Lavrov at the White House

The Kremlin would have been thrilled with the happy snaps, but these were, in the end, purely that.  History is an assemblage of misguided images and false assumptions. The pictures of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 remain rank, but brilliant for what modern gibberish-driven commentary terms “poor optics”.  A pact featuring the signatures of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union made one British official claim that that all “isms” had become “wasms” as a result.

Since political commentators became amateur optometrists, the obsessions with how events are viewed has begun to populate columns. From across the political spectrum, there is a terror that the Trump train has done its next dramatic swerve, defying decades of practice towards old foes. Bad optics!

What should have been noted was the predictability of it all. One on level, the Lavrov-Trump meeting in the White House was dull.  On another, it was a relief.  Hostility between Russia and the United States has over the years proven to be a cottage industry for academics, specialists and theorists, in time ballooning into an entire industrial complex.

If swords can be made into ploughshares, well and good.  Not so, for the optically deranged and suspicious.  For a stricken Senator Dick Durbin from the Democrats, “President Trump in these pictures is shaking hands with Russians, and the Kremlin is gleefully tweeting these pictures around the world.”

It was certainly a chance for Lavrov to have a bit of fun, which he duly did to reporters knowing that he would be in the company of a Russian photographer, with an accommodating US President.  Given the timing of the visit – a day after the sacking of FBI Director James Comey – Lavrov was thespian-perfect, almost hamming his role.  “Was he fired?  You’re kidding!  You’re kidding!”

To keep him company was the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, who has done what few Russian ambassadors have before him: cultivate the Washington social scene, build bridges, and, it might be said, some illusions.  There are those who still remember the May 2010 black-tie benefit for the Washington National Opera, whose steep bill was covered by opera benefactor Susan Lehrman.[1]

Naturally, Kislyak’s presence also raised eyebrows amongst the beady-eyed critics.  Careers, notably that of Michael T. Flynn, had been ruined after alleged improper associations.  An unnamed White House official on CNN’s informer list called it “ridiculous” that “an ambassador can’t meet with the President as part of a visit from a foreign minister.  It’s standard practice.”

Lavrov, beaming like a pig in mud, duly had a poke at the idea that Russia had, miraculously, seized control of the White House in a manner befitting the finest conspiracy tales.  “I believe that politicians are damaging the political system of the US, trying to pretend that someone is controlling America from the outside.”

Good of him to care, though the political system of the Republic was already well and truly withered before the Kremlin became a convenient alibi, explaining why Mr Trump sprung forth like a nasty Jack in the unnoticed, neglected Box.

The Trump administration should have simply let matters be, but decided to retaliate at the bad mood photos of the meeting generated.  The photographer, it transpired, was not only Lavrov’s official photographer, but an employee of the Russian state-run news agency, Tass.

This is proving to be standard form in the Trump administration, largely because theatre, rather than reality, is what is assiduously cultivated.  To the outraged go the spoils.  “We had an official photographer in the room, as did they,” claimed spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday.

CNN noted the words of an irate White House official, who naturally remained enchantingly anonymous: “They tricked us.”  More, it would seem, Kabuki here, the necessary performance in yet another instalment of the chaotic, near illegal mini-series, Trumpistan.  “That’s the trouble with the Russians – they lie.”[2]

From another perspective, the Russians may well have simply been living up to expectations. Adding to the drama was speculation that the photographer’s presence, not to mention conduct, might well have constituted a security breach.  “Deadly serious Q,” posed former vice-president Joe Biden’s national security advisor Colin Kahl, “Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval office?”[3] Former CIA deputy director David S. Cohen did not think so.

Tongues wagged aggressively: those sneaky Russians might well have secreted a listening device into the White House.  After all, a listening device was unveiled in a State Department conference room during the Clinton presidency.

And so it goes, the seeds of speculation sown, the trees of doubt grown, and the wonder about what, exactly, is taking place in the White House in its flirt and tug with the Kremlin. In all likelihood, this is the usual much ado about nothing, though that explanation will not satisfy the nostalgic bridges from the Cold War.

Notes. 

[1] http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a54959/forgetting-sergey-kislyak/

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/11/politics/oval-office-photos-donald-trump-russians/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/11/donald-trump-meeting-russia-sergei-lavrov-photos

Islamophobe Needs Writing Gig

Jonathan Kay’s resignation from the Walrus for his role in promoting a prize for a writer who engages in cultural appropriation is a relief for the magazine. But, Canada’s leading liberal magazine can’t say they didn’t know Kay was intolerant when they hired him to be editor-in-chief two years ago. Kay has repeatedly smeared Arabs and Muslims in the service of Israeli expansionism.

After protests against Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech at Concordia in 2002 Kay let loose about “an Arabist rabble … well-steeped in the specious propaganda of the Arab world” that made the Montréal university “the centre of militant Arabism”. Writing in the National Post, Kay added, “it is only among the school’s Arabs — many of whom like [activist Laith] Marouf, are immigrants from Arab nations where free speech is non-existent and anti-Semitic filth is widespread — that it is considered acceptable to shut your opponent up by force.” (In fact, hundreds of white and other non-Arab leftists were part of the protests that led to the cancellation of Netanyahu’s speech.)

Kay supported George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. In a 2002 column bemoaning the region’s “medieval hatreds” he wrote that Israel “can be trusted with nukes. But Iraq and its Muslim neighbours cannot.”

During its 2006 war on Lebanon Kay claimed the media focused on Israeli killing because the world had become “inured” to “watching Arab terrorists kill innocent Jews for two generations.” He added a macho twist to his Israel apologetics. “Hezbollah may wage war while hiding behind women’s skirts and baby rattles”, Kay wrote, “but Israel stubbornly adheres to a more humane creed.” Over 1,000 Lebanese, including 300 children under 13, were killed during the 34-day war while 165 Israelis, including 44 civilians, perished.

In a 2007 column Kay bemoaned how if you “connect the dots between Canada’s radicalized mosques and the terror threat… you get accused of Islamophobia” and two years later “applauded Jason Kenney for smacking down the Canadian Arab Federation.” The National Post editorial page editor wrote that CAF’s support for the Palestinian cause made them “a radicalized embarrassment to Canadian Arabs.” (Imagine a columnist calling the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs “a radicalized embarrassment to Canadian Jews” for cheerleading Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.) In his column Kay claimed, that in an interview with his paper’s editorial board a year earlier, CAF representatives “laid blame for virtually every problem the world faces on Israel—including the alienation of Arab-Canadian children in Canada’s public school system.” Cue the image of a crazed CAF representative ranting about how Israel is directing Toronto school officials to diagnose Arab children with ADHD. I wasn’t there but count me skeptical.

After Israel killed 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza in late 2008–2009 Kay wrote about “the difference between Israel and the terror-worshiping cultures that besiege it.” He described the “Arabs … sick spectacle”, which he contrasted to Israel as “a civilized culture that values human life.” For Kay criticism of Israel killing 300 children simply reflected longstanding anti-Jewish prejudice. “From the opening days of the Gazan campaign,” wrote Kay, “the blood-libels of ‘massacre’ and ‘genocide’ have flown thick and fast.”

In 2010 Kay published a wildly Islamophobic screed, diseminated by the Jewish Defense League, titled “Jonathan Kay on Muslim anti-Semitism: A hate reaching back 1,400 years.” In it he wrote: “The rhetoric and barbarism hurled against Israeli Jews after the Zionist project began were not new but simply the old, more diffuse rhetoric and barbarism being redirected, as by a lens, toward a particular pinprick on a map. .… the continued vibrancy and economic success of Jewish civilization — so close to Islam’s very heartland — is precisely what has fed Muslim rage and jealousy for 14 centuries.” Kay added that violence is “encouraged and fetishized in such a lurid manner and [is] why so few Middle Eastern Muslims regard them [“suicide terrorism and missile volleys”] as a disgraceful or even regrettable part of their culture.”

In a 2014 piece titled “Ezra Levant’s trial echoes a time when Canada’s radical Muslim activists were taken seriously” he defended the Islamophobe’s slanderous attacks against Khurrum Awan. Found guilty of libeling Awan, Levant was ordered to pay him $80,000.

Claiming Gaza is home to “more than a million Palestinians seething with anti-Semitic hatred”, Kay repeatedly justified Israel’s 2014 attacks, which left 2,200 mostly civilians dead (6 Israeli civilians were killed). According to Kay, “hundreds of Palestinian children … died as unwilling martyrs to Hamas’ barbaric human-shield military strategy” in which “Hamas fighters hide behind skirts and baby strollers.” For Kay the battle was “waged between a nation seeking to live in peace and a terrorist group whose whole stated reason for existence is the extermination of the Jewish state and its inhabitants.”

Kay’s appointment to head a purportedly liberal magazine says a great deal about the Canadian media landscape and broader political culture. Alongside his Walrus gig, Kay is regularly invited to address liberal Zionist organizations. In 2015 he spoke at an event organized by the “progressive” New Israel Fund and at a York Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies panel titled “Trudeau – Good for the Jews?” Last year Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto held a Kay vs. Kay debate, widely publicized by the Canadian Jewish News, on “whether liberal Jews are trapped by their own ideology.” Jonathan argued the “progressive” position and was countered by his hilariously right-wing mother, Barbara Kay, whose National Post column is largely devoted to stories of women oppressing men and the glory of Israel.

Jonathan Kay would probably deny any kinship with the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens, Rise Canada, Soldiers of Odin and other openly Islamophobic/white supremacist groups. But, his Jewish/Western-supremacist outlook has led him to repeatedly denigrate Arabs and Muslims, which has contributed to the milieu that has seen the rise of these groups.

Why did the Walrus hire this guy?

Hyper-Normalising Lavrov: The Russian Foreign Minister in the White House

The Kremlin would have been thrilled with the happy snaps, but these were, in the end, purely that.  History is an assemblage of misguided images and false assumptions. The pictures of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 remain rank, but brilliant for what modern gibberish-driven commentary terms “poor optics”.  A pact featuring the signatures of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union made one British official claim that all “isms” had become “wasms” as a result.

Since political commentators became amateur optometrists, the obsessions with how events are viewed has begun to populate columns. From across the political spectrum, there is a terror that the Trump train has done its next dramatic swerve, defying decades of practice towards old foes. Bad optics!

What should have been noted was the predictability of it all. One on level, the Lavrov-Trump meeting in the White House was dull.  On another, it was a relief.  Hostility between Russia and the United States has over the years proven to be a cottage industry for academics, specialists and theorists, in time ballooning into an entire industrial complex.

If swords can be made into ploughshares, well and good.  Not so, for the optically deranged and suspicious.  For a stricken Senator Dick Durbin from the Democrats, “President Trump in these pictures is shaking hands with Russians, and the Kremlin is gleefully tweeting these pictures around the world.”

It was certainly a chance for Lavrov to have a bit of fun, which he duly did to reporters knowing that he would be in the company of a Russian photographer, with an accommodating US President.  Given the timing of the visit – a day after the sacking of FBI Director James Comey – Lavrov was thespian-perfect, almost hamming his role. “Was he fired? You’re kidding! You’re kidding!”

To keep him company was the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, who has done what few Russian ambassadors have before him: cultivate the Washington social scene, build bridges, and, it might be said, some illusions.  There are those who still remember the May 2010 black-tie benefit for the Washington National Opera, whose steep bill was covered by opera benefactor Susan Lehrman.

Naturally, Kislyak’s presence also raised eyebrows amongst the beady-eyed critics.  Careers, notably that of Michael T. Flynn, had been ruined after alleged improper associations.  An unnamed White House official on CNN’s informer list called it “ridiculous” that “an ambassador can’t meet with the President as part of a visit from a foreign minister.  It’s standard practice.”

Lavrov, beaming like a pig in mud, duly had a poke at the idea that Russia had, miraculously, seized control of the White House in a manner befitting the finest conspiracy tales.  “I believe that politicians are damaging the political system of the US, trying to pretend that someone is controlling America from the outside.”

Good of him to care, though the political system of the Republic was already well and truly withered before the Kremlin became a convenient alibi, explaining why Mr Trump sprung forth like a nasty Jack in the unnoticed, neglected Box.

The Trump administration should have simply let matters be, but decided to retaliate at the bad mood photos of the meeting generated.  The photographer, it transpired, was not only Lavrov’s official photographer, but an employee of the Russian state-run news agency, Tass.

This is proving to be standard form in the Trump administration, largely because theatre, rather than reality, is what is assiduously cultivated.  To the outraged go the spoils.  “We had an official photographer in the room, as did they,” claimed spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday.

CNN noted the words of an irate White House official, who naturally remained enchantingly anonymous: “They tricked us.”  More, it would seem, Kabuki here, the necessary performance in yet another installment of the chaotic, near illegal mini-series, Trumpistan. “That’s the trouble with the Russians – they lie.”

From another perspective, the Russians may well have simply been living up to expectations. Adding to the drama was speculation that the photographer’s presence, not to mention conduct, might well have constituted a security breach.  “Deadly serious Q,” posed former vice-president Joe Biden’s national security advisor Colin Kahl, “Was it a good idea to let a Russian gov photographer & all their equipment into the Oval office?” Former CIA deputy director David S. Cohen did not think so.

Tongues wagged aggressively: those sneaky Russians might well have secreted a listening device into the White House.  After all, a listening device was unveiled in a State Department conference room during the Clinton presidency.

And so it goes, the seeds of speculation sown, the trees of doubt grown, and the wonder about what, exactly, is taking place in the White House in its flirt and tug with the Kremlin. In all likelihood, this is the usual much ado about nothing, though that explanation will not satisfy the nostalgic bridges from the Cold War.

Russian Perspectives on US-Russian Relations

Introduction

I am in Russia for two weeks with a delegation of 30 Americans organized by the Center for Citizen Initiatives. We have had informative meetings with numerous people but the following two were especially interesting and relevant to international politics: Vladimir Kozin, member of the Russian Academy of Military Science, and Mikhael Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union.

Meeting with Mikhael Gorbachev

Roots of the New Cold War

Vladimir Kozin is an arms control specialist and member of the Russian Academy of Military Science who has worked on arms control issues since the 1970’s. Kozin says that Russians see themselves being encircled by NATO. Of the 16 countries bordering Russia, eight have anti-Russia sentiments. He notes that the US military budget is twelve times greater than that of Russia and increasing.

Kozin says that it is a “fairy tale” that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. What is NOT a fairy tale is that the US spent a huge amount of money to influence Russian elections in the past and funded 400 Non Governmental Organizations which were part of the destabilization campaign in Ukraine leading to the 2014 coup.

Regarding key conflict points, Kozin says that Crimea was part of Russia since 1783. He notes that the despite the presence of 16,000 Russian troops and 18,000 Ukrainian troops, the Crimea plebiscite to re-unify with Russia was handled without violence, with huge turnout and overwhelming vote in favor.

Regarding hostilities in eastern Ukraine, Kozin questions why this has happened. If Scotland can consider secession from UK and Catalonia from Spain, what’s wrong with Donbass (eastern Ukraine) wanting more autonomy within Ukraine?  Why has Ukrainian President Porokshenko turned to military conflict instead of negotiating with the forces in eastern Ukraine?

Kozin believes it is vital to have an arms control summit meeting between Presidents Trump and Putin. He thinks we should work toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons by 2045. In the meantime, the easiest way to reduce tension and the risk of war would be an agreement on “No First Use of Nuclear Weapons”.

A Nuclear War Cannot Be Won

The former President of the Soviet Union, Mikail Gorbachev, is 87 years old but still sharp.  He told us: “This is a time to be concerned. We should worry about relations between our two countries….. things cannot continue as they are.”

President Gorbachev recalled his inital meetings with President Reagan which came after six years of poor relations and hostility. In the first summit meeting, Reagan issued a long list of accusations against the Soviet Union; Gorbachev responded with his own accusations against the USA. After that meeting Gorbachev said “He’s not a hawk; he’s a dinosaur” while Reagan said about Gorbachev “He’s a die-hard communist.”

At the next summit meeting, Reagan continued lecturing Gorbachev. After listening for 15 minutes. Gorbachev stopped Reagan saying, “That’s enough. If you want to talk as equals we can go very far. Differences can be bridged. Problems can be resolved. But as equals.” Reagan asked how the Soviet Union would respond if the United States was at risk because of some kind of natural calamity. When Gorbachev said they would want to help, not take advantage, the mood changed.

Gorbachev recalled his own friendly experience talking with average Americans. He suggested that perhaps the USA needs its own perestroika.

He reminded us that it was President John F Kennedy who said “We need peace but not a Pax Americana ….. not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women”.

Gorbachev continued saying, “The current situation is not right. We need to change that. Let us stop provoking each other. Let us stop trying to tear up other countries. …. Our two countries are still central to world peace. We need peace in order to resolve other world problems.  1% of the world controls 90% of the wealth. The ruling class is happy with this but things cannot continue as they are …. budgets smell of gunpowder….. fear is being cultivated. This is resulting in a new arms race.”

Gorbachev asked “Does the USA want Russia to just submit?” Referring to Russia’s history with invasions by France in the early 1800’s and Germany in the 1940’s he explained “This is a country that can never submit…. There will be no winners in a nuclear war.”

In a sober assessment of Trump’s first 100 days as President, Vladimir Kozin concluded:

Aggravating these facts of life is the deep degree of mistrust between Washington and Moscow, which the Americans spawned and have continued to nurse.  A vicious circle has emerged in the interrelationship between weapons and trust … Clearly such an irrational phenomenon cannot go on indefinitely.

From both Kozin and Gorbachev the message was clear: We need to do something to restore discussion and stop the slide toward ever greater tension and danger.

President Trump: Toss Your Generals’ War Escalation Plans In the Trash

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By the end of this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor HR McMaster will deliver to President Trump their plans for military escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. President Trump would be wise to rip the plans up and send his national security team back to the drawing board – or replace them. There is no way another “surge” in Afghanistan and Iraq (plus a new one in Syria) puts America first. There is no way doing the same thing over again will succeed any better than it did the last time.

Near the tenth anniversary of the US war on Afghanistan – seven years ago – I went to the Floor of Congress to point out that the war makes no sense. The original authorization had little to do with eliminating the Taliban. It was a resolution to retaliate against those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. From what we know now, the government of Saudi Arabia had far more to do with the financing and planning of 9/11 than did the Taliban. But we’re still pumping money into that lost cause. We are still killing Afghanis and in so doing creating the next generation of terrorists.

The war against ISIS will not end with its defeat in Mosul and Raqqa. We will not pack up and go home. Instead, the Pentagon and State Department have both said that US troops would remain in Iraq after ISIS is defeated. The continued presence of US troops in Iraq will provide all the recruiting needed for more ISIS or ISIS-like resistance groups to arise, which will in turn lead to a permanent US occupation of Iraq. The US “experts” have completely misdiagnosed the problem so it no surprise that their solutions will not work. They have claimed that al-Qaeda and ISIS arose in Iraq because we left, when actually they arose because we invaded in the first place.

General David Petraeus is said to have a lot of influence over HR McMaster, and in Syria he is pushing for the kind of US troop “surge” that he still believes was successful in Iraq. The two are said to favor thousands of US troops to fight ISIS in eastern Syria instead of relying on the US-sponsored and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to do the job. This “surge” into Syria would also lead to a lengthy US occupation of a large part of that country, as it is unlikely that the US would return the territory to the Syrian government. Would it remain an outpost of armed rebels that could be unleashed on Assad at the US President’s will? It’s hard to know from week to week whether “regime change” in Syria is a US priority or not. But we do know that a long-term US occupation of half of Syria would be illegal, dangerous, and enormously expensive.

President Trump’s Generals all seem to be pushing for a major US military escalation in the Middle East and south Asia. The President goes back and forth, one minute saying “we’re not going into Syria,” while the next seeming to favor another surge. He has given the military much decision-making latitude and may be persuaded by his Generals that the only solution is to go in big. If he follows such advice, it is likely his presidency itself will be buried in that graveyard of empires.

Dial “D” for Dead

Do they even
With their WLAN
Sitting beside
The fresh melded earth
Talk or text
The dead
They miss?
I wondered
As I whiled
Within the walls
Of the weary
And the lost
Beneath the stones
The grass
The wilted flowers
For fresh they could
No longer ask.
Or was it that
The whispering wind
The sombre sun
Upon that soil
That told those youth
I counted six
To touch their screens
And feel their hearts
If flowers for this grave
Were still worth
Their toil.

A Parliament Of Owls Deliberating Upon The Delicate Seriousness Of Your Slender Walk

It is ridiculous and preposterous
just how far we will in fact go
to avoid a futile confrontation
with a loved one.
Over the flotsam and jetsam
accumulating, slowly yet surely,
like crow’s feet and worry-wrinkles,
towards the branching road
that leads to parting ways.
He’s not walked home this way before,
and she’s never stayed out that late.
When ‘Meaning’ crumbles
beneath your feet
and you rue entering the starting gate
as you approach a nonsensical
yet obvious finishing line.
The moon yawns its gaze away
as you stumble and relent,
to climb back upon that merry-go-round,
for one more desperate goodbye kiss.

We are so great

High fructose fed
fat, running on treadmills, running
on credit, running behind
glass walled fitness facilities,

we are

four wheel drive SUV’s
driving on eight paved lanes,
eating fake nacho flavored
Doritos in the back seat
playing video games,

we are

five percent of the world
consuming twenty-five percent
of fossil fuels, consuming,
number one, best, first
in garbage production,

we are

mother of all bombs.
Look out, we have more,
more deployed nuclear warheads,
more than you, more than anyone.

How great we are.

Another Alternative Fact?

Those cars weren’t flipped like
flapjacks, like Hot Wheel toys—
Tornadoes didn’t rip those houses
Apart like dollhouses; or
Bombed out Libyan, Afghan,Iraqi,
Pakistani, Syrian, Yemeni homes—
It’s a Chinese Hoax!
Alternative Fact!
The Reverse—
counterfactual
Fake News
making our presidential-looking
Führer look bad, like anti-semitic cemetery
tales; like Frederick Douglass faux pas…

War Child’s Reply

Let me keep my armour
Because promises are like flowers
The more things change
The more I become strange
My guns will be the tool I use
To plant bullet seeds in the ground
So that promises can grow like flowers
Then wither within weeks
These land mines are mine
My heritage
My coming of age
I can’t hear the time bombs ticking
I became deaf from all my secret screaming
The more things change
The more I go out of range
I’m just war child now.