Recipe for Failure

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, you tweeted this morning that it’s U.S. foolishness, stupidity and the Mueller probe that is responsible for the decline in U.S. relations with Russia. Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular? And if so, what would you — what would you consider them — that they are responsible for?

TRUMP: Yes I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should’ve had this dialogue a long time ago; a long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.

Trump-Putin press conference,
Helsinki (7-16-2018)

The Obama Administration’s strategy of unconditional engagement with America’s enemies combined with a relentless penchant for apology-making is a dangerous recipe for failure.

– “Barack Obama’s Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower
The Heritage Foundation (6-2-2009)

This week’s featured posts are “What changed in Helsinki” and “On Bullshifting“.

This week everybody was talking about Helsinki

The fallout from Trump’s secret conversation with Putin and the press conference the followed has dominated the week. I discussed it in “What changed in Helsinki“. The short version of that post is that theories of Trump’s subordination to Putin may have seemed far-fetched eight days ago, but they no longer do.

Here’s a development that I remember somebody predicting, but can’t pinpoint who it was: There’s a pattern in Trump’s reaction to accusations. The first stage is simple denial: “It didn’t happen.” The second is goalpost-shifting: “Technically it happened, but it wasn’t a big deal.” Then comes defiance: “I did it. So what?” [These quotation marks are demonstrative; I’m not referring to specific Trump statements.]

Some Trump followers are already at Stage 3 with respect to Russia: If he did conspire with Russia to win the election, they’re fine with it.

Post-Helsinki, never-Trump Republicans are getting more vocal. Friday Max Boot proclaimed the ultimate heresy: “How I miss Barack Obama.”

It can be depressing to think about our current predicament under a president whose loyalty to America is suspect but whose racism and xenophobia are undoubted. However, Obama’s speech [honoring the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth] gave me a glimmer of optimism — and not only because he cited Mandela’s “example of persistence and of hope.” He reminds me that just 18 months ago — can you believe it was so recently? — we had a president with whom I could disagree without ever doubting his fitness to lead.

and a Russian spy’s relationship with the NRA

It was reported back in January that the FBI was investigating whether money from Putin ally Alexander Torshin had been funneled through the National Rifle Association to be spent promoting Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Torshin is a member of Russia’s parliament and a deputy governor of the Russian central bank. The NRA spent $30 million on Trump in 2016, three times what it spent on Mitt Romney in 2012. If any of that money came from Torshin (or worse, from the Russian central bank), that would be illegal. Torshin has been under sanction by the Treasury Department since April.

Sunday, Russian national Maria Butina was arrested in the District of Columbia for acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian Federation, working for Torshin. The Justice Department announced the arrest Monday, shortly after the Trump/Putin summit in Helsinki.

So far, it’s hard to tell how important this is. Butina certainly met a lot of important people in Republican politics (in both the NRA and in religious-right circles, which overlap to a bizarre degree). The FBI affidavit that supports the indictment describes a plan to connect those people to influential people in the Putin government. But it’s hard to tell how insidious this was. The charge is that she did not register as a foreign agent. So if somebody who had registered as a lobbyist for Russia had done the same thing, would that have been illegal? Did the Americans who helped her do anything illegal? Not clear yet. We’ll have to see where this goes.

and a FISA warrant application

Remember the Nunes memo? Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote the memo to make the case that there was something wrong with the FISA warrants that collected the intelligence that got the Trump/Russia investigation started. Supposedly this blew the whistle on the whole anti-Trump conspiracy inside the Deep State, and meant that the entire Mueller investigation was invalid, because it was what lawyers call “fruit of the poison tree”.

As I and a lot of other people pointed out at the time, once the memo got declassified and released, it obviously didn’t live up to what Republicans had been saying about it. (Sean Hannity claimed it showed “the entire basis for the Russia investigation was based on lies that were bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and her campaign.”)

The Nunes memo itself had a lot of internal inconsistencies, and obvious gaps between its claims and its evidence. But still, a big chunk of the controversy between it and a competing Democratic memo boiled down to a he-said/she-said: Both relied on a classified source, the applications for the FISA warrants, and they made conflicting claims about those applications that the general public couldn’t check.

Well, now we can. A heavily redacted version of the FISA applications has been released under a Freedom of Information Act request. And guess what? The Nunes memo was complete crap, often making totally false claims about what FISA applications contain. A tweetstorm by Pwn All the Things goes through it in detail, picking out Nunes statements about the documents that are directly contradicted by the documents themselves.

It’s honestly kind of amazing that *every single one* of the assertions about inadequacies about the FISA application by Nunes are just directly refuted by the FISA application. Utterly dishonest in its entirety.

Lawfare’s David Kris is less polemic (and seems to have gone through the new documents in less detail), but notes that now “the Nunes memo looks even worse” than he originally judged it to be. And he points out that the four different judges who approved the warrants were all Republican appointees: one by Reagan, on by Bush the First and two by Bush the Second.

On the flip side, it’s fascinating to watch the contortions conservative Byron York has to go through to claim that the Nunes memo is “almost entirely accurate“. He takes a tree-level view, going paragraph by paragraph, and ignores the forest. The overall purpose of the memo, to prove that there was something unsavory about surveilling Carter Page, and that the Mueller probe has consequently been delegitimized, has been discredited. York makes no attempt to claim otherwise.

and you also might be interested in …

Hate to say “I told you so“, but North Korean denuclearization turns out to be harder than Trump thought.

At some point a manipulative ploy is just too obvious. Trump is catching flak for kowtowing to a foreign leader, so what does he want to talk about? Unpatriotic black athletes. California Democrat Eric Swalwell decided not to put up with it.

This should be a standard response whenever Trump goes after the NFL players in the future: Colin Kaepernick doesn’t need a lesson in patriotism from Putin’s poodle.

The EPA is proposing major changes to the Endangered Species Act. After declaring victory in the War on Poverty last week, I guess we’re also going to declare that we’ve saved all the endangered species now.

In addition to what you see on TV, The Daily Show web site posts additional clips, like extended versions of interviews and so on. I found this one particularly insightful. On Monday’s show, host Trevor Noah had joked about how black people around the world considered France’s victory in the World Cup to be an African victory, because so much of the French team has African roots.

Wednesday, he read and responded to the letter he got from the French ambassador, who called him out for questioning the Frenchness of the black players, as French nativists do. Trevor’s response is brilliant, I think, and points out how much of what gets interpreted as a double-standard on race (i.e., why black rappers can say “nigger” and I can’t) aren’t double standards at all. French nativists, Noah says, are putting a wall between themselves and French blacks: “I’m really French and you’re not.” Noah, on the other hand, is claiming what he shares with them: “I’m African and so are you.” Noah is allowing the soccer players to be both French and African; nativists and the French ambassador are insisting it’s one or the other.

Mansplaining explained in a flow chart:

I will quibble at one point: Some people are just know-it-alls, and unnecessarily explain stuff to everybody who doesn’t tell them to shut up. Apparent mansplaining may just be a symptom of this larger dysfunction.

Former Politico editor Garrett Graff speculates that the Russians will switch sides in this year’s midterms and help the Democrats this time. As much as I might wish Republicans would believe this (and start protecting America’s democratic infrastructure for their own good), I don’t buy it.

Since its founding, Politico has been the home of false-equivalence both-sides-do-it journalism, in which the two parties are nothing more than teams with different-colored jerseys. Politico sees no essential difference between Republicans and Democrats, so Graff supposes that Russia doesn’t either. The Russians’ real goal, in Graff’s view, is “Weakening the West, and exploiting the seams and divisions of the West’s open democracies to undermine our legitimacy and moral standing.” Throwing one or both houses of Congress to the Democrats will create two years of strife and gridlock, so Russia should be all for it.

But Graff’s analysis ignores something important: Putin has a brand. Internationally, his message is that a nation has to defend its essential and traditional identity against globalist homogenization, and that (in an age of mass migration, racial mixing, and transnational media) neither democracy nor capitalism can do that. So in one country after another, he allies with racist, nationalist, traditionalist, and autocratic forces: the anti-immigrant pro-Brexit side in Britain, the National Front in France, AfD in Germany, 5 Star in Italy, Orban in Hungary. Within Russia, his brand is not just pro-ethnic-Russian, but also pro-Russian-Orthodox-Christianity; he is the restorer of traditional Russian moral values, like homophobia.

Whether Putin believes this stuff himself or not isn’t clear. But as a well-trained KGB man, he understands the power of ideology. He’s not going to blur his brand by helping Democrats.

“Vladimir Putin’s goal,” Graff writes, “isn’t—and never was—to help the Republican Party, at least in the long run.” In the most literal sense, that’s probably true: Putin is rooting for himself, and not for any particular American team.

But the two major American parties are not just teams. One of them has a brand that is entirely congruent with Putin’s. It is pro-white, nationalist, and xenophobic. It promotes traditional Christian rules and prejudices. It stands foursquare against democracy, regarding recent immigrants as unworthy of citizenship and embracing voter suppression, gerrymandering, and unlimited campaign spending in order to delay indefinitely the day when the white Christian minority loses its dominance.

That’s the GOP. It’s Putin’s party for a reason.

and let’s close with something amazing

We need a break from seriousness. Here’s Dude Perfect doing incredible things with ping-pong balls. They don’t say how many attempts they needed to get these tricks right, but I don’t care.

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  • Larry Benjamin  On July 23, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    We shouldn’t discount the number of Americans who wouldn’t be upset if it is proven that Trump’s victory is due to Russian interference. When this comes up on the Michael Savage show, the host never fails to ask “what about how Obama interfered in Israel’s elections?” We undermine the democratic process in other countries; why shouldn’t they undermine ours? The fact that large numbers of people don’t have a problem with this, as long as the outcome is what they would prefer, is at the very least disappointing and at worst bodes ill for the continuation of the U.S. as a constitutional republic.

  • Anonymous  On July 24, 2018 at 3:27 am

    Um… The mainsplaining thing.
    Needs a route for correcting someone who has/is making a mistake. And perhaps teaching. I know it is quaint, but those things tend to be a bit important for something little like civilization.

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