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.

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General rule of thumb: don’t compare the Holocaust to anything

It’s been about a week since I discussed politics, and since then, the entire world has basically changed course.

And that’s not really much of an exaggeration.

Early last week, the world was exposed to shocking visceral images of incapacitated children, poisoned by sarin gas in what appears to have been a chemical weapons attack by the authoritarian Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad. The use of chemical weapons is not only outlawed by the United Nations, but also in an agreement between Syria, Russia, and the U.S. in 2013 after the country used chemical weapons against its people the first time.

In response to the horrific attack, President Trump – who categorically denounced any type of intervention in Syria four years ago – launched a surprise missile attack on a Syrian air base.

Russia, who has helped prop up the Assad regime during the country’s six-year civil war to protect its own interests in the region, condemned the attack.

The United States, in turn, accused Russia of covering up the Syrian government’s role in the attack. And this was all on the eve of Thursday’s meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin, which, until the two finally sat down, no one was sure was actually going to happen.

And just like that, the Trump-Putin bromance has finally come to an end.

Sean Spicer

While many have praised Trump for his decisive action, others have been critical of his spontaneous action that in all likelihood was taken without an overall strategic plan. Others say it’s a smokescreen to distract us from discussing U.S.-Russia collusion.

But this, without a doubt, begins a new chapter in our country’s role in the Middle East, as well as our relations with Russia. We knew Trump’s footprint would be left on the geopolitical landscape. This is it. And now we see where we go from here.

Unbelievably, these seismic events were still outshadowed this week by the incomprehensible remarks by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who, without any provocation, essentially downplayed Adolf Hitler’s cruelty and rewrote history to pretend like he never gassed and murdered more than six million Jews.

The statements were made during a White House press briefing, which drew audible gasps from reporters in attendance, and led to Spicer issuing an apologetic statement afterwards. But the outcry over his remarks was so great that he appeared on camera on CNN to issue a further apology later in the day. He then spent all of Wednesday on an apology tour.

Oh, Sean. I mean, the man has the hardest job in the world, being forced to justify the nonsensical actions, statements and tweets of Donald Trump to the press. But watching him try to back away from his own words was like watching a trainwreck in action.

Adding insult to injury, he referred to Nazi death camps as “Holocaust centers,” as if they were some type of museum, and misstated the name of the Syrian president.

And on top of that, he said it during Passover.

It’s pretty much common sense. Whether you’re talking to a friend, a colleague, your pet dog, or especially the entire national press corps, do not draw comparisons to the Holocaust. And don’t show sympathy for Adolf Hitler.

It’s pretty much the basic rule of humanity.

Melissa McCarthy … you’re up.

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.

There’s something about Putin

For the most part, Jimmy Fallon’s performance as host of last Sunday’s Golden Globes was quite uneventful.

It began with his teleprompter failing him in the show’s opening minute, and yet, he neglected to make a single Mariah Carey joke.

But Jimmy did make one funny quip during the production. It was a clever mix of a routine awards show announcement blended with politics.

He said, “The ballots for tonight’s Golden Globes were carefully tabulated by the accounting firm of Ernst and Young and Putin.”

It was a good joke. On the rating scale, I give it a 10 out of 10.

The humor stems from allegations by American intelligence agencies that Putin led  a campaign to smear Hillary Clinton in order to sway our election and get Donald Trump elected. Did it work? Maybe. But nonetheless, it’s made the Russian President public enemy number one.

vladimir-putin

It’s amazing how much his name has come up since the latter stages of the presidential election, beginning with Trump’s odd affection towards him while speaking on the campaign trail.

First it was Putin ordering the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Then it was Putin infringing on our election process. This week, we’re wondering just how close Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson is with the man. And on Wednesday, unsubstantiated reports of a secret Russian dossier containing personal and professional dirt on Donald Trump was the headline story.

So what is it about this man that has people so obsessed?

You can’t talk international politics without Russia. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and the largest country by surface area. Oh, and that whole Cold War thing.

Putin has been Russia’s leader since 2000. Before that, he was a KGB foreign intelligence officer for two decades. So the man knows something about covert operations.

He also just looks untrustworthy. There’s no way you can look at Vladimir Putin and think, “You know what? I would trust that man with my children.”

The truth of the matter, though, is that Putin is a possible war criminal whose political enemies often wind up dead. He is not a man who represents American interests, and given his history, there is no way he can ever be a real ally to the U.S.

So that is why it drives people crazy when Trump speaks about him so adoringly.

It must be quite entertaining for Russians to see just how infatuated we are with him, though. Next thing you know he’ll be chased by Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott and Brett Favre (see today’s post title if that joke did not hit, which it probably did not because it wasn’t that good. A 4 out of 10 on the rating scale.)

And it’s extremely reasonable to wonder how close Rex Tillerson is with Putin. As the president of ExxonMobil, not only does he hold more assets in Russia than anywhere else, but he was once bestowed the highest award a foreign citizen can receive from the Russian government.

With 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the Senate, at least two Republicans would have to turn against their party to reject Tillerson.

Fortunately, Marco Rubio laid the hammer down during Tillerson’s confirmation hearings on Wednesday.

Go get him, Little Marco. This is your time.

And if Russian hackers are reading this right now … well, someone please notify the CIA if I’m not back on Monday.

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.

If only our two-week disappearances could cause as much speculation as Vladimir Putin’s

If I fell off of the grid for two weeks, I think the only person who would wonder where I am is my cat Marbles.

And I don’t mean that in an entirely self-deprecating way, it’s just that two weeks isn’t long enough time to start calling for search parties to discover where I am. I’m sure a few people might think, “Hmm, I haven’t heard from that guy for a little while,” and then immediately lose interest once The Voice returns from a commercial break.

And I’m totally fine with that. If you’re not famous, or married, then it should be expected.

If I were to vanish without a peep for such a length of time, then it likely means I’m dead, or I don’t want to be found. Vladimir PutinSo either way, a lack of interest would make no difference.

I’d say it would take a good month for people beyond my inner circle to gain interest in my whereabouts if I were to go missing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not have that luxury.

His 10-day absence from the public eye caused a firestorm of rumors from international media, with speculation ranging from he’s violently ill, to being overthrown in a coup, to dead.

It was the most widely publicized leave of absence since Carmen Sandiego. Wait, is that too old of a reference for some people? OK, since Amy Dunne in Gone Girl. Except Putin didn’t leave behind an intricately-planned journal of lies in order to frame his significant other.

Or did he?

In a paradoxical away, political figureheads get more paparazzi than celebrities. If Adam Levine went AWOL for 10 days, would it be headline news? I say “paradoxical” because it is a politician’s job to constantly be in the spotlight, if for nothing else then to at least give the perception that they are proactive.

Putin reappeared on Monday, by the way, so you can all take a deep breath. My cat Marbles, meanwhile, remains indifferent. And wants to be fed. Like now.

Speaking of wanting to be fed, it’s been a rough go of it lately for the people of Vanuatu, an island country in the South Pacific VanuatuOcean, east of Australia. No, they haven’t been overrun by koala bears, but rather, a cyclone has demolished 90 percent of its infrastructure and displaced 132,000 people — about half of its population.

My question: Where’s the benefit concert? America jumps at the opportunity to stage an enormous, star-studded musical spectacle whenever a storm hits our own country — take Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy for instance — but when an island nation like Vanuatu is completely decimated, we just shrug it off?

I think the problem is that there’s not enough famous Vanuatans in America.

At least when an earthquake destroyed Haiti five years ago, we had Wyclef Jean to remind us that Haiti is a country that we should care about. Heck, he got a shitload of singers together to remake “We Are the World” exclusively for Haiti.

We can’t even remake a Backstreet Boys song for Vanuatua, or something? “I Want it That Way for Vanuatu?”

Tell me why this can’t happen.

Because doing nothing ain’t nothing but a heartache. Or a mistake. I never wanna hear you say we’re not doing it that way.

OK I’m done.