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WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 3, 2020 at 12:50 am

The appointment of Robert S. Mueller as Special Counsel aroused unprecedented hopes and fears.

Foes of President Donald Trump hoped that Mueller would unearth evidence of criminality—if not treason—blatant enough to guarantee his impeachment.

Supporters of Trump—starting with the President—feared that this would be the case. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump that a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President exclaimed, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”

Yet even before the release of the long-awaited Mueller report, several deeply-researched and well-written books outlined Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 Presidential race. And they cast devastating light on Trump’s loyalty to the United States.  

Among these:

  • The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of Democracy, by Greg Miller
  • House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia, by Craig Unger
  • Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, by Michael Isikoff
  • The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, by Malcom W. Nance

According to its blurb on Amazon.com, The Apprentice is “based on interviews with hundreds of people in Trump’s inner circle, current and former government officials, individuals with close ties to the White House, members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities, foreign officials, and confidential documents.”

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Among the subjects it covers:

  • The Trump Tower meeting, where the Trump campaign sought “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from Russian Intelligence agents;
  • The penetration by Russian Intelligence of computer systems used by Democrats;
  • How Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, tried to set up a secret back channel to Moscow via Russian diplomatic facilities;
  • Trump’s giving Russian officials highly classified secrets supplied by Israeli Intelligence;
  • Trump’s clashes with the FBI and CIA.

Miller is a veteran investigative journalist and twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Among his stories: National security adviser Michael Flynn’s discussing U.S. sanctions with Russian officials prior to Trump’s inauguration. The story contributed to Flynn’s ouster.

Then there’s House of Trump, House of Putin, whose jacket blurb describes Trump’s inauguration as “the culmination of Vladimir Putin’s long mission to undermine Western democracy, a mission that he and his hand-selected group of oligarchs and Mafia kingpins had ensnared Trump in, starting more than twenty years ago with the massive bailout of a string of sensational Trump hotel and casino failures in Atlantic City.  

House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia

“…Craig Unger methodically traces the deep-rooted alliance between the highest echelons of American political operatives and the biggest players in the frightening underworld of the Russian Mafia. He traces Donald Trump’s sordid ascent from foundering real estate tycoon to leader of the free world….

“Without Trump, Russia would have lacked a key component in its attempts to return to imperial greatness. Without Russia, Trump would not be president.”

As an appendix to the book, Unger writes: “Donald Trump has repeatedly said he has nothing to do with Russia. Below are fifty-nine Trump connections to Russia.”

Russian Roulette, according to its dust jacket, “is a story of political skullduggery unprecedented in American history. It weaves together tales of international intrigue, cyber espionage, and superpower rivalry.

“After U.S.-Russia relations soured, as Vladimir Putin moved to reassert Russian strength on the global stage, Moscow trained its best hackers and trolls on U.S. political targets and exploited WikiLeaks to disseminate information that could affect the 2016 election.

“The Russians were wildly successful and the great break-in of 2016 was no ‘third-rate burglary.’ It was far more sophisticated and sinister—a brazen act of political espionage designed to interfere with American democracy. At the end of the day, Trump, the candidate who pursued business deals in Russia, won….

“This story of high-tech spying and multiple political feuds is told against the backdrop of Trump’s strange relationship with Putin and the curious ties between members of his inner circle—including Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn—and Russia.”

Malcom Nance, the author of The Plot to Destroy Democracy, is an Intelligence and foreign policy analyst and media commentator on terrorism, intelligence, insurgency and torture. 

In his book, he outlines how “Donald Trump was made President of the United States with the assistance of a foreign power. 

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West

“[It is] the dramatic story of how blackmail, espionage, assassination, and psychological warfare were used by Vladimir Putin and his spy agencies to steal the 2016 U.S. election—and attempted to bring about the fall of NATO, the European Union, and western democracy….

“Nance has utilized top secret Russian-sourced political and hybrid warfare strategy documents to demonstrate the master plan to undermine American institutions that has been in effect from the Cold War to the present day.

“Based on original research and countless interviews with espionage experts, Nance examines how Putin’s recent hacking accomplished a crucial first step for destabilizing the West for Russia, and why Putin is just the man to do it.”

These books—combined with the findings of the Mueller report—clearly establish the damning conclusion: The man now sitting in the Oval Office is an illegitimate usurper, installed by an unholy alliance of American Fascists and Russian Communists.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 2, 2020 at 12:08 am

Yet another example of Donald Trump’s treason occurred on January 20, 2017—the day he became the 45th President of the United States: Michael Flynn became the nation’s 25th National Security Adviser.

Flynn was a former United States Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

TREASON EXAMPLE #5 On February 8, Flynn denied having spoken to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, 2016, about removing the sanctions placed on Russia by the outgoing Obama administration.

The sanctions had been placed in retaliation for Russia’s efforts to manipulate the 2016 Presidential election.

On February 13, The Washington Post reported that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned Trump in late January that Flynn had lied about his contacts with Kislyak—and that he could be blackmailed by Russian Intelligence. 

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Sally Yates

Flynn was forced to resign that same day—after only 24 days as National Security Adviser.

Officially, the reason given was that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence. But Flynn’s deception had already been known—via the warning to Trump by Yates.

Only after Yates’ warning became known to the media was Flynn forced to resign.  

The same Washington Post story reported that, in December, 2015, he had appeared on Russia Today, the news network that American Intelligence agencies consider “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.” 

He had also received more than $45,000 as a “speaking fee” from the network for a talk on world affairs. At the gala where Flynn received the fee, he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin for dinner.

Flynn did not file the required paperwork for the trip. Nor did he report the “fee” to the Pentagon.

On December 1, 2017, Flynn appeared in federal court to formalize a deal with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.  He plead guilty to a felony count of “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI

TREASON EXAMPLE #6 On May 9, 2017, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential race. 

There were four reasons for this:

  1. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made the “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January.
  2. Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief—as was the case in the former Soviet Union.
  3. Trump had tried to coerce Comey into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand.
  4. Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into well-documented contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.The goal of that collaboration: To elect Trump over Hillary Clinton, a longtime foe of Russian President Putin. 

James Comey official portrait.jpg

James Comey

TREASON EXAMPLE #7 On May 10, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office—and gave them highly classified Israeli Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, then Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. 

“I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”        

TREASON EXAMPLE #8 On July 16, 2018, Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—as partners in a conspiracy: “You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server, why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? 

“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” 

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Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki

TREASON EXAMPLE #9  On June 9, 2018, Trump called for Russia to be readmitted to the G7.  

“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in,” he said during an impromptu press conference at the summit.

“I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7. I think the G8 would be better.”  

Russia was ousted from the group in 2014 after Putin annexed Crimea—the first violation of a European country’s borders since World War II. 

“Today crystallizes precisely why Putin was so eager to see Trump elected,” said former Obama National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

“For Putin, this is return on his investment, and it’s safe to say that his investment has paid off beyond even his wildest dreams,” he said in a statement to CNN.   

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 1, 2020 at 12:15 am

Donald Trump—as the Republican nominee for President—steadfastly refused to acknowledge his decades-long relationship with Russia. On October 24, 2016, he stated: “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement.” 

In fact, Trump had a highly profitable relationship with Russia—as his two sons, Donald, Jr., and Eric, unintentionally revealed: 

In 2008, Donald Trump, Jr. said at a New York real estate conference: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets….We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

And Trump’s son, Eric, said in 2014: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

So any statement Trump gave—oral or written–on that relationship was a lie.

Nor did Trump have any qualms about appointing men with ties to Russian officials to high posts. One of these—Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State—has already been mentioned.

Another was Jeff Sessions, whom he nominated as Attorney General. During the 2016 campaign, Sessions—then serving as a surrogate for Trump’s campaign—twice spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But during his Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions denied that he had had “communications with the Russians” during the campaign.

The discovery of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian Intelligence agents led the FBI to investigate Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.

TREASON EXAMPLE #4: Trump has repeatedly praised and defended Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

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Vladimir Putin

On December 18, 2015, Trump appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Its host, Joe Scarborough, was upset by Trump’s praise for Putin: 

SCARBOROUGH: Well, I mean, [he’s] also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.

On October 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement blaming the Russian government for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. Its motive: “To interfere with the US election process.”

Two days later, Trump publicly stated: “But I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are—Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia.”

On December 16, 2016, FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. agreed with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. 

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Trump, however, steadfastly denied any such role by Russia: “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it….No, I don’t believe it at all.”

Clinton Watts, a consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division, is an expert on cyberwarfare. 

Testifying before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 30, 2017, Watts outlined cyberwarfare measures that Russia used to subvert the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

This pattern of Russian falsehoods and social media manipulation of the American electorate continued through Election Day and persists today.

Many of the accounts we watched push the false Incirlik story in July now focus their efforts on shaping the upcoming European elections, promoting fears of immigration or false claims of refugee criminality.  

They’ve not forgotten about the United States either. This past week, we observed social media campaigns targeting Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hoping to foment further unrest amongst U.S. democratic institutions, their leaders and their constituents. 

As we noted two days before the Presidential election in our article describing Russian influence operations, Russia certainly seeks to promote Western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign policy objectives.

But winning a single election is not their end goal. Russian Active Measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of five complementary objectives: 

  1. Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
  2. Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
  3. Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
  4. Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations;
  5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

From these objectives, the Kremlin can crumble democracies from the inside out creating political divisions resulting in two key milestones:

  1. The dissolution of the European Union and 
  2. The break up of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).

TREASON EXAMPLE #5 On January 20, 2017—the day Donald J. Trump became the 45th President of the United States—Michael Flynn took office as the nation’s 25th National Security Adviser.

Flynn, a former United States Army lieutenant general and director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, seemed the perfect choice for safeguarding the country’s security.

Two days later, The Wall Street Journal reported that Flynn was under investigation by U.S. counterintelligence agents for his secret communications with Russian officials. 

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY VLAD: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 30, 2020 at 12:20 am

American Intelligence officials have told The New York Times and the Associated Press that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan.  

In early 2020, members of the elite SEAL Team Six raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500,000 in American cash. The recovered funds led the American intelligence community to believe that the government of Vladimir Putin had offered money to Taliban militants to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Additional confirmation came from the interrogations of captured militants and criminals. 

As early as January, the SEALS in Afghanistan alerted their superiors of this danger.

President Donald Trump—who receives Intelligence from a wide range of military and civilian agencies—claims he wasn’t briefed on these Intelligence assessments. He made his denial through White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany: The information had not been “verified.” 

This despite the fact that every morning he receives the President’s Daily Briefing, a top-secret document containing highly classified Intelligence analysis.

In fact, the Intelligence assessment has been under discussion within the Trump administration since at least March.

From the outset, Trump has acted like a guilty man desperate to stop an investigation before it uncovers the full extent of his criminality and treason. 

TREASON EXAMPLE #1 On July 9, 2016, high-ranking members of his Presidential campaign met at Trump Tower with at least two lobbyists who had ties to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. The participants included:

  • Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.;
  • His son-in-law, Jared Kushner;
  • His then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort; 
  • Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with ties to Putin; and 
  • Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer suspected of having ongoing ties to Russian Intelligence.

The purpose of that meeting: To gain access to any “dirt” Russian Intelligence could supply on Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. 

Trump originally claimed that the meeting was “about the adoption of Russian children.” Eventually he admitted that it had been “a meeting to get information on an opponent.”

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Donald Trump

TREASON EXAMPLE #2 On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Early reports traced the leak to Russian hackers. 

On July 27, 2016, during his campaign for President, Trump said at a press conference in Doral, Florida: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing [from Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s computer]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

This was nothing less than treason—calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.

Hours later, the Main Intelligence Directorate in Moscow targeted Clinton’s personal office and hit more than 70 other Clinton campaign accounts. 

Clinton Watts is a consultant and researcher on cyberwarfare. He has served as

  • An FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF);
  • The Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC); and
  • A consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division (CTD) and National Security Branch (NSB). 

In a statement he prepared for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Watts outlined cyberwarfare measures that Russia used to subvert the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

He delivered this on March 30. 2017. Part of this reads as follows: 

Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence system….began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election.

Russia’s overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views toward the Kremlin. The final months leading up to the election have been the predominate focus of Russian influence discussions to date.

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Clinton Watts

However, Russian Active Measures were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed. 

The final piece of Russia’s modern Active Measures surfaced in the summer of 2016 as hacked materials from previous months were strategically leaked.

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks released troves of stolen communications from the Democratic National Committee and later batches of campaign emails. Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks revealed hacked information from a host of former U.S. government officials throughout July and August 2016.

For the remainder of the campaign season, this compromising material powered the influence system Russia successfully constructed in the previous two years.

TREASON EXAMPLE #3 Throughout 2016, the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) found numerous ties between officials of the Trump Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.  

And many of those Trump appointed to office had strong ties to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of these was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In 2013, as the chief executive of ExxonMobil, he was presented with Russia’s Order of Friendship award. He had just signed deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft. Its chief, Igor Sechin, is a loyal Putin lieutenant.

Secretary Tillerson in March 2017.jpg

Rex Tillerson

THE PRESIDENTIAL EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2020 at 6:22 am

Since Easter weekend, President Donald Trump held almost 50 daily press briefings at the White House. 

Their official purpose: To update the country on the administration’s ongoing response to the Coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 56,521 people in the U.S.

Their real purpose: To serve as a substitute for Trump’s hate-filled political rallies, which have been likened to those staged by Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, at Nuremberg.

Trump rallies supporters in Wis. as Democrats debate in Iowa

Trump rally

These have been temporarily cancelled due to demands for social distancing to stem the rising tide of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has been Trump’s primary reason for seeking to end social distancing.

The White House has tried hard to stage-manage these appearances. For example, on April 14, Trump interrupted the question-and-answer session by cutting to a White House-produced video to try to shame the media for critical coverage of his response to the crisis.

Over the weekend, the New York Times had reported that the administration had ignored early warnings about the coming pandemic.

Thus, the purpose of the video—to refute the Times‘ claim.

The video featured a timeline of actions the Trump administration took between January 31 and March 13. But there was a huge gap in the timeline: It mentioned absolutely no action by Trump in February.

As the Times had noted, there had been a period of “six long weeks” after Trump imposed a partial ban on travel from China on January 31. It wasn’t until March 13 that he declared a national emergency.

The video timeline provided only one entry for February 6: “CDC Ships First Testing Kits.” Yet those test kits proved defective.

The rest of February had been filled with Trump’s staging mass campaign rallies. At one of these, he described Coronavirus as the Democrats’ “new hoax.”

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Coronavirus

Americans have largely come to ignore the ongoing feud between Trump and the nation’s press, which often erupted at these press conferences.

But on April 23, Trump ventured into the equivalent of a PR minefield—and stepped on a mine of his own making.

After musing on new government research into how the virus reacts to different temperatures, climates and surfaces, Trump said: So I asked Bill [William N. Bryan, acting Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security] a question….

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light—and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it.  And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too.  It sounds interesting.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute! And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds interesting to me.”

Trump was clearly seeking agreement with his latest medical theory. But Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator, remained silent.

The Internet—and medical experts—did not.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, possible text that says 'Anthony Fauci is the only one on the stage to acknowledge that the emperor has no clothes. ITE HOUSE PNGToN PLEASE THINK RESPONSIBLY TAP THE ALE PARTY'

A Donald Trump meme

On Twitter—the social media platform Trump routinely uses to attack everyone he hates—his suggestion that injecting disinfectants could treat Coronavirus drew scorn and ridicule.

One tweet showed Trump as a doctor hovering over a patient and saying: “Once I’ve pumped you full of disinfectant, I’ll zap you with this UV torch until you’re cured.”

Another depicted a glass filled with Dettol antiseptic liquid and an ice cube, with the caption, “Hey guys!!! It’s Dettol o’clock!!!”

A third meme featured Trump as Marie Antoinette saying: “Let them eat Clorox.”

Clorox Disinfecting Bleach, Regular - 121 Ounce Bottle - Walmart ...

Medical experts found Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks no laughing matter. Several doctors warned the public against injecting disinfectant or using UV light.

Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Dettol and Lysol, warned people to not inject themselves with disinfectant—which is toxic—to try to kill COVID-19.

“It is incomprehensible to me that a moron like this holds the highest office in the land and that there exist people stupid enough to think this is OK,” said Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics. “I can’t believe that in 2020 I have to caution anyone listening to the president that injecting disinfectant could kill you.”

And then, for Trump, the unthinkable happened: For the first time since Easter weekend, he did not hold a press briefing Saturday at the White House with the Coronavirus Task Force.

Instead, on April 25, he issued this tweet: “What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the Lamestream Media asks nothing but hostile questions, & then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately.”

For Trump, the danger posed by reporters lies not in their offering “fake news” but in reporting all-too-accurately his crimes and mistakes.

The President who has often acted like an emperor appears to finally realize he appeared in public without his clothes. 

TWO DICTATORS–STALIN AND TRUMP–AND TWO CRISES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 26, 2020 at 12:27 am

Two dictators. Two crises.

Next up: Donald Trump.   

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin received multiple warnings that his supposed ally, Nazi Germany, would soon invade Russia. He ignored all of them. And when the invasion came—on June 22, 1941—the result was the loss of 26 million men, women and children and four years of devastation. 

President Donald Trump similarly received warnings that Coronavirus was now a major world threat—and would likely hit the United States. Like Stalin, he ignored those warnings—with similarly disastrous consequences for the United States.

The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December, 2019.  Its first reported victim became ill on December 1.

By December 31, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of Coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that affect birds and mammals. In humans, Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia and may cause bronchitis.

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Coronavirus

According to the March 21 edition of Rolling Stone magazine: “The United States intelligence community has been warning the president since January and February about the dire consequences that would occur when coronavirus reached America, but the president seemed determined to play down the threat, leaving the country largely unaware and unprepared.”

An anonymous Intelligence official cited by the Washington Post said: “Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were—they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it. The system was blinking red.”

Trump first learned of the virus on January 3, 2020. This did not prevent him from playing golf on January 4, 5, 18 and 19.

On January 19, the first Coronavirus case appeared in the United States.

On January 27, then-acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tried to get the President to act. But, according to officials who spoke with the Post, Trump was “dismissive” of early briefings “because he did not believe that the virus had spread widely throughout the United States.”

Trump fired Mulvaney one month later.

Then, for Trump, it was back to the golf course—on February 1, 2, 15. 

Image result for Trump Corona Timeline

Refusing to take action against the emerging Coronavirus threat, Trump repeatedly made statements that minimized it. 

January 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

January 30: “We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment –five—and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us .…that I can assure you.”

February 10: “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do—you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases—11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” 

February 28: “[Democrats] tried the impeachment hoax…They lost…. And this is their new hoax.”

A major reason for the spectacular early victories of the German army in Russia was that, from 1936 to 1938, Stalin had gutted his own military by a series of systematic purges. Thus, there were few experienced, competent officers—from army corps commanders to four-star generals—to mount a strategic defense. 

Similarly, upon taking office, Trump had gutted the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Pathologically jealous of President Barack Obama, Trump has tried to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the Centers for Disease Control, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In April, 2018, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team.

On February 29, the first American died of Coronavirus. 

Trump continued to be unconcerned about the growing threat.

On March 7, reporters asked him if he was concerned that Coronavirus had arrived in Washington, D.C. He replied:  “No, I’m not concerned at all. No, we’ve done a great job with it.”

And in a March 9 tweet, Trump wrote: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”  

Perhaps most dangerously of all, Trump has from the outset blatantly contradicted health officials—even when standing next to them at press conferences.

On March 21, Trump insisted he had a “very good” feeling about using a malaria drug to combat the virus. It fell to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to set the record straight: “No.”

As of March 26, the United States had 68,489 Coronavirus cases—with 1,032 deaths.

TWO DICTATORS–STALIN AND TRUMP–AND TWO CRISES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 25, 2020 at 12:25 am

Two dictators. Two crises.

First up: Joseph Stalin.

“I know what Hitler’s up to. He thinks he’s outsmarted me. But in actuality, it is I who have outsmarted him.” 

So spoke Joseph Stalin, absolute dictator of the Soviet Union, to his future successor, Nikita Khrushchev, in 1939.

Less than two years later, on June 22, 1941, three million German soldiers poured across the western border of the Soviet Union.

On August 23, 1939, Stalin had signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact with German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. The reason: Each dictator got what he wanted—for the moment. Hitler was planning to invade Poland in a matter of days—and he wanted to avoid a war with the Soviet Union. And Stalin got what he wanted: The eastern half of Poland.

Joseph Stalin

The agreement stunned the world. Since 1919, Nazis and Communists had fought bitter battles against each other in the streets of Germany during the Weimar Republic.

When this was replaced in 1933 by the Third Reich, German Communists were rounded up and imprisoned, if not murdered, by Hitler’s ruthless secret police, the Schutzstaffel (“Protective Squads”).

For the moment, however, all of that was conveniently forgotten.

But Hitler hadn’t forgotten his life’s ambition to conquer the Soviet Union and utterly destroy “the scourge of Jewish-Marxism.”

Stalin received numerous warnings from the United States and Great Britain about the coming invasion. But he dismissed them as efforts by the West to trick him into violating the pact and turning Nazi Germany into his mortal enemy. 

When informed of the attack, Stalin at first believed it was being made by rogue German forces. He refused to order an immediate counterattack. Upon being convinced that the Wehrmacht intended to wage all-out war, he went into a funk in his dacha and shut himself off from everyone. To his closest associates he wailed: “Lenin left us a great inheritance and we, his heirs, have fucked it all up!”

Meanwhile, the Red Air Force was destroyed on the ground by the awesome Luftwaffe. And the Wehrmacht was advancing at a rate of 25 miles a day.

German soldiers marching through Russia

On July 3, after 10 days of brooding (and probably drinking heavily) in his dacha, Stalin finally took to the airways. He didn’t speak live; Radio Moscow played a recording of his voice across the Soviet Union.

Never a spellbinding orator, Stalin spoke in slow and faltering tones. Nevertheless, his opening words were startling: “Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Men of our army and navy! I am addressing you, my friends!”

Stalin had never addressed an audience this way, and he never would again. Born Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili, he had given himself the name of “Stalin”—“Man of Steel.” And he had lived up to it, sending tens of thousands to the Soviet penal system known as the Gulag while ordering the executions of tens of thousands of others.

He said the “peace loving” Soviet Union had been attacked by “fiends and cannibals.” He claimed the non-aggression pact with Germany had given the army much-needed time to rearm and reorganize its forces. He claimed the Germans wanted to restore the rule of the landlords and re-establish Tsarism.

He repeatedly spoke of the treachery of the enemy—and of the need for constant vigilance against traitors: “We must wage a ruthless fight against all disorganizers of the rear, deserters, panic-mongers and rumor-mongers.”

This was accompanied by orders unprecedented in any other army: Those taken prisoner by the Germans were to be considered traitors—and shot or imprisoned. Those suspected of wounding themselves to avoid combat were also subject to summary execution. So were soldiers who had been legitimately wounded in battle but were suspected of inflicting those injuries.

The first two years of the war—1941 to 1943—proved disastrous for the Soviet Union.

During the first six months—June to December, 1941—German armies lured huge Soviet forces into gigantic “cauldron battles,” surrounding and exterminating them. An estimated 5.7 million prisoners of war (POWs) fell into German hands. Of these, at least 3.5 million died in custody.

But then the infamous Russian cold and snows of winter halted  the Wehrmacht before Moscow. In the summer of 1942 German forces once again mounted a ferocious offensive, driving all the way to the Volga—and Stalingrad.

But they became bogged down in bitter house-to-house fighting. With the arrival of winter, Soviet forces surrounded the Wehrmacht’s powerful Sixth Army. The besiegers became the besieged. On February 2, 1943, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus surrendered what remained of his army. The battle cost Germany 500,000 men, including 91,000 taken prisoner. 

As the Red Army finally began to go over on the offensive, Stalin relaxed the iron controls that had long stifled creativity on the part of his commandeers. 

The infamous political commissars were removed from control over Russian generals. Gold braid and fancy uniforms were manufactured and rushed to the front as morale boosters.

At last, Stalin realized there was no way to win a life-and-death struggle than to give his soldiers the flexibility they needed.

The war would last another two years—costing the Soviet Union at least 26 million citizens—before it ended with the Red flag flying over Berlin.

DYING OF THE FEAR: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 11, 2020 at 12:06 am

There’s an Arabian myth that offers a timely commentary on the hysteria surrounding the Coronavirus. 

Mohammed is walking along the road from Medina to Mecca when he meets the Genie of Cholera. 

“Where are you going, O Cursed One?” asks Mohammed.

“To Mecca, to kill 10,000 of the faithful,” replies the genie.

Image result for Images of the Grim Reaper

“All right,” says Mohammed. “See to it that you kill no more than 10,000.”

Six months later the two meet again—and Mohammed is furious: “You are a filthy liar!”

“Why do you say that?” demands the Genie of Cholera.

“Because when I reached Mecca, there were 30,000 dead, not the 10,000 you promised.”

“Oh, I kept by my word and killed only 10,000,” replies the genie. “But 20,000 more died of the fear.”

Fear is stalking the streets of the United States today.

Medical supply companies are rushing to turn out millions of surgical face masks—not for use by doctors but ordinary Americans.

Medical professionals warn that this will prove counter-productive for doctors and ordinary citizens.

Doctors and nurses need those masks when they’re performing surgery—or just coming in contact with patients who might be carrying the Coronavirus. They also wear them when examining patients suffering from routine illnesses.

Standard surgical masks are designed to protect against large, airborne droplets. They cannot protect against viruses. Their loose fit makes it possible for droplets to enter around the edges of the mask.

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Standard surgical mask

The N-95 respirator mask is a tight-fitting upgrade that forces inhaled air toward the mask but not its edges. It can filter out 95% of particulates—but not viral particles.

Nor has panic-buying been restricted to face masks. Hand sanitizers, bottled water, toilet paper—even rubbing alcohol—have been snapped off shelves, leaving stores empty of them.

“It’s been nuts,” says Costco’s Chief Financial Officer, Richard A. Galanti.

Businesses that rely on regular patrons—such as restaurants and movie theaters—are especially suffering.

In New York City and San Francisco, businesses in the Chinese community have been hard-hit. It was in Wuhan, China, that the Coronavirus first erupted. Millions of people continue to identify it as a peculiarly Chinese ailment.

The industries most affected are those directly connected to tourism. Cruise ship lines have proven a ready source of contagion, bringing large numbers of people together in what can amount to a floating hothouse for viruses.

Cruise ships have played a major role in the outbreak. More than 700 cases have been linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan for two weeks. At least 21 more cases were confirmed aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked in Oakland, Calif., on March 9.

Diamond Princess (ship, 2004) - cropped.jpg

Diamond Princess cruise ship

File:Diamond Princess (ship, 2004) and Port of Toba.jpg

The State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned elderly and medically vulnerable Americans to avoid cruise ships until the outbreak ends. The CDC recommends that travelers “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.”

During the 1980s, Kathie Lee Gifford appeared in a series of TV ads for Carnival Cruise Lines, singing an upbeat jingle: 

If they could see you now out on a Funship cruise
You’re eating fancy food and doing what you choose.
I’d like your friends back home to get a good look
At the first-rate Carnival cruise that you took.
All I can say is “Wow!” hey look at where you are.
Tonight you’re living life just like a movie star!
What a Funship, holy cow!
They’d never believe it
If your friends could see you now!

 

This ode to pure hedonism has given way to a climate of sheer panic—among those still aboard cruise liners, those thinking about embarking on cruises and—most especially—among cruise shipping line companies.

A more updated version of Kathie Lee’s song could go:

If they could see you now on a Corona cruise
You’re locked inside your room and someone took your shoes.
I’m sure your friends back home will look on with dread
As the ship docks in port and they haul off the dead.
All I can say is “Wow!”
Hey, look at where you’ll be
You’re turning blue for air
Right there upon the sea!
What a fright ship, holy cow!
They’re sure to believe it
And the doctor’s coming now!

 

And how is the cruise industry responding to the Coronavirus outbreak? By running more TV ads to sign up more passengers!

Perhaps it’s time for Americans to haul out their DVD players and watch Khartoum—a 1966 movie that offers a timely lesson in courage well-suited to the Coronavirus panic.

Image result for Images of "Khartoum" movie poster

It’s based on the true story of British General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) sent to the Sudan in 1884 to evacuate the city of Khartoum before it’s besieged by the army of a dervish fanatic called “The Madhi”—“The Expected One” (Laurence Oliver).

But the siege starts before Gordon can evacuate its 30,000 citizens.

The Madhi orders a bombardment, and frightened townspeople rush into the public square—where Gordon is calmly seated on a camel, holding a Sudanese girl.

As they look up expectedly for guidance, Gordon gently says to the little girl: “I don’t ask you to be unafraid, merely to act unafraid.”

Americans would do well to remember those words—and act on them.

DYING OF THE FEAR: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 10, 2020 at 9:52 am

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has terrified Americans in ways not seen since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

For months after that horror, the two most profitable businesses in the country were video rental stores and food delivery services.

People stayed indoors—and at home, as if they believed this was the one place they would be safe. Everyone feared the next big terror attack—and didn’t want to be on hand when it exploded.

Restaurants, nightclubs, amusement parks and the airlines suffered accordingly.

World Trade Center – September 11, 2001

In the early 1980s, the AIDS epidemic had truly frightened millions of Americans. At first, no one knew what caused it—or, more importantly, how it was spread.

At first, gays were thought to be the only ones at risk. Then the list of potential victims kept expanding to

  • Intravenous drug abusers
  • Native Haitians
  • Recipients of blood transfusions
  • Those with multiple sex partners.

But with the passage of time—and the introduction of AIDS-fighting drugs that allowed victims to generally live ordinary lives—Americans’ fears gradually decreased. AIDS was seen as a disease like tuberculosis—dangerous, but unlikely to strike if you took reasonable precautions.

And now America is facing a new fear—that of the Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

 

Coronavirus

In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China. By December 31, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of Coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that affect birds and mammals. In humans, Coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that are typically mild, such as the common cold. Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia and may cause bronchitis.

When the virus surfaced in China, Americans didn’t worry, as it seemed confined to Wuhan. But then it began spreading.

By January 30, 2020, 9,976 cases had been reported in at least 21 countries, including the first case in the United States.

At that time, United States health authorities repeatedly assured Americans they had nothing to worry about, that “we’re on it.”

For example: On January 28, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II stated at a press conference: “We’ve been monitoring this virus and preparing a response since back in December, but it’s more than that. Preparing for these kinds of outbreaks is part of daily life at HHS and for America’s public health professionals.

“Preparedness is a day job around here. We are constantly making investments, training personnel at all levels, carrying out simulations and exercises, and sharing information.

“This commitment goes straight to the top: The President and I have been speaking regularly about this outbreak, and I have been speaking with the senior officials at HHS and the White House multiple times each day since the outbreak began to represent an international threat.” 

This was strictly boilerplate rhetoric. What Azar didn’t say was this:

  • Upon taking office as President,  Donald Trump had gutted the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 
  • The reason:  Pathologically jealous of President Barack Obama, Trump has tried to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.
  • Also: In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the CDC, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • The Federal $30 million fund for Complex Crises was eliminated as well.
  • In April, 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team.
  • In May, 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s global health security unit shut down.
  • Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who headed the unit, was reassigned.
  • Neither the NSC nor the DHS epidemic team has been replaced.
  • The “advice” Trump has offered on the epidemic is misinformation—based on ignorance or willful lying. Example: “I think the [World Health Organization estimate of Coronavirus casualties of] 3.4 percent is really a false number—and this is just my hunch—but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this because a lot of people will have this and it’s very mild. They’ll get better very rapidly, they don’t even see a doctor, they don’t even call a doctor. You never hear about those people.”

Above all: Azar didn’t dare say that Trump doesn’t see Coronavirus as a threat to the lives of 300-plus American citizens.  Instead, he sees it as a threat to his continued reign as President.

Trump has repeatedly “joked” about how great it would be if the United States—like China—had a “President-for-Life.” And he has accused those Democrats who impeached him for obstructing Congress and abuse of power as guilty of treason.

In the Coronavirus, Trump has met his match in an enemy he cannot bribe or intimidate. The tragedy is that untold numbers of Americans will pay the price for his ignorance and narcissism. 

TWO DANGERS FACING AMERICA: TRUMP—AND THE CORONAVIRUS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 9, 2020 at 12:07 am

On August 23, 2018, President Donald Trump offered an unprecedented reason why he shouldn’t be impeached. 

Appearing on “Fox and Friends,” he said:

  • “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”
  • “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.”
  • Pointing to his head, he said: “Because without this thinking, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.” 

He didn’t say: “I shouldn’t be impeached because I’m innocent. I didn’t collude with Russian Intelligence to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.” 

Instead, he appealed to the greed and fear of his voting base—and no doubt hoped to reach beyond it: “Keep me in power or you’ll all suffer for it.”

Donald Trump

On February 5, the Republican-dominated Senate acquitted him of the two charges brought by the Democratic House of Representatives on December 18, 2019: 

Article 1: Abuse of Power: For pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by damaging former Vice President Joseph Biden, his possible 2020 Democratic rival; and

Article 2: Obstruction of Congress: For obstructing Congress by blocking testimony of subpoenaed witnesses and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry. 

So Trump escaped impeachment—and the country is now suffering for it.  On February 27, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had its single worst one-day drop in history—falling 1,191 points. 

The reason can be summed up in one word: Coronavirus. Simply put, investors hate uncertainty, because it makes it hard to plan. And nothing makes uncertainty like a new and frightening virus that’s easily passed on and for which there is no vaccine or cure.

SARS-CoV-2 without background.png

Coronavirus

CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM / Public domain

And that causes millions of people to change their everyday behavior in unprecedented ways–such as not attending basketball games, eating in restaurants, flying on airplanes, going on cruises—and simply going to work.

Of course, Trump didn’t create the Coronavirus. But he has made it even more of a threat to Americans than it had to be.

In 2017, nearly 700 positions remained vacant at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because Trump imposed a hiring freeze. This affected programs supporting local and state public health emergency readiness, infectious disease control and chronic disease prevention.

Making the situation worse: The CDC’s director, Tom Friedman, stepped down in January, 2017, and it wasn’t until July that the agency got another one: Brenda Fitzgerald. But she served only until January, 2018. She was succeeded—two months later—by Robert Ray Redfield, Jr. He has been the director since then.

The post of director of the CDC is considered one of the most crucial public health positions in the government. The CDC is charged with tracking and preventing infectious disease outbreaks  in the United States and worldwide.

CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia

Another way Trump has sabotaged America’s ability to respond to the Coronavirus outbreak: Gutting the permanent epidemic monitoring and command groups set up inside the White House: The National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The reason for this: Trump’s pathological jealousy of and hatred for former President Barack Obama.

Since taking office, Trump has made an all-out effort to destroy every vestige of Obama’s legacy as the first black President of the United States. And these disease-monitoring groups were set up by Obama following the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

In the spring of 2018, Trump pushed Congress to cut $15 billion from national health spending—and cutting the global disease-fighting budgets of the CDC, National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Federal $30 million fund for Complex Crises was eliminated as well.

In April, 2018, National Security Adviser John Bolton forced Tom Bossert, director of the infectious disease unit at DHS, to resign—along with his entire team. In May, 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s global health security unit shut down.

Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who headed the unit, was reassigned.

Neither the NSC nor the DHS epidemic team has been replaced.

The global health section of the CDC was decimated, and had to reduce the number of countries it was monitoring from 49 to 10.

It’s popular to assume that Trump did all of this out of mere ignorance—and there’s plenty of proof of his ignorance in many areas (such as attributing windmills to causing cancer). But far more is at work here.

The vast majority of those who voted for Trump believe that the Federal Government is evil and its agencies that regulate business should be eliminated.

An example of this constituency is Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes all tax increases and has forced most Republicans to publicly pledge they will as well, under any circumstances.

His most famous quote: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” 

Under Trump, the epidemic-fighting arm of the Federal Government has become so shrunk that America itself may be the one to drown—in an epidemic of Coronavirus. 

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