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Hullabaloo


Monday, July 09, 2018

 

The rabbit hole is a cave

by Tom Sullivan


A panoramic view over the southernmost districts of Helsinki from Hotel Torni. Photo by KFP via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

"U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials" atop a story in yesterday's New York Times was eye-catching for a several reasons. First, it is lousy public health policy driven more by concern for infant formula manufacturers than for infants. Second, at the May meeting in Geneva the U.S. threatened Ecuador with trade sanctions and withdrawal of military aid if it introduced the resolution promoting breast-feeding.

“We were shocked because we didn’t understand how such a small matter like breast-feeding could provoke such a dramatic response,” an unnamed Ecuadorian official told the Times.

The Times reports the U.S. recently tried unsuccessfully to stop a World Health Organization initiative to loosen patent laws to make life-saving drugs more widely available in develping countries. Washington sides with the pharmaceutical industry in opposing such efforts, and has a history of prioritizing corporate profits over health.

Finally, after "at least a dozen" countries backed away for fear of U.S. retaliation in what one advocate called "tantamount to blackmail," the United States relented.

The Times report adds:

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.
An unidentified Russian delegate commenting on the matter said, "“We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”

Russia for the PR win. And a very unsettling reversal after the Trump administration's heavy handedness. Why?

Jonathan Chait wonders aloud about Donald Trump's relationship to Russia. To-date we have seen series of disconnected episodes with plausibly innocent explanations. "What if we’re still standing closer to the mouth of the cave than the end?" he asks. "Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper." If that sounds like a conspiracy theory, he writes, it is one with origins in intelligence services and in the corridors of power rather than in chat rooms far from them.

Chait retraces a familiar ground in the investigation into Russian hacking of the 2016 election: the Steele dossier, Trump's July 2013 visit to Moscow, the Russians' history of developing foreign "assets," Paul Manafort's Russian debts and other Trump campaign officials' ties to Russia, and notably, then–CIA director John Brennan's 2016 congressional testimony in which he hinted some Americans may have betrayed their country.

Meanwhile, the sitting president continues efforts that undermine western alliances, threatening NATO and the G7 as he targets immigrants xenophobic at home:
Even though the 2018 version of Trump is more independent and authentic, he still has advisers pushing for and designing the thrusts of Trumpian populism. Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross are steering him toward a trade war; Stephen Miller, John Kelly, and Jeff Sessions have encouraged his immigration restrictionism. But who is bending the president’s ear to split the Western alliance and placate Russia?
Who indeed? The sitting president increasingly looks like a man with something to hide as well as an accessory after the fact.
And if you’re Putin, embarking upon a coveted summit with the most Russophilic president since World War II, who is taking a crowbar to the alliance of your enemies, why wouldn’t you help him in 2018 and 2020? Ever since the fall of 2016, when Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately turned down an Obama-administration proposal for a bipartisan warning to Russia not to interfere in the election, the underlying dynamic has been set: Most Republicans would rather win an election with Putin’s help than lose one without it. The Democrats, brimming with rage, threaten to investigate Russian activity if they win a chamber of Congress this November. For Putin to redouble his attack — by hacking into voting machines or some other method — would be both strategic and in keeping with his personality. Why stop now?

Meanwhile, the White House has eliminated its top cybersecurity position. That might simply reflect a Republican bias against bureaucratic expertise. But it might also be just what it looks like: The cop on the beat is being fired because his boss is in cahoots with the crooks.
It is a long, but worthwhile review of what we know. But there is more to add to Chait's narrative.

The Washington Post notes an unusual blog post last week from national security blogger Marcy Wheeler, a.k.a., emptywheel. Wheeler confessed to violating a cardinal rule of journalism. She reported a source to the FBI last year:
Her blog post centers on a text message she says she got from the source on Nov. 9, 2016 — about 14 hours after the polls closed — predicting that Michael Flynn, who would be Trump’s appointee for national security adviser, would be meeting with “Team Al-Assad” within 48 hours. Russia has been perhaps the Assad regime’s staunchest ally.

As she noted: “The substance of the text — that the Trump team started focusing on Syria right after the election — has been corroborated and tied to their discussions with Russia at least twice since then.”
Flynn has since pleaded to one count of lying to the FBI.
In addition to the knowledge of her source’s inside information, Wheeler said, she had reason to believe that the source was involved with efforts to compromise her website and other communications. And perhaps most important, that he was involved in cyberattacks — past and future — that had done and could do real harm to innocent people.
Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University, told the Post Wheeler's move made his jaw drop, “She would not do this on a whim.” Drezner doesn’t know her, but I do. No, she wouldn't.

So pay close attention to the outcome of the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki. Should the would-be leader of the free world declare the U.S. a Russian satellite, it will take more than Thai SEALs to extract us from that cave.

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For The Win 2018 is ready for download. Request a copy of my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.