When Donald met Vladimir

If you’re tired of hearing about Trump and the Russians, skip to the bottom where you’ll find a video of a golden retriever saving a fawn from drowning.

OK, so Trump met with Putin. For an hour. In the same day the two had met for a highly-anticipated two hour closed door meeting in which both nations expressed entirely different readouts on how it went.

Consistent with the way the whole #KremlinGate scandal has gone thus far, I presume people on the left will label this as another element to the biggest scandal in political history; people on the right will shrug and wonder why we’re so consumed with this topic; while Trump and his team will condemn the news media as “fake” and “sick.”

All three are wrong. At least, so far they are.

As I have expressed before, anyone who doesn’t fully comprehend why even the semblance of collusion between the U.S. and Russia is newsworthy is clearly ignorant or indifferent towards history.

You know the phrase the “Evil Empire?” A Mets fan might respond and say, “Yeah, the New York Yankees.” Well, no. The Evil Empire is the Soviet Union. A country whose name, when spoken aloud, would force high school students to retreat under their desks 60 years ago.

A country that once threatened our annihilation by pointing missiles at us from less than 500 miles away.

Since World War II, there has been practically nothing to gain from cooperation with Russia. Nothing. They have been a hostile actor not only to the U.S., but to our global allies. Their goal, even today, is to disrupt the world order to better align with their own interests.

Russia ceased to be the Soviet Union in the late ‘80s. Thus, millennials grew up without a fear for Russia. And even though Russia is no longer a communist state, they have reverted back to being an authoritarian state since Putin’s ascent to the presidency at the turn of the century.

In short, Russia is not our friend. President Trump is right in that it is not a bad thing to engage with countries who we have long been feuding with. Diplomacy always trumps hostility (no pun intended). But Russia is a special exception. For years, their country has been in decline. International sanctions have left them economically crippled. Unpopular invasions (in Crimea, Ukraine) have left them geopolitically alienated.

Russia is a declining state. But they are compensating for this downturn by asserting their influence on global order by intervening in other country’s elections in support of candidates who they believe would be more lenient towards them. And it’s working.

So given all of this history, both historically and currently, and given the hysteria surrounding the investigation into possible collusion leading up to the election, it is nothing short of mind-blowing that Donald Trump, in a room full of 19 leaders from our nation’s most powerful countries, some of which are our staunchest allies, would bypass them and head straight to Vladimir Putin for a one-hour, private chat. With only a Russian translator.

Never mind the security issue of not knowing what exactly the Russian government translator literally said to Trump and Putin — considering where his national interests lie – but the fact that Trump didn’t realize that this would be a significant event in light of all that’s already going on shows just how obtuse this man really is.

#KremlineGate is probably the most avoidable scandal in political history. First you have Fredo, I mean Donald Trump Jr. accepting a Russian meeting last summer under the context of it being part of Russia’s support for Donald Trump, and now Trump sitting down and yapping with Putin like they’re old buddies — all in plain sight of other world leaders who have every right to wonder what the heck is going on between these two guys.

Any collusion between Russia and the U.S. is a big deal. Will it ultimately be impeachable? Who knows. But this isn’t a left/right issue. It’s a new chapter in what has been a very complicated and unfriendly history between the U.S. and Russia.

OK, I’m done. Here’s the dog video I promised.

1980s and 1990s sci-fi movies are lot less fictional than we thought

Ever since 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” science-fiction films and books have carried a similar theme: computers gaining enough artificial intelligence to outsmart human beings.

For the majority of people who don’t live in the computing world, the idea of machines overtaking humans has always been an entertaining premise that’s only somewhat haunting. Because while it seems plausible, we don’t know enough about technology to ever believe it possible.

In other words, we have a hard time processing a threat that our brain doesn’t fully understand.

It’s a reason why few people legitimately fear the scientific dangers presented by global warming. In general, we know that climate change is happening, and it’s bad, but we don’t know why, and therefore we do little to stop it besides complaining about it on social media.

Take the 1983 film “WarGames” starring a young Matthew Broderick. In the film, he operates an oversized computer to discover a backdoor into the U.S. government’s defense systems. Simply by pressing a few buttons — which he thinks are harmless — he accidentally sets our computer systems onto an unstoppable path towards nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

That was 34 years ago.

The reason why this has been such a reoccurring topic in science fiction is because it was only a matter of time.

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Look how far we’ve come technologically since then. Now in the 21st century, the new arena for warfare is online.

And more people should be afraid. Or at least care.

Russian interference in our elections was not simply a hack, or an inconvenience, or “fake news” — it was an attack. We were attacked by a hostile foreign nation.

And last week, more than 150 countries were victimized by a “ransomware” attack that is believed to have been orchestrated by North Korea.

And this time, they ain’t just trying to stop a movie.

To avoid getting too technical, ransomware is basically a hack that scrambles your files with encryption, and then demands you pay a ransom to unlock the encryption — aided by the anonymity of Bitcoin.

The attack, performed with software by the name WannaCry, may have cost lives. Among the victims was the servers for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which relies on IT systems to perform urgent, life-saving operations.

WannaCry targeted Microsoft, taking advantage of a vulnerability that had recently been leaked by a hacker group in April after it obtained hacking tools compiled by the National Security Agency. Before that, Microsoft had released a software upgrade fixing the issue, which most people did not utilize. And now they’re screwed.

This is the era we live in. Everything is automated. And around the clock, hackers are trying to infiltrate these computers. Yes, groups are working equally as hard to safeguard computers simultaneously, but it’s an endless cycle. The fabrics of our world now lie within computer codes and operating systems.

And those who still naively believe that computers aren’t capable of bringing about our downfall, well, I suggest you pop an old Matthew Broderick flick into your VCR.

Then after you’ve watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, watch WarGames.

The head-scratching ‘controversy’ over Beauty and the Beast’s openly gay character

James Comey speaks.

Speak again bright angel. For thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as is a wingèd messenger of heaven, unto the white, upturnèd, wondering eyes.

Last time James Comey opened his mouth to the public, his words resulted in a Donald Trump presidency.

This time, Comey’s appearance before Congress places a major cloud of suspicion over our current president.

But it’s important to understand exactly where we go from here. This investigation may take months — if not years — to complete. Until then, we won’t categorically know if Trump or his allies are guilty of any type of collusion. And I say that knowing full well that Republican officials had no problem declaring Hillary Clinton “guilty” before having any semblance of evidence of quid pro quo between the State Department and donors to her foundation.

James Comey

What these remarkable statements by Comey do accomplish in the short term, however, is putting a fracture into Donald Trump’s integrity.

Trump has lied, and lied, and lied some more, and until now it’s done nothing to weaken his power or influence. For months, he denied that he has anything to do with Russia.

Well, this isn’t coming from journalists anymore. It’s not from pundits or Democratic lawmakers. This is the director of the FBI. One can hope that today’s events give people a greater appreciation of the type of man our president is.

Stay tuned.

Now let’s discuss something that is the complete opposite of a scandal. Beauty and the Beast.

The film, starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens and Beast, broke the opening weekend box office record for the month of March this past weekend, grossing $170 million domestically.

But some people are choosing to talk about the fact that the movie includes Disney’s first explicitly gay character. 

A drive-in movie theater in Alabama is refusing to show the movie, and even some countries are considering boycotting it.

Now, before we go ahead and hold all Republicans, conservatives and Catholics responsible for this nonsense, let’s remember that not every one feels the same way as the people who own this Alabama drive-in. Indeed, the Christian Post seriously questioned the backlash.

But it’s even more nauseating to hear about the opposition to the character when you consider its genesis.

Josh gad BatB

The original Beauty and the Beast, the animated classic that everyone loves, was co-composed by a gay man, Howard Ashman, as he was dying with AIDS. Ashman’s friends have publicly stated that the Beast and his “sickness” was intended by Ashman as a direct metaphor for the AIDS epidemic that began decimating America in the ’80s.

Ashman died in 1991, the same year Beauty and the Beast was released.

So if you liked the original movie — which you’re lying if you don’t — then you should know that it wouldn’t exist without a gay man. Neither would the Little Mermaid, for that matter, which Ashman also composed. Oh, and he also had posthumous song credits on this smaller, low-budget animated film called Aladdin.

More of a Lion King fan? Elton John says hi.

The more recent Beauty and the Beast is directed by Tom Condon, who is gay. And people speculate that his decision to make a character gay was in direct homage to Ashman.

Given that history, criticizing Beauty and the Beast for having a gay character is no different than criticizing more than two decades of artistic innovation that led to so many of the joys present in today’s culture as well as in all mediums of entertainment. It’s equal to criticizing the person responsible for enriching millions of childhoods.

And for what it’s worth, Ewan McGregor, who plays the candlestick Lumiere in the film, also thinks the controversy is stupid. 

It’s easy to hate something.

What’s harder is to take the time to understand why.

One can choose to be close-minded and let things that conflict with your archaic worldview cause you to be angry. Or, you can be open-minded and accepting and happy.

To the former, there’s plenty of room at the table to join us.

Be our guest.

Why Russia matters

Even those who’ve only had a casual interest in politics since the election have probably still heard about Trump’s ominous ties with Russia.

It’s Trump this and Putin that. White House this and Kremlin that. As we speak, the FBI is investigating the relationship between the two leaders, and stories highlighting the two nation’s shadowy dealings are breaking by the day, including a Washington Post exclusive on Wednesday reporting two pre-election conversations between now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak — a direction contradiction of what he told Congress during his confirmation hearing.

Sessions has, as of tonight, announced he will recuse himself from any future Justice Department investigations into Russia.

But the overarching question from casual observers and even serious political junkies is likely to be: Why? What does it matter if Trump talks with Russia? How does it affect me and why should I care?

The answer to that is complex. But the bottom line is that it does matter. A lot.

All explanations must begin with the Cold War. Russia never wanted the Cold War to end. If they had it their way, they’d have pedaled their interests and influence all over the world, forming one giant Soviet Union. The United States was their direct adversary in preventing that from happening.

In the decades following World War II, there was no greater threat to America than the expansion of Soviet influence. It’s why we fought wars in North Korea and Vietnam. It’s why we performed a secret coup in Iran. It’s why we expedited our space and nuclear arms programs. Nearly all foreign policy from 1950 to 1990 revolved directly around the Cold War.

cold-war

Since it’s been about 27 years since the collapse of the USSR, most millennials probably don’t appreciate this history. But in reality, it has shaped the way these two countries exist and operate.

And even though the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia, in no way, shape or form, represents American interests. The country shares a deep mistrust of the U.S., and takes great pleasure in discrediting western values. Vladimir Putin grew up during the Cold War and is a former agent of the KGB, the Soviet secret police.

To believe that he still doesn’t possess Soviet values – the ones that were instilled in him throughout his entire childhood and adult life — would simply be naïve. He does not like the U.S., and he hated the Obama regime for being particularly tough on Russian overreach, particularly in the Ukraine and Syria.

So there’s your context. There’s very little to gain by warming up to Russia.

The question, then, is why has Trump appeared to be so buddy-buddy with Putin? Why has he failed to say anything negative towards the Russian leader?

Therein lies the question, and the motivation for news outlets to continue digging.

trump-putin

The ties between the Trump team and Russia are vast. His first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was dismissed because of his ties to Ukraine’s former president, who was basically a Russian shill who was later ousted after protests by the Ukrainian people.

Security advisor Michael Flynn was fired following his clandestine conversations with Russian officials.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had numerous business dealings with Russia, and it’s well documented that his former employer, ExxonMobil, would benefit significantly if Obama-imposed sanctions against Russia were lifted.

Trump himself has admittedly tried to do business with Russia. And we still haven’t seen his tax returns. Thus, we do not know the extent of his involvement with the country. The fact that he is refusing to release them only adds to the speculation.

And this is all in the backdrop of what we already do know – that Russia purposefully interfered and aimed to influence our presidential election.

As in most cases, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. Perhaps the alleged ties between Trump and Russia are harmless. But the more he denies them, and the more his administration officials deny them, the more he compromises himself.

Lying under oath is what could bite him in the end. Presidents have been kicked out of office for less.

Furthermore, coziness between the U.S. and Russia also serves to destabilize our relationships with eastern European countries who are not friendly with Russia. The more complicit our president is with Putin — even simply from conjecture and hearsay — the less trustworthy we become in their eyes.

tillerson

And finally, the elephant in the room is the leaks. There are tens of millions of employees in the United States government, all of whom are privy to more information about the U.S. and Russia than we are.

There are continuous reports of widespread disarray within government departments under this inexperienced regime. Trump has already shown an indifference towards heeding the advice of our leading intelligence officials.

If these employees feel concerned enough that our government is not functioning properly that they have no choice but to leak information to the press, then that is deeply troubling. They are in a unique position to evaluate the state of this current regime, and if their assessments lead them to believe that leaking is the best option to protect American interests, then that to me is as much of a warning sign as anything.

In the end, this growing scandal has the potential to compromise the motives of our leaders, weaken American sentiment worldwide, and as a result, threaten our standing as a global power and our sovereignty as an independent nation.

So yes, one administration official speaking with the Russians is not altogether that troubling.

Trump’s inability to repudiate Putin is alarming, but not overly scandalous.

The appointment of a secretary of state who, with his previous job, went against U.S. interests to forge a relationship with Russia may be controversial, but not necessarily disqualifying.

All of these things together, given the past and recent history between the United States and Russia … it’s not a red flag.

It’s a freaking five-alarm fire.

Trumpocalypse 2017: the first casualty

Disorder. Chaos. No one knows who to trust. The enemy is closing in. And one by one, people are disappearing.

No, I am not describing an episode of the Walking Dead.

It’s the Trump administration.

Initially, people described Trump’s rise from outsider candidate to presidential hopeful as a reality show. At times during the first couple weeks of his presidency, with Trump rewarding those who remained loyal to him with cabinet positions and scorning those who didn’t, it resembled a soap opera. Now? It’s a straight up horror show.

Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security advisor – the first casualty of this tumultuous administration – comes amid reports of near anarchy within Trump’s security council.

And this dysfunction comes at a time when other regional powers – Russia, China, Iran – are feeling emboldened and are testing the limits of this new regime.

Flynn’s resignation ties directly into the Trump campaign’s – potentially illegal — dealings with Russia prior to his election, and raises more questions of how complicit the two sides were in undermining this past election.

michael-flynn

It also raises the question of whether Flynn violated the Logan Act, a statute that forbids private citizens from speaking with foreign leaders to influence policy. Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak (the source of the controversy) happened around Christmastime, when Flynn still had no official position. No one has ever been persecuted under the act before.

These discoveries are just circulating now, a couple days after President Trump was dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club when reports of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch surfaced, and pictures immediately hit the Internet of the two leaders reacting to the news with their respective administrations.

All in the public eye.

People wanted change in Washington. They wanted an outsider. They wanted to “drain the swamp.”

They got what they wanted. And we are witnessing the consequences of it. This is what happens when incompetent people are put in charge of the most powerful and complex agency on earth.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, I wrote that these pockets of incidents between the United States and Russia had all the makings of a second Cold War.

But we now know that Obama was right to be stern on an audacious Russia.

The attitude between the two countries suddenly softened when Trump took over, and now we’re trying to figure out why. And it all dates back to Flynn.

It would be an insult to our intelligence to assume that Trump was completely unaware of Flynn’s actions. And in the midst of an investigation into Russia’s interference in our election with the goal of electing Donald Trump, it’s equally as insulting to tell us that the two are not interconnected.

News media, I know you’re basically viewed by half of this country as scum, but we need you to bear down more than ever.

Investigate this like you’ve never investigated before. The 21st century is still waiting for its Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. We need answers. Me and Dan Rather demand it of you.

Until then, we wait and see.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, people. I devoted the proper amount of attention to that in this post, right?

I’m clearly alone and have no one.

Go away for a few days, come back to the second Cold War

Every time I know I am going to be gone for a few days, I always contemplate whether I should write a small post explaining why there may be no new content for a few days.

Then I realize: who the hell cares? I doubt many of you are waiting on baited breath for my next entry, and anyone who is is well aware that I have disappeared for days at a time and always came back. Like this past week, for instance, when I was in Florida.

So if I don’t post for more than, let’s say, a whole month, you can safely assume I’ve either been kidnapped or am dead.

That being said, this may very well be my only post until the middle of next week, as I am taking a trip out of the country early Saturday morning. I’ll let you find out where when I return.

In my absence, meanwhile, a lot has happened. Which seems to be the trend in this country these days.

craig-sager2

Given the inexplicable outbreak of iconic celebrity deaths this year, it should come as no surprise that we lost a couple of other big names — actor Alan Thicke and basketball reporter Craig Sager.

The former was known for being the gentle father from the late ’80s TV show “Growing Pains,” and the latter the vibrantly dressed basketball lifer who inspired millions when his fight against cancer ignited a movement, #SagerStrong, highlighted by his incredible speech at last year’s ESPY awards.

Rest in peace, gentlemen.

Besides that, all of the news seemed to be dominated by more head-scratching Trump appointments — like his selection of Rick Perry to lead the department he once couldn’t remember the name of — and increasing animosity between the U.S. and Russia.

And in some cases, those two things intertwined.

Of course, we were dropped a bombshell late last week when we learned that Russian hackers also infiltrated the Republican National Convention, but did not leak any of their findings, ultimately leading U.S. intelligence analysts to the conclusion that Russia effectively played a role in comprising our presidential election.

On top of that, we learned that Republican lawmakers were notified of this before the election, but decided they did not want to come out publicly to denounce it. Basically … we just let it happen.

russia-hack

A lot of people will shrug this off and say, “who cares?” The election is over and we should move on. In fact, that is exactly what Donald Trump is saying.

But the fact of the matter is that this undermines the stability of our entire democracy. We take free and open elections for granted, but they are the basic pillar of our republic, and to have them tampered with by a foreign country with whom we share a checkered past is destabilizing at best, and an act of warfare at worst.

And yet, the president-elect does not want to even acknowledge it happened.

I don’t know what is more shocking — the revelation of how fragile our democracy is, or our indifference towards it.

Cold wars don’t start with an obvious act of military conflict. They slowly marinate over time. Most Generation Y-ers like me were too young (or not born yet) to appreciate the end of the Cold War between the United States or Soviet Union. But in case you’re wondering what it looks like, well, if we’re not there yet — we will be soon.

But don’t worry, oil tycoon Rex Tillerson will fix it.

If I hadn’t ended about six other posts since Election Day with the words “God help us,” I’d do it again right now.

Screw it.

God help us.

Is a no-fly zone the way to go in Syria?

Those who watched the Democratic debate last Tuesday may recall a conversation that took place about the merits of implementing a no-fly zone in northern Syria, near its border with Turkey.

It’s a divisive issue in the political spectrum, with presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle offering varying opinions. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton voiced her support for it, and Bernie Sanders was adamant against it.

The immediate goal of a no-fly zone would be to save Syrian lives. The Syrian government, led by Basher al-Assad, is dropping barrel bombs — canisters filled with explosives and metal fragments — on civilians in areas that have been taken over by opposition forces (the same forces the U.S. supports), killing some 200 people per week.

Turkey is strongly pushing for a no-fly zone to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into its borders.

So that makes it sound pretty clear-cut, right? Institute a no-fly zone, and it stops Syria from killing its own people.

The problem is enforcement. Think of a turnpike with speed limit signs but no state troopers. Why would you bother slowing down?

If the U.S. and other world powers implement a no-fly zone, they must enforce it, meaning shooting down planes that disobey. Which would further entangle our nation into what has already been an ugly and violent civil war.

Further muddying the situation is Russia, which is currently flying over Syria to attack the forces that oppose Assad’s regime.

If a no-fly zone is administered, and Putin ignores is, that leaves the U.S. with the harrowing decision of whether to shoot down Russian aircrafts.

We pretty much spent the better part of five decades trying to avoid armed conflict with the Soviet Union. At the time, many speculated the world was on the brink of World War III.

So the point is that this is pretty much an impossible decision to make. At best, it furthers U.S. involvement in a brutal war, and at worst, sets off a global crisis.

It’s easy for a presidential candidate to say what they would do without having to deal with the consequences. From what I’ve heard from those who favor it, when questioned what they’d do if Russia disobeyed and flew through it anyway, respond with the ambiguous cop-out: ‘We’ll deal with it if it happens.”

At least for his part, Marco Rubio came out and said that he would retaliate against Russia if they violated a no-fly zone. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.

Simply put, it’s decisions like these that make me glad that the toughest choice I had to make today was whether to have a piece of leftover chocolate cake or a Mallomar for dessert this evening.

I ate both.