Monthly Archives: February 2018

What the ебать!


Despite its numerous flaws, one of the more believable accounts in Michael Wolff’s chronicle of the Trump campaign and presidency, Fire and Fury,  is the reaction by both Donald and Melania as the returns started to point to a Republican victory.

“This is bigger than I ever dreamed of,” Trump told former head of Fox News Roger Ailes a week before the election. “I don’t think about losing, because it isn’t losing. We’ve totally won.”

Trump was “horrified” when on election night the numbers started trending toward him. If he lost to rival Hillary Clinton, he could start a Trump television network.  It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.

As for the candidate’s third spouse:

Melania Trump, who had been assured by her husband that he wouldn’t become president, could return to inconspicuously lunching. Losing would work out for everybody. Losing was winning.

What if there was a third person who shared the Trumps’ “losing was winning” mantra, and in hindsight, may turn out to be the biggest loser on November 8, 2016.  What if the purpose of the Kremlin’s campaign to suppress the Democratic vote was not to make Donald chief executive, but to ensure Hillary’s coattails did not result in a Democratic Congress.

Remember, the primary goal of Russian election meddling was to create chaos and undermine faith in American democracy. And Trump certainly did his part prepping his supporters to believe the election was “rigged.”  The only problem was the puppet-in-chief over performed.  A better outcome would have been a close, even contested Clinton victory.  A damaged Hillary in the White House, continuously hounded by Congressional investigations and Fox News was the best of all possible worlds.  A Republican Congress would never support anything initiated by a Clinton White House including additional Russian sanctions.  And finally, without Trump’s upset victory and his efforts to sweep Russian interference under the rug, Russia’s disinformation social media campaign would not have resulted in the current level of scrutiny.

However, as Scottish poet Robert Burns foretold, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  And, in this case, Putin finds himself between a hard place and the oligarchs on whom he depends for political support.  Consider the following:

  • In December, The Daily Beast reported how oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov (rumored to be worth $8.9 billion) had a substantial portion of his wealth, spread across 23 accounts in a Cyprus bank, frozen.
  • The same month, a Dutch branch of the Russia Alfa Bank was raided and the assets frozen.  The bank is controlled by four oligarchs with a net worth estimated at $35.6 billion.  (NOTE:  Alex van der Zwan, who pleaded guilty on February 20 to charges of lying to special counsel Robert Mueller, is the son-in-law of German Khan, one of the four Alfa Bank owners.)
  • One of Putin’s internal political goals was to relieve the oligarchs of U.S. sanctions passed on a bi-partisan vote of both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama following the death of Russian dissident Sergei Magnitsky, who died in prison after being jailed for investigating fraud by Russian tax officials.  They remain in place.
  • In December, President Obama imposed additional sanctions related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, including seizure of Russian property in the U.S. and expulsion of 35 Russian operatives.
  • Instead of relief from existing sanctions, Congress passed additional sanctions in July, 2017 by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority (98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House).  The White House has failed to impose the sanctions despite a mandated January deadline.
  • Finally, Trump campaign aides succeeded in watering down a plank in the 2016 Republican Party plant that advocated supplying lethal defensive weapons to anti-Russian Ukraine fighters.  Under pressure from Congress and national security officials, the Trump administration has since lifted the ban on transfer of such weapons.

So where does that leave Vladimir Putin?  Tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars of Russian oligarch’s assets have been frozen.  Details of Russian election meddling by the special counsel and the media have undermined an operation which was years in the making at great cost.  Exposure of the Russian operation has undermined similar efforts in other Western nations (e.g. France).  If only the United States had a living, breathing chief executive who was faithful to his oath of office, Putin would face additional internal political pressure to back off actions which have had the opposite of their intended impact.

Vladimir, in case you have not noticed, “Karma is a bitch.”

For what it’s worth.


Separated at Birth


This morning I shared a story about my meeting with Moscow Oblast Governor Anatoly Tyazhlov who had predicted the rise of a fascist dictator in Russia.  When Vladimir Putin became acting president of Russia in 2000, he replaced Tyazhlov with Boris Gormov, who had previously run for vice-president in 1991 on an anti-Boris Yeltsin ticket.

When I looked for an image of Gromov, I was struck by his resemblance to someone else with Russian connections.

In case you can’t distinguish between the two, that is Gromov on the left and Paul Manafort on the right.

Just saying.

For what it’s worth.


Random Thoughts 25 February 2018


If you haven’t been watching The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, there is a new recurring segment called “Don’t Have Time for That.”  The premise?  You just start digesting one news story before the next one grabs your attention.  This was one of those weeks.  So here are a few topics I considered blogging about but was quickly distracted by the latest breaking news.

Red Flags

Much has been made about the many missed warning signs which strongly suggested Nikolas Cruz, the confessed shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was a potential danger to himself and others based on past behavior and social media posts. Too bad the Republicans will not let the Center for Disease Control or any other federal  agency conduct or support research which might focus on not only HOW to spot these red flags, but propose better methods to respond to them.

But the Parkland shooting, unfortunately shared space on cable news and the front pages of national newspapers when the continuing saga of the chaotic Trump White House reemerged.  In particular, further indictments against Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the announcement Chief of Staff John Kelly would make the decision whether son-in-law Jared Kushner would still have access to classified information despite the FBI’s assessment he did not merit the required security clearance.

What “red flag” do these two situations have a common?  Both Manafort and Kushner offered to work for no salary.  In Manafort’s case, the question is, “If he is not taking a salary from the Trump campaign, who is paying him?”  Based on last Thursday’s indictments we are much closer to an answer.  As for Kushner, there is a second question.  “Isn’t the signature on your paycheck an indication for whom you actually work?”  By not accepting a salary for the work he performs as a public employee of the American people, does he feel he is not bound by the same rules as those who actually deposit their due compensation?

Referring to General Kelly’s disposition of Kushner’s status, Trump said, “And I have no doubt he will make the right decision.”  But, for whom?

November 9, 1994

Image result for Anatoly Tyazhlov moscow oblastSpeaking of “red flags,” on the morning of November 9, 1994, I was in Moscow on a USAID funded project conducted by the National Governors Association (NGA) to build better relations between U.S. governors and their Russian counterparts.  My first meeting was with Anatoly Tyazhlov, the governor of the Moscow oblast (equivalent of a state) and chair of the Association of Russian Governors.  Governor Tyazhlov asked me what I thought of the American mid-term elections the day before when under the banner of “The Contract for America,” the Republicans picked up 58 seats and control of the House and eight Senate seats.  I told Tyazhlov I believed it was a reaction to what many Americans saw as an extreme shift to the left by President Clinton and the Democratic Congress.  My fear was that there would be an over-reach in the opposite direction.

To my surprise, Tyazhlov told me he had the same fear for Russia.  After years of communist rule, he expressed concern that his homeland would also swing too far to the right.  Especially if the current government (headed by Boris Yeltsin)  did not relieve the economic distress many Russians were experiencing following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and cradle to grave care.  We should have listened.  Less than six years later, Vladimir Putin was elected Russian President.

NO Surprise

Except for a few sadistic conspiracy theorists (including Donald Trump Jr.), everyone is heaping accolades on the students from Douglas High School for their efforts to shed some light on the issue of gun violence in America.  However, almost every positive review is prefaced by a statement of amazement about the bravery and commitment of these young people.  Who knew?  Well, anyone who had studied every previous cultural movement in the United States.

It was a generation of young people who rode buses to the Deep South to protest segregation and register black voters.  Some were beaten.  Others–Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney–were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Ten years later, it was young people who challenged the government over the Vietnam war.  And it was the death of four Kent State students which signaled one more, “Enough is enough.”

Young people have been at the forefront of the LGBT movement.  And protection of the environment. And the effort to decriminalize and legalize marijuana.

So why should we be surprised when students who have been in fear for their own lives are willing to stand up and lead the debate over America’s addiction to guns?

Bill Strickland

Related imageAnyone who believes “hardened schools” will lead to anything but “hardened students” needs to visit the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild (MCG) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In 1968, Bill Strickland asked a simple question, “Why should inner-school schools look like prisons?”  Instead of bars on the windows, each table in the cafeteria has linen table cloths and flower centerpieces.  Students engage in culinary, music and horticultural activities all of which have become profit centers to support MCG’s operations.  The music program has received five Grammy awards for its “Live at the Manchester Craftman’s Guild” recordings.

Despite its location in an old warehouse district which used to be a place for drug deals and gang confrontations, safety is not an issue.

In our forty-plus year history, MCG Youth & Arts has never had an incidence of violence at our facility. To quote our founder, Bill Strickland, “If you put people in a world class facility, you get world class citizens.” We have filled our building with light, art, music and a staff dedicated to realizing the genius in everyone.

So to all those who sent their “thought and prayers” to the students at Douglas High School and every other site of a campus based mass shooting and believe armed teachers are the answer, may I suggest you open your Bibles this Sunday to Galatians 6:7, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

For what it’s worth.


Sex and Violence


In Miller v. California, a 1973 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme court, the justices redefined obscenity.  Previously, content was deemed to be obscene if characterized as “utterly without socially redeeming value.”  The new standard, sometimes referred to as the Miller Test, is based on whether the content “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”  The decision also gave more deference to community standards as long as “the work as a whole” did not appeal solely to prurient interests.    Pre-1973, films like Caligula (1979) or Natural Born Killers (1994) may never have seen the light of day.

In response to calls for censorship of films like John Water’s Pink Flamingos (1972) the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) created a system of voluntary rating so movie-goers had better information about the salacious or violent nature of a given film.  However one does have to wonder what logic and rationale MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) uses to score a film’s content?  Examples.  The King’s Speech, how British monarch George VI overcame his stuttering to rally his subjects at the outset of World War II, initially received an R rating for language.  To ensure greater distribution and viewership, the producers released an alternative version which garnered a PG-13 rating.

In contrast, the 2008 action thriller Taken received a PG-13 rating.  The protagonist (played by Liam Neeson) uses the skills he honed during his former CIA days to save his daughter who is kidnapped during a trip to Paris.  According to

CIA operative Bryan Mills racks up an absurd body count in his quest to save his daughter from a sex trafficking ring. At the film’s peak of violence Mills even straps an electric torture device to someone’s testicles which, moral and political issues aside, might be up there in the upper echelon of vicious movie acts.

Image result for reaction to florida legislature vote on assault weapons

Which brings us to deliberations by the Florida House of Representatives.  Yesterday, this less than distinguished chamber put itself in CARA’s position, rating the content of our public discourse.  Unlike CARA, there was no ambivalence.  The House gave gun violence a PG rating.  Make it available to everyone, regardless of age.  By a vote of 71-36 with 10 non-voting, the House rejected an attempt by Democrats to bring HB219, a ban on assault weapons, to the floor for debate.  Let me be clear, Republicans were afraid to debate gun violence while classmates of these Parkland students who watched from the gallery actually faced gun violence.

To add insult to injury, the next order of business was consideration of House Resolution 157 titled, “Public Health Risk Created by Pornography.”  The bill summary reads as follows:

Recognizes public health risk created by pornography & acknowledges need for education, prevention, research, & policy change to protect citizens of this state.

Slap on that X rating. Forget the sounds of gunfire and screaming children.  Protect our tender ears from moans and the echos of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”  Forget the fact our sons and daughters now have indelible images of limp, lifeless bodies and streams of blood burned into their memories.  Heaven forbid we be exposed to language which expresses the raw emotions which are part of living.  Don’t dare take away my killing machine when the real danger is Hustler magazine and

Just so you understand.  The Florida House of Representatives wants us to know that it is not watching their friends being ripped apart by an AR-15, but the possibility of being “@#%!!ed to death” as a high school student’s worst nightmare.  Maybe we should bring back the pre-Miller v. California definition of obscenity as the 71 members of the Florida House who chose pornography over assault weapons as a threat to our children’s safety most certainly can be described as “utterly without socially redeeming value.”

UPDATE:  The Miami Herald surveyed state legislators following the Parkland shooting on their attitudes toward different measures to address gun violence.  Republican Representative Ross Spano, who sponsored HR157 (the pornography bill) and is running for state attorney general replied:

This is no time for quick thoughts.  I’m not ready to offer a short answer because I want to take the time to seriously consider more comprehensive solutions. My suggestions for comprehensive solutions will be forthcoming within the next few weeks.

[Historical Footnote:  Yesterday, February 20, 2018, was the 56 anniversary of John Glenn’s Mercury orbital flight, paving the way for the moon landing just seven years later.  Americans should have been celebrating a time when our nation was reaching new heights.  Instead, we witnessed a new low.]

For what it’s worth.


New Year in February


“Christmas in July” began in Australia so residents in the Southern Hemisphere could enjoy holiday traditions such as sleigh rides and singing carols which included lyrics such as “one-horse open sleigh” and “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”  To their credit, many Christian organizations around the world picked up on this made-up occasion as a way of reminding all of us the “season of giving” should not be limited to Yuletide.

I’d like to start another tradition, “New Year in February.”  Or when appropriate New Year in any month other than December.  What is it about the New Year?  It is a time in which we look back at the previous twelve months and reflect on major personal and public events which shaped our lives.  And, in this era of superlatives, we seek to sort out and prioritize those people or occasions which had the greatest impact.  One of the most time-honored (pun intended) is the annual unveiling of the “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine.

One thing is clear from the announcement of last year’s winner, “The Silence Breakers.”  Timing matters.  If the Time editorial board had voted any time before October 10, 2017, the date New Yorker Magazine exposed Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator which became the catalyst for the #metoo movement, the eventual choice would likely have been one of the other candidates on the short list such as Kim Jung Un or The Dreamers.  Barring any late-breaking, earth shattering news or revelations my money is still on Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III being selected as the 2018 recipient.

Which is why, even at this early juncture of the solar cycle, we need to recognize a Person of the Year.  Therefore, I offer the following on behalf of Time Magazine.

Just as The Silence Breakers led a cultural sea change in which sexual harassment and abuse would not longer be tolerated, the survivors of the deadly assault on the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School likewise are teaching us a important lesson.  When our representative form of government (read Congress, state legislatures, governors and the president) fails to address the will of the people, democracy–the voice of the people–still carries the day.  From the mouth of babes.

For what it’s worth.