The Phantom City

Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: International (page 1 of 3)

What’s the benefit?

I hate to say it, but I’m starting to think the President’s recent actions mostly make sense if you see them as rapid payoffs for previous or future favors before having to step down, either in 2021 or sooner. In just the last few months, we’ve seen:

  • Trying to prove a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian election meddling that would give cover to both pardoning Paul Manafort and reducing/removing sanctions on Russian oligarchs.
  • Pointedly pushing a peace accord between Ukraine and Russia that essentially gives Russia what it wants.
  • Removing the US troops serving as a tripwire between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds right when the Turks started their invasion, in the name of stopping “endless war.”
  • Sending 2000 more troops to Saudi Arabia to get mixed up in the war in Yemen two days later.

The only part that fits a normal narrative is trying to dig up dirt on a political opponent for the 2020 race. The last two items happened so rapidly I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, but keep an eye out on actions involving Russia/Ukraine, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. (Given current tensions, I didn’t think it was possible to give in to Turkey and Saudi Arabia at the same time.)

A “firehose of falsehood”

The report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian disinformation campaigns surrounding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and beyond is really interesting reading.

Why Ukraine?

The stories around President Trump and his colleagues’ activities in Ukraine have settled down into a pattern, so as an enthusiastic amateur I’ll try to tie some threads together.

At this point it is fairly obvious that the President and his staff have asked for two favors from Ukraine, possibly in exchange for much-needed American aid and recognition. (That “possibly” is the crux of the impeachment hearings.) First, they want Ukrainian authorities to cooperate in an investigation into interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Second, they want Ukraine authorities to open investigations into Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that was previously under investigation, and whether former Vice President Joe Biden encouraged the previous investigation to end.

The strange part is that we pretty much know what happened in both of those circumstances. The Russian government interfered in our election both through a disinformation campaign and hacking into the DNC email server. That was half of the Mueller Report. Russians were indicted. It was a whole thing! Hunter Biden, in the annoying kind of low-level shadiness that pervades politics, was likely on the board of Burisma for PR and lobbying purposes, but the Ukrainians have already stated that the previous investigation of Burisma ended with no findings. If anything, Joe Biden’s pressure to get a corrupt chief prosecutor out of office made it more likely someone would take the Burisma case seriously.

So why are we encouraging the newly elected Ukrainian President to reopen closed cases, through public, diplomatic, and Rudy Giuliani means? What’s the motivation?

To understand, you have to drop into a world of half-thought-out conspiracy theories pushed by Giuliani and how they play to our current President. You also need to think about piles of money just sitting around, waiting to be invested in Miami condos.

In the case of Russian election interference, it’s clear that President Trump is not overly concerned with Russian involvement. There was a recent report that he told the Russian ambassador that he didn’t care about the election interference, because the United States did things just as bad. Even if that isn’t true, his reluctance to address it verbally or legally shows where he stands. (And why would he care? It coincided with what he wanted.)

However, Russian election interference has done two things: It has cast a pall over the President’s election, and it has hurt relations between the United States and Russia. Russia and its oligarchs are currently under sanction for that and several other sins, meaning they can’t launder money as easily in the US.

It has to gall President Trump to hear that his election wasn’t “legitimate.” (For the record, I don’t buy that argument. There are a lot of reasons elections are won and lost, and he won it as fairly as most.) No one wants to think they would have lost without help, particularly not a narcissist who has spent a lifetime building an “I am great” narrative. He casts himself as the underdog most times, rising up and defeating an entrenched political establishment. There isn’t room for election interference in that story.

It must be very seductive to hear Giuliani telling you all about the latest Infowars/Russian disinfo campaign that blames election interference on Ukraine and sets that interference squarely against Donald Trump’s campaign. I mean, they are responsible for your former campaign manager Paul Manafort being in jail after revealing evidence he was paid millions by the corrupt, pro-Russian former regime. Plus, they might have “The Server” from the DNC, according to conspiracy theories I’ve never been able to make sense of. What if the Mueller Report was completely wrong? What if the Ukrainians were interfering against you? You could pardon Manafort! You would have won against the odds! You’re a winner!

Besides, if that’s the case, your friend Vladimir Putin and Russia are being unfairly maligned. There’s no reason for sanctions and freezing oligarchs’ ability to spend money in the US. And it turns out they have a lot of money that they need to move into investments outside of Russia. Largely in real estate, and you can understand that because real estate is how you make your own money. Maybe you can do business someday? (Or keep doing it?)

So, like a lot of folks, you see the equivalent of a Facebook share about how the Ukrainians were behind it all and believe it, but unlike a lot of folks, you’ve got Rudy Giuliani working as your private investigator and you can tell the Attorney General and Secretary of State to go out and find anything that will prove that Mueller was wrong, and you (and Russia) were framed, and your office has the power to “strongly suggest” that the new Ukrainian government help you find out the “truth.”

What about the second part? That seems pretty obvious. If Joe Biden is running against Trump, and there’s some good dirt on him, Trump wants it. That seems pretty clearcut, and it’s at the center of the current impeachment hearings.

However, listening to Rudy Giuliani’s ramblings, I suspect there’s a deeper purpose. Giuliani keeps talking about how the whole Obama Administration was corrupt and he’s the one who can bring them down. President Trump keeps throwing in asides about how former President Obama should be investigated over various deals he made after leaving the White House. I don’t think they want to stop with Biden. President Trump, for reasons of his own, has always hated President Obama. At times it almost seems pathological. It must be very attractive to hear Giuliani say he can get dirt on Biden, on Clinton, on other former Cabinet members, and maybe even President Obama.

That would make everything fall into place. His election was legitimate. His primary competition has to drop out of the race for reelection. He can do business with his friends again. He’s better than Obama. He’s a winner. And all for the low, low price of just putting a little pressure on a few countries to come back with the right results.

You ever wonder why Nixon cheated in 1972 when all indications were he’d win in a landslide? Part of it was that’s just the way he normally did business, and it’s hard to change it up. Part of it was that he wanted to beat Kennedy and LBJ’s margins. Pride is a powerful drug.

Unfortunately for Nixon, his crew wasn’t the most competent. Unfortunately for Trump, Rudy Giuliani is Inspector Clouseau in this movie.

President Obama on the death of Osama bin Laden

Full remarks here. This is an important quote:

As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.

Ron Paul’s Questions on Wikileaks

In a speech on the House floor, Republican Representative Ron Paul of Texas asked nine questions in regards to the ongoing kerfuffle about Wikileaks:

Number 1: Do the America People deserve know the truth regarding the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

Number 2: Could a larger question be how can an army private access so much secret information?

Number 3: Why is the hostility directed at Assange, the publisher, and not at our governments failure to protect classified information?

Number 4: Are we getting our moneys worth of the 80 Billion dollars per year spent on intelligence gathering?

Number 5: Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war or Wikileaks revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

Number 6: If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the first amendment and the independence of the internet?

Number 7: Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on Wikileaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

Number 8: Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in a time of declared war, which is treason, and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death and corruption?

Number 9: Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it is wrong?

Courtesy of Mediaite.

President Bush and the Flying Shoes

To be honest, I’m kind of impressed. If it had been me, the first shoe would have hit me in the face, and the second shoe would hit me while I was wondering why someone was throwing shoes, yet he dodges them like he’s been dodging shoes all of his life.

Sorry, still no match

U.S. to fingerprint E.U. visitors:

Visitors from European nations traveling with visas or visa-free to the United States will soon have to give 10 digital fingerprints when entering the country, a senior U.S. Homeland Security official said Monday.

Let’s see, the last time I had my fingerprints taken by a digital scanner owned by the U.S. government, it took 30 minutes and continual rewetting of my fingertips because the system was having trouble matching the individual prints to a ten-print scan. Since that was in April, and the machine was fairly new and expensive, I doubt the technology used in the various points of entry has any reason to work much more consistently. I wonder how they plan on handling the extra delays?

Maybe we can work this into some kind of marketing slogan: “Europeans are lining up to get into the United States!”

Why not one more?

While I have little doubt Iran is probably arming groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m having trouble seeing these sorts of stories as being anything beyond the Bush Administration building a case for starting a war with yet another country.

Does the administration understand some simple, logical problems with this scenario?

  • Iran will react, and it probably has more capability to do so than Iraq did.
  • Iran is sitting next to two countries we’re having enough trouble occupying. What, do they figure an Iranian invasion will get people to love us?
  • Our military is overstretched and is particularly vulnerable in those two countries.
  • We can’t occupy yet another country. (I know, it would likely be bombing. How long does it stay an air war when the Iranian troops come over the border?)
  • Even if Arab countries don’t necessarily like Iran, they’re not going to support us fighting yet another Islamic country.
  • Finally, Administration, you do realize you’re going away in 1.5 years, right? This would be a bad mess to leave for the next one.

I really wish we hadn’t seen this before, but we have. I supported it with Afghanistan, and thought the administration had gone insane with Iraq. It starts with these statements, goes to the UN, and then we ignore whatever happens there and jump in. I’m wondering how long before we hear about the Al Qaeda/Iran link? Will “Al Qaeda” head to North Korea next? 😐

Countries Mapped to States by GDP

This map renames the U.S. states with the name of the country that has a similar Gross Domestic Product.

Nice, we’re Sweden. 🙂

Link courtesy of The Doc Searls Weblog.

Imperial History of the Middle East

5,000 years of history mapped in 90 seconds.

Link courtesy of Too Many Topics, Too Little Time.

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