Franken Sense (Open Thread)

So, Senator Al Franken is scheduled to make a statement on the floor of the US Senate at 11:45 ET (C-SPAN link). He’ll probably resign. And because he’s basically a good guy and a strong Democrat, he’ll likely do so in a way that reaffirms the party’s commitment to equality for women and underscores the Republicans’ hypocrisy on the issue.

If he resigns, I’ll be sorry to see Al go. I’ve always liked him — he’s funny, smart, almost always right on the issues and can draw a map of the United States freehand. I have two or three of his books on my shelves. My favorite Franken quote comes from Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. It’s about the difference in how liberals and conservatives love America:

“We love America just as much as they do. But in a different way. You see, they love America like a 4-year-old loves his mommy. Liberals love America like grown-ups. To a 4-year-old, everything Mommy does is wonderful and anyone who criticizes Mommy is bad. Grown-up love means actually understanding what you love, taking the good with the bad and helping your loved one grow.”

That’s true about patriotism, and it’s also true to some extent about political parties, which is why Republicans are fine with electing a man who has been credibly accused of child molestation and attempted rape (and that smirking creep from Texas who used taxpayer funds to pay off accusers) and Democrats are cleaning house — over-zealously, according to many.

Personally, I’m conflicted about Franken’s case for a whole bunch of reasons that I’ve expressed in other threads and therefore won’t bother rehashing in this post. But I do have a request, which, to paraphrase Ulysses McGill, is probably the “acme of foolishness” to make on this blog: Can we elevate the discussion a tad and try to keep it free of bad faith assumptions about fellow Democrats?

Can we entertain the possibility that people might have reasons other than rank stupidity or opportunism to believe Franken should resign? Can we stipulate that those who believe Franken should remain in the senate care deeply about addressing sexual harassment? At least until they say something that indicates otherwise? Because this issue is important. I’m willing to try if you are. Anyhoo, have at it.



The President’s Remarks on the Status of Jerusalem Live Feed

Here’s the live feed for the President’s remarks on the status of Jerusalem. What you’re going to want to watch and listen for is how he frames the specific portions on the status of Jerusalem. Does he call it Israel’s undivided capital? Only the capital of Israel? Or just the capital of Israel? In other words is there some nuance in his statement that keeps the final status of Jerusalem viable diplomatically.

Updated at 1:25 PM EST

The President made two very clear statements about both freedom of religion and access to religious sites in Jerusalem. Even more specifically he stated that Muslims must have access to the al Aqsa Mosque and stating that access for Muslims to the Harem al Sharif must be preserved.

My take away from the speech is that he’s going to continue to sign the waivers to keep the US embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv until an embassy can be built in Jerusalem in accordance with the 1995 law that recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He made a very clear statement that beginning the planning for moving the embassy should not infringe on final status issues between the Israelis and Palestinians. This includes the final status of Jerusalem vis a vis the Israelis and Palestinians.

What needs to be understood is that no matter how nice the speech sounded, nor the nuance and clarity I highlighted above, is that the President’s statements and actions on the status of Jerusalem is completely disconnected from the reality on the ground. Despite seeming to reinforce the US policy preference for a two state solution, by changing US policy and embracing the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act he has undercut the US’s preference for a two state solution by preemptively dealing with the issue of Jerusalem.

This decision and the President’s remarks ignore just how fragile the status quo is in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It also ignores the vast minutiae across dozens of categories and sub-categories that have to be negotiated and agreed to before the big ticket items like the final status of Jerusalem can even be considered. Today’s decision places the cart before dozens of horses.

Finally, forget about who started what when. Forget about who did what to whom in the 19th or early 20th Centuries. Right now, today, the Israelis hold all the leverage and power in the relationship with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have three options: 1) acquiesce and remain forever in socio-political and ethno-national limbo, 2) make a good faith effort via a peace negotiation to get the best deal they can get and then live with it as the best that could be gotten, or 3) revolt. The first option is not viable or acceptable. The second only works if the Israeli leadership is willing to make a good faith effort to negotiate a settlement, which the current leadership isn’t. The third is violent self help.

The only things the Palestinians have to trade for a negotiated peace agreement and their own state is an intangible: peace. This isn’t trading land for land or resources for land or even money for land. It is about the Israelis who control the land being willing to give some of it up, as well as the administrative control over it, to the Palestinians in exchange for an intangible concept.

We’re once again back to something akin to Bernard Fall’s remarks about civic action:

Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of anti-malaria sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.

Simple but adequate appeals indeed…



The Mordor Exit

I didn’t think this was real at first, but apparently it is:

Y’all be careful over there!

In other news, Time recognized “The Silence Breakers” as its “Person of the Year” today, honoring a movement comprising mostly women who’ve refused to stay silent about sexual harassment, which has sent shock waves through entertainment, media and political power circles.

So, #MeToo is having a moment, but one of the NYT’s most notorious Beltway hacks put her own spin on it via a tweet about an article in her paper on Harvey Weinstein:

That seems to miss the point rather badly, so I’ll spell it out: Hillary Clinton aspired to a powerful office in an environment that was and is shot through with misogyny. The remarkable thing about the #MeToo movement is that it is revealing the scope of the abuse across industries and organizational charts.

The lesson we should take away from that isn’t “Whoa, how ironic that Hillary was dealing with human garbage at every turn!” It’s that it’s way past time to take out the fucking trash.

Anyhoo. Open thread.



The Status of Jerusalem

The Consulate General in Jerusalem is actually the US’s oldest diplomatic outpost. It was originally the US embassy, for lack of a better term, to the Sublime Porte as the Ottoman central government was known. It now functions as the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians. So before anything else does or does not happen tomorrow, there already is, and has been for over 200 years, a US embassy in Jerusalem.

Before I lay out the various reporting, let me provide my bottom line up front”

It is absolutely silly to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and/or move the US Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem in exchange for nothing. It is poor strategy, it is bad policy, it is a pointless and ultimately self defeating tactic, and it is diplomatically backwards. The reason the US hasn’t moved it’s embassy to Israel to Jerusalem and/or recognized Israel as Jerusalem’s capital isn’t just the security concerns. It is because either of these potential changes in US policy are most effectively used as motivational carrots to cajole the Israelis into negotiating in, if not good faith, then better faith. Unilaterally giving these to the Israelis removes very valuable and effective leverage from the US’s diplomatic tool kit.

1) If the President does recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, I expect violence.

2) If he announces we’re moving the embassy to Jerusalem, I expect a new intifada, not just three days of rage. And how the Israelis respond, will determine just how bad the protests, three days of rage, and/or a new intifada are.

3) Regardless of 1 or 2 if the proposed peace plan that is being reported on is actually announced in 2018 and it is anywhere close to what is being reported on, which has been Netanyahu’s default preference since at least 2014, I expect a new intifada. But it won’t stop there. ISIS and al Qaeda will look to leverage this, as well as broad Arab and Muslim anger over it, to increase recruitment, justify, and expand operations. But not just in the Middle East. You’ll see an attempted expansion/expansion of ISIS and al Qaeda activities in Central and Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and the US. The US led Coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria will be at increased jeopardy as a result of this.

4) 1 will be bad, 2 will be worse. 3 is going to be a huge honking nightmare. Between what we think/is likely to happen tomorrow and the leaked details of the Saudi backed, US proposed peace plan Mahmoud Abbas has no room to maneuver. The potential/proposed peace plan will be dead on arrival. There will be an increase in violence within and across the region that will spread. And the US’s growing isolation as a diminished influence in the region and within the global system will be accelerated. And the friends of Bibi’s that are handling the US peace proposal efforts for the President are only going to accelerate Israel’s isolation from the allies it’s made in the Arab and Muslim world and from both the EU and the states that it represents.

Noga Tanorpolsky, who does a lot of reporting regarding Israel, has been covering the Schroedinger’s cat back and forth on what tomorrow’s announcement may or may not actually include. She starts with the practical reality that the President clearly indicated he was going to do recognize Jerusalem as Israelis capital and, most likely, also move the US Embassy to Israel.

Then accurately recognizing the reality TV angle that the President likes to take:

Before letting the snark flow freely:

We still don’t actually know exactly what the President is going to announce tomorrow. I’ve seen reporting that indicates he is going to announce that Jerusalem is Israel’s, and only Israel’s, capital. I’ve seen other reporting that he’s just going to announce that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and leave the only part out. And the reporting also seems to include that the President may announce that he is both going to move the embassy some time in the future (which is not news as he’s been saying this for two years) and that he’s also given instructions to figure out the details involved. So we will have to wait and see just what is announced tomorrow and how bad things may get.

The State Department, and, apparently the Department of Defense are trying to stay out of the line of fire on this whole issue.

And the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas are on the same page.

Ha’aretz reports that the President’s expected announcement is uniting not just the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, but all the other states in the region, as well as the EU and Russia in their opposition to his expected decision and announcement.

Abdullah also warned Trump of the decision’s repercussions on Middle East security and stability. Abdullah pledged he would thwart any American initiative to renew the peace process and would encourage resistance among Muslims and Christians alike.

King Salman told Trump that transferring the embasy is a dangerous step that will inflame feelings of Muslims.

Following their conversatisons with Trump, Abdullah and Abbas reportedly spoke and decided to act in complete coordination following Trump’s decision.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that if Trump goes ahead with the decision, Turkey will cut diplomatic ties with Israel. He added that Jerusalem is “a red line for Muslims.” Israel responded that “Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years.”

Egypt has warned of “possible dangerous repercussions” if U.S. President Donald Trump follows through on plans to recognize contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Arab League Chief Ahmed Abdoul Gheit said Tuesday that any step changing Jerusalem’s status quo would be a “dangerous measure that would have repercussions” throughout the Middle East. He encouraged Trump to reconsider his decision.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said that any action would undermine a two-state solution, and must be avoided.

German and French leaders also expressed concern at Trump’s potential decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. French President Emmanuel Macron said the Jerusalem issue must be dealt with “in the framework of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Now we wait and see just how badly the US is going to shoot itself in the foot.



Busy Tuesday News Dump

There’s a lot going on in politics and in the world today. Here are some of the stories that caught my eye:

Mr. Mueller subpoenaed Trump’s bank records at Deutsche Bank, which is a BFD for several reasons, not least of which Trump indicated that if Mueller started poking around his (Trump’s) business interests, that would cross a “red line.” Via Vanity Fair:

Back in July, The New York Times asked Donald Trump how he would react if Robert Mueller started looking into his finances beyond the Russia investigation. At the time, the president said he couldn’t say whether he would fire the special prosecutor because he was fairly confident Mueller wouldn’t go there, warning that it would be “a violation” if he did. Now, we may get to find out: Bloomberg reports that Mueller issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank several weeks ago, demanding that it turn over documents pertaining to its “relationship with Trump and his family.” In a statement, the bank indicated it would comply with the request, saying “Deutsche Bank always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries.”

Commenters here seem divided over whether Trump can or cannot fire Mueller. I don’t know. Experts disagree. But if anything tempts him to try it, this might — Trump is crooked as a dog’s hind leg, and an analysis of his finances will surely reveal that. Not to mention he’s probably in hock up to his bulging eyeballs to Putin’s pals, which is a bad look. Anyhoo, we’ll see.

In other news, Trump announced he’s moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He can tick that item off mega-donor Sheldon Adelson’s wish list as he hurls a lit match into the dynamite storage facility.

The Supreme Court is hearing the case about the baker who refused service to a gay couple. Observers seem to be saying it’s going badly for equality. We’ll see.

Russian got banned from the Winter Olympics for egregious cheating. Can’t win ’em all, Vlad.

Wild fires are exploding in Southern California. Stay safe, juicers in that locale.

That’s all I know. What else is happening?



Quid Pro Quo

This seems significant (via NPR):

2016 RNC Delegate: Trump Directed Change To Party Platform On Ukraine Support

President Trump may have been involved with a change to the Republican Party campaign platform last year that watered down support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine, according to new information from someone who was involved.

Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, has told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform.

Recall that this was the only proposed platform policy the Trump people saw fit to adjust. After running a “populist” campaign that was credited by the more gullible members of the Beltway media herd for rejecting GOP orthodoxy and goring Republican sacred cows left and right, when the so-called insurgents seized control, the sole alteration they requested just coincidentally was designed to make Putin’s life easier.

Trump’s flunky Gordon now denies he told Denman that the platform change request came from Trump. Uh huh.

I’ve always thought this platform change smelled fishier than a scratch-and-dent Chicken of the Sea warehouse.



What Does Penetration at All Levels Actually Mean

This morning Cheryl wrote about a newly reported on email about another conservative activist attempting to set up a meeting between the President, when he was a candidate, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to The NY Times reporting, the email’s author, Paul Erickson, specifically recommended establishing an early “first” contact at the NRA’s annual meeting.

I just wanted to take a little time and explain why this is part of the penetration at all levels portion of the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign that we’ve been tracking since June 2016 and what I mean by the term penetration at all levels.

Working in reverse order, penetration at all levels refers to establishing connections and building a network through a wide variety of elites, notables, organizations, and institutions across as many societal sectors as possible. By doing so one has the ability to both influence and leverage the political, social, economic, religious, educational, entertainment, and military realms. Not all of this is nefarious. Not all of it is done to be detrimental to the US. And the US, as well as American organizations, do this in other countries too. A lot of it is not nefarious or intended to be, but some, like what we’ve been observing of the Russian active measures campaign against the US, definitely are.

Until Putin’s active measures campaign against the US, the EU, and NATO became clear, perhaps the best example of penetration at all levels in the US was by the Israelis. The Israelis are able to leverage both the Jewish American and Christian (specifically the evangelical Christian Zionists) religious communities, politicians from both political parties, the entertainment industry, other business sectors, think tanks, and the military (there is a US Army Military Education Level 1 Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy aka WINEP aka The Washington Institute). This isn’t intended as a screed about Israelis, rather it is simply a quick recounting of how the Israeli government pursues its interests in the US. What Putin and his proxies have done is similar, though nowhere near as thoroughly as the Israelis. That we know of…

In the Russian case a lot of the penetration that is being reported on and made public appears to have been focused solely on more politically, socially, economically, and religiously conservative sectors, groups, and organizations in the US. The Daily Beast first reported on Russia’s connections to the NRA back in February 2017. This was the first of three articles that delineated the creation of a Russian firearms sporting organization partially led by Marina Butina. Specifically:

Two of Butina’s friendships in particular have raised eyebrows. She started a business with Paul Erickson, a decades-long Republican Party activist. And she served as a special assistant to the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator belonging to Vladimir Putin’s political party with alleged ties to the Russian mob world.

 As chilled vodka flowed through an ice sculpture—a bottle imprinted with the Soviet hammer and sickle—she took some time to brag. She brazenly claimed that she had been part of the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia, two individuals who were present said. On other occasions, in one of her graduate classes, she repeated this claim.

Erickson and Butina have been seen in public frequently, at the invitation-only Freedom Ball after Trump’s inauguration; and holding court at Russia House, a Russian-themed bar in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle. At one such gathering in the fall of 2016 Erickson bragged that he was advising the Trump transition team, according to two sources who were present; he is also said to have told a story about introducing Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, to former NRA president David Keene. (Kalashnikov allegedly inspired the creation of “The Right to Bear Arms,” Butina’s gun rights group.)

The two appear to have gotten close: Erickson formed a limited liability corporation with Butina in February 2016, according to the South Dakota secretary of state. It is unclear what this organization, Bridges, LLC, actually does. (Despite living in Washington, D.C., Butina has a cellphone number with a South Dakota area code.)

In The Daily Beast‘s second report, Tim Mak expands on his reporting from February 2017 by digging into the meeting between members of the NRA and Dmitry Rogozin, one of Putin’s hard line deputies and the head of the Russian Shooting Federation, which would make him either Butina’s partner or boss. The Daily Beast‘s third article on this topic delves even deeper to who was at the meeting with Rogozin. Specifically former Milwaukee County Sheriff, Fox News analyst, extremist anti-US government Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officer Association Sheriff of the Year, campaign proxy and Republican National Convention prime time speaker, and withdrawn nominee for political appointment at the Department of Homeland Security David Clarke. And former NRA President and current board member David Keene.

Here’s Rogozin’s tweet about the event. You’ll notice Clarke’s in the second photo. Keene is in the first standing next to Rogozin.

Putin, via his proxies, hasn’t just established connections to the NRA and through NRA officials like Clarke to anti-US government groups like the pro-militia and pro-Bundy Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. They’ve also worked very hard to establish connections to conservative Christian groups in the US.

Growing up in the 1980s, Brian Brown was taught to think of the communist Soviet Union as a dark and evil place.

But Brown, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, said that in the past few years he has started meeting Russians at conferences on family issues and finding many kindred spirits.

Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, has visited Moscow four times in four years, including a 2013 trip during which he testified before the Duma as Russia adopted a series of anti-gay laws.

“What I realized was that there was a great change happening in the former Soviet Union,” he said. “There was a real push to re-instill Christian values in the public square.”

On issues including gun rights, terrorism and same-sex marriage, many leading advocates on the right who grew frustrated with their country’s leftward tilt under President Barack Obama have forged ties with well-connected Russians and come to see that country’s authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, as a potential ally.

The attitude adjustment among many conservative activists helps explain one of the most curious aspects of the 2016 presidential race: a softening among many conservatives of their historically hard-line views of Russia. To the alarm of some in the GOP’s national security establishment, support in the party base for then-candidate Donald Trump did not wane even after he rejected the tough tone of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who called Russia America’s No. 1 foe, and repeatedly praised Putin.

Why here’s Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley at the National Prayer Breakfast. This picture was originally posted to his Instagram account:

Makarov is a member of the United Russia Party and is the head of the Duma’s Budget Committee. Why, exactly, is Russia sending a sixteen member delegation of senior officials to the US National Prayer Breakfast, an event largely promoted and attended by elected, appointed, and otherwise well connected American social and religious conservatives? Penetration at all levels in pursuit of influence. It is also important to remember that the National Prayer Breakfast is the premier annual event of The Family, the secretive, ultra-Christian conservative and neo-fascist organization that runs a boarding house for Christian conservative members of Congress.

Vice President Pence gave a keynote address at Franklin Graham’s summit on religious violence against Christians. He also met with Russian Orthodox Church Metropolitan Alfeyev. Alfeyev runs the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations department.

Even the sponsor of the President’s foreign policy address in April 2016, The Center for the National Interest, appears to have ties to Russia.

That Trump would choose the Center for the National Interest as the place to premier his new seriousness on foreign policy has Manafort’s fingerprints all over it. For Manafort and the Center have something very important in common: both have ties to the Russian regime of President Vladimir Putin, (whose ambassador to the United States sat in the front row for Trump’s address).

As for the Center, both it and its journal, the National Interest, are two of the most Kremlin-sympathetic institutions in the nation’s capital, even more so that the Carnegie Moscow Center, which has evolved from a hub of Russian liberalism into an accomodationist, intellectually-compromised think tank.

Center director Dmitri Simes worked as an aide to Nixon and for decades has used his connections to the Kremlin — real or perceived — to cultivate a reputation in Washington as one of the few Russia hands who intimately knows that country’s politics. For years, the Center for the National Interest partnered with the Russian government-funded Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, a New York-based institution whose head, Adranik Migranyan, was personally appointed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks. In May 2014, the two think tanks held a press conference defending Russia’s position in Ukraine.

Another association connecting Trump to the Center is Richard Burt, chairman of the National Interest’s advisory council, and a former ambassador to Germany and State Department official during the Reagan administration. According to a knowledgeable source, Burt, who had previously worked as an unpaid advisor to former Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, has been enlisted by Manafort to join Trump’s campaign and helped draft his speech (neither Burt nor Manafort responded to inquiries). Burt sits on the senior advisory board of the Russian Alfa Bank.

Burt is the lobbyist and former diplomat who contradicted AG Sessions testimony that he hadn’t been at dinners hosted by the AG when he was a senator. He also helped to draft the President’s April 2016 speech on foreign policy, while he was lobbying on behalf of Russia.

It is important to note that the editor of The Center for the National Interest’s publication, The National Interest, has publicly disputed Politico‘s reporting in Politico. His refutation in Politico was also one of the items used to impeach AG Sessions memory over one of his meetings with Ambassador Kislyak:

Speaking for myself, after briefly meeting Trump at a reception in the Senate Room of the Mayflower, where a number of politicians and Trump advisers, such as Senator Jeff Sessions and ambassadors, congregated before the event, I can’t claim any kind of conversion experience.

The reason for all of this outreach, networking, and connection making is to both allow for influence operations to proceed and to facilitate contacts and create opportunities for even more leverage and influence. The reason the NRA annual meeting was proposed for a meeting is that Rogozin was already scheduled to be there under cover of his Russian shooting sports organization. And because most media outlets aren’t going to cover the event. And those that do, which tend to focus on the firearms industry or shooting sports, aren’t going to be paying a lot of attention to Rogozin and his organization other than to note how great it is that Russians are looking to the US in pursuing the natural and civil rights to self defense.

And the reason these Russian contacts want meetings and want to take selfies is it gives them access, influence, and leverage. Do I actually think that Senator Grassley is compromised because he was seated with Member of Duma Makarov? No. But that selfie can be used to provide the impression that maybe he can’t be trusted, beyond just simple partisanship and his noted cantankerousness, to run an objective, above board Senate Judiciary Committee investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Do I think Clarke or the other NRA board members that went to Russia to meet with Rogozin are compromised by the Russians? Doubtful, but hopefully they didn’t do anything strange in their hotel rooms because I’m sure they were under a variety of electronic and signals intelligence throughout their trip.

This is penetration at all levels. Though in this case it is selective, for the time being, on the center right to right in American political, religious, economic, and social spheres. It is intended to provide access, influence, and leverage. Combined with the other portions of the Russian active measures, specifically the cyber warfare campaign, it has been very effective while it has also been very clumsy. Only time will tell just how effective and how much actual damage it has done.