TBR News July 31, 2017

Jul 31 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., July 31, 2017: “Prior to the event of printed, and later television, media, it was not difficult for the world’s power elites and the governments they controlled, to see that unwelcome and potentially dangerous information never reached the masses of people under their control. Most of the general public in more distant times were completely illiterate and received their news from their local priest or from occasional gossip from travelers.

The admixture of kings, princes and clergy had an iron control over what their subject could, or could not hear. During the Middle Ages and even into the more liberal Renaissance, universities were viewed with suspicion and those who taught, or otherwise expressed, concepts that were anathema to the concept of feudalism were either killed outright in public or permanently banished. Too-liberal priests were silenced by similar methods. If Papal orders for silence were not followed, priests could, and were, put to the torch as an example for others to note.

However, with the advent of the printing press and a growing literacy in the population, the question of informational control was less certain and with the growing movements in Europe and the American colonies for less restriction and more public expression, the power elites found it necessary to find the means to prevent unpleasant information from being proclaimed throughout their lands and unto all the inhabitants thereof.

The power elites realized that if they could not entirely prevent inconvenient and often dangerous facts to emerge and threaten their authority, their best course was not censorship but to find and develop the means to control the presentation and publication of that they wished to keep entirely secret.

The first method was to block or prevent the release of dangerous material by claiming that such material was a matter of important state security and as such, strictly controlled. This, they said, was not only for their own protection but also the somewhat vague but frightening concept of the security of their people.

The second method was, and has been, to put forth disinformation that so distorts and confuses actual facts as to befuddle a public they see as easily controlled, naïve and gullible.

The mainstream American media which theoretically was a balance against governmental corruption and abuses of power, quickly became little more than a mouthpiece for the same government they were supposed to report on. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, most American newspapers were little better than Rupert Mudoch’s modern tabloids, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing but during the First World War, President Wilson used the American entry into the First World War as an excuse for setting up controls over the American public. Aside from setting up government control over food distribution, the railroads, much industry involved in war production, he also established a powerful propganda machine coupled with a national informant system that guaranteed his personal control. In 1918, citing national security, Wilson arrested and imprisoned critical news reporters and threatened to shut down their papers.

Wilson was a wartime president and set clear precedents that resonated very loudly with those who read history and understood its realities.

During the Second World War, Franklin Roosevelt, another wartime leader, was not as arrogant or highhanded as Wilson (whose empire fell apart after the end of the war that supported it) but he set up informational controls that exist to the present time. And after Roosevelt, and the war, passed into history, the government in the United States created a so-called cold war with Soviet Russia, instead of Hitler’s Germany, as the chief enemy.

Control of the American media then fell into the hands of the newly-formed Central Intelligence Agency who eventually possessed an enormous, all-encompassing machine that clamped down firmly on the national print, and later television media, with an iron hand in a velvet glove. Media outlets that proved to be cooperative with CIA propaganda officials were rewarded for their loyalty and cooperation with valuable, and safe, news and the implication was that enemies of the state would either be subject to scorn and derision and that supporters of the state and its policies would receive praise and adulation.

The methodology of a controlled media has a number of aspects which, once clearly understood, renders its techniques and goals far less effective.

Mainstream media sources (especially newspapers) are notorious for reporting flagrantly dishonest and unsupported news stories on the front page, then quietly retracting those stories on the very back page when they are caught. In this case, the point is to railroad the lie into the collective consciousness. Once the lie is finally exposed, it is already too late, and a large portion of the population will not notice or care when the truth comes out.

A good example of this would be the collusion of the mainstream media with the Bush administration to convince the American public after 9/11 that Iraq had WMDs, even though no concrete evidence existed to prove it. George W. Bush’s eventual admission that there had never been any WMDs in Iraq (except chemical weapons which the U.S. actually sold to Saddam under the Reagan / Bush administration) was lightly reported or glazed over by most mainstream news sources.

The core reason behind a war that killed over a million people was proven to be completely fraudulent, yet I still run into people today who believe that Iraq had nukes.”


Table of Contents

  • Robert Mueller, Conspiracy Theorist
  • Should AIPAC Register as a Foreign Agent?
  • What will be the ramifications of Putin’s order to reduce US embassy staff?
  • ‘Kleptocracy’ charge leveled at Donald Trump
  • Russia Says New U.S. Sanctions Forced It to Respond
  • America’s Carbon-Pusher in Chief


Robert Mueller, Conspiracy Theorist

He’s unfit to be special counsel

July 31, 2017

by Justin Raimondo


When former FBI chief Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel to preside over the “Russia-gate” probe, official Washington sang hosannas. Democrats, Republicans, the pundits, and the cocktail party chatterers of every persuasion swooned over his “impeccable” credentials.

That should’ve served as a warning sign, right there. Because what are those credentials? What is the Mueller record, and why does it inspire confidence in all the usual suspects?

Mueller has been consistently wrong about every important investigation he’s been involved in: and not only that – he’s erred on the side of a group-thinking warmongering and utterly clueless political class.

Let’s start with the most egregious case: the “Amerithrax” investigation. When, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, letters containing anthrax showed up at the offices of NBC, the New York Post, and two US Senators, then FBI Director Mueller mobilized his agency to get to the bottom of a crime that shocked the nation – and helped push us into the Iraq war. Colin Powell used the anthrax attacks in his talking points for war with Iraq, telling the United Nations:

“Less than a teaspoon of dry anthrax, a little bit about this amount – this is just about the amount of a teaspoon – less than a teaspoon full of dry anthrax in an envelope shutdown the United States Senate in the fall of 2001. This forced several hundred people to undergo emergency medical treatment and killed two postal workers just from an amount just about this quantity that was inside of an envelope.”

The Iraqis, intoned Powell, had never accounted for their biological weapons. The implication was clear: the Iraqis were behind the anthrax attacks. Americans were told by their government that another terrorist attack utilizing biological weapons was imminent: they rushed to the hardware stores and bought up duct tape and plastic tarps. Mueller appeared before Congress, testifying that cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda on US terrain represented a direct threat:

“Secretary Powell presented evidence last week that Baghdad has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, willfully attempting to evade and deceive the international community. Our particular concern is that Saddam may supply al-Qaeda with biological, chemical, or radiological material before or during a war with the US to avenge the fall of his regime. Although divergent political goals limit al-Qaeda’s cooperation with Iraq, northern Iraq has emerged as an increasingly important operational base for al-Qaeda associates, and a US-Iraq war could prompt Baghdad to more directly engage al-Qaeda.”

A month later, the invasion of Iraq began.

And the anthrax investigation dragged on. The probe focused on one Steven Hatfill, a former employee of USAMRIID, the primary US government bio-weapons research lab. Given the weaponized nature of the anthrax contained in the letters, FBI investigators were convinced that a scientist connected to anthrax research was the culprit. But why fixate on Hatfill?

This focus was due largely to the efforts of two individuals who were not experts in the field. Instead of homing in on the science – trying to trace the peculiar anthrax strain found in the deadly missives, which had killed 17 people – the FBI investigation under Mueller’s direction was based on purely circumstantial evidence uncovered by two individuals with little to no scientific knowledge: one was Don Foster, a Vassar College professor whose claim to fame was tracking down Newsweek columnist Joe Klein as the anonymous author of Primary Colors, a roman a clef about Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued career. The other was Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a molecular biologist and former advisor to President Clinton on bio-weapons, who believed that the anthrax attacks were the unintended consequence of a secret CIA project gone awry and that the FBI wasn’t making any arrests because it would reveal the government’s responsibility for the whole affair.

Like the amateur “investigators” of the Twitterverse, who today weave elaborate conspiracy theories linking various Trump administration figures to murky Russian operatives, Foster had done some digging and uncovered a pile of circumstantial “evidence” pointing to Hatfill: he dug up an interview with Hatfill during his tenure at the National Institutes of Health in which he outlined how bubonic plague could be manufactured and launched in someone’s garage. Foster also found an unpublished novel written by Hatfill that described a biological warfare attack on Washington, D.C. More “clues”: Hatfill had been in Rhodesia during an anthrax outbreak that occurred during the 1970s, and had been a student at a medical school in the town of Greendale – the name of the made up school listed as the return address on the anthrax letters.

Rosenberg was also on to Hatfill’s trail, and she got together with Foster, comparing notes: they had independently come to the same conclusion – Hatfill was the likely culprit. Foster had previously gone to the FBI, which initially rejected his evidence: Hatfill, they told him, had a good alibi. Yet the Foster-Rosenberg team of amateur sleuths soldiered on: Rosenberg carried out a public campaign explicating her pet theories, including authoring a “Possible Portrait of the Anthrax Perpetrator” that did not name Hatfill but surely described him to a tee, even naming one of his friends.

Still, the FBI was uninterested in the Foster-Rosenberg sleuthing effort – but this changed when the two amateur investigators met with Senate staffers, including those whose offices had been targeted by the anthrax letters. The FBI agent in charge of the probe was brought into the meeting. As David Freed, writing in The Atlantic, put it:

“Rosenberg criticized the FBI for not being aggressive enough. ‘She thought we were wasting efforts and resources in a particular—or in several areas, and should focus more on who she concluded was responsible for it,” [FBI agent Van] Harp would later testify.

“’Did she mention Dr. Hatfill’s name in her presentation?’ Hatfill’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Thomas G. Connolly, asked Harp during a sworn deposition.

“’That’s who she was talking about,’ Harp testified.

“Exactly a week after the Rosenberg meeting, the FBI carried out its first search of Hatfill’s apartment, with television news cameras broadcasting it live.”

From that day forward, Hatfill’s life became a living nightmare. Then Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that Hatfill was a “person of interest.” The FBI trailed him everywhere. The media hounded him. He was driven out of two jobs. His friends abandoned him. His home was trashed by agents, as was his girlfriend’s apartment. He was constantly stopped by local police. He became a pariah. Although ultimately exonerated when the “evidence” against him collapsed – Hatfill was awarded a $5.82 million settlement after enduring six long years of torture – his life was effectively destroyed. And all because Robert Mueller fell for a conspiracy theory that had no basis in fact.

As Freed notes, President George W. Bush was constantly needling Mueller about the slowness of the anthrax investigation, and there was tremendous pressure for the FBI Director to come up with something. The hysteria level in the country was reaching new heights on a daily basis. The theory of Hatfill’s guilt filled a need for Mueller, both politically and career-wise. As Freed writes:

“There was enough circumstantial evidence surrounding Hatfill that zealous investigators could easily elaborate a plausible theory of him as the culprit. As fear about the anthrax attacks spread, government and other workers who might have been exposed to the deadly spores via the mail system were prescribed prophylactic doses of Cipro, a powerful antibiotic that protects against infection caused by inhaled anthrax. Unfamiliar to the general population before September 2001, Cipro quickly became known as the anti-anthrax drug, and prescriptions for it skyrocketed.”

Pursuing the trail pioneered by Foster and Rosenberg – Hatfill’s good alibi was apparently forgotten – the FBI tried to tie together the bits and pieces of information linking Hatfill to the attacks into a legally airtight case – and they failed. But that didn’t stop them from leaking to the media all along the way. As Freed writes: “The result was an unrelenting stream of inflammatory innuendo that dominated front pages and television news. Hatfill found himself trapped, the powerless central player in what Connolly describes as ‘a story about the two most powerful institutions in the United States, the government and the press, ganging up on an innocent man. It’s Kafka.’”

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?

Here is a politically important case, in which several high-level people have been targeted: investigators come into the probe assuming the identity of the responsible party, and are engaged thereafter in looking for confirmation of their assumption.

The parallels with the “Russia-gate” investigation are glaringly obvious: despite the lack of any real forensic evidence, the investigation is based on the assumption that the Russians, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered in the 2016 presidential election by “hacking” the DNC and John Podesta’s emails, handing them over to WikiLeaks, and otherwise engaging in a concerted campaign to keep Hillary Clinton out of the Oval Office. All evidence to the contrary – and there’s plenty of it – is being pointedly ignored. Instead, the Russian conspiracy theory is being pushed by political actors with dubious (and quite obvious) motives, with the probe headed up by a man with a history of succumbing to political pressure in order to get “results.”

Like the Foster-Rosenberg conspiracy theory targeting Hatfill – and the “evidence” the Bush administration utilized to drag us into war with Iraq –   bits and pieces of “intelligence” are being strung together to depict a Vast Russian-Trumpian Conspiracy to steal the 2016 election. A meeting with the Russia ambassador: a meeting with some Russian lawyer; the selling of condos to Russian clients; bit and pieces of intercepted communications leaked by anonymous intelligence officials. The whole thing resembles the “factoids” touted by the Bush era “Office of Special Plans” that were disseminated in the media to mislead the public and the Congress into going along with the Iraq war.

Rod Rosenstein’s letter appointing Mueller as Special Counsel assumes a conclusion and then seeks evidence to confirm it: the letter takes as a given the role of the Russian government and gives Mueller the authority to probe “links” – the same carefree methodology that led to Hatfill’s years-long persecution at the hands of the government and its media accomplices.

Speaking of media accomplices, the worst was undoubtedly New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who persistently passed along Rosenberg’s unverified accusations under the thinly-veiled protective shield of prefacing it with “some say.” Weeks after Hatfill was exonerated, Kristof dashed off a reluctant-sounding pseudo-apology: that he’s now among the chief expositors of the Russia-gate conspiracy theory should come as no surprise.

Mueller’s weakness for convenient conspiracy theories that complement the conventional wisdom in Washington make him the worst possible choice for a special counsel. His tendency toward groupthink made him a key player in the campaign to lie us into the Iraq war. His utter lack of epistemological integrity in targeting an innocent man for the anthrax attacks – and refusing to clear Hatfill two years after investigators concluded he wasn’t the perpetrator – demonstrate his unfitness so clearly that one can only marvel there was no public outcry at his appointment. These flaws are more than likely to produce the same results in the Russia-gate probe – albeit on a much larger scale.

If Mueller carries out his mandate as special counsel the way he conducted the Amerithrax investigation, it will be as if Louise Mensch, Eric Garland, and Seth Abramson are providing the FBI with leads and guidance – just as Don Foster and Barbara Hatch Rosenberg did in the Hatfill case. But with this difference: hard scientific evidence – tracing the anthrax variant contained in the deadly letters – eventually led the anthrax probe in a different direction. In the case of Russia-gate, there is no science, only the guesswork of various self-interested cyber-security firms like CrowdStrike, which first fingered the Russians as the DNC/Podesta hackers. The inherent subjectivity of hacking attribution, and the extreme politicization of the investigation, will block this kind of corrective.

Which will empower Mueller to make it up as he goes along. Or, paraphrasing David Freed writing about the anthrax investigation fiasco: If there is “enough circumstantial evidence” surrounding the Trump administration that “zealous investigators could easily elaborate a plausible theory” of them as the culprits in a collusion scheme involving the Kremlin, then that is what we can expect to see.

This goes way beyond the Trump administration, Russia-gate, and the current political brouhaha over the 2016 presidential election: this is about the epistemic corruption that is rife in our political class. It is a pandemic born of groupthink, hypocrisy, smugness, and the willingness to fabricate “facts” in order to achieve political ends. It is a deadly disease, and it is killing us. The only antidote is a free media untethered to political interests and answerable only to the truth – and that is precisely what we don’t have right now. The media is complicit in all this: indeed, they are the carriers of the bacillus that is destroying this country. What happens when a free society poisons itself? I’m afraid we’re about to find out.

Important note: I don’t want to leave the impression that Mueller got it right when he targeted scientist Bruce Ivins as the culprit. In fact, the “evidence” marshaled against Ivins – who committed suicide before he could be brought to trial – was pretty much on the same level as the allegations made against Hatfill. I wrote about the Ivins case here. I also wrote about the anthrax attacks here, here, and especially here, in 2003, where I upheld Hatfill’s innocence and pointed in the direction of the probable perpetrators.

In short, Mueller never got it right.


Should AIPAC Register as a Foreign Agent?

Pro-Israel organization should not get a pass.

July 28, 2017

by Philip Giraldi

The American Conservative

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a meeting ostensibly convened to discuss the failure to enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (FARA). Originally rescheduled for this week, the postponed meeting would have featured Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort testifying about their controversial Trump Tower meeting, but their subpoenas were canceled at the last minute after they arranged to turn over documents. The June 2016 meeting under investigation included Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, publicist Rob Goldstone, businessman Ike Kaveladze, and translator Anatoli Samochornov. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner was also in attendance, apparently only briefly.

The Judiciary Committee hearing was originally set up to look at the possible Russian links of former journalist and head of the research firm Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson, who was behind the infamous Trump dossier that appeared in January. Yet in reality it is part of the broader effort to determine whether Moscow interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign.

FARA was created in the lead up to World War II to help monitor the activity of Italian, German and Japanese agent-lobbyists who were believed to be working hard in the U.S. to influence opinion as well as congressional votes in favor of their respective sponsoring nations. The intention was to force the “foreign agents” to register with the Department of the Treasury so they would have to identify their government sponsors and be required to reveal their sources of income.

FARA is not very rigorously enforced, which was one of the points that the Judiciary Committee was prepared to address in regards to Russia, but there can be consequences for those who ignore it. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was recently compelled to register as an agent of Turkey after he received $530,000 in payments to support Ankara’s view regarding those it believed to be behind last year’s coup.

Ironically, the most powerful and effective foreign-government lobby in Washington is so dominant that it has been able to avoid registering for the past 55 years. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was last confronted by FARA when its predecessor organization the American Zionist Council was pressured by John F. Kennedy’s Justice Department in 1962 and 1963. Kennedy’s death stopped that effort—and ended White House attempts to hold Israel accountable for the development of its secret nuclear weapons program (which depended on nuclear material removed illegally from the United States with the connivance of a company located in Pennsylvania called NUMEC).

AIPAC’s website declares that it is “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” so by its own admission it functions pretty clearly as Israel’s proxy. It spent $102 million in 2015, had 396 employees in 2013, and claims to have 100,000 members, many of whom are organized into state and city chapters. It also benefits from being a tax exempt 501(c)4 organization classified as promoting “international understanding.” Its annual Summit in Washington attracts more than 15,000 participants, including scores of congressmen and other senior government officials. It blankets Capitol Hill with its lobbyists and is a prolific source of position papers explaining Israel’s perception of what is taking place in the Middle East. Its easy access to the media and also to politicians in Washington is so widely accepted on Capitol Hill that it reportedly frequently drafts bills that Congress then goes on to propose.

No Washington lobby is benign. Lobbies exist to subvert the public interest. They promote particular agendas and are not intended to enhance the general well-being of the American public. Lobbyists would argue that they are in the information business, that they make lawmakers aware of facts that impact on pending legislation, but the reality is that every lobby is nevertheless driven by self-interest.

The power of the Israel Lobby and of AIPAC is not cost free for the American public. The current $3 billion plus that Israel, with a thriving first world economy, receives in military assistance is on top of the $130 billion that it has received since 1949. Protecting Israel in international organizations like the United Nations has sometimes marginalized the U.S. in such bodies and the lobby’s influence over American foreign policy has often been noted. In 2010 General David Petraeus stated that Israeli policies were putting American military personnel in the Middle East in danger. He quickly recanted, however.

Once upon a time AIPAC’s Steven Rosen boasted to an interviewer, “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.” He meant that congressmen would sign on to anything if they thought it would please Israel. Recently the U.S. Congress has been working on bills that would criminalize individuals or groups that support a boycott of Israel. It would not be the first such legislation. The 2015 omnibus trade agreement with Europe included an amendment mandating that nations engaging in anti-Israel boycotts, to include “Israeli controlled territories,” should be subject to retaliatory action by the U.S.

There are currently two bills constituting the Israel Anti-Boycott Act of 2017 (S.720 and H.R. 1697) being considered by the Senate and House that outdo any previous deference to Israeli interests. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Ben Cardin, who also had a hand in the trade-legislation amendments protecting Israel. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the bill was drafted with the assistance of AIPAC. The legislation, which would almost certainly be overturned as unconstitutional if it ever does in fact become law, is particularly dangerous, and goes well beyond any previous pro-Israeli legislation, essentially denying free speech when the subject is Israel.

The two versions of the bill that are moving through Congress have 238 sponsors and cosponsors in the House and 46 in the Senate. If you do your math, you will realize that those numbers already constitute a majority in the House and are only five short of one in the Senate, so passage of the bills is virtually assured. The bill’s sponsors include many congressmen who have in the past frequently spoken out in defense of free speech, with Senator Ted Cruz having said in 2014, for example, that “The First Amendment was enacted to protect unreasonable speech. I, for one, certainly don’t want our speech limited to speech that elected politicians in Washington think is reasonable.”

The movement that is particularly targeted by the bills is referred to as BDS, or Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. It is a non-violen  t reaction to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land on the West Bank and the continued building of Jewish-only settlements. BDS has been targeted both by the Israeli government and by AIPAC. The AIPAC website, which describes the group’s lobbying agenda, includes the promotion of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act as a top priority.

The Israeli government and its American supporters particularly fear BDS because it has become quite popular, particularly on university campuses, where administrative steps have frequently been taken to suppress it. The denial of free speech on campus when it relates to Israel has sometimes been referred to as the “Palestinian exception.” Nevertheless, the message continues to resonate, due both to its non-violence its and human rights appeal. It challenges Israel’s arbitrary military rule over 3 million Palestinians on the West Bank who have onerous restrictions placed on nearly every aspect of their daily lives. And its underlying message is that Israel is a rogue state engaging in actions that are widely considered to be both illegal and immoral, which the Israeli government rightly sees as potentially delegitimizing.

Twenty-one state legislatures have already passed various laws confronting BDS, in many cases initiating economic penalties on organizations that boycott Israel or denying state funds to colleges and universities that allow BDS advocates to operate freely on campus. The pending federal legislation would go one step further by criminalizing any U.S. citizen “engaged in interstate or foreign commerce” who supports a boycott of Israel or who even goes about “requesting the furnishing of information” regarding it, with penalties enforced through amendments of two existing laws, the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Act of 1945, that include potential fines of between $250,000 and $1 million and up to 20 years in prison.

Interestingly, a number of churches, to include the Presbyterians, Mennonites, and United Church of Christ, have divested from companies participating in the occupation of the West Bank and could be subject to the punitive steps authorized by the legislation. And it also is interesting to note that the bills would not punish anyone who does not have a business relationship with Israel for reasons other than politics. The punishment comes solely when one states that he or she is not engaging in business with Israel due to objections regarding what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

Daniel Larison has observed that even if one assumes that the legislation will face judicial hurdles and will never be enacted, it is nevertheless discouraging to consider that a clear majority of congressmen thinks it is perfectly acceptable to deny all Americans the right to free political expression in order to defend an internationally-acknowledged illegal occupation being carried out by a foreign country. That the occupation is illegal has even been acknowledged repeatedly by Washington, which contradicts its own policy with this legislation.

Those co-sponsoring the bills include Democrats, Republicans, progressives and conservatives. Deference to Israeli interests is bipartisan and crosses ideological lines. Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim, writing at The Intercept, observe that “…the very mention of the word ‘Israel’ causes most members of both parties to quickly snap into line in a show of unanimity that would make the regime of North Korea blush with envy.”

Finally, the seemingly unrelenting pressure to make criticism of Israel illegal is particularly dangerous as it is international. Indeed, it is a global phenomenon. Wherever one goes—Western Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States—there is a well-organized and funded lobby ready, willing, and able to go to war to protect Israel. In France it is illegal to wear a t-shirt supporting BDS or to demonstrate in favor of it. Britain has introduced laws that include defining criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. In Canada, support of BDS has been regarded as a hate crime.

Will FARA registration of AIPAC as a foreign lobby fix all that? Of course not, but it would be a good first step. AIPAC would have to publicly acknowledge that it is acting on behalf of a foreign government and its sources of income would be subject to review. While the Congress is busy searching for Russian agents under FARA it just might spend some time also examining the pernicious influence of the unregistered and unrestrained Israel Lobby.

What will be the ramifications of Putin’s order to reduce US embassy staff?

Russia’s surprise move is so severe that if it goes ahead it is likely to paralyze the work of US diplomats in Russia – depending on how the details shake out

July 31, 2017

by Shaun Walker in Moscow

The Guardian

When it comes to diplomatic expulsions, Vladimir Putin likes to pull a surprise.

When the outgoing Barack Obama administration kicked out 35 Russian diplomats in December, the Russian president was widely expected to make a symmetrical response, but surprised everyone by doing nothing at all – apparently in the hope that relations would become rosier when Donald Trump took office.

Now, seven months later, the response has finally come, and Putin had another surprise up his sleeve: this time, the Russian move is so severe that if it goes ahead it is likely to paralyse the work of US diplomats in Russia.

Moscow’s response, announced by the foreign ministry on Friday morning and confirmed by Putin on Sunday night, was to demand that the Americans reduce their presence in Russia – the Moscow embassy, as well as consulates in St Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Vladivostok – to a total of 455 people. The main victims of the huge cull demanded by the Russians are likely to be the embassy’s local Russian staff.

Standard diplomatic practice, when it comes to expulsions, is an eye for an eye: you kick out eight of our diplomats, and we’ll kick out eight of yours. Putin’s order, which gave a specific number allowed to remain, rather than a specific number of expulsions, caused some confusion.

A source in Moscow confirmed that the 455 figure was not only for US diplomats but for all staff employed at the US missions, “from the cleaners to the ambassador”, and said it would be up to the Americans to decide how they reorganised their staffing.

Putin said on Sunday evening that the Russian order meant that 755 employees would have to “cease their work”.

The US embassy has refused to comment on how many staff it has and what the breakdown is between local hires and diplomats, but a 2013 internal report into the Russia mission noted that the state department deployed 301 diplomats and 934 locally hired staff positions in Russia. Allowing for small changes over the past four years, this would fit roughly with Putin’s statement that 755 should be dismissed to leave a total of 455.

Theoretically, this could mean the Americans could merely release the majority of their local staff and would not need to send any diplomats home, but the embassy relies on a huge staff of caterers, drivers, gardeners and cleaners to keep it running. The only way to make the cuts without sending dozens of diplomats home would be to make career diplomats start pruning the hedges and answering the phones.

The closest historical parallel was a 1986 Soviet decree banning local staff from working for the US embassy in retaliation for the expulsion of 55 Soviet diplomats from the US. The order meant that for a brief period the ambassador had to drive himself around Moscow, his wife did the catering and US marines worked at the embassy bar.

The US embassy in Moscow has made no comment at all on the Russian order, except to say ambassador John Tefft expressed his “strong disappointment and protest” when he was informed on Friday of the cuts by the foreign ministry, and that the embassy is liaising with Washington.

It is possible that some kind of negotiations are underway, as the reduction in staff does not come into effect until 1 September. Russia is desperate to gain back two diplomatic properties seized by the Americans in December, and to have new diplomats accredited for work in the US. If the US agrees to grant visas to more Russian diplomats, it is possible the Russian demands will be waived or softened.

The cuts will be a huge challenge for the incoming US ambassador Jon Huntsman, who – if he is confirmed by the Senate – is expected to arrive in the Russian capital at the end of the summer.

Russian counter-sanctions have a habit of hitting Russians themselves the hardest, with recent examples including banning the import of European produce, and banning the adoption of Russian orphans. There is even a popular Russian meme which suggests Russian officials will give the order to “bomb Voronezh” (a Russian city) in response to hostile attacks from the West.

Russians who work for the US missions are likely to be the biggest casualties. Their lives are already make extremely difficult. One former local employee reported men he presumed to be FSB agents arriving at his family home and tailing him across Moscow, asking him why he was working for the Americans and telling him he ought to become an informant if he was a patriot. Eventually, he left the job.

“Russian citizens will be hit hardest by smaller US staff at the embassy. Wait time for a visa to travel to US will increase dramatically,” former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul wrote on Twitter.

Russian officials, who have denied all allegations of meddling in the US elections, say they had no choice but to respond harshly, as it becomes clear that whatever Donald Trump’s desires, warmer relations with the US are unlikely, as his administration remains mired in scandal.

The almost unanimous passing by both houses of Congress last week of new sanctions proved to be the final straw. Putin last week said Russia could not continue to tolerate such “insolence” from the Americans.

“After half a year of waiting and then harsh new American sanctions, a symmetrical response would have looked weak,” the pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov wrote on Facebook.

“After the new law in which Russia is basically called an enemy of the US, there’s no possibility for good relations. So why do we need such a big army of their diplomats here? So that they can spy and interfere in our elections? It’s better if they go home.”


‘Kleptocracy’ charge leveled at Donald Trump

President Trump still risks charges of “kleptocracy” and “profiting” from public office, says former US ethics chief Walter Shaub. He’s told a UK newspaper that US governance has become an “embarrassment.”

July 31, 2017


Shaub, who quit mid-July to join a US better-governance group, accused Trump on Monday of failing to disentangle his presidency from his hotel empire – despite putting his business into a family trust.

“It certainly risks people starting to refer to us as a kleptocracy,” Shaub told Britain’s Guardian newspaper, adding:”His actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency.”

The Cambridge [University] Dictionary defines kleptocracy as “a society whose leaders make themselves rich and powerful by stealing from the rest of the people.”

In the past, Trump’s White House has strongly disputed allegations of ethical risks stemming from Trump business involvements.

US ‘an embarrassment’

Shaub, who previously directed the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and is now a director of the nonprofit US watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said the United States under Trump was “an embarrassment.”

“We’re running around the world trying to promote anti-corruption measures and we don’t even have our own house in order,” he said.

“Now we’re anything but that,” said Shaub, who is among 17 officials and candidates for office who have parted ways from Trump since he took office in January.

Washington had been thrust into an “ethics crisis,” he asserted.

‘His own landlord’

Referring to the Trump International Hotel, between the White House and the US Capitol, Shaub said: “It’s wildly inappropriate for him to be running a hotel that he’s leasing from the federal government.”

“As a president, you shouldn’t be doing business with the United States government. He’s his own landlord at this point,” Shaub said.

Trump is the sole beneficiary of a trust run by his eldest son and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, and retains powers to revoke that arrangement at any time, according to documents published in February by the investigative journalism venture ProPublica.

Past US presidents, such as John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, put their assets into blind trusts – not ones overseen by family members – before taking office.

Intentions left indecipherable

Shaub said the Trump trust arrangements were “meaningless.”

“We can’t know whether his decisions are motivated by his policy aims or his financial interests,” Shaub said.

“And that certainly alone creates the problem because, whatever his intent, people having to ask undermines the faith in governmental decision-making and puts a cloud over everything that government does,” he added.

Countries, which previously rented space elsewhere, had “suddenly booked major events at his hotel,” Shaub said.

The public was left wondering whether their intention was to “basically funnel money to the president in the hopes that it will influence his decision-making.”

“It may not, but again, it undermines faith in the integrity of government if we don’t know,” Shaub concluded.

Charges filed

In June, Maryland and the US capital filed lawsuits against Trump, alleging that heavy spending by foreign diplomats and embassies at Trump luxury hotels and offices in Washington and New York violated the US Constitution.

The Associated Press reported in March that the Trump International Hotel, near the White House, had “become the place to see, be seen, drink, network – even live – for the still-emerging Trump set.”

‘Center of the universe’

AP quoted a Dallas-based fundraiser for Trump’s past election campaign, Doug Deason: “I’ve never come through this lobby and not seen someone I know.”

The hotel had become “literally the center of the universe,” Deason said.

In February, Kuwait’s embassy hosted a reception in the hotel’s ballroom. In May, the hotel was used by the Turkey-US Business Council and American Turkish Council.

The Guardian noted that Trump had business interests in at least 20 countries, including a $150 million (127 million-euro) tower in the Philippines, golf courses in Ireland and Scotland and “numerous” projects in India.

Russia Says New U.S. Sanctions Forced It to Respond

July 31, 2017

by Neil MacFarquahr

The New York Times

MOSCOW — Even as it sought to punish the United States for imposing new sanctions by forcing the mass dismissal of employees from American diplomatic posts in Russia, the Kremlin left the door open on Monday for President Trump to avoid further escalation.

Without mentioning the American president directly, Moscow seemed to be appealing to him to resurrect his campaign promise to try to improve Russian-American relations.

“The will to normalize these relations should be placed on the record,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin, told reporters on Monday, and the “attempt at sanctions diktat” should be abandoned.

The breadth of the dismissals demanded — 755 people, most of whom will be Russian employees — was stunning even by the standards of the Cold War playbook from which the move seemed copied. But Mr. Peskov suggested that Russia had been forced to respond to Congress, and that it was not the Kremlin that was making matters worse.

“Of course we’re not interested in those relations being subject to erosion,” Mr. Peskov said. “We’re interested in sustainable development of our relations and can only regret that, for now, we are far from this ideal.”

Mr. Putin, in the television interview during which he announced the retaliatory move, said that Russian patience with waiting for relations to improve was at an end.

It was a major shift in tone from the beginning of this month, when Mr. Putin met President Trump for the first time at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

Mr. Trump had talked during his campaign of improving ties with Russia and had praised Mr. Putin, and the Kremlin had expected the face-to-face meeting of the presidents to mark the start of a new era. The immediate assessment in Moscow was that the two had set the stage for better relations.

But then, in quick succession, came the expanded sanctions passed by Congress, Mr. Trump’s indication that he would sign them into law and Moscow’s forceful retaliation.

In Washington, the State Department issued a statement saying that it was assessing the impact of the Russian measures and how it would respond. The United States Embassy in Moscow declined to comment.

Just as in 2014, when Russia reacted to the first Western sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis by banning many Western food imports, it seems that ordinary Russians will bear the brunt of the latest decision.

The bulk of the 755 people dismissed are likely to be Russian employees from the embassy in Moscow, as well as from the American consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. It is not clear how many Americans might be expelled, if any.

A State Department inspector general’s report in 2013, the last concrete numbers publicly available, said there were 934 “locally employed” staff members at the Moscow Embassy and three consulates, out of a total staff of 1,279. That would leave roughly 345 Americans, many of whom report regular harassment by Russian officials.

In Moscow, locally hired staff members reached at the embassy said the mood inside the walls of the large compound on the Garden Ring, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares, was stunned confusion.

“Everyone is worried, and there is no information,” said one. “There are so many rumors and no facts yet.”

The measures were the harshest such diplomatic moves since a similar rupture in 1986, in the waning years of the Soviet Union. At that time, Moscow forced 261 local staff members to quit, leaving the Embassy mostly devoid of secretaries, drivers and other support staff.

“I heard from people who were here when that happened and how devastating it was at that time,” said the staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because embassy personnel are not authorized to talk to the news media.

Mr. Peskov said it was up to the Americans to decide how to reduce their staff to 455, matching the size of Russia’s diplomatic staff in the United States, including those at the Russian Mission to the United Nations in New York.

Whereas the United States has long relied on local staff, the Russians tend to employ their own citizens as support staff. Mr. Peskov said the criterion was anyone considered to be on the staff, which would not include outsourced workers.

He denied that giving the Americans until Sept. 1 to reduce their staff was a bargaining tactic.

“When there’s such a large-scale cut, it will be inhumane and inappropriate to demand it to be implemented within such a term that was given, for example, to our diplomats on the New Year’s Eve,” he said.

In response to Russian hacking of the American election, President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in late December, giving them 72 hours to leave the country, and he ordered the seizure of two diplomatic country estates, which the United States said had been used for espionage as well as for recreation.

Mr. Putin did not respond at first, hoping for improved ties. But in this tit-for-tat response, Russia also blocked access starting Tuesday to a warehouse and a bucolic enclave along the Moscow River that the embassy has used for barbecues.

Congress passed the latest sanctions last week to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, including by releasing hacked emails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The law forces Mr. Trump to seek congressional approval before removing any sanctions.

Congress is also investigating the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald J. Trump Jr., has confirmed that he met with a Russian lawyer linked to the government who wanted to discuss removing an earlier round of sanctions.

Mr. Putin has denied any Russian interference in the American election, saying that anti-Russian sentiment in the United States was being used as a weapon in an internal political battle.

At the very least, the order from the Kremlin was expected to set back some functions at the embassy, like processing visas, which both sides had already slowed.

Many of those emerging from the visa section of the embassy on Monday suggested that the latest measures could only make a bad situation worse.

Vladimir Kruglov, a retiree who said he enjoyed touring national parks in the United States, said that until recently the visa process had taken a maximum of 20 days, but that there were now all kinds of extra procedures, including a month’s wait for an interview.

Shavkat Butaev, 50, who works for a company that helps Russians get visas, said there had been a big leap in the number of rejections.

“It was never like this before: 50 to 60 people get rejected every day, most of them young women,” he said. “I look at who has a green paper in their hands and that means they got a no.”

Oleg Smirnov, an 18-year-old who has been studying in the United States to become a psychiatrist, said he had hoped President Trump would improve relations and he was worried about how the tensions might affect immigration policy.

“These mutual sanctions look like a game played with water guns,” he said.


America’s Carbon-Pusher in Chief

Trump’s Fossil-Fueled Foreign Policy

July 30, 2017

by Michael T. Klare


Who says President Trump doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy?  Pundits and critics across the political spectrum have chided him for failing to articulate and implement a clear international agenda. Look closely at his overseas endeavors, though, and one all-too-consistent pattern emerges: Donald Trump will do whatever it takes to prolong the reign of fossil fuels by sabotaging efforts to curb carbon emissions and promoting the global consumption of U.S. oil, coal, and natural gas.  Whenever he meets with foreign leaders, it seems, his first impulse is to ply them with American fossil fuels.

His decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which obliged this country to reduce its coal consumption and take other steps to curb its carbon emissions, was widely covered by the American mainstream news media.  On the other hand, the president’s efforts to promote greater fossil fuel consumption abroad — just as significant in terms of potential harm to the planet — have received remarkably little attention.

Bear in mind that while Trump’s drive to sabotage international efforts to curb carbon emissions will undoubtedly slow progress in that area, it will hardly stop it.  At the recent G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, 19 of the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord and pledged to “mitigate greenhouse gas emissions through, among other [initiatives], increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies.”  This means that whatever Trump does, continuing innovation in the energy field will indeed help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and so slow the advance of climate change.  Unfortunately, Trump’s relentless drive to promote fossil-fuel consumption abroad could ensure that carbon emissions continue to rise anyway, neutralizing whatever progress might be made elsewhere and dooming humanity to a climate-ravaged future.

How the two sides of the ledger — green energy progress versus Trump’s drive to boost carbon exports — will balance out in the years ahead cannot be foreseen. Every boost in carbon emissions, however, pushes us closer to the moment when global temperatures will exceed the two degrees Celsius rise from pre-industrial levels that scientists say is the maximum the planet can absorb without suffering catastrophic consequences. Those would include rising sea levels that could drown New York, Miami, Shanghai, London, and many other coastal cities, as well as a sharp drop in global food production that could devastate entire populations.

Spreading the Cult of Carbon

President Trump’s pursuit of increased global carbon consumption is proving to be a two-front campaign.  He’s working in every way imaginable to increase the production of fossil fuels domestically, even as he engages in a diplomatic blitzkreig to open doors to American fossil-fuel exports abroad.

At home, he’s already reversed numerous Obama-era restrictions on fossil fuel extraction, including curbs on mountaintop removal — an environmentally hazardous form of coal mining — and on oil and gas drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska.  He’s also ordered the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt — a notorious enemy of environmental regulations opposed by the energy industry — to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s program to sharply reduce the use of coal in domestic electricity generation.

These and similar initiatives have gotten a fair amount of media attention already, but it’s no less important to focus on another key aspect of Trump’s pro-carbon global initiative which has gone largely unnoticed.  While, under the Paris climate accord, the other industrial powers are still obliged to help developing countries install carbon-free energy technologies, Trump has freed himself to sell American fossil fuels everywhere to his heart’s content.  At that G-20 meeting, for example, he forced his peers to insert a clause in their final communiqué stating, “The United States of America states it will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.” (The “more cleanly and efficiently” was undoubtedly his modest concession to the other 19 leaders.)

To spread the mantra of fossil fuels, Trump has become the nation’s carbon-pusher in chief.  He’s already personally engaged in energy diplomacy, while demanding that various cabinet officials make oil, gas, and coal exports a priority.  On June 29th, for instance, he publicly ordered the Treasury Department to do away with “barriers to the financing of highly efficient overseas coal energy plants.”  In the same speech, he spoke of his desire to supply American coal to Ukraine, currently cut off from Russian natural gas thanks to its ongoing conflict with that country.  “Ukraine already tells us they need millions and millions of metric tons [of coal] right now,” Trump said, pointing out that there are many other countries in a similar state, “and we want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who needs it.”

He added, “We are a top producer of petroleum and the number-one producer of natural gas.  We have so much more than we ever thought possible, and we’re going to be an exporter… We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.”

In his urge to preserve the reign of fossil fuels, President Trump has already taken on a unique personal role, meeting with foreign officials and promoting cooperation with key American energy firms.  Take the June 26th White House visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  While the media reported on how the two of them took up the subject of future arms sales to India, it made no mention of energy deals.  Yet Secretary of Energy Rick Perry revealed that this topic was crucial to their encounter.  At a Trump-hosted dinner for Modi at the White House, Perry reported, “we talked about the three areas of which there will be great back-and-forth cooperation — deal-making, if you will.  One of those is in LNG [liquefied natural gas].  The other side of that is in clean coal.  Thirdly is on the nuclear side. So there is great opportunity for India and the United States to become even stronger allies, stronger partners — energy being the glue that will hold that partnership together for a long, long time.”

To put this in context, making deals to sell coal to India is like selling OxyContin to an opioid addict.  After all, in 2015, that country overtook the United States to become the world’s second-biggest consumer of coal (after China).  To keep up the pace of its rapid economic growth, India had plans to increase its reliance on coal yet more, which would mean a steady increase in carbon emissions.  India now trails only China and the United States as an emitter of carbon dioxide and its share is expected to grow.  However, it is also likely to suffer disproportionately from climate change, which its emissions will only accelerate.  Given that future extreme heat events are expected to periodically destroy crops on which a large part of its population depends, Modi’s government has recently begun seeking ways to reduce the country’s long-term reliance on fossil fuels, in part by becoming a solar superpower. In other words, in pitching coal to India — a true case of bringing coals to Newcastle (or at least Mumbai) — Trump is functionally working to sabotage India’s struggle to free itself from the scourge of carbon addiction.

He similarly pushed fossil-fuel exports in his first encounter with newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  Not surprisingly, press coverage of the event highlighted their discussions about the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.  Some reports also noted that trade issues came up, but none mentioned energy matters.  Yet, shortly before his state dinner with Moon, Trump announced that a U.S. company, Sempra Energy, had just that day signed an agreement to sell more American natural gas to South Korea.  “And, as you know,” he added, “the leaders of South Korea are coming to the White House today, and we’ve got a lot of discussion to do, but we will also be talking about them buying energy from the United States of America, and I’m sure they’ll like to do it.”  In other words, the president has made it eminently clear how foreign leaders in need of American support can please him.

His first overseas trips have also featured versions of such pitchmanship.  During his visit to Saudi Arabia in May, he evidently sought to promote cooperation between U.S. and Saudi energy firms.  Again, press coverage of his meeting with Saudi King Salman highlighted other topics, notably the war on terror, the regional divide between Sunnis and Shiites, and new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s hard line on Iran.  But the two of them did, in fact, issue a statement affirming “the importance of investment in energy by companies in both countries, and the importance of coordinating policies that ensure the stability of markets and an abundance of supplies.”  Where this might lead is anyone’s guess, but presumably to a commitment to the continued dominance of petroleum in the world’s future energy markets.

On the subject of his two meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit (at the second of these without even an American translator), we obviously know far less.  It is, however, reasonable to assume that his interest in improving ties with Russia is at least partially energy-focused. During the first of those conversations, Trump was accompanied only by a translator and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who, as CEO of ExxonMobil, had inked energy deals with Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil giant, and lobbied against the imposition of sanctions on Russia’s energy sector.  (Those deals are now being investigated by the Treasury Department as possible violations of government-mandated sanctions then in effect.)  Five days later, while flying to Paris on Air Force One, Trump told reporters that he would like to meet again with Putin, once that became politically feasible, adding, “and, by the way, I only want to make great deals with Russia.”

To further boost the export of U.S. fossil fuels abroad, Trump has also leaned on various government agencies to facilitate such efforts.  In a talk he gave on June 29th to energy company officials at the Department of Energy, for example, the president hailed its approval of two long-term projects to promote U.S. energy abroad: the export of additional natural gas from a terminal in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and plans to construct a new oil pipeline to Mexico — about which, he assured listeners, “It will go right under the wall, right?… You know, a little like this [gesticulating].  Right under the wall.”

And keep in mind that we are undoubtedly catching no more than a glimpse of Trump’s efforts to promote the sale of American oil, coal, and natural gas abroad.  From what little has been reported on the subject in his meetings with Prime Minister Modi, President Moon, and King Salman, it’s reasonable to assume that the topic has come up in most of his conversations with foreign leaders and represents a far more significant aspect of his international policymaking than generally realized.

American Energy Dominance

Don’t imagine, however, that Trump’s fossil-fueled salesmanship is primarily driven by a desire to enrich American energy firms (though he would undoubtedly consider that a plus).  It’s clearly motivated by a deeper, more visceral set of urges.  Still trapped in his memories of his 1950s childhood when gas-guzzling American cars were a prominent symbol of national wealth and power, he has a deep belief in the capacity of fossil fuels to propel and sustain the country’s global dominance.  He often recalls that formative period in his musings, describing it as a golden age when America won all its wars and was dominant on the world stage.  For him, oil equals vigor equals national ascendancy, and no other countries — least of all an international community united behind the Paris climate accord — should be able to deprive the U.S. of its carbon fix.

All this was implicit in that Energy Department speech, which offered a genuine window into his thinking on the subject.  Here’s the crucial passage, delivered in his usual extemporaneous style:

“Our country is blessed with extraordinary energy abundance… We have nearly 100 years’ worth of natural gas and more than 250 years’ worth of clean, beautiful coal… We have so much more than we ever thought possible.  We are really in the driving seat.  And you know what?  We don’t want to let other countries take away our sovereignty and tell us what to do and how to do it.  With these incredible resources, my administration will seek not only American energy independence that we’ve been looking for so long, but American energy dominance.”

Trump’s personal fascination with symbols of excess — think of those giant golden letters over his properties — is evident in that monologue.  It’s clear that he’s been especially taken with breakthroughs in the enhancement of American energy abundance, especially the success of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  That process has liberated vast quantities of oil and natural gas from previously unusable shale formations.  Prior to the introduction of fracking, oil and gas production in the United States had been in decline, but thanks to what’s been termed the “shale revolution,” production has soared.  In July 2017, at 9.4 million barrels per day, U.S. crude oil output was up 68% over six years earlier, when production was running at just 5.6 million barrels per day.  Natural gas has registered a similar leap.  All this, in turn, generated — at least for a time — a feeling of euphoria in the oil and gas industry, with some pundits even dubbing this country “Saudi America” and portraying it as a new energy El Dorado.

As this sense of euphoria took hold, American energy analysts began viewing the explosion of domestic hydrocarbon output as a crucial source of geopolitical clout.  The immense flood of cheap natural gas has “boosted U.S. economic competitiveness,” said Robert Manning of the Atlantic Council typically enough, “and by extension, U.S. comprehensive national power, and U.S. capacity for global leadership.” Think of it as Viagra for Washington policymakers.

Recently, however, some of this euphoria has dissipated as bargain-basement oil and gas prices, the inevitable consequence of overproduction, have been eating into corporate profits and forcing some over-exposed energy companies to declare bankruptcy.  Trump’s belief in the ability of petroleum to enhance America’s global clout has, however, clearly been unshaken.  “We’ve got underneath us more oil than anybody,” he declared in a conversation with journalists aboard Air Force One on July 12th.  “And I want to use it.”

Whatever the sources of his fascination with fossil fuels, six months into his presidency one thing is clear: he’s determined to spread the cult of American carbon internationally and this urge has already become a defining theme of his foreign policy, even if the mainstream media, despite its deluge of Trump-centered coverage, has hardly noticed.

A New American Legacy

Previous American presidents have sought fame through the promotion of freedom, democracy, and human rights abroad.  In fact, virtually every formal presidential expression of foreign policy in the post-Cold War era has ritualistically identified those values as America’s greatest exports (whatever values Washington was actually exporting). Not so for Donald Trump, however.  What he seeks to export are habit-forming, climate-altering hydrocarbons.

It remains to be seen how successful his drive to spread the cult of carbon will be.  As time goes on and the effects of climate change intensify in a warming world, more countries will undoubtedly begin to focus on easing or even ending their reliance on fossil fuels and promoting carbon-free alternatives.  Market forces will play a crucial role in this process, since the price of renewable energy — especially solar — has been dropping quickly and is already, in certain circumstances, a cheaper way to go than using coal to generate electricity.

Even if Trump’s fossil-fueled scheming doesn’t succeed in the long run, he will undoubtedly ensure that more greenhouse gases enter the planet’s atmosphere, meaning that temperatures will continue to climb and punishing droughts and heat waves will become ever more the new global norm.

It’s time to give his snake-oil-style energy salesmanship and the future environmental destruction that will accompany it the attention they deserve.  If humanity is to have any chance to survive the planetary warming to come in reasonable shape, all the American carbon Trump hopes to sell to foreigners has to stay in the ground.


Global Oil Production- Barrels per day

  1. Russia 10,551,497
  2. Saudi Arabia (OPEC) 10,460,710
  3. United States 8,875,817
  4. Iraq (OPEC) 4,451,516
  5. Iran (OPEC) 3,990,956

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration. 27 May 2017.











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