No, actually, this thing is not at all like that thing: Trump, Russia, and “McCarthyism”

The astonishing closeness of Donald Trump and his campaign to the current (and increasingly murderous) Russian regime has attracted comment from Democrats (and other patriots). That in turn has attracted counter-comment from some of Trump’s defenders (and their dupes, and random Clinton-haters, plus some stray lefties still feeling the loyalty to the anti-anti-Communist cause even though Russia is now functionally fascist rather than communist) complaining about “McCarthyism.”

The comparison seemed to me so clearly absurd as to be scarcely worth the effort of refutation. But, as it seems to have some legs, here goes: Continue reading “No, actually, this thing is not at all like that thing: Trump, Russia, and “McCarthyism””

Lobbying for tyranny

Two big Washington lobbying shops helped Manafort try to make Ukraine a Russian puppet state. Neither registered as a foreign agent. Was that legal?

So it turns out that two major Washington lobbying outfits were involved with Paul Manafort’s attempt to turn Ukraine into a Russian puppet state. In good bipartisan fashion, one was Democratic (the Podesta Group, headed by the brother of the Clinton campaign manager) and the other Republican (Mercury, featuring Vin Weber). Even assuming that what they did was legal, it was morally disgusting.

What Manafort did was almost certainly illegal. He recruited Podesta and Weber as lobbyists. While the actual checks to them came from a sketchy-Brussels-base NGO called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, Manfort was working directly for the Party of Regions (indirectly, of course, for the Kremlin). If he was arranging for lobbyists, then he was acting as an “agent of a foreign principal” and should have registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

But both the Podesta Group and Mercury insist that they had no idea who they were really working for, and that as lobbyists for an NGO rather than a foreign government or political party they didn’t have to register. Apparently they had legal advice to that effect, and maybe that advice was sound.

However, that advice does not seem (to my unlawyerly eye) to track the actual text of the statute. FARA defines a “foreign principal” to include:

a partnership, association, corporation, organization, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.

There’s no exclusion for NGOs.

An “agent of a foreign principal” is one who:

(i) engages within the United States in political activities for or in the interests of such foreign principal;
(ii) acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal;
(iii) within the United States solicits, collects, disburses, or dispenses contributions, loans, money, or other things of value for or in the interest of such foreign principal; or
(iv) within the United States represents the interests of such foreign principal before any agency or official of the Government of the United States

So unless there’s an NGO exemption hidden somewhere in the caselaw, it’s hard to see how either Podesta or Mercury didn’t break the law by acting as agents of a foreign principal without registering.
If not, the law needs changing, given how easy it is to set up a front-group NGO.
And while we’re at it, someone better start paying attention to the way that Citizens United allows foreign corporations (or just foreign oligarchs) to set up U.S. subsidiaries or firms that are then free to engage in “political speech” without anyone knowing who’s calling the shots.

Ukraine: who are you gonna believe?

On human rights in Ukraine, you can believe the career human rights advocates or the career secret policeman.

For reasons I can only partly fathom, some progressive pundits (though, I’m happy to say, no progressive politicians) have decided to accept a career secret policeman as the authoritative source of information about human rights in Ukraine. For balance, here are the views of a career human-rights advocate, based on the report of the professional staff of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Short version: Yanukovych’s Bikram security police were practicing torture with impunity before he fled the country; the armed anti-government activity in the West came only after months of official misconduct; human rights problems have declined since the change of regime, except in Russian-ruled Crimea, where there are now systematic violations; there has not been systematic right-wing nationalist violence; the Jewish community is not threatened; and pro-Russian forces are deliberately spreading misinformation with the goal of terrifying the Russian-speaking population in the East into thinking that their rights are under attack.

There’s a strange analogy between left-wing denialism about what Russia is up to in Ukraine and right-wing denialism about global warming. In each case, distaste for the possible policy implications of recognizing facts (worsened relations with Russia, environmental controls and energy taxes) leads to refusal to acknowledge the facts. It’s possible to argue that the U.S. should exercise restraint in responding to Russian aggression. It’s plain silly to pretend that Russian aggression isn’t happening.

The Nation backs Col. Putin

If The Nation’s endorsement of the Russian seizure of Crimea doesn’t make you spew, I envy your digestion.

Some time ago in this space, I identified The Nation as part of the “American-power-hating left” that fawns over Vladimir Putin, Asked for chapter and verse, I couldn’t find it, and removed the offending reference. (See the discussion in comments.)

It turns out that I was premature – would it be boastful to say “prescient”? – rather than actually wrong. Here’s The Nation’s editorial take on the first territorial acquisition in Europe made by military force since Hitler and Stalin launched World War II by trying to divide Poland between them. If it doesn’t make you spew, your stomach is stronger than mine. Bottom line: Now that Russia has taken Crimea, the only think to do is “negotiate” on the basis that Crimea is now part of Russia. In those negotiations, Russia is to give up nothing, while Ukraine is to be treated as a subordinate power whose sovereignty is modified to whatever extent its larger neighbor desires. If Russia wants Eastern Ukraine to “have a reasonable degree of autonomy” (i.e., be ruled by Russian proxies), why should anyone object? And of course the Ukrainian government must be “stripped of neofascists.” That is, the range of acceptable political opinion in Ukraine is to be determined in Moscow. No mention of “stripping” the Zhirinovsky faction from Russian politics, of course.

A full analysis would be a bore, so just a few samples of facts from which the editors of The Nation don’t bother to mention:

1. Russia agreed to “respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders” in the Budapest Memorandum, in return for Ukraine’s de-nuclearisation.

2. Thirteen of the fifteen members of the UN Security Council voted for a resolution holding that the Russian annexation of Crimea is illegitimate. Naturally, Russia vetoed it; even China merely abstained. (The Nation: “Crimea, now annexed to Russia …” The editorial does note that the seizure was a violation of international law, but hastily adds that the United States has no right to complain. Why flawed U.S. foreign policy implies that the Ukrainians should acquiesce in having their territory seized isn’t explained.)

3. Russian aggression does not enjoy universal support within Russia. The sort of liberal-minded Russians who, if they were Americans, would subscribe to The Nation, oppose it; some of them do so while under house arrest. There have been large anti-war protests in Moscow.

4. The acting president of Ukraine has announced that he will not approve the hasty and unfortunate (to say the least) action of the parliament that would have removed Russian as a second official language in areas with strong Russian minorities. Other than that, there is no actual evidence that anyone civil liberties are threatened Ukraine. Russia, of course, is a different story.

5. Two newspeople for the Kremlin-owned American version of RT have left, one voluntarily and one not, over RT’s Ukraine coverage. One of them is a 9/11 Truther, which gives you some idea the sort of “progressives” Putin employs. The Russian version of RT features a neo-Nazi as a “German journalist.”

6. In addition to grabbing Crimea, Russia is threatening to “protect” Russian minorities in Estonia and elsewhere. (I gather no one is allowed to mention the Sudetenland in this context, so I won’t.)

7. Putin is promoting a “Eurasian union” based more or less on the opposite of all Enlightenment values. His alliance with the Orthodox Church to suppress “foreign” religious activity, his homophobia (defending “traditional Russian values” from “aggressive minorities”), and his aggression are all part of the package.

But I urge you not to follow any of those links or believe what is in them. Otherwise you, too, might wind up “bellicose” and “hysterical,” in the authoritative view of the editors of The Nation. No sane person wants the U.S. to go to war over Crimea. But there’s a difference between admitting that an act of aggression can’t practically be reversed by force and pretending it’s not an act of aggression. The Obama Administration seems committed to making Putin and his cronies pay a price for what they’ve done. I understand why RT opposes them. Why The Nation does so is harder to figure. Maybe it’s just the persistence of a bad Cold War habits of reflexively opposing anything anti-Soviet. Susan Sontag got it right, and she still has it right:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or the New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

What’s bizarre is that, while it made a twisted kind of sense for leftists in the West to support what was nominally a left-wing government in the Soviet Union (never mind that it was actually an oligarchy), it makes no sense whatever for progressives to support a Russian government with a Rush Limbaugh ideology. Why is it hard to figure out which side to take, between an America led by a constitutional lawyer and a Russia headed by a career secret policeman?

Footnote I hadn’t seen this, or any reference to it. But Putin’s speech to the Reichstag State Duma has a remarkable passage, which completely trashes the idea pushed by some of his Western apologists that Russian troops didn’t move into Crimea:

… the President of the Russian Federation received permission from the Upper House of Parliament to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine. However, strictly speaking, nobody has acted on this permission yet. Russia’s Armed Forces never entered Crimea; they were there already in line with an international agreement. True, we did enhance our forces there; however – this is something I would like everyone to hear and know – we did not exceed the personnel limit of our Armed Forces in Crimea, which is set at 25,000, because there was no need to do so.

“Enhance” is very good, don’t you think?

Cheerful thoughts on Ukraine

A credentialed expert on Russian politics tells me the end is near for Putin’s dictatorship.

Just ran into Daniel Treisman, a credentialed expert on Russian politics, who told me back when Yeltsin was president (and Treisman was a grad student) that Putin was next and that he would fix himself in power. Short version of the dialogue:

DT: Interesting times.
MK: I told you your boy Putin was an SOB.
DT: He’s always been an SOB, but he didn’t use to be delusional.
MK: Huh?
DT: After fourteen years of cautious and skilful politics, he’s lost touch with reality. I knew his control was going to end, but this week brings the end much nearer.
MK: To be replaced by …?
DT: Something closer to democracy.

From his lips to God’s ears. Daniel was right when I was optimistic, so let’s hope that he’s right now that he’s optimistic.

Update Treisman’s more detailed thoughts.

Yanukovich’s media pawns

Last year, Breitbart, RedState, and PJ Media were publishing Yanukovich’s taking points. Paid, or for free.

In light of this week’s mass killings by thugs working for now-deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, last year’s Buzzfeed story (and its predecessor) about how Ukrainian government cash generated stories on right-wing websites seems even more interesting. Either writers for RedState, Breitbart, and PJ Media wrote stories for money, or they were dumb enough to do it for free. So far, they aren’t saying which.

Of course, the oppotunity to trash Hillary Clinton as an anti-Semite for supporting the position of most Ukrainian Jews, and to trash Obama as Putin puppet for opposing Yanukovich (now hoping that Putin will use the Russian Army to return him to power) was too good to pass up.

Footnote And what the hell was the Podesta Group doing working for these thugs?