I’d defy anyone reading New York Times’ coverage of Russia to assess it as fair and balanced when it’s clearly snarky and sneering. It also turns out that this New McCarthyism is profitable for its leading practitioners. On Monday, the New York Times reported that ratings for MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow are soaring with her frequent anti-Russian rants. It wrote:

Now, rattled liberals are surging back [to network television], seeking catharsis, solidarity, and relief.

The NYT cited a Kentucky woman who explained why she became a devotee of Maddow:

She’s always talking about the Russians!

Frankly, for the past dozen years, I’ve wondered about Maddow. I first heard her on the radio in August 2005 when she was a summer fill-in at Air America reporting on President George W Bush’s Katrina fiasco, which she partly blamed on the deployment of Louisiana National Guard units to Iraq so they couldn’t help evacuate flooded New Orleans. It was clear that Maddow was talented and her excoriation of the Iraq War was on point, although… by summer 2005… it didn’t require a huge amount of journalistic courage to slam Bush over the Iraq War. As I watched, her career rose through a regular Air America gig, to her show on MSNBC, and then to stardom as an anchor on the network’s election coverage, I always wondered whether she’d put her lucrative corporate acceptance at risk and go against the grain at a tough journalistic moment. Now, Maddow’s behaviour in becoming a modern-day MSM Joe McCarthy put my doubts to rest. She’s riding high in the ratings by keeping her whip-hand coming down hard on the bash-Russia steed. She’s putting her career and her politics ahead of journalism. Like so many other Democrat/liberal/neocon activists, Maddow not only ignores the evidentiary gaps in the Russia-did-it conspiracy theory, but she seems oblivious to the dangers of her opportunism. By stirring up this McCarthyistic frenzy, she and her “never-Trump” allies make a rational policy toward a nuclear-armed Russia nearly impossible. Thus, she contributes to the real risk of a hot war with Russia that could lead to the annihilation of life on the planet.

Thin-Skinned Trump

One of the bitter ironies here is that Trump’s critics correctly noted that his thin-skinned temperament made him unfit to possess the nuclear button, but they now egg him on into a mano-a-mano confrontation with Putin. If Trump doesn’t get the better of Putin in every situation, Trump faces renewed pummelling for “selling out” to the Russians. Already, neocon Senator Lindsey Graham declared:

2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.

If Trump doesn’t go along, he will face battering from the likes of Maddow, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and pretty much every MSM news outlet. Therefore, Trump may have no political choice but to get tough. However, what happens when Putin pushes back? In the past when I’ve made this point about the recklessness of Russia-bashing, they’ve told me that I’m being alarmist, that “kicking Russia in the ass” and baiting Trump to join in the kicking won’t lead to a nuclear war, that the Russians aren’t that stupid. Yeah, let’s hope not. On the upside of this anti-Russia strategy, the anti-Trump activists insist it is the most promising route to get rid of Trump, which they view as justifying almost any action. It’s not for them to prove that Trump did conspire with Putin to rig the US presidential election; it’s enough to raise the suspicion and use it to push for Trump’s impeachment.

As someone who’s covered national security scandals since the 1980s, I’m familiar with the kind of evidence needed to make serious allegations. For instance, when Brian Barger and I wrote the first story about Nicaraguan Contra drug trafficking in 1985 for the AP, we had about two-dozen sources plus documents. Most of the sources were insiders… i.e., inside the Contra movement and inside the Reagan administration… who described how they ran the operation. We had this evidence before we made any public accusation. In the case of the Russia-Trump conspiracy theory, the US intelligence community presented almost no evidence of Russian “hacking”. It admits that it has no evidence of Trump’s collusion with the Russians. As far as we know, no one has found an insider who can describe how this alleged conspiracy occurred. That isn’t to say that some evidence might not eventually surface that confirms the Russia-Trump suspicions, but that’s true of all conspiracy theories. Who knows, maybe Joe McCarthy was right about all those Communists inside the US Government secretly working for the Kremlin? Maybe, he did have a real list of names. That’s what “witch hunts” are all about… investigations designed to prove a point whether true or not.

In this current case, however, the downside isn’t “just” the destruction of people’s careers and a few imprisonments. The downside of playing chicken with a nuclear-armed Russia is the end of life as we know it. At such a moment, journalists and politicians should demand the highest standards of proof, not no proof at all. Sometimes, I envision the argument that I’d hear as the mushroom clouds begin rising over US and Russian cities. If not incinerated in the first moments of the cataclysm, the “smart” people of the US MSM (and their liberal and neocon allies) would insist that it wasn’t their fault… it was someone else’s fault, blame-shifting to the end. Therefore, as the Democrats and liberals join with the neocons in launching this New McCarthyism over Russia… with people like Maddow leading the charge… what’s arguably the most depressing fact is that there appears to be no Edward R Murrow, an MSM journalist with a conscience, anywhere on the horizon.

13 March 2017

Robert Parry

Consortium News

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/03/13/when-disinformation-is-truth/

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