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    Projection Some: Russia's Sea Change

    In 2014, with Russia's shipyard lease in Crimea to expire in 2017 and the deal to extend it another 30 years on the rocks with Yanukovich's ouster, Putin brazenly occupied the peninsula militarily, invoking historical precedents and the image of "Greater Russia". But despite Donbas Ukrainians dreams of uniting with Russia, Putin's heart didn't seem to be into the conflict so much as reinvigorating Crimea, and the only significant action since was a brief push towards Mariupol in the presumed attempt to give Russia an easy land route to Crimea. But aside from laughable attempts to get Russian tourists to keep Crimea afloat economically with horrendous lines at the ferry, the Russians started rebuilding their Sevastopol fleet, where most of their global naval power is housed, within weeks of occupation (scroll down for better pics of the whole fleet).

    But perhaps Putin had a change of heart or wisdom about maintaining the bridge or land route to Crimea, as Russia's new $1.4 billion base is meant to open in 2020, not in Sevastopol, but in Novorossiysk heading down the Black Sea's east coast towards Sochi - firmly in undisputed Russia.

    This Black Sea investment might not have seemed the greatest idea what with Russia's relationship with Turkey on the rocks, but suddenly amidst significant surprise, Russia's Turkish relations vastly improved (with Turkey & Russia now arrying out naval maneuvers together in lieu of the short-term gas embargo). Erdogan also took advantage of the "beginning of a beautiful relationship" to crack down on Islamic dissenters at home and take off the gloves as to Kurdish rebels in Syria. [Some think Erdogan is just playing East off West, but it's hard to see what he wants from the West at this point, aside from a foil and scapegoat]. Putin's obvious benefit? Anything in the Black Sea comes out the Bhosporus Straits, i.e. through good ol' ancient Byzantium, aka Istanbul.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 4)

    When I began this as diary as a "series", I pointed to Mosul as a metaphor for Nov 8, 2016, and true to form, the chaos of the ensuing weeks have thrown me off - but constructively so.

    Sadly and ironically, the progress on the "battlefield", Mosul's ancient tightly wound streets booby-trapped for maximum obstruction, has been replaced by the PR & propaganda battle over what really happened March 17, though largely this battle has been lost already - whatever the allies do now, they will be mostly remembered for civilian casualties, despite all the extraordinary painstaking effort they've taken to avoid them.

    And that should give Democrats great pause as well - the seeming victories over Trump & the Republicans the last few weeks can be ephemeral and imagined, with a PR loss pulled from the clutches of victory. As one person noted, giving Flynn immunity to testify can be a huge trap, and that's just 1 possible trip-up point. But I'm more interested in the idea of "cooperation" vs. "collusion" in how we go forward.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Brexit vs Breakfast: Food and Free Trade

    The United Kingdom officially triggered Article 50 today, meaning the two-year march to Brexit has begun. The UK is leaving the European Union, and leaving without any concessions, any deals, any accommodations. It's the "hard Brexit." There are many reasons this is a bad idea, but let's keep it simple: the United Kingdom cannot feed itself.

    KEEP CALM & CARRY ON, ISIS EDITION (PT 3)

    "Gaslighting" is a meme based on an old movie where you're led to question your own sanity & ability to judge anything.

    In my short previous installment, I noted the fighting in Syria & Iraq taking place in the new mags & tabloids and internet as well. Rather than subsiding with the near elimination of ISIS from Mosul, the conflict exploded onto front pages in the last day not due to what happened, but more due to what may have transpired. As has become rule over the last year or more, your take on the matter will depend on where you fit in the political spectrum and what walled-off garden of social & traditional media you're imbibing.

    Michael Wolraich's picture

    Someday we'll find it, the Putin connection...

    The AP drew another line in Trump's connect-the-dots puzzle today. We already knew that former campaign chair Paul Manafort had worked for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians. Now we know that he secretly worked on behalf of the Putin regime as well.

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 2)

    Not quite the #2 I'd planned, but in checking on progress for Mosul, I noted RT (Russia Today) continually using the term "indiscriminate strikes" when describing US/allied shelling and street action. Among their continued "3rd party independent" verifiers of this was a group called "Airwars".

    Keep Calm & Carry On, ISIS Edition (pt 1)

    On April 8, 2014, al-Baghdadi announced Al-Nusra & Islamic State Iraq were joining forces, and soon unleashed an impressive series of attacks that gained large swaths of Iraqi & Syrian territory (see below). Tied to the seemingly unstoppable progress was the horror of ISIS' fanaticism and cruel behavior towards any non-adherent to their fringe beliefs. Besides fodder for those who believe all Islam is like this, it renewed criticism of how the Iraq War was managed, helped fuel the mass emigration from Iraq & Syria that swamped Europe for a time (and almost dented the US), and provided a key thread of fear and loathing for the 2016 campaign trail.

    The threat & ease of spread by ISIS wasn't just do to its methods and persuasion. It relied on the in-fighting of those that might in saner times approach it - in short, they relied on a philosophical vacuum much as they relied on the huge areas of unoccupied desert to make their gains look more impressive.

    3 years later (in 3 weeks) we see what happens when Kurds, Shi'ites, Sunnis and any other factions join together to confront a regional pariah. It hasn't been easy - the Caliphate gained land much faster than the slow, plodding effort to retake control. Even back in October there was some feeling that defeat of ISIS could be just a few weeks away - but instead the much more extended re-capture of Mosul has enlightened us to the new realities of lightning war, or its non-existence in a terrain where we worry about civilian life rather than raw advance.

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    Michael Wolraich's picture

    Trump-Putin Quid Pro Quo?

    Did Donald Trump agree to a quid pro quo with the Russian government? This is what we know.

    On March 19, 2016, John Podesta received an email, purportedly from Google, warning him of a potential security breach. He clicked the link and inadvertently delivered his email account to state-backed Russian hackers.

    Two days later, on March 21, Donald Trump announced his five-person foreign policy team, which included Carter Page, a previously unknown investment banker with extensive dealings in Russia.

    On March 28, nine days after the hack, Trump confirmed to the New York Times that he had hired Paul Manafort. Manafort had recently returned from Ukraine, where he helped organize the Russian-backed Ukrainian opposition. 

    On March 31, Trump met with his foreign policy advisors at the new Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., where they discussed the Republican Party's position on arming Ukraine against pro-Russian rebels.  According to advisor J.D. Gordon, Trump opposed this language in the RNC platform because "he didn't want to go to 'World War Three' over Ukraine."

    Intermezzo - Springtime for Hitler

    Today is my dip into happy land, my safe haven, my respite from the madness. Yesterday was the first sign of spring, still chilly but warm enough to go out with only a suit jacket - time for that springtime optimism.

    They used to say no news is good news, but now we have it 24x7, so let's just talk up the good news for a change. Today I'll be largely untouched by political chaos, except to note the bright sides.

    Доброе утро, Америка - Notes from Underground

    As the "Spy who Came in from the Cold" starts to unfold or unravel, these are some of my notes - there will be more, many more, flying at a furious pace I expect. What else is happening? Feel free to pile on, like a Moscow snowdrift.

    Was Trump the "Casino" behind Russian Spies Arrested 2014?

    Little Moscow: More Trump-Russia real estate corruption.

    Plus: how Russian money powered Trump's comeback:

    Michael Wolraich's picture

    One-State, Two-State, Blue-State, Jew-State

    Donald Trump is an easy-going guy. Just yesterday, he shrugged off the United States' longstanding position on the Israel-Palestine dispute and announced that he's totally open to a "one-state" solution. 

    "So I'm looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one," he burbled to the press with his friend "Bibi" Netanyahu beaming by his side. "I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two," he continued, "but honestly if Bibi and if the Palestinians--if Israel and the Palestinians--are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best."

    One state, two state, whatever the kids are into these days.

    But what is this one-state solution to which Trump so cheerfully consented? He didn't say. Neither did Bibi. But Yishai Fleisher, a radical settler who presents himself as a spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, is not so circumspect. In a New York Times op-ed, he matter-of-factly rattled off five "credible" plans for appropriating Palestinian land and eviscerating the dream of Palestinian statehood.

    Bibi: Putin's inspiration?

    Reading Michael Crowley's piece on Bibi's long-term strategy towards Obama, I'm struck by this absurdity in American politics. As Netanyahu comes waltzing into Washington to place demands on the White House, receiving policy concessions served up like John the Baptist's head on a plate, he must be thinking the transformation is complete. But be careful, Bibi - sea changes can be wild, with the occasional tsunami.

    See, as we focus on foreign intervention into domestic politics, it won't be long until someone notices (me?) that we have a codified litmus test in Washington, if not largely accepted across the US, of allegiance to Israel and its needs/wants. For guilt reasons? Fear of the rapture and all things biblical? Sincere belief that these are Israel's and thus our needs? Who knows. For a nation that still largely practices the weird & painful circumcision procedure on all male babies for no actual religious or medical reason, we'll just have to accept we're a bit challenged on certain matters. But back to the story....

    Congress regularly is evaluated for support  on all matters Israel - AIPAC's "who's been naughty or nice" especially resulting in near lock-step adherence to Israeli predilections. Hillary took to this obligation with a flourish in her time as Senator, clinging almost as close to the Jewish state as she did to Obama during the last campaign. Bernie being Jewish got a little bit of breathing room, but even he mailed in his criticisms from an undisclosed remote location, knowing better than to deliver in person lest he be found in the East River with the fishes (a joke, son, it's a joke...)

    Dissipating Power

    I remember it well, the heated 2008 campaign, and one of the vaunted risers in the party - scratch that, *conscience* of the party - Samantha Power - had just called Hillary a "monster". In this case it was for "deceit", saying anything to win, but it might as well have been for Powers' forte, foreign policy - poking holes in US reactions in Bosnia and Rwanda and elsewhere.

    9 years later, Powers goes out like a vanquished lion - braying in futility in her last moments as UN rep against Russia's transgressions in Syria. But what happened in-between? Where did these outspoken values go in the Obama years with a largely reactive, not pro-active stance on human rights and threading our way through more Mideast engagements and muddied mushy responses? Seth Mandel provides a comprehensive summary of this transition from Lion Queen to largely defanged kitten.

    This is not a post of schadenfreude - I'm saddened and confused and disheartened. It's symbolic of the real world as we know it, the demise of optimism and righteous fury, and where we get tripped up time and time again. The other side's busy ignoring that world, running red lights, hitting pedestrians on the sidewalk - but still, careful driving doesn't make you a good driver. But it's a helluva lot easier to tell if someone's a good driver than whether they're doing the right thing in foreign politics.

    Was Comey Blackmailed?

    The most obvious question, yet no one's asking it.

    It's not like he didn't know the rules. And it was a complete nothing-burger.

    Did Putin get to Jimmy? Enquiring minds want to know.

    Discuss.

    On Knowing and Not Knowing

    In the beginning, God made us a deal - you chill, I'll do all the heavy lifting.

    Who was this God dude anyway? Didn't matter - the uncertainty was replaced by someone in charge. Our job was to do (and to enjoy), not to know, not to decide. Above our pay grade.

    And thus it continued till some damn woman stuck her nose in and said "hey, I hear there's another way".

    Another way for what? There we were, minding our own business, heading out to the fields every day....

    And then someone says, "How does it work?" OMG, zoots - how *does* it work?

    And suddenly the men are wearing suits and wielding slide rules and carrying briefcases and asking about rules.

    ("Rules?" the bad hombre says to Butch. "First thing is, there are no rules", Butch replies with a kick)

    Rules. How this, how that, what size, for how long, in what stages, what color...

    We got so good at reckoning and lugging stone, building grain pyramids, we started building to the sky - wheeee!!!

    And then it broke. No one knows exactly why, it just done broke.

    All that machinery wasted. So we went back to the fields, got ourselves a few feudal lords. And waited.

    A long time. A *really* long time.

    The Unchangeable Hopelessness of Being

    [To Terry]. Eight years ago midnight New Year's Eve, I watched fireworks flying across the remote mountains with a queasiness in my belly as the world's economies melted down and Obama prepared to assume the presidency, and I meditated and prayed for his success as only an atheist can do, feeling that if the elements could pull together in some kind of Shakespearean concoction, we'd find a way out of this madness.

    It's been a maddening 8 years with occasional somewhat neutered success. The bailout that extended the tax breaks "stimulus" madness, retaining trader bonuses, forked stimulus cash straight to banks that never got used, diverged into largely unpunished mortgage theft after the dust had settled, and as a side-show had Washington bean counters combing over Detroit business trying to understand cars only in terms of cashflow, investors (gotta give the previous owners 100 cents on the dollar), and retirement plans. The health care that'd been derived from Hillary's campaign turned into an industry-friendly mixed cocktail, only after 2 years of favors and invites to all the objectors that never quite showed up in the end. That Nebraskan Senator who helped shove the no-abortion-benefits into the package and then got voted out of office anyway - all those Blue Dogs are gone now, but Obama still played the deficit scold compromise game with the Republicans that they largely won, tying hands for greater social programs. Rahm made it clear that unions no longer had a sure place at the table.

    A Visit from St. Vlad

    'Twas the day after Christmas and all through the site
    Not a blogger was stirring, no postings in sight.
    The comments were lined by the masthead with care
    With hopes for some non-Trump discussion as fare
    While readers rolled restlessly slumped in their beds
    Damning hangover headaches that chastened their heads.
    My alias and I had just poured a nightcap,
    thinking we'd hack out some politically motivated crap.
    When out in the blogosphere there arose such a natter,
    A tweetstorm with fake news that filled it with chatter.
    Off to my Facebook I flew in a rage
    To offer my musings on each open page.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Fairy Tale Promises: The Brexit, Conservatives, and Trump

    The shocking result of the "Brexit" referendum, with Britain leaving the European Union, has widely been taken as Good News for Donald Trump. He was happy to say so himself, and to attempt to take credit somehow for the referendum's success. And people have been panicking about the danger that Trump's campaign could beat the conventional wisdom just as the British "Leave" campaign did. That danger is probably overrated, as Jamelle Bouie points out: the UK is much whiter than the US, so the angry white vote doesn't carry as far here any more, and we should remember that the Brexit result wasn't really a surprise: "Leave" and "Remain" had been polling neck-and-neck down to the wire, so the 52-48 result wasn't unlikely. But Trump, who led the Republican primary polls wire to wire, is clearly behind in the general-election polls. On the other hand, it's easy to see Trump and the Brexiteers as part of a wider movement: angry nativist populists, hostile to policy experts and welcoming to xenophobes and racists.  That movement won't meet with the same success everywhere, but it's real.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    America Needs More Refugees

    The cheap fear-mongering about Syrian refugees loses sight of some basic facts. The United States has taken in refugees before, and that decision has worked out really, really well for us. In fact, taking in refugees has been great for America, and we should take in more whenever we get a chance.

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