Monday Reads: Unwanted Ivanka and “Je ne suis pas amusé” Legard

My Caption for this:
In her Princess Jasmine nightie giving daddy the big girl now eyes!!

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

Just when you think the Trump Family Crime Syndicate couldn’t embarrass the country any more we get another command performance at the G-20.  Ivanka Trump showed up in what looked like a pink nightie (it reportedly cost about $4500) and barged unwanted into circles, conversations, and pictures with World leaders.  Democratically elected Presidents and PMs got Ivanka. Dictators got the Russian Potted Plant.  C’est la guerre.

Prizes go to the French government via the Financial Times:

The abiding image from this year’s G20 summit will not be Donald Trump sharing another chuckle with Vladimir Putin. It is the clip of his daughter, Ivanka, inserting herself into an awkward circle of world leaders.

The video, released by the French government, shows varying expressions of tortured politeness as Ms Trump intrudes on a discussion between France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF. Ms Lagarde, in particular, was unable to conceal her irritation.

What they were discussing is secondary. Mr Macron made a point about social justice. Mrs May replied that people notice when the economy is brought into it. Ms Trump then interrupted with a non sequitur about how the defence industry is male-dominated. The real point is that America’s self-named “First Daughter” is rarely out of the frame at global summits. Other Trump officials are almost invisible compared with Ms Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, the only two White House players who are thought to be immune from Mr Trump’s trademark phrase: “You’re fired.”

By contrast, leaders of patrimonial countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are very comfortable with Ms Trump’s role. Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, conducts much of his US communication over WhatsApp with Mr Kushner. The first son-in-law is also a favoured conduit for other leaders. Rex Tillerson, the former US secretary of state, recently disclosed that he had found out his Mexican counterpart was in Washington when he stumbled across him dining with Mr Kushner.

The absolute audacity of all these displays of nepotism, despot adoration, and stupidity just shows how low we’ve fallen in a few short years.  The WAPO and writer Ann Gearan put it this way: “‘Surreal’: Ivanka Trump plays a prominent role in her father’s historic Korea trip”.  I call it insulting to every woman that ever had to earn her way to the top with degrees, jobs, and personal skills that exponentially pass all of her peers.

Few Americans alive today have set foot inside North Korea, the isolated, nuclear-armed dictatorship sometimes called the Hermit Kingdom.

On Sunday, Ivanka Trump became one of them, capping a consequential three-day Asian trip in which the president’s eldest daughter played a very public role that blended family ties with diplomatic work that is usually performed by diplomats.

She pronounced the short walk to the other side of one of the world’s most fortified borders “surreal.”

Previously, at the Group of 20 economic summit in Japan, Ivanka Trump was everywhere — at her father’s side at times when other leaders’ spouses were present (first lady Melania Trump skipped the trip), in meetings where her presence puzzled other participants, and even giving an awkward video “readout” of Trump’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Another video of Ivanka Trump talking with British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde at the G-20 also went viral over the weekend. Lagarde’s impatient side-eye as Ivanka Trump interjects in what appears to have been a back-and-forth between Macron and May suggested irritation at finding herself standing alongside the daughter of the U.S. president — rather than the president himself.

“As soon as you charge them with that economic aspect of it, a lot of people start listening who otherwise wouldn’t listen,” May can be heard saying, as Lagarde nods in agreement.

“And the same with the defense side of it, in terms of the whole business that’s been, sort of, male-dominated,” Ivanka Trump then says, as a startled-looking Lagarde turns toward her, then purses her lips.

The first daughter’s prominence in Japan and South Korea appeared to be by design — a sign of her influence with President Trump and the current absence of influential opponents within the administration.

It’s not clear, however, to what end.

This led to some surreal fun last night on twitter.  The HuffPo notes:”‘Unwanted Ivanka’ Is The Latest Meme After *That* Awkward G20 Video.The president’s daughter tried to insert herself into a conversation between world leaders and it ended in… ridicule.” The most unreal moment is that of her actually sitting next to her father in her Princess Jasmine nightgown ($4500) flirting happily with him while every other leader of the G20 looks quite hostile, put out,  and disgusted.

Enjoy yourself some “Unwanted Ivanka” photoshop play! Then watch Sarah Kendzior talk about how far off the rails our country has gone with Trumpism.

This is from New York Magazine:  Trump’s G20 Trip Was a Victory for Dictators.

When Trump wasn’t posing for smiling snapshots with this all-star cast of brutal dictators, he was taking potshots at real U.S. allies like Europe and Japan. Prior to the summit, he said Europe “treats us worse than China” and repeated his talking point about NATO members not paying their fair share of costs, while also somehow claiming credit for the fact that NATO still exists at all. His talks with European leaders at the G20 were friendly enough, but seemed to skirt around the heaviest issues weighing on the American-European alliance.

On Saturday, he dropped another pointless bombshell, saying he had told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the post-World War II security treaty between the U.S. and Japan would need to be rewritten because it was unfair to the U.S. in that it commits the U.S. to defend Japan but not vice-versa. (The New York Times’ Gary Bass explains why this is absurd, even by Trump’s standards). Withdrawing from the pact would mean pulling large numbers of U.S. forces out of Asia at an extremely bad time, which means it’s a total nonstarter with the Pentagon and has little to no chance of actually happening. All Trump accomplishes by picking this fight is insulting a longstanding ally and signaling to China and North Korea that this security alliance is negotiable.

To be sure, Trump isn’t the only reason why authoritarianism is on the rise in rich and middle-income countries. Putin’s dark assessment that Western liberalism has failed and will soon fade from this earth has an element of truth to it, and Trump is much more a consequence than a cause of that failure. Yet it is impossible to feel good about the future of liberal democracy around the world when the president of the United States consistently praises and accommodates its enemies, such that the U.S. is no longer seen as reliably on the side of the angels.

Well, we already have Gulags for children at the border. Add to that the fact that our democracy is dying then read this Third Reichish request: “Trump asks for military tanks on the Mall as part of grandiose July Fourth event.”

National Park Service acting director P. Daniel Smith faces plenty of looming priorities this summer, from an $11 billion backlog in maintenance needs to natural disasters like the recent wildfire damage to Big Bend Park.

But in recent days, another issue has competed for Smith’s attention: how to satisfy President Trump’s request to station tanks or other armored military vehicles on the Mall for his planned Fourth of July address to the nation.

The ongoing negotiations over whether to use massive military hardware, such as Abrams tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as a prop for Trump’s “Salute to America” is just one of many unfinished details when it comes to the celebration planned for Thursday, according to several people briefed on the plan, who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

Trump — who has already ordered up a flyover by military aircraft including Air Force One — is also interested in featuring an F-35 stealth fighter and involvement from Marine Helicopter Squadron One, which flies the presidential helicopter, two government officials aid. The Navy’s Blue Angels were supposed to have a break between a performance in Davenport, Iowa on June 30 and one in Kansas City, Mo. on July 6, but will now be flying in D.C. on the Fourth.

Paging Republican Deficit Hawks?  Wasteful Government spending clean up on Aisle Trump!!! 

But, as Michael Tomasky Writes for the NYT, “Do the Republicans Even Believe in Democracy Anymore?”  My vote is absolutely NOT.

A number of observers, myself included, have written pieces in recent years arguing that the Republican Party is no longer simply trying to compete with and defeat the Democratic Party on a level playing field. Today, rather than simply playing the game, the Republicans are simultaneously trying to rig the game’s rules so that they never lose.

The aggressive gerrymandering, which the Supreme Court just declared to be a matter beyond its purview; the voter suppression schemes; the dubious proposals that haven’t gone anywhere — yet — like trying to award presidential electoral votes by congressional district rather than by state, a scheme that Republicans in five states considered after the 2012 election and that is still discussed: These are not ideas aimed at invigorating democracy. They are hatched and executed for the express purpose of essentially fixing elections.

We have been brought up to believe that American political parties are the same — that they are similar creatures with similar traits and similar ways of behaving. Political science spent decades teaching us this. The idea that one party has become so radically different from the other, despite mountains of evidence, is a tough sell.

It’s a hard sell to make for one very simple reason: It doesn’t have a name, this thing the Republicans are trying to do. It’s not true democracy that they want. But it’s also a bit much to call them outright authoritarians. And there’s nothing in between.

We need only look to the Supreme Court and notice this: “The Supreme Court, gerrymandering, and the Republican turn against democracy.A bigger threat to American democracy than Donald Trump.”  This was written by Zack Beauchamp at Vox.

The Supreme Court’s Thursday morning ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause amounts to a blank check for partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion holds that federal courts should not have the power to declare particular maps unconstitutional, as doing so would be “unprecedented expansion of judicial power … into one of the most intensely partisan aspects of American political life.”

What this means, in practice, is that local authorities get to decide on the shape of House and state legislative districts. Parties that control statehouses will be freer to not only cement their own hold on power but ensure that their party sends more representatives to Washington as well.

While Republicans and Democrats both gerrymander, there is no doubt that Republicans do it more and more shamelessly. North Carolina Rep. David Lewis, who helped draw one of the maps at issue in Rucho, was admirably honest about his motives in a 2016 statehouse speech.

“I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” he explained. “So I drew this map in a way to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

This principle — that Republicans believe their rule is better and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure they take and hold power — does not merely lead to gerrymandering. It has produced a whole host of undemocratic actions, at both state and federal levels, that amount to a systematic threat to American democracy. Indeed, some of the best scholarship we have on American democracy suggests that this is even more alarming than it sounds; that it fits historical patterns of democratic backsliding both in the United States and abroad.

In her dissent to Roberts’s ruling, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that “gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government.” I’d take it a step further.

The Court’s ruling in Rucho reveals that there’s a threat to American democracy more subtle and yet greater than the Trump presidency: the Republican Party’s drift toward being institutionally hostile to democracy.

The Court’s ruling permits a systematic attack on democracy

Partisan gerrymandering is, on its face, an obviously anti-democratic practice. State legislators pack large numbers of voters from the opposing party into a handful of legislative districts, thus ensuring their voters dominate the bulk of districts and hand them a majority. It gives their supporters’ votes more weight, a direct violation of the core democratic principles relating to equal citizenship and representation.

We can look no further than to our know-nothing President and his Russian mentor for clues.  This is from New York Magazine. “Trump Thinks Putin’s Attack on ‘Western-Style Liberalism’ Was About California.”

Putin was expressing a broadly fashionable argument that he has promoted for years, and that has recently taken hold among reactionaries in several Western countries, including the United States. Their critique is not of liberalism in the sense of the American center-left tradition identified with the Democratic party, but the longer historical tradition of liberalism that emerged from the theories of John Locke, John Stuart Mill, and other traditional philosophers whose beliefs created the foundation for democratic government. Most graduates of an elite college who took any humanities courses would have some rough familiarity with their work, which is a cornerstone of what’s called a “liberal education.” The “West,” of course, refers to Europe and the United States, where liberal ideas first took hold.

Trump did not recognize this debate at all. Instead, he concluded that “the west” means California, and “liberalism” means the Democratic Party.

Believing Putin had criticized life in California rather than America’s philosophy of government, Trump explained that, yes, Putin is correct that things are terrible in cities in California (“he does see things that are happening in the United States that would probably preclude him from saying how wonderful it is.”) But, Trump added, this is the fault of the Democrats, not him. He then assured reporters he’s not offended, because Putin has congratulated him on the overall state of the American economy.

Trump’s riff encapsulates the comic and sinister aspects of his political rise. As demographic change has made the U.S. population more progressive, Republicans have embraced more authoritarian methods to preserve their minority rule. Just this week, Florida Republicans imposed a poll tax to prevent enfranchised former prisoners from exercising their right to vote.

Trump himself is an instinctive authoritarian. He demands subservience, identifies himself completely with the state, denies the right of journalists to criticize him, believes he has the right to start or stop any prosecution at his discretion, refuses to acknowledge Congress’s right to conduct any oversight of his administration, and praises foreign dictators for their strength. Bonding with Putin, Trump joked at their shared disdain for independent media. “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?” Trump said. “You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress have nothing better to do than lie in wait to attack Mueller and the Russia Investigation.  This is from Natasha Bertrand writing for Politico.

Democrats have been dying to hear directly from special counsel Robert Mueller for months, but they’re not alone. President Donald Trump’s GOP allies in Congress are salivating at the chance to bruise Mueller’s reputation and cast doubt on the integrity of his work.

Mueller’s intensely anticipated July 17 testimony will bring him face to face with the Republican lawmakers who have savaged his reputation and called him the ringleader of a “coup” against Trump. While Democrats attempt to squeeze morsels of new information out of the notoriously tight-lipped investigator, these Trump defenders are signaling that they’ll use the historic moment to try to undercut his credibility and paint him as a political pawn in Democrats’ efforts to undermine the president.

“He’s done some irreparable damage to some things and he’s got to answer for them,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, one of 25 Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees who get to grill Mueller during the back-to-back hearings.The Texas congressman added that his reading of the special counsel’s report did little to temper his long history of animosity for the former FBI director: “It reinforced the anal opening that I believe Mueller to be.”

Many House Republicans on the committees set to interview him have actually supported Mueller in the past, even if they’ve criticized his Russia investigation; they’ve sought to separate the man — a senior Justice Department appointee dating to the George H.W. Bush administration and Marine Corps veteran — from the probe.

But Mueller will also face a grilling from Trump’s top Republican allies in Congress, including Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Devin Nunes (Calif.) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.). They intend to press him on long-held articles of Trumpian faith: that Mueller’s team was biased against the president from the start and that the Russia investigation was tainted by inappropriate surveillance.

It seriously amazes me that Louie Gohmert has not gone off with those nice young man in their clean white coats yet for an extended stay.  The Daily Beast says they will focus on those two FBI agents who fucked each other.  Like the Republicans should pearl clutch about that.

Republican lawmakers, as well as prominent allies and legal advisers to this president, want to turn it into a hostile referendum on the nexus of the “deep state” and sexual dalliance and infidelity—which is to say that they want to use Mueller’s testimony to zero in on the duo that President Trump has repeatedly slammed as “the FBI lovers.”

What the hell is this shit?  And why can’t we focus on this?  Recognize the Nobility Clause of the US Constitution?

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

The Wiki explanation is this:

The Framers’ intentions for this clause were twofold: to prevent a society of nobility from being established in the United States, and to protect the republican forms of government from being influenced by other governments. In Federalist No. 22Alexander Hamilton stated, “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” Therefore, to counter this “foreign corruption” the delegates at the Constitutional Convention worded the clause in such a way as to act as a catch-all for any attempts by foreign governments to influence state or municipal policies through gifts or titles

We’re coming up on the celebration of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence of which I am the descendant of six signers of that Document and I can tell you my family takes our heritage on this very seriously. Two of my ancestors signed the US Constitution. Members of my family have fought in every war on the right side of the Republic since the Revolution.

We’ve get some idiot president’s idiot daughter acting like an heir apparent in a Princes Jasmine Nightie (at $4500) who can’t find her way around a cogent economics discussion because she HAS NO FUCKING CLUE OR QUALIFICATIONS.  We have the Russian Potted Plant saying Russia go ahead and collude with me again on TV.  We have evidence that the desire for planting Hotels with his name on it in countries run by a despot is his priority.  Can we please get some fucking oversight here and maybe a damned impeachment on the road?

So, I leave you something uplifting.  Here’s a parade that represents what American is about and a candidate I believe that will uphold it in a Levis Jacket that probably didn’t cause the annual food expense of your normal family of four.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Friday Nite Lite: Funnies… funk yeah!

Good Evening

Wow, I sure did miss writing this cartoon post, so here are tonight’s funnies.

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Poverty Wage

Poverty Wage – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 09/05/2013

Nuggets of Self-Worth…ain’t that the truth!

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Charlie Daniel, Knoxville News Sentinel – 09/06/2013

Cartoon by Charlie Daniel -

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle – 09/06/2013

Cartoon by Nick Anderson -

G20 – Political Cartoon by Deb Milbrath, Cartoon Movement – 09/06/2013

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - G20

AAEC – Political Cartoon by Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader – 08/27/2013

Cartoon by Joel Pett -

Area 51 – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 08/22/2013

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Area 51

The Dream – Political Cartoon by Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 08/27/2013

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - The Dream

Syria and Capital Punishment – Truthdig

Universal Good Health by Political Cartoonist Bruce Plante

137032 600 Universal Good Health cartoons

Ted Cruz and McCarthyism by Political Cartoonist Dave Granlund

136551 600 Ted Cruz and McCarthyism cartoons

Middle East – Truthdig

9/8 Luckovich cartoon: Show your cards | Mike Luckovich

090813-toon-luckovich-ed

Kerry grilled on Syria by Political Cartoonist Jeff Darcy

137059 600 Kerry grilled on Syria cartoons

This is an open thread…


Thursday Reads: Syria, Snowden, and the G20

barack obama reading

Good Morning!!

Syria policy has pretty much eclipsed everything else in the national and  international news (heard anything about Egypt lately?), with the NSA story still a close second. The G20 is also beginning in Russia, and that’s also “all about Syria.” So these are the stories this morning. This will also be a quickie post, because I overslept and I have someone coming to fix my electricity pretty soon.

As you all know, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved limited strike on Syria yesterday, although there is still wrangling among Senators about how aggressive the U.S. action should be. From NBC News:

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry and other top administration officials went before the House Foreign Affairs Committee to confront skeptics and press the administration’s case. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel estimated the cost of a limited strike at tens of millions of dollars.

However, Kerry told the hearing that Arab League countries had offered to pay for the unseating President Bashar Assad if the United States took the lead militarily….

The Senate yes votes comprised seven Democrats and three Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, who had expressed reservations that the United States was not doing enough to arm the rebels fighting Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

“We commend the Senate for moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security,” read a statement from the White House. “We will continue to work with Congress to build on this bipartisan support for a military response that is narrowly tailored to enforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons, and sufficient to protect the national security interests of the United States of America.”

NBC News also reports that Russia’s Putin is warning the US against ‘aggression’ in Syria without UN approval.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the United States and its allies against unilateral action against Syria on Wednesday – but said he “doesn’t exclude” backing a U.N. resolution if evidence proved the use of poison gas against civilians.

As the White House stepped up its efforts to secure political approval for retaliatory strikes on the regime of Bashar Assad, Putin said acting without the approval of the U.N. Security Council “can only be interpreted as an aggression.”

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of President Barack Obama’s arrival in Europe for meetings with G20 leaders, Putin said video footage of the suspected Aug. 21 chemical weapons attackoutside of Damascus could have been fabricated by groups “connected with al Qaeda.”

According to Time, Putin also warned that indiscriminate bombing in Syria could lead to a “nuclear catastrophe.”

Russia is warning that a U.S. strike on Syria’s atomic facilities might result in a nuclear catastrophe and is urging the U.N. to present a risk analysis of such a scenario.

The warning comes from Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich. He said in a statement Wednesday that a strike on a miniature reactor near Damascus or other nuclear installations could contaminate the region with radioactivity, adding: “The consequences could be catastrophic.”

Who knew Syria had “nuclear installations?”

The Christian Science Monitor: G20 economic summit: It’s all about Syria.

As world leaders gather in St. Petersburg, Russia, today for the annual two-day Group of 20 summit, economic policy may be overshadowed by what’s not on the agenda: Syria.

Divisions over how to respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in August grow as the US continues to lobby for support for military action and Russia digs in its heels against it. President Obamawon initial domestic political backing on Wednesday after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly authorized military measures in a 10-7 vote, according to The Associated Press.

“My credibility isn’t on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line,” Obama said in a press conference before flying to Russia. “The moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing.”

Obama canceled a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on the sidelines of the summit after the Kremlin offered asylum to former NSA employee Edward Snowden, who leaked classified US documents.

According to The Christian Science Monitor’s Moscow correspondent, Fred Weir, President Putin has argued there “is no convincing evidence” that Assad launched a poison gas attack. Putin has exercised his veto power on the UN Security Council repeatedly against any military intervention in Syria since the two-year-old conflict began.

The Guardian on the troubled U.S.-Russia relationship: Putin and Obama apart in more ways than one at G20 table.

In terms of table placement at least, the Russians are trying to avoid a fight. When world leaders file into St Petersburg’s imperial Constantine Palace on Thursday, with the nightmare of Syria and a wider Middle Eastern war on their minds, presidents Vladimir Putin and Barack Obamawill be distant from one another literally, as well as politically.

The seating order, which would have had the Russian and US leaders separated only by the Saudi king, has been reshuffled to put five leaders, including David Cameron, between the two key adversaries over Syria and much else.

“The seating will be arranged according to the English alphabet,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Moscow newspaper, Izvestiya. Had the Russian alphabet been used, Putin and Obama would have been almost cheek-by-jowl.

If the rushed re-seating is one measure of the US-Russian tensions militating against a breakthrough arresting the slide to greater conflict over Syria, there are plenty more. Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower, holed up in Russia, wanted in America, is the most recent.

The summit should be interesting; I hope Obama and Putin don’t come to blows.

Putin reads

On the Snowden front, there is quite a bit of speculation going around about how involved Russia was with Snowden even before he arrived in Moscow.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported: Putin Says Snowden Was In Touch Before Coming To Russia. Putin just can’t keep his story straight. First he said he was taken completely by surprise when Snowden landed in his lap–he’d hardly even paid any attention to him before that. But lately he’s been gradually admitting that wasn’t true. From the WSJ:

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that Edward Snowden contacted Russian diplomats in Hong Kong a few days before boarding a plane to Moscow but that no agreement was reached to shelter him and he decided to come to Russia on his own without warning.

Mr. Putin had initially said Mr. Snowden’s arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on June 23 was a “complete surprise,” but now acknowledges that he had some prior knowledge that the fugitive former U.S. National Security Agency contractor might be headed Russia’s way.

“Mr. Snowden first appeared in Hong Kong and met with our diplomatic representatives. It was reported to me that there was such an employee, an employee of the security services. I asked ‘What does he want?’ He fights for human rights, for freedom of information and challenges violations of human rights and violations of the law in the United States. I said, ‘So what?’,” Mr. Putin said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One and The Associated Press.

Actually Russia had publicly “offered to consider [Snowden’s] asylum request” in June when Snowden was still in Hong Kong, but that fact seems to have gone down the corporate media’s memory hole at this point. Everyone also seems to have forgotten that the U.S. voided Snowden’s passport before he left Hong Kong and flew to Russia–supposedly on the way to Cuba and the Ecuador. Putin is still trying to blame the U.S. for Snowden’s failure to take his scheduled flight to Cuba, claiming it was because of the cancelled passport.

In an interview to Russia’s state-run Channel One and The Associated Press published Wednesday, Putin responded to various questions about touchy subjects in U.S.-Russia relations.

When asked about Snowden, who found himself the world’s most wanted fugitive after leaking top secret documents on U.S. surveillance programs, Putin said U.S. authorities could have grounded the plane that Snowden boarded to come to Moscow from China’s Hong Kong just as they did with the plane of Bolivian leader Evo Morales after they suspected that Snowden was on board.

Or, he said, U.S. intelligence officers could have let Snowden leave Russia —which was initially meant to be only a transit stop on his way to another country that would grant him asylum — and then could have grabbed him in a country “with a relaxed security regime,” Putin said, the Kremlin website reported.

“They could have done that in relation to Snowden. What prevented them” from doing that? Putin said.

Um…. you did, Mr. Putin. We’ve read the reports that Snowden was surrounded by a crowd of FSB officers before his feet even hit the floor in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport transit zone.

More foreign affairs writers are beginning to question just how much of an “accident” Snowden’s defection to Russia actually was. At Business Insider, Michael Kelley summarizes the growing suspicions among intelligence experts: Did WikiLeaks Sell Out Snowden To The Russians?

Is it just a coincidence that former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, a valuable intelligence asset, ended up in the hands of Russia’s security services?

Or did WikiLeaks, the “anti-secrecy” organization that has taken responsibility for Snowden, send him there in collaboration with the Russians?

Former senior U.S. intelligence analyst Joshua Foust makes a compelling argument that Wikileaks may have been infiltrated by Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, the post-Soviet successor to the KGB.

His argument is based on the shared history between WikiLeaks and Russia, how Snowden ended up in Russia, and what happened to Snowden once he landed in Moscow.

Looking at the same evidence, we think this is certainly a possibility.

Read all about it at the link, and if you have time, read Foust’s longer piece. It’s fascinating.

I’ll end with a couple of articles on the damage done to U.S. Intelligence services by Snowden’s stealing and leaking the contents of top secret documents. From former NSA analyst and now academic John Schindler: Snowden, NSA, and Counterintelligence.

From nearly the outset I’ve stated that Snowden is very likely an agent of Russian intelligence; this was met with howls of indignation which have died down in recent weeks as it’s become apparent that Ed’s staying in Russia for some time, along with whatever classified materials he had on his person. (Since Glenn Greenwald’s partner when stopped by British authorities at Heathrow had 58,000 highly classified documents on him, thanks to Ed, one can only wonder how big the initial haul actually was.) That Snowden was in contact with the Russian consulate in Hong Kong during his pre-Moscow visit there, including spending his 30th birthday with his new friends, is now admitted. Even President Vladimir Putin has conceded that Ed’s contacts with Russian officials did not commence when he landed at Sheremtyevo airport, rather before.

But when? That of course is the key question that NSA counterintelligence surely wants – needs – to know. All roads here lead to Wikileaks. We know that Snowden in late 2012 reached out to Glenn Greenwald and other members of the spy-ring – all of whom can be considered cut-outs for Wikileaks when not paid-up members – that stands behind the massive leaks. After making this contact, Ed took a contractor job with Booz Allen Hamilton to increase his access to NSA secrets. I’ve been stating for a while now that Wikileaks is functionally an extension of Russian intelligence; it’s become a minor meme asa few journalists have decided that such a scandalous viewpoint is worth considering.

Of course, for anyone versed in the ways of Russian intelligence, the notion that Wikileaks is a Moscow front that’s involved in anti-US espionage is about as controversial as, say, the notion that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. Running false flags, creating fake activist groups, using Western journalists and activists for deception purposes – this sort of thing is in the DNA of Russian intelligence going back to the 19th century and is second nature to them. They call espionage tradecraft konspiratsiya (conspiracy) for a reason.

While there can be little doubt that the damage Snowden has wrought to the US and Allied SIGINT system is nothing less than immense, it will be some time before NSA and the US Government make any public pronouncements on such a touchy matter – not to mention that it will likely be several months yet before the Intelligence Community completes what will surely rank as the Mother of All Damage Assessments.

Without in any way diminishing the espionage losses that young Mr Snowden has caused, I want to suggest that the political damage in this case may loom larger, particularly as Putin savors his big win in this round, having humiliated American intelligence as it’s never quite been publicly humiliated before. The onetime Chekist in Putin surely is going to bed at night with a smile these days. “There are no ‘former’ intelligence officers,” Russia’s president once famously said, and he was also talking about himself.

Read the rest at the link if you can; this guy really knows his stuff–and he’s no right wing nut.

One more piece by British writer Chris Boffey: Why Edward Snowden is not a patriot, whistleblower or hero – but a spy.

Edward Snowden is a spy. The runaway CIA contractor may not know, or even care, whom he is spying for but the damage he is doing ranks alongside Philby, Burgess, McLean and Blunt. They comforted themselves with delusions that revealing the names of agents to the Soviet Union were for the greater good. Snowden was equally deluded when he opened up the secrets of western intelligence to one and all. Unlike the British spies, Snowden is not dealing in human information but electronic intelligence which in this day and age has more importance, but the results are the same….

Unlike Ames, Snowden was able to claim the moral high ground when spilling out the inner workings and policies of the US and UK security services to the world. Revealing how the state spies on its own citizens, without their knowledge or acquiescence, can be considered laudable but he lost the right to be called a whistleblower when he fled to negotiate first with the Chinese and then the Russians about political asylum and then it was revealed that he had taken with him the whole security shooting match.

Whistleblowers stand up and are counted; Snowden crawled out and ran away.

In sweeping up every secret he came across and downloading them to be dripped out is just plain treason and he knows this, given his determination not only never to return to the US but also to stay out of its legal jurisdiction.

Snowden justified his actions saying: “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Presumably that is why he is now living in Russia, that Mecca of human rights.

Much more at the link. Check it out and see what you think.

That’s all I’ve got for you for the moment. Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


London Calling

tardisGrab the popcorn for the start of the G20 London Summit beginning April 2nd.  This will be an important meeting because it serves as a test of the resolve of the major nations’ commitment to both global development and trade.  It will also be a test for new US President Barrack Obama and his administration.  There will be challenges from many of the countries on several fronts.

Obama has called for all G20 countries to pledge GDP-appropriate global fiscal spending. Germany is not convinced of a need for global fiscal stimulation having announced many are not bad off when compared to the US or UK.     Reluctance on the part of other nations to follow the lead will put pressure on the US to stimulate the much of the world’s economies as well as its own on its own.   Steven Harper of Canada as said that Canada’s doing fine.  Angela Merkel has criticized the US call for fiscal stimulus.  Early last week, the President of the EU, called the Obama plan “a road to hell.”  This has caused both the US and the UK to back off of specific commitments to global fiscal stimulus.  Developing nations have been begging the G20 for pledges to shore up their own economic crises.  There also appears to be a varying commitment levels to that idea.  This from China View.

But a transatlantic rift over the necessity of further fiscal stimulus appears to complicate efforts of the summit.

In response to U.S. pressure on the European Union (EU) countries to boost their fiscal stimulus, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country holds the current EU presidency, slammed U.S. plans to spend its way out of recession as “a road to hell.”

Topolanek’s blunt criticism exposed European differences with Washington and signaled a hard job for Brown to achieve greater international cooperation.

Playing down the transatlantic rift, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Sunday Britain and the United States will not push G20 leaders to announce specific spending pledges.

In a preparatory meeting two weeks ago, G20 finance ministers and central bankers agreed to “take whatever action is necessary” to support the economy. They pledged to continue coordinated and comprehensive action to boost demand and jobs, adding the key priority now is to restore lending by tackling toxic assets in the financial system.

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The Economist Pans POTUS

obamabearsThe Economist endorsed Obama for POTUS in last year’s presidential campaign.  I’m going to say that up front because  reading my print edition (slightly soggy from today’s rain) would have lead me to another conclusion. Each article in this week’s (March 14, 2009)  United States section took a jab at something POTUS either said or did.  Either the Brits are really mad at the Gordan snub last month, the koolaid has worn off overseas, or they’ve finally seen into the empty suit.  All I can say is here are the links, read for yourself.

Article one was  “Pursued by Obamabears“.  This was an analysis  subtitled “Investors fret that Obama’s crisis  response is not up to task.”  It also had this nifty graphic.  You can read the entire thing and we’ve discussed the bear market that just recently experienced a brief relief rally.  This point was the money maker for me.

Whatever the cause, the strain on the Treasury is encouraging the view that Mr Obama’s agenda is being driven by political advisers and Congressmen, both more attuned to voters’ rage than to market confidence. Chris Dodd, who faces a battle to retain his Connecticut Senate seat in 2010, inserted tough new restrictions on bankers’ pay into the fiscal stimulus package despite the administration’s objections. Since then, a series of mostly small banks have said they will return bail-out money, frustrating the plan to increase the banking system’s capital and lending capacity.

There was also an interesting quote from a former aide to Bill Clinton who was quoted as having ‘two equally depressing” hypotheses on why team Obama appears to be not ready for prime time.  I also liked it.  The comparisons to Carter have started already.

“Either they do not know what to do, or they do not believe they can muster the political support to do what they know needs to be done.” He advised Mr Obama to focus his attention on the crisis, or risk the loss of confidence Jimmy Carter suffered three decades ago. That would bring Obamabears out in droves.

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