On Putin, Bullies, and WWIII

On Putin, Bullies, and WWIII

Cover Image: Putin meeting with China’s Xi Jinping on 2/4/22 during the Beijing Winter Olympics, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo credit: http://www.kremlin.ru

Did you ever deal with a childhood bully? I did. Every day for years and years. He never stopped, and I never stopped him. I tried talking things out with him, befriending him, avoiding him, but nothing worked. It made no sense to me to use violence against him because violence itself made no sense to me. I also worried that if I allowed myself to feel enough anger to fight back, I wouldn’t know when to stop, and either I would kill him or he would kill me. And if we survived, I figured that he would treat me even worse after that. So instead I endured regular pummelings, daily humiliation and ridicule, and the constant threat of violence – either from him or from lower-tier bullies who saw from his example how easy it was to push me around.

As of this writing, nearly three weeks of war crimes have been taking place in Ukraine, some of them captured on video for all to see. The world had optimistically hoped that Putin would not be so bold as to invade another sovereign country with no provocation, but he did, plunging the citizens of Ukraine into a brutal war and a horror show of grim choices: abandon my home or fight and potentially die, split up my family or put them in danger, shoot my mortally wounded father lying in the road or let him bleed out. But how does this conflict differ from the other genocides over the past 60 years – Palestine, Rwanda, Congo, East Timor, Somalia, Myanmar, Syria? While it is potentially valuable for the Caucasians among us to examine how the skin pigment of the victims may be affecting our personal level of concern, I would argue that there is a geopolitical element that makes Ukraine different and particularly urgent: the global ambitions of Vladimir Putin and other dictators – ambitions which have only grown more intense as the United States of recent decades has come to be seen as a nation of weak, inconsistent leadership and internal disunity. In particular, Putin and China’s Xi not only wish to expand their nations’ borders, but have a feeling of entitlement to specific countries that they believe they are justified to “take back.”

Putin grew up in dire poverty in bombed-out post-WWII St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). He was bullied by local thugs and learned to become a bully and a thug himself. He had a deep sense of pride in his Soviet homeland and grew up to successfully pursue his dream of becoming a KGB officer. While many greeted the collapse of the Soviet Union with excitement and optimism, Putin viewed it as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” – the humiliating downfall of a glorious empire shattered into independent fragments as a result of American meddling. As President of Russia, Putin has decried NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of western nations formed after World War II) and sought its demise, in part because it is the most potent military force holding him back from invading the former Soviet nations, and in part because he sees more and more of those former Soviet nations seeking NATO membership.

A desire to stop NATO expansion and a nostalgic fantasy of reconstituting the USSR are the primary drives behind his invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s excuse that he is “denazifying” Ukraine is such an absurd and lazy rationale as to indicate a core belief that he shouldn’t even need an excuse to “take back what is rightly his.”

Map of NATO member nations in Europe, showing decade of membership.
Map of European nations that were once Soviet territories and Soviet satellite countries.

We have all admired the stunning bravery of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people who have stayed to fight off the Russian invaders. From our relative comfort in the United States, we check the news, root for the Ukrainians, damn Putin, pray for a peaceful outcome, and hopefully make donations to humanitarian organizations helping civilians on the ground there. But this is nowhere near enough. The courage on display in Ukraine is not sustainable without real help, including military assistance. The 40-mile convoy of stranded Russian tanks north of Kyiv was a glaring opportunity for fighter jets to decimate a large portion of Putin’s army. Instead of providing such bombers, America sat by, with its most promising solution being a deal wherein Poland would give Ukraine Soviet-era jets and the US would backfill the Polish air force with American fighter jets. As that deal was discussed and ultimately fell apart, Russia got the needed fuel and supplies to the tanks, and now they are back on track and closing in on Kyiv.

So what do we do when they have Kyiv surrounded – with more fresh Russian troops arriving daily, when Ukrainian forces have run out of ammunition, when they’ve grown exhausted and sick because they are getting little sleep and their water and electricity and heating have all been cut off, when we wake up to the news that Zelenskyy is one of the many dead under a pile of rubble? Do we just feel sad, shrug, and wish that things had gone differently? The Ukrainians are outnumbered and outgunned, and their courage must be backed by steady outside help. We can at the very least provide them ample ammunition and weapons, including fighter jets, without hiding behind other countries in convoluted arrangements to do so. And we can also work covertly for the rapid elimination of Putin from the Russian Presidency.

A Ukrainian girl sits in a bomb shelter during a Russian attack.
Residential homes in Lysychansk, Ukraine bombed by Russia.

Putin has repeatedly mentioned his nuclear arsenal as a threat to anyone who might wish to step in and interfere with his slaughter of Ukrainian civilians. And in truth, the relative absence of the Russian Air Force from the current conflict may mean that he is keeping those forces on standby to deal with outsiders. Having grown up during the Cold War with the threat of nuclear annihilation constantly looming in the background of daily life, I take seriously the horror that a nuclear conflict would bring. But Putin seems to have turned the Cold War policy of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) on its head. Whereas in the past, it was a deterrent against Soviet use of nuclear weapons, Putin is using it as a cudgel to hold the world at bay while he does whatever he wants. And we’re accepting that.

So what is our red line before we are willing to get involved? Clearly it is not the commission of war crimes or the targeting of civilians. Is it the use of chemical weapons? Biological weapons? The death of Zelenskyy? Deliberate face-to-face executions of Ukrainian soldiers? Of civilians? Bulldozers loading them all into mass graves? The expansion of the invasion to Moldova? To Finland? Or do we simply do nothing until an actual NATO country is attacked?

Putin will decide what is or is not a provocation for him to use nuclear weapons, if he is actually willing to use them. And that provocation can be whatever he chooses – interference from America, a desire to save face after unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance, a perceived slight from a world leader, anything. In the meantime, he is learning with each new atrocity that his initial calculation was correct: that he can do anything he wants as long as he occasionally uses the magic words “World War III” or “nukes.” Rest assured that China, who wishes to invade Taiwan, is learning by watching all of this as well. So do we wait for China – with a larger and far more potent military force than Russia – to make its move? Is that our red line? The farther out we push the boundary of what we will accept, the more dangerous the odds become.

Through action or inaction – either way – we are potentially provoking World War III. The difference is that action now has a chance of sending a message of deterrence to the world’s expansionist thugs. Inaction will hand us a pre-1945 world, where invasions of sovereign countries for the spoils of war are once again commonplace, borders are fluid, international rules become completely unenforceable and therefore nonexistent regarding things like the development of nuclear weapons, and fear becomes much more of a constant across the globe. Putin’s war on Ukraine is not just another military conflict in another country. It is a gateway to a new era of global lawlessness and conquest, and we have the choice right now whether we will be meekly dragged through that gate by a bully or if we will have the courage to use our strength to hold that gate shut.

– rob rünt

Book Review: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”/“This is Not Propaganda”

Book Review: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”/“This is Not Propaganda”

Shortly after the 2016 US Election, a journalist named Sarah Kendzior urged Americans to immediately write down their memories, their beliefs, their values, and what they know to be real and true, because those things were about to get very squishy for us. She wanted us to have a snapshot of our pre-Trump reality, a reference point to look back to, an anchor to moor us as we began to drift further out into a sea of craziness and disinformation. She said this based on her own extensive studies of authoritarian governments.

More than five years later, her prescience appears to have been spot on. “Fake news” – a term originally coined by the mainstream press to describe fictional clickbait articles (often created overseas) – was quickly rebranded by 2016 candidate Trump to describe the mainstream media themselves. Fact-checking of President Trump’s bold-faced lies was met with doubling down rather than the traditional responses of shame and contrition. Amid this nonstop deflection and distraction, many Americans eventually came to have a harder and harder time teasing out the truth in a given situation.

Distortions have always existed in the press – if nothing else, in the editorial decisions about what is “news” and what is not worthy of coverage. But the news has now fragmented into completely different realities (some of them by definition false realities), and each American is living their lives, and basing their choices, on which of those realities they have chosen. By November 5, 2020, for example, CNN, NPR, NBC, and even Fox News had acknowledged the election of Joe Biden. But on right-wing media upstarts NewsMax and OANN, Trump still appeared poised to win the election three weeks later, and conservatives abandoned Fox News by the hundreds of thousands to plant their flags in these more appealing oases of information. On January 6, some Americans watched a frightening banana-republic-style attempt to overturn a legitimate democratic election. Other Americans saw the same events – and continue to see them – as courageous attempts by noble-hearted patriots to prevent the results of a banana-republic-style “rigged election” from being carried through to their corrupt fruition.

It is in this new Through-the-Looking-Glass environment that I have been reading the works of Peter Pomerantsev, a British journalist who was born in Ukraine – then still a part of the USSR – as his dissident father was repeatedly being brought in for interrogation by the KGB. Pomerantsev’s two books provide astoundingly valuable insights into America’s current situation.

In “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia,” written in 2014, Pomerantsev provides colorful, engaging, and at times deeply amusing vignettes into the evolution of post-Soviet Russia from a land of fresh optimistic idealism, to a place of opportunistic lawlessness that created overnight winners and losers, to a kleptocratic authoritarian regime that keeps an impenetrable hold on power using a shrewd development in propaganda. Pomerantsev’s unique perspective as a now-Westerner inside Russia allows a powerful understanding of this metamorphosis.

The unstructured fluidity in early post-Soviet Russia, asserts Pomerantsev, allowed previously state-owned assets – media, oil production, etc. – to be grabbed up by those with the wits, money, or brute thuggishness to do so. Millionaires and power brokers were created overnight. Organized crime began to flourish, as Russian mafia found easy cash in blackmailing and extorting new business owners. This corruption eventually became a part of the Russian system itself – for all practical purposes, a coequal branch of government – as Putin took power and threatened imprisonment to any wealthy oligarch who refused to give him a cut of their often-ill-gotten earnings.

Pomerantsev looks into the lives of a variety of Russians: billionaire media moguls, bar-cruising prostitutes, city historians, reality show stars, political activists, a pre-teen boy turned national celebrity by his morbid obesity, a falsely imprisoned businesswoman, a nationalist Christian biker gang, a supermodel driven to suicide by a self-actualization cult, a lavishly partying millionaire playboy, and a small-time Mafioso/wannabe movie producer. Tying all of them together is a new Russian culture of delirium, a hazy yet psychedelically vivid combination of Zef-esque lifestyle, Cirque de Soleil surrealism, reality show drama, political theater, performance art, and tabloid sensationalism.

This culture is no accident. It is the result of a rather ingenious advance in propaganda developed by long-time friend of Vladimir Putin, Vladislov Surkov – a development that coincidentally and symbiotically emerged alongside the cultural fragmentation caused by the internet and social media. With a background in metallurgy, fine art and public relations, Surkov came up with the idea of an entertaining, never-boring politics that is both highly emotional and thoroughly disorienting and disempowering. Rather than the clumsy, ham-fisted propaganda of past authoritarians, where the powerful suppress all dissent and project their own worldview as the only acceptable line of thought, Surkov’s propaganda embraces a diversity of dissenting voices – and even supports them.

Politically adversarial groups are funded, encouraged, and their extremes magnified. On issue after issue – racism, the environment, worker’s rights – the stunningly cynical goal is to play different sides against each other, emotionally amplifying conspiracy theories, controversies, and extremists, while also culturally magnifying beliefs in the supernatural, cultism, rage, the spectacle of the absurd and the grotesque and the breathtakingly beautiful, until such a sense of disequilibrium is created amongst the population that the formation of any critical masse of unified dissent becomes impossible, because nobody can get a firm grasp on what is true. The goal is not a victory for any “side” or the ability of any particular ideology to prevail. Rather, the goal is simply the unending and energy-consuming distraction and confusion of conflict itself. The blizzard of lies, fabrications and “fake news” serve not to convince, but merely to sap the stamina of anyone motivated enough to seek out a definitive truth. Politics, culture, and life in general become a crazy hall of mirrors where each individual sees a different distortion, and reality is fluid, shifting, watery, elusive, continuously bombarded by new waves of disinformation and emotion.

The effect of this on many Russians has been a wry cynicism, a knowing skepticism, a smirking disbelief in any news story, and even a sullen dislike of the government behind it all. As Russia’s state media export, RT (formerly Russia Today), beckons in its slogan, “Question More.” But despite all the distrust and negative feelings held by many Russians, any resulting dissent is potently dulled by a paralyzing apathy brought on by the overwhelming task of convincing more than a couple people of anything amid the ceaseless swirl of competing ideas, conspiracies, controversies, and “news.” When everyone is urged to “question more,” there will always be a shaky detail that can eventually be unearthed to destroy the credibility of an entire narrative and send things back to square one.

If reading any of this feels a bit familiar in 2021 America, that is no accident either. Putin began exporting this approach to social manipulation in earnest during the 2016 Election, and the boisterous, grievance-driven Presidency of an erratic, constantly gaslighting reality TV star could not have been a better vehicle to give it fertile ground. We are currently in the midst of a major shift in how America operates. While some may console themselves that the bogeyman is gone now that a reasonable human being is President, such self-reassurance is like a survivor treading water in the ocean who feels relief at a shark that was successfully driven off. The problem wasn’t that shark, or even the twenty others circling unseen below the surface. The problem is that we are adrift in dangerous waters, and until that issue is addressed, the sharks will keep coming.

Pomerantsev closes his first book with a brief look at how Russia’s wealthy have chosen to preserve their riches through purchases of such concrete items as real estate in stable countries like the UK and United States, away from the greedy claws of the lawless government of Russia.

This ending is a good segue into Pomerantsev’s next book, 2019’s “This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality.” This book expands on the ideas in “Nothing is True” to look at how the use of social media, real-world actions, and astroturf campaigns – sometimes coordinated using tactics similar to Putin’s/Surkov’s – have recently enabled right-wing strong men to come into power in country after country worldwide: Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Recep Erdogan in Turkey, Donald Trump in the United States. In a sea of uncertainty and confusion, a strong leader with clear, simple answers seems to provide welcome comfort to some.

The strategic magnification of select ideas and stories by bots, cyborgs (bots accompanied by real people paid to follow up with a human touch on any one-on-one responses) and anonymous internet trolls has resulted in a new means of dealing with undesirable truths and ideologies. Activists and journalists are finding themselves individually targeted with threats of murder, rape, or other violence – not by an oppressive government, but by their fellow citizens inspired by manipulation on social media and elsewhere. Even friends and family begin spouting hostile content that has been amplified to them by bots. More disturbing still are the people who carry things one step further into the real world, harassing these dissidents and reporters with frightening phone calls, knocks at the door, and even escalations to actual violence.

Pomerantsev talks with some of the individuals who create these types of campaigns, as well as those on the receiving end. The most fascinating part is Pomerantsev’s synthesizing of disparate events to uncover patterns that are invaluable to understand – how an online campaign against an individual evolves, how the use of bots can effectively turn activists away from their crucial interconnectedness and collapse otherwise potent social and political movements, how something as benign as an online group formed around a shared interest in yoga can ultimately be used to install a brutal dictator. In the end, understanding these dynamics is the key to combating them.

Both of Pomerantsev’s books profoundly illuminate the new social, cultural, interpersonal, political, technological, and media waters that we find ourselves in today. The old paradigms of left vs right, or even powerful vs oppressed, no longer apply in the way that they once did, and Pomerantsev provides a useful nautical map to reorient ourselves and remind us of our moorings as we slip further out to sea. I highly recommend reading both books, in order.

– rob rünt

Photo of Bolsonaro taken by: Palácio do Planalto

Photo of Putin from: http://www.kremlin.ru

Photo of Trump by: Gage Skidmore

Photo of Erdogan from: the official website of the President of Ukraine

When Will He Wake Up About Putin?

When Will He Wake Up About Putin?

Remember during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, when political pundits and career politicians soberly asserted that if Donald Trump won the election, he would rise to the dignity and magnitude of the office? And once he won the election and nothing changed, they asserted that spending time in the job would surely change him? And although the change still didn’t materialize, they nonetheless held out hope, pouncing on isolated incidents like his scripted first State of the Union address as evidence that now he was finally becoming Presidential. Until he returns to his usual behavior within hours.

The same thing seems to be happening in regards to Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki. Politicians and journalists have been asking aghast for over a year “How can President Trump possibly trust Putin?” “Why doesn’t he realize that Putin isn’t our friend?” etc. These questions are even asked regularly by bright commentators who should know better. Their framing of the issue in this way not only misses the mark, but imposes a naïve bias on America’s predicament which (possibly inaccurately) colors public perception about what is happening.

Nobody but Donald Trump can possibly know whether or not he trusts Vladimir Putin. It is just as possible – if not more so – that he does not trust Putin at all, but is being aggressively blackmailed by the Russian President, and is profoundly terrified of him. Of course, that is not a dignified assumption for the media to make about the President of the United States, but neither is assuming that he is some wide eyed boob who is too foolish or totalitariophilic to recognize a major and obvious threat to our nation about which he has been warned continuously and repeatedly for the entirety of his time in office.

We are in a potentially perilous time right now. Yet many of us seem to be eager to assume the best-case scenario about what is happening, even after witnessing the President’s subservience to Putin with our own eyes – his shell-shocked, slumping, dead-man-walking body language as the two emerged from their private meeting and Putin jauntily strode to the podium, his refusal to hold Putin in any way accountable for actions that America’s own intelligence community have told him undeniably took place.

We need to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that what we are seeing is exactly what it looks like: a self-centered, emotionally immature man who has lived a life of impulsive desire fulfillment, lack of accountability, and petty one-upsmanship, whose wealth, behavior and influence brought him to the attention of Russian intelligence long ago as a U.S. person upon whom to compile a dossier of “kompromat,” who is now realizing to his own horror that his past behavior and his present job are conflicting in a way that can lead to deep embarrassment and humiliation at best, and prison time for him and his associates at worst.

The first step to acknowledging and bracing ourselves for this potential reality is to stop asking why the President does not realize that Putin is a threat, and to accept that he may already understand the threat of Vladimir Putin all to well.

– rob rünt

The Mueller Investigation: Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

The Mueller Investigation: Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

The Mueller Investigation:
Why Trump’s Finances and Beauty Pageants are 100% Relevant to Russia

News outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times have reported that Trump’s legal advisors are looking for ways to disqualify Robert Mueller, the Special Prosecutor investigating possible Trump Campaign collusion with Russia. One way in which Team Trump hopes to do this is by claiming that Mueller is overstepping the scope of his investigation by looking into things like Trump’s personal finances. While such areas of inquiry might on the surface seem unrelated to electoral meddling by Russia, Trump’s taxes, financial dealings and other areas are in fact very legitimate and essential aspects to explore.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as Special Prosecutor, he defined the scope of Mueller’s investigation as “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated” with Trump’s campaign, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” and “any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)” such as obstruction of justice, destroying evidence, and intimidating witnesses.

In looking at whether or not the Trump Campaign colluded with Russia – or if Trump or his Administration are currently colluding with Russia – Mueller needs to look at why Trump and Putin would possibly want to cooperate.

There are a number of possible explanations for such cooperation. One is “kompromat” – potentially compromising evidence of something embarrassing or illegal – that Putin might be using to blackmail Trump, as alleged in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele (Buzzfeed – 1/10/17). Another explanation is major financial debts which Putin may in some way be helping Trump get rid of, or which Trump owes to Russia. And another explanation is the possibility of a financial crime yet to be committed against the United States, in which Putin or other Russians and Trump are currently coordinating.

Here is how some of Mueller’s possible avenues of investigation can help show whether there is anything of substance to any of those explanations.

Tax Returns

Donald Trump has been evasive about his tax returns ever since he was first asked about them. During his campaign, unlike previous Presidential candidates, he said that he would only disclose his tax returns if elected, citing the feeble and long debunked excuse that he was under a “routine audit” by the IRS. Once elected, Trump continued to refuse to make his tax returns public, claiming falsely that only the media care about them (The Hill – 1/11/17), when in fact even a majority of Republicans want him to release them (The Hill – 4/13/17).

Trump’s tax returns are relevant to the Russia investigation because they can show debts that he owes and business relationships that he has. Knowing to whom Trump owes money, and how much, can help Mueller connect the dots, if there are any, between those debts and Russia. Understanding Trump’s business relationships can also be a starting point toward uncovering closer connections with Putin than the President has admitted.

Bank Loans

As a real estate mogul, Donald Trump has taken out loans from financial institutions around the world in order to purchase real estate, build on or improve properties, and other legal real estate activities. If Trump has had difficulty repaying some of those loans, someone offering to help take care of them could be appealing to the President. If that person is Vladimir Putin or an associate of Putin’s, that is highly relevant information for Mueller’s investigation. The first step toward exploring this angle is to look at Trump’s bank debts.

The relevance of bank loans in the Russia scandal becomes even more acute if some of the banks are actually Russian banks, especially Russian state banks. As Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6 (British intelligence agency) said in April, “What lingers for Trump may be what deals — on what terms — he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the west apparently would not lend to him.” (The Sun UK – 4/13/17)

Real Estate Deals

Exploring Trump’s real estate deals can provide not only a starting point to learning more about Trump’s debts, but also about illegal activity that he may have been involved in during his civilian life or which he may currently be involved in – knowledge of which, if known by Putin or associates of Putin, could be used to blackmail the President.

In particular, learning more about Trump’s real estate deals can yield clues about money laundering. Money laundering is the act of putting illegally obtained money through a process that can give that money the appearance of legitimacy. Former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort is currently under investigation for money laundering for some New York condos that he purchased with all cash (The Atlantic – 3/29/17).

Trump himself has had numerous questionable real estate transactions, including the 2006 purchase of a Palm Beach mansion, which stayed vacant until he sold it a year later to a wealthy Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev – for nearly twice the amount that he had purchased it for (MSNBC – 3/27/17). Rybolovlev reportedly never even visited the home.

Wilbur Ross

Rybolovlev was introduced to the President by an old friend named Wilbur Ross (MSNBC – 3/27/17). Ross was appointed by Trump and confirmed as the US Secretary of Commerce in February. Prior to that, Ross was one of two Vice Chairmen of the Bank of Cyprus. Cyprus is an island off the coast of Turkey whose banks are often used by wealthy Russian oligarchs to launder money. The other Vice Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is Viktor Vekselberg, the second wealthiest man in Russia and a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, Ross and Vekselberg appointed Josef Ackerman to be President of the Bank of Cyprus (The Irish Times – 11/1/14). From 2002-2012, Ackerman had been CEO of Deutsche Bank, one of the largest banks in the world. Deutsche Bank had also been engaged in laundering approximately $10 billion for wealthy Russians in a stock fraud scheme (Vanity Fair – 7/20/17) – a crime discovered in 2013, and for which the United States fined the bank $630 million. Trump owed Deutsche Bank millions of dollars at the time that Wilbur Ross connected him with Dmitry Rybolovlev for the seemingly overpriced purchase of the Palm Beach mansion.

Untangling this mess, figuring out who knows what about it, looking at how Russia and Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Cyprus factor in, as well as understanding the role of Wilbur Ross, may help Mueller better decipher how Donald Trump may be compromised by Russia and why he may be unduly interested in cooperating with them.

Beauty Pageants

In 2013, Donald Trump brought his Miss Universe beauty pageant to Russia (New York Times – 7/11/17). The recently disclosed June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer was arranged by Rob Goldstone, a marketing executive who has worked for the Miss Universe pageants. Aras Agalarov, the person whom Goldstone cited as the connection to the Russian lawyer, had paid almost $20 million to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia.

While these connections are important for Mueller to investigate, the Miss Universe pageant is also relevant because the Christopher Steele dossier (Buzzfeed – 1/10/17) alleges that Trump participated in a potentially embarrassing private event in 2013 in a room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow – an event which Vladimir Putin may possess video footage of. Such footage could be used to blackmail President Trump. In order to determine whether Trump is compromised as the Steele dossier alleges, Mueller needs to develop a timeline of Trump’s activities during any 2013 visits to Russia.

Donald Trump has proven to be a brilliant artist when it comes to smearing those he dislikes and branding them in a negative way. We should be conscious that news outlets are currently reporting possible plans by Trump’s associates to discredit and remove Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Mueller’s reputation as an ethical and dedicated law enforcement professional is impeccable. And the areas now believed to be coming under the scrutiny of his investigation are all absolutely relevant and necessary to get a full picture of any potential collusion between Donald Trump/his campaign/his Administration and Russia. We should also remain acutely aware that Vladimir Putin does not have the best interests of the United States at heart.

– rob rünt

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Articles and Editorials:

The major pieces of Trump news this week were:

  • Putin’s alleged tactics with Trump are nothing new for the former KGB officer
  • Congressional Budget Office estimates impact of “Repeal and Replace”
  • Worldwide uncertainty about the incoming Administration
  • Trump’s Inauguration
  • Trump Administration argues with press over Inauguration crowd size
  • 2.9 million women respond to Trump’s Inauguration with the largest one-day protest in U.S. history

Prostitutes and Hidden Hotel Cameras Not a New Tactic for Putin

Important video in which MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow walks through the uncanny similarities between how Putin rose to power in Russia and what US intelligence officials believe is credible evidence of alleged Russian “kompromat” on Trump. This Russia expert believes Trump is already being blackmailed by Putin (Full Article – Minnesota Public Radio). The FBI was first informed of Russia’s alleged compromising material in June or July, 2016, by a source whom they deem credible (Full Article – Mother Jones). If true, the allegations dwarf any national security danger posed by Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

Even without Putin’s likely help in getting Trump elected, a Huffington Post writer lays out the case for a domestic disinformation strategy among Trump associates that helped deliver the needed votes for Trump (Full Article – Huffington Post).

Impact of “Repeal and Replace

The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office has released its report on the likely impact of Republicans’ most recent proposal for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). The verdict: 27 million people without health insurance and skyrocketing premiums for everyone else (Full article – Business Insider).

Uncertainty About Trump is Causing Anxiety for People Across the US and World

Donald Trump’s reactive behavior, which often seems petty, vindictive, and demonstrating a childlike emotional maturity, is causing uncertainty and worry around the country and in other nations (Full Article – New York Times). Some further wonder at the lack of alarm among Trump’s supporters (Full Article – New York Times).

Aside from physical and policy concerns, there is worry about preserving fact and history in order to prevent its distortion or elimination. A couple weeks ago, climate scientists took the unusual step of backing up their data in Canada out of fear that it would be purged by the Trump Administration (Full Article – BBC). A man posted this on Facebook:


And a woman posted this in response to a blog entry by John Paplovitz:



Trump’s Inauguration

On Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. During the Inauguration – an event at which he had hoped to have a showing of tanks and missile launchers  (Full Article – Business Insider) – Trump swore the following Oath of Office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” (Footage – YouTube). Numerous U.S. Congresspeople chose to boycott the Inauguration (Full Article – CNN), because they believe that he has no intention of living up to that oath.

After being sworn in, President Trump delivered his Inaugural address, which included a harsh criticism of the Obama Administration’s economic stewardship of the country, and a strongly delivered vow that  “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now” (Annotated Full Transcript – New York Times).


Trump Administration Uses “Alternative Facts” to Attack Media for Accurately Reporting Inauguration Crowd Size

On Friday, a Time Magazine journalist inaccurately and irresponsibly reported that a bust of Martin Luther King had been removed from the Oval Office. The report was repeated by other news outlets including Huffington Post. On Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference to scold the media for that report, and to then go on to scold the media for not reporting that Donald Trump’s Inauguration was the largest Inauguration crowd ever (Full footage – CNBC). Spicer’s claim of crowd size was provably false (Full Article – Fortune Magazine).

Photo published by Fortune Magazine comparing crowd size at 2009 Obama Inauguration and 2017 Trump Inauguration:


On Sunday (today) MSNBC’s Chuck Todd confronted Kellyanne Conway about Trump’s decision to communicate easily provable and seemingly petty lies to the public for Spicer’s first official interaction with the press. Conway asserted that the Trump Administration merely uses “alternative facts” (Full footage – MSNBC).

All of this sets a worrisome tone for the beginning of the Trump Administration’s relationship with the press, and shows that media must be up to the challenges that they will be presented with in reporting the truth (Full Article – Brookings Institution).

Women’s Marches Set Historic Record in United States and Beyond

On Saturday, 2.9 million women (and men) took part in Women’s Marches in more than 600 cities nationwide. It was the largest one-day protest in U.S. history. Not one person was arrested. Solidarity marches took place in countries around the world (Photos – New York Times) (Photos – Mother Jones).

Some Trump supporters believe that these protesters should just “get over it” like they did when Obama was elected. That assertion may include a bit of revisionist history.


Cartoons, Images & Videos

Saturday Night Live from 1/21: a message from “Vladimir Putin.”

Cartoon by Michael de Adder, Halifax Chronicle Herald:





Artwork attributed to Tim O’Brien posted on Boing Boing’s Facebook page:


Artwork posted by Andrea Levin:



Photo of Women’s March on Washington posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders:


Women’s March in St. Paul (photo by rob rünt):


Women’s March in St. Paul –official crowd size estimate: 90,000-100,000 (photo by rob rünt):



Posted by The Other 98%:


Events & Actions

Resources & Organizations

Sunday, Jan 8, 2017

Welcome to the first installment of “The Week in Trump.”

This Sunday blog is for people who wish to avoid gawking at the Trump train wreck for the other six days of the week, but who also believe that it is healthy and important to stay informed on matters that can significantly affect them. Here you will find a summary of the week’s most essential news and ideas (with links to the best reporting on the stories), artwork, videos and my personal thoughts. Once you’ve been thoroughly bludgeoned into despair, I will then restore hope, with info on the latest actions and upcoming events that you can participate in, as well as helpful resources and relevant organizations that you can support to make a positive difference.

I have long been obsessed with justice and the free flow of complete, accurate information. Now that both appear to be in peril, I consider it my civic duty to help others get the information that they need in a quickly and easily digestible form. It is my promise to you that I will provide the most accurate, factual information that I can. That does not mean that I will be objective. It means that I will be factual. If you think that this can be a useful weekly resource for you, please bookmark it or subscribe. Remember: we get to decide what the light at the end of the tunnel will be.

     – rob rünt



Articles & Editorials

Take It From A German: Americans Are Too Timid In Confronting Hate
(Full Article – The Daily Beast)

On Monday, in one of the first acts of the new Congress, Republicans attempted to dismantle the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent oversight group with a track record of sending Congresspersons to prison when they violate the law. (Full Article – MSNBC)  After media attention and a swift and strong negative public outcry, Congress quickly undid the measure before noon the next day. (Full Article – MSNBC)  Shortly before Republicans backtracked, President-Elect Trump tweeted that the “timing” of the move was distracting, leading some news outlets to attribute Congress’ reversal of course to his strong leadership. (Full Article – CNN)

In recent weeks, President-Elect Trump has chosen not to avail himself of most Presidential daily intelligence briefings – something that most Presidents want to get as much of as they can in order to get up to speed on important matters about which they will need to make decisions. He has also been dismissive of US intelligence agencies’ assertion of Kremlin  interference in the U.S. election, leading to concern among legislators and members of the intelligence community that our next President will not make his decisions based on the best information.  (Full Article – The Guardian)


This unexpectedly led to a development that is likely to be a pattern with the Trump Administration, either out of poor organization, poor internal communication, or a deliberate strategy of floating an idea publicly without having to commit to it (or some combination of the above): someone from Trump’s inner circle told the Wall Street Journal that Mr. Trump planned to overhaul and cut staff in the nation’s intelligence agencies – a story which was then repeated by other news outlets (Full Article – The Hill), but which Trump later denied when asked directly.

Trump remained dismissive of the Russian hacking story even after a full report (declassified version here) from US intelligence officials. (Full Article – CNN)  However, he is interested in finding out who in the intelligence community made public the information about the Kremlin’s interference in the election.


In other news, Russians appear to have just hacked into accounts of Arizona state lawmakers. (Full Article – AZ Central)

An analysis of “Putin’s real end game.” I agree with much of the assessment of Russia’s involvement and what we’re up against, but disagree with much of the proposed response to it. Your thoughts? (Full Article – Politico)

Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’ (Full Article – The Guardian)

“Having studied authoritarian states for over a decade, I would never exaggerate the severity of the threat we now face. But an American kleptocracy is exactly where president-elect Trump and his backers are taking us. That’s why I have a favor to ask you, my fellow Americans….

… I want you to write about who you are, what you have experienced, and what you have endured.

Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others.

Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.

Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.

Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.

Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.”

– from the blog of Sarah Kendzior

A general overview of the election results, what they mean, and where to go from here. In my better moments can live up to the “where to go from here” part, but snark is a definite weakness for me. (Full Article – Charles Eisenstein Blog)

 Cartoons, Images & Videos

Cartoon by Will McPhail, New Yorker:

Posted by Americans Against Trump:


Cartoon by Paul Noth:



Posted to Instagram by Alec Baldwin:



 Personal Thoughts & Experiences

On Monday, I had lunch with a friend – a very thoughtful Jewish man and one of my favorite people in the entire world. The conversation eventually turned to politics. Having had relatives who were caught up by the Holocaust, he has visited the concentration camps in Germany as well as the Holocaust Museum in Germany and in Washington DC. He said that the most chilling thing for him in those places was not the photos or the artifacts. It was a video screen at the Holocaust Museum in DC. It showed no graphics or photos, just text, slowly scrolling through the small, incremental changes – small lines drawn and then crossed and then redrawn and crossed again – that took place in what came to be known as Nazi Germany. Each change was undesirable, but ultimately tolerated. The cumulative effect was the extermination of six million human beings.

 Events & Actions

Resources & Organizations