Donald Trump’s pipeline to Putin

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Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16.

After his submissive appearance alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki last month, President Donald Trump faced some of the most severe and unanimous criticism of his chaotic political career. Members of Trump’s own party called the president “treasonous” and “disgraceful” while commentators speculated that Putin must have serious kompromat on Trump to make him behave so obsequiously. As the media and the FBI connect the dots of Putin and Trump’s relationship, their most obvious common interest in oil goes largely undiscussed.

The oil connection received a lot of attention when Trump appointed ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson Secretary of State. Tillerson had been awarded Russia’s distinguished Order of Friendship and was negotiating an Arctic drilling arrangement, potentially worth trillions of dollars, between Exxon and the Russian government. Sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration in response to Putin’s invasion of Crimea scuttled that deal. Tillerson’s tenure as Secretary of State ended prematurely after reports alleged he called Trump “a fucking moron,” but while in office Tillerson sought “flexibility” on Russian sanctions.

Because Russia did so brazenly interfere with American elections – by hacking emails, spreading fake news, and potentially through direct tampering of voting machines – it has been politically impossible for the Trump Administration to lift sanctions. In fact, Trump has imposed more sanctions on Russia since taking office, though seemingly begrudgingly. Many of those sanctions have impacted Russian oil barons, the top kingpin of whom may be none other than Vladimir Putin himself.

In 2012, Forbes reported that the Russian state-owned energy company Rosneft had surpassed ExxonMobil to become, temporarily, the world’s largest oil producer. Forbes described Rosneft as “Vladimir Putin’s vehicle to reassert state ownership over a fair chunk of Russia’s oil fields.” Under CEO Igor Sechin, Rosneft brutally conquered its competition in the Russian oil industry. In 2016, the Russian government sold a $12 billion share of Rosneft to an undisclosed private buyer. All along the way Putin has benefited, with financier Bill Browder estimating his net worth at $200 billion.

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Vladimir Putin inspects the ice on a trip to the Arctic, where he plans to expand Russian drilling operations.

Modern Russia is sometimes described as a mafia state, with Putin as its godfather. Following the collapse of communism, the Russian state solidified its power by “not simply taming but absorbing the underworld,” according to author Mark Galeotti. Galeotti argues that the new Russian oligarchs “are not interested in challenging or undermining the West, but in enjoying the opportunities it provides,” and that it’s up to Western institutions to resist the “common temptation to turn a blind eye to money that is slightly grubby.”

It’s debatable whether Donald Trump is up to the task of turning down dirty money. Like Putin, he has used the position of the presidency to further enrich himself. Also like Putin, Trump understands that one of the surest paths to wealth and power is alignment with Big Oil.

In 2016, the oil and gas industry pledged more than $900,000 to Trump’s campaign (and nearly as much to Hillary Clinton, a measure of the industry’s political reach). According to the Center for Public Integrity, Big Oil lobbying increased 11 percent during the first few months of Trump’s presidency, and the industry contributed some $10 million for Trump’s inauguration. Trump personally holds stock in Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and TransCanada, the company behind the infamous Keystone XL pipeline cleared by Trump.

One of the central missions of Trump’s presidency has been dismantlement of the EPA. In its first year, the Trump Administration granted six out of eight provisions on the American Petroleum Institute’s wish list. This included a particularly gratuitous effort to undo the “Waters of the United States” rule, which protected streams and rivers that millions of Americans depend on for drinking water. Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are aggressively shrinking national parks to make way for oil companies. The administration now plans to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars.

Even Trump’s saber-rattling toward Iran is likely driven by their perch atop the world’s fourth largest supply of oil. Unlike most politicians who deceive the public about Middle East wars, Trump repeatedly and loudly proclaims his desire to steal the region’s oil, saying bluntly of Iraq, “To the victor belong the spoils,” and of Libya, “I would just go in and take the oil.” Since long before Trump, US foreign policy in the Middle East has revolved almost entirely around oil.

Russia and the United States are, together with Saudi Arabia, far and away the world’s largest oil producers. Half of the world’s 10 biggest companies are oil and gas. The issue underlies virtually every other and provides sources of both cooperation and friction for Putin and Trump, in the Arctic and the Middle East. It’s difficult to imagine that Trump and Putin didn’t discuss oil during their top-secret two-hour meeting in Helsinki. They appear to be getting along on the issue.

Neither man has any interest in addressing climate change. Putin has said, “The warming, it had already started by the 1930s… when there were no such anthropological factors, such as emissions… The issue is to somehow adapt to it.” The Republican Party’s denial of climate change is unique in world politics, and Trump is the most extreme denier of all, calling the issue a “hoax by the Chinese.” In a sick irony, the Arctic drilling sought by Trump and Putin is only available because of melted ice due to climate change.

Trump’s record of corruption, fraud and sleaze is virtually unmatched, making the conspiracies about Russian blackmail tantalizing. Putin needs no dirt to win Trump’s cooperation, though. So long as civilization depends on oil, the kingpins of that industry will run the world. Right now, those kingpins just might be Trump and Putin. Normalized, de-nuclearized, and peaceful relations with Russia are vital, but Trump and Putin are deadly dangerous allies. Together, they have done all they can to accelerate climate change and hasten Earth’s ruin. That is the scariest collusion of all.

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Republicans plead for civility

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Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant, an incident that became a flashpoint in the culture war.

For three years, Donald Trump has dominated America’s cultural conversation. In that time, he has accused Mexico of sending rapists and drug dealers over the border, mocked a disabled reporter’s handicap, encouraged his crowds to physically assault protesters, and labeled journalists the “enemy of the people.” As President, he has done all he can to shred America’s life-saving social safety net, banned Muslims from entering America, and held migrant children hostage in cages. Now, Trump and his enablers are asking for one thing: civility. Continue reading

Trump Administration dehumanizes victims to justify border atrocities

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After being separated from their parents at the border, the children of migrants are held in chain-link pens at military bases and prisons around the southern border.

By far the biggest story in national headlines this week was the Trump Administration’s policy of splitting up families crossing the southern border without authorization. Following a zero-tolerance policy enacted in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, detained parents have been sent to one facility and their children have been sent to another. Photos and videos of those children – confused, crying, and locked in cages – drew intense domestic and international condemnation. United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said, “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.” Continue reading

Trump’s dictator flirtations reflect his Big Business past

Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un

Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, one of the worst human rights violators on earth today, and came away feeling very charmed.

On June 12, President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un made history in the first-ever summit between an American and North Korean head of state. The two met in Singapore to discuss the North Korean nuclear weapons program and, according to President Trump’s account, got along splendidly.

Reactions to the meeting were mixed, but even many of Trump’s harshest critics acknowledged an air of cautious optimism following the summit. Getting along with another country, even one as brutal and oppressive as North Korea, is undeniably preferable to a global nuclear war. Yet there’s a big line between reaching a détente with North Korea and propping their dictatorial cult state up as a model for the world. Trump crossed that line repeatedly in statements he made after the meeting. Continue reading

Donald Trump and the right-wing presumption of innocence

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Right-wing media is universally friendly to Trump, taking his innocence for granted and echoing his conspiracy theories about the investigation into his shady world.

President Donald Trump has escalated his attacks on the special counsel investigating his campaign’s alleged ties to Russian election interference. Last week Trump unleashed a torrent of tweets in an attempt to undermine the investigation’s credibility. Even as a deluge of shady new information about Trump associates pours in daily, from his personal attorney to his own children and son-in-law, conservative talking heads have dug in their heels behind the president more defiantly than ever. Continue reading

Reminder: Torture is not our only crime

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Gina Haspel, who oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, is poised to become the agency’s new director.

The Senate is prepared to confirm Gina Haspel, a longtime CIA official, to replace Mike Pompeo as the agency’s director. During her confirmation hearings, Haspel’s role in overseeing CIA torture programs – or “enhanced interrogation” – was a focal point. Haspel made headlines when she refused to answer Senator Kamala Harris’s question of whether “the previous interrogation techniques were immoral.” Her record on torture led Republican Senator John McCain, famously a torture survivor himself, to announce his opposition to her appointment. Continue reading

Right-wing snowflakes outraged over Michelle Wolf’s anti-elitist standup routine

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Comedian Michelle Wolf performs at the White House Correspondents Dinner, mere feet away from the targets of some of her most brutal jokes.

Comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a risqué performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday and became a hot topic overnight. The annual dinner, which is typically a stuffy affair, brings together Democratic and Republican politicians and media personalities for a night of awkward, elitist camaraderie. Wolf’s performance, laced with explicit references to President Trump’s scandals and sexual history, earned the ire of the far-right – a rich irony, given that group’s crusade against political correctness. Continue reading

Trump embraces neoconservative foreign policy

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New National Security Advisor John Bolton, a neoconservative war hawk, looks on at President Donald Trump.

In the revolving door that is President Donald Trump’s Apprentice­-style White House, two major shake-ups in 2018 are especially concerning. Mike Pompeo, formerly the Director of the CIA, has replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and John Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, has replaced General H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. Both men are super-hawks, torture defenders, and Islamophobes. Their move into the White House portends disaster, particularly in the Middle East. Continue reading

The Second Amendment, the NRA, and the quest to militarize American life

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Parkland shooting survivor-turned-activist Emma Gonzalez (left) grills NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch on gun control.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is one of the most hotly debated pieces of text in history. For devotees, it guarantees the most important freedom ever enshrined in a government document. For critics, it is a dangerous relic of colonial history with little relevance to modern life. Continue reading

Three easy gun control solutions

parkland protest

One of many gun control rallies takes place in Parkland, Florida. The protests have inspired numerous sympathetic demonstrations across the nation.

In the wake of a Valentine’s Day slaughter at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead, lawmakers, pundits and the American people are debating solutions to gun violence more fervently than they have in years. For perhaps the first time, the NRA is facing real consequences over its drive to militarize every facet of American life, with several major companies severing ties with the powerful lobbying group. But despite the courageous protests of youth across the country, real political action still feels far away.

Continue reading