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Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Damage: Part 7 - An Update

The Omnivore's Trump-voting uncle asked The Omnivore: "What has Trump done that is so bad." The Omnivore has written a lot about this--but it's time for an update.

Trump's administration mixes malice, incompetence, ignorance, and conspiracy-theory into a totally toxic sludge. Oh, you think The Omnivore is overblowing it or just being biased? Well, behold. The Omnivore is going to stick to things you cannot in good faith disagree with! Yes, you read that right--YOU, Trump-voter, will be forced to agree with all of this.


Malice

Trump's (really Stephen Miller's) plan for dealing with illegal immigration was to change the standing policies to prosecute (refer to the DoJ) 100% of caught border crossers--even if they said they were seeking asylum.

This was done, explicitly as a deterrent. Now--why would this deter? The reason is that border crossers with young children understand that the children will be traumatized by this (even if they are kept in relatively nice places). In other words: the plan is to traumatize children to deter parents.

  1. What About Evil People With Fake Kids? We have stats for that. It's 1/2 of 1%. That's not the reason for doing this (although it was floated as one--ex-post-facto). Nope.
  2. You Break The Law--You Lose Your Kids! Simple. Firstly, no. Improper Entry--the crime for border crossing--is a misdemeanor. Can the government take your grandkids if your daughter is caught speeding? Yeah--you'd be happy with that. Secondly the kids--the ones, you know, being traumatized--are innocent. To even attempt this excuse is abhorrent.
  3. We Had To Do Something. We did not. Illegal crossings are down well below their historic highs. Also: parents crossing with kids are not the problem in terms of crime.
  4. OBAMA DID IT TOO! Look, you idiot, Obama tried to minimize separations. Don't believe The Omnivore? Obama had a pilot program for light monitoring of families with kids that cost a whopping 36.00 per day. It was shut down by Trump. Comparing policies to minimize trauma to innocents to policies designed to maximize it? If you thought that for a second, you should turn the fuck off your TV. Seriously. You don't know how to get news.

Analysis: Despite the fact that you were lied to a bunch, it should now be clear that the plan that Miller (who ditched his Latino friends in high school, telling them he could not be friends with a Latino) has enacted is, in fact, malice. A plan to maximize harm to children--no matter your political objective--is evil. You know--and you know from childhood--that the ends do not justify the means.

Incompetence

If parts of the Trump admin are malicious, a great deal more of it is simply incompetent. Want a prime example? North Korea. 
This is a photo of Trump saluting Kim--who has his hand out to shake. What happened was that Kim saluted Trump and then Trump returned the salute as Kim stuck his hand out. It was, in fact, a human mistake to make. HOWEVER - there is a reason that presidents are usually prepped all to hell and back before meeting foreign leaders: they are to know the protocol and not give monstrous dictators huge propaganda wins. 

What does this matter? This sort of thing--Kim looking dominant over Trump--improves Kim's standing with his generals. His generals are the people who would theoretically remove him if they were going to change the regime. That means Trump, fucking around, has strengthened Kim's hand in negotiations since he is stronger internally.

The summit was a disaster for other reasons. Kim got a bunch of of stuff he wanted (meetings with a world power as an equal--something generations of Kims have sought, cessation of SoK/US readiness exercises, and pleasure from China--their chief supporter). The US got nothing. Trump claimed the problem was solved--maybe you believed him? It wasn't--and now you can see that.

There is a way to avoid this nonsense: do things the right way. Your lower-level people hammer out a framework for a deal and THEN the presidents meet. Meeting Kim wasn't the problem. Meeting Kim incompetently is.

Analysis: There were a LOT of options here, honestly. The roll-out of the Muslim ban was incompetent. The DHS response to the courts ordering children reunited with their parents shows there was no planning or anything going into this policy shift. All this stuff--everything they do--is half-assed.

Ignorance

Is the Trump administration ignorant? It is difficult to say what they really think vs. what is "spin." For example, Trump tweeted that immigrants are coming now to get in on the DACA bandwagon (DACA only applies to immigrants who came here before 2007). The Tariffs plan seems to be ignorant as well: Trump has very little idea what trade-deficits we have with countries admitting he made up deficits with Canada and then he lied about being proven right.

When faced with his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, he asked "Who knew health care was so complicated?" The answer, unfortunately, was everyone but him. If you think Obamacare was bad, you should place your blame squarely on Trump for failure to repeal it. He claimed he could do this easily and completely fumbled the ball--out of ignorance.

Trump seems only vaguely familiar with how the legal system works--complaining about the filibuster when a majority of Republicans cannot agree on a bill. He apparently asked if we could invade Venezuela. You might not believe these things--or believe that Trump is just pretending not to know things in order to help push his agenda--but consider this: what move has Trump actually made that shows a command of knowledge? 

Analysis: It is difficult to determine if Trump policies are actually ignorant--or if that is just what he believes his base to be so he feels he can get away with things. However, we have him on the record as saying things that are, clearly, legitimate expressions of ignorance of key issues his admin has promised to tackle.

Conspiracy Theory

If there is one mindset that does the most damage to our country--and has all but destroyed the Republican's moral center--it is the adoption of conspiracy theory as a mindset. Trump, facing an investigation that is largely of his own making (due to incompetence in firing Comey) has settled on delegitimizing a stalwart Republican patriot in the eyes of his base. He claims that Mueller--a hero--is running a witch hunt, trying to get him by any means necessary.

He claims he was wire-tapped in his tower. He claims that an FBI "spy" was placed in his campaign. His attacks on the FBI and the DoJ have had a noticeable effect in weakening our institutions. People believe that the mainstream media literally invents stories. This is false. Trump has tried to claim sources did not exist when they were captured on audio. Trump claims millions and millions of illegals voted in the 2016 election when we know they did not.

And so on. 

The damage here is that more and more Trump voters are living in a false reality--one where the FBI is massively corrupt, where Russia is our ally, where Canada is an enemy. They believe that the media is full of liars and voting numbers are counting millions of fraudulent votes.  This is a disgrace to our country and dangerous for our democracy--and Trump embraces and spreads it.

Conclusion

We have covered this ground before--but we can see that these trends still continue and increase. Trump is damaging the fiber of America and our moral center and his enablers in government and the electorate cheer him on as we watch. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Parable of The Littlest Nazi

The Omnivore tells you a story you haven't heard before.

ONCE upon a time--and this was a while back when it was not fashionable to be a nazi--there was a nazi who lived in a small town. He was very hateful--but he was also very small--and when he talked in his racist way about the Jews and Blacks he would get the ever-living fuck beaten out of him. So he kind of stopped doing that.

But he was, still, a nazi--so he could not really help himself.

When he moved to a new town he hit upon a new idea: Now he talked about racial statistics. He would cite FBI statistics of crime. He would talk about wealthy Jews in banking and hollywood. He would cite numbers and data--and he, of course, would not shut up about it.

First people said: "You're kinda a racist nazi, dude."

To which he parried: "I am only stating facts! Ha! Got you! Debate my facts!!"

And then they beat the ever-living fuck out of him--because he was a nazi.

THE END.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Politics Of: Death Wish (2018)


This is a review of 2018's Bruce Willis vehicle Death Wish--the first part is a straight up review. The second does the politics and has all kinds of spoilers.

Death Wish (2018)

The original Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson, is gritty in a way that films today maybe can't. For one thing, it was contemporary--set on the mean streets of New York which is an iconic city--at a time when, well, they really were mean (and mean to white people--not just in the minority neighborhoods). Secondly, Bronson doesn't have Bruce Willis' charisma--but he is a more believable revenge killer.

Finally, the film itself looks different--and while The Omnivore couldn't tell you the differences without looking them up, the grain of the 1970's non-digital film is probably a subconscious marker to a more, erm, primal time.

In any event, the remake has Eli Roth at the helm--so gore is to be expected. It has Bruce Willis who, while older, is still plenty watchable--and it has revenge shootings and detective work and so on. The Omnivore went in with low expectations and a fast forward button and used it a couple of times--shortly--to blow through the home invasion and a little of the family time.

The Omnivore could go the rest of his life with movies just showing a placard saying "And then his whole family was murdered so now he's on a revenge kick." Seriously. Also, for Spider-Man? Don't ever show uncle Ben dying again. We can live without that too.

However, once we get the set up and the mourning out of the way, we get a reasonably good movie. Roth visited the Chicago police station to see how they looked and worked (one joke: a note on the unsolved case board says "We're Gonna Need  A Bigger Board" came from this). The detective work feels competent. The medical stuff (Willis is a surgeon) feels reasonably tight, and the societal reaction works nicely.

Roth got real radio personalities to do the bits and just gave them descriptions of the situation so they could do all the dialog all themselves. For some of the memes that people make as a response to the killings, Roth went to an Internet meme aggregator and had them help out.

So the texture of the movie feels right. The problem, if there is one, is that, as noted above, the issue that our society has with violence now is either black-on-black crime or hate crimes. The target of the movie generally does not live in fear--even if they they live in Chicago. In the remake, the cops weren't just don't-care-useless--they did care, were pretty much the good guys--and, it's possible--would have caught the dudes (they got a break and it's impossible to say if they would have followed up successfully).

The bleakness of the Bronson film just isn't extant today--and so--Death Wish becomes more of a pretty violent character drama and less social commentary.

Let's do the politics.

The Politics of Death Wish (2018)

The Omnivore expected an extreme 2A movie and, while it fell short of X-TREAM it is, to be honest, pretty 2A. Explicitly in the movie, Willis says he feels responsible because he failed to protect his wife and family (he wasn't home at the time, so being strapped wouldn't help--and the home invaders got the daughter and the wife by surprise--so unless they were panther quick and carrying inside their house while cooking dinner . . .).

On the other hand, the defense-against-home-invasion scenario plays out at the end, when Willis returns from the hospital with his daughter who has woken up from the coma she was in (his wife was killed) and the lead crook--along with some more hired guns--comes back to finish the job (she could, maybe, ID him).

At this point Willis is strapped, knows it's coming (or at least sees someone closing in and knows what it means), and even has the odd surprise in store.

The home invasion scenario is important because it is like the ticking-time-bomb scenario that justifies torture: it is the one situation where the cops can never get there fast enough, your family is at grave risk, and if you don't have a gun, you're pretty fucked. Given the specifics of the home invasion scenario--whatever the reality (the ticking time bomb scenario has never happened) it is hard to argue against personal gun ownership.

Interestingly we did NOT see Chicago's gun laws make it too hard to get a weapon to defend oneself. When Willis entertains a roaring rampage of revenge he goes to a gun shop and is told he'll have to do a background check and a weapons class--but "no one ever fails." It'll take a couple of weeks (or something)--but that's not what stops him.

The idea that the gun will be registered in his name and he is on camera buying it--and he plans to kill a bunch of people with it--is what turns him away. So, of course, a gun literally falls at his feet when a thug is brought in to the ER and they missed the piece. This is an interesting choice on Roth's part: It makes the case for having traceable gun sales nation-wide and having deep background checks.

The criminals are white (one is Latino)--which isn't especially surprising: some of the drug dealers are black--the movie doesn't get racial--which is fine. It also doesn't overly glamorize the Grim Reaper--even though he is just killing criminals. The radio personalities are realistically leery of embracing him although they do give him his props. In the end, after a massive home invasion with assault rifles and multiple hit-men, the cops, realizing full well who has been doing the killing--opt to let him go: after all, he was pretty much right to kill these guys--even though the daughter didn't remember anything, whether or not Willis did anything they were coming back to kill them both no matter what.

So the movie isn't a propaganda piece. It is 2A--but not "ammosexual." That's not bad--and the movie isn't bad if you can skip some of the melodrama. The arguably less political Sicario was more 2A than Death Wish--and maybe that's one of the reasons that Death Wish 2018 came off as a little toothless while the original prefigured Bernie Goetz by 10 years.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Politics of: A Wrinkle In Time

Someone told The Omnivore he should do more movie reviews--and The Omnivore is nothing if not conscientious! A Wrinkle In Time is now available on Pay Per View--and The Omnivore paid! How was it? What did it mean? The first part is a general review. The second part contains spoilers.

A Wrinkled Time

The book A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle is both beloved and complex for a book of its era and audience. When The Omnivore heard it was getting the deluxe treatment, The Omnivore was interested! The Omnivore counts himself as one of the story's fans--and, if it was done right, it could be an amazing--and sometimes chilling--family classic.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The movie clocks in below Disney's attempt at Tomorrow Land--a movie with a very, very good idea, some very good actors, and a construction that, in the end, was equal parts unsatisfying and overwrought. Tomorrow Land had no book it was based on to disappoint and had some very good sequences--but saddled with a book that is a classic and a lack of sequences that commanded attention--Wrinkle falls short of even that.

The kid performances are alright--but the shocking standout is Levi Miller playing, of all people Calvin. In the book Calvin is an important character--but he is secondary in importance to Meg, Charles Wallace, and perhaps even the Mrs's. Here, given a nearly impossible script, he is the actor who comes off the most comfortable with the role. Still, if he's the high point, the story itself is the low point. Wrinkle was never going to be easy to adapt as a great deal of it takes place in either dialog or inside Meg's head--also, it is surprisingly dense in a tell-don't-show fashion (and puts the lie to truck-loads of writing advice that goes the other way).

Still, for all the difficulties, the team has done a remarkably poor job of it. Without going into spoilers (next section), it is fair to say that the team did a "workman-like" job--they put in back-story that wasn't in the book. They cut a bunch of stuff out with the literary equivalent of a hatchet (the twins? Gone!). They made sure that parts of it looked right--but the results were more like false advertising than adherence to the material. It didn't have to be this way--but in the end, Wrinkle is more than just a disappointment or a missed opportunity--it's actively working against what made the book a classic.

The movie is good to look at and would be a decent outing if it weren't taking material that was, frankly, more deserving of the Lord of the Rings treatment (or, at least, The Hunger Games treatment) and giving it the ABC After School Special. Let's look at how they blew it.

The (Politics and Design) of A Wrinkle In Time

The Omnivore is frankly more interested in the design of the plot--but this is a political blog--so we'll do the politics first. What was done to Wrinkle was, precisely, what conservatives complain about in Hollywood film-making. To wit--

  • The deeply Christian nature of the books is utterly removed. As with Narnia, the religion inherent in Wrinkle was not hit-you-over-the-head. It could have been left in without breaking anything or preaching. It wasn't though. Why? We don't know--aesthetic choices of the filmmakers? The movie is poorer for it--the heart of the story is removed and replaced with glurge.
  • The casting of Oprah was greeted with groans from conservatives--if she were to run against Trump in 2020, it was considered that, at the time, she might be a threat. It doesn't look like she wants to--and Wrinkle isn't a launch vehicle for her anyway--but the idea that a potential candidate paired with the right movie (and Wrinkle could have been the right movie--Chelsea gave it a shout-out at the convention, remember?) would be a dangerous combination. As it is, Oprah does an okay job and, well, that's it. Air ball.
  • Everything is mixed race for "no reason." The Omnivore has no problem with the casting. It was all fine as far as it goes--and there was no problem with mixing things up a bit. However, if you want to take the conservative opinion on this, asking why it was done leaves only one real answer--because it was hip? Meg doesn't get any racial stuff added--which is good--but she also doesn't get any particular difference in perspective for being black. In short, it's diversity in casting for diversity's sake. Again, The Omnivore doesn't mind this--but it's more than a little glaring.
Let's talk about the design.

As The Omnivore said up top, Wrinkle had a bunch of problems that, say, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (or The Golden Compass--much less The Hunger Games) did not. These were:
  • Very, very little action. There is almost no action in the book. It's all cerebral and the sense of threat is ambient--but not direct (they don't get chased down or anything).
  • The plot meanders a good bit: they meet the Mrs.'s. They go to paradise-planet. They go visit the Happy Medium (argh), THEN they go to Camazots--where things take off. In the book, the payoff for Camazots works. In the movie, they have about 1hr to get there and there's a ton of stuff that has to be stuffed into that hour. That was going to be a problem no matter how they did that. Comparatively, a bunch of other family classics have more cinematic pacing.
  • It's All In Her Head. The Tell-Don't-Show stuff is hard and heavy in Wrinkle. It opens with a Dark and Stormy Night--and then Meg's inner narrative info-dumps her family with the twins, her trouble with school, Charles Wallace's psychic powers, Mom's inner strength, dad's disappearance, and some foreshadowing for Mrs. Whatist (who shows up quickly then). 
To get around this, the movie introduces mean-girls in school so we can see her get made fun of. It chops the twins out, killing off the twin-centric potential sequels. It gives us some dad-vanished visions and . . . removes Charles Wallace's psychic abilities (kind of--they're still  . . . kind of there--but in the book he can like scan people).

This leaves the opening weak and Meg a little unlikable. When Whatsit shows up, it's out of nowhere. On the screen she falls flat.

The second problem is that the soggy middle of A Wrinkle In Time (the first Tesser, Uriel, and the Happy Medium) are needed to set up what the kids are going to do: venture into the heart-of-darkness to get their dad back--the angles can't go themselves). 

Again: this was never going to be that easy--in the book the kids get to Uriel, get told they're now conscripts in the Warriors-For-Light league--visit the awful pun so they can see the enemy (The Darkness), and the off to Camazots. It's short, info-dumpy, and while the text plays really well off the build up (we are given to think that the Mrs's might be dottering old fools at first--and then, well, something cool, and finally literal angels)--and the vision of a star sacrificing its light to fight The Darkness is powerful--the movie has none of that.

Instead it: has an extended Uriel scene where the kids fly around on the back of Mrs. Whatsit in dragon form, introduces Camazots a literal dark cloud that comes out of the sky (for no reason)--and is described as THE GREAT EVIL IN ALL THE UNIVERSE. In the books, Darkness was the evil. Camazots was just one element. In the movie, IT is responsible for all suffering on earth. This was unnecessary and kind of stupid.

The Happy Medium scene doesn't explain to the kids what's going on--instead it becomes a "use your love for dad to find him"--and then everyone is shocked--SHOCKED--when he's on Camazots. The Happy Medium scene is also extended, played for laughs, and gender swapped. It wasn't an especially good part of the book and it's an even weaker part of the movie.

Then, instead of just going to Camazots, the Mrs' decide the mission is too dangerous for the kids and tessers them home--except Meg's love for dad takes over the angel's teleportation and zips them to Camazots instead. Oops.

The wish to have the Mrs.'s be "responsible adults" makes sense in a modern movie--would you send kids into 1984 to rescue someone from Room 101? No. But in the book there is a fairy-tale like quality that this harms. They should've stuck to the text here--it turned out the kids were (in the book) pretty well suited to rescuing dad--especially with a high-level esper (Wallace) on their side. Maybe give Calvin a 9mm or something?

Unfortunately, Camazots is replaced with a holodeck. The kids are moving through not a real-world--but some kind of VR. This is interesting to look at--but it lacks authority. The man with the red eyes is modestly well done--but in the end what we get is a bunch of VR stuff for no good reason, then Meg finds dad (with the glasses she got from the angels, as in the book--mostly) and . . . this sets up the one action scene that was IN the books--they try to rescue Charles Wallace from IT--can't--and have to have dad tesser out--which he doesn't do well.

Meg is blinded and they run into "Mother Beast"--some really cool aliens that care for them until Meg can go back and take Wallace away from IT.

This would be great--except by this time, the movie has about 20 minutes left and so it has dad teleport out, Meg stay behind, and use the POWER of LOVE to not just rescue Charles Wallace (from inside a big, dark, neural-net--the black brain on a dais is, alas, gone) but actually kill It.

What?

Yeah. She kills it. So now earth is kinda saved. Go Meg.

Needless to say, this cheapens the Universal Evil, the book's interesting conceit that these are kids--they can rescue dad--but they aren't going to go nova and fight darkness like the stars did--and, well, everything else. It's a "Feel Good" ending for a movie that didn't need or want it.

Conclusions




A good movie of A Wrinkle In Time is yet to be made. The translation from page to film needs a LOT more work than this team gave it. Once they fumbled that, it was all over. Maybe HBO or someone can do a miniseries?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Russia Scenario



The Omnivore was asked "What is your scenario for Trump-Russia." It's a decent question--there is a great deal of speculation, inference, and leaks (or "leaks") to contend with. That's not even counting various conspiracy theories. So let's look.

On One Hand

Of the key pieces of what we know that we know, there are two strong indicators: 1. Trump is certainly acting like he's guilty of something. He he fired Comey for looking into Russia--and he wanted Sessions--a loyalist--to run the operation.

Secondly, we know that Don Jr. would very happily have colluded with Russia given the opportunity (from his emails).

Extending from these two points we also know that:

  1. Russia interfered to help over other potential nominees and then against Hillary.
  2. Trump's policy has been extremely and egregiously Russia-friendly (you can say all you like about "Trump being tougher than Obama"--but when you look into that you discover that (a) Obama, by the end, was getting a lot tougher than he was in his reset phase, (b) that Trump took over after the big interference and chose to essentially do nothing--or less than nothing in most cases and (c) when you point to something tough he did do, it turns out it was someone else's idea and he fought it tooth and nail.)
On The Other

The charges that the Trump campaign was too poorly managed to "collude with anyone" have a certain resonance. They were certainly chaotic, undergoing staff churn, and had a voter turn-out plan that was basically "I'm the most racist guy running." How exactly could they collude? We are pretty sure Putin didn't meet with Trump--so how would that conversation go? Would Manafort spin tales in Trump's ear about changing the policy on Ukraine in the GOP platform (and Trump would find ways to pressure the delegates--the same way that Obama pressured the IRS to go after the Tea Party--in a way that mysteriously leaves no fingerprints?).

No--the Trump campaign was a dumpster fire that won on the back of dislike for Hillary and, well, you know (racism). They were not a well-oiled-machine.

So what's the scenario?

Two Words: Money Laundering

The Omnivore suspects that all things being equal the Steele dossier is mostly correct. That is: 1. Putin had goods on Hillary and Trump (Hill from her emails, Trump from his ventures around Russia) 2. Trump had / has long been involved with OC people in Russia through varying shades of gray real estate deals, and while his people--including his kids--may not know what the policy on Ukraine should fucking be and may not have known how what "Hillary dirt" would be worth--or even how to structure a quid-pro-quo deal for it with Russia ("You want me to say what? I don't understand. Putin? I don't understand what you're asking!") there is one thing they could certainly do: make money.

If there is collusion with Russia, The Omnivore suspects that it takes these forms.

The Manafort Connection

Paul Manafort is a rock solid political operator. He knows what Russia wants from Ukraine (without Ukraine, they say in Russian schools, Russia is a country. With Ukraine, Russia is an empire). He knows who to talk to in order to get to Putin's ear. All of that. He would be the person who would counsel Trump on Russian policy. 

It wouldn't have to be quid-pro-quo for Trump: All Manafort would need to do is say "no lethal weapons to Ukraine, Trump--Russia will like us for that. Putin will be your pal" and Trump, who does not give a shit about Ukraine but has wanted Putin to be his best friend since Miss Universe Moscow would be like "Great! Let's call the guys writing the platform!" "No, boss," says Manafort. "Don't come on too strong. Let me get someone on the phone for you and you can make your wishes known without laying down the heavy hand."

"Good thinking," says Trump.

Bought And Sold. And Sold.

Almost no one--including Trump--thought he was going to win. This extended to Don Jr. and Eric and everyone else. However, they had a unique position of advantage from which to do deals--and, according the guy spearheading a look into Spain's Russian-backed organized crime, the conversation that Don Jr. had with the Russian Oligarchs / Mafia could be bad. "Trump's son should be concerned," said the investigation leader who knows what was recorded. 

Of course we now see Trump trying to bring back ZTE while Ivanka gets trademarks in China--related? Probably didn't hurt, right? Is there any reason to think that (a) Trump wasn't doing shady stuff in NY real estate before and (b) that he would stop dealing with these guys while running for president? No--he just refused to disclose. To be fair, he got away with it.

The Scenario

So if their was collusion it looks like this:

To Trump: Trump believes he is a natural friend of Putin's. Both are "tough guys." Both "know a good deal when they see one!" He admires Putin's strength and doesn't really think to hard about Putin being a murderer. The left probably overblows it anyway, right? So sure--he got some advice to go easy on them. Didn't Obama have a reset button too?

But his business deals? Mueller better damn not look into that--he was doing stuff with the Russians that better stay swept under the carpet.

To Don Jr: Jr. likes to mix it up. He wants to grind Clinton--make her hurt. He'd love to get some juicy dirt on her--and gloat about it on twitter as she burns. Of course he also fancies himself a deal-maker--so when people reach out to him--about deals--he goes and listens.  "Hey," he thinks, "All I'm doing is listening, right?" Whether it is to Russian OC, Russian Intel, or whoever--it's just listening. Right? If some Russian "overpays" for a Trump property? That's just bad business! If someone wants to give me a good business deal and my dad just happens to be president? Or maybe president? Why not--who wouldn't??

By the time we have taken a few steps down this road, though, we start having to keep things quiet.

To The Internal Operators: There are at least two--maybe three--players in this who know this isn't innocent. These are Paul Manfort, Erick Prince (blackwater, Betsy DeVos), and maybe Cohen. These people know the score because it's their profession. They know where they can meet without being scrutinized by the feds (hopefully). They understand the big picture: Russia, via currency transactions, wants to get its hooks into Trump so it can realize its expansionist policy. It will do this through organized crime / oligarchs and will play for keeps. Cohen, for his part, may not see all the upper echelon stuff--but he's moving enough money around to have a clue. He decides he wants some for himself and shakes down AT&T among others. We should also count Flynn in here--he, while he was in the campaign, was definitely dipping into the trough.

Other Players - Trying To Keep Control: The Kushners and others would probably be happy with imposing their anti-immigrant agenda and running some mild grift--but by the time Trump has run the White House, Jared knows he has a problem--this whole enterprise is sprawling and has been out of control for a long time. Flynn is doing who-knows-what--with who-knows-who (Turkey). He knows Don Jr. has met a bunch of shady characters: Did anything happen? Roger Stone seems to be playing footsie with Wikileaks--and Kush knows Cambridge Analytica is hard-core dirty (whether or not they are effective). He now has to "Shut the reactor down" before they all go to jail.

His dad went to jail--he--more than anyone--knows it could happen. He decides, with some credibility, that the only way to get a handle on all this is to talk to Russia--but he can't use normal channels because they're monitored--so he goes for a "back channel." His goal here is to (a) keep them happy so they don't release kompromat on Trump or his kids--and (b) try to limit the amount of malfeasance. When the back channel doesn't work, he's worried. 

When Trump starts thinking about firing Comey, Kushner jumps at the chance: he realizes Comey doesn't like Trump--and in these people's world, everything is personal. The idea that replacing Comey with another stand-up lawman would intensify the investigation doesn't ever cross his mind.

Did This Happen?
 
Hell if The Omnivore knows--some of it happened--but we don't  yet know why. There are various behaviors (firing Comey), and data points (money movement through Cohen) that certainly look like money laundering. We know there were meetings--we know there were lies--so? The Omnivore, like everyone else, will need to wait and see--but this is your mission, Trumpster: make a case against this. 

Good luck.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trump Goes Long on Nork--May Come Up Short

Kim and Trump are EXACTLY The Same Size!

The Omnivore is, as you know, constant reader, no fan of Trump--but, as we are where we are, The Omnivore wants to give him his due: he's going to try to do something with North Korea--and also Iran--and in some ways these are very different--but in one way they are identical: They are VERY hard problems to solve--and the stakes could be measured in 10's of thousands of lives--or even, potentially, millions.

So while The Omnivore watches with trepidation as seems to get in over his head almost immediately--and makes moves The Omnivore think are nothing shy of dunderheaded--The Omnivore also has to credit him: (a) Nothing has blown up yet and (b) Trump is aiming, at least, in the right direction in a lot of ways. In other words: The Omnivore would not want this job and, hey, respect to Trump for taking it seriously.

So let's look at how Trump's scattershot approach is actively undermining his hopes. There are five major players not including the US:

  1. North Korea: Has reasonably advanced nuclear capacity. Could theoretically hit the American mainland. Sees its nukes as a guarantee of survival and playing on the world stage.
  2. Iran: Maybe 1 year from a bomb. Has advanced missile technology. Wants a nuclear shield from which to conduct its (bad) international policy.
  3. China: A major and adversarial trading partner of the US. Has plans to replace us as the dominant position by 2025. Has strong ties to North Korea (is 90% of their trades).
  4. Russia: Adversarial opponent of the US. Has ties to North Korea and, more strongly to Iran. Is very interested in Syria--which Iran is actively helping in.
  5. Europe: Relies on America for much of its military defense. Has been rankled by Trump's America First policy which has involved potentially hitting them 'accidentally' with tariffs (which were aimed primarily at China) and hitting them 'accidentally-on-purpose' with secondary sanctions (aimed at Iran).
The Nork Problem
North Korea is, in a way, simpler than Iran. While they are an evil state they are not involved in what we normally think of as "International Terror" (they are, of course--heavily--just not directed at us or in our hemisphere). If we can guarantee their prosperity and safety, they would not, theoretically, need nukes.

The problem with this is that they are also a severe prison state--Kim rules with an iron fist and his people are deeply traumatized and incredibly racist (they are taught to believe they are "the cleanest people" with the South Koreans as a close second. Kim knows that IBM, for example, can't set up a plant in North Korea and have American MBAs overseeing North Korean workers. 

He knows that if he gives up his nukes and accepts the carrot of international investment he will soon be told to open his country. This is what is called the Kadaffy-Model--and it ended with Kadaffy, having given up his WMD, being hunted and killed.

Kim does not want to be hunted and killed and there is no way that the US can guarantee the security of an atrocity engine. There is very little chance for American industries to invest--and if we could, we should not.

The Carrot: Economic investment that Kim probably cannot take much advantage of.
The Stick: Veeeery tough sanctions (which Russia and China would need to help with).

The Iran Problem


Iran is a harder problem in one dimension: They already are committed to international terror which does target America (IED's in Afghanistan came in two flavors: poorly made home grown ones--and deadly Iranian ones which killed our guys). Iran has just "won an election" in Iraq and their guy there, Sadar, may be willing to work with America--but we have just ordered them to give that up.

Furthermore: plans to attack Iran, while not the absolute disaster that attacking North Korea is, are almost as bad. Their nuclear sites are buried deep in mountains under the holy city of Quom. They cannot be bombed conventionally. We have, at least in theory, tunneling nukes--but we would need to violate our no-first-use rule. A ground invasion would find us facing a first-world (or, at least, very high second) on their home ground. It would be much worse than Iraq.

Iran's entire posture and philosophy of governance is based on having these external proxies which make trouble in the area. They don't need to mess with America unless they're over there--but they totally mess with American allies. In other words: they need to give up their entire ... governance in return for becoming ... something else. It's not clear what a non-aggressive Iran looks like--we haven't seen it in ages.

The Carrot: International Investment they can take advantage of (they are not nearly as bad or closed as North Korea).
The Stick: Super Sanctions the US is threatening.

The China Complication

China is the largest complicating factor in this dance. Firstly, China is planning on continuing to rip off our Intellectual Property and exert economic dominance over Asia Pacific (APAC). Since Trump pulled out of the TPP, he has disarmed his major weapon against that--without a fight.

Then Trump went after the "trade deficit." His plan has been to impose tariffs--but (a) that's easier said than done (and he has, at various junctures, backed off those). Secondly, China holds the keys to North Korea--Trump wants their help.

So rehabilitating ZTE--which was sanctioned for illegally trading with North Korea--is a perfect example of Trump's bind. He wants China's help--so he takes off sanctions on a Chinese company making spy-phones and trading with North Korea in an attempt to put pressure on North Korea.

China also knows that as soon as Trump doesn't "need his help" anymore he's going to start imposing sanctions or tariffs or whatever against their IP theft. As such: they don't want this to wrap up any too soon, do they?

China's Win: Draw out Trump's difficulty with North Korea as much as possible without it going over the edge.

China's Loss: If Trump de-nukes North Korea without leaving South Korea they have a security situation (one that they perceive) of a huge American military presence on their landmass (South Korea).

The Russian Complication

Russia isn't a trading partner of the US like China is--they're a geo-political adversary. Putin wants freedom to do his stuff (invade, spread influence, etc.) and wants to see the NATO alliance weakened or even broken up.

Russia has several cards to play here. First, they appear to have given nuclear secrets to North Korea--possibly enabling a hydrogen bomb (if so, that is a city-buster, even at low yield). They can trade with North Korea--or even provide them with raw material. They can't invest and can probably not send food-aid--but they want to make things tough for us.

Russia is also allies with Iran. They buy oil from them and they supply state of the art Russian war planes and so on.

Russia's Win: Support Iran as an ally. Weaken America or even drive a wedge with NATO.

Russia's Lose: If Iran followed Pompeo's 12pt plan they would leave Syria. Russia doesn't want that. They could probably live with it--but they don't want it. Iran "folding" would be a loss for Putin.

The European Complication

The Europeans don't want a nuclear Iran, North Korea, or to see Russia or China fully ascendant. Thus, they are "on our side." However, what they thought was that they had a good deal for Iran--that was also quite profitable--and America was prepared to [ do something ] on North Korea, which is a total mess.

When Trump pulled out of the Iran deal, they were, it is fair to say, fairly pissed. They now are back where we all started with sanctions on Iran--sanctions they don't want--and Iran deciding whether to enrich--or play along with Europe to keep the trade open.

Europe understands that if all their companies stop doing business with Iran, Iran will have no reason not to go for a bomb--and will have help from both China and Russia--powerful allies. So if we make them choose us or Iran--and they choose us, the outcome is, potentially, a rapidly nuclearizing Iran and, erm, explosive unrest in the region. This is a rock and a hard-place and Trump doesn't make it easy to like him.

How Trump Bullocked This

As The Omnivore said up top, this is a Gordian Knot of a problem with no good solution. As such, The Omnivore is stuck rooting for Trump to win--while watching as individual moves seem to dramatically increase the difficulty of doing so. How so?

  1. Pulling out of the Iran Deal: Do it after the freakin' summit, guys. By doing it ahead of the North Korea scandal, Trump now has a 2-front war to fight. He also has both nations watching the outcome in the other. If the sanction-push fails on Iran, then North Korea may believe that "maximal pressure" on them is a paper tiger. If it succeeds, they may conclude that Iran would be in a better position if it had nukes.
  2. Overplaying The Hand: Trump got carried away with the meeting. We don't really have a proposal for what Kim will do or get for doing it. Kim knows he can't open his regime--he'd be killed by the mob--he knows he can cajole Trump with empty promises (no more testing, no more production)--and if Trump can sell it on Fox News, he gets to keep everything.
  3. Not Doing The Homework: The way these summits are supposed to go, all the specifics are hammered out ahead of time and then the leaders get together and sign the thing. Trump clearly isn't doing that. His ideal end-state isn't clear. His understanding of what Kim wants seems to be lacking.
The Problem With CVID

Bolton has been talking about CVID as the standard for Nork and Iran. That's Complete Verifiable Irreversible Dismantlement (of the nukes). This equates to, among other things, any-time / any-where inspections. If you think countries like Iran or North Korea--who depend on police states to keep them going--are going to allow UN inspectors to run rampant across the country, think again: this is the kind of thing we can only impose if we defeat them.

So whatever the "summit" or the "sanctions" get to--it isn't a this-for-that negotiation, it's the equivalent of a military total defeat. Does Trump understand this? It sure doesn't look like it.

So What Would You Do, Smart Guy?

As The Omnivore noted above, Trump is in a really bad spot. The summit isn't so much a "bad idea" as it is a high-wire act. If Trump proves up to it, he could come out of there with something good. Trump's decision to go aggressively after Iran could pay off: if Iran folds under pressure? Great! But Trump is also risking a massive downside by playing fast and loose. What would The Omnivore do differently?
  1. Not leave the TPP. This is tossing your gun and picking up a knife before a gun-fight. Staying in the TPP would give him needed leverage with China.
  2. Wait to Pull Out of the Iran Deal. Give the Iran deal another six months to work on North Korea. Then, if you must, pull out.
  3. Determine Alternatives to CVID. CVID is a dream-state--but The Omnivore does not think it's realistic. What IS a valid win condition? Trump doesn't need to tip his hand on this--but he needs to know what it is. Does he? The Omnivore doubts it.
  4. The Omnivore would not both be imposing tariffs and sanctions (potentially) on Europe. This seems like a combination designed to damage relationships.
Conclusions

In November of 2016, Trump won the hardest job in the world. Now he has to do it. The Omnivore's assessment is that Trump is more motivated by what will sell to his domestic base (i.e. China promises to buy a bunch of American stuff in the future--but won't--and gets to keep stealing IP--which his base doesn't understand) than dealing with the complex realities (our trade deficit with China exists because it benefits large swaths of America). In the realm of politics in general, he can probably get away with this. In the nuclear arena, though, a lot more care is called for.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Trump Tower Conspiracy


The Trump voter I follow online believes that Trump Jr. was set up by Fusion GPS in the meeting. She is not as conspiratorially minded as the trump supporters I usually see online so it bears mention that she believes this--one of the more boggling conspiracies--when she doesn't, for example, think Hillary killed Seth Rich (at least I hope so--she was a bit overly generous to Hannity about his horrible little foray into Rich-Murder conspiracy land--but anyway)

In any event, let us look at this conspiracy theory:
  1. Natalia Veselnitskaya, the lawyer who was to provide the Clinton dirt, has worked with Fusion GPS--in fact, she met with the head of Fusion GPS both the morning of and after the Trump Tower meeting.
  2. She was barred from entry in the US--but got around it with a suspicious visa-issue from . . . The Obama administration (maybe? It turns out this isn't, as always happens, what this sounds like).
  3. SHE USED DATA FROM FUSION GPS TO DANGLE IN FRONT OF JR. This is clearly a set up.
Now, to be fair to the conspiracy theorists, if you believe the dossier is entirely invented--instead of researched--and if you believe that Fusion GPS--a firm hired by the Conservative Free Beacon to start the dossier work is irretrievably in the tank for Clinton then perhaps you can believe that Veselnitskaya is a Fusion GPS operative and was therefore a torpedo aimed at Trump's campaign.

Before we get to the end-game, let's look at 1-3.

The Evidence of Foul Play

Veselnitskaya wasn't in NYC to meet with Trump Jr. She was there for a case she was involved with that was (as far as we know) unrelated. In order to get into the country, she needed a visa. She got turned down for one by none other than Preet Bhara (alleged deep-stater!). She tried through the DOJ and then went through the state department and got it.

During the meeting she dangled, not Clinton's emails (at least from what parties have said) but some research done in 2014 from a Russian money-laundering case that potentially implicated two Clinton campaign staff--that research was done by . . . Fusion GPS.

In 2014.

So-- (a) She's not in town on shadowy business but (b) she did meet with the Fusion GPS head (and dissembled about it to the Senate Congressional probe)--but she had a long standing relationship with the Fusion GPS guys because the DC law-firm she uses worked with them on her visas and such. And (c) she used Fusion GPS data to try to lure Trump Jr. into paying for further follow-up research on those guys.

Could that be a set-up? Well . . . maybe.

Let's look at how the set-up plan plays out in reality.

Operation "Avarice Actual"

In a windowless room in Fusion GPS's basement--a room that is swept for listening devices daily--shadowy figures around a table discuss the next phase of their plan to wreck Trump. In this case the Operation is code-named Avarice Actual and it is an attempt to Make It Look Like Trump Was Colluding With Russia.

Why? Well, Team Hillary has already determined that if they lose they will try to pin the blame on Russia and impeach Trump (this is crazy--but it's what we're asked to believe). At this time, ironically, Russia IS waging a cyber-war against us to interfere in the election--but nobody knows the full extent of it yet--and, apparently, can't just say it.

So the plan is to plant a meeting that, eventually (somehow), will provide credulous people with the appearance of collusion by Jr.

So what do they do?

PART 1: THE SET UP

They need to rope Jr. in. He needs to know he's 'colluding,' that he's going to be given material of value from Russia--because they want him to win. Now, that's illegal if he accepts it--but the goal here isn't to actually get Trump doing something illegal (why not? That would be a far more powerful weapon). It's to plant a shadowy hint of doubt that can be exploited later.

So they get his good friend Rob Goldstone to promote the meeting (how?) with incriminating statements in the emails (why? Are the incriminating emails really the sum total of this plan?).

PART 2: THE PLAY
In the actual meeting, Operative Veselnitskaya  (Op-V) will deploy the real and potentially damaging information hoping that Trump will . . . pay her for more oppo-research? This isn't illegal (so far as The Omnivore knows). You can't take bribes from foreign countries but if someone suggests you do opposition research based on stuff an American firm uncovered, that doesn't sound illegal to The Omnivore.

But anyway, Jr. will hopefully fall for it--and then . . .

PART 3: THE STING

After they lose the election, Hillary or someone will leak the emails--which will make the public think that TRUMP COLLUDED WITH RUSSIA. This'll be great. Instant Impeachment. Right? (Well, no--no impeachment--but this is fantasy land).


What's Wrong With All This?

What's "right" with it is that it's exactly what happened--except for the most important thing that happened (one sec). This creates a huge bias in people who want to believe something was intended--"see? It all worked out like this." But the problem is the goal: to make the media think Trump colluded with Russia.

The "plan," what we can imagine about it anyway, is built to fail--and if it succeeds produces nothing useful anyway.

Imagine these outcomes:
  1. The emails Jr. gets say he's going to get dirt from Russia and Russia wants them to win. If Trump Jr. talks to a lawyer and doesn't go to the meeting because of the suspicious nature of the emails, the plan fails.
  2. At the meeting itself there is no "payload." Nothing illegal or even all that interesting happens. If Trump Jr. or anyone else who was there just tells the truth about what happened, the plan, successfully executed, goes nowhere.
  3. During the late days of the campaign--when Hillary knows she is a favorite--but also knows she is in trouble (the FBI re-opening the case) they have run this whole operation but, apparently, have nothing to show from it by design. No one brought a recorder. There is no "person on the inside to talk" (except Operator-V--who can't do so effectively).
Of all of these, 3 is the worst--if you had a scenario that looked like collusion, why not use it before the campaign is over? No--the emails get leaked months later--by someone who was on the email chain originally.

Now--we get to the part of this that the conspiracy theory elides: The thing that made this look "like collusion" wasn't Goldstone's emails--it was Trump Jr.'s. The thing that made this look like guilt and cover-up wasn't the presence of a Kremlin-linked lawyer (and she is, it's one reason why she was denied entry into the US)--it was Trump lying his ass off to cover it up.

These two, massive, unforced errors are what makes it clear that:
  • Team Trump would definitely be open to help from the Russians
  • Team Trump took it at face value that Russia wanted Trump to win and would help
  • Trump Sr. knew something was bad there (and, hence, the lie)
None of these could be part of the original plan because they all rely on unexpected self-inflicted wounds. This means The Sting (the putative product of the meeting) is, as described in the conspiracy theory, a bust. 

It's people plotting for something that has no real pay-off (suckering Don Jr. into a meeting to talk about adoption sanctions and see if he wants to buy some oppo-research) and produces no evidence that isn't in Don Jr's email inbox.

If The Plan Is So Bad, Why Do People Believe It Was A Plan?

There are a few dimensions to this answer--none of them good. The first is that Trump-people, almost by definition, have to be somewhat accepting of conspiracy theories. The FBI has to be corrupt--so too the CIA, the NSA, and DHS (they all said Russia interfered in the election). Mueller has to be either out to get Trump illegally (when they are crowing about various judges running their mouths off) or else planning to clear Trump completely (when trying to come to terms with Mueller's solid record).

The second is that the Don Jr. meeting is the single most damning piece of public evidence because it came from Trump Jr.'s mouth (well, emails) and Trump Sr. lied about it. Now, it is The Omnivore's observation that Trump Sr.'s instincts are to lie about everything--and that does work for him more or less--but it doesn't help make them look any more innocent. The GPS conspiracy is necessary to "disqualify" this piece of evidence which basically can't be spun by anything other than Jr. is stupid and Sr. is a liar.

Having an evil actor to blame for this helps . . . somewhat.

But the real reason is that the chain of logic above isn't something that most people do. Most people look at the outcome (Trump looks like he's covering up Russian meddling on their behalf--but there isn't hard proof) and they conclude that must have been the intended outcome of what whatever went down. The idea laying this out as an operational plan is alien to them: THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED--IT MUST BE THE PLAN!!

The idea of looking at the proposed sting operation as a plan shows that it's an absurd plan. It doesn't accomplish anything in its native form--there's no collateral from the meeting. There's (if you take people there at their word) nothing illegal or even all that interesting that happened: it's a setup to CREATE a nothing-burger. In other words, it's the worst conspiracy to entrap Team Trump imaginable--but they stumbled into it by sheer bad luck and foolishness.

Really??