Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Virus in the Shadows

          Stability at home and strength of US leadership in the world is threatened by more than the virus we know. Another wasting disease casts shadows on the future. 

        Detailed here, from briefings, interviews, and conversations, are assessments and judgement of men and women who have advised and informed the policies of Presidents, Prime Ministers and their governments. I've participated in these sessions in recent months. These are the assessments of realists.                                                                                            
        Topics have included China, Russia, Iran, the Middle East region, terrorism, cyber warfare, counter intelligence, weapons systems, technology, defense procurement, the changing nature of spying, alliances, hot spots, nuclear weapons and threats to America's democratic republic. 
        This post examines the present danger and damage of  deliberate deception, and the anti democracy fascism that fogs our constitutional principles and aspirations.

        "For 70 years foreign policy was not a partisan issue in Washington, but now it is," says John Sawer, who was Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service in Britain, MI6.
        "So, friends and hostile nations will have trouble in thinking in terms of American strategy in periods of decades, because it might change every four years."

From The Radio Historian

        MI6 was founded in 1909. It is the senior intelligence service in the world and helped nurture the birth of the US CIA,  assisting the OSS (Office of Strategic Service) during World War II. They are an ally who knows us well.
        Sawer says both the UK and US have been through political upheaval, a kind of residual reaction to the crash of 08. 
        "The best plan forward is to put our own homes and systems in order. In the UK that is absorb the cost of Brexit. In the US it is to somehow not just relaunch the economy and get control of COVID, but to find a way to develop a polity, a consistency and a durability to America's role in the world, or American will be in decline. The decline is certain if it just swings back and forth every four years."

        The Biden administration declared "America is back," and he has begun to shore up alliances, and return a respectability to our foreign policy, but our standing in the world is damaged. We are no longer seen as the strong force, the leader of the free world, a beacon of democracy.
        "There is some concern about whether the US word and commitment will be reliable, especially since Trump is in the background as a force in US politics," says John Brennan former director of the CIA. He worked for 6 US Presidents.
        "Trump as laid waste to our credibility and reliability. It will take time to restore confidence that commitments will outlive changes in the White House. This is something to confront, because in the last 4 years, many years of trust in the US word and commitment is challenged."

        The malignancy of Trump was apparent in the view of Homeland Security, Cyber Security and Infrastructure officers and veterans when we discussed the US election campaign, social media influence, and the cascading affect of the big lie.
        Belief in and the credibility our system has been and is being eroded by intentional deception, and behavior that condones it. 
        A former CIA chief of station, with over 30 years of distinguished service including in the former Soviet Union, Europe and war zones in the Middle East and South Asia offers a harsh truth. Donald Trump enabled Russia in it's efforts to undermine and disparage our democratic process.
      "That is the first thing they're focused on, trying to portray our process as inherently unstable and in conflict with our supposed democratic values. It doesn't matter that they're an autocracy. They don't want their people to see us as an inspiration to those Russians striving for democracy."
        I withhold his name because he is still active. But he is emphatic in his assessment of how Trump was used for anti American purposes.
       "Putin is very active in public propaganda and information warfare. Through his propaganda arm he does not want the US to be a beacon of hope. He needs to continue to emphasize the US is unstable."
        Trump's prolonged attack on US media, the undermining of the election and judicial process were powerful weapons. Russia's interests were seen early. 
        "That Trump Tower meeting was meant to be discovered. Don Jr. took the cheese from Putin's mousetrap," he said, citing it as one of many public relations victories and instances where Trump was outplayed by a wily intelligence officer, Putin.

            The path to an improved image and renewed strength of leadership is challenged by the Republican party's turn to fascism and authoritarianism. Unless his mounting legal woes disable him, Trump wields power. Republicans running for office can either bend to the boss and his world of lies and deception or be run out by the mob of racists, zealots and lunatics who are taking over state parties, driven by Trump's nationalistic fantasies. 
           The Republican party is at war with itself and betting is on the fascist wing and those disconnected from reality, fed by the far right media. 
         Analysts say Republicans have become the party of deception, at the federal and state level. It is there tactic in a winner all view of the world. Recent examples being cited is the McConnell flip flop flip on Trump, Texas Governor Abbott's deceit about the role of wind power in the recent power grid crash, McCarthy on the Covid bail out package, Cruz, Jordan, Hawley and Johnson on the Capitol insurrection. And it goes on. 

       A common theme of the briefings was domestic terrorism and the rise of armed militias. The Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Boogaloo and others were part of the Capitol invasion. Local, state and federal authorities are warned to be vigilant and prepared for other acts;  attempted kidnapping of a officials, State House invasions, bombings, and shootings. There is  concern over security of the State of the Union address when most of the government is assembled in the Capitol.
        The danger is underscored by what investigators are learning about inside influence in planning the attempted coup. 
       Of concern at home it sends signals to the world. As long as members of the Senate and House continue to placate Trump, perpetuate his lies, and enable the fascist and thug control of the Republican party, they play into division, deception, enable our adversaries and enemies, and undercut the nation's authority.

        The breeding of instability at home, weakens us, makes us less secure and contributes to a dangerous change in the balance of power abroad.                                                                                                                                        
         While this post examines the legacy of the inner turmoil on ourselves and our position in the world, a linked topic is the rise of China.
          General David Petraeus and Christian Brose spoke to China's influence as we have been weakened in the eyes of the world.
        "For 25 years China has tried to disrupt our military development and research. They are very competitive and they play by different objectives." Petraeus
        "We need to rethink what we are strategizing in that region. What does national security look like in the absence of our dominance?" Brose
        Petraeus is former Director of the CIA and is a retired US Army General with 37 years in uniform.
        Christian Brose was staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a senior policy adviser to Senator John McCain and adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

        While rogues and fascism destroy the party Brose served, US is weakened. It happens as China is on a trajectory to become the dominant military force in the world. 
        "This requires changes in systems, postures and at home. I am concerned at damage done to alliances and strategic partnership, especially at a time when we need to rely on them more."  Brose

        In decades of reporting I've worked with intelligence officers, analysts and national security people. They are skilled at getting to the point. They are capable, thoughtful and engaged in facts, finding them and analyzing them. They deal with complexity, distant horizons, multiplicity of patterns, input, motivations, intent and they make sense of it.  They can be the very opposite of the public officials and politicians who task or review them and who use their product. 

      China benefits as we continue to handicap ourselves. But it is the former KGB officer in the gilded offices in the Kremlin who looks to America, sees what the last four years did to his adversary, and watches as one of America's parties devolves to a gang and mob, and he smiles. One of his intelligence services in the meantime has invaded American cyber systems, manipulated elections, driven social media deception, and he smiles even more.

     Biden's priority has been to attack Covid and its impact on people and the nation as a whole. 
     He has also signaled the America First nationalism of Trump has been trashed. Trump still breaths however, given life by a Republican party that has become a threat to the nation by enforcing the power of the mad mob boss from Mar a Lago. 
    As long as Trump lurks as a shadow influence, he remains a petulant virus in American culture and politics. Variants of Trump are already jockeying for position, and his state party apparatus have begun efforts to suppress and limit voting. 

     Le Carre', Clancy, Ludlum, Forysth, Greene, and Fleming could not have written such a plot.

        What do the realists conclude? We are in trouble and there is thrashing and winnowing to do, to save our future. Truth, an adherence and devotion to it, is a good start. As children we were taught it is wrong to lie. This nation needs to live into that.

        From time to time subsequently, I'll offer more from my notes as we continue our briefings and decipher the times. 

        Stay well.
        See you down the trail.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Accountability and Hope


     Nature, life's portal, like human hope, springs anew. Poetic that spring follows the season of dark. It has been a long season.

    The world reeling from pandemic, brutality instead of reason, and nature's recent hostility renders us weary, wounded and in need of lifted spirits. 

    We offer these:

  •  frames of spring 2021, early as it is in California 
  • and the word that is the elixir for all that plagues us, Perseverance, as in Percy.

    This elegant flight machine, a Great Blue Heron that graced our ridge top this week is a thing of beauty, grace and wonder. So is this...

Perseverance on Mars 

      As bad as it can be on planet earth, the best of our huddled masses has put us in the heavens, again, and with selfies.

    Our technological offspring, a global darling, will rove and produce science exploration and contribute mightily to the intelligence of humankind. 
NASA Illustration

       Out west we can still see footprints of our pioneering spirt and long suffering endurance. Humankind is capable of the stars if we remember the foundational basics and lead with our intellect and act with character, listening to our hearts, where we know right from wrong.  

        We are sorry for the recent misery in the Texas Republic. They could have, should have, been prepared. Many places on this planet routinely handle winter's blast, but Texas thinks of itself as bigger, badder, and tougher. Texas is the home of the Lone Ranger. 
        A commission has been launched. Before it lifts a hand we know why the state was so hammered. Poor planning, no accounting for climate change, maximized profits, cheaper construction techniques, the "we've got ours, you get yours" attitude, a belligerent sense of energy independence and money, inequitably deployed along the spectrum.
        Ted Cruz, his other qualities not withstanding, is the poster boy for the attitude in possession of some Texans in authority. But there is also Willie Rios
Photo by St. John Barned-Smith  Houston Chronicle 

        The South Houston Councilman, who is a tradesman, led herculean efforts to get sewage treatment plants operating and water running. The councilman worked around the clock tending to the needs of his district.
Rios on the right with constituent   
Photo Yi-Chinn Lee Houston Chronicle

    We see the model of public service in Willie Rios and his kind, the ideal "politician," there to meet the needs of neighbors. Theirs is not to set blame or to steal away to the beach, but to fix, and serve. It is good to see acting on principle instead of political careerism. Elected office at it's nexus is about the constituent.

    Accountability matters. As one who called for a national inquiry as early as January 6, it is my sense it should be under the Department of Justice. A congressional inquiry could get at the truth, but history, and you and I are served if it is far from a political landscape. 
    Perhaps because I know and for decades covered co-Chairman Lee Hamilton, I have a bound volume of the 9/11 Commission and have pulled it from the shelf a surprising number of times over the years. A good commission report is necessary for understanding and it can be curative. We need that now. It too can be a tonic, a springtime for the soul of America.

       When the trees bloom on the California central coast, spring for the rest of America is not far off. The vaccine is being distributed, good and decent people are in control again, and investigative efforts are underway. 

    One more look at the Great Blue Heron. I was busy in my study when daughter Kristin called to alert us it was next door.
    Usually I see them only from a distance, unable to capture the texture of their feathers. In this case she or he was busy apparently stalking gophers. That too strikes me as justice at work.

    Where spring is always at the right time, it seems also Providential the most complicated space landing happens as we confront climate, disease, lies and division. It reminds of a human skill and also our destiny, to persevere.

    Stay safe and stay well.

    See you down the trail.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Moral Bankruptcy


        As certain as sky meets the sea and sea meets the land there are immutable principles and forces at work, laws of nature. 

    Human life is bound by canons, history measures with the cold calculus of principle, that too is immutable. Character is rendered, judgement revealed. Human history is made of these. It is the log of our evolution, and it is indelible. 

    The Republican party set the nadir of moral bankruptcy and cowardice. Deplorable and despicable were their actions and now their reputations. Mitch McConnell's wile, his post acquittal statement, is like the man, fraudulent. After his time on the national stage he fears the inevitable searing truth of the historian's ledger. He will not have it both ways. Four years he enabled a destructive invasion of the republic and has again allowed a pernicious evil to go unchecked. It will be his votes, his record of complicity that history will recall. Generations will revile Trump, his mob of insurrectionists, his seditious accomplices and his hypocrites like McConnell.

    I needed fresh air and a long view after the acquittal. Though the outcome was expected, I hoped late information, the McCarthy and Tuberville phone calls, proving presidential inaction and cooperative complicity with those in the Capitol and seeking to harm his vice president and others, would land a shred of decency in a few of the cowardly republicans. 

     The free ranging cattle have more moral conviction than 43 republican senators. I was struck by the irony of 10 grazing animals, as the vote for the good fell 10 short. 
      The republican party is at war with itself. At this juncture the spineless, deceptive, and crooked are beholden to the ignorant fans of authoritarianism. Nikki Haley's recent ploy signals there could be some life yet in those who want to run away from Trump and are willing to say it out loud, though late as it is.

        History will recall the warnings sounded by arguments in the first impeachment, that acquittal would only embolden the rogue president. Proven in short order. He began the incitement when he cultivated the militias, Q crazies, insurrectionist cells and the core racists. He started the movements violent turn when he began to undermine the credibility of the election early in the year. His claim the election would be fair only if he won should have been a warning enough. His relentless pursuit of overturning the election, lies, fraud, crazy theories, were all part of the incitement. 
        I'm sorry the Impeachment was not framed more widely to include all of that, and his lack of intervention but Republicans were there, they had to flee the threat of killing mobs who were in Washington only to "Stop the Steal." They know who was the architect. History will record their knowledge, their complicity and their cowardice. It is time to for both the House and Senate to begin actions to purge the anti American  pro authoritarian Republicans. They are the enemies of the people.
        There's a patch of woods I sometimes retreat to and on my last walk I spotted trees that I took pleasure in seeing as symbols of the character of the republican party.

the hawley
the cruz
the graham

    Our experiment in a democratic republic requires the give and take of checking and balancing views. The nation has been at its best when bipartisanship was in season. My previous post tracked the genesis and evolution of the death spiral that made Trump a republican inevitability. We can only hope that traditional republicans will regain control of the party. 
    Trump and his kind, and the poor suckers who believed him are still here. When the gutless, craven, poltroons did not drive a stake through his heart, they made it possible for a vile and evil force to continue to menace not only them, but the future of the nation.

        Over the last few months I've been a part of conversations, interviews and briefs with intelligence and national security people. Their view on this moral bankruptcy in a once great nation will be the subject of a future post. 

shout out to Lana
            We've reached valentine's days and we are still eating fresh tomatoes. This plate is the last of this year's crop. They were picked, when green, before she pulled the plants. They have continued to ripen. For a guy who grew up in the tomato growing calendar of Indiana, having our own fresh crop at this time is amazing!

     Stay well, stay safe.
     See you down the trail.   

Thursday, February 4, 2021


         Storms bring an aftermath, sometimes a strange fruit. It is that way in nature pristine, and in human behavior. We'll explore these in this post. 
     Storms also bring change, sometime destruction and upheaval.

The mighty can be brought low

        Political winds are blowing. The Biden administration has moved forthrightly to undo and repair. So have the caretakers of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria.

      The fallen are dispatched. Dead wood, like dead policies, are discarded. The initial repair of the United States government continues. Deep work will be more arduous, painstaking and undoing the toxic.
       Contrived though it is by this writer, there is a symmetry we seek here. We observe how nature, left to its own heals and cures in a way that is both stunning and mystical. We wonder how human behavior metastasizes to bring us to where we are.

        Below you'll see the outward signs of nature's enablers. They are, to a degree, angels of death, though in a very good and life providing way. They are part of an underground world of mycelia, a network of tendrils and life that converts the dead and decaying to new earth, new life. There is beneath us an internet of sort providing a connectivity to all life.

An elfin saddle 

        This woods, on this day after the storm was a bounty of mushrooms and fungi, some of this world's oldest life, tireless and dependable in doing transformation. What we see is merely the above ground evidence of the work of changing death to life, involving communication via mycelia.    
        It is an appropriate visual support as we trace the decayed Trumpism to it's surprising origins. 

republican civil war

        The Republican party is at war with itself, the Impeachment moves to a Senate trial, Republican values are on the scales. They are the party that attacked the Capitol. They are the people who sought to kill at the citadel of liberty. They are the party of Trump jihadists.
        Republicans did this to themselves and you could see it coming since Richard Nixon.

    Republicans tend to look out for American business and industry and those who reap the profits. They are anti tax but favor tax cuts for the wealthy. Stinginess for welfare and public works projects, anti union, in favor of a small government with large defense budgets is there modus operandi. They used to bluster about national defense.
    There was a time when the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, was much better on issues of civil rights than the Southern Democrats who were avowed racists and state rights fomenters and old confederates.
    In fact Richard Nixon had a better history on civil rights than JFK, who beat him in 1960. But when Nixon reemerged the Republican party began building the monster that became Trump. It started with the "southern strategy."

                                             Richard Carson/AP

        Desegregation, after the Supreme Court Decision, Brown Vs. Board of Education, was active in the US as Nixon began his new bid for the Presidency.
        "The Republican Party placed its major activities toward
    winning southerners' votes in order to change the majority in the US Congress, slowing down the desegregation process, creating alternatives to public school desegregation, (such as school choice option,) and making conservative appointments to the federal judiciary."
      Frank Brown author
Nixon's Southern Strategy and Forces Against Brown

      Republicans were on a track to racism, nationalism and domestic terror. They borrowed tricks from the old southern racist democrats and became the party of voter suppression. 

      Once republicans sustained liberal, moderate and  conservative wings. Conservatives captured the party and nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964. Despite their landslide loss they worked to build a power base and began attracting one issue zealots and activists, and those on the right wing fringe. They began to change the balance, while driving toward a dark future.

    Enter Lee Atwater. A young political operator who got around.
Trump and Atwater

        There is prophesy in these photos. Strom Thurmond, one of the longest serving members in US Senate history ran for President as a segregationist and states rights candidate in 1948. When Democrat Lyndon Johnson pushed Voting Rights and Civil Rights, Thurmond left the Democrat party for the  Republican party in 1964.  Republicans continued to lock in racism. 

    Atwater was a campaign specialist. He was chairman of the Republican National Committee, an advisor to President Reagan and campaign director for George H.W. Bush

        Atwater ordered the infamous Willy Horton television spot  that helped destroy Michael Dukakis's lead in the 1988 Presidential Campaign. Of that ad about Dukakis Atwater said he wanted "to blast the bark of that little bastard."

republican family jewels

       The most honest revelation came from Atwater when he betrayed the family jewels of Republican campaign strategy.
        "You start out in 1954 by saying "nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"-that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, state's rights, and all that stuff and you're like getting so abstract. Now, your'e talking about cutting taxes, and all these things your talking abut are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites..."We want to cut this, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh and a hell of lot more abstract than "nigger, nigger."

Washington Post 
Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Atwater 

     The dark future of the American Republic was foreshadowed on that day.

        Most Americans who lived through the Reagan years do not associate hard racism with him, but he was masterfully handled and he was a much better pitchman and performer than Trump. He built on the Nixon foundation.

    Candidate Reagan put the world on notice when he chose a speech at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia Mississippi to say "I believe in state's rights."
    As his advisor Atwater acknowledged, " can't say nigger, you say stuff like busing and state's rights..."It was a signal, the Republicans were using the Southern Strategy again.

        The affability and likability of Reagan was a mask for his frequent use of coded language about "welfare queens," "busing," and "affirmative action." Read his speeches, follow his narrative, and you see the trail.

    Possibly Reagan's most insidious act in building the inevitability of a direct attack on the federal government was his own barrage against the very government he lead. It was 1968 when he first used what became one of his famous and frequent lines;
    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help."
    The genial actor drew laughs but he was relentless in building an anti-federal government case. He created an anti-tax attitude, and talked about big government spending, while raising taxes and running up the deficit. A hallmark legacy of his administration was selling the idea the government can't solve problems. 
      Attacking the credibility and at times even the purpose of the Federal government became Republican gospel. A generation of increasingly conservative party operators began to spread a belief that Federal government and Federal programs were bad. 

     Reagan used another code word and one that came from more ancient Republican Strategy, "Socialism is a great evil."
    Old time Chamber of Commerce and Capitalist Republicans used the threat of socialism and communism as a way to bust union power and to hold back tax increases. For years Democrats have campaigned for health care, education and other safety net programs that would require federal money, often designated as coming from increased taxes on high earners. Democrats had the support of labor unions as well. That prompted the old Republican trope of "evil socialism."
    "Socialism only works in two places-Heaven, where they don't need it and hell, where they already have it."  Again Reagan would draw smiles, and agreement.
     For decades Republicans have tried to blur the lines and the distinctive differences between socialism and communism. An increasingly lazy electorate has lacked the intellectual curiosity to know the difference and to actually examine nations where those systems are in place, and in varying degrees. Socialism is not a gateway drug to communism, though that has been Republican mantra. The VA, Medicare, Social Security, interstate highways, national health care are socialism, and as we all know it affects the bottom line.

    Reagan was an American icon and his popularity added a halo effect to hardening Republican anti government, anti welfare, anti busing and other dog whistles.
    By now Republicans had hardwired their hard edged brand of stubbornness  and conservatism. It created a prevailing attitude that would eventually denigrate to cult of personality populism. The storm needed seeding of thunder.

    A corrosive bludgeoning prophet who fed the monster was Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House. The Republican Revolution he engineered is a leading cause of the dysfunction that grips Capitol Hill.
    Gingrich brought legislative combat, winner take all obstructionism, the weapon of name calling, distortion and lies.
Gingrich made deception a party tool. He poisoned the body politic.
    "One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party  is that we don't encourage you to be nasty,"  is a Gingrich mantra. 
    You know who was listening.

    The final body part of the monster was the loyalty of the evangelical right wing. George W. Bush had success in building the  evangelical base. He had a ready appeal to southern states, rich with right wing evangelicals. They tightened their attraction to the Republicans during his 8 years. He explained it in an interview with the Washington Times;
    "I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say you're not equally as patriotic if you're not a religious person...I've never said that. I've never acted like that. I think that's just the way it is."

     The Southern Strategy, playing to the confederacy and the notions of white supremacy, the clever use of code language and dog whistles, voter suppression, distortion, building a climate to attack the purpose and function of the Federal government, were as former Republican strategists acknowledge were the Republican soul. 
    Attacking the media, trying to erode the credibility of examination or challenge was a Nixon tool, all those years ago. Roger Ailes who founded Fox News was a propagandist who worked for Nixon and Reagan. It was there he hatched the idea of a right wing Republican news network with the audacious slogan "Fair and Balanced."  Lazy viewers, fed a party line over and over, repeating Republican mantras and the stage was set.

    Donald Trump is a creation of the Republican Party. At no time during his mendacious administration did Senate Republicans challenge him, try to limit his insanity, listen to those who worked for him and quit, or take a cue from the path he was charting. They did not convict him, which emboldened his criminality. There was no attempt to challenge his increasingly seditious behavior. Even when the election was known, and all the court challenges rejected, even by fellow Republicans, Mitch McConnell continued to aid and abet his lies, and insurrectionist threats. 
    The racist history of the party came fully born in Trump.
The moral bankruptcy of lies and distortions, code language and dog whistles came into full view. 
     Are there good and decent Republicans, those who disavow their cult rites? Yes, but not many in Washington. The idiot gaggle in the House even tried to unseat a hard core conservative named Cheney who voted to impeach.
      Good Republicans who served the party and the nation well, are dead, or old, or retiring but Missouri's John Danforth speaks for them. He calls the current party and its leadership "grotesque." A party that seats Taylor-Green, that allows Cruz, Hawley, Jordan and the weasel ways of McCarthy is a cancer in the body politic. If it is not excised it will spread. It has already made this Republic ill.

    So we end this long tome by returning to the metaphor of the fungi. There is a beauty in these transformers of life, emerging from the detritus of a forest floor, springing to life in the wake of death, decay, swamp, mud and upheaval. We can hope this for our nation, and for the party who gave us Trump. They got exactly what they wanted. But America did not deserve it.
     Rot away Republicans, transform yourself.

      Before he died of a brain tumor Lee Atwater apologized to Dukakis and to the nation for his "naked cruelty."  
      He told an interviewer "I didn't invent negative politics but I am it's most ardent practitioner."
      Some in the evangelical movement have come to see the absurd paradox of supporting Trump. 
       There were many honorable Republican election officials and state leaders who stood up to the attempt to subvert the election. So there is an opportunity to again be respectable, but first, the dead hearts and deal morality must fall.

       Stay safe. Stay well.

       See you down the trail.