Friday Reads: The Putin Poodle and the Damage Done

It’s a very hot Friday here in New Orleans.  I’d like to be doing anything but watching the most incompetent person in the world make kissy ass with a KGB trained despot but here it goes.  How much damage to the standing, democracy, and reputation of the United States will happen because a bunch of bigoted, superstitious, white throwbacks joined a Russian conspiracy to wreck our country?  Will the poster child for dementia and narcissism give away state secrets and sell out the joint goals of our NATO allies?  

trump-putin-meeting Has he offered us for membership in a Warsaw Pact yet?

Foreign ministries around the world are filled with anticipation over what will happen when Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meet for the first time at the G20 summit. But veteran U.S. spies who’ve studied manipulation tactics, particularly from their Russian counterparts, are confident they know what’s going to unfold.

Putin, a former KGB operations officer, will not just be practicing interpersonal diplomacy, they say. He’ll be putting his tradecraft as a spy to work. His main asset: Trump’s massive, delicate ego.

It won’t just be the expected flattery, from the spies’ perspective, though flattery is key to dealing with the “sociopathic narcissist” tendencies one ex-CIA interrogator sees in Trump. Putin is likely to stoke Trump’s ire, encourage him against his perceived enemies and validate his inclinations – particularly the ones that move U.S. policy in the directions Putin wants.

Nowhere are the stakes higher than in Moscow. The Trump-Putin meeting, say Russian politicians and Putin’s former KGB colleagues, is an overdue opportunity to equalize the Washington-Moscow relationship.

“Putin,” one-time KGB general Oleg Kalugin told The Daily Beast, “he has been in power for so many years and, by character, he knows how to handle things and how to outsmart others, including presidents of the United States.”

While everything about this meeting is momentous, the two sides are not on equal diplomatic footing. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – something U.S. intelligence characterizes as a certainty, while Trump, again, casts doubt on that conclusion – has created a political maelstrom for Trump. Everything resulting from the meeting will be scrutinized in Washington, particularly amongst Trump’s political opposition, for signs of a quid pro quo. Meanwhile, observers have a hard time understanding what U.S. policy toward Russia, its decades-long adversary, even is anymore.

Putin is filling that vacuum. Ahead of meeting the U.S. president in Hamburg, his foreign ministry has said the agenda will concern everything from Syria to Ukraine to returning two intelligence complexes on U.S. soil – even to gay rights in Chechnya. Meanwhile, Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster has said there won’t be a “specific agenda” for discussion, beyond “whatever the president wants to talk about.” There is confusion on the U.S. side about whether McMaster’s Russia chief, the Putin skeptic Fiona Hill, will attend the meeting.

Putin, former spies say, is well-positioned to dominate the meeting.

Russia has found a huge gap in the American psyche and is moving on in.  Just coddle those insecure and visibly lacking white christian men and their house marms.  The Russians have stepped up the spying game here.

The officials say they believe one of the biggest US adversaries feels emboldened by the lack of a significant retaliatory response from both the Trump and Obama administrations.

“Russians have maintained an aggressive collection posture in the US, and their success in election meddling has not deterred them,” said a former senior intelligence official familiar with Trump administration efforts.
Russians could also be seeking more information on Trump’s administration, which is new and still unpredictable to Moscow, according to Steve Hall, retired CIA chief of operations.

“Whenever there is a deterioration of relations between countries — the espionage and intelligence collection part becomes that much more important as they try to determine the plans and intentions of the adversarial government,” Hall said.

Since the November election, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have detected an increase in suspected Russian intelligence officers entering the US under the guise of other business, according to multiple current and former senior US intelligence officials. The Russians are believed to now have nearly 150 suspected intelligence operatives in the US, these sources said. Officials who spoke to CNN say the Russians are replenishing their ranks after the US in December expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying in retaliation for election-meddling.

“The concerning point with Russia is the volume of people that are coming to the US. They have a lot more intelligence officers in the US” compared to what they have in

other countries, one of the former intelligence officials says.

Russian Hackers are alleged to be targeting US Nuclear Power Plants.

Russian hackers are the chief suspects in recent efforts to meddle with the computer networks that run various nuclear power plants and other energy facilities.

If Russia is indeed responsible, it suggests that they could attempt to forcibly shut down parts of America’s power grid like they are believed to have done to Ukraine in the past, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The hackers, regardless of nationality, are believed to be responsible for breaching the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation in Kentucky among a number of other facilities since May, according to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The New York Times confirmed the joint report with security specialists who have had to cope with the hacking attempts.

Trump actually told Putin that it was “an honor” to meet him.   WTF kind of kissy ass nonsense is that?

‘We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States,’ Trump said at opening of highly anticipated meeting.

President Donald Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that “it’s an honor to be with you” as the two leaders kicked off their much-anticipated bilateral meeting, one that was scheduled for just 30 minutes but wound up lasting nearly two-and-a-half hours.

Neither Trump nor Putin, who were accompanied by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, respectively, offered specifics of what they would discuss once reporters left the room. Trump did not respond to a shouted question as to whether or not he would raise Russia’s efforts to interfere in last year’s presidential campaign, according to reporters in the room.

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks. We are going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue,” Trump said as photographers snapped photos of the two presidents, whose meeting took place at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. “But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned, and It’s an honor to be with you.”

Putin, through a translator, echoed his U.S. counterpart’s friendly welcome and said he and Trump “will really need personal meetings” in order to resolve certain policy issues.

“We have spoken on the phone with you several times before on very important bilateral and international issues. But phone conversation is never enough,” Putin said. “I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President. And I hope, as you have said, our meeting will yield positive result.”

It’s believed that Trump wants to “team up” with Putin in Syria. This would mean keeping brutal dictator Assad in power.

For once, Rex Tillerson is not freelancing.

Late Wednesday, ahead of the first-ever meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the secretary of state suggested that the U.S. is willing to explore “joint mechanisms” with Russia to stabilize the vicious Syrian civil war.

After a dizzying series of policy shifts on Syria, administration and congressional sources tell The Daily Beast that Team Trump is introducing the beginnings of a new strategy for Syria—one that, in the short term at least:

• leaves dictator Bashar al-Assad in power;

• acquiesces to the idea of “safe zones” proposed by Russia and its allies;

 leans on cooperation from Moscow, including the use of Russian troops to patrol parts of the country.

A knowledgeable senior administration official discussed the emerging strategy with The Daily Beast on the condition that what the official said could only be paraphrased, not quoted, as the official was not cleared to discuss the issue publicly. The account was backed up by two White House sources and a congressional source.

This is obviously an unfolding story.  So, I’d consider this a live blog thread. Share what you read and hear please!

Coverage from The Guardian: ‘G20: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin conclude lengthy meeting’.

“Putin went straight from meeting Trump to talks with Japanese leader Shinzo Abe. He apologised for his lateness due to the talks with Trump overrunning, and in opening remarks reported by Interfax, Putin said he and Trump had discussed “Ukraine, Syria, and other bilateral problems. We returned to the problems of fighting terrorism and cybersecurity”.

A lot more links are coming as reporters file their stories.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

On Sunday during his “get to know the regular people” bus tour, Mitt Romney expressed “amazement” at a gas station in Pennsylvania where you could order “hoagies” using a touch-screen.

At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania on Sunday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a crowd that he had been astonished by a touch screen computer used to order food at the Wawa gas station chain….

“I was at Wawas,” Romney explained. “I went in to order a sandwich. You press a little touchtone keypad, alright? You just touch that and, you know, the sandwich comes up. You touch this, touch this, touch this, go pay the cashier. There’s your sandwich. It’s amazing!”

The ordering system has been there for 10 years. Of course this reminded everyone of the apocryphal story about out-of-touch patrician George H.W. Bush being amazed by a supermarket scanner.

Poor Mitt. In another article on Romney’s bus tour, James Fallows makes fun of the candidate’s habit of expressing surprise by saying “oh my goodness!”

Romney’s trademark small-talk exclamation, “Oh my goodness!” seems completely genuine. But I am trying to think of the last time I heard a 21st-century person use that phrase — as opposed to all the other possibilities, which when you think about it range from coarse to profane. (Jeez louise, WTF, Holy shit, and on through a long list you can fill in yourself.) When combined with his Don-Draper-in-the-’50s very dapper personal style, it adds to a retro atmosphere that some people will find reassuring and appealing and others will find odd.

Well I have to admit that I often say “oh my goodness!” too. Maybe I’m out of touch then–or maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. I got in the habit of saying that when taking care of my nephews. John McWhorter at The New Republic also thinks Romney’s “verbal stylings” are strange. Romney is also guilty of using “g” words like gosh, golly, and gee, which McWhorter says are substitutes for taking the name of “god” in vain.

Gee, gosh, and golly are all tokens of dissimulation. They are used in moments of excitement or dismay as burgherly substitutions, either for God and Jesus—words many religious people believe should not be “taken in vain”—or for words considered even less appropriate. Fittingly, they even emerged as disguised versions of God (gosh and golly) and Jesus (gee; cf. also jeez). This was in line with how cursing worked in earlier English. The medieval and even colonial Anglophones’ versions of profanity were to express dismay or vent pain by swearing—“making an oath”—to God or related figures considered ill-addressed in such a disrespectful way. The proper person at least muted the impact with a coy distortion, à la today’s shoot and fudge. Hence zounds (first attestation: 1600), as in by his (Christ’s) wounds; egad for Ye God (1673); and by Jove (1598). To increasing numbers of modern Americans, the G-words are unusable outside of quotation marks, be these actual or implied, rather like the word perky.

Well, gee, I use that one sometimes too, though not “gosh” or “golly.” So maybe I’m as much of an anachronism as Romney. Of course I’ve been known to swear also. I really think saying the “g” words might be a Midwestern mannerism.

Robert Shrum says Mitt Romney reminds him of Thomas E. Dewey, who was expected to beat Harry Truman in 1948, but didn’t. Check it out. I found it interesting.

It appears that police are suspicious about the drowning death of Rodney King. An autopsy has been done, but the results haven’t been released yet. There was no obvious evidence of foul play, but apparently King was a very avid swimmer. There are also conflicting reports of sounds from King’s backyard right before his body was found. Reuters:

King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, a juror in the civil suit he brought against the city of Los Angeles, “didn’t give any indication he was unhappy or that there was an issue.” He said King was known to swim frequently and at all hours.

Shepherd said Kelly told investigators that, shortly before the drowning, she had been inside the house talking with King off and on through a sliding glass door that leads to a patio beside the pool.

At some point, she told them, she heard a splash, prompting her to run outside to find him at the bottom of the deep end. Unable to swim well herself, she called emergency 911 for help.

The Los Angeles Times, in an online account on Monday, cited a next-door neighbor, Sandra Gardea, 31, as saying she heard the sound of a man sobbing from King’s back yard in the two hours before police say he was found in the pool.

The Times also reported that Gardea heard King’s fiancée trying to coax him back into the house.

“It wasn’t like an argument,” she told the newspaper. “She was just saying, ‘Get in the house. Get in the house.'” Gardea said she heard a splash a few minutes later.

Very mysterious.

The prosecution in the Trayvon Martin case has released calls between George Zimmerman and his wife when he was in jail the first time.

The recordings show that from his jail cell, Zimmerman gave his wife step-by-step instructions on how to change a password and clear security questions so she could move money, gave her orders to withdraw specific amounts and directed her to pay the bills.

Prosecutors allege the couple was moving money out of an Internet PayPal account that was awash with donations for Zimmerman, who’s charged with second-degree murder in one of the most racially-charged criminal cases in the country. He shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, in Sanford Feb. 26.

The couple spoke in code, according to prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. In the calls Zimmerman makes repeated reference to “Peter Pan,” an apparent reference to PayPal.

And neither Zimmerman or his wife ever refer to more than $100,000, talking instead about amounts generally totaling “10 dollars” and “20 dollars.” Prosecutors say those were references to $10,000 and $20,000.

Shellie was careful to move less than $10,000 at a time, to avoid triggering attention from the feds.

The tapes of six conversations were released Monday, as were bank statements from the Zimmermans’ accounts at a credit union. The statements show repeated transfers to and from the account in amounts just under $10,000. On April 24, for example, there were 8 transfers of $9,999.00 into Shellie Zimmerman’s account. Banks and financial institutions are required to file “suspicious activity reports” in such cases, according to Jack Blum, a Washington lawyer who specializes in money laundering.

Structuring the money in such a way is not itself illegal, he says, if the money isn’t from an illicit source. But, he says, it shows “a guilty mind.”

“What they’ve done,’ Blum said, “is they’ve given the prosecutors, on a silver platter, evidence of guilty intent.”

This one should probably be at the top of this post, but gee golly gosh and my goodness! I thought the other stories were more fun to read–so gosh darn it, what the heck!

Obama, Putin meet on Syria at G-20 summit.

Meeting for nearly two hours on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Mexico, the two presidents tried to focus mostly on areas of agreement — even when it came to areas of disagreement, such as Syria.

The U.S. wants Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power. Russia, which sells arms to Syria, has blocked United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for tough sanctions and leaving the door open to military intervention.

“We agreed that we need to see a cessation of the violence, that a political process has to be created to prevent civil war and the kind of horrific deaths that we’ve seen over the last several weeks,” Obama said after his first meeting with Putin following his return to the presidency this year. “We pledged to work with other international actors, including the United Nations, Kofi Annan and all interested parties, in trying to find a resolution to this problem.”

Putin was upbeat following the meeting, which went on much longer than planned and covered the full range of issues between the two nations. “From my perspective, we’ve been able to find many commonalities pertaining to all of those issues,” he said.

I’m glad it was Obama negotiating and not Romney. Otherwise, we might be at war with Russia by now.

The New York Times has a piece on what Europe will do now that the Greeks have voted for austerity.

BERLIN — After Greek elections eased fears that the country’s exit from the euro zone was imminent, attention turned Monday to an even bigger challenge: restoring the economic body to health with Greece still in it.

A respite from market pressure early Monday proved to be short-lived, as investors shifted their attention from political infighting in Athens to the larger question of whether European leaders could find a more lasting solution to a debacle now well into its third year.

But even though Brussels had been hoping for the victory by Antonis Samaras and his center-right New Democracy Party, the yearned-for result, paradoxically, may weaken Europe’s determination to take more radical steps to avert a meltdown.

German hard-liners were emboldened by the victory, viewing it as an endorsement of the drive for structural adjustment in Greece and elsewhere in Southern Europe through further austerity. As a result, the vote may delay concerted pro-growth steps by central banks and governments around the world, as well as the hard choices within Europe over deeper integration that are likely to prove necessary in the long run.

Much more at the link.

There’s lots of talk around the ‘net about the upcoming SCOTUS decision on the health care law. Scalia appears to be signaling that it may go down. You can read about what might happen if parts of the bill found unconstitutional here, here, and here.

Ronan Farrow with mother Mia

Woody Allen’s son Ronan (who looks exactly like Mia Farrow) celebrated father’s day by tweeting “Happy father’s day — or as they call it in my family, happy brother-in-law’s day.” And Mother Mia retweeted it. Ouch!

Woody and Ronan have been estranged for years since his parents split and because Woody was dating (and later married) Soon-Yi Previn, Mia’s adopted daughter, Ronan’s step-sister. He has been quoted in the past as saying, “He’s my father married to my sister. That makes me his son and his brother-in-law. That is such a moral transgression.” [….]

Ronan, named Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow when he was born in 1987, is the sole biological child of Woody and actress Mia Farrow. He is currently serving as special adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues and director of the State Department’s Global Youth Issues office.

Finally, Roger Clemens was found not guilty yesterday, and honestly I’m glad. He probably did use steroids late in his career, but the prosecution couldn’t prove it. Thousands of players did it, and I think it was terrible; but the Justice Department has much more important things to do than making examples out of baseball players (and former presidential candidates for that matter). Clemens will go down in history as one of the greatest pitchers ever. He certainly is one of the best ever to play for the Red Sox.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?