Just Shut Up and Dribble

Who knew hostage swaps could get so political? Oh, who are we kidding? We all knew.

Just Shut Up and Dribble

Well, it has been an interesting week, kids. We have seen a prisoner swap with the Russians, though it was never going to make some folks happy. Democrats have access to Donald Trump's tax returns now, for no apparent reason. He's already in tax trouble and is no longer in office. So the natural question is, why?

Republicans are in a dither about protesters angry with Supreme Court Justices while laughing about Paul Pelosi, who is in a dither about being clobbered with a hammer. And suddenly, Nazis are all the rage. It really is Springtime for Hitler.

And the Congresswoman who is also a favorite at the Belmont this year, Marjorie Taylor Greene, stood up in front of a group of young Republican types and actually said this...

U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene
"Have any lunch plans? Well, let's go put on the old feedbag."

Then Jan. 6 happened. And next thing you know, I organized the whole thing, along with Steve Bannon here. And I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that, we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.”

Would have won? Won what, exactly? Armed? Now Kevin McCarthy, who may soon be the first invertebrate elected Speaker of the House, has a choice to make. Her? Heading a committee?

But let's save that for next time. There is prisoner-swap-outrage to deal with.

This week, WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner was released from a Russian prison in a swap for an arms dealer named Viktor Bout, which is good news for Griner, but bad news for the Russian prison basketball team.

"Yeah it got a little rowdy, but Ox had said he would join the mud wrestlers."

This is the second prisoner freed by the Biden administration, as former US Marine Trevor Reed was swapped for a Russian drug dealer named Konstantin Yaroshenko earlier in the year. Reed was arrested after getting tanked up at a party and reportedly getting into it with Russian cops back in 2019. He was sentenced to serve nine years in a Russian prison, this in addition to time served since his arrest the previous year.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry had previously raised the possibility that Yaroshenko could be returned “in exchange for any American national” held in Russia. At the time, Reed and Paul Whelan were in Russian jails and Reed was chosen for the swap as he was in extremely ill health, perhaps with TB and there were concerns he might not survive much longer. He is back in Granbury, Texas with his folks now.

And that leaves another American, Paul Whelan, still in jail charged with espionage. In the interim, basketball star, and two-time Olympic gold medal winner,  Brittany Griner was playing in a Russian league during the WNBA off-season, and when leaving Russia, was caught with a gram of hash oil, which had been prescribed legally in the US for dealing with muscle pain. Now since she makes a living bouncing a ball and not in international narcotics regulation, she no doubt had no idea the stuff her doctor gave her in the states was not kosher in other locales, you know, like a country ruled by a maniac. She should have, but obviously didn't. So, in that regard, she absolutely did what she was charged with.

So, again, the negotiations began and the Russians brought up Viktor Bout, who is admittedly a pretty big fish. A notorious arms dealer who sent weapons primarily to fuel African conflicts, though he was also involved in the Middle East and South America. Curiously, in 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. government and its contractors paid Bout-controlled firms roughly $60 million to fly supplies into Iraq in support of American forces, describing Bout as a "linchpin" for American supply lines in Iraq. But no one brings that one up lately.

He is also reportedly, the model for one of only two Nicholas Cage movies I can sit through with a calm stomach, Lord of War, the other being Raising Arizona.

Lord of War (2005) - Photo Gallery - IMDb
The theatrical subtlety that is Nicholas Cage. 

So the talks began, and the Russkies wanted Bout back and for some reason, would not hear of Whelan being included. I'll explain his case in a moment. So, the dilemma was, trade for Griner and no one else. Not even a first round draft choice. Or get no one out. The administration opted for the trade, and then, of course, the excrement hit the oscillator.

The outrage was predictable since in today's environment, everything is outrageous. Everyone from politicians to the ciphers at Fox News derided the trade as one-sided and, “By the way, did we mention enough that Griner is black, gay and merely an athlete?” The usual suspects at Fox and other outlets decided that whatever the societal fallout, they would harp on race, orientation and the fact that she was pretty vocal during the Black Lives Matter imbroglio a couple of years back.

Yeah, it's come to that. It isn't enough the be a fellow American tucked away in a gulag, you have to be worthy of our attention. Like the attention Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan didn't get from the previous administration? That's right. Former Trump administration members say he never mentioned any action to get Reed or Whelan back. The Don did say this week though, he could have gotten Whelan back, unlike Biden. What a pity he was never in the position you'd need to be to accomplish that, eh?

I like people who aren't captured. 

But let's discuss Whelan's case. Paul Whelan is 52 years old, unmarried and a citizen of four countries, the US, UK, Canada and Ireland. After a stint as a sheriff's deputy in his native Michigan, he joined the Marine Reserves in 1994. He was an office clerk during deployments to Iraq in 2004 and 2006. But, he later faced a court-martial and according to CNN...

His service ended after he was convicted at a special court-martial on an attempted larceny charge, military court documents show. A record of his conviction says that while in Iraq, Whelan tried to steal $10,410 in US currency. He was accused of wrongfully using another person’s Social Security number and writing bad checks.”

Well, um, OK. Maybe we can't handle the truth.

He received what is called a Punitive Discharge, which is one step below a dishonorable one.

His family didn't know about the discharge until 2019. So, to be honest about it, all that “former Marine”nomenclature regarding Whelan needs an asterisk.

But, and it's a big one, it doesn't mean he was any less set up. And the odds of the CIA using this guy as some sort of super-duper double-secret agent are slim and none. He said himself, "They think they caught James Bond, but they really got Mr. Bean."

He made his first of several trips to Russia during his two weeks leave from his office duty in Iraq.

"Yeah, I think I can trust these guys."

He made several friends there and according to the BBC...

It appears Whelan had been using a Russian social media platform similar to Facebook for the past 13 years.

Photos showing Whelan have been uploaded to the VKontakte, or VK, social network from around the world for years, in a profile under his name.

The last status update on the page reads “next stop, Moscow…”

Woo-Hoo. Big time holiday blowout at the People's Proletarian Communal Post-Marxist Anti-Revisionist Saloon Where Everybody Knows Your Name.

We reject the bourgeoisie and their antiquated opposition to the collective good. And I need another beer. 

Whelan had become head of global security for the auto parts firm BorgWarner. It was due to his knowledge of Russia that he had been asked to attend the wedding of a fellow former marine in Moscow in December 2018.

On 28 December, however, he was arrested at his hotel by Russia's FSB state security agency, which claimed he had been "caught spying" in Moscow. At the time, there were uncorroborated reports he had been caught receiving a digital storage device containing a list of intelligence officials. He was later sentenced to 16 years in prison. From the London Daily Mail...

Vladimir Putin claims that Paul Whelan is a US spy who was caught red-handed by the FSB trying to steal a flash drive containing 'state secrets' in a Moscow hotel.

Whelan was indeed found with an FSB officer, the drive and $1,200 in cash at Moscow's Metropol, near the Kremlin, in 2018 and thrown in jail.

However, rather than trying to bribe Ilya Yatsenko, Mr Whelan maintains he thought he was a friend who had just handed him a flash drive containing vacation photos and was also reimbursing him for a loan.

Just three days beforehand, Mr Whelan took a photo of Yatsenko at dinner and titled it 'comrades' when he posted it.

He believed they had been friends for ten years and had even visited the Russian's hometown.

Sadly, the friendship Mr Whelan thought was blossoming, was in fact 'calf-rearing', where intelligence officers bide their time before a target is culled.

And the arrest has certainly super-charged Yatsenko's career who was last reported to be a Major.”

Now, admit it. This is a face you can trust, right?

The BBC also reports...

There was also speculation over other possible motives for the arrest - including a suggestion Mr Whelan was detained so he could be exchanged for Maria Butina, a Russian gun rights activist (there's an oxymoron for you, RG), who was jailed in the US in December 2018. She was deported back to Russia in October 2019.”

Maria Butina was the Russian spy who had infiltrated the gun culture in this country, and was very close to the leadership of the National Rifle Association. Rumor is, very close.

NRA Distances Itself From Curious Russia Trip – Rolling Stone
Butina with certified stud-muffin Wayne LaPierre.
Maria and a little gun porn. 

But the fact is, the Russians wouldn't add Whelan to this trade deal and it was one or none. So, the administration took half a loaf, triggering people like the Putin-loving Tucker Swanson Fish Stick Carlson to declare with his usual giggling authority that Biden chose to have Griner released because she is a black lesbian and democrats hate the family and America or something like that. Oh, and white people. Yeah, white people.

Now, the fact that Whelan was caught with documents, whether planted or not, makes him no doubt more valuable in a trade situation. After all, hiding top secret documents on a thumb drive or in a country club ought to be a serious deal, right? But one thing the critics are at least partially right about. These deals make the possibility of more kidnappings possible. But then again, every country does it.

Gilad Shalit

Israel is about as hard line as they come, but the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange  followed a 2011 agreement between Israel and Hamas to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 prisoners — almost all Palestinians and Arab-Israelis, was pretty outlandish. Two hundred and eighty of these had been sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Israeli targets. Now that's a lopsided swap.

The Biden folks say they will keep working the Whelan deal, and Carlson and crew will continue to both cheer for Putin and make this a racial issue. And make no mistake, that is exactly what they is trying to do. Well, that is when he's not portraying Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a latter day Stalin. Does Tucker know that Stalin wasn't overly fond of folks of the Jewish persuasion? Ah, what the hell. His audience will never remember that.

"And remember. She is a gay, black basketball player."

The only thing this week needed would be if Brittany Griner had asked the hostage team on the way home, “So, I've been out of the loop for 6 months. What's Kanye been up to?”

Roger Gray has toiled at the journalism trade since 1970 and his first radio news job at KTRH in Houston. Over those woefully misspent years, he has worked in radio, TV and written for magazines. He was twice elected President of the Texas Automobile Writers Association and was elected to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He covered the first Persian Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, Oslo Accords in Israel and peace talks in Ireland. He interviewed writers, actors, politicians and every President from Ford to George W, and none of them remember him.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.