The “Real” Russia Collusion: Oil

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Russian collusion is indeed a major issue threatening the well-being of our country. It’s just not the Russia collusion that’s been bandied about in the news for over a year. No, it’s Russia colluding with OPEC to intentionally raise world crude oil pricing. That is a real threat to our economy and living standard, unlike that other, totally imaginary Russia collusion.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, crude oil prices have been on an upward tear for the better part of the last two years. From a low in the high-20’s/barrel range in February of 2016, WTI (West Texas Intermediate) closed at $65.45 on Friday Feb 2nd. Goldman Sachs goes so far as to say that North Sea Brent crude oil (the other benchmark oil besides WTI) will likely top $80 within six months.

WTI generally runs about 5% lower, so look for WTI to be around $76/bbl by the summer of 2018.

Before we look at why this is happening, it’s a good idea for a quick refresher on the four main drivers of crude oil/retail gasoline pricing. Why is oil and gasoline rising? What’s happened?  First, let’s dispense with any simplistic “the oil companies are conspiring to raise prices” nonsense.  That’s not what’s happening. Oil is a commodity, traded on the world market like any other commodity, such as gold, copper, natural gas, diamonds, etc. Oil is subject to market forces like every other commodity is.

There are four main factors that influence the price of crude oil-retail gasoline on the world market:

  1. World supply/demand
  2. Exploration/extraction activity and technology
  3. Refining/delivery capacity
  4. Geopolitical influences (Iran, North Korea, terrorism, etc.)

(There’s also a 5th factor: currency value, or the “exchange rate,” since oil is traded in dollars. However, this is normally a peripheral factor that only shades oil pricing a little bit one way or the other.)

Today’s situation is primarily one of tightening supply coupled with greater demand as the worldwide economy, led by the U.S., continues to improve. See #1 above. When the world was awash with over-abundant oil in 2015-6, with loaded tankers sitting by the dozens offshore, unable to unload their cargo for lack of empty storage facilities, it seemed as if low-priced crude oil and $1.899/gallon gasoline was a permanent fixture on the US economic landscape. Never again would we be beholden to the arbitrary whims and evil manipulations of greedy, anti-American, anti-Semitic Arab oil sheiks.

The over-supply of oil was primarily because of the shale oil boom (fracking) in the U.S. With newly-developed exploration and extraction techniques, America was finally able to tap the previously unreachable mother lode of crude oil trapped in the huge shale rock deposits in the western and southern parts of the continental U.S. With a huge influx of additional oil being delivered to the world market, supply exceeded demand and world pricing plummeted.

At first, OPEC was unsure how to respond. Initially, Saudi Arabia actually increased their oil production in an effort to lower world pricing even more and drive the U.S. shale producers out of business (since shale oil has a far higher cost of production than Saudi oil, which is easy to extract).

That didn’t work. Shale extraction technology got better and better and the Saudis were never able to force pricing down far enough to permanently hurt the American frackers.

So, they resorted to the tried-and-true economic dictum of supply and demand. Led by the Saudis, OPEC instituted strict oil production quotas to limit the amount of oil that they would supply to the market. Restricting supply would re-balance the market and bring world oil demand and supply back into equilibrium, thus raising prices as market forces began to have their normal effect.

However, Saudi Arabia is only one of the top three oil producers in the world. Although the combined oil output of the 14 OPEC member countries is certainly significant (over 40%), the other two top three countries are the U.S. and Russia, each of whose oil output is roughly equal to that of Saudi Arabia (OPEC’s largest member). The Saudis convinced Russia to voluntarily join them in their production quota. With all of OPEC now joined by another top-three producer—Russia—the world’s oil supply has come down considerably, much faster than anticipated. Pricing is on pace to more than triple from its 2016 low and the impact on our economy and spending sentiment will be significant.

Note that the recent rise in pricing has essentially nothing to do with reason #4—terrorism and geo-political tension. As of right now, there are no hostilities with North Kores to rattle the world commodity markets, Israel is not at war with anyone and since the institution of the Iranian nuclear deal a few years ago, Iran is once again supplying oil to the world market without any problem. So the terrorism front is quiet right now.

The rise in price is all pretty much #1—supply and demand, with supply being restricted by the OPEC-Russia agreement. That fact points out the truth that even though total US oil production exceeds 10m bpd, the U.S. alone can’t determine the ultimate price of oil on the world market. We can be an influential factor—larger now, to be sure, than 20 years ago before the shale boom—but the U.S. can’t control oil pricing by itself.

Nor does the potential of future alternative fuels have much influence on today’s pricing. Some industry observers have opined that EVs (electric vehicles) will reduce worldwide oil demand by the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s entire current oil production by 2040. But that, in reality, is just a random individual guess and such statements have no actual impact on today’s pricing.

Applying the rough approximate numerical multiplier of 4x to WTI crude to get U.S retail gasoline pricing, that means that U.S retail gasoline will be above the psychologically-important $3.00 mark (4 x 76 = $3.04) by this summer. People see the price of gasoline on the corner gas station every day as they leave the house. It’s like a daily “scoreboard” telling them whether they’re winning or losing their personal economic game. When Joe/Jane middle-class sees $2.27, they feel like they’re winning, like they can spend a little more somewhere else, like things are going in the right direction.

When they see gasoline rise very quickly, seemingly for no good reason, to $3.04—especially after a prolonged period well under $2.20—it’s a very negative sign. Maybe things are getting worse and I haven’t been paying attention. Maybe I should play things safe for a while, keep things close to the vest. Let’s cut down on dinners out and tell Johnny, sorry, no new sneakers just yet. Yeah, I know my brother Bill finally got a job again after two years, but let’s not get too carried away.

Rising oil pricing impacts everything at retail, in the construction and agriculture sectors and in manufacturing, because everything is delivered from the factory to the seller and from the seller to the end user by a transportation device that uses an oil-derived fuel. Milk, sushi, iPhones, lumber and fertilizer are all made and delivered with the assistance of oil-based products. Rising oil pricing also negatively impacts business and domestic heating and utility pricing. It’s like a tax that takes billions and billions of dollars out of the economy, wrecks the exuberant business outlook and shreds consumer confidence. Rapidly-rising oil pricing is a five-run uprising in the 9th inning of a game you were leading 8-1 after eight innings. Now you’ll just be happy to hang on for the win.

Consumer and business sentiment is central to the spending that drives our economy, the very backbone that supports it. Anything that puts a damper on that sentiment will drag down spending and hence drag down economic growth along with it.

Russian “collusion” is indeed a big threat to our country’s well-being: It’s the collusion between OPEC and Russia to restrict the world’s oil supply and drive up pricing. It’s working and the tangible, undeniable, clear-as-day proof is posted in big numbers on every street corner. Maybe the media should pay some attention to that.

 

Authoritarian International is a term now being used to describe how China – and Russia – use their influence, and economic power in China’s case, to support other authoritarian regimes around the world, from Venezuela to Turkey, from the Philippines to Ethiopia. Many of these regimes may have had some form of communist or socialist government or may currently have some form as in Venezuela’s case, but the glue that holds them together is not really marxist economics and ideology but rather strongman rule. A rule that China abstains from condemning on the international stage and a rule which China along with Russia provide military and economic aide to as well as trade ties. Real Clear Politics has a great read on this by Richard Bernstein.

It’s a repudiation of the optimism of the 90’s where it was thought that economic freedom would lead naturally and inevitably, guided by the invisible hand of enlightened self-interest, towards political openness and eventually full democracy. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out, especially in China’s case where strict one-party rule has accompanied astonishing growth. Yes, at some point the corruption and state-subsidized spending should produce the long-awaited downturn or even crash. But people have been predicting China’s economic collapse for about a decade now.

Which brings us to a rather ugly little episode being followed in the Washington Free Beacon concerning Chinese dissident billionaire Guo Wengui (who has been exposing the very corruption that is undercutting China’s economy) and an interview he gave some time ago to Voice of America’s Chinese language broadcasts. The live interview was cut off in mid stream by senior VOA management and the Chinese VOA journalists (who appear to have been working out of of NYC where Guo is currently living) were suspended and now they have been fired for “insubordination.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett refused to comment on the matter citing “privacy” concerns. Guess who Bennett is married to? Donald E. Graham, chairman of Graham Holdings which runs an educational publishing business which does a fair bit of business in … China. The fired Chinese VOA ex-employees also claim that VOA has hired James McGregor, a former journalist with close ties to Chinese Politburo heavyweight Wang Qishan.

Look. Everyone and his brother, sister, aunt, and cousin have or are falling over each other to suck up to China and try to actually profit from doing business in that authoritarian state’s enormous consumer market. Some have even made money. But frickin’ Voice of America?! Do they have to join Eric Schmidt, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and all the rest in kneeling before the Grand Dragon?

It appears that the key event at the start of the 90’s was actually not the fall of the Wall in Berlin. Rather it was a few months earlier in June of 1989 with the Tiananmen Square massacre by army units loyal to China’s ruling communist party, the cardboard mock ups of the Statue of Liberty and the candles crushed under the military might of authoritarianism. So China’s population made a deal with their leaders: they got stunning growth in exchange for the shackles on free expression that were firmly maintained, even as those shackles grew in the sophistication of their methodology.

Those shackles now extend to Voice of America. Rex Tillerson, do you have anything to say? Apparently not. When pressed by Senator Rubio to explain a $4.5 million cut to the semi-official Radio Free Asia’s Mandarin language broadcast, Tillerson said:

I can confirm that to my knowledge, it had nothing to do with our relations with China.

New York City is gripped by an evil fear apparently. Their heroic mayor Bill de Blasio is doing his best to ensure that this evil does not overcome their virtuous defenses. But the evil is apparently not an Uzbek immigrant driving a truck into innocent pedestrians on the Lower East Side, while screaming “alluah akhbar” out the window, just in case anyone on the planet could possibly ever be confused as to his motives for the terror attack.

No. The evil apparently is islamophobia, which all New Yorkers must now be vigilant about. They must bond together against anyone demanding tighter immigration policies. They must not just bond together, they must seek out anyone who is saying anything they deem offensive. Nothing like a terrorist attack to bring out the thought police in full force on social media. Oh, by the way, extreme vetting is fine, according to Mayor de Blasio: But as he says:

We support very thorough vetting – not of groups of people just because they belong to a group.

Ok. So that condition would eliminate any process of rigorous vetting from discriminating against anyone based on what country they come from, or what religion they espouse. For example. Or even what terrorist group they belong to: ISIS, al Qaeda, etc. That’s a mighty big exemption that the mayor is demanding, isn’t it?

But this is what happens when identity politics confronts the reality of extremism based on an ideology – or a virulent interpretation of what a specific faith – Islam – means, in this case. The sanctity of diversity must be maintained. Not necessarily the real diversity that has been flowing and pulsing through America’s daily life for many, many generations. No, this is about an official story, a narrative that must be maintained at all costs. With white-oppressor villains and a glorious rainbow of heroes on the other side, of course. Never mind that the gender-bending diversity of that rainbow gets you thrown off buildings in regions where Sayfullo Saipov’s worldview predominates. Never mind that this worldview is a threat to almost every corner of American political, intellectual, and cultural life. The narrative must be maintained at all costs.

And the most vile of those costs is the death of innocent civilians, caught up by the murderous hatred of terrorism. So NYC Mayor de Blasio has to try and get out in front of President Trump’s demands for extreme vetting. We couldn’t possibly have someone denied entry to America because of their fanatical beliefs. That’s unconstitutional right?

Wrong. The First Amendment and the rest of the constitution applies to American citizens and America herself, as universal as they should be. But those freedoms are not universal. Saipov’s Uzbekistan, for example, is an authoritarian state that denies it’s citizens the very freedoms that allowed him to plan and purchase and carry out the attack on American soil. So how to protect America from these kinds of attacks while respecting the constitution? It can be a tricky balance, but one in which careful vetting has a perfectly legitimate role.

And that’s why extreme vetting is so important. Foreign terrorists are by law treated differently than American terrorists. And the first line of defense is making sure someone from abroad with a questionable background from a country with poor record-keeping, perhaps undercut by corruption, is made to jump through a lot of hoops before gaining his or her first crucial right: the right to legally live and work and study in America.

Islamophobia already has a whole array of institutions lined up to guard against it in Western Democracies and especially in America. How about half of that zeal being put into being reasonably prudent about who is being let into the country?

The only way the Fusion GPS story really takes over the mainstream media is if the mainstream media turns on itself. After recycling Fusion GPS’ smear stories, large media organizations and key journalists within those organizations will have to come clean about how the game worked with Glenn Simpson’s dirty tricks squad. About how they could never reveal that their anonymous sources were in fact a paid communications shop that used incredibly sleazy tactics to turn a story in favor of a client. Clients like the Kremlin or corrupt Venezuelan oil industry contractors. Among others who remain, for now, in the shadows.

The Hill has been at the front of some of this latest change in the reporting on Glenn Simpson and GPS. One can’t really say that The Washington Post or CNN have been as equally rigorous in covering this side of the Russia story as they are in obsessively covering how much Russia spent on Facebook ads. But as we segue towards less of a Trump-Russia scandal and towards more of a Russia-on-its-own scandal, most mainstream media are not really coming out and saying that the evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign team and the Kremlin is not really there, regardless of what Adam Schiff likes to imply. And that the real evidence is in fact pointing exactly the other way:

Towards Hillary’s campaign, and the Obama administration’s knowledge of an FBI investigation into bribes, kickbacks, and money laundering by Kremlin associates; all tied to the sale to Russia of a key stake in Canadian-owned uranium mining company, Uranium One.

The story of Uranium One runs through Kazakhstan and involves Canadian billionaire Frank Giustra a Clintons donor who managed to get Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help out his operation in Kazakhstan which around 2010 was being squeezed by Putin who wanted control. Giustra had leveraged uranium mining rights he had managed to previously extract from Kazakhstan’s leadership into a 3.5 billion mining company with operations in South Africa, Central Asia and North America. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton had benefited from Giustra’s donations so it was natural they’d come to his aid now.

A deal was worked out needless to say, and much of the background sleaze surrounding the deal would have remained under wraps with Obama’s FBI and DOJ dutifully keeping mum about ongoing FBI investigations into Vadim Mikerin’s racket to bring American companies into the now Russian-owned Uranium One’s fold.

But by 2014, with Putin’s Crimea grab and his slow-burn war with Ukraine in its opening phases, Vadim Mikerin was finally arrested but was able to plea bargain down to one single money laundering charge. Read Andrew McCarthy’s piece on this in the National Review, to get a veteran prosecutor’s view on how ridiculous a travesty of justice this was. The story was reported on, but nothing like the Trump Russia story.

Well now the Uranium One story is back, and it may have assumed too much critical mass to be able to be wished away by ex Obama officials, especially those at State. Of course, if things get too uncomfortable, and if the real Russian collusion turns out to have been with Obama and Hillary Democrats and not Trump’s campaign team, perhaps they can fight back the only way left to them.

They can hire Fusion GPS, assuming Glenn Simpson isn’t too busy defending himself in criminal court.

Bedlam – a Seattle coffee shop – does not want you if you are pro-life. In fact, they will aggressively and abusively hurl insults at you as a form of defense apparently. That is certainly what happened last week when a group of pro-life activists decided to grab some java after putting up posters in the area.

The video of Bedlam owner Ben Borgman going postal and explicit on the group is viral by now and it is a little shocking, but not because it reveals anything surprising – gay sex is an issue that divides and divides deeply in the cultural wars in America and Europe and elsewhere. What is just a touch surprising is to see how it is used as an angry weapon to be thrown in the face of those who you disagree with.

But wait a second. The disagreement was over abortion, and specifically the use of graphic images of fetuses in the material the group was posting. This seems to have been their great sin, according to Borgman. And from this Borgman deduced that they were persons of faith who must oppose gay sex as sinful and gay marriage as wrong as well. So he went on a rant that ended up with him suggesting that he’d love to sodomize Jesus Christ. As well as denouncing the pro-lifers as being led by Satan.

Yes, it’s probably a logical deduction to make, that someone who is pro-life is likely not as tolerant of gay sex or gay marriage as someone who supports Planned Parenthood, for example. But all it takes nowadays is one trigger issue to divide you, in the eyes of the person shouting, on almost every other issue, right down to what neighborhood you choose to live in. And the rage that Bedlam owner Borgman displayed is one that is being directed at the very edifice of Western culture. You’re pro-life, therefore you must be an islamophobic, white supremacist who wants to kill immigrants. Because you put up a poster that (explicitly) denounces abortion as murder. And Columbus was a genocidal murderer while the Aztec culture was practically Buddhist. Jesus is hot and Che Guevara is a saint.

The polls of course show that dividing between so-called white patriarchal culture and everyone else gets a little tricky on issues precisely like abortion. Hispanics in America – many first or second generation immigrants – are more likely to be against many forms of abortion than a coffee shop owner in Seattle might be. But this isn’t how the culture wars work. They work by prying apart rather than finding common ground. As I keep saying, this comes from their roots in Marxist liberation theory, where revolution demands constant raw material in the form of customs, social norms and structures, laws and conventions, all as fodder to be hurled into the mouth of the insatiable behemoth of constant revolution.

So as the left and center celebrates the 50th anniversary of Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna (known to us all as Che Guevara) the ghost of the revolutionary might take comfort that even if nowadays armed guerillas in Latin America are mostly drug smuggling killers, people can still work themselves into a rage over a poster of a fetus. And even if the fact is that if Che were brought back from his grave he’d be in North Korea or Afghanistan trying to kill Americans, a coffeeshop owner can feel proud that he signaled his vice in such a progressively virtuous manner by insulting people of faith.

Will Ben Borgman be summoned by the Washington State Human Rights Commission, as Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips was? Ah, but this is different. Borgman is a cultural warrior, defending a safe space for abortion-friendly non-homophobic, progressive, tax-raising Seattle denizens. And woe betide you if you dare cross into a self-selected neighborhood that does not hold your views. And yes, that works both ways nowadays.

This was another nasty skirmish in today’s cultural wars. Anyone who has any idea when all this might possibly de-escalate, please let the rest of us know.

Reunification is such a beautiful concept, shimmering like a vision in front of the minds’ eyes of academics and diplomats. No, not reunification of South Asia, where partition in the 40’s led to the terrorist-sponsoring state of Pakistan and the flotsam of Bangladesh, two thorns in the side of the world’s largest – if flawed – democracy, India.

Rather reunification of the Korean peninsula, where a war in the legal sense was never fought. Where a “police” action caused American soldiers to endure some of the most brutal enemy attacks they had seen, as bad as what the Japanese did to Allied prisoners in The Philippines. Where a nearly 70 year stalemate has persisted, with the already brutal North Korean regime (just ask any vets that were captured by the North Koreans – assuming they survived) still in place: a Stalinist terror regime with the characteristics of a Latin American tinpot dictatorship from years gone by.

And this regime is led by a trio of crazed family members: grandpa Kim Il-Sung, daddy Kim Jon-il, and grandson Kim Jong-un. Each one crazier than the last as the decaying corruption of absolute power has turned the third generation leader into a true psychopath unconstrained by any of the tactical or strategic considerations that his father and grandfather apparently displayed at least a little of; this regime is the one that diplomacy will work it’s steady persuasive magic on.

Just ask Robert Gallucci, who is calling President’s Trump’s tough words crazed and irresponsible. Who negotiated the 1994 agreement that apparently froze the DPRK’s nuclear program for up to a decade. Who worked alongside Jimmy Carter on this deal on behalf of the Clinton administration. And who – at the George W. Bush Center’s website – says this:

The result is a call to action for governments, the private sector, and civil society, to work together to improve the human condition in North Korea … We advocate for a new U.S. policy that integrates the call for human freedom with denuclearization in our engagement and diplomacy with North Korea.
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In other words, diplomats, wonks, trade, and ONG’s are going to solve the North Korean stalemate and standoff. Just like Germany. Like the Berlin Wall crumbling from within East Germany. Freedom rising up in the DPRK.

The problem is how do you negotiate with a madman and with one of the most brutal, crazed regimes the world has ever seen? And not only that, in an article in The Cipher Brief, Mike Chinoy – of long-lasting Asian correspondent fame – emphasizes how America must be careful not to annoy China and how China has its own set of interests which run against a reunified Korean Peninsula. And in a telling moment, Chinoy lets slip this phrase:

… the logic of boosting deterrence is clear. But that will do little to prevent the North from continuing to develop its nuclear and missle capabilities, which, even if not used in conflict, will give Kim Jong-un new leverage to apply in his ongoing contest with the capitalist South, and his long-standing hostile relationship with Japan.

The capitalist South?? He forgot to add “running dog”. Mike Chinoy has spent a little too much time surfing the bowels of Asian communist regimes it seems. He and Gallucci and the conventional wisdom of the policy wonks on North Korea can be summed up by Chinoy’s quote at the end of his piece in The Cipher:

Contrary to much of the conventional wisdom, Kim Jong-un is not crazy. He is a ruthless, cold-eyed dictator with a clear idea of what he is doing. The danger in the current situation is that he – like the rest of the world – cannot be clear what the Trump administration is aiming to achieve.
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There you have it. Kim Jong-un is not crazy. President Trump is. This is what much of the foreign policy establishment truly believe. Like Stalin’s admirers who refused to see him for what he was: a psychopath. Maybe it’s time for exactly someone like Trump to shake up the foreign policy establishment’s cherished shibboleths and actually solve the Korean stand off. That doesn’t mean that conflict won’t be bloody. Nor does it mean that conflict is unavoidable. It means that a new approach is clearly needed, if Korea is actually to be solved by defeating the North rather than cozying up to it’s crazed, “cold-eyed” leader. And his soon to be ready nuclear missiles.

One can assume that the National Security Council had so-called kill lists long before the Obama administration formalized the process with the unnervingly named Disposition Matrix. What exact process within this Disposition Matrix gets someone on a kill list is not made public for very understandable security reasons, but apparently John Brennan had a lot to do with it. And yes, it’s supposed to unnerve people. That’s the whole point.

In view of the fairly recently developed Disposition Matrix – it was put together in 2010 – it is more than interesting that the apparent blood letting going on at the NSC has more than a little to do with an enemies list. But in this case the list in question has to do with the Trump administration’s enemies and not America’s most wanted enemies.

The battle is between General McMaster and Steve Bannon and by extension Bannon’s side seems to include General Flynn’s recently removed allies at the NSC as well. And the battle has heated up greatly in the past week with a series of articles out to damage McMaster, with a few asides aimed at General Mattis at DOD thrown in for good measure. And the battle is rumored to have started – if you believe the Daily Beast – over a disagreement over this list of internal enemies or Obama administration holdovers who were or are fundamentally hostile to much of Trump’s policies in places like Iran and Afghanistan and Syria, for example.

Bannon’s side wanted as many of these supposed political enemies fired as possible. McMaster has resisted and prevailed, so the narrative being leaked out by the bucketful at sites like The Daily Caller and Breitbart, claims. But wait, it gets much better. Breitbart has now claimed that McMaster was essentially on Soros’ payroll as a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) where he worked as a world leading authority on “global security, political risk, and military conflict.” The Ploughshares Fund seems to be a donor to the IISS, and Ploughshares is funded by Soros’ Open Society.

Hence, according to Breitbart, McMaster shares the views of Plougshares and is therefore anti-Israel and pro-Iran Deal. Maybe. Maybe not. President Trump has pushed back and expressed his support for McMaster, but one has to ask if Trump was truly wedded to his earlier views on the Iran Deal, or if his disinterest in policy detail means he is fine with McMaster’s purges of former Flynn aides at the NSC. And fine with a less disruptive Middle East policy than many of his voters had been expecting of the president’s new administration.

Will Chief of Staff Kelly put the dampers on this simmering feud? And how will he do it? Will Bannon once again be seen as heading for the exits? And if he does actually go, does he take much of Trump’s America First foreign policies with him? And leave it in the hands of the generals?

There’s a horrifying article in The National Interest by Cheryl Benard, herself a refugee activist and author who comes from a rather left-wing background, on the wave of brutal sexual assaults in Western Europe. An alarmingly high percentage of these assaults are committed by young male refugees from Afghanistan. Benard goes into a lot of detail on specific assaults against all sorts of women in Austria, a country she apparently knows well. Women who were happily going about their business in shared public spaces in broad daylight usually, and who were assaulted usually by packs of young Afghan refugees. Many of them were mothers pushing prams. Yes pushing baby carriages in the broad sunlight in a park in Austria, for example.

As an advocate for refugees, Benard is compelled to seek out an answer to this disturbing phenomenon. She methodically works through and dismisses the usual cliched reasons what we would howl in outrage if attempted as an excuse by a young white male in North America, for example: provocative behavior, cultural norms clashing, drunken mob behavior. She finds most of the excuses given in court by the perpetrators are manipulative attempts to play the judicial systems in countries like Austria, Germany, and Sweden. And they work, tragically. It is almost impossible to deport a refugee who happens to be a violent serial rapist, due to current European law.

What Cheryl Benard is forced to conclude – in what she admits was a painful process – is that these young men have a violent contempt for Western values and understand perfectly that their savage assaults will never receive a retribution that is anywhere near as cruel and damaging as their violent sex crimes themselves. They will not be repaid in kind, and they full well know this. That means that there is no disincentive for them to change their behavior. And they see themselves as almost punishers of a decadent West – especially as punishers of happily fulfilled women going about their lives. A West that is doomed to collapse under the brutality of their assaults, in their sociopathic worldview.

Further, more integrated Afghan refugees who have lived for years in Europe, most of them as successful and functional citizens, are not willing to be a bridge of communication that might allow them to give these young men an example of what they should aspire to. They either wash their hands of their more brutal compatriots or implicitly encourage their behavior.

Women in Europe are thus exposed to a danger that had been apparently conquered and vanquished decades ago. Is it going to take years of take-back-the-night type of marches, to finally get legislators in Europe to admit that the violence against women is not coming from Lutheran preachers or aging Catholic priests laying on an altar in France with their throats slit, but from refugees from Afghan and other countries that treat their women abysmally?

Diversity and multiculturalism have been claimed as an absolute good in and of itself by the cultural left (which is what the left is nowadays) for decades now. It’s time they rethink this so-called truth for it is a dangerous lie. There are values far more important than mere diversity for diversity’s sake. Read the constitution for a few very good examples of these values. So this truth of diversity unleavened by other redeeming values like freedom of speech and freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness, is indeed a dangerous lie, dangerous above all to women and children. Cheryl Benard’s article is a much needed start by the left.

Let The Daily Beast gleefully call President Trump a “snowflake” president for heading to Warsaw before attending the G20 Summit in Hamburg. A more reasoned analysis comes from a former Obama administration official – Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state for political affairs in the former administration. She has this to say about the president’s use of Poland as his first stop in this trip:

He is going to Poland to say ‘I favor this kind of Europe, as opposed to our more traditional allies in Europe.’ It was probably quite conscious to go there first to send a message about his priorities.

One can make the argument, as Douglas Murray does, that Western Europe is dying. Culturally, philosophically, politically. And yes it is aging demographically as well, at a rate much greater than America currently is. While Eastern Europe, having lived nearly two full generations under communist rule from Moscow, has a far different reading of the continent’s future. Unfortunately, it is true that many countries in the East of Europe tend to balance between former communist leaders and bureaucrats and xenophobic blood and soil nationalists. Exactly the way Western Europe did during the middle years of the 20th century.

Given this background, Trump’s following words from his speech in Warsaw have a double resonance:

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?
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This is both a challenge to Western Europe and a cautious call to arms to Eastern Europe. It will never be compared to JFK’s Berliner speech, but it was a sweeping declaration of intent on Trump’s part. You can parse it for it’s politically impolite reprimand of countries like Germany who belatedly have realized their disastrous move in unconditionally opening up their borders was unhelpful. You can sneer that it is an embrace of nationalism in countries like Poland and Hungary where they have resisted allowing any significant number of refugees in. But you cannot ignore it’s strong call to action against Russian threats.

So how do you square that with Trump still walking back his admission that Russia could indeed have interfered in America’s election? Yes, he’s fighting a battle against Democrats and much of media who have declared his presidency illegitimate from the day after the election last November. But there may be another reason. Perhaps he’s received intelligence about the matter and has been advised not to reveal how much is known on the part of America’s intel community about Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 elections, regardless of what specific purpose Putin’s cyber agents actually had.

Neither reason is good enough to not acknowledge an attempt, a dangerous attempt, by Russia to destabilize America. Yet both are good enough reasons to word carefully any acknowledgement on Trump’s part. The problem, of course, is that by the time he actually does do that, the president will face a tsunami of questions about whether is presidency is legitimate. And that, in part at least, is his fault.

Donald Rumsfeld was right. Europe is old. Perhaps not as old a culture as China’s, for example. But the continent is buried beneath its history, its wars, its dead. And that means all the ghosts that haunt Europe often cause European states individually and collectively to fight the last war. So the question is: is Europe’s denial (not every country in Europe but a clear majority of Western European states) of the fact that they are at war with islamic terrorism a reflection of the fact that they’re still haunted by the Cold War?

Or WW II?

It may just be that is the earlier conflict that still defines European policy on all sorts of levels. Remember, while the Cold War divided Europe, it was largely fought by the Soviets and America. As well as China of course, with the Korean and Vietnam Wars and countless other so-called proxy wars following from that basic conflict. So the main axis of the conflict was Washington – Moscow. It was WW II, however, that was fought directly by the Europeans before America and the Soviets intervened or were pulled into the conflict by Nazi attacks.

The EU exists to ensure that Germany – or Italy – will never be fascist again. That was the root cause of it’s founding. It’s raison d’etre. Think about it. The end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany were near-simultaneous events – as measured by the pace of history. When the Berlin Wall fell the Soviet Union was essentially finished, about to crumble from the unsustainable cost of it’s worldwide campaign to promote communism by any means necessary. And once Germany was reunited, a deep discomfort crept through the EU all the while optimism was officially pronounced. It’s as if Germany doesn’t even really trust itself, and needs hypocrisy and evasion to justify its progressive social policies on issues like immigration.

Until those policies help create a crisis that includes an increased threat of terrorism within its borders. Like in France. Like in Belgium. Like in much of the founding members of the EU.

And like in the UK.

So we have had a rather forced and slightly desperate policy of multicultural inclusion in a continent drenched in prejudice and tradition and history, and so we naturally get multiculturalism in Europe done with a detached and hypocritical outlook. Imposed by the elites and by a fairly large percent of the population who support these progressive polices. Until now. You couldn’t, for example, talk about the challenges that large scale immigration produces or you were practically opening up the gates of Auschwitz. Until now, as Merkel’s government actually starts to quietly take up some of the oh-so-reviled policies on immigration that the far-right parties called for in their impressive but losing electoral battles.

And in the UK, in the aftermath of the bombing of tweens, teens, and children at a pop concert in Manchester, we have the elites – the media, the politicians, the chattering class – instructing people on how to behave. Once again. To mourn, to light candles, to cry. But never to blame. Unless themselves and their culture. Never to anger. Never to rage.

In a series of articles in the National Review, and in a very hard-hitting piece at spiked-online.com, the view is expressed that anger, rage, and a measured but deadly revenge are not things to be avoided at all cost. They are, in fact, the only response to what is the latest act of terror in a war. With the UK, for example, targeting with extreme prejudice (to use a Vietnam-era military term) the safe havens from where terrorists often plan and train, a very strong message would be sent. But it’s more than any specific tactics. It’s how to acknowledge the fury one feels at each latest attack. And how in the words of Brendan O’Neill:

If the massacre of parents and their children on a fun night out doesn’t make you feel rage, nothing will. The terrorist has defeated you. You are dead already.

Let NATO heads of state smirk as President Trump reminds them who pays for much of their security. Let commentators blame the West and islamophobia for the crazed terrorist ideology that kills soft targets or flies planes into buildings. The West is at war with radical islamic terror. And war requires strong military action. Not another Iraq War. Not another endless Afghan campaign. But devastating tactical strikes, where possible. And it’s ok to be really f__ing mad.

Ok, this is not good and is very troubling in fact. Byron York writing in the Washington Examiner a day or two ago, points out that the Russia Investigation is now a far more dangerous thing for President Trump. Never mind the surprisingly Reagan-like budget the White House has released. Never mind Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia or his visits to Jerusalem and the Vatican. Never mind that Obamacare repeal is sloshing along in some form or other – at least theoretically – in committee rooms somewhere on the Hill. Never mind all that.

President Trump may now possibly be targeted only for obstruction of justice, without there being any underlying collusion or crime, in other words. Special counsel Bob Mueller apparently has been delegated powers by Deputy AG Rosenstein under 28 CFR 600 4(a) which give Special Counsel Mueller to investigate “crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the special counsel’s investigation.” CFR being the Code of Federal Regulations and specifically the part of that code that deals with special counsels. And yes, that would include obstruction of justice and witness intimidation.

Never mind that President Trump may have been merely trying to jawbone himself a little slack. Never mind that the intent may not have been as clear as many are implying. Never mind that it was surely clumsy – to be charitable – of him to do so. Never mind that many of his advisers would have likely advised against that.

Never mind, because if Mueller decides to get medieval on the Russia Investigation’s posterior, then he will do just like Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald did, and look for process crimes, if you will. And jail – or recommend impeachment perhaps in the president’s case – anyone who is judged to have committed them.

Isn’t it fitting? In a world where process is king, and relativism the reigning ideology (read Morrisey’s Facebook post about “violent extremists”); and relativism is one long apology for any terrorist act, especially from islamic terrorists, how could process errors not end up being a capital crime?

You didn’t file your IRA contributions on Form 5498?! You hear the sound of your front door being bashed in? That’s us! The IRS! Yes, we carry guns!

You didn’t provide a safe space you old white male academic for a transgendered, modern dance student? You will be hounded off campus and physically assaulted!

You suggest slowing down the rate of growth of entitlements in your budget plan Mr. President? Murderer!

So yes, it is fitting that an administrative state would find any hint of possible obstruction of justice to be the perfect excuse to lay the groundwork for charges against the president himself. And thus attempt to lay the groundwork for any attempts at impeachment.

And if Special Counsel Mueller doesn’t do precisely that, then he in turn will be attacked mercilessly by the administrative state and it’s allies in the media. Just watch.

So yes, the president is doing the right thing and lawyering up. Because it no longer matters if there ever was any collusion between any members of his campaign team and the Russians. Why? Process is our king and country.

Have you heard of Automated Indicator Sharing capability? No? Well, rumors are that the Trump administration is hoping you get to find out a little more about this intel-sharing program run through the Department of Homeland Security. It apparently involves intelligence sharing between several intel actors in the international community. Does it include Russia? That seems to be the question that President Trump would like asked of DHS. Perhaps as a pushback against the leaks that portrayed (rather accurately) the president as unwittingly sharing at least some classified information with top Russian officials.

The way it works is companies provide information on hackers and potential vulnerabilities to DHS who then use the data to run super-duper-real-secret algorithms that analyze the data (which includes IP addresses) and thus create threat profiles that can be acted on before any planned hacks occur.

As a former official (gee what previous administration might have he or she worked for? Bush 43?) stated:

…there’s certain information out there that’s beneficial for everyone to have, like, ‘Hey, this Windows program has a bug.’ When we share cybersecurity information with the Russians, we’re protecting their systems, making sure that no one hijacks their planes and missiles.

Ah. So in that case it’s cool to share, as long as you follow standard protocol. And yes, there is a logic there. You have to compartmentalize information and just give what you need to give. And no more. Fair enough.

But guess what? There is a bug in a certain Windows program that’s been around for awhile. And boy did that little bug have consequences as the world has seen in the last few days. And who first found how to exploit that bug for their own intel gathering purposes? Who else but the NSA!

Welcome to the worm-ridden world of SMB V.1, apparently a rather old bit of Microsoft code that lets users share files and other stuff. And which if you’re not still using Windows XP and have actually allowed Microsoft to update your operating system, is probably not on your laptop or other devices. But many people still love their XP and don’t like downloading every update from Microsoft. So we have a problem.

What problem you say? Well, back around 2013 the NSA found out how vulnerable this bit of code – our SMB V.1 – could be and hijacked it to use to get inside the SWIFT banking system for transferring funds between banks. With a focus on the Middle East. Follow the money as they say. Unfortunately, the Shadow Brokers cyber criminal group released this flaw and other related tools in their notorious data dump a few months ago.

And now we have the logical consequence of this meshing of private hackers and public spy agencies: WannaCry, the ransomeware that shut down Hospitals and Banks and Trains and PC’s on a couple of continents. And that seeks out and exploits that old bit of Microsoft code: SMB V.1; in order to search for and seal with an encrypting key any documents and other valuable files that your infected computer might contain. You get your files back if you deposit BitCoin at an address, with a conveniently located button on the screen that shows up on your infected machine. And it’s not impossible that WannaCry is being run by Russian hackers.

So just one question for the DHS’ Automated Indicator Sharing capability folks. Did you get the IP addresses of the Shadow Brokers or whoever hacked the NSA and dumped all those vital software tools into the public domain? Or of the cyber thugs who launched the ransomeware? And will you help out the public in general with some useful intel? Or is WannaCry just an unfortunate bit of collateral damage in the current landscape of cybersecurity warfare? And the DHS and NSA and whoever else will not be revealing anything that a good Russian hacker can’t steal.

As the Senate Majority party – the GOP of course – exercises the nuclear option and allows cloture with a simple majority vote, there is an interesting historical connection that arises. One that seems very relevant today.

Cloture – the ending of debate on Senate bills – came into being in 1917 during WW I, over the blocking of legislation by a group of senators that would have allowed merchant ships to arm themselves. Against whom? The Kaiser’s U-Boats of course, who were pursing a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking merchant ships, passenger ships, and naval ships of any allied or even neutral countries. It was a scorched-earth policy carried out underwater, as a way to try and gain some control of the seas against the Royal Navy.

And in a rather eye-opening piece in the Federalist, John Davidson compares America’s current dilemma with that which the emerging superpower found itself in in 1917. The sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman telegram which exposed a mad plan by Germany to support a Mexican invasion of America’s southern border (remember the Mexican-American War was a far more recent event in those days), with a possible alliance (or axis if you will) with Japan as well.

The public demanded America defend herself and she entered the First World War and became an ally of the U.K. Something America had arguably not been up until that point.

Now we have the southern border as a deeply divisive domestic issue, as well as the Middle East and ISIS, looming over any decision on foreign policy that Trump’s administration might make. And of course, Syria is the latest heart of darkness, following in the bloody tradition of Afghanistan and Iraq.

And once again, Syria presents us with horrifying images, cruel enough to make the humanitarian in each of us want to weep and them grab a weapon and go hunt for Assad. Pronto.

President Trump has signaled he wants action on this. But what action? Davidson’s warning in the Federalist essentially says that you need a very clear set of policy objectives before invading a country like Syria. Or entering a World War. In another related article also at The Federalist, Sean Davis lists a dozen questions that should be asked before committing to invading Syria. All of them tough and all of them hard to answer. And Rob Tracinski (yes also at The Federalist) models a possible approach on America’s support of Afghan rebels in the 80’s. When Osama Bin Laden was one of the famed mujahadeen.

Ok.

Yes, America can start a proxy war in Syria and we can all feel we are helping those wounded children – the ones who survive the gas attack that is – and as the operation bogs down and the “rebels forces” America supports in yet another proxy war, become indistinguishable from ISIS terrorists, what then? Do you send in American ground troops (some are already there by the way)? Do you start WW III with Russia and unleash a nuclear conflict? And unlikely outcome, but not impossible.

Or – at best perhaps – does Syria turn into another Afghanistan. Always just a few policy and defense tweaks away from becoming stable and not a nightmare patchwork of corruption, tribal betrayals, and islamic terrorism?

Do you send in a Navy Seal team to somehow kidnap and bring Assad back to, say, Guantanamo Bay? And then what happens in Syria? Peace? From one day to the next? Justice and revenge are linked. Let’s not kid ourselves. But they are not the same. And thinking that justice can be achieved in Syria by taking revenge on a killer like Assad makes for dangerous foreign policy. Trump’s generals in his administration need to think this one through carefully and advice the president well. Syria must not trap America in a quagmire.

In a small Syrian city called Manbij, Syrian army personnel, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and Russian military men met. And danced.

No, this is not a Monty Python video, but rather the latest chapter in the Syrian Civil War, and specifically the strange bedfellows that any alliance against ISIL seems to produce. Whatever the celebratory dancing meant – likely that the ISIL rump state seems to be collapsing in Syria as well as Iraq – the dancing will not go on forever. Or even more than a very short time.

There are also at least two other major forces present in the town. American forces are now there to prevent Turkish forces – whose border is a short distance north of Manjib – from launching an assault on the Kurdish-led forces. America needs the Kurds to decisively crush the Islamic State in Iraq. But as Matthew Continetti points out: what does that imply about America’s policy towards an independent Kurdistan? Which would affect not only Turkey – which has suffered a lengthy terrorist campaign by Kurdish extremists – but also Syria, Iraq, which is in constant danger of fracturing into warring regions like Afghanistan, and God forbid, Iran.

Kurdistan as the Balkans of the Middle East? You wish. The Balkans and their various wars are a cakewalk compared to the dangers surrounding any possible attempt at establishing an independent Kurdish state. What is America’s position? Secretary of State Tillerson will have to get back to us on that one.

But maybe that’s asking the wrong person. FiveThirtyEight has a malicious but interesting analysis of the power centers in the White House. It counts 8 of them. Perhaps they go a little overboard, being a rather liberal, if reliably wonky and usually data-driven, political site. But there are clearly a number of decision-making foci, if you will, around the West Wing. And also in Congress.

Which brings us to what the fivethirtyeight story labels as the McCain wing. Or the stand-up-and salute-em crowd. Senator McCain works with – in this view – Defense Secretary Mattis, DHS Secretary Kelly, and National Security Adviser McMaster in promoting, that means mostly talking up at conferences – a more robust defense posture on the part of America. Compared to the president’s nods towards a more neutral pragmatism. That also means putting boots on the ground in Iraq in the final takedown of ISIS. And it now seems to mean sending a military presence – on the ground and in the air – into Syria to keep Turks and Kurds from shooting at each other after ISIL has been defeated.

Did Mattis lay out a detailed plan for the president on America’s presence in Manbij? Did it include dancing lessons for tank commanders? Did it – rather more seriously – include a little history on America’s presence in the Lebanese Civil War in the early 80’s? Which ended badly, as we all know.

In other words, how much of the details does Defense Secretary Mattis get to keep to himself, and not trouble the president with, when it comes to placing American assets in the middle of the (winding down it is true) Syrian Civil War? Because if it blows up yet again in Syria or Iraq, President Trump can certainly fire Mattis, or Kelly, or McMaster. But he will own the tragedy.

For all of us who bled with compassion at the sight of Alan Kurdi’s little lifeless body lapped by the waves, we must all remember that going into Syria means Americans will be in harm’s way, once again, in an area where a coherent policy has yet to be stated. And even if stated, will be exceedingly difficult to execute.

The other power centers in the White House might want to keep tabs on what the McCain wing is up to.

How sloppy has America’s intelligence community gotten? It’s a valid question, and one that Masha Gessen – the Russian American journalist/activist – explores with a careful rigor in a NY Review of Books article. A rigor that one wishes was in the report the intel community delivered to Congress, Obama, Trump, and the waiting world last week. A report Gessen methodically picks apart.

Unlike mainstream media outlets like the NYT who merely echoed its poorly supported conclusions.

Masha Gessen is no fan of Trump, and yes she’s an avowed opponent of Putin and the authoritarian state he has built in Russia. But her concern is that in trying to paint Trump as a Kremlin pawn, which is basically what the report concludes even if it never directly states so, one risks getting the picture wrong. What she’s worried about, is Trump’s populist, nationalist, and conservative agenda, as a gay female writer who clearly is deeply invested in a very liberal view of America.

But her attacks on the way the report is written, and how it presents its evidence should leave the higher ups in the intel community more than a little bashful. And the rest of us more than a little worried. Trust a Russian intellectual (you too Volokh) to be soviet-like in her rigorous approach to our sloppy semantics. Welcome to America Masha – even if you’ve been on this side of the pond for a while.

But for all her fussy grammatical – and more importantly, logical – standards, Masha Gessen is absolutely right. Any report by America’s intelligence agencies that deals with something as important as Russian attempts to interfere in and degrade the electoral process should be judged by as rigorous a standard as possible. They should never be narratives. They should be concise and cohesive explanations of the available intelligence. Because in a narrative, the facts are bent to fit the story. In a report, the story presents the facts as best as is possible.

Now contrast the circular logic and lack of compelling evidence in the intel community’s report on Russia, to the statements on the web of the so-called Shadow Brokers. They are almost certainly yet another Russian semi-official hacking group; perhaps peopled by some of the same hackers who make up Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. And they have demonstrated publicly that they are apparently capable of hacking NSA code. Code that is used to gather vital information on America’s enemies (and yes, allies as well).

But The Shadow Brokers play a sort of cyber-goof role: we’re just a bunch of kids in some apartment building in St. Petersburgh or Moscow, trying to scam up some bitcoin. Like any honest-to-goodness darknet denizen. Here’s some of their online rhetoric as reported by The Daily Beast:

The ShadowBrokers is dumb asses thinking found golden ticket sitting on server and just wanting cash out without dying or go to prison.

Do the Russian intel services have manuals on how to write like a dumb Russian wannabe hacker? They may very well have such guidelines. More smoke blown straight in America’s face: we’re just a bunch of kids with a few laptops and we’ve hacked the NSA. It’s so blatant it’s almost pathetic. If it weren’t chipping away – bit by bit – at the credibility of America’s intel community, who have not done too much lately to cover themselves in glory.

Should America support and appreciate the men and women who do the analytical and the field work that helps defend the nation? Obviously. But that does not preclude demanding they adhere to standards worthy of their task, rather than engaging in echo-chamber public relations.

The Democrats used to insist, a few long weeks ago, that FBI Director Comey was the reason why Hillary lost the election. Now it seems they prefer to blame the Russian hack: a term which suggests that Russian intelligence operatives or associates directly hacked the elections in America on November 8, 2016. Which is completely false of course. There were leaks of DNC emails and there were leaks of John Podesta’s emails, and this may very well have been the work of hackers linked to Putin’s regime. Although the public has not been able to see the proof, despite the Intelligence Community insisting the proof is there, and also insisting that most of that proof will have to remain off limits to voters and curious citizens in general.

So, perhaps here’s a way to combine these two villains – Russian Intelligence, and the hard-working head of a major American, Domestic (mostly) Intelligence force that we know as the FBI. Get James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, to release a public version of the report and meet with Congress, Obama, and a day later, Trump.

In other words, let’s see if Clapper can de-legitimize Trump’s incoming administration, seeing we believe that Comey threw the election to Trump. Has there been a more politicized transition between administrations? Ever? With Obama signing as many executive orders as he can before his pen gets ripped out of his hands, and with what Democrats (and a few senators like Lindsey Graham) hope will be a disturbing and embarrassing probe of the hacks of the DNC and John Podesta, Trump’s honeymoon ended sometime in mid-November it now seems.

But here’s the thing: Trump loves a brawl. Trump loves to take on his critics, and does so on his terms. Yet somehow both Obama, and much of the media think that Trump can no longer benefit from his outsider, renegade tactics. Now that he is assuming power. What if they and the rest in government and industry and NGO’s who still suffer Trump Derangement Syndrome are wrong once again?

The briefings next week, and the whole Russian hack narrative, will surely test this thesis. And it may be that any new information that does come out could erode some of Trump and his administration’s political capital. But the assumption that the leaked emails changed the course of the election are just that: assumptions that have not been proven. And cannot practically be proven. You’d have to show how voters in the Blue-Wall states from Michigan down to Pennsylvania voted against Hillary and for Trump because of those leaked emails. And not because of Obama’s policies and how they impacted on those voters’ lives. Good luck with that.

But that won’t be the issue in these briefings. The point of the briefings will be to somehow show Putin’s fingerprints on these hacks. And that should not be nearly as difficult as proving that the hacks caused Hillary to lose the election to Trump.

Will Trump mostly ignore or downplay the briefings? Will he praise the intelligence work, while questioning some of the assumptions behind the Russia hack narrative? Or will he punch back? This skirmish could be a key for the President-Elect.

From CNN to FoxNews. From the New York Times to BBC World. Putin is everywhere. Yeltsin, no stranger to the world press, would have killed for this sort of publicity. And Gorbachev was on the front pages – if not the web pages; it was the late 80’s and early 90’s after all – usually for all the wrong reasons, from Putin’s perspective at least. Negotiating arms deals and presiding over the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example.

But this sort of thing – expelling spies – used to happen all the time. The differences between now and the Soviet-era spy expulsions seem to be twofold. First, the numbers of spies were usually far less than the football team’s worth of expulsions that Obama’s administration has enacted. And, more importantly, the rules of the game are unknown at this point. We don’t know how this will play out, because one fears that Putin will react in unpredictable ways, because he is not playing quite the same game as the Soviets used to.

And of course, we don’t know how Trump will react to the sanctions imposed by Obama in the final weeks of his presidency. Trump would like the Russian hacking of the elections to quietly fade away, but Obama has clearly been determined not to let that happen. What was an intelligence matter, and primarily a domestic and partisan electoral matter – seeing that the DNC and Hillary’s campaign chief were the main victims of the hacks – is now an international incident. For some the sanctions are too little too late. For others they are too loud and too public.

Jim Woolsey ex CIA, for example, on FoxNews complained that Obama should have retaliated quietly and forcefully – essentially keeping the matter an intelligence matter. He also complained that the United States of America did not send public condolences to Russia after the crash of it’s Tupolev airliner last week carrying the Red Army Choir on a mission to Syria. Which seems a little fussy and formal for 21st century politics. As if Woolsey really would like a return to the Soviet American spy game of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Right now that does not seem possible. This is a new game that Putin is defining, and America’s President-Elect will have to get up to speed very quickly on possible tactical and strategic responses available to the White House. Because a Russian reaction to Obama’s expulsions is coming, likely within a fairly short time frame. And it may not be tit-for-tat. This is just getting started. Putin is ruthless and unapologetic with his tactics, as the last 16 years of his running Russia prove. And this cyber/spy war will run both hot and cold, often at the same time. Time for a regular intel briefing, Mr. President-Elect. You have no choice now.

Thank goodness for German authorities. Having quickly stated that the crazed truck driver and his accomplice(s?) had engaged in an act of terrorism, the dork at BBC World covering the tragedy could safely quote them. Rather than actually state the obvious all by his lonesome, and say that by all accounts this was yet another act of terrorism on European soil.

Even the White House got in on the act. At least National Security Council spokesman Ned Price did, condemning “what appears to have been a terrorist attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin.” Will President Obama use similar language? If he does, it will surely be contained by qualifiers that scrupulously avoid using terms like radical islamic terrorism. Because if the culprits did not train in Syria or Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East – though they may well have – then of course how could it be radical islamic terrorism?

It’s about the psychology of those poor misunderstood lone miscreants. Who, if they only had proper counseling and plenty of safe spaces, wouldn’t do things like slaughter innocent civilians precisely because they are innocent civilians, living in Western Europe. And more importantly, as the intelligence establishment has wisely pointed out, we don’t want to dwell too much on the radical islamic aspects of these attackers, because that would only encourage more of them. Which is a strategy that has obviously worked out well in places like Nice, and Berlin, and Paris. And Orlando.

And in Ankara in a horrifying and surreal scene that almost looked like a crazed parody of the film I Shot Andy Warhol, a young Turkish riot policeman repeatedly shot the Russian Ambassador at a gallery where an exhibition of photography was taking place. He screamed the phrase Allahu akbar, and ranted about Russia’s role in Syria, especially Aleppo, as he was filmed by the many cameras already present, before being taken down by his colleagues in the Turkish police forces.

The scene seemed reminiscent somehow of Sarajevo, in a horrifying way. The Sarajevo of June, 1914 that is. Even as Aleppo is starting to resemble Srebrenica and its massacre of Bosnian men and children in July of 1995. While both Turkish and Russian spokespeople immediately did their best to emphasize the recently improving relations between their nations, the Syrian Civil War has been a proxy war between Russia and Turkey, as much as it has also involved Iran and America. Russia and Turkey intend to proceed with a multilateral meeting on Syria, regardless of the shooting. And Putin knows his history, even if his perspective is a dangerously wounded one that grieves for the lost Soviet Empire, itself founded after the military failures of Czarist Russia’s role in WW I. With ironic echoes of ISIL and Al Qaida’s laments over the loss of the Ottoman Empire. A loss precipitated by, if not entirely caused by, that very shooting in Sarajevo over 100 years ago.

What will Aleppo symbolize in 10 years? In 20 years? In 100 years? For Trump, it means an impossible choice between a well-armed adversary and a fanatical enemy sworn to the death. He would be wise to avoid Obama’s do-next-to-nothing red-lines policy. But any choice Trump makes will have costs. In blood and treasure. And even if there emerge choices which do not mean either cozying up to Putin, or soft-balling ISIL, or appeasing Iran, those are the risks Trump will face when he begins dealing with Aleppo.

Taiwan – in the eyes of the foreign policy and diplomatic community – is a grenade with a pin in it. That pin, in their view, is the One China Policy. Not to be confused with the One China Principle. And don’t confuse the Republic of China – ROC to the in-crowd – with the People’s Republic of China. Or RPC. No prizes for guessing right on which one is Taiwan, and which one is China.

So to keep the pin firmly in place – and to continue selling billions and billions and billions and billions of raw materials to China; Australia, for example, does not recognize the ROC. Yes it gets a little hot in Alice Sprins in January, but all that wide open territory is just asking for prosperous Chinese citizens, tired of spending their billions and trillions of yuan in their overcrowded homeland, to come on down under. In huge numbers. Say like in Vancouver. And Australia – who actually control their borders with a points-based immigration system – want to avoid that. So they make sure they do not, ever, ever, make the communist leadership of the PRC mad.

America, one hopes, has a little more leverage to play with, and are not quite as ostrich-like in dealing with the communist giant of East Asia. But the One China Policy has been the sacred status quo in diplomatic circles for close to 40 years now. And while military support does flow to Taiwan – that would be the ROC – as a rule the One China policy and One China principle are firmly held to.

Until a brief phone call between Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, and President-Elect Trump. Suddenly, with all the discretion of a provocative tweet, Trump has put the One China Policy under a shade of doubt. How dare he? Reunification is a given! And by reunification we mean, Beijing taking over control of Taiwan. The debate in the foreign policy and diplomatic communities is merely how to get there. Not whether China should ever get to Taipei.

China and Taiwan have endured a relationship surprisingly similar to North and South Korea. Each claims to be the sole ruler of China – although lately Taiwan has mostly ceded that claim and merely claimed the right to be the ruler of itself. The division is a reflection of the post-revolution status in 1949 in China, where Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated forces and supporters retreated to Taiwan. In large numbers, overwhelming the native Taiwanese.

In other words, there are divisions within Taiwan as well. And these divisions are what are bringing some of the recent tensions to the surface, as a growing independence movement in Taiwan is calling to break all links with China. But all this history and balkanization of local Taiwanese politics and how it affects relations across the Strait of Formosa ignores a simple fact: Taiwan is a democracy. China is a communist dictatorship. Trump reminded the world of that. Diplomats may raise their eyebrows in horror. But Trump merely stated the obvious. Whether this is the opening move in a shift in American strategy – and it seems that more than a little planning did go into that phone call – remains to be seen.

In all the articles and editorials commenting on Fidel Castro’s death and his unfortunate legacy with regard to Cuba, precious little has been written about the island’s history before, well before, Castro rode a battered truck into Havana in early 1959. Cuba did not suddenly become a problem, previously unimagined and ignored, when Castro and Ernesto Guevara and their crazed communist cadre of scruffy revolutionaries toppled the Batista regime. Cuba has been in America’s imagination and her history for almost as long as America has been a republic.

Consider: a plot to invade Cuba hatched in New Orleans with American mercenaries and angry Cubans. And the promise of economic payoffs should they dismantle the burdensome state apparatus of tariffs and controls. A determined Cuban- Venezuelan who despised the island’s regime tried to enlist American military expertise to lead his expedition. The Cuban-Venezuelan? Narciso Lopez, a veteran of the wars of independence. The American experts? Jefferson Davis and Colonel Robert E. Lee. The year? 1849. Davis passed the request on to Lee, who wisely rejected participating in the expedition. Veterans of the American Mexican war had apparently signed up. But President Taylor scuttled the expedition, concerned about violating neutrality laws.

You think the Bay of Pigs was an improvised out-of-the-blue idea quickly cobbled together by military and intelligence and Cuban exiles who were determined to stop the emerging communist regime in Cuba? It was one more chapter in a long, colorful, and sometimes violent history. One soaked in intrigue as well.

Lopez was a wealthy planter, and a frustrated member of what were called the annexationists: Cuban planters who saw a bright future for Cuba as an addition to America. One that would fit with the Southern plantation economy. Yes, slavery was at the heart of their system, and their vision of Cuba’s future within America. Cuba might have been purchased, might have been fought for with the support of part of Cuba’s elite. It did not happen, as much from constant changes in American foreign policy as from resistance from Spain – an impoverished, faded, ghost of an empire by this point.

You think Castro was just an idiotic showman when he booked a hotel room in Harlem in the early 60’s? Yes he was a showman, yes he could be a dangerous idiot, and a cunning traitor (just ask, if you could, Ochoa: executed for carrying out Castro’s orders in running the drug trade in Cuba). But Castro was playing media theatrics with the issue of race in America. And how it relates to Cuba’s history. He played America. He played Cuba. He played Europe and the Third World. And it worked. Tragically for Cuba, especially Afro-Cubans who were – and are – often at the lower end of the economic scale. Which is saying something in a failed economy like Cuba’s.

So don’t expect a final, closing chapter in Cuba, now that Fidel is dead. Raul Catro is handing off a communist regime to the next generation of communist bureaucrats and military power brokers on the island. And it is likely this next cadre of Caribbean apartchiks would love to imitate the Chinese model: firm political control and state-run capitalism. With lots of goodies for communist party members. In other words, an economically successful version of what Cuba already has been for a long time.

That’s a doubtful outcome, but not impossible. Whether the communists are able to keep their grip on power depends on how ruthless the Cuban military wish to be. And how President-Elect Trump is able to re-apply pressure by insisting on real progress on the island in terms of human rights, freedom of worship, and economic openness. This is just the latest chapter in a long history. Cuba, and America, will have to be patient. Let us pray that the Cuban populace find some light at the end of their long dark tunnel.