Mike Pompeo’s War On Iran

One of the many damages Donald Trump inflicts on the country is the inability to focus on events elsewhere in the world. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo uses Trump’s distractions to move closer to war with Iran.

Pompeo’s diplomacy begins by presenting a list of impossible demands to establish leverage for his next moves. In the case of arms control, the next move has been to pick up his marbles and go home. The US believes that Russia has been violating treaties. Instead of using the treaties’ mechanisms to bring Russia back into compliance, the US representative insisted that Russia publicly admit to its violations. When it didn’t, the US withdrew from the intermediate-range missile treaty and shot off a missile that would have violated the treaty. They are using the same strategy now to allow the New START Treaty, the last of the big arms control treaties, to lapse.

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Where We Are – 36 Days Out

The New York Times now has Donald Trump’s income tax returns “extending over two decades”. They say that the returns come from a person who had legal access to them. The Times’s first article provides eighteen takeaways. They promise more to come. Each takeaway is a string that other news organizations can pull.

Trump runs through money and then manages to find yet another source to bankroll him. At this point, he owes $421 million to unknown parties. There are hints and guesses about connections to a hotel deal in Azerbaijan that appears to have laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and to Deutsche Bank through Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s son.

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Flooding The Zone

Steve Bannon talked about “flooding the zone with shit,” meaning overwhelming people with disinformation. That is what Donald Trump and his people are doing now with respect to voting. Our job is to resist it and turn it back.

Trump tweets multiple times a day about voting by mail. In his tweets, he emphasizes how unsure, how erratic it is. In fact, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington primarily use a vote by mail system. Most other states allow absentee voting by mail, under a variety of rules. That variety is being exploited by Trump’s man in the Post Office, Louis DeJoy, who is sending out postcards claiming to remind people about voting. Those postcards are incorrect for many states. The Colorado Secretary of State has tweeted out a correction and is suing the Postal Service for disrupting the election.

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The Poison That Took Navalny Down

The German hospital treating Alexei Navalny says that he was poisoned by a cholinesterase inhibitor. That’s a poison in the same family as nerve agents, but not necessarily a nerve agent. Some insecticides have the same characteristic, and there are other compounds as well. Identifying exactly which it is may be difficult after the time that has elapsed since he was poisoned.

The good news is that they say he is in a medically-induced coma and likely to survive. But cholinesterase inhibitors can damage the body in multiple ways, and nobody knows what damage he will sustain.

So it’s likely another poisoning by the Russian government. Their use of poison seems bizarre, but it’s a reminder to people that the government can reach down very personally to people it doesn’t like.

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PSA: Donald’s New Drug Can Kill You

Man, I hate articles like the one in Axios about Donald’s latest snake oil. I’m not going to link to it. It should have started with

OLEANDRIN CAN KILL YOU, AND OTHER EXTRACTS FROM THE OLEANDER PLANT WILL KILL YOU

Instead, it cites papers to look authoritative and buries a quote from one researcher that translates to

DO NOT DO THIS

and shows pretty flowers in the pill bottle.

One of the heuristics I’ve carried with me from my time in California is “Oleander is poison. Do not eat.” The flowers are pretty, and it’s everywhere in California. So when I saw this a week or so ago, I did some research. Apparently oleandrin is one of the less toxic oleander components. It’s being used experimentally against cancer. God only knows why anyone is researching it for COVID-19, because it’s still pretty toxic. Not a path I would take until less toxic alternatives are exhausted.

It also looked like people refer to broader extracts from oleander as “oleandrin,” not just one component. So it’s only a matter of time until someone dies.

Donald Trump’s Nonproliferation Ambitions

Today we have a report that Donald Trump would like to meet with Vladimir Putin before the election to present a new arms control agreement to the world.

The easiest thing for Trump to do would be to extend the New START Treaty, which lapses in early February next year. The treaty is written to allow five-year extensions with a minimum of negotiation, and Putin has said he is willing to extend it.

Trump has been surrounded by treaty-haters, though, particularly but not only John Bolton, who would be happy for New START to lapse. Their strategy is to insist that China be a part of arms control negotiations and spin their wheels doing stunts like adding small Chinese flags to places around the table during US-Russian interactions and then whining that China didn’t show up. As China had said it wouldn’t.

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What’s Happening In Belarus?

A very good question. I’ve been thinking about writing a post for a while, but there is a long backstory and what is happening now is not at all clear.

Belarus just had a contested election. Alexander Lukashenka, who has been president since the breakup of the Soviet Union and an official before that, was seriously challenged by Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Lukashenka claimed victory with 80% of the vote. Unofficial polls suggest it may have been the other way around. I’ll let Olya Oliker explain. This is the best short explanation I’ve seen.

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That Saudi Yellowcake Plant

The New York Times has a couple of photos and links to others of sites that may be the yellowcake plant alleged to have been built recently in Saudi Arabia by China.

They are cautious about the claims.

American officials said that the Saudi efforts were still in an early stage, and that intelligence analysts had yet to draw firm conclusions about some of the sites under scrutiny. 

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LALALALA Redux

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump was in the throes of a love affair with Kim Jong Un, I advanced a theory of his behavior. He wanted the photo-ops and signatures and the sense of a nuclear nonproliferation deal, but was incapable of making a deal, in his words. His incapacity lay in his ignorance about how treaties are negotiated.

At some point, my North Korea watching colleagues maintained, Trump would have to recognize that his photo-ops had no effect whatsoever. Would he freak out against the unfaithful “Little Rocket Man”? Would he admit failure? No problem, I said. His continuing response would be “LALALALA I can’t hear you.”

How would he proceed from those photo-ops, as North Korea was continued to accumulate fissile material and build weapons, even test missiles? When North Korea issued statements insulting Trump and the people working for him? When there were no talks to develop a path towards Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Complete, Verified, and Irreversible Disarmament (CVID) and variants on that theme? When North Korea explicitly said that no way would that happen?

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Where We Are With COVID-19

If you’re hoping to go back to normal, it’s not going to happen. The normal of November 2019, before SARS-CoV-2 got a foothold in the human population, will not return. There will be a time when COVID-19 is no longer one of the top causes of death in the United States and a primary topic of concern around the world. But we can’t know when that will be. I’m guessing it’s at least two years away.

Because of negligence by leaders, particularly President Donald Trump, the virus is everywhere. It will take serious effort to bring it under control. The United States has handled the pandemic almost uniquely badly, but even countries that have minimized cases continue to be affected as well. Vigilance must be constant to keep the virus from returning with travelers. Where there are outbreaks, they will have to be tamped down with isolation, testing, and tracing.

After the long, hard slog to where virus cases and deaths are few, repercussions will continue. Some people continue to have symptoms for months. Because we have only seven months’ experience with the virus, we don’t know how many people will suffer virus-related disabilities, how long they will last or if they will flare up again later.

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