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Putin, Trump and the New Normalcy

The one thing Putin and Trump have in common is that they are both genuine conservatives averse to revolutionary policies who seek to normalise conditions in their respective countries.

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In politics there are at a fundamental level, three kinds of revolutions:

  1. Those which radically overturn a political system in order to replace it with one based on an ideologically driven antithesis
  2. Those which drive out a group of powerful leaders but essentially maintain the existing power structure
  3. Those which challenge prevailing and generally failed political views and operational methods in order to return the country in question to a more traditional modus operandi of governance.

It is the third form of revolution which Putin has quietly led in Russia and which Donald Trump may well lead in the United States.

To understand this, one can objectively summarise the accomplishments of Vladimir Putin during his period as President and Prime Minister. Putin inherited a country which was experiencing an identity crisis, an economic crisis and a crisis of geo-political positioning.  Whilst Putin and his closest comrades have indeed pulled off what historians might one day call ‘The Russian Miracle’ (though unlike Konrad Adenauer he accomplished it without generous Marshall Plan aid and do so in a country that dwarfs the geographical size of the former West Germany), where Putin’s most profound legacy lies is in helping Russia to solve her post 1991 identity crisis and indeed in doing so he helped solve the economic and geo-political crises of the 1990s.

Putin understands about the Russian character what Nietzsche did. Nietzsche claimed that the virtue of the Russian spirit was found in her slowness, her steadfastness; the ability to be confident in traditions as the rest of the world ripped itself apart in fits of ideological storm and stress with all of the bloodshed this entailed. After all, in the 19th century, Russia and Britain, the two powers who bookend Europe were the only two major countries in the northern hemisphere not to undergo a change in governance at the hands of revolutionaries.   

In this sense, the events of 1917 were aberrational in terms of Russian history up to that point, although in the context of European history of the period, 1917 simply anticipated the violent revolutions and competition of ideologies from the far left to far right which plagued virtually all of Europe after 1918 and would continue to do so till 1945.

This helps to understand why Leonid Brezhnev remains the most popular Soviet leader amongst the population of the Russian Federation at the present time. Brezhnev may have led the Communist Party but far from the radicalism of the early Soviet period, Brezhnev emphasised stability over drastic change, gradual improvements in living standards over obtuse schemes and an enhanced standing of Soviet power in the world over the provocative remarks  associated with his predecessor, Khrushchev. 

It was under the assured stability of Brezhnev (almost comically derided as stagnation by many in Western Europe and America), that Soviet Citizens achieved their highest living standards in history up to that point and that the Soviet Union stood as a superpower which even many hawkish American politicians couldn’t dream of challenging. If hawkish American politicians in the 1960s spoke of peace through strength, it was ironically Brezhnev who accomplished it in the 1970s, making events like the Helsinki accords possible. In this sense too, when at the 24th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Brezhnev talked about a new Soviet Citizen free from the weight of the past, what may have sounded like a rhetorically radical statement was actually one of assured normalcy. It meant that the Russian identity based on a yearning for stability, community values and a loyal patriotism could now comfortably manifest itself amongst the fraternal ethnicities of the Union.

Putin’s actions and indeed his words make it clear that he understands these profound historical and metaphysical truths. Putin has tapped into the fact that contemporary pride in the history and culture of both Imperial and Soviet periods is not incompatible, but rather, it is desirable. This has been combined with an approach to the terror of the 1990s which has been firm yet not vindictive. Russia in the 20th century had far too much political upheaval for the liking of the average person (1905, February and October of 1917, 1991 and 1993).  Putin has made sure to stay clear repeating such tensions, even though frankly he would have been in a strong position to do so in the aftermath of the darkest decade for Russians since the early days of the Great Patriotic War.  This approach has helped Putin to restore and revive the Russian economy, restore Russia’s role as a respected voice on the global stage, bring stability to the North Caucasus, see off aggression against civilians in South Ossetia quickly and with minimal carnage, restore Crimea without a single shot fired and currently helping to bring order to war torn Syria.

How then does this relate to the increasingly likely reality of Donald Trump becoming the President of the United States? Radical interventionists (neo-Trotskyists fighting for neo-liberalism rather than Marxism) have become alarmed by Trump’s skepticism towards NATO, his refusal to endorse the funding and arming of fascistic groups in Europe and his proclamation that it would be better to work with rather than against Russia in trying to bring peace to Syria and the wider middle east. The surreal implication is that Trump and Putin have behind closed doors, conspired to bring the world to the brink of peace.

The only real connection between the two men is a fundamental understanding that a country, in order to be prosperous and safe, must return to its traditional method of conducting itself both globally and internally.  Trump also seems to realise the dangers of a ‘one size fits all’ ideology as articulated by Tony Blair in Chicago in 1999 when he claimed his country and the United States had a mission to bring a specific kind of neo-liberal government to places where it does not exist. This approach if applied to the human body would suggest proscribing cancer drugs to a patient suffering from heart failure simply because one has come to the view that cancer is a bad condition and that the particular drug in question is effective.

To understand the real political parallel to Trump one needn’t look to Putin but to former US Senator Robert Taft. Taft who never fulfilled his ambition to become President,  had a traditional view of America’s role in the world. He was opposed to foreign wars, opposed to NATO and opposed to the policy of every President since Truman that the United States is somehow directly threatened by the events of sovereign countries on the other side of the world. Taft whilst known as a quintessential pre-Cold War American conservative was ironically once accused of being sympathetic to socialism because he was not wedded to ideological conservatism (itself a kind of contradiction in language) but rather was conservative by temperament. This can be compared with Putin who does not categorically reject any specific solution to a crises based on dogmatic ideology.

In this sense Trump isn’t new, but he is a new normal. People in countries like the United States but also Britain and France have grown weary of a Bourbon attitude to war. The coffers are empty and un-winnable wars continue unabated and that’s before one makes an emotional appeal based on the deaths of innocent civilians and soldiers fighting wars with no meaning, no real goal and no end in sight. One can look to another example from American history to explain Trump. The often forgotten President Warren G. Harding. After the First World War, he called for a ‘return to normalcy’, likewise in Britain the equally forgotten Andrew Bonar Law set himself out against the radical policies pursued by the war time government of David Lloyd George.

This is what Trump represents, not radicalism but conservatism in its truest sense, a return to calm after a storm. His policies are amongst the most moderate in recent history. He is anti-interventionist, opposed to the apparatuses that should have been forgotten after the Cold War and his fiscal policies could easily be confused with those of a pre-Goldwater East Coast Republican.

This is what so frightens an establishment who have built  careers thinking that the neo-Liberalism of the Blairs and Clintons would be here to stay. The truth now is that history is against them. Ironically Trump isn’t anti-establishment per se, he is opposed to the current establishment. He is not calling for revaluation but for a re-establishment.   As The Who song goes, ‘meet the new boss same as the old boss’…the old boss did seem more sensible after all.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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