• Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 3 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, 2020, Democracy, Economy, Minimum Wage, Post-Constitution America

     

    New York, America’s richest city and Ground Zero in how economic inequality is reshaping every day of our lives.
     
    NYC is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. One apartment building alone, 740 Park Avenue, is home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Yet living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the highest homeless population of any American metropolis, close to 80,000 and growing. The homeless numbered 24,000 during Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration some twenty years ago. Three years after that the homeless population swelled to almost 38,000 under Michael Bloomberg. The number of homeless single adults today is 142 percent higher than it was ten years ago, the highest level since the Great Depression.
     
    The city shelters about 64,000 on any given night. Another 3,000 people make their full-time home in the subway system. Their belongings and their defecation crowd out morning commuters on the platforms. In the winter many never emerge above ground. A visitor from outer space would be forgiven for thinking they weren’t even human, recognizable as just a head emerging from a urine-soaked bundle of clothing, not living really, just waiting. The ones who prefer to ride the trains 20 hours a day or more are like one-celled amoebas that react to heat or light by moving out of the way, in the specific case a transit employee whose inquiry causes some physical shift but no sign of sentient action.

    Don’t be offended — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most New Yorkers the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created.

    Navigating income inequality is not a problem for the rich. Public transportation, once the great melting pot, is less so as Uber plays a bigger role. The new super apartments, with their city-required handful of “affordable” units, have separate entrances based on wealth. A someone goes and gets the coffee, does the shopping, delivers the food. Armored cars for personal use are seeing a boom in sales. NYC’s newest mega-development, Hudson Yards, (Jeff Bezos is a fan) has been dubbed the Forbidden City, a mean snub as it is self-contained, literally walled off from the environment around it (there are “service” entrances for workers, and the stores have their primary doors opening into the gated courtyard, not on to Tenth Avenue.) NYC helps its wealthy pay for all this with a generous 40 percent incentive tax break. The city also built Hudson Yards its own subway line and park network for a total expenditure of six billion (the city spends only half that total on the homeless.) Elsewhere private restaurants, private clubs, private entrances, members only-everythings and VIP sections at public events keep the homeless beyond arm’s reach.
     
    For the rest, stuck between middle class and the abyss, navigating the world of economic inequality is more of a contact sport.

    Public libraries are in various degrees off limits, at best shared, with the well-behaved homeless. They are among the tens of thousands who live in the gulag archipelago of NYC’s vast shelter system. Most of the shelters (there some exceptions for women with small children) are only open at night, leaving the residents to find somewhere to physically exist between 7am and 11pm, after which the city cares about them again. There is no daytime plan for this population, so in bad weather they take over the libraries. Regular patrons are on their own if the staff don’t manage it well; the signature main library with the stone lions has guards to send the homeless across the street to a branch, where the homeless are more or less curated like the oversize books on to one particular floor. At the 96th street branch, the library serves no other purpose than homeless daycare, except for a brief period after school when bodies are moved around for an hour or two to accommodate story time.

    How do the non-homeless navigate this? They buy books on Amazon. They buy quiet workspace and WiFi at coffee shops. They buy their way around the homeless same as others buy their way around via ride sharing services.

    Economic inequality is part of life for many New Yorkers. Not homeless but damn poor, 400,000 reside in taxpayer-paid permanent (permanent as in multi-generational, grandmas passing squatter’s rights to grandkids) public housing. Conditions are literally toxic in these “projects,” as well as crime-ridden and just plain Third World crumbling. And yes, New York’s public housing authority is the world’s largest. There are probably fewer no-go zones than in the dark times of the 1970s, but maybe more “why would you want to go there anyway” places.

    Housing prices for who can pay their own way are such that 40 percent of adult renters live with a roommate. The city even has a program to help elderly renters share their homes. Hanging on to the middle in times of economic inequality means shared or public housing, juggling multiple jobs which often pay less than minimum wage (Taskrabbit, Fiverr, who background check their employees and then send them into anonymous homes), living with life-crippling debt, skating on the edges of no healthcare, and snubbing your nose at people who aren’t living that Big Apple dream.

    In a society constantly creating more poor people and depleting its middle class, spending more money on shelters won’t work. Look to Honolulu. It has been overwhelmed with some 7,000 people who became newly homeless in 2019. That number erased the 616 homeless people per month, on average, who were placed into “permanent housing.” They’ll really not ever stop building until, in theory, shelters house about 99 percent of everyone.

    To lighten things up, New York loves irony. Many of the cheaper apartments for young Millenials are in the same parts of town which once housed new immigrants in the early 20th century, that now golden-hued era of open borders celebrated as a democratic ideal when a more accurate vision would realize it was just a massive labor pool for the wealthy to exploit. That’s also a reminder that modern immigrants, particularly from Central America, form the exploitable, discardable labor pool that undergirds New York’s food service and day labor industries, and staffs car repair shops, butcher and delivery businesses.

    Hey, businesses, too, still have to navigate, especially around the homeless. I used to work at a Barnes and Noble near the bus stop out to the main homeless shelters on Randall’s Island. The B&N was open late and in bad weather the homeless came in to wait for their ride. There was actually a store policy created, and the regulars were trained: don’t interfere with commerce, no bathing in the restrooms, no sleeping, use the electrical outlets in the back to charge phones, don’t panhandle in the coffee shop and you can stay. A kind of Darwinian process kept some warm inside while security moved others out into the weather.

    An ecosystem in balance, same as at most Starbucks. People here sometimes refer to the place as a public toilet which also happens to sell coffee because, following charges of discrimination, the chain now claims its space and toilets are open to all, not just customers. Of course in some marginal parts of town those toilets are forever closed to all “under repair,” but in most places the homeless are trained to navigate us, staying out of the way, taking a cup out of the trash to set on the table and pretend they are buying something. Being seen as being nice is important to Starbucks’ customers as they mentally navigate their own place being able to afford expensive coffee alongside those who have less. Awkward!

    As a woke company catering to woke customers who want nice things without guilt, Starbucks has a whole corporate page up about how kind they are to the homeless. Something similar at the new food court at Essex Market (called the “anti-Hudson Yards”), which has full-time staff assigned to monitor the public toilets, allowing the homeless in and nudging them into the boundaries the Market deems acceptable. Essex market, like Starbucks, seems to see faux-humanitarian gestures towards the homeless as part of its marketing plan to Millenials who don’t want to see bag ladies dragged into the street whilst sipping artisanal Tibetan tea. It’s pretty much all just undergrad-level socialist theatre. Different rules and rougher play at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, where the more delicate suburban ladies and fragile tourists still shop pretending like it is 1968. At the end of the day, however, the homeless are still homeless at each place and night comes the same for all.
     
    The urban stories above are only about one part of the homeless population. There are two overlapping populations: those outside capacity of existing systems who depend on businesses and us to navigate, and those so far whacked and gone nothing exists to help them.

    It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids (I was in line behind a homeless guy in liquor store paying with sock full of coins. He was 67 cents short for a bottle of no-name gin. What’s the right thing to do? I probably drink as much as he does most nights but it’s OK because I work for my money instead of begging? There are moral hurdles to navigate as well) are the severely mentally ill. These people exist outside the vast shelter system. They live outside, discarded, driven out of the overnights and the daytime Starbucks by violent or paranoid delusions. Even the recent killing of four homeless men by a fifth mentally ill homeless man failed to shock anyone into action.

    Navigating these people requires something more than a benign balancing of company profits and makeshift humanitarian gestures. At the Fulton Center subway station, problems with the mentally ill homeless reached a point where wire rope was installed alongside a made-up “no sitting” law to eliminate places to rest. A team of angry rent-a-cops make the homeless stand, wandering through the space waking up those who tumble, and chase away the worst. The sole working men’s room remains a kind of demilitarized zone, and it is not uncommon to see one man washing his clothes in the sink while another talks to himself as a third vocally struggles with his defecation. Most of the city’s such privately owned public spaces employ guards not against crime per se, but to enforce rules about how much baggage the homeless can bring in, whether they can sit, sleep, or have to pretend to buy something, and act as not gentle referees when a tourist snaps an unwanted photo and angers someone, or a homeless person otherwise becomes too aggressive with himself or another homeless person.

    There are of course other, more profitable, ways to navigate. San Diego created a “toolkit” to help businesses benignly wrangle the homeless without needing to involve the cops. NYC stores are told to invest in barbed grates that homeless can’t lay on comfortably (the hostile architecture of bars, protrusions and spikes that make it impossible to lie down on a park bench or wall are pretty much sculpted into the architecture of the city, markers of the struggle for public space. The idea even has its own Instagram account.) A private security firm offers more comprehensive solutions: advice about restricting access to sidewalk overhangs, alcoves, or other areas protected from inclement weather, remove handles from water spigots, and keep trash dumpsters locked when not being filled or emptied. If things get too bad, the company, for a price, will deploy “remote cameras integrated with military-grade algorithms capable of detecting people in areas they shouldn’t be in.” There are other ways to make money off the homeless, of course. Many of the shelters in NYC are contracted through private companies (fraud criss-crosses the system) , who charge the city about $80 per adult per night for an SRO room without its own indoor plumbing. Food stamps are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT (some recipients claim the acronym really means “Eat Better Tonight.”) JPMorgan Chase holds the contracts in half the United States to handle the transactions. In New York that’s worth more than $112 million. But hey, Amazon now accepts EBT online in New York and you don’t even need Prime!

    A concise fable of what economic inequality has done to this city lies in canning, a nice term invented to describe the underground economy of returning aluminum cans for the five cents deposit. What was started in 1982 in hope the deposit would encourage consumer recycling alongside kids picking up cans to supplement their allowances, has become way to make a sort of living for an estimated 8,000 human beings. As the value of a nickel to many faded over the years, the need for a few bucks among the city’s growing homeless population grew. They started picking up cans for the money wealthier people set out as trash. The recycling centers in most food stores, however, hoping for return shoppers, did not want the homeless in their stores. Most set $12 daily redemption limits, often broken up in per can lots that forced the homeless to return two or three times. Streetside automated drop off points devolved into social centers for the homeless, including the infamous Pathway site at 125th Street that was renown as a drug market and dumping spot for the near-dead until it was closed down.
     
    Unable to redeem their cans, the homeless moved on, replaced by highly exploitive canning crews which buy cans in bulk from elderly pickers (many are retired or on disability) for about a $30 nightly haul per person, and who then deal directly with the bulk metal recyclers uptown. A five cent can might be worth only three cents on the street; competition among the people living off my garbage is sharp, where on a late night dog walk just before the bulk trucks arrive can crews run by Chinese organized crime (rumor is those who can’t work off human smuggling fees otherwise work the can routes) tussle with individuals for turf. The cops are uninterested and some local doormen try and intervene but often tire of the guff. It’s not a proud thing to witness.

    We’re a society built around economic inequality. We’ll all just have to learn to navigate our way through.
      

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  • Bernie and Reality of Economic Inequality

    February 16, 2020 // 23 Comments

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    Posted in: #99Percent, 2020


     
    It is a good thing candidates like Bernie Sanders make economic inequality a campaign issue in 2020. But with apologies to the Bernieverse, he is well-meaning but like everyone else has no practical solutions. Bernie, et al, imagine there exists some means to redistribute wealth, most likely, following the economist Thomas Piketty, via a progressive tax on the wealthy. Just talking about that may be enough to scare the wealthy into putsching a corporate Democrat in place of Bernie once again despite the human shield of green-haired pierced volunteers, but even if he were to win he could not be enough to change America. It’s a reality problem.

    The reality of wealth is the gap between most Americans and those who sit atop our economy continues to grow. This is nothing new. For two decades after 1960, real incomes of the top five percent and the remaining 95 percent increased at almost the same rate, about four percent a year. But incomes diverged between 1980 and 2007, with those at the bottom seeing annual increases only half of that of those at the top. Then it got worse.

    Lower savings and hyper-available credit (remember fraudulent Countrywide mortgages, ARMs, and usurous re-fi’s?) put the middle and bottom portions of society on an unsustainable financial path that increased spending until it crashed into the Great Recession of 2008. Meanwhile, America’s top earners’ wealth grew; the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009 as the markets recovered, while the bottom ninety percent became poorer as their missing homes did not. Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision, wealth in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century. How did the rich pull this off?

    The reality of possession. They own stock and real estate, not just personal homes to live in. Less than half of Americans do not own any stock while the wealthiest of Americans own over 80 percent of all stock, and 40 percent of America’s land. It is worse on an international scale. Only 85 human beings own half of all the world’s stuff. Markets over time go up and those who own parts of them do well. People who do not own homes have to rent them from those that do own. Owners can raise rents as they think they can get away with. A rising tide lifts all yachts, as historian Morris Berman observed. It can be hard to understand this level of wealth; a few years ago the real estate site Redfin figured out Bill Gates could buy all of the real estate in Boston. Candidate Michael Bloomberg could pick up Anaheim. Google’s Larry Page is able to buy Boca Raton. Never mind yachts, they can buy whole cities.

     

    It is the reality of the system. Walmart associates make minimum wage. Most associates are nowhere near full-time, so their take home pay is well below the poverty threshold. Employer-paid Obamacare, such as it is, only kicks in after one works 20 hours a week or more, so following the implementation of that policy most employees were cut to less than 20 hours, meaning they had to juggle multiple jobs to live and still did not have healthcare. They might be working 60 hours a week at three different places but that did not qualify them for healthcare as the qualifying hours are not cumulative.

    In return for paying below-poverty wages, Walmart enjoys taxpayer subsidies of $5,815 per worker in the form of food stamps paid by the government to keep the workers nearer the poverty line than below it, and tax breaks given to “create jobs.” On their side of the ledger, a few years ago the top four members of the Walmart family made a combined $28.9 billion from their investments. Less than a third of that would have given every U.S. Walmart worker a $3.00 raise, enough to end the public subsidy, though the four Walmart scions would have to make due with only $20 billion a year. Essentially the interests of the 99 percent are in direct conflict with those of the one percent.

    But the real money from economic inequality is made in much bigger bites. Walmart can pay low wages, creating a new status known as working poor, without having to see workers literally starve on the job because their employees receive $2.66 billion in government poverty assistance each year. That works out to about $5,815 per worker, or about $420,000 per store. Food stamps, a generic term for food assistance, are a key part of navigating in and profiting from, income inequality. In one year under study nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in food stamp dollars spent at their stores, a fair amount by their own workers. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in food stamp expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18 percent of all food benefits money nationwide is spent at Walmart. That’s about $14 billion.

     

    The reality of the system protects those who make massive amounts of money by owning things, as opposed to working for wages. So let’s Robin Hood those wealthy bastards, Bernie and Elizabeth and others say. Jeff Bezos’ net worth is $109 billion. But that’s everything he has, not just the six percent tax Elizabeth Warren wants him to pay. The net worth of the entire Forbes 400 is under three trillion dollars. That’s everything they all own, as if we killed them and took it. The reforms Elizabeth Warren proposed to address economic inequality will cost some $20 trillion. It does not exist.

    But you have to start somewhere, right?  Given that America’s largest companies already pay little to no tax, it is  unclear how such a system would ever be enforced in the long run before the wealthy offshore their money. Taxes still leave in place other factors driving economic inequality, including a system of higher taxes on wages than capital gains, inheritance laws (Money is immortal. The children of rich people are born rich and unless they get really into hookers and blow, will inevitably get richer. They almost can’t help it), and the ability of the wealthy to control wages and the availability of jobs. Unions are increasingly a thing of the past and automation threaten more jobs daily. The rich decide when to pull the trigger on touch screens in fast food restaurants and deep six cashier jobs, never mind the mass extinction driverless delivery vehicles will bring on, and the one after that when advances in AI crush entry-level coding jobs.

     

    The single most significant factor is that financial growth via capital ownership (what the rich do for money) always outstrips wage growth (what the rest of us do to get money.) Getting richer by owning stuff is always a better deal than trying to get rich by working for wages from the people who own stuff. Even if a magic wand reset society somehow, the nature of capitalism would soon set things back on the path to income inequality. This was French economist Thomas Piketty‘s significant finding. Rich people know about this even if poor people don’t. Rich people get money through capital gains, basically assets they buy cheaply becoming worth more over time (until slavery was replaced with the minimum wage, human beings were also considered as a form of capital asset. Seriously, check with human “resources” where you work.) That’s why a short-term downturn is bad for you, ultimately good for most of them. It’s why stock market trouble uninformed people wish for will not make Trump go away. Math!

    The only hope lies in the reality of politics, right? Over large swaths of the earth, there are no elections. In some of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East and Asia there is not even the pretext of anyone choosing a government. Most governments are controlled by family ascension, not unlike the Middle Ages or in more modern places corruption and manipulation. Power and wealth work together.

    Such is the case now in the United States. According to the once-prescient Lawrence Lessing (who has since lost his mind to Twitter and TDS), with the concentration of wealth, 132 people in the U.S. essentially control elections. They do so by donating, just that handful of people, over 60 percent of the SuperPac money. Those 132 people represent 0.000042 percent of the total number of voters; most other contributions to candidates are small, many below $200. It sounds nice when a candidate talks about it but it diffuses power even as you he owes you something now. It is impossible under such circumstances for government to create laws again the interests of the wealthy; after all, they work for them.

    The reality is there is no answer, no solution. That’s because things are working more or less as they are supposed to. From a certain perspective, income inequality means things are going according to the rigged rules. The system is designed to squeeze wealth up into a smaller and smaller group of hands. A by product is the creation of more and more poor and eventually homeless at the bottom. It is the inevitable end point for a society set up to fund the wealthy via capital appreciation by paying low or stagnant wages to everyone else.

    To say it can’t be is to ignore the last time in history when it sort of was, one king in one castle sustained by tens of thousands of serfs living in sloven conditions. The world has seen this before, for the West, during the Middle Ages, when feudalism was the dominant force. A very, very few owned most everything of value. The 99.999 percent majority — serfs then, valued Target associates now — worked for whatever the feudal lords allowed them to have.

    Of course this is all very wrong. It’s very American to believe there are always answers, that there are not forces stronger than change at work, especially in an election year. If you’re still looking for those answers — solutions — well, you’ve gotten to the end of the article.

      

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  • Dems, It’s Over. All the Smoking Guns Have Been Firing Blanks.

    February 8, 2020 // 13 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    We are watching the pathetic ending to one of the most pathetic periods in American politics. All the smoking guns have been firing blanks.

    Following one of the most childish tantrums of denial ever recorded, you Democrats set about destroying the Trump presidency in its crib; a WaPo headline from January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day itself – exclaimed “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump has Begun.” The opening gambit was going to be Emoluments, including rent paid by the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China for its space in Trump Tower in New York.

    After three years, it looks like that attempt finally reached its end game, failure, one gray afternoon. Last Friday the Senate brought impeachment proceedings to their effective conclusion, declaring the witnesses already called before the House were to be the last. The formal vote to acquit Trump is scheduled as an anti-climax for Wednesday.

    It has been ugly and mean. Using the entire apparatus of the American intelligence community, operating fully outside the law, you declared the President of the United States a Russian spy. You forced gentlemen to explain to their elderly mothers what a pee tape was. We had to hear over dinner about Trump’s penis, his sexual mores, and look deeper into Stormy Daniel’s cleavage than our own political souls. You made expedient heroes out of small, dishonest men like Michael Avenatti, John Brennan, and James Comey for perceived political gain. Shame on you, Democrats.

    When Russiagate collapsed you plunged deeper, with a setup “crime” driven by a faux whistleblower, supported by State Department gossips and not much more. Look at the series of plays you tried even within this Hail Mary of a Hail Mary. Back in August your manufactured worry was Trump, by messing with Ukrainian aid, was a threat to national security that would send the Red Army rolling west. Then there was the continued attempt to link up created memes, Trump’s help from the Russians in 2016 and Trump’s help from the Ukrainians in 2020 were part of some whole to damage democracy. At the end it was to be about how not allowing additional witnesses chosen by leaks to the NYT would distort the 2020 election. One reporter called acquittal “the worst day for America since the Civil War.” We had to listen to another round of democracy dying, existential threats, end of the Republic, as repetitive as summer Top 40.

    At your decision the House chose not to wait out a special prosecutor, or even subpoena witnesses back in the fall. Your bleats today about no witnesses ignored how you called 17 witnesses to the House, not a single one of which had first-hand knowledge of the events unless we were willing to believe some State Department Obama fan-boy magically overheard both sides of a cell phone conversation. If you had had a real case a special prosecutor could have sorted through Parnas and Hunter and Bolton, with subpoenas if necessary, and warrants could have shown us exactly what was said in those calls. But that would have come up weaker than Mueller and you knew it.

    You don’t think voters see they were played — again? As with Brett Kavanaugh, when things seemed darkest, you produced a witness that appeared to turn everything around. Back then you unveiled Christine Blasey Ford as the deus ex machina, a woman scorned decades ago by a high school kid, now-Supreme Court judge, you called a drunk. Same with John Bolton and his “manuscript” (shall we call it a dossier?) and instead of dealing with it months ago in a calm fashion, the New York Times drops the leak right into the middle of the impeachment punch bowl so it could create its own sense of urgency saying we can’t wait for thoughtful deliberation or even a court ruling, we must do something right away.

    So really, in the end your game-changer was supposed to be lifelong conservative John Bolton ratting out a Republican administration? That was how you were going to get Trump? Only a week earlier it was going to be Ukrainian grifter Lev Parnas. Before him was it “fixer” Michael Cohen, or Paul “Fredo” Manafort, who was going to flip? Was it taxes or the 25th Amendment which was once upon a time going to be the final blow?

    Do you think voters won’t remember it was Adam Schiff who failed in Russiagate, issuing his infamous Schiff Memo defending as legal the FISA court surveillance of Carter Page now shown to be unconstitutional? The same Schiff who worked with the “whistleblower” to shape the impeachment narrative and then buried the whistleblower from scrutiny? History will remember Schiff poorly, and judge those who put their party’s future in his dirty hands, Nancy, equally poorly.

    As it will Elizabeth Warren, who submitted a “question” at the impeachment proceedings which asked if the proceedings themselves “contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution?” Nancy Pelosi picked up the theme saying the president will not be exonerated after the Senate acquits because “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation,” echoing the insanity of saying a victory in the Electoral College isn’t really being elected president. Do Democrats think the Super Bowl victory went to the team with the most yards rushing, or the one with the most points scored?

    Impeachment failed in the Senate, ultimately, because it was phony. Senators are politicians, with their noses always in the wind. They sniffed not a modicum of support for this impeachment, and saw nothing akin to the evidence that would encourage them to return to their constituents and explain their contrary votes as they did confronted, overwhelmingly, with Nixon’s wrongdoings.

    It’s really over now. Our democracy, which you regularly declare so in peril, will be forced to hold an election of all things to determine its next president.

    Democrats, the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory was such that voters were ready to follow you anywhere to defeat him in 2020. You led them off a cliff. As your supporters watched you create false excuses for losing, they watched Republicans confirm judge after judge. As they listened in their sleep to you bark about diversity, they woke up to see mostly a handful of old, white men to lead the party into the election.

    You lied to them repeatedly about Russia and Ukraine. You lied to them over and over about what a danger Trump is, bringing people who once believed in you to believe their own nuclear destruction was imminent over Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela. You continue to try to convince people a strong economy is an illusion and cheer on a recession. You shoved forward as surrogates the anti-semites who organized the Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Girl, flashes-in-the-pan like Beto! Kamala! Cory! AOC! Mayor Pete! Stacey Abrams!

    You continue to paint an inaccurate picture of a society with gun nuts, Nazis, and white supremacists on the march. You convinced a generation of young voters they are fundamentally unhappy, awash in racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and when they just can’t see it the way you do, you corrupted movies and TV with dorm room level political piety to insist that is how it is out there. Now, instead of respecting one another at work and school, they tip-toe around as wanna-be defendants looking for targets to sue or complain to HR about. Describe yourself in one word? Offended.

    The hollow shout “It is all unfair!” after things don’t go your way echos from the third grade playground to 2016 to HR to impeachment.

    Would you trust the nation to the people the Democratic party has become? Because that is the question you have thrust into the minds of voters. As you have said many times, this was always more about America than it was about Trump.

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  • Who’s Got the Rocks to Stand Up to Government?

    February 6, 2020 // 17 Comments

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    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

     

    “I have seen dictatorships around the world, where blind obedience is the norm and truth-tellers are threatened w punishment or death. We must not allow the US to become a country where standing up to our gov is a dangerous act.”
       
     — says Marie Yovanovitch from her well-funded State Dept retirement.
     

     

    “What does that bitch know about standing up to government?”
     

    — might say Chelsea Manning from her jail cell.

         

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  • Lev Parnas is Not the Impeachment Witness You are Looking For…

    January 29, 2020 // 34 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     

    Lev Parnas is who we all hope is the last “Did too! Did Not!” player in the three year effort to find someway to  drive Trump from office.

     

    Parnas is a Ukrainian-born “businessman” who claims to be the missing link between Trump and evidence needed to impeach. Parnas is also under indictment for breaking campaign-finance laws by disguising donations from foreign entities to unnamed U.S. politicians, and so is singing like the girl from Frozen to be let go. The media christened him the new White Knight of democracy. Is he?
     

    Nah. Parnas is mostly an opportunist, with notes of stalker, groupie, and crazy guy who imagines Jodi Foster is in love with him from afar. He takes his place as the Hail Mary play in the blob that is impeachment now. He joins James Comey, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen, Michael Avenatti and his aggrieved porn stars, Christopher Steele, the tattered Russian oligarchs still waiting for their checks from Christopher Steele, The Masked Whistleblower, and so many others who came before them.

    Though the media label him a Rudy Giuliani henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, and thus by extension a Trump henchman, associate, thug, or fixer, Parnas instead paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for “business and legal advice.” He didn’t work for Guliani, Giuliani worked for him. And in the you-can’t-make-this-up category, Parnas’ company is called Fraud Guarantee.

    Parnas was supposedly paying for the privilege of being used to gather dirt on Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which begs the question of why. As America’s ambassador to Ukraine, Yovanovitch served at the pleasure of the president. Trump did not need a reason to fire her. He did not need dirt gathered. He could simply instruct the State Department to recall her (or any other ambassador) and that’s that. It happens all the time without the need for third party cloak-and-dagger work by a B-grade Clouseau. Yet Parnas has gone on at length about the process of firing Yovanovitch being so difficult the most powerful man in the world with the Article II-guaranteed right to fire someone needed Parnas’ help.

    Actually the only “work” Parnas wanted in return for this generous payments to Rudy was the appearance of access, grip-and-grin photos, a sleazy form of currency in the markets people like him travel through in Eastern Europe and Asia. They decorate the walls of fast talkers across the globe, like the “awards” small town real estate agents and insurance brokers favor. So via his payments to Giuliani and his generous donations, Parnas amassed photos of him and Trump. Those photos are the cornerstone of Democrats’ case against Trump, who says he really does not know Parnas. See, there are pictures, what the media insist now are to be called “receipts.”

    You want some photos with the big boys and girls? Easy. You write a modest check to a campaign. You get invited to a campaign event for a quick picture, maybe at first with a tier-two Trump kid. You write a bigger check, you get invited to another event and maybe are led past the Man himself for a quick snap. More money, better photos. Start to bundle donors, and you get invites to “private” breakfasts attended by dozens of people with a drop-by from the candidate. None of this means you “know” Trump or he knows you. You or may not exchange a word of greeting as the photos are taken in assembly-line fashion. And of course if your politics runs Democrat, these same photos are available with Biden, Bernie, Pete, or whomever. For a price. Now, show us a photo of you with Trump in matching Speedos poolside and you’ll have our attention.

    Along with most of the media and American public, sleazy businesspeople in Eastern Europe don’t seem to grasp the meaningless of these photos, and imagine a guy like Trump isn’t using Parnas as an ATM while a guy like Parnas isn’t using Trump for pretend status. Meanwhile, as con men do, Parnas was going around Ukraine telling everyone, without any evidence, he was working for Giuliani and Trump, gathering dirt on the American ambassador. But there was always a little wiggle room in the actual relationship — note the “like” when Parnas said “I became like Rudy’s assistant, his investigator.” How one works for someone one is paying is, like, unclear. Parnas, like generations of grifters before him, is free to go around claiming he is important and trying to tie himself to important people but none of that makes it true.

    In fact, perhaps having been introduced to the legal term perjury or its vernacular cousin “lying” by his defense attorney John Dowd, a former Trump lawyer he and the media made a big deal out of hiring, Parnas further qualified his relationship with Trump to say “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together. We didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were.”

    Following his indictment and ahead of impeachment proceedings Parnas has become a one-man media event. He claimed to Federal Elvis-level investigator Rachel Maddow he knew Trump knew everything bad that was going on, though admits he never spoke substantively to Trump and his knowledge is second or third hand at best. To say he was photographed with Trump at fundraisers is miles from claiming Trump directed him in the Ukraine caper which in fact even Parnas does not claim. The media has done that for him, imaging a selfie is a receipt for impeachable offenses.

    And of course there’s more as the story oozes downhill from drama into comedy. Remember how the Russians had Trump on tape with prostitutes? And how the media headlined Michael Cohen had incriminating tapes of Trump no one ever heard? Parnas supposedly has tapes, too! Parnas also introduced a somewhat dubious legal gambit. Without evidence he accused Attorney General Bill Barr of being involved in all things Ukraine, and thus must recuse himself from Parnas’ campaign finance illegal donations case due to this “conflict of interest.” Parnas also accused Vice President Pence of “having to have known” about the Ukraine stuff. Parnas dismissed hints in a text by an alcoholic Trump supporter that Ambassador Yovanovitch was under Giuliani-ordered surveillance and/or the target of assassination. Democrats have called for an investigation anyway. And the fact that Parnas chose to reveal all on the Maddow show, as opposed to a proffer, or under oath anywhere, should not distract from his credibility.

     

    Enough. There is no evidence Parnas ever spoke substantively about Ukraine with Trump. There is no evidence supporting Parnas’ claims he in any way worked with, at the direction of, or otherwise for Trump. His statements now, only after indictment, raise significant questions about his credibility and thus demand supporting evidence. Selfies with Trump are not supporting evidence. Nothing corroborates Parnas but Parnas.

    That ends Parnas’ value as a potential witness in these impeachment hearings. But what about his enablers in the media without whom he’d be telling his tall tales to the cafeteria ladies at some Federal prison facility?

    The old adage about not being able to cheat an honest person extends to the media; a con man can only be elevated to the national stage by a dishonest media willing to ignore his lack of credibility for its own agenda. And so the same people who drove the Russiagate train for years embrace Parnas as the new smoking gun. The NYT’s own queen of that particular swamp, Maggie Haberman, admitted “One of the hallmarks of the Trump era is anybody who is oppositional to Trump gets instant credibility. We’ve seen it over and over again. Michael Avenatti, Cohen even at points, even when he was admitting he was lying to Congress at some point after he pleaded guilty to other charges.” That’s a hell of a thing for Haberman to say given how much credibility she and her paper of record have bestowed on a parade of transparent liars.

    This all started three years ago with Christopher Steele, who at least had a nicely-typed dossier and an MI6 pedigree. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a few of the others probably did know things even if they didn’t snitch out. But now we’re down to the media primping a guy who before he was a recognized as a savior by CNN was called by CNN a radioactive wolf who shook down Ukrainians pretending he had a connection to the White House.

    With impeachment soon to be over and the Democratic primaries starting hopefully there won’t be bandwidth left for another round of this with whoever feeds even further below Lev Parnas. The list of people who have been used by the media to try to bring Trump down is long. Most of them are now in jail, were fired or disgraced, or received Pulitzer Prizes. Time for this to end. Maggie, come get your people, they’re embarrassing themselves out here.

      

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  • Defamation: Enter Sandmann v. CNN

    January 25, 2020 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    Once again a geopolitical event — this time, the killing of an Iranian General — was falsely blown by agenda-driven journalism into ItIsWWIIIWeAreAllGonnaDieBecauseTrump and then within a handful of days we realize no, not the case. Again.

    The facts never support the media contentions, but the facts seem to matter little. The need to drive an agenda,  Orange Man Bad, controls.

    Remember how Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan’s inauguration phone call, Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions, Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO, Trump will start a wider war in Syria bombing Russian bases, Trump will start a  war moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement, Trump will start WWIII with North Korea, Trump will sell out the U.S. to get peace with North Korea because he wants a cheap Nobel, Trump will start WWIII because he is Hitler, erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, isolated, Trump will ___ to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, Trump will start a war over Venezuela, Trump will start a genocide of Kurds with Turkey, Trump will start a Mideast war after Iran attacked a Saudi oil facility or shot down a drone, Trump will start a civil war inside the U.S. after Charlottesville, or to stop the midterms, or to prevent the next election, or he won’t leave if he loses, Trump is a Russian asset, Trump owes Putin billions, Trump is Putin’s cockholster, Trump is a pee tape sex pervert, Trump will start a recession, Trump will trigger a depression, Trump is rich from emoluments, Trump is almost bankrupt with hidden taxes, the stock market will crash, trade wars will end global capitalism, Trump killed all the Puerto Ricans, Trump will take away health care, Trump will imprison LGBTQXYZ people, Trump will end legal abortion, Trump has America on the brink…

    One can find dozens of articles on any of the subjects above. By my count the NYT’s Paul Krugman predicted LINK a Trump recession 17 individual times, the first even before inauguration, alongside many more instances of the clear and present dangers of tax cuts, market bubbles, tariffs, and more. MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow devoted her entire show for about two years to the walls closing in on Trump, repeating “tick tock” like some modern version of the Rain Man.

    Columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post put into writing what we have all known for some time: real journalism, Jefferson’s informed citizenry and all that, is dead. The job has shifted to agenda writing, just plain made-up stuff to drive events. Boot is at least honest that he writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.”

    The worst agenda journalism reads like bad anti-Trump fan fiction, worse than the basement Star Wars stuff where Leia always ends up without her golden bikini. Trump is a spy. Trump digs golden showers. Turn around his jest, and if Trump saved a man’s life in the middle of Fifth Avenue Don Lemon would explain that night why that was wrong, and an existential threat to the rest of us if not Democracy itself. If it doesn’t pass even the sniff test, well, it was designed to. When writing for a fan fiction audience one simply need to feed them the raw meat they crave (naked Leia, Orange Man Bad.) Truth, subtlety, challenging thought have no place and indeed no value. That’s kind of what you expect when the goal is basement Solo pleasures, but it is now one of the drivers of the national mainstream media in America.

     

    The giveaway that journalism is near-singularly devoted to an agenda, frightening the public in service of driving Trump somehow from office, is how the mistakes are always wrong in same direction. Meanwhile none of the people who keep track of the lies Trump tells and who are demanding “fact checks” before ads are allowed to run on social media seem to spend any time on the other side of the equation. Who would accept a track record this bad from their doctor, lawyer, their nail technician (“No, seriously, cracked nails are hot this year, it was in the NYT”)? Is there any price to be paid for agenda journalism?

    Assuming credibility, professionalism, and self-respect are apparently worth about zero, the price tag for agenda journalism looks to be about $25 million. That’s what CNN is reported to have paid settling a defamation case brought by Covington High School student Nick Sandmann charging the network “maintained a well-known and easily documented biased agenda against President Donald Trump and established a history of impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president.” The amount is probably half what CNN spends yearly just on botox for Anderson Cooper but as Cooper’s estheticians are prone to say, it’s a start.

    Almost a year ago to the day Sandmann and his Catholic school classmates traveled to Washington, DC to join anti-abortion protests. Sandmann was photographed grinning at a Native American DC protest regular. The media with one mighty flatulent blast knew what to do. Based solely on a YouTube clip, outlets like CNN and WaPo imagined Sandmann, wearing his MAGA cap, as the distillation of everything evil, some redneck crapper from Kentucky a hatin’ women and a protestin’ them abortions and rubbing his smug grin in the face of a noble Native American POC supposedly trying to defuse a tense situation with native drumming. The drummer was also quickly (but wrongly) glorified as a Vietnam Vet.

    Blue Check Twitter suggested Sandmann be punched in the face, and veiled suggestions of mob action led to threats, Sandmann’s family temporarily run out of their home, the kid dropped from school trips, and other disciplinary action to include coerced apologies. The second wave was pearl clutching Op-Eds about what Trump has turned us into, and look, it has spread to The Children. The media implied Sandmann deserved it because of his politics. Contrast that treatment with the beatification bestowed on #Resistance kids like Greta Thunberg, and the good victims of the Parkland shooting (the Parkland kid who supports the Second Amendment meanwhile was media-doxxed out of his Harvard scholarship.)

    Not only was all of that absolutely wrong (Sandmann was never an aggressor, and alongside his peers, said nothing in return to those taunting him, even though CNN claimed they “looked like they were going to lynch” the Black Hebrew Israelites who actually started the whole thing) it wasn’t even news. Students on a field trip, with the media appointing Sandmann their symbolic oberfuhrer, were fashioned into props to fit the characterization people who wear MAGA hats are intolerant. The media cared little for the truth when they had their entire white nationalist anti-Trump agenda as they imagine it exists packaged in one handy snapshot.

    The media counts on America to forget their propaganda fails and move on. Only this time it turned out differently. Sandmann is suing a range of journalists individually, including Maggie Haberman, Ana Navarro, and Shaun King for slurs they threw at him on Twitter, and their employers for directing their massive global platforms to beat up an innocent high school kid. Included in the swath of lawsuits by Sandmann are CNN, MSNBC’s parent company, the AP, Gannett, and the Washington Post. In the words of the suit, they “brought down the full force of [their] corporate power, influence, and wealth on Nicholas by falsely attacking, vilifying, and bullying him despite the fact that he was a minor child.”

    Representative Ilhan Omar, who tweeted the boys yelled “it’s not rape if you enjoy it” when they did not, is exempt from the suit as a public office holder. “Comedian” Bill Maher, who called Sandmann a profane name on TV, also likely enjoys a legal exemption for satire. Maher topped off his coverage of the events by making a child rape joke about Sandmann, stating “I do not get what Catholic priests see in these kids.”

     

    While the many suits are pending, this month CNN independently reached a cash settlement with Sandmann, one of those we-sorta-admit-it but legally do not admit, in the words of the lawsuit, to defaming Sandmann by accusing him of “engaging in racist conduct” without properly investigating the incident. The suits contend CNN and the others would have “known the statements to be untrue had they undertaken any reasonable efforts to verify their accuracy before publication.” In other words, CNN willfully failed to commit journalism, the finding of facts, the asking of questions in lieu of packaging what was actually nothing at all into a steamy piece to fit an existing agenda.

    With a win in Sandmann’s pocket and as his cases against the other media outlets work their way through the courts, others also appear ready to challenge agenda journalism via the defamation laws. Ten more Covington high school students are now suing various media for defamation. Elsewhere, writer Peter Brimelow is suing the NYT for labeling him an “open white nationalist.” Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald Trump, filed suit against Fox a month ago claiming defamation. George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, filed a defamation suit against HarperCollins, the Martin family lawyer’s publisher. Trump critic and Harvard prof Lawrence Lessig is suing the NYT, accusing them of publishing “false and defamatory” information about him. Melania is suing all sorts of outlets for defamation. Representative Devin Nunes sued CNN last month claiming the network defamed him with false reports he traveled to Vienna to meet with the Ukrainian prosecutor Joe Biden helped oust in 2016.

    Under current law, most of those suits will fail. Going forward, how powerful a weapon defamation lawsuits might prove to be against agenda journalism will depend on how flexible the courts choose to be. Historically they have given great leeway to anyone, journalist or not, who appears to libel (an untrue defamatory statement in writing) or slander (same, but orally) public figures. The idea is if you put yourself out there as an actor, or a politician, you’re expected to take a few slings and arrows and so the standards of proof are higher. This is what allows tabloids like the National Enquirer to get away with making up stories about popular figures as their basic trade. Defamation as a business practice was once upon a time what they did, and not what places like the media of record are now about.

    The major defenses against defamation are truth, or that the alleged defamatory statement was a statement of opinion. If CNN were to prove Nunes did go to Vienna as reported, that would end his suit. One woman who claims Trump raped her several decades ago is now suing him, claiming his Constitutionally-protected statement of innocence defamed her. Her suit demands he prove the truth of his denial to escape judgement. Opinion is exempt when it is truly some sort of opinion — Nunes is the worst Congressman ever — and not just when it is fudged along the likes of “This reporter’s opinion is Nunes traveled to Vienna.”

    The hope would be justice recognizes a new media environment has crawled out from the mud, one which drags innocent people onto the national stage unnecessarily and without context in a way which is unethical and exploitative. And that even public figures, never mind the voters who select them, deserve accurate, factual reporting.

    Yeah, one can hope. But in the case of CNN and Nick Sandmann, it appears the network would rather pay out a couple of million dollars then to roll the dice to see what a court would say. And hey, small world: Nick Sandmann’s attorney, Lin Wood, is the same person who successfully represented Richard Jewell in his defamation suit against CNN years ago, when the network falsely labeled him the Atlanta Olympic Park bomber.

    In a rare breath of self-examination, columnist David Brooks wrote “Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable. The anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.”

    That CNN has not made any noticeable changes in its stream of agenda journalism since the original incident a year ago, or since settling with Sandmann, suggests what they paid out is to them a reasonable price to continue to lie to the American public. Defamation settlements are just another business expense. The Founders assigned journalism a specific role to ensure that citizens would be able to carry out informed debates. Truth, they understood, is more than an ideal, it is a perspective. Yet over the last three years serious journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush to do away with Trump, not by honest persuasion but by any means necessary. Fear won out, and so objectivity is now #Collusion. Seeking facts before going viral is so 2015. The media picks on kids because they can’t get Trump. We asked for an informed citizenry and we got Mean Girls.

     

     

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  • (No) World War III with Iran

    January 15, 2020 // 36 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Military, Trump

    History will judge the long-term impact of the death of Qassem Soleimani. In the short-to-medium term, let’s step back from the fear-mongering to remain purposefully agnostic towards the meaning of Soleimani strike itself to instead focus on the geopolitical factors which make the large-scale war many fear unlikely.

    For Iran to provoke a large-scale war is suicide. They have no incentive to escalate to that level, though they may conduct attacks consistent with the last decades. Those attacks, and the U.S. responses, will in the current political and media climate (#WWIII was trending on Twitter and frightened youngsters crashed the Selective Service website worried a draft is forthcoming) consume our attention far beyond their actual impact, but they will in reality cycle inside the rough rules of what diplomats call escalation dominance, the tit-for-tat trading of controlling the moment, trying to stay under the victims’ threshold of response. Emotion is for amateurs.

    The most recent series of events bear this out. Iran and/or its proxies have fired on U.S. bases in Iraq multiple times, initiating the current escalation that included Soleimani’s death and this week’s missiles launched from inside Iran at American bases at Al Asad and in Erbil. Yet according to one long-time regional observer, “This doesn’t yet feel like a major escalation. Iran can claim it took revenge. Feels more like an escalation to deescalate.” Among other signals, the missiles’ long flight time, over some 200 miles, gave obvious warning to areas already on alert.

    Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted Iran was finished fighting and was not actively pursuing further escalation. Trump undertook no immediate counter-attack, and in a speech spoke only of further economic sanctions alongside some vague thoughts on future agreements. The two countries’ actions add up to a collective “We’re done if you’re done” for this round.

    This was all to be expected. Iranian leaders know theirs is a developed, industrialized nation, unlike places like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq (and Vietnam before those.) It does not need to be invaded or occupied, it can be destroyed from the air. As only a regional power, it suffers from a massive technological disadvantage in any conflict the U.S., a nation, perhaps sadly, now long past the calculations of “kill a few Americans and watch them run” that drove it from Somalia in 1993 after “Black Hawk Down,” or out of Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks by Iranian-proxy Hezbollah. Unlike years past, America is willing to take a punch to throw back two. Iran’s political leaders are aware of the limits of asymmetric warfare in this world, especially because America’s lack of dependence on Persian Gulf oil means 2020 is not 1991.

    Iran, under sanctions, is near totally dependent on what oil it can export. Oil requires massive infrastructure, all of which can be bombed. Iran’s military operates in large part out of fixed sites. Its navy is small and its bases can be destroyed from the air, its harbors mined from above and below the water. The Iranian military is ranked globally below Brazil and Italy.

    I’ve been to Iran. I saw the martyrs memorial outside the main marketplace in the holy city of Mashhad, with the names of Iranians who died fighting the U.S. in Iraq from 2003 forward; Soleimani is respected by many Iranians, but he is neither the first nor the last soldier to die in this ongoing long war.

    Iran’s government meanwhile is a tense coalition of elected civilians, unelected military, and theocrats. None would stay in power following a major war. They face an almost schizophrenic population, happy to chant Death to America but equally open to the idea, albeit on more liberal terms than five American presidents, Republican and Democrat, have been willing to offer, of finding a way out from under sanctions that would release their potential and open them to the world.

    Iran understands its limits. Think about the provocations Iran has been forced to endure without escalation: U.S. troops landing in-country in a failed hostage rescue in 1980, U.S. support for Iraq in using weapons of mass destruction and the provision of intelligence which allowed the Iraqis to rain missiles on Iranian cities in 1980s, the U.S. shooting down an Iranian civilian aircraft, killing some 300 innocents in 1988, U.S. invading and occupying Iran’s eastern border (Iraq 2003) and western approaches (Afghanistan 2001) and maintaining bases there. In 2003, when Iran reached out following initial American military successes, George W. Bush flippantly declared them part of an Axis of Evil. U.S. forces then raided an Iranian diplomatic office in Iraq and arrested several staffers in 2007. The U.S. has kept crippling economic sanctions in place for decades, conducted the Stuxnet cyberattack in 2010 destroying Iranian nuclear centrifuges, and another 2019 cyberattack, never mind what the Isarelis have done covertly. Nothing led to a wider war. Soleimani died in context.

    Iraq, politically and geographically in the middle, has every reason to help calm things down. Despite the rhetoric, the Iraqi government needs the U.S. in situ as a balance against Iranian hegemony and as a hedge against the rebirth of ISIS. The recently passed, non-binding resolution for U.S. troops to leave Iraq carries no weight. It was passed by a divided government in caretaker status, applies only to the withdrawal of the anti-ISIS joint task force, and lacks both a timetable to happen and a mechanism to enforce it. Even that symbolic vote was boycotted by Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish (so much for losing the Kurds as allies) legislators, illustrating the difficulties a coalition Iraqi government faces in getting anything done.

    Should Iraq somehow find a way to move against the U.S. troop presence, promised American sanctions on Iraqi oil would devastate the economy and likely topple a government already besieged by its citizens of all backgrounds for failing to provide necessary basic services. The $200 million in direct aid the U.S. paid Iraq last year is a tiny portion of billions flowing in from Washington via loans, military assistance, training funds, etc. That all would be missed. Iraq needs a relative state of peace and stability to hold on. It will make ceremonial anti-American actions to appease its Shia majority and make it appear it is not being ordered around by the Americans it loves to hate, but the U.S. is not be driven out of Iraq.

    America itself has no reason to escalate any of this into a real war. Iran is strategically more or less where it has been for some time and there is no U.S.-side driver to change that now. Chaos in Tehran serves no purpose, and war would spiral the nation into a series of internal struggles spiced with fissionable material that has no place in a foreign policy calculus in an election year at home. Trump gets the political credit (84 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents approve of the strike) from his base for a tough-guy move with none of the sticky problems a wider conflict would create. His post-missile attack remarks position him as open to new talks of some kind.

    To accept the U.S. will start a major war assumes a fully irrational actor unfettered. Many people want to believe that for political purposes, but the hard facts of the last three years say when it gets to this strategic level Trump has not acted irrationally. Same this time; he did not act irrationally, or even provocatively, in the aftermath of the Iranian missile launches.

    It’s hard to point to any irrational act, a decision made that is wholly without logic or reason, a choice Trump knew would have dire consequences yet went with anyway. Forget the tweets; they have never added up to much more than fodder for pop psychologists, impulsive remarks not followed by impulsive acts. Absolutely none of the apocalyptic predictions have come to pass. See North Korea, where Trump was supposed to start WWIII two years ago, or the trade wars that were to destroy the global economy, or any of the other pseudo-crises. In sum, no new wars. Economy chugging along. Trump manipulating Democrats into practically putting Che-style Soleimani T-shirts up on Etsy. The current commander-in-chief is likely to start a war? He’s the only recent president who hasn’t.

    If any of arguments above seem familiar, it’s because some are recycled bits and pieces from when Trump was in a Twitter fight with North Korea two years ago, and Democrats and the media insisted we were on the threshold of war.

    So forget the irrational actor argument. What is different going forward (Iran and the U.S. will clash again) is the risk that does exist with the post-1979 generation in the military and Deep State, those who remember the biggest red line of all, when the Iranians took 52 American government personnel hostage out of the American Embassy in Tehran. A lot of bad things happen out there in the world, good guys get chalked up, intelligence officers rolled, bombs go off in crowded nightclubs, drones shot down, but stone-cold taking hostages in diplomatic status right out of their embassy offices just isn’t done.

    The Nazis didn’t do it, the Communists didn’t do it, neither did dictators from the Kims to Pol Pot. Iran did, and the blood runs bad inside U.S. government old timers even today. Though they obviously failed this round, those people will try to get to Trump again after the next provocation with Iran. Revenge some say isn’t a policy. Maybe true; but revenge can be a goal and some will see their chance to use Trump’s willingness to act unilaterally and any miscalculation of over-reach by Iran as the excuse. There lies any real danger.

     

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  • Morning in America Again, or Kristallnacht? The Answer Wins the Election

    January 13, 2020 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump


     

    Just before holiday visits back home to the Midwest, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney explained Trump’s 2020 reelection message will focus on the economy, immigration, and Democratic Party “socialism.”

    The first is straightforward. Some 76 percent of Americans rate economic conditions positively, up from 48 percent at the time of Trump’s election. Stocks are having their best year since 1997, and indexes are at all time highs. Wage growth continues, unemployment is at a half-century low point, holiday spending was up 3.4 percent with an 18.8 rise in online sales, and the media-driven fears of recession and trade war apocalypse yielded to reality. History shows the guy in the White House on Election Day gets the credit.

    The Democrats’ rebuttal is a blurry focus on economic inequality. The drunks at Midwest holiday parties actually agree in large part, but as sober voters are unsure who Bernie Warren is lecturing to about that, as they’ve been well aware of economic inequality for a long time. It was easy to walk them back through the weaker and weaker union contracts (when they still had unions) and  plant downsizings (when they still had plants) to around 1973, the year financial equality in America peaked. The conversation is like watching those YouTube videos showing the Beach Boys singing Surfin’ USA in the Sixties through to their creepy 2019 selves.

    These people are open to hear what Democrats plan to do about it but they do not believe the Robin Hood strategy Elizabeth Sanders proposes. They are also more than aware there are even more exhausted little towns down county wracked by drugs. They know places like that don’t care about Medicare for All, they already have Medicaid for All. Free college isn’t much of a draw because there aren’t a lot of better jobs begging and the places that have had training programs left over from presidential campaigns past already learned the hard lesson education, while a good thing, doesn’t create jobs. Jobs create the need for education. Otherwise it’s empty calories, changing underemployed uneducated people into underemployed educated people. Teaching a million people to code, or weld, even if you could, means nothing if there aren’t a million of those jobs accessible. Actually, if “those in a craphole of debt” are an important electoral demographic for Democrats, the people in these pink houses would welcome some attention to limits on the 24 percent interest rate they pay on credit cards, or the 391 percent interest on payday loans for those who can’t get credit anymore.

    If a Democrat came up with a viable infrastructure plan, he’d have these folks’ ears and if funded more intelligently than “we’ll get rich people whose companies don’t pay taxes now to pay” he’d likely have their votes, too. They’ve struggled enough at the end of a month to know money doesn’t come from nowhere, and the same people promising them something are promising others bribes in the form of slavery reparations, student loan forgiveness, and maybe free ponies. Some might even remember the War on Poverty, which started Medicare and Medicaid, was aimed in part at the Midwest some fifty years ago to help displaced coal miners. These folks are familiar with politician’s promises. This is not an audience easily won over by an argument to trust new and expensive government programs to fix everything.

    Sure there are paradoxical notes on meritocracy, that things are earned, which get scrambled among people who accept food stamps but decry others who do the same as lazy. But what makes sense and what is are not always the same. In 2020 the hint of new taxes to pay for things that aren’t likely to get them a better job is enough to stick with what little the last four years handed over. A job, or a better paying job, is what everyone wanted under the Christmas tree. Trump has not delivered fully as he promised, but things feel better.

     

    More immigration is about as popular as less football. Listening to Democrats talk about open borders, sanctuary cities, benefits for illegals, and admitting more refugees, you would be surprised to learn 77 percent of Americans see illegal immigration as a “critical/important” threat. So people are wondering why fellow Midwesterner Pete Buttigieg wants to deport fewer illegal immigrants. They wonder what happened to the 2016 Bernie, who once claimed open borders were a Koch brothers’ plot to flood the U.S. with cheap labor to depress wages.

    They wonder if Democrats can’t handle the truth. Never mind the sepia Ken Burns documentaries, they know they’re the descendants of immigrants who weren’t always welcomed, who were called Hunkies or Polacks before being exploited as cheap labor by the “whyte people” of the day. They also know damn well the reason wages are down today at many places is because people are coming from countries thousands of miles away to be exploited as cheap labor. Nobody this New Year’s said “our lives would be better if we had more immigrants moving in.” Nobody said “I’m glad some candidates are focused on transgender asylum rights, that’s important.” But nobody said “I hate refugees or trans people” either. Understanding the difference between the two statements is going to help decide the election.

     

    That brings things to Mick Mulvaney’s last Trump campaign point, “Democratic Socialism,” a vision for what America could become under a new administration. It is a story a candidate tells voters. What the Democrats are offering seemed as popular as the burnt crescent rolls even the drunks left alone on the table New Year’s Eve. An “…and in other news” story about how the Bernie Sanders campaign is worried spending too much of their money on office supplies from Amazon is unethical brought forth a consensus opinion locally of “and these people represent who” around here?

    The great campaigners — Reagan, 2008 Obama, first-gen Bill Clinton — had a vision of Morning in America, of Hope, and, of well, also Hope. People vote their pocketbook, but they also vote on that vision of who they are and who they think they want to be. Aspiration is an economic driver same as wages and in America may be more powerful. Trump is good enough at this. He tells people he’s rich, he’s powerful, he can do anything he wants, and what he chooses to do is work for them for free. Look at the faces at a Trump rally. You saw the same in 2008 with Obama, with Reagan in 1984, and it becomes a conversation that ends almost organically with a vote, like a perfect date that slides buttery into breakfast. They don’t really want to stand up and complain at a town hall, they want to see their future. Save the arguments about what is real and what is guff because they don’t matter when you’re telling a good story to an audience that wants to think they’re better people than they’ve been forced to become.

    Meanwhile, the story Democrats are telling is of a crappy place buried in racism and homophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments. It’s not Morning in America in 2020, it’s Kristallnacht. We’re not people of hope and aspiration, we’re bitter and hateful, despised not just for holding a political opinion, but for being the kind of person who holds such an opinion. Nobody takes Michael Moore seriously in a literal way anymore, but he spoke out loud what many Dems think when he said “Two-thirds of all white guys voted for Trump. That means anytime you see three white guys walking at you, down the street towards you, two of them voted for Trump. You need to move over to the other sidewalk because these are not good people that are walking toward you. You should be afraid of them.”

    We’re not even really worthy of our vote — the popular vote, as expressed by New York and California, will allow a more righteous country to emerge over bodies of the rednecks the Russians told to vote Trump.

     

    The only real vision the Dems offer is whichever one of them limps out of the primaries, they are not Trump. They want everyone to forget the three years of lies and conspiracy theories that Trump was working for the Russians. They want everyone to ignore the FBI campaign to overturn the last election, the last gasping efforts of which are an impeachment process even the Democrats seem to wish would just go away now. They want everyone to forget the fear mongering saying Trump would start a war with China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or just nuke somewhere in a fit of rage when Melania had a headache again. They want everyone to forget the three years of claims Trump is incestous, is mentally ill, subject to the 25th Amendment, a danger to us all, bonkers, unhinged. They don’t know the more they rage about Trump and predict catastrophe the more out of touch it seems when the catastrophes don’t happen. Pssst, people have noticed the pattern, Rachel.

    Dems also want everyone to forget how those actions, consistent and over time, might be a better indication of how they would govern than any “plan” posted on line. So much fuel has been burned pointing out Trump’s ugliness that the Dems think voters won’t notice the party’s own self-righteousness. Everyone has had their good will tested by years worth of movies and TV which eschews plot to shove simplistic versions of wokeness and feminism down everyone’s throat. We get it — commercials feature disproportionate levels of same-sex and mixed race couples, and the moral of the story is the old white guy is wrong. The absurdity of a man with long hair identifying as a woman and setting local high school track records is now drilled in. That is part of the vision ascribed to Democrats, and it is not worth many votes.

     

    Few people listen to the media anymore here and even fewer believe much of what they hear. Polls show 47 percent of Americans believe it’s difficult to know whether the information they encounter is true. Some 60 percent say they regularly see conflicting reports about the same set of facts, and way less than half of Americans have confidence in the media (the number drops to 15 percent when just Republicans are asked.) The ground truth is not hard to tease out, though reality is easier to see when your morning coffee doesn’t cost $6.99. The Millenial pundits from Brooklyn who write the dumb garbage about the Heartland as a infestation of inbred racists wouldn’t even need passports to come out and visit. They might come to realize they spend too much time reporting off social media without knowing they’re talking to themselves. But they wouldn’t be comfortable at the cousins’ homes. When they ask where the coffee is sourced from and is it sustainable, the answer would be “Um, Kroger, and yeah, we got a whole pot on.” It helps to have to have grown up in a place where it was usually too cold to leave the beer outside on New Year’s.

    Still, they might learn the majority of voters in purple states, the ones who likely will decide the election, don’t see America as a hateful place consumed by racism, homophobia, and white supremacy, and they don’t see themselves as racists, homophobes, and white supremacists. A lot of these people voted for Obama when he won Ohio in 2008 and 2012. The people the pundits might meet are also more aware than the media things were not so great during the Obama years progressives now bathe in golden light. These people are tired of being defined and reviled by candidates who have no idea of how they live, yet hate them anyway for not watching PBS. The media’s idea they are Nazis, or support anything close to Nazism, is an insult. Their grandfathers fought the Second World War. They know Facebook is where you post pictures of the kids, not receive marching orders from the Kremlin. Their America hasn’t been taken away from them by blacks or whoever’s; nobody really wants it.

    “Not Trump” will be enough for the Whole Foods/Trader Joe base, but not for places across Ohio and elsewhere further down the food chain. Trump gets this at a visceral level. It is messy out there, but these people understand they have made it three years without a new war, without an economic collapse, that the impeachment matters not a whit, and even Saturday Night Live is sort of funny again.

     
     

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  • Iran WWIII War Listicles

    January 6, 2020 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Trump


     

    America, time to get off the ledge (Dusts off notes from last three years.)
     

    — Trump will start WWIII with China over Taiwan inauguration phone call, 2017
    — Trump will start global economic war with China trade sanctions
    — Trump will start WWIII by withdrawing from NATO
    — Trump will start WWIII in Syria bombing Russian bases
    — Trump will start Mideast war moving US Embassy to Jerusalem
    — Trump will start WWIII pulling out of Obama’s Iran Nuclear Agreement
    — Trump will start WWIII with North Korea (ongoing)
    — Trump will start WWIII because he is erratic, mentally ill, impulsive, ha a small penis
    — Trump will start ___ war to distract from Mueller, Comey, impeachment, etc.
    — Trump will start war with Russia over Venezuela
    — Trump will start genocide of Kurds with Turkey
    — Trump will start Mideast war after Iran attacks Saudi oil facility
    — Trump will start civil war inside US after Charlottesville, midterms, next election

    And for anyone who claims some of the above is an exaggeration, well, look at the track record above…

     

    Meanwhile, Not War Crimes:
     

    — Hiroshima and Nagasaki, use of nuclear weapons against defenseless civilians
    — Blowing up an Iranian airliner with a ship launched missile
    — Supporting Saddam Hussein in using chemical weapons of mass destruction against Kurds and Iran
    — Decades of US-supported Israeli assassinations
    — Economic sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, Iran, N Korea that impoverished children and deny them medicines
    — Invading countries on false pretenses and turning them into failed states
    — Laughing on TV when Libya’s leader is sodomized with a knife.
    — Drone killing American citizens without due process
    — Drone killing wedding parties and bombing hospitals “by accident” multiple times

     

    War Crimes:
    — A tweet
    — Drone killing a combatant engaged in the field against American troops
     

    I realize this level of hypocrisy is beyond our current levels of understanding but maybe in the future a race of super-intelligent apes will find this and make sense of our civilization.

      

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  • On the Afghan Papers, Tequila, and Anne Smedinghoff

    January 3, 2020 // 27 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen


     

    It’s common this time of year to write review articles making sense of the events of the last 12 months. But what all of them will omit is one of the most important stories of the year. For the first time in some two decades America hasn’t started a new war.

    In 2019 34 American service members died in war. In 2009 it was 459, in 2003 it was 526. A total of 6857 since the post 9/11 wars commenced in 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush began that war, then invaded Iraq in 2003. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 then immediately expanded the war in Afghanistan. He went on to restart America’s war in Iraq after it was over the first time, launched a new war to turn Libya into a failed state and trigger the refugee flows still disrupting EU politics, engaged the U.S. in Yemen, abetted a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and set off yet another refugee flow into Europe through military intervention. So three full years without a new war is indeed news.

    This year also brought mainstream confirmation of the truth behind the Afghan War. The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a tiny step of penance in publishing the “Afghan Papers,” which show the American public was lied to every step of the way over the past 18 years about progress in Afghanistan and the possibility of some sort of success. Government officials from the president(s) to the grunt(s) issued positive statements they knew to be false and hid evidence the war was unwinnable. The so-called Afghan Papers are actually thousands of pages of notes created by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog federal agency created to oversee the spending of close to one trillion dollars in reconstruction money.

    The SIGAR documents (all quotes are from the Post’s Afghan Papers reporting) are blunt. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking… If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction, 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added. “Who will say this was in vain?” There are plenty of similar sentiments expressed going back a decade, with hints of the same almost to the first months of the conflict. The record of lies is as stark, final, and unambiguous as the death toll itself.

     

    Underlying all these comments given to SIGAR confidentially (WaPo had to fight a hellish FOIA battle to get these Papers released and even then most names were redacted) is a subtheme of what happens when the public finds out they’ve been lied to? The lesson there is a clear one: the public will have it shoved under their noses and ignore it repeatedly. The “secrets” of what was going on in Afghanistan were available for any who cared to call bullsh*t. Everything that failed in Afghanistan was at some level a repeat of what had failed earlier or concurrently in Iraq. The Papers quote an Army brigade commander in eastern Afghanistan who told government interviewers that he often saw nation building proposals that referred to “sheikhs” literally cut-and-pasted from reconstruction projects in Iraq. (“Sheikh” is an Arabic title of respect regularly misused by the military in Iraq but inapplicable across most of Afghanistan.) Many reconstruction personnel on the civilian side were transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan, and senior military leaders followed enlisted sons and fathers in doing deployments in both nations.

    On paper the story was the same. Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks exposed the lies in Iraq, only to face jail time and personal destruction. Whistleblower Matt Hoh, who served in Iraq as a Marine and in Afghanistan with the State Department, resigned in protest and told all as far back as 2010. My own book on Iraq exposed reconstruction was a failure in 2011, as did Chris Coyne’s on reconstruction in Haiti in 2010, or Douglas Wissing or Anand Gopal on Afghanistan or more recently Scott Horton’s in 2017. The Army’s Lt. Col Danny Davis, or even SIGAR’s own reporting over the years told much of the same story if anyone had bothered to read it. If anyone had looked deeper, they would have seen the same errors in reconstruction made many times before, from Somalia to the massive CORDS program in the Vietnam War.

    The Papers also show during the peak of the fighting in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, U.S. politicians and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other projects the faster things would improve. Aid workers told SIGAR from the ground “it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.” One staffer with the Agency for International Development claimed 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.” A contractor explained he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home, and “he said hell no. I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.”

    It was never a question of would it work, but more of a question of finding any example in the past where it did work. The one cited by so many NEOCON believers was the post-WWII Marshall Plan, as if loans to German and Japanese industrialists to rebuild factories and retool from tanks to cars had anything to do with the medieval economy of Afghanistan.

    But perhaps owing to their roots as the watchdog of the reconstruction program, SIGAR saves some of its most laser-like commentary for nation building.

     

    But Afghanistan was always supposed to be more than a “kinetic” war. The real battles were for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, with money as the weapon. Democracyfreedompluralisticsociety would be created from the primeval mud, with roads and bridges and factories as its Adam, and schools for boys and girls as its Eve. One of the core lies told to the public, and to each other on the ground in Afghanistan, was that a large portion of reconstruction money should be spent on education, even though Afghanistan had few jobs for graduates. “We were building schools next to empty schools, and it just didn’t make sense,” a Special Forces officer explained. “The local Afghans made clear they didn’t really want schools. They said they wanted their kids out herding goats.”

    “There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” said John Garofano, who supported the First Marine Expeditionary Force in its reconstruction spending in Helmand Province. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

    And it is on that specific bruised prayer of a lie that Anne Smedinghoff, the only State Department Foreign Service officer to lose a life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, died.

    This is what all those lies detailed in the Afghan Papers translate into on the ground. Anne was a diplomat, just 25 years old, assigned by the State Department to create good press in Afghanistan so the people at home could see we were winning. It was a hard fight, her work was supposed to show, but the sacrifices were worth it because we are accomplishing this. This in the very specific case which destroyed Anne was handing out unneeded books to Afghans who lacked clean water and childhood vaccines twelve years into America’s longest war so she and (important) more senior people could be photographed doing so. Inside the beltway this was called a “happy snap,” photos of Americans doing good with, albeit always in the background, smiling Afghans lapping it up. Through a series of grossly preventable micro-errors in security nested like Russian dolls inside the macro-error of what Anne or any American was doing in rural Zabul, Afghanistan anyway, Anne’s body was blown into pink mush by jagged fragments of steel from an IED.

    The school where Anne was killed was “built” by the U.S. in October 2009, only to enjoy a $135,000 “renovation” a few months later that included “foundation work, installation of new windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, electricity and a garden.” The original contractor did miserable work but got away with it in the we’ll check later Potemkin world where the appearance of success trumped actual results. The Army noted as the school opened “The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.” That the Afghans in the area likely needed sewage processing to lower infant mortality levels from water borne disease was irrelevant, they got a freaking school.

    The limited official reporting on what happened to Anne bungled most of the details, and State clung (as they later did with Benghazi, some lessons are learned) to a weak tea that the “cause” of Anne’s death were the actions of the bad guys, anything we did up to our very presence on the ground treated as a kind of background. The desire to not look too deep was underscored by then Secretary of State John Kerry, who said “she tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future” and smoothed the media into blending Anne’s death into what the entire world now knows is the fake narrative Anne herself died trying to create.

    Kerry is an easy target because of his Vietnam-era protests, including his famous question to Congress in 1971 “Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    To the State Department, what mattered in the life and then death of Anne Smedinghoff was damage control to what the Afghan Paper show they secretly knew was an already-failed story.

     

    Anne was only one of thousands of Americans, and, literally-only-God-knows how many Afghans, who died for the lies in the Afghan Papers. Same in the other countries America made war against, Syria and Libya for example, whose “papers” exposing those lies we await. So that’s why the biggest story of 2019 is the one no one seems to want to talk about, that for the first time in decades we seem to be slowing this all down.

    When someone writes now, in light of the reveals of the Afghan Papers, Anne died in vain, someone else will dismiss that as playing politics with a young woman’s death. But if you will read one more sentence, read this: Anne’s presence in Afghanistan was about politics, and her death delivering books for a photo op was a political act in support of lies. Her death thrusts her into the role of symbolism whether anyone likes that or not, and our job is simply to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that.

    For me, I learned on the same day Anne died an airstrike elsewhere in Afghanistan inadvertently killed ten children. I learned on the nights I think too much about things like that it usually takes a fair amount of tequila to abort my thoughts. And I take no pride in admitting I usually just drink from the bottle. But tonight I’ll use a glass, so I can raise it to Anne. I know she won’t be the last, there’ll be another set of “papers,” but there’s always hope at the bottom of a glass, isn’t there?

      

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  • Memories of Baghdad

    December 31, 2019 // 16 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq


     

    Watching events in Baghdad with sad interest. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, once the world’s largest, is now nothing except a symbol of our multi-decade failure in that country. It sounds like most of the civilians are already evacuated. There were once some 5,000 in that compound at the peak of Occupation.
     
     
     
     
     

    I hope the protesters don’t trample the huge green lawn we planted as a monument to our hubris. When I was in Iraq the ambassador organized lacrosse games out there. It took millions of gallons of water to keep that lawn green. What were we thinking?

    I remember that entrance way into the Baghdad Embassy you see in the videos well. When I came into the Embassy from the field as a “State Dept” person I used another way in, just for us.
     
     

    But when I came in from the field with the soldiers I was embedded with, State made us go through the gate you see on the videos being breached, the “public” gate, and submit to a full security screening. It was a way for State to say fuck you to the soldiers and assert their fake alpha male status. I remember asking the Embassy RSO security officer what the security status was, and he replied “WiFi’s down in the lounge, Iraq is pretty much the same.”

    If any of those soldiers from 2ID are watching the video, I am sure they are thinking these same things.

    The soldiers had their rifles taken away at the gate “for security” and one time a fight almost broke out when one refused to surrender his weapon at first. On that trip I also smuggled a female trooper into the Embassy beauty salon where she got her nails and hair done. She couldn’t stop laughing about how the Embassy women could go there daily, and said it was the first (and only) time she felt clean in a year.

     

    Ah, that street where the protesters are massed. On one visit the Embassy security goons decided the armored MRAP vehicles we arrived in had parked too long inside the Embassy and had to leave NOW. They were waiting for me, and I was running late. Embassy security told the soldiers to park outside on that street and when I arrived at the inside gatehouse they’d re-clear the vehicles into the compound, I’d jump in, and we’d return to the real war. The soldiers were in a hurry (and pissed off at how they were treated) and so called me on the only communications device we had in common, local Iraqi cell phones. They said it would take too long to re-clear and told me just to come outside the walls and board the truck. I felt like the baddest of bad asses pushing past the Embassy guards to just step out of the compound alone and walk the maybe 20 yards to the vehicle.

     

    I also remember those tall apartment buildings you see in the background of the videos, the ones outside the Embassy walls. They were part of the Green Zone, the huge area inside Baghdad once sealed off from the population by Saddam, then by the U.S. occupation forces. Those apartments were once gifted to Saddam’s lower-level toadies. The U.S. chased them away in 2003, and the apartments were issued to new toadies of the Iraqi puppet government (I’m guessing a decent number were the same people, toadies are pretty adaptable.)
     
     

    That area had a few small shops, and led to the naughty parts of the Green Zone, the many fortified compounds run by various “other” agencies, contractors, media organizations, British and Australian I-don’t-know-what-they-do folks, and the like. It was inside the Green Zone but outside the Embassy fortress walls, so existed as a kind of gray zone. I remember just after I arrived being driven by a contractor colleague all through the area. We even stopped at a semi-convenience store for him to buy cheap smokes and I felt like Lawrence of Fucking Arabia and Colonel Kurtz all at once. Later in my tour I’d make fun of people who thought they were cool traveling basically across the street from the Embassy but since people made fun of me once for doing the same thing it was all part of karma balancing.

    Good times.
     


     
     

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  • Do You Believe In Christmas?

    December 23, 2019 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment, Trump


     

    When our kids were little we would make Santa’s magic boot prints from the front door to the Christmas tree by sprinkling baking soda around a crude cardboard cutout of a boot print. This explained how the presents showed up for Christmas morning since we didn’t have the fireplace Santa used in every damn storybook. It was cute to see our daughters when they simply believed it was all true. But as they got older, the world of logic crept forward — How’d Santa get past the locked front door? And why didn’t the dog bark?

    The real world works that way, sad as it is sometimes to see them grow up. Logic overcomes belief. Otherwise you’re 45 and still wondering if it was really Santa who ate the cookies you left out.

    The bad news is the magic is back, at least in terms of politics, as belief takes over from logic. This isn’t the good kind which makes Christmas memories. It is the bad kind which turns rational people into blithering idiots who are ready to believe anything that supports their world view, and who create garbage to fool others. It can get to the point where such folks can be convinced of anything, and that makes them manipulable. After all, if you don’t clean up your room, there’ll be no presents under the tree this year!

    Here’s where wanting to believe something so much that it shuts down thinking leads. Accusations become evidence for impeachment or harassment or Islamophobia or a society gone white nationalist wild, and the more accusations the stronger the evidence is seen to be. Simply filling a bus with people claiming someone did something  should mean nothing but it now means more than ever.

    Same for words. Just calling something a new name not does not change anything. So even as the hive mind agrees a flippant remark is “demanding foreign intervention” or labels an investigation “interference in our democracy” and with even less evidence claims Trump is a Russian agent, Tulsi a Russian plant, Facebook is a Russian tool, and Jill Stein a Russian something or other, it does not make it true. A minimum wage dropout saying something horrible to a fast food customer is indicative of our crappy educational system maybe, but hardly an indictment of “a nation awash in racism,” even if it’s on YouTube. Adding “-gate” to a noun does not create a crime to be investigated. Saying “it’s just like Watergate” over and over does not make it Watergate. Claiming a phone call is bribery, or a tweet is witness intimidation does not negate the need for the law degree that allows you to actually use those words accurately. And kids, I’m sorry, I know how much you wanted to believe in the elves, but it was really Mom and me buying the presents all those years.

    It is sadly no surprise the ambiguously favorable witness Democrats allowed to testify at the Impeachment Gladiatorial Thanksgiving Spectacle, Gordon Sondland, was soon accused of sexual misconduct by not one, but three women, so it has to be true. The allegations are true to form at least, because all of the alleged incidents took places years ago, there were no witnesses or physical evidence, and none of the women found a reason to bring the accusations forward until Sondland emerged as a possible weak point in the Dems’ case against Trump. What they said was fully and forever unprovenable, and can only be “believed” based on what outcome you support.

    Watching those accusations front-paged by a believing media, and with memories of the Kavanaugh confirmation, one can only view Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s deteriorating health with concern. She has been a fine justice, but seems to be using up her share of amazing recoveries from falls and the flu at a rapid pace. The chances are good Trump will name the Ghost of Christmas Past’s replacement. We all can start to feel that pain in our stomach knowing whomever he nominates will be accused of terrible things. For a male nominee, it will be more sexual harassment incidents than Jack the Ripper, dating back to when he pulled Cindy’s pigtails in fourth grade. For a female nominee, it is inevitable something she wrote in a junior high creative writing class will have her labeled a racist. Never mind the hidden horrors in their income taxes, early decisions from their days on the traffic court bench and so on. It will be endless and ugly and it is as inevitable as Santa’s yearly visit.

    What people want to believe is delivered to them. Jessica Kwong was a Newsweek “journalist” fired after she wrote an article claiming Trump was wasting taxpayer money golfing over Thanksgiving when in fact he was serving dinner to the troops in Afghanistan. She just made up a report because it was what she wanted to believe. Wanting to believe accounts for so much of what we call fake news, stuff based on “reports” or anonymous sources who could not possibly know what the president was thinking, or what he said in a closed door meeting, but are quoted anyway because we already know what we want to know is true. Americans are meanwhile still sorting out what they “believe” the Mueller report said. What is true is not a worthy goal. What we believe seemingly is.

    Democratic candidates have felt the reason for the season, outdoing one another in hinting at what might be under the tree simply because we want it to be there however impractical and honey, yes, I still remember the year you believed there’d be a real pony in the back yard and you cried. Elizabeth Sanders will have rich people give us all Amazon gift cards to pay off student loans and provide free healthcare. Mayor Pete will leave a load in stockings through his Douglass Plan, offering $50 billion  (Cory Booker proposes double, $100 billion) for Historically Black Colleges and Universities as just a Christmas Eve teaser. They believe they will find the money under the tree, or in the backyard with the pony. Yeah, we tried to buy our kids’ love with expensive presents, too, but at least we spent equally on each of them.

    Yet despite all that proposed giving, belief works for the negative as well. There is a profound belief things are much worse, almost Biblical, than they really are. Democracy has one more chance, or perhaps the Republic is already done and we’re just waiting on funeral arrangements. First maybe a military coup, or a civil war. Or Trump will simply refuse to leave office (NYT, CNN, MSNBC, Vox, Politico, Newsweek, Atlantic, Slate, Salon, MSN all say so.) Certainly women, POC, and LGBT are done for. When pressed for real specifics, there are none though who can count any “specific” that starts with “Well, Trump tweeted…” and never was followed up with legislation or executive action?

    Driving the sense the End is upon us is a profound ability to not only know little about history, but not even to remember stuff from a few weeks ago. Those End of Days wars with China, Iran, Venezuela, and worst of all, North Korea, what happened to them? The Kurds do OK with that genocide? “Trump will trigger nuclear armageddon” is a stand-by article when WaPo has to fill Op-Ed space. No one seems to know much about the rise of Hitler in any detail, but everyone believes we are seeing it play out again (except there’s no mass party, no Brownshirt vanguard, no overarching ideology, no rearming for world war, no annexation of neighboring territory, no Nuremberg laws, no Dachau, and no exercise of state power like the 1930s). Scale doesn’t seem to matter; Trump cut back on immigration and so did Hitler, so boom, they are the same.

    So it follows a tiny group of Nazi cosplayers in Charlottesville three years ago is proof of sweeping white nationalism, alongside Colin Kaepernick not being able to get a job. It takes a lot of belief to imagine one guy not making the team as proof of much of anything. You get the NYT saying “Trump is president only because a constitutional provision invalidated the choice of the American people,” flippantly referring to the Electoral College created by the Founders in the Constitution to choose 45 presidents over 230 years as a invalidating provision. The same article goes on to say “Democrats and pundits have been bullied into accepting the fiction that he has democratic, and not just constitutional, legitimacy.” Even the clear outcome of an election under the same system in place for centuries is today subject to the belief test.

    Adding to this damp blanket of nihilism is the endless failure of insta-heroes. The mood seems so desperate for a savior that a new one is created regularly. The now-discredited anti-semites who organized the Pink Pussy Hat march, the media-abused Parkland Kids, Greta the Amazing Climate Change Gal, celebrities who announce the boycott-of-the-week and then fade just as fast, it’s almost to the point where you can’t trust anyone anymore. At one point Michael Avenatti announced he was looking into running for president, and remember Beto? He went from the cover of Vanity Fair in an Annie Leibovitz glamor photo to, well, we don’t know what he’s doing, working at Wendy’s with Kamala and the other unemployed elves maybe. People started imagining flooding TV commercials with mixed race couples was somehow lessening racial tensions, same as Wakanda and some black superhero characters were going to inspire youth to succeed where Cosby and OJ failed.

    None of it is real, that is the nature of belief. Having millions of hits is the illusion of accomplishment. Getting your hashtag trending is the illusion of action. Twitter doesn’t elect anyone, or stop anything, or do anything. It is raising awareness! and it is disappointing when nothing changes in the real world after what seems like a lot of effort online. Someone should do a podcast about that. You can make #SantaIsReal the most popular hashtag ever but it won’t make Santa real. The problem is that like Santa, the belief is no organic. It didn’t grow on its own. It was created and sold, much like each new generation of parents resells the Santa myth to a new generation of toddlers.

    Belief has led us to where we don’t just hate ideas, we have come to hate people for holding those ideas because belief is an emotional response not an intellectual one. Hence the flood of articles on “how to get through Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner with your MAGA uncle.” There’s no point in talking, he’s wrong and too ignorant to know it, so the goal is simply to zone out somehow before you can get back to Brooklyn. Thom Hartmann, once a reasonable voice of progressive thought, takes that to its extreme, saying “the parts of America that are still functioning democracies (California comes to mind — there has been discussion of various ‘compacts’ between the three West Coast states, possibly joining with a few Eastern Seaboard states) must consider some form of independence, whether it be ‘soft independence’ like California declared when they established their own air quality standards or some form of partial independence or succession.” Hartmann of course is writing in the context of those Thanksgiving arguments growing into literal violent civil war in America if Trump is re-elected.

    There is an obsession with diversity, to the point where “first black ____” and “first lesbian _____” are celebratory events, even when the achievement under celebration is some minor nothing job and everyone has forgotten we already had the first black president and now we are somehow on the verge of racial war. I’m not sure where everyone gets all these firsts from; is there a secret list? When society checks them all off is there a prize? What happens after that?

    But bringing it all home are not the now-expected pseudo-historical/hysterical screeds about how Thanksgiving is actually a holiday celebrating genocide and white nationalism (Paul Krugman actually thinks the holiday “commemorates the struggle to end slavery”), but as the season begins Salon stating without hesitation “whatever enthusiasm I once felt for Christmas has dissipated entirely in the age of Donald Trump. He ruins everything he touches, and Christmas, for me, is no exception… Forget Tiny Tim declaring, ‘God bless us, every one!’ It’s clear that for that 40 percent of people in the Trump cult, it’s closer to ‘Damn anyone to hell who isn’t exactly like us!’ The point of Christmas is to declare white supremacist America as the only ‘real’ America.”

    And whatever, climate change means we’ll all be washed out to sea before New Year’s anyway. That’s where belief has brought us these few weeks before the holidays. And kids, it was always me who ate the cookies you left out for Santa. Ho ho ho!

      

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  • We Meant Well in Afghanistan

    December 16, 2019 // 22 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State

     

    If only someone had written a book about the mistakes in Iraq, the waste, the fraud, the endemic corruption which was clearly leading nowhere to warn everyone before they made the same errors in Afghanistan, Anne Smedinghoff would be on her fourth tour and I’d be Consul General in Belize.
     

    But how about those Afghan Papers, crazy stuff huh?

        

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  • Horowitz Report Shows the FBI Tried to Influence the 2016 Election

    December 14, 2019 // 10 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

     Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’ report, which shows the Democrats, media, and FBI lied about not interfering in an election, will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation fooled itself into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections; it was us.

    The Horowitz Report is being played by the media for its conclusion, that the FBI’s intel op run against the Trump campaign was not politically motivated and thus “legal.” That covers one page of the 476 page document, fits with the Democratic-MSM narrative Trump is a liar, and ignores the rest. “The rest” of course is a detailed description of America’s domestic intelligence apparatus, aided by its overseas intelligence apparatus, and assisted by its Five Eyes allies’ intelligence apparatuses, releasing a full-spectrum spying campaign against a presidential candidate to influence an election and when that failed, delegitimize a president.

     

    We learn from the Horowitz Report it was an Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, a man with ties to his own nation’s intel services and the Clinton Foundation, who was set up with a meeting with a Trump staffer, creating the necessary first bit of info to set the plan in motion. We find the FBI exaggerating, falsifying, and committing wicked sins of omission to buffalo the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts into approving electronic surveillance on Team Trump to overtly or inadvertently monitor the communications of Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, Rick Gates, Trump transition staffers, and likely Trump himself. Trump officials were also monitored by British GCHQ and the information shared with their NSA partners, a piece of all this still not fully public.

    We learn the FBI greedily consumed the Steele Dossier, opposition “research” bought by the Clinton campaign to smear Trump with allegations of sex parties, pee tapes, and, most notoriously, claims he was a Russian plant, a Manchurian Candidate, owned by Russian intelligence through a combination of treats (land deals in Moscow) and threats (kompromat over Trump’s evil sexual appetites.) The Horowitz Report makes clear the FBI knew the Dossier was bunk, hid that conclusion from the FISA court, and purposefully lied to the court claiming the Dossier was backed up by investigative news reports which themselves were secretly based on the Dossier. The FBI knew Steele had created a classic intel officer’s information loop, secretly becoming his own corroborating source, and gleefully looked the other way because it supported their own goals.

    Horowitz contradicts media claims the Dossier was a small part of the case presented to the FISA court. He finds that it was “central and essential.” And it was garbage: “factual assertions relied upon in the first [FISA] application targeting Carter Page were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,” reads the Report. One of Steele’s primary sources, tracked down by FBI, said Steele misreported several of the most troubling allegations of potential Trump blackmail and Trump campaign collusion.

    We find human dangles, what Lisa Page referred to as “our OCONUS lures” (OCONUS is spook-speak for Outside CONtinetal US) in the form of a shady Maltese academic, Joseph Mifsud, with deep ties himself to multiple U.S. intel agencies and the Pentagon albeit not the FBI per se, paying Trump staffers for nothing speeches to buy access to them. We find a female FBI undercover agent inserted into social situations with a Trump staffer (pillow talk is always a spy’s best friend.) It becomes clear the FBI sought to manufacture a foreign counterintelligence threat to import into the United States as an excuse to unleash its surveillance tools against the Trump campaign.

    We learn Trump staffer Carter Page, while under FBI surveillance to discover Trump’s ties to Russia, was actually working for the CIA in Russia. The FBI was told this repeatedly, yet it never reported it to the FISA court approving the secret investigation of Page as a Russian spy. An FBI lawyer even doctored an email to hide the fact Page was working for the Agency and not the Russians; it was that weak a case. The CIA rated Page well as a source, and dismissed the Steele Dossier itself as an “Internet Rumor.” Had that information been available to the FISA court, it is hard to imagine they would have approved the warrant against Page, or further considered the Dossier absent additional information the FBI of course did not have.

     

    The Horowitz Report goes on to find “at least 17 significant errors or omissions” concerning FBI efforts to obtain FISA warrants against Page alone. California Congressman Devin Nunes raised these points almost two years ago, in a memo the MSM widely discredited, even though we now know it was basically true and profoundly prescient. Adam Schiff’s rebuttal memo turns out to have been garbage.

    Much has been made by the MSM about these “mistakes,” in that the Horowitz Report does not conclude they were indices of political bias. Maybe. But if the mistakes were just that, accidents or sloppiness, you’d expect at least some of them to favor Trump’s side. In fact, all of the mistakes favored the FBI’s poor case and that chips away at the idea there was no motivating element behind them.

    Page was a nobody with nothing, but the FBI needed him. Horowitz explains agents “believed at the time they approached the decision point on a second FISA renewal that, based upon the evidence already collected, Carter Page was a distraction in the investigation, not a key player in the Trump campaign, and was not critical to the overarching investigation.” They renewed the warrants anyway, three times, largely due to their value under the “two hop” rule. The FBI can extend surveillance two hops from its target; so if Carter Page called Michael Flynn who called Trump, all of those calls are legally open to monitoring. Page was a handy little bug.

    Carter Page was never charged with any crime. He was a small nobody blown into a big deal by the fictional Steele Dossier, an excuse for the FBI to electronically surveil the Trump campaign.

    When Trump was elected, the take from all this muckery, focused on the uber-lie that Trump was dirty with Russia, was leaked to the press most likely by James Comey and John Brennan in January 2017 (not covered in the Horowitz Report), and a process which is still ongoing tying the president to allegiance to a foreign power began. “With Trump, All Roads Lead to Moscow,” writes the New York Times even today, long after both the Mueller Report and now again the Horowitz Report say unambiguously that is not true. “Monday’s congressional hearing and the inspector general’s report tell a similar story,” bleats the Times, when in fact the long read of both says precisely the opposite.

     

    Michael Horowitz, the author of this current report, should be a familiar name. In January 2017 he opened his probe into the FBI’s Clinton email investigation. In a damning passage, that 568 page report found it “extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors… for the admitted purpose of preventing them from telling him not to make the statement, and to instruct his subordinates in the FBI to do the same. By departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice.”

    Horowitz’ Clinton report also criticizes FBI agents and illicit lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who exchanged texts disparaging Trump before moving from the Clinton email to the Russiagate investigation. Those texts “brought discredit” to the FBI and sowed public doubt. They included one exchange reading, “Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Strzok: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

     

    If after reading the Horowitz Report you want to focus only on its page one statement the FBI did not act illegally, you must in turn focus yourself on what is “legal” in America. If you want to follow the headlines saying Trump was proven wrong when he claimed his campaign was spied upon, you really do need to look up that word in a dictionary and frankly compare it to the tangle of surveillance, foreign government agents, undercover operatives, pay offs, and more Horowitz details.

    You may accept the opening lines of the Horowitz Report that the FBI did not act with political bias over the course of its investigation. Or you can find a clearer understanding in Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Report “that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions.” You will need to reconcile the grotesque use the information the FBI gathered was put to after Trump was elected, the fuel for the Mueller investigation and years’ worth of media picking at the Russian scab.

    To claim none of this is politically biased, you must walk away from the details of the Horowitz report, particularly the gross abuses of FISA, happy that what it says is how democracy works in America today. You must be willing to search and replace every instance of “Trump” with “Elizabeth Warren” a couple of years from now, and be happy with that. You have to see every instance in that report where the FBI orders something done as OK if it was Trump issuing the same words. At that point you can say there is no bias.

    The current Horowitz Report, read alongside his previous report on how the FBI played inside the 2016 election vis-a-vis Clinton, should leave no doubt the FBI tried to influence the election of a president in 2016 and then delegitimize Trump when he won. It wasn’t the Russians, it was us. And if you walk away concluding the FBI fumbled things, acted amateurishly, failed to do what some claim they set out to do, well, just wait until next time.

     

    On a personal note, if any of this is news to you, you may want to ask why you are learning about it now. This blog has consistently been one of the few outlets which exposed the Steele Dossier as part of an information op nearly since it was unveiled, and which has explained how the FISA court was manipulated, and which has steadily raised the question of political interference in our last election by the American intelligence services; follow the links above to read some of our past reporting, going back to the election.

    I claim no magic powers or inside information; to any of us who have been in or on the fringes of intelligence work what was obvious just from the publicly available information was, well, obvious. Despite what you think you know about spying from TV and movies, most of the work is done the same way every time, using techniques that go back to ancient times. Honey works better than vinegar, so bribes trump pee tapes. There was no Moscow hotel-land deal is the biggest “tell” here nothing else was true. Be careful, because your enemies will tell you what you want to believe. Make people your friends by paying them. Dangling a cool blonde is always a good gambit. Important agents are run by important intelligence officers. If Putin was pulling Trump’s strings, in real life a little man like Carter Page would not know it.

    If you are reading any of this for the first time, or know people who are reading bastardized versions of it for the first time in MSM sources, you might ask yourself why those places went along with Steele, et al. Their journalists are no dumber or smarter than me. They do write with a different agenda, however. Keep that in mind as we flip the calendar page to 2020.

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  • Ladies and Gentlemen of the Real Impeachment Jury…

    December 10, 2019 // 14 Comments

    Tags:
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Impeachment, Trump


    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the election for the next president of the United States is tomorrow, November 3, 2020. It has been a long few months since the Democrats impeached the president in the House, and the Republican-controlled Senate did not convict him. Since neither side really weighed what happened, it is up you, the purple and undecided voters, to serve as the real jury and decide what this all really means.

    Twitter doesn’t decide anything, nor do the Russians. Congress doesn’t elect the president. You do. So please give me your full attention as I sum up my case.
    A warning first, however. Ignore anyone who uses terms like “threat to democracy” or invokes the Federalist Papers. You have heard that malarkey for four years now. Remember all the things they tried to scare you with — wars with Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and China which never happened. Recession, economic collapse, trade wars. Trump is mentally unstable and might blow up the earth. He was a Russian agent. And ignore all the creative writing; just because you call something a shakedown, bribe, strong arm, or crime family, doesn’t mean it is and usually quite the opposite. Nope, this is all just politics.

    You should keep in mind how the Democrats acted when they were given the power to run the impeachment process as a clue to how they would yield power from the White House. This was the only modern impeachment done in a first term, and the only one not preceded by a formal investigation — you know, with rules of evidence and legal protections. It was based on a very select set of witnesses who first testified in secret as a kind of practice session, with curated leaks to soften you up. That’s how you ended up with “witnesses” with no first hand knowledge, and how when you got two of those it was counted as “corroboration.” Imagine the fun a defense lawyer in your home towns would have with a case against her client built around evidence from an overheard phone call a hostile witness shouldn’t have been listening too in the first place.

    Then there was public spectacle side of the impeachment, with a new and improved smoking gun promised daily, a sparkly uniform, and media running out of adjectives to describe the foreign service as if the FSOs were Lassie in pinstripes — brave, loyal, dependable, no accidents inside the house. If anyone questioned them, or raised a point of contention about a fat guy in uniform, they must hate America. You were told military people are loyal and trustworthy except for Mike Pompeo who graduated first in his class at West Point. Anything Trump wanted looked into was dismissed as a debunked conspiracy theory. But when the Dems accused him of being a Russian agent with no evidence, that required three years, falsified FBI records, and the full resources of the intelligence community. Think what that says about the Dems’ own respect for the rule of law, justice, and fairness, because if they are elected tomorrow you’ll get more of the same.

    That’s what happened. Why it had to happen is also worth your consideration. After the first two weeks of public impeachment hearings, 62 percent of independents — smart people like you — claimed the issue is “more important to politicians than it is to me.” When asked to rank 11 issues as top priorities, impeachment placed last among independents. And what you think matters: independents make up 38 percent of the electorate, greater than both Republicans and Democrats at 30 and 31 percent respectively.

    So you as independents are the most important group, and you don’t see impeachment as a priority, and the Democrats wasted the majority you helped give them in the midterms to do it anyway because Russiagate failed, the Emoluments Clause failed, the 25th Amendment failed, the Stormy-Avenatti-Michael Cohen show failed and they are afraid to let people vote again on the president, so the rule of “by any means necessary” meant setting aside the issues you care about to do this. Keep that in mind, too, tomorrow when you vote.

    But I promised you a look into the evidence, and like with Dorothy in Oz, it has always been with you. The actual moment when the president was to have committed his impeachable act was memorialized in the memorandum of conversation of the July 25 phone call between him and Zelensky. Now of course many of the same people who would not accept this official USG document as proof of what was said accept another guy’s uncorroborated rendering of a call he supposedly overheard in a restaurant. But you’re smarter than that.

    The July 25 memo is the only primary source in this entire case. It tells us what happened. The so-called witnesses only talked about what they think happened, or their opinions of what happened, or what someone else told them happened. Remember, none of the 12 impeachment hearing witnesses actually heard Trump explicitly tie the security aid to the investigations. That is a big, big deal. So it is essential to this case if any of you can point to any portion of the memo which explicitly ties the security aid to the investigations, which after all is the actual crime the president was accused of. But you can’t because it does not say that. That also is a big, big deal.

    And by the way, was any aid actually withheld? Delayed is not withheld, you know that. And since no one proved when the Ukrainians even learned of any delays, even that does not seem to have mattered. And can any of you tell me what investigations took place? Because there were none.

    In sum, there were no witnesses to “the crime.” The only primary document has no explicit evidence of “the crime.” And no aid was withheld and no investigations took place. A smoking gun requires there to be a dead body on the floor. Without the media keeping this all alive, you would be left wondering exactly what it is we’re still talking about.

    That said, there are some things Trump said in the call (“I would like you to do us a favor”), and some titter-tattle Democrats think adds up to an illegal quid pro quo. So let’s talk about that.

    It is always easy to forget the basics. Here they are, and they were established long before Trump. The president makes and conducts foreign policy, and has extraordinary latitude to say what the U.S. national interest is. Not the NSC, not the State Department or its ambassadors, no matter how smart they are, or think they are. Foreign aid is never a gift. It is a policy tool and the U.S. offers it to nations in return for something. As an exasperated Mulvaney told us, of course it has a quid pro quo attached to it — vote our way in the UN, let us have a military base in your country, help us negotiate with your neighbor. The president can and many times before has withheld or delayed aid. An investigation is not meddling. We ask foreign governments to work with us on criminal, financial, and other investigations all the time. The Democrats asked Ukraine to help investigate Trump/Russiagate in 2018. Providing accurate information is not interfering in our democracy. Wordplay.

    Now to the thing Trump supposedly asked for, that investigation of Joe Biden and any Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election. Much has been made of the idea those things benefit Trump personally and not the United States. But if you think this through, can you claim there is no value to the people of the United States, specifically you the undecided voters, in knowing what Biden and his son were up to in Ukraine, that even looking into that is wrong? And you can’t say “there’s no evidence they did anything” because no one has really looked. If it was Ivanka instead of Hunter at that Ukrainian gas company you know we’d all be losing our minds.

    To legitimately believe Trump attempted bribery in asking Ukraine to investigate the Biden family is to claim the American people have no stake whatsoever in knowing whatever the truth is about the Biden’s.

    Almost everything a politician does is done with an eye on how it affects him as a candidate and/or in the history books. While their decisions are usually thought to be for the benefit of the country as well, it is damned hard to find too many times a politician has done something he did not seek to also benefit from. What else do you think Obama meant when he told the Russian president off-mic he’d have more flexibility after he was re-elected?

    Trump might have benefited from the investigation but voters would benefit either way — Biden is clean, Biden is dirty, factor that into your choice. Now of course if an investigation revealed something bad about Biden, that would also benefit Trump as well as the voters. In such a theoretical, would you want to assign a ratio to it, say 51 percent good for Trump and 49 percent good for the voters to know? What if you conclude it was 99:1? You want to impeach over a percentage?

    So you need to look not only at what was done, but whether it fits the seriousness of impeachment. We all have heard how the Constitution is vague on what exactly is an impeachable act, but we do have precedent. Just in the last two decades we had a president who lied us into war, set up a torture program and spied on Americans, and sat on his hands as the economy crashed. No impeachment. We had a president whose military incursions into Libya, Syria, and Yemen set off the worst refugee flows Europe has seen since WWII, who illegally spied on Americans (complete with a whistleblower), who assassinated Americans by drone, and who hid forever the torture program, who gave trillions to Wall Street in bail outs while Main Street floundered, and no impeachment. But an internal power struggle between the careerists and political appointees over not-really-matters Ukraine, now that is what the Founders had in mind?

    That’s where I’m stuck. Because if we can’t answer those questions, then the conclusion this is all a political hit job is unavoidable. Weigh that carefully, , ladies and gentlemen of the real jury, because a lot depends on your answer when you vote tomorrow.

     

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  • State Department Shoots Itself in the Foot at Impeachment Hearings

    November 24, 2019 // 23 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Embassy/State, Impeachment


    The State Department, where I worked 24 years as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO) and diplomat, reminds me a lot of my current hometown, New York City. Both places spend an inordinate amount of time telling outsiders how great they are while ignoring the obvious garbage piled up around them. It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell themselves more than others everything is OK.

    Like NYC convincing itself the Broadway lights mean you won’t notice the wicked homeless problem and decaying infrastructure, the State Department fully misunderstands how it really appears to others. Across Facebook groups and internal channels, FSOs this week are sending each other little messages tagged #FSProud quoting Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s the closing soliloquy from her impeachment testimony. Yovanovitch’s testimony otherwise read like the HR complaint from hell, as if she was auditioning for a Disgruntled Employee poster child position to cap off her career. She had already been fired by the time the alleged impeachable act took place — during Trump’s July 25 phone call — and was stuck in a placeholder job far removed from Ukrainian policy. She witnessed nothing of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the House is investigating, and basically used her time to complain she knew more than her boss did so he fired her.

    At the end of her testimony Yovanovitch unfurled a large metaphorical flag and wrapped herself and the entire Foreign Service in it. Her lines had nothing to do with Ukraine, and were boilerplate recruiting prose about how FSOs are non-partisan servants of the Constitution, how everyone lives in harm’s way, yada yada. She name checked diplomats from forty freaking years ago held hostage in Iran, and rolled in a couple of CIA contractors when tallying up the “State” death toll in Benghazi. She omitted the we-don’t-talk-about-that-one-death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff in Afghanistan, whose 25-year-old life was destroyed participating in a propaganda photo-op.

    This is the false idol image the State Department holds dear of itself, and people inside the organization today proudly christened Ambassador Yovanovitch as its queen. Vanity Fair summed it up better than the long-winded FSOs bleating across social media: “A hero is born as Yovanovitch gives voice to widespread rage at State. ‘I think people are feeling huge pride in Masha,’ says a former ambassador.” Yovanovitch uses her Russian nickname, Masha, without media comment because of course she does.

    And that’s the good part. Alongside Yovanovitch, bureaucrat-in-a-bow-tie George Kent issued pronouncements against Trump people he never met who ignored his tweedy advice. Ambassador Bill Taylor leaked hoarded text messages with Trump political appointees. Taylor’s deputy, David Holmes, appeared deus ex machina (Holmes had a photo of Yovanovitch as his Facebook page cover photo until recently!) to claim back in the summer he somehow overheard both sides of a phone conversation between Trump and political appointee ambassador Sondland. Holmes eavesdropped on a presidential call and dumped it in the Democrats’ lap and now he’s non-partisan #FSProud, too.

    Interesting the major political events (scandals?) of the last few years have all criss-crossed the State Department: Clinton’s emails and Foundation shenanigans, the Steele Dossier and many things Russiagate, and now impeachment and Ukraine. And never mind two major Democratic presidential candidates-in-waiting, Clinton and Kerry, had a home there. That’s an awful lot of partisanship for an organization bragging about being non-partisan.

     

    Gawd, I need to wash my hands. I am #FSProud that in my 24 years as a diplomat I never perjured myself, or claimed to or actually eavesdropped on someone else’s phone call, then spoon fed the info months later to my boss on TV to take down a president mid-campaign, all the while accepting cheers that I was non-partisan, and thinking my role as a snitch/boot licker was going to help people vision my organization as honorable.

    FSOs see themselves as Marvel superheroes who will take down the Bad Orange Man. The organization flirted with the role before; a 2016 mid-election “dissent” was designed to force the winner into war in Syria. Then another “dissent” by State strayed close to insubordination opposing Trump’s so-called “Muslim Ban.” Everyone remembers the Department’s slow-walking the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails (after helping hide the existence of her private server for years.) The State Department turned a blind eye to Secretary Clinton’s nepotism hiring her campaign aides as State employees (remember Huma?), and use of America’s oldest cabinet position to create B-roll of herself helping women around the globe ahead of her soiled campaign. Hillary of course was handed the Secretary job itself by Barack Obama as a treat for dropping out of the race in 2008.

    Maybe the State Department’s overt support for Candidate Clinton did not make clear enough what happens when the organization betrays itself to politics.

    While FSOs are gleefully allowing themselves to be used today to impeach Trump, they fail to remember nobody likes a snitch. No matter which side you are on, in the end nobody will trust you, Democrat or Republican, after seeing what you really are. What White House staffer of any party will interact openly with his diplomats, knowing they are saving his texts and listening in on his calls, waiting? State thinks it is a pitbull waiting to bite on its master’s command when in fact it is an organization that has betrayed its golden nonpartisan glow and is out of control. Hey, in your high school, did anyone want to have the kids who lived to be hall monitors and teacher’s pet as their lunch buddies?

    The real problems go much deeper, and are either the cause of or a reflection of the current state of things, or a little of both. A Government Accountability Office report showed more than one fourth of all Foreign Service positions were either unfilled or filled with below-grade employees. At the senior levels 36 percent of positions were vacant or filled with people of lower rank and experience pressed into service. At the crucial midranks, the number was 26 percent unfilled.

    The thing is the report is from 2012, and showed similar results to one written in 2008. The State Department has danced with irrelevancy for a long time and its efforts to be The Resistance as a cure today feel more like desperation than heroism. State’s somnolent response, even during the legendary Clinton and Kerry years, to what should have been a crisis call (speculate on what the response might be to a report the military was understaffed by 36 percent) tells the tale. As the world changes, State still has roughly the same number of Portuguese speakers as it does Russian among its FSOs. No other Western country uses private citizens as ambassadors over career diplomats anywhere near the extent the United States does, doling out about a third of the posts as political patronage mainly because what they do doesn’t matter. The Secretary of State hands out lapel buttons reading “Swagger“; imagine a new Secretary of Defense doing the same and then being laughed out of office.

     

    FSOs wade in the shallowest waters of the Deep State. Since the 1950s the heavy lifting of foreign policy, the stuff that ends up in history books, mostly moved into the White House and National Security Council. The increasing role of the military in America’s foreign relations further sidelined State. The regional sweep of the AFRICOM and CENTCOM generals, for example, paints State’s landlocked ambassadors weak.

    State’s sad little attempt during the Bush years to stake out a new role in nation building failed in Iraq, failed in Afghanistan, and failed in Haiti. The organization’s Clinton-Kerry era joblet promoting democracy through social media was a flop. Trade policy has its own bureaucracy outside Foggy Bottom. What was left for State was reporting, its on-the-ground viewpoint that informs policy makers. Even there the intelligence community has eaten State’s sandwiches with the crusts cut off lunch — why hear what some FSO thinks the Prime Minister will do when the NSA can provide the White House with real time audio of him explaining it in bed to his mistress? The uber revelation from the 2010 Wikileaks dump of documents was most of State’s vaunted reporting is of little practical value. State struggled  through the Chelsea Manning trial to convince someone actual harm was done to national security by the disclosures. Some nine years later there hasn’t even been a good book written from them.

    That leaves for the understaffed Department of State pretty much only the role of concierge abroad, the one Ambassadors Taylor, Yovanovitch and their lickspittles Kent and Holmes complained about as their real point during the impeachment hearings. Read their testimony and you learn they had no contact with principals Trump, Giuliani, and Pompeo (which is why they were useless “witnesses,” they didn’t see anything first hand) and bleated about being cut out of the loop, left off calls, not being on the inside. They testified instead based on overheard calls and off screen voices. Taylor complained he had to contact the NSC, not State, to find out if policy had changed, and whined Pompeo ignored his reports.

    Meanwhile, America’s VIPs need their hands held abroad, their motorcades organized, and their receptions handled, all tasks that fall squarely on the Department of State. That is what was really being said underneath it all at the impeachment hearings. It is old news, but it found a greedy audience as it was repurposed to take a whack at Trump. State thinks this is its moment to shine, but all that is happening is a light is being shined on the organization’s partisaness and pettiness in reaction to its own irrelevance.

    Nice bow tie on George Kent though, shows he’s “with it.”

     

    BONUS:

    One of The Blob’s greatest accomplishments has been to convince a large number of Americans everything pre-Trump was normal and everything since is extraordinary. That sets up the idea that extraordinary means are needed to deal with unique threats, and that sets up throwing away the rules because when the Republic is at stake ends justify the means.
     
    No one here is claiming any virtue for Trump. He is a bad president. But he is not uniquely bad such that he is a threat to democracy, etc. That is a myth which is used to justify things that can become threats to the democracy.
     
    Dems want to impeach over… not much because not much is what they have. Ukraine really is not important. Most of us never heard the names outside of Foggy Bottom of the State Dept people now raised to heroic status. But if this process is normalized then it will come back again, against a president “you” do like.

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  • Dear Friends: Tell Me How This Ends

    November 20, 2019 // 27 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment, Trump


    Dear progressive friends, family, those who have unfriended me in real life and online life, deplatformed me, told me I belong to a cult, and everyone who suggested I commit physically impossible acts upon myself:

    I can’t tweet this as I’ve been life-banned, and while currently my Facebook is open I’ve been blocked there before. Places I used to write for won’t look at articles defending the things I defended on their pages three years ago, like free speech, diplomacy with North Korea, and non-intervention in the Middle East. I can’t tell you how many times someone has heard The American Conservative come up alongside my name and sharply ended a conversation. So call this a message in a bottle.

    I don’t support Trump. In Ye Olde Days one could support some of a president’s policies (say free speech, diplomacy with North Korea and non-intervention in the Middle East) without being throw overboard for supporting all of his policies, statements, tweets, and brags. You could once disagree with what someone said without having to destroy him as a human being, such as insisting publically he was mentally ill and should be institutionalized for holding a political stance.

    I could once talk about disagreements over ideas at Thanksgiving, on Fox and CNN, even over a drink in a bar, without me having to swipe the sludge off my face of being called a Nazi. I’m not a Nazi. Nazis were those people who put the numbers on my great Auntie’s arm. As kids at holiday parties we’d hide in ignorance and behind the couch and dare each other to run out and try to touch them. After Auntie died what for all purposes was a second death we learned about Nazis. Our times are not her times. I wish you could hear it from her directly but I doubt you’d listen. And if she didn’t outright call Trump a fascist you’d probably call her one.

     

    And that’s why I worry about you. You’ve quit listening. You’ve quit thinking that listening is important. You have convinced yourself listening is wrong, calling things you don’t want to hear hate speech and dehumanizing those who say them. Nazis don’t deserve to speak and everyone you don’t want to listen to is a Nazi. Ban them from social media, take them off TV, keep them from schools, defund them on YouTube, and peel them off search results. Candidates who touch nerves too directly must be disenfranchised as Russian plants coughing out Putin’s Talking Points. We don’t have to listen to them, we shouldn’t listen to them.

    It would be too ironic in the context of Nazism to use the term ideological purification, but it would work here. You blame too much free speech for electing Trump in 2016. So you support wounding democracy to “save” it, and thus in 2019 welcome Twitter banning political ads so there’s less chance a competing idea might sneak through. You loathe Facebook’s free speech stance allowing political ads and demand they fact check them, barely disguised code for censorship given what “facts” have become. Fact checking used to be verifying an event took place in April 1860, not June 1944. But now facts are things we choose to agree with, or believe, or not, like whether vaccinations work, or what a politician’s intent was when he said certain words. It’s no wonder “influencer” is an actual job today.

    You don’t like evidence, which is what creates “facts.” There’s no evidence Biden did wrong in the Ukraine because no one investigated whether he did and it thus becomes a checkable fact “Biden did no wrong.” Facts have become what anonymous sources you want to believe say they are. You filter those anonymous statements through legacy media so by the second iteration they are not an anonymous source who might actually be a know-nothing disgruntled intern overheard in a bar, they are “The New York Times says.”

    With what you hear limited to what you believe, the need to think is a vestigial limb in society’s evolution. Instead of thinking — critically weighing information, asking hard questions instead of ingesting easy answers — you have been conditioned to simply react. The goal is to keep you in a constant state of manipulable outrage. It is a dangerous thing for us human beings. In Iraq we were told life happens in states of green, yellow, and red. Green is home on the beach, next to your dog. Yellow is watchful, and red is on patrol loaded and charged. The guy who could never back off of red in Iraq had a hard time reaching green later on. For him it’s evenings alone and drunk cleaning his guns in the garage. That’s too much of America today except we’re in different garages and some are drinking Yuengling and others white wine.

     

    An experiment. Here are some of the things you have been outraged about. Remember the last time you read about them?

    — Kids in cages. This was the summer’s prime outrage, and discourse was dominated in August by claims the U.S. was operating concentration camps. They still there? There were mediagenic visits to the border, drama about people drinking from toilets. Congress voted a bunch of money, and some policy changes took place. One major child center was shut down, but it got little coverage. So did we resolve the problem? Anybody know?

    — Obstruction. As recently as July Democrats were to impeach Trump for obstruction in connection with Russiagate and the Mueller investigation. Then the story which dominated our outrage as well as our mindspace, social media, and the MSM for over two full years simply… disappeared. Stormy Daniels, doing OK? Which Home Depot does Michael Avenatti work at? What about the prosecutions that were said to be forthcoming from the SDNY? Those bogus Trump kids’ security clearances? His taxes?

    — Anyone heard from the Kurds lately? Only a week ago they were going to be consumed by genocide and you demanded American troops put their lives at risk to save them. There were claims to thousands dead in Puerto Rico from the storm; anyone find those bodies yet or still just a statistical construct? The Parkland Kids? The last major references clustered around the one year anniversary of the killings, back in February, when the media claimed they “drove the kind of change that has long eluded gun control activists.” That happen?

    — See if you know who these people are: Semyon Kislin, P. Michael McKinley, T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Fiona Hill, George Kent, Gordon Sondland, Laura Cooper, Marie Yovanovitch, William Taylor, Catherine Croft, Alexander Vindman, Kurt Volkner, Christopher Anderson, Tim Morrison. How many did you correctly identify as witnesses in the Trump impeachment hearings? All of them? Great. Now, can you say in a word or two about what each testified to? How did each add to the question of whether Trump himself withheld aid to the Ukraine in exchange for some investigation? C’mon, each person was a smoking gun, a game changer, or whatever expression Maddow is using now to replace “the walls are closing in tick tock” she wore out during Russiagate.

    And to fill in the gaps between major outrages there are minor outrages over spelling errors on Twitter by the president, panic over what he says about war dogs, rudeness at the World Series, clickbait headlines unconnected to their content, and the latest racist/sexist/transphobic remark by a blind sided celebrity about to be de-careered over a high school era post. We live on knife’s edge neck deep in cynicism, exhaustion, decline, illegitimacy, and distrust.

    If you can’t tell you are being manipulated, you’re being manipulated.

     

    It seems inevitable the House will impeach and the Senate will not convict, dead-ending the Ukraine outrage. And then we just move on to the 2020 campaign? Or do we cycle to a new impeachment theme like the earlier ones never even happened, the way obstruction was ditched cold in favor of Ukraine?

    If a Democrat wins in November, do we similarly agree to just forget this whole ugly era of hate speech and Nazis like a drunken hookup? Or do we switch and Republicans open investigations from Day One of the Elizabeth Sanders or Joe Clinton administration? If Trump wins, is it another four years of being told democracy is dying, the Republic is in peril, civil war, every day day-to-day in Code Red until… until what?

    Some 16 years ago as a young soldier in Iraq, before he was a hero and way before he was a villain, David Petraeus posed the most important question of the war in its earliest days. Consumed by the combat around him but knowing it would soon enough be over, he asked “Tell me how this ends.” Something was going to come next and Petraeus wasn’t sure anyone was thinking about what to do then.

    I understand what’s happening now has to play out. But tell me how this ends.

     

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  • What Republicans Must Ask the Whistleblower

    November 19, 2019 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment, Trump


    The whistleblower needs to be front and center in the impeachment proceedings on TV. Here’s why.

    As the latest public spectacle unironically displaces daytime soap operas, the picture is starting to become clearer. The people testifying aren’t there to save America. They are a group of neo-somethings inside the administration who disagreed with Trump’s Ukraine policy and decided to derail it.

    The plan was unlikely intended to lead to impeachment when things began to move back in May, after then-Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was fired. Contrary to the president’s policy the taxpayers paid her to represent, she had her own, and promoted confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and sought more military aid. Bill Taylor was then installed as a figurehead in the embassy and Ukraine policy was taken away from hardliners at the State Department and NSC and handed over to America’s favorite knucklehead, Rudy Giuliani, and the inexperienced, Trump-appointee, Gordon Sondland.

    The bureaucracy called a Code Red. They were needed on that wall to stand against Russia. It seemed easy enough. Ukraine was off most of the public’s radar, so some Op-Eds, Trump’s men nudged aside, and the mini-coup over Ukraine policy would have worked. John Bolton, who could have stepped in and told everyone to return to their seats or no snack time, was agog at the amateur efforts by Giuliani, and certainly no fan of a less robust Ukraine policy anyway.

    Things got out of the group’s hands when Democrats, desperate for something to impeach on after Russiagate imploded, seized on the objections over Ukraine policy as slightly more than the nothing they otherwise had (the alternative was resurrecting the Stormy Daniels-Michael Avenatti-Michael Cohen sleaze fest.) An objection over policy and who would run it was transformed into a vague smatter of quid pro quo based on that July 25 phone call, using a whistleblower’s undergrad-level prank “complaint” as the trigger.

    And that’s why the whistleblower is very relevant. He knows nothing first-hand himself (neither does anyone else, see below, but someone had to go first) admitting in his complaint all his information is second hand. He is not anonymous; Google “who is the whistleblower” and you too can know everything official Washington and the media already know about him, back to his college days. So no one needs to fret about his safety, and no one needs to ask him any questions about the July 25 call.

    Here is the question the whistleblower must be asked: how did this jump from policy disagreements among like-minded people (you, Vindman, Taylor, et al) to claims of an impeachable offense? Who engineered that jump? Was it Adam Schiff’s staffers who first met with the whistleblower? Schiff lied about that contact. Or was it a partisan D.C. lawyer who has been trolling Twitter since Trump’s election looking for someone to hand him raw material he’d lawyer into a smoking gun (an organization he is connected with had mobile billboards advertising for whistleblowers circling the White House, the Capitol, the Pentagon, the CIA and the National Security Agency to try to attract clients)?

    Did the whistleblower make himself into a pawn, or was he made into a pawn? The answer is very important because at this point how the whistleblower came to be at the ground zero of electoral politics tells us if this is a legitimate impeachment or a political assassination. The voters will have to judge that in about a year independent of the partisan votes (the weakness of the actual impeachment case is explained here) taken in the House and Senate.

    The popular impression is men like the whistleblower, Bill Taylor, and Alex Vindman are non-partisan, and there is some truth to that. They came up through a system which strongly emphasized service to the president, whomever that is. But it would be wrong to equally claim they are policy agnostic; in fact, likely quite the opposite. They see themselves as experts, and in Vindman’s case, a native son, who know better. That’s why they were hired, to advise, and under Obama their advice (for better or worse, they wanted to bring us to war with Russia) was generally followed.

    They knew they knew better than the Orange Clown who somehow ended up in the Oval Office and ignored them. They knew he was wrong, and talked and texted about it among themselves. That’s OK, normal even. But it appears they came to see Trump not just as wrong but as dangerous. Add in some taint of self-interest on Trump’s part, and he became evil. They convinced themselves it was a matter of conscience, and wrapped their opposition in the flagged courage of a (created?) whistleblower. Certainly if one hadn’t existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

    With their testimony focused mostly on their disagreements with Trump’s Ukraine policy, and their own intellectual superiority, it seems such proclamations of conscience have more to do with what outcomes and policy the witnesses support and less to do with understanding that without an orderly system of government with a functioning chain of command all is chaos. The Trump-deranged public is overlooking the dark significance of serving officials undermining the elected president because of policy disagreements. They hate Trump so much they are tolerating insubordination, even cheering it. Now that’ll bite America back soon enough. You don’t join government to do whatever partisan thing you think is right; you serve under a system and a chain of command. There is no Article 8 in the Constitution saying “but if you really disagree with the president it’s OK to just do what you want.”

    I served 24 years in such a system, joining the State Department under Ronald Reagan and leaving during the Obama era. That splay of political ideologies had plenty of things in it my colleagues and I disagreed with or even believed dangerous. Same for people in the military, who were told who to kill on America’s behalf, a more significant moral issue than a boorish phone call. But we also knew the only way for America to function credibly was for to follow the boss, the system created by the Constitution, and remembering we weren’t the one elected, and that we ultimately worked for those who did the electing. So let’s hear from the whistleblower and all the witnesses about that, not their second hand knowledge of Trump’s motivations, but their first hand knowledge of their own motivations.

    Americans in government and military are mostly decent people. Unlike some who hold power in banana republics, they are unlikely to be convinced to undermine the president for personal gain. But give them a crusade, tell them they are heroes Mueller failed to be, and they will convince themselves anything is justified. Those impure motivations are what transformed the witnesses now driving impeachment from being dissenters to insubordinate into convincing themselves they needed to make a stand. Vindman gives it away, saying he twice “registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine,” out of what he called a “sense of duty.” Duty to what?

    The not very anonymous whistleblower is only 33-years-old, but of the mold. Ivy League, CIA, language guy, a Ukraine specialist who found himself and his knowledge embraced by Obama and Biden — the right guy in the right place — until he was set aside by Trump with new policy. Taylor fancies himself the last honest man, shepherding U.S.-Ukrainian policy through rough waters, having been ambassador to Ukraine 2006-2009. Yovanovitch was a partisan, representing her own vision, not that of the elected leadership, because she was sure she knew better after her years at State. Best and the brightest. They were professional, seasoned dammit, look at their resumes! The uniform!

    If they came to being whistleblowers and then players in politics honestly, then were simply side-slipped into becoming pawns, they should be quietly retired, this generation’s Colin Powell. But if they are agent provocateurs, they need to be fired. That’s why we need to talk to the whistleblower, to understand that difference.

     

    That’s for them, now for us. If this all was just a hearing on bad policy planning and what happens when knuckleheads like Rudy Giuliani get involved, it would make interesting history. If this was a long-overdue review of U.S. relations with Ukraine, it would be welcome. But as an attempt to impeach the president, it is a sordid, empty, brazen, political tactic hardly worthy of the term coup. It sets a terrible example of what we will tolerate from the bureaucracy if we hate the incumbent president enough. It opens the door to political opportunism, and informs real would-be insubordinates how to proceed more effectively. It signals chaos to our allies and opens opportunity to our enemies.

    There’s a fine line between necessary dissent and wicked insubordination, between conscience and disobedience, but there is a line and it appears to have been crossed here. The attack is no longer on policy, on which Taylor and Vindman may lay some claim, it is on the president and only the voters should have that say.

     

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  • Healthcare: Warren Has No Plan

    November 16, 2019 // 16 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, 2020, Economy

    Under pressure to fill the blank space about how she would pay for Medicare for All, Elizabeth Warren released a plan built on empty assumptions and fulfilled by unrealistic revenue expectations. It’s bad to the point where it raises questions about whether she is a serious candidate, and that begs the question of what the heck the Democrats are doing less than a year from the election.

    Warren’s revenue plan is 19 pages, describing how she expects to redo the entire healthcare system in America if not the basis for our entire society. Actually the first five and a half pages are introductory, mostly scary stuff about how expensive health care is, and the last page is some cheerleading, which means the actual prescription for acquiring and spending trillions of dollars fits into about a dozen pages. That’s some damn efficient writing, or some pretty thin thinking.

     

    It’s pretty thin thinking.

    Even how much the whole thing might cost, the core underneath everything else, is a fuzzy number. Outside estimates range from $14 to $34 trillion in new Federal spending over a decade; Warren says $20.5 trillion. And yes it is a problem when a program of this size can’t get its actual cost estimate closer than plus/minus multiple trillions.

    Underlying those goofy cost estimates are Mickey Mouse assumptions on savings. Warren’s plan envisions cutting the cost of healthcare dramatically so when the government takes over from private insurance companies it will need less money. While eliminating insurance companies’ profits will have an obvious effect, Warren simply imagines other economies of scale and efficiencies in health care payments ($2.9 trillion) somehow the private sector has failed to realize to its own benefit but a massively expanded Medicare government bureaucracy somehow will.

    Warren also assumes Big Pharma will accept lower profits of some $1.7 trillion based on negotiated drug prices and simply continue to produce the same range of drugs and invest in long term research for new ones. And if they don’t play ball her plan will take away patents on their existing drugs and manufacture them publicly.

    Things will go so well under these assumptions Warren will apparently (the plan is unclear, an example of the kind of detail needed but lacking) do away with payments Medicare users are responsible for today so everything will be free. Currently all but the most basic Medicare coverage requires premiums (for most beneficiaries, previous contributions over a lifetime of work pay about 75 percent of Part B, and the beneficiary pays the remaining 25 percent out of pocket) and many end up buying supplemental private insurance which Warren would outlaw. “High income beneficiaries,” defined as having incomes over $85k, a far cry from Warren’s billionaires, already pay much higher costs. There’s a penalty when an elderly person receives certain capital gains, such as when they sell their home to downsize. Hospitalization coverage under current Medicare has a $1,364 deductible and no cap on co-pay for longer stays. Outpatient coverage leaves one responsible for 20 percent of the actual cost in cash. Medicare prescription coverage has enough gaps in it they are referred to as the “donut hole.” What is already “free” isn’t, and Warren’s plan says little about the shortfalls of existing Medicare even as it promises everything will be OK just over the next hill.

    But Warren’s biggest assumption is the unstated one, that the billionaires she will tax to pay for all this will passively accept their new role in society, buying stuff for the rest of us, and not off shore their money and not order the Congress they own to create loopholes for them. If there is any truth to the idea the wealthy control government via their influence and money (and oh boy is it true) how can anyone assume the rich will allow any of this to come to pass? Amazon paid $0 in taxes last year. Warren’s plan assumes that will jump to 35 percent. She does not explain how she will move them from paying nothing to paying 35 percent. It’s like saying the plan to pay off my mortgage is “earn more of the monies” without anything more complex in mind than that.

    Same for the power of American Medical Association, the cartel which controls healthcare in the United States from med school intake to every detail of practice until a doctor retires. Warren’s plan assumes medical professionals and organizations, all the doctors, nurses, and hospitals, will accept a lower standard of living as their fees will be set by government and payments tied to below-market Medicare rates. Medicine has evolved in a for-profit ecosystem. Remove the profit incentive and it will adapt, adjust, or die off. Many hospitals in rural and underserved areas are already facing insolvency. Other hospitals today lose or make very little money on Medicare patients, and charge insured payers more to make up for it to stay solvent. It’s called cost shifting and Warren’s plan will do away with it. Cost shifting smells bad, but it for better or worse helps fund underfunded Medicare payments. The shortfall may be in the trillions and Warren expects healthcare providers to just, um, deal with it for the greater good.

     

    On the revenue side, after all that cost cutting, Warren still needs $20 trillion in new money, and she says she’ll get it from the rich. That’s a nice argument to throw out to the rube voters she is targeting, people to whom a paid off Visa card is a dream. But a trillion is a really big thing. It is 1000 billions. Warren’s $20 trillion is about the same as the current National Debt, which will still be around as she works this out. The total of all mortgages in America right now is $11 trillion. Warren could pay those off twice for everyone for what her healthcare plan will cost. The Federal government currently spends about $4.4 trillion per year on everything. The current defense budget is $686 billion. Warren’s plan will cost about 30 times the defense budget.

    Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos’ net worth is only $109 billion (see how that works when we’re talking in trillions?) That’s everything he has, not just the 6 percent tax Warren wants him to pay on it yearly. The net worth of the entire Forbes 400 is under $3 trillion. That’s everything they all own, like if we killed them and took it. If we reach down into the top ten percent of Americans, people whose net worth is a couple of million and who Warren claims she won’t need to bother, we get to $35 trillion in total worth. Taxing them won’t help. We’ll have to kill them too and steal their stuff and even then under some estimates it won’t be enough to cover Warren’s healthcare costs. It is not possible to tax even the wealthy enough to pay for free healthcare for everyone, but it sounds good.

     

    Warren thinks we won’t notice her Medicare for All plan is in fact an attempt to redistribute money on a scale never before seen in America. Under the guise of healthcare, she will systematically reduce the wealth of Americans, effectively nationalize the private healthcare industry (America’s largest employer, surpassing manufacturing and retail, the new steel industry), then parcel out what’s not eaten up by the bureaucracy in a mediocre standard of basic health care. She’ll also do something similar, though the plan is not even as detailed, to provide free child care, free college, and disappear some $2.6 trillion in student loans and too bad about the fat cats who expected their money back.

    If you think people who already have some sort of healthcare (69 percent rate their current coverage as excellent or good), or purple voters who saved for college the hard way, will vote for that once they figure out the grift — the Trade Joe suburbanites know they’ll end up paying while Amazon somehow skates free again — you’re a fool. Even one of the economists Warren cited in her plan has since done interviews reminding everyone he was talking only theoretically and acknowledges the practical problems.

    The hollowness of this plan is a body blow to a candidate who presents herself as a policy wonk. How could she have gotten something so central to her message so wrong? Warren is flirting with the Beto phase of her candidacy, where she says yes to everything (tax churches! impound guns! no borders amigo!) to bully up some support. As Joe Biden fades in front of an electorate that sees him as so negligible a choice, all hair plugs and botox, Warren will likely be pushed aside by someone, maybe Michael Bloomberg, and end up an “issues” candidate like Sanders ver. 2015 or Jill Stein or Andrew Yang, running to influence the discussion, not to win (Warren’s wealth tax may not even be Constitutional.) She’ll join the others in barking like hyenas that the moon is too damn bright and somebody needs to fix it.

    For the rest of us this means after putting up with three years of hashtags, pussy hats, trans-mania, and having every form of culture soaked through with mob-enforced diversity, when it comes down to winning an election in 2020 no one has a real plan to address healthcare. Most have chained themselves to prettied up versions of the weak tea of Obamacare. Sanders is Warren except he admits he’ll raise taxes across a deeper swath of society. They all had years to come up with something and this is what we get. To say the system for producing a viable candidate is broken is to still believe there is a system.

     

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  • Impeachment Witness Questions

    November 15, 2019 // 18 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment

    In addition to the whistleblower himself, when Republicans get their chance to fully question the people whose testimony is now being stage managed by the Democrats, here are the points they must make to illustrate all this.

    There is no crime. Exactly what is the president being impeached over? The July 25 phone call text? Scream all the mob movie references you wish, but point to what law the smoking gun phrase Trump used, “Do us a favor,” violates. DOJ ruled the whistleblower revealed no criminal act. Unlike with Nixon and Clinton, the House is not building on an existing law enforcement investigation. Instead, the “investigation” is jerry-rigged in real-time consisting of hostile witnesses interpreting what Trump meant.

    If one prefers the simplistic quid for quo, “something in return for something,” that falls empty too. Ukraine conducted no investigations. Whatever Biden did remains only in his version of events. No aid was withheld. As for extortion, at the time of the “ask,” the July 25 call, Ukraine did not know any aid was even being considered to be withheld and witnesses can’t place Ukraine’s knowledge of the delay within a month of each other. Maybe Republicans could try ex nihilo nihil fit, Latin badly translated into “nothing in return for nothing.” Anybody gonna ask the many witnesses why the aid was not actually withheld and why Ukraine did no investigations? How’d that come to be?

    The idea America would want to know if a Vice President misused his office for his son’s benefit is clear. The information would have been of value to Trump, but it would have been of greater value to America. C’mon, if it was Pence and Ivanka Dems would see it differently, and characterizing any of this as help with domestic politics or tying it into efforts to bring a foreign government into our election process are deeply disingenuous. And Trump asking for information, however far-fetched Dems think it is and that’s a stretch given they considered Trump a literal KGB asset for most of his term, on possible foreign interference in the 2016 election was not wrong, and using aid to pry it loose (if that was indeed what didn’t happen) is not wrong.

    But here is the killer question Republicans should ask of each witness: when did you speak to the president? To the Secretary of State? To Guliani, who you claim was in charge?

    Because none of them did. Each is basing his testimony on hearsay and second hand information, just like the initial whistleblower. Ask each “If you never spoke to the president, how can you call yourself a witness with knowledge of his motives?” Is the only rebuttal to those who do claim to understand first hand his motive — Trump himself, Pompeo, Sonderland, Zelensky — a detailess claim that they are liars?

    A careful look at existing witness testimony shows they are passing on what others told them (one of Taylor’s main gripes is he was cut out of the loop, and his testimony was a repetition of stories he heard from Morrison and Sondland, and an overheard phone call) or what they surmised.

    Republicans should dismiss any witness without first-hand knowledge, and that would empty the room.

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  • For Veteran’s Day: Understanding Moral Injury in Hooper’s War

    November 11, 2019 // 12 Comments

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    Posted in: Hooper's War

    Here’s an excerpt from my book, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, on sale now at Amazon. This excerpt is told from the perspective of the main character, Lieutenant Nate Hooper.

    I’m lucky enough to have a friend with a boat. Sitting at the stern, I watch the boat create its wake, then as we speed away the wake fades just as quick. Thinking about the war doesn’t work that way. About the best I can hope for in real life is to be able to put what happened in a box. The box stays closed most of the time.

    Some guys try and keep it shut by making life meaningless—liquor for the old ones, drugs for the young ones, a little of both for the handlestache Vietnam vets in the middle. The Friday nights drinking with the boys become Wednesday mornings drinking alone in the bathroom with the door shut. Some let that run its course and just tap out.

    But absent a few orange plastic containers next to the bathroom sink, for me, I took my neighbor’s grandson out to the zoo, made dinner, went to work, all the time the curator of some secret museum. The memories don’t go away like the people do.

    If the box pops open, some people try to push such thoughts away, stopping with just their toes in the water, thinking they’ve gone swimming. But after a while I knew I had to go into the deep end, because only there could I confront the real monster: the essence of war is not men dying, the essence of war is killing. War isn’t a place that makes men better. Flawed men turn bad, then bad men turn evil. So the darkest secret of my war wasn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible. It was the visceral knowledge that I could be filthy and horrible.

    The part of Hawaii I retired to is peaceful. Some tourists, but not too many, little of the tawdry spank of Waikiki. Sometimes I get lonely for some noise though, and find myself over there, enjoying a little ice cream and a walk.

    For me the war is like a shirt I always know is there in my closet but don’t wear often. I’ll be absently out and step onto an unfamiliar path and it’ll be just the right crunch of gravel under my feet. My eyes will involuntarily lose focus for a second, and if I’m with someone they might ask, “Nate, everything okay?” and I’ll lie and smile, “Oh you know, just a senior moment.” But memory slaps me just the same way stirring up the ashes of barbecue coals turns them red. I’ve failed many times to remember a time when I had nothing particular on my mind.

    The Honolulu end of Waikiki beach is anchored by a Department of Defense hotel, run on taxpayer money as a low-cost vacation destination just for service people. The military is comical about telling them to “keep a low profile,” supposedly so they don’t become targets of the terrorists presumed to haunt these beautiful beaches. But of course you can tell. The buff bodies stand out against the fleshy look of the regular tourists. The odd-patterned tans—all dark brown faces with pale white everywhere else—betray a recent trip to the Middle East.

    I’ll sometimes nod to them, mostly out of politeness. I generally keep to myself the fact that we know a lot about each other. A few will nod back, maybe say a few words and leave you to fill in the silence, but I find the ones who talk too easily are generally part of what I call professional veterans, guys with little dirt under their nails who get a lot of free drinks and airline upgrades in a September 12 world. I’m grateful after meeting them for those portions of my stroll when there’s less time for my thoughts.

    Once in a while someone who fought some of the same kind of war I did is obvious—a missing hand on a 20-year-old, some thick pink scars. It could’ve been a car wreck or a factory fire, I guess, but I know that wasn’t what it was. I wonder what his friends thought the first time they saw him, or what his ex-girlfriend said, or what he thought being as scared to come home as he was scared to go to war. This is the guy who, after Wolf Blitzer moves on to the next story, cries trying to touch his daughter’s hair, and knows just because he changed from cammies to beach shorts that’s not a shortcut back into normal life. If you see these guys on TV, you always see them young and still strong, showing courage learning to use their new robo-prosthetics. You never see anything that shows what their life is like ten or forty years down the road.

    Out on the beach, some people won’t stop looking, like a 10-year-old’s focus on a a pile of Legos, and some won’t look at all, but either way this is all happening, like the wars did, simultaneously while other people are eating at Applebee’s and going shopping. It gets hard to keep it all in the same world. And you, sure, go ahead, you go on and use the term “unbearable pain” the next time you hit your thumb with a hammer.

    Of course, there are also those you don’t see, the boys and girls who bought the long zipper, the one that closes a body bag. Yes, Mrs. Mom, we took your son, but look, we gave you back a neatly folded flag. See, it’s in a triangle shape, representing the hats of American Revolutionary War soldiers, isn’t that interesting. And if you have a second child, and you call now, we’ll double your order.

    Me, we, they, you, I don’t know the right word to ever use, because it wasn’t just our side. I’d seen something on PBS saying that during the 1950s and early 1960s you could still see a few Japanese soldiers around the train stations, wearing bits of their old uniforms, some with crude prosthetics, begging, failed in the end by disregard. Young people, dressed in the latest western styles, passed by, eyes on the ground, embarrassed about men humiliating themselves in the midst of the post-war economic miracle. What if a visiting foreigner saw them, what would he think of Japan? Older people would slip the soldiers small bills, hoping if they had some money they would go away.

    A few guys ended worse off than the physically wounded, spending the weekends with their regular companions Samuel Adams, Johnnie Walker, and the cops. Get some sleep and have a drink, they were told, only don’t let it turn into too much of either one. Each bad thought seemed like a page that needed a twelve-ounce can of paperweight to hold it down. All we ever thought about was coming home; “If the army doesn’t kill me, I’ve got it made for life,” we said. We were naive; too many of us survived the war only to come back wanting to die every day.

    You learn to be alone in crowded places, deep in your own head. Imagine being on this beautiful beach and not caring to even look up and watch a father try to make his way across the hot sand balancing four dripping ice cream cones.

    They’d lost things whose importance they only recognized when they weren’t there. They’ve come to think today means nothing, tomorrow means nothing, and develop a sense that only things that already happened matter. Nothing has taste or color.

    My generation had no counselors, no clinics, no support groups. In my Ohio hometown, before the wife and I retired to Hawaii, every Memorial Day there’d be little flags first made in Iowa, then Hong Kong, then Japan, then Korea and now China and Vietnam—Vietnam, for gawds sake—on every porch. Half the people my age watching the parade then were vets in wheelchairs. I had a nice welcome home party when I came back, and plenty of good Veteran’s Days to try and use to subtract things from the parts of the fight I dragged along with me. But the underlying message was the same as in every war, whether delivered nicely or crudely: deal with the real stuff in private, we don’t want to know. You pack out your own gear, trooper.

    Drinking hurt, but for some it hurt less. Everyone learns it just sends your pain off to wait for you, but still it was something to look forward to, the first fizzy beer of the day tickling your nose, or the throat-burning shot of something stronger biting into an ulcer. Drinking wiped away hours when someone had too many of them, all the way back to 1945 sometimes. Pain can be patient, waiting for that one guy who had a little too much wine at a wedding and started talking about blood and brains in some alcoholic dialect until a couple of other vets walked him outside where he told stories from his knees for an hour which they alone could understand.

    A lot of this festers not out of what you saw and did, but the realization that what you saw and did really didn’t matter in any bigger picture and you had to make up some smaller picture to justify whatever. It should’ve had a reason. People say, “whatever you have to tell yourself,” but they forget you can’t lie to yourself alone at night. Imagine what it’s like to be my age and scared of the dark.

    I came to think of it like taking apart a jigsaw puzzle. You couldn’t say exactly when, but at some point you couldn’t see the picture anymore. It’s the last drop of water hanging swollen on the end of a faucet. You want to know what it’s like to have a breakdown in the meat aisle at Safeway? We can tell you. Even so, we don’t want to be called victims and disabled out, and we’re not seeking some third party’s moral redemption. We just want to get this crap out of our heads.

     

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  • Facebook Takedown! Bad Dog!

    November 10, 2019 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Facebook banned “any mention” of the alleged Trump administration whistleblower’s name on its network, including links to legitimate news articles which could indicate the whistleblower’s identity.

    After Breitbart News had several social media posts about the whistleblower pulled from Facebook this week, the network announced, “Any mention of the potential whistleblower’s name violates our coordinating harm policy, which prohibits content ‘outing of witness, informant, or activist.’ We are removing any and all mentions of the potential whistleblower’s name and will revisit this decision should their name be widely published in the media or used by public figures in debate.”

    The idea is, seriously, that by mentioning the whistleblower’s name, some random person on Facebook will expose the guy to death like he’s Jeffrey Epstein or something. The Facebook people seriously think someone will hunt the whistleblower down and murder him, and needs a mention on Facebook as the final clue to his identity. Now of course one can Google the name, or just type in “Who Is The Whistleblower” and the name and photo pop up. The name also appears in the Mueller report (p. 283) and in Ambassador Bill Taylor’s impeachment testimony.

    But maybe things went too far. The graphics should tell the story of my now taken-down Facebook post. The text reads:

     

    “Please meet my doggy. She is a rescue and has been with us about two years. Dumb as a rock, but very sweet.

    Her new name is Eric Ciaramella. This may also be the name of the alleged whistleblower, but it is also my doggy’s name. Facebook has banned mention of the whistleblower’s name, but I hope they do not ban my sweet doggy.

    Anyone who wants to say ‘Hi Eric Ciaramella’ in the comments, below, please feel free to do so. For each such greeting I’ll give Eric a Scooby treat. If Facebook bans me or takes down this post, I will take away Eric’s favorite chew toy.

    The blood will be on your hands, Zuckerberg.”

     

    About twenty people said “Hi” to my dog Eric before Facebook did indeed take down the post. Their note read that I had violated community standards on “coordinating harm and promoting crime… We have these standards to prevent and disrupt offline harm.”

    Bad dog, Facebook! Bad dog!

    Also, the alleged whistleblower’s last name begins with his actual place of alleged actual employment, CIAramella. Whoa!!!!!!!!

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  • The Case for Impeachment Is…

    November 5, 2019 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment, Trump


    On Thursday Nancy Pelosi held a vote to, well, reaffirm her impeachment inquisitiveness. It was theatre; everyone knows the hyper-politicized Democratic House will impeach. It’s a weak case, but that doesn’t matter. A partisan Senate (who will also see a weak case but that doesn’t matter) won’t convict. America will leave that steaming mound of democracy aside the road and reflect forever which side stepped in it after we’re done arguing who won in November 2020.

    So looking at the actual evidence for impeachment is mostly academic. Call it… quaint.

    Forget the whistleblower; he had one job, to start this all into motion in August in time for the autumn session of Congress and he did it even without any first hand knowledge of a “high crime and misdemeanor,” just an opinion on a phone call he wasn’t party to. Yet even after DOJ ruled the whistleblower revealed no criminal act, Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment “inquiry.”

    Trump then released the memorandum of conversation between himself and Ukrainian president Zelensky. This is the U.S. government’s record of what was said. That record will form near 100 percent of what Dems will use to impeach Trump. After all, it is the only primary document/first hand “testimony” in the case. Yet despite its short length, some five pages, many people prefer to characterize what it says instead of just reading the thing. So follow along if you like.

    The call was a routine congratulatory message to Zelensky on his election. So the first couple of exchanges are chit chat along those lines. We’re on page three before the first bit of possible significance comes. Here it is in its entirety:

    “The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows alot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are alot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance. But they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”

    Zelensky gives a generally positive reply. There is nothing to indicate he feels pressured, bothered, evasive, defensive or concerned.

    Trump again: “Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney·General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”

    That’s it for substance.

     

    To impeach, one must be willing to conclude from the text above

    a) Trump asking for information, however far-fetched one may believe it is, on possible foreign interference in the 2016 election was wrong (and then explain why the Dems conducted a three year investigation of the same);

    b) Trump asking for an investigation into whether then-Vice President and perhaps soon President Biden used his office for personal gain is of no interest to the people of the United States, even if that same information were also of great interest to Trump (and account for Dems asking in 2018 the Ukraine to cooperate with Mueller to dig up dirt on Trump, and allowing that a Ukrainian investigation would exonerate Biden as Dems claim); and

    c) that Trump made it clear to Zelensky aid was contingent on conducting these investigations given Trump made no mention of that.

     

    If you can prove that from the memorandum of conversation, well then pilgrim, you have a case. And remember, you have to use Trump’s words. You can’t do it with Godfather references to consiglieres, third-party opinions of this all, or by characterizing Trump’s words — pressured, demanding, weaponized, implored, forced, quid pro quo — to your advantage.

    The base problem is  Trump never said anywhere in the July 25 call he was withholding aid for Ukraine and there is no evidence Zelensky knew Trump had been slow walking it at the time of the call. The earliest tick the Ukrainians even knew the aid was being delayed was “early August” and even those claims are based on anonymous sources in the NYT who somehow have not been found to testify by the Dems. Official U.S. and Ukrainian sources instead say knowledge the funds were held up didn’t get to the Ukranians until late August, shortly before they were released. (Dems made a stink then claiming the funds were held up by Trump to favor Putin. It’s always something.)

    It is thus supposition at best that Trump’s requests, assuming they were pressure at all and Zelensky’s easy going responses suggests he was not bothered by them, were connected in any way to the aid. Correlation is not causation. This was the big gap in Russiagate; because A happened before B, Democrats rushed to claim A must have caused B, and thus collusion!

    And that leads to a second base problem. Nothing happened. Trump never even asked the Attorney General to contact Zelensky. It is unclear who if anyone Guiliani spoke with, but either way there is no evidence the Ukrainians ever investigated anything. This impeachment will be the first in American history without any underlying crime asserted. Democrats seek to impeach Trump for talking about something, and never doing something, that itself may not be a real offense anyway. If you hear echoes of Russiagate, of obstructing something that wasn’t actually obstructed, you have sharp ears.

    When you have a smoking gun you usually don’t need to keep searching for evidence, but that is exactly what the Democrats are doing. Knowing the weakness in their case — it is literally based on a partisan reading of Trump’s own words and the supposition that two events, the call and the aid holdup, are causational — Dems are engaged in a process of finding someone to claim Trump’s policy was to (not) withhold aid to force the Ukraine to do something they never did.

    Ambassador Gordon Sondland stated specifically, under oath recently and in a leaked text from around the time of the original call, there was no such quid pro quo. So did Trump and Zelensky.

    The Dems in turn produced a series of angry State Department people to testify they had been sidelined out of the decision making process and thus knew very little first hand. The noisiest witness, Ambassador William Taylor, made it clear he was cut out of the White House’s backchannel for Ukrainian policy, and only knew what insiders Ambassadors Volker and Sondland told him second hand. His other knowledge of the supposed quid pro quo came when he heard “a [unnamed] staff person from the Office of Management and Budget say that there was a hold on security assistance to Ukraine but could not say why. Toward the end of an otherwise normal meeting, a voice on the call — the [unnamed] person was off-screen — said that she was from OMB and that her boss had instructed her not to approve any additional spending of security assistance for Ukraine until further notice.”

    Taylor even went on to impeach himself a little, admitting he had no evidence aid was connected to investigation. He testified National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs Fiona Hill and the NSC’s Director of European Affairs Alex Vindman “reassured me that they were not aware of any official change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine, OMB’s announcement notwithstanding.”

    Taylor never spoke to the president. He did not speak to the Secretary of State, or any other senior White House official. He was cut out of the loop. His testimony was just his opinion. Deep Throat that is not.

    What else? The media found a way to wordtrick Ambassador Sondland’s attorney into saying what his client described in testimony “amounted to” a quid pro quo, possibly thinking they would use a client’s own lawyer’s recharacterization of testimony to impeach.

    There are no documents, policy papers, notes, memcons, texts, or anything at all to support the claim the White House policy was aid for investigation.

     

    Imagine in a real trial how a defense lawyer would cross examine Taylor, or any of the other witnesses who have no actual knowledge:

    Did you ever speak directly with Trump about this quid pro quo? How do you know it was his policy? Pompeo? Mulvaney? Exactly who in the WH did you ever speak to to learn this is the policy?

    If the answer is “no one in the WH” how do you know this was the policy? Who told you in explicit terms?

    So where is the investigation into Biden you say we paid for? Why would Trump demand that quid pro quo but never follow through?

    Why wasn’t Ukraine told the aid was being withheld? Wouldn’t it be necessary for Ukraine to clearly and explicitly KNOW the aid was being withheld for this to be a quid pro quo?

    Isn’t it true there is no quid, and no pr quo at all, except in your supposition? What the heck grounds of impeachment is that?

    Actually, why was the aid paid out without an investigation?

    Why are you claiming something happened when it did not happen?

    Isn’t your testimony about what you personally thought Trump was thinking about something that didn’t happen, even though it never happened?

    Other than your own supposition, how exactly do you know Trump’s intent? Any documents? Any evidence besides saying we should believe you over others?

    Do you have any documents, notes, Memcons, texts, anything at all to support your supposition that the White House policy was literal aid for investigation? If not, why not? Because they do not exist? Because this is all your interpretation?

    Why does Ambassador Sonderland say the intent was different? Is he lying? Are you?

     

    Much is also being made of Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman allegedly telling impeachment investigators the July 25 memcon omitted references to tapes of Biden discussing Ukrainian corruption, and Zelensky mentioning the company Biden’s son worked for in Ukraine.

    Such omissions (if they are real and there is no evidence besides Vindman’s own statement) add or detract nothing from the core questions at the heart of this impeachment: did Trump withhold aid in return for a Ukrainian investigation, and was seeking such an investigation solely a personal political goal or something of interest to the United States.
    Vindman’s remarks are also helpful in setting the stage for Democrats to downplay the memcon, the official USG record of the July 25 phone call. As the sole primary document in the entire case, the memcon should be all the evidence needed to vote on impeachment. The fact that it is not a smoking gun is a fundamental weakness in the Dems’ case. So anything which can be manipulated to lessen the memcon’s value is welcomed by the MSM and Democrats. Expect to see more of this — Are there recordings? What do the ellipses in the memcon really mean? What else is missing!?!?!?
    It’s an old trick; find a way to discredit the other side’s best witness. The breaking news coverage Vindman’s grumping about his edits not making the final cut offers an important lesson: as with Russiagate, critical thinkers will be constantly challenged by some new shiny but irrelevant object. Always returning to the core questions is the way forward.

     

    Reminiscent of the high hopes once held that Flynn, Manafort, Cohen, et al, would flip, Democratic plans for a slam dunk currently rest on John Bolton, a deep conservative nearing the end of his public life. They hope he will testify such that the last lines of his biography will call him “the man who more than any other individual helped elect Elizabeth Warren.” Sorry, Bolton is not gonna be your Fredo.

    Unlike with Nixon and Clinton, the House is not building its case on the foundation of an existing law enforcement investigation. That was supposed to be what happened with the Mueller saga. Instead, this time the case is built on a single phone call, with the “investigation”jerry-rigged in real-time consisting of a semi-secret, stage-managed parade of credentialed hostile witnesses interpreting what Trump said in the call. Imagine a room full of critics impeaching Bob Dylan by telling us what his lyrics really mean to him. Opinions are not evidence. Case closed.

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  • Hey, What Ever Happened To…

    October 21, 2019 // 21 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Hey, what ever happened to…
     
    -Kids in cages. They still there? Problem fixed? When I Googled it the last articles were from June.
     
    -Those thousands dead in Puerto Rico from the storm… anyone find those thousands of bodies yet or is it still just a statistical construct?
     
    -Jeffrey Epstein and all the important people who were going to jail as pedos?
     
    -The Parkland Kids. They fix that gun violence thing yet? UPDATE: The last references to these kids are clustered around the one year anniversary of the killings, back in February 2019 when the media claimed they “successfully drove the kind of change that has long eluded gun control activists.” Not much mention after that.
     
    -Those bogus Trump kids’ security clearances we were going to impeach over?
     
    -Stormy Daniels? Doing OK? Which Home Depot does Michael Avenatti work at?
     
    -Congressional hearings over Trump’s obstruction, when are those scheduled for?
     
    -Anybody know what happened to the recession that was supposed to have started multiple times? Any word on the inverted bond yield curve we all became experts on one week? UPDATE: Apparently the curve is “back to normal” and thus not signaling a recession but I had to dig for this information.
    -Hey, what happened to the Kurds? Last week it was Kurd-o-rama. This week, not much. Did they all move to the Ukraine? There was supposed to be a genocide; that happen? Are they hiding out with Kids-‘N-Cages, another group we once heard a lot about and then nothing more?
    And to show this didn’t start with Trump (but has accelerated during his time in office):

    -How’s the water in Flint? That used to matter, too.

    -The Yazidi’s? Obama started a whole re-war win Iraq over their supposed genocide.

    -How come Assad stopped “gassing his own people” right around the time American politicians stopped caring about excuses to make war in Syria?

     

    If you can’t tell how you are being manipulated, you’re being manipulated. And good times, that scary terror alert graphic above is from w-a-y back in 2015, when Obama was telling us we had to fight ISIS or they would blow us up. Watch for that to make a comeback.

    Remember all of the above before you send out that next blast about abandoning the Kurds, kids. In a week or two that’ll be soooo last week.

    * Wait, no, seriously, what happened to the Kids In Cages? All the articles I can find go back to the summer, and in August we were debated whether or not these were actual concentration camps inside the United States. There were some very mediagenic visits to the border by Democrats, full of drama about people drinking from toilets. Congress voted a bunch of money, and some policy changes took place. So, did Trump… resolve the problem? If so, we should probably talk about that. Are there still kids in cages? Then we should be talking about that. Instead, nothing.

    People who will Google “Kurds” and link to some random article, alert! This is basically sarcasm, not a plea to search the web. I am trying to show how people are manipulated into weekly outrages by the media, only to forget when some new outrage is the rage. The hope is to wake someone up before they overreact on cue to the next thing. Thanks!

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  • Civil War and Impeachment

    October 20, 2019 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Impeachment, Trump

     

    Once-intelligent people are talking about actual civil war in America. This began after Trump retweeted a pastor saying impeachment would cause a “civil war-like fracture in this Nation.” Never mind it was a retweet, and never mind the original statement used like to make a comparison, the next headline was set: Trump Threatens Civil War If He’s Impeached. Newsweek quoted a Harvard Law professor saying that “threat” alone made Trump impeachable. Another headline asked: “If Trump’s Rage Brings Civil War, Where Will the Military Stand?”

    Blowing up some online nonsense into a declaration of war tracks with the sister meme Trump will refuse to leave office if defeated in 2020, or will declare himself the winner even if he loses, sending coded messages to armed minions. “Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone” read the headline from a NASDAQ-listed media outlet. “Before Trump will allow himself to be chased from the temple, he’ll bring it down,” wrote the New York Times.

    And that’s what the MSM is saying; it just gets worse the further off the road you drive. “Trump is going to try everything, Fox is going to try everything, and they’re going to both further the injuring of societal reality and inspire dangerous individuals to kill and maim,” a well-known academic wrote. “There’s a vast number of people in this, people who have been taught their whole lives that they might need to kill in case of a coup or corrupt takeover,” he continued. “Trump and Republicans signal to them constantly. They’re more than ready to see this as the occasion.”

    The idea Americans are steps away from squaring off across the field at Gettysburg is something that should only exist in satire. It would be in fact hilarious if such fantasizing did not influence the actual future of our country. Because set aside the unlikelihood of the hordes taking up arms and indeed we have crossed a line where rationality is in the rear view mirror.

     

    Most of us have lost track of the constitutional crises which have never actually happened since the first one was declared, over the non-issue of Trump losing the popular vote in 2016, then again over his firing FBI director James Comey. What was it last week – Sharpiegate or the hotel in Scotland and emoluments or an impeding war with Iran/North Korea/China or treason or something about security clearances? The Kurds were a thing in 2017 and again now. Paul Krugman of the NYT first declared Trump was going to destroy the economy in 2016, and has written the same article regularly ever since, most recently just last week. It doesn’t seem to matter that none of these things have actually been true. Learned people are saying it all again.

    People opposing Trump have convinced themselves they must impeach for something and if all of Russiagate (Remember that? It’s like Aunt Edna’s brief failed marriage, just not mentioned at the dinner table, nope, dead as the Epstein case) wasn’t enough then Democrats will impeach over a phone call to a minor world leader.

    It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The fantasy was to use Robert Mueller’s summer testimony about Trump being a literal Russian asset to stir up the masses – Mueller Time, Baby! Congress would go home for August recess to be bombarded by cries for impeachment, and then this autumn would feature hearings and revelations amplified by the Blue Check harpies leading up to, well, something big.

    If rationality was still in vogue it’s hard to imagine Democrats would consider the Ukraine call impeachable. But they closed out Russiagate like the OJ Simpson murder trial, certain Trump had gotten away with so much they had to catch him at something else to make it even.

    Desperation makes for poor strategy. Think back just two weeks and no one had heard of any of this; Dems and the media took America from zero to 100 nearly overnight as if this was another 9/11. With the winter caucuses approaching, Dems in search of a crime groped at something half slipped under the door and half bundled up by clever lawyers to be slipped under the door. Mueller was a lousy patsy so a better one needed to be found in the shallow end of the Deep State pool. It wasn’t much but it was going to have to be made good enough.

     

    The details will come out and they will stink. The first whistleblower had some sort of prior working relationship with a current 2020 Democrat; given he is an CIA analyst, that suggests a member of Vice President Biden’s White House team, Cory Booker’s Committee on Foreign Relations, or maybe Kamala Harris’ Select Committee on Intelligence.

    The so-called second whistleblower appears to actually be one of the sources for the first whistleblower. That’s a feedback loop, an old CIA trick, where you create the appearance of a credible source by providing your own confirming source. It was tried with the Steele Dossier where the original text given to the FBI appeared to be backed up by leaks filtered through the media and John McCain’s office.

    So forget everything about this cooked-to-order crisis except the actual thing impeachment would turn on: the transcript of Trump’s call. It does not matter what one, two, or two hundred whistleblowers, former Obama officials, or talking heads “think” about the call; there it is, the actual words, all pink and naked on the Internet for everyone to read. Ukraine did not investigate Biden. Trump did not withhold aid. The Attorney General was not involved. DOJ ruled there was no violation of law. It has little to do with Pompeo or Pence. You and the Congress pretty much have it all in the transcript. It’s bathroom reading, five pages.

    People hate Trump to the point where they have become irrational enough to think whatever the Founders meant in the Constitution as the standard for impeachment means… that. And save your breath about Bill Clinton’s adventures. That he was not removed from office only drives home the point that when political scheming loses touch with reality it fails.

     

    Only a few months ago the Democrats’ drive to the White House began with the loftiest of ideals, albeit a hodge-podge from trans toilet “rights” to a 100 percent makeover of the healthcare system. It is now all about vengeance, clumsy and grossly partisan at that, gussied up as “saving democracy” like it is underage with too much makeup and as if everyone doesn’t notice. Our media is dominated by angry Hillary refighting 2016 and “joking” about running again, with Adam Schiff now the face of the party for 2020. The war of noble intentions has devolved into Pelosi’s March to the Sea. Any chance for a Democratic candidate to reach into the dark waters and pull America to where she can draw breath again and heal has been lost.

    OK, deep breath myself. A couple of times a week I walk past the cafe where Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, often wrote. His most famous poem, Howl, begins “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked.” The walk is a good leveler, a reminder madness — Trump Derangement in modern terminology — is not new in politics.

    But Ginsberg wrote in a time before mass shootings were somewhere between a growingly-accepted form of political expression and America’s signature sport. One could joke about coded messages before the Internet came into being to push tailored ticklers straight into people’s brains. I’ll take my relief in knowing almost everything Trump and others write, on Twitter and in the Times, is designed simply to get attention and having shouted in our faces for three years getting our attention today requires ever louder and more crazy stuff. What will get us to look up anymore? Is that worth playing with fire over?

    It is easy to lose one’s sense of humor over all this, and end up like Ginsberg at the end of his poem, muttering to strangers at what a mess this had all become: “Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! To solitude!” But me, I don’t think it’s funny at all.

      

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  • Celebs Know One Simple Trick to Wreck Society! (It Really Works!)

    October 19, 2019 // 2 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Ronan Farrow has fashioned himself into a cottage industry supplying victims to the progressive world, with his newest book claiming Matt Lauer raped a colleague years ago. Over at the NYT, a third party said he saw Justice Kavanaugh (Farrow also played in the Kavanaugh hearings) expose himself three decades ago, something the Times claimed was a credible accusation and Dems were poised to seize on to impeach someone before the current Ukrainian phone call nudged into first place.

    The dubious standbys are also still around, such as Trump is unstable, based on doctors who have never been closer than the same zip code to their patient. People continue to accuse Trump’s policy in Syria of being controlled by Putin. That goes back to the accusations of the Steele Dossier and the pee tape. The common thread? All are fact-free but deemed “credible.”

    In our race to hell, the media and Democratic party (the difference between the two is harder and harder to discern, mostly now a matter of who announces the latest crisis first) champion a new standard to replace the fuddy-duddy innocent until proven guilty — “credible accusation.” An accusation that fits with the moment’s political needs is blown into national news. Facts are clutter, and late night mocks exculpatory information as partisan, fake, dezinformatsiya. It’s been relentless for three years. The accusation serves as judge, jury, and often, executioner.

    Once intended to correct injustices of the past, credible accusations are used now as weapons. No past mistakes are resolved by defining credibility as an emotional reaction to an accuser’s story. How partisan this all is is made clear when the new rules are applied in cases of sexual assault. With Matt Lauer, only two people in the universe know what happened and there is no reason to believe either of them.

    It is nearly impossible to imagine a small-town DA making his bank robbery case solely on the credibility of a female witness over a male. We are not admonished to believe women are incapable of lying, misremembering, exaggerating or making a mistake in water rights disputes. Yet “believing women” is so important in today’s politics because it allows a unitary actor to become credible by default. It preps the ground for the next evolution: substitute “CIA whistleblower” and you can see where this is going.

    Few people care a whit about Matt Lauer, or any other celebrity. #MeToo metastasizing inside Hollywood was of little lasting significance. But as the weapon of credible accusation moved into the very serious business of choosing a Supreme Court justice, or the president, it became something much more.

    The Kavanaugh case is easier to parse at this point than Trump’s. Kavanaugh stated events he was accused of did not happen. As with the Ukraine there were no “she saids” until a handful of Democrats pressed Kavanaugh to deliver a “he said.” The play was thus configured to set that always-true she said against the can’t-be-true he said. The unambiguous denials (Trump, Kavanaugh, whomever) are by definition not credible, as the inverse of Believe Accusers (aka whistleblowers) is to Disbelieve the Accused.

    Each accused will then be repeatedly asked for more details, a more persuasive denial, of something he says never happened. The trap is to prove a negative, then do it again when a new accuser is produced with an even vaguer scenario. In Kavanaugh’s case that was a third-party accuser decades late to the party. With Trump, every national security official with an axe to grind is being rolled out to take a free punch after being sidelined, fired, not listened to, etc. An aggrieved John Bolton is the new hope.

    This tracks with a dire situation in our society where people are increasingly unable to listen to different viewpoints. Forces inside America have succeeded in turning back the once-sacred ideal of free speech, that fairness thing, we once carried with us like civic geography. Speech and due process are just tools to be manipulated expediently to serve political ends. “That’s offensive!” (or sexist! or racist!) is an accusation, but it is also understood as evidence itself of the truth of the accusation. How can a self-absorbed individual leave mental space for her own thoughts to be… wrong? Announcing you are a victim creates the necessity of having an assailant. In this calculus America is simply a society of liars, rapists, racists, and their enablers, alongside victims and their allies.

    The danger is due process is the only defense against “credible accusations.” As the nation appears headed toward some sort of impeachment process, progressives and their media are positively gleeful the Constitution does not prescribe any standards or procedures, alongside not really laying out what is impeachable beyond some broad terms whose 18th century usage is disregarded. Nope, Democrats via control of the House can do Anything. They. Want.

    The Washington Post, without irony calling on former Bush lawyer John Yoo (he wrote the “legal” justification for torture) to lay it all out, says “the Constitution does not require the House to be ‘fair’ in its probe.” Yoo hopes the House will minimally play at due process before they hang the president, citing the need to make it look fair enough to convince voters to defeat Trump in the election even when the Senate won’t convict. Give enough justice for appearance sake, but not a dot more. All behind closed doors in front of Dem committees with the public informed only via curated leaks.

    That’s all a long way from the rule of law, but USAToday supports it, reminding us all that Nancy Pelosi has no obligation to hold any vote on anything, but might look better if she does (she won’t.) Others feel the Dems should just start throwing Trump officials into some 19th century House prison directly.

    Who gets what amount of due process in politics is determined today by a feedback loop among the MSM, Dems, social media, and increasingly, the intelligence community. Any sort of pretense to a rule of law applying even a little equally is as old-fashioned as settling in to enjoy a minstrel show. It is not unlike the doling out of free speech rights by progressives; who can and cannot give a lecture at a university, publish a mainstream book, tell a joke on TV or comment on Twitter (Kamala Harris wants the president banned) depends on what they have to say, and what the mob has to say about that. Same with fairness; the chance to defend oneself depends on who you are and what you want to defend.

    In the worst days of racial injustice, “credible” accusations from a white woman lynched black men. Her testimony was as unquestionable as her virtue itself in front of a Democratic House, er, all-white cracker jury. During the McCarthy era mere accusations of communist ties were enough to destroy lives, and questioning the accusations was evidence of one’s own guilt. Questioning the accusers in Olde Salem was an affront to God Himself. Today people like that find themselves under state investigation. The avenging SDNY knows where you and your kids live. Progressives drool over what may happen to Trump associates in jail showers. They demand his lawyers be disbarred. Punishment not justice. Vengeance not fairness. There are dark lessons with sharp edges here.

    Sure, the pendulum swings, but there is also the question of resiliency — how many times can a society do this to itself before something which in the past snapped back breaks? Imagine how easy it is to manipulate a group of people already terrified they are living in Wiemar and who are willing to act on pretty much anything they are told is true (witness the emotional outbursts of support for Kurdish forces 99 percent of the emoters never knew about a week ago.)

    On the other side of the equation, if a group feels it is unfairly cut out of the process, how long until they consider resolving things another way, maybe with phone calls to a few colonels, real third world stuff? Due process — justice, fairness, fighting back against the mob — is about more than rules, more than just what you can get away with via some clever lawyering. It is about a just society with a government supported by most. It is how societies work. Or fail.

     

    BONUS

    Historians of the future may trace things back to, for lack of a better definitive point, the use of the word appropriate. Appropriate has come to mean — as in that’s not appropriate, or what would be the appropriate response — what can we get away with, what won’t offend. It is a variable standard and it is defined by the mob, even if it’s a mob of one. Appropriate has come to replace right or wrong, good and bad, ideas that often come with sharp edges that are, well, no longer appropriate. So instead of asking what’s good about education (people get smarter and become better citizens) we ask what is appropriate and conclude education is about social engineering instead of reading and math.

     

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  • So, Admiral McRaven Just Called for a Military Coup, Kinda

    October 18, 2019 // 7 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Impeachment, Military, Trump


    Admiral William McRaven, famous for being the guy who told the guy who told the other guy who told the other guy who told that guy to go kill bin Laden, has essentially called for a military coup against the President of the United States in a New York Times Op-Ed.

    He begins with something to get the blood up, a call to the good military stuff, invoking generals who are “highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, [yet] were humbled by the moment” at a change of command ceremony. Then a little history, invoking the WWII Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to today’s CIA and Special Operations community, who had “faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for.” In case it wasn’t clear, they “personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military,” he tells his Op-Ed’s intended audience, that very same military.

    Then, invoking that oath that requires the military to protect America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, McRaven explains to them why they may soon again be called to battle: “The America that they believe in was under attack, not from without, but from within.” This is not subtle. McRaven wants everyone down to the newest private to get the message Lima Charlie (Loud and Clear.)

    McRaven continues “These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!'”

    Quick Summary: The president is destroying the Republic, from within. The last folks who wanted to destroy the Republic were the Nazis, the Commies, and the terrorists, and you know what we did to them.

     

    McRaven’s next step is reassuring the troops that whomever they are next ordered to kill, it is all for a good cause. “We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.” That leaves aside the silliness of such a statement in light of what hell the American pursuit of justice has wrought among the millions dead in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, never mind in an earlier century across Southeast Asia and the Americas. This is not about that. This is about dehumanizing the next enemy, who may look alot like you this time McRaven is hinting, to convince his shooters they are killing for freedom.

    Finally, what this is really about. You guys need to be ready to take out Trump.

    Here are McRaven’s words: “If this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.”

     

    Now everyone knows the election where Americans get to choose the next president is a year from now, no sooner. A generous soul, reading McRaven’s sentence in isolation would say that bit about “the sooner the better” maybe means he is hoping for impeachment to supersede the election, you know, get Trump out sooner without the risk and muss of allowing The People a say in it all. That’s certainly what McRaven would claim, perhaps with a wink at Jake Tapper this Sunday across the desk. But take this Op-Ed and reimagine something similar being said by a displeased colonel in the Turkish or Iranian army, or what as an intelligence officer yourself you’d be reporting about it from Moscow if it was said to you by a prominent Russian former general with deep personal loyalties into his former special operations forces at a time when a CIA officer (“the whistleblower”) is the driver behind an active impeachment process.

    Sure, McRaven is not ordering Seal Team Six into action today. But go ahead, convince yourself he isn’t laying the groundwork, or at least trying to remind people he could. In case you believe I am being overwrought, here’s what Tom Nichols of the Naval War College said: “I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of a retired four-star writing this piece right now. This is a watershed in American civil-military relations.” Nichols may have meant that as a good thing, but it is not.

     

    The frightening thing is McRaven’s literal call to arms does not occur in a vacuum. Once intelligent people are talking about actual civil war in America. This began after Trump retweeted a pastor saying impeachment would cause a “civil war-like fracture in this Nation.” Never mind that it was a retweet, and never mind that the original statement used “like” to make a comparison. The next headline was set: Trump Threatens Civil War If He’s Impeached. Another headline asked: “If Trump’s Rage Brings Civil War, Where Will the Military Stand?”

    This tracks with the meme that Trump will refuse to leave office if defeated in 2020, or will declare himself the winner even if he loses. “Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone,” reads the headline from a NASDAQ-listed media outlet. “Before Trump will allow himself to be chased from the temple, he’ll bring it down,” wrote Charles Blow in The New York Times.

    That’s just what the MSM is saying; it gets worse the further off the road you drive. “Trump is going to try everything, Fox is going to try everything, and they’re going to both further the injuring of societal reality and inspire dangerous individuals to kill and maim,” Jared Yates Sexton, a well-known academic, tweeted on September 28. “There’s a vast number of people in this, people who have been taught their whole lives that they might need to kill in case of a coup or corrupt takeover,” he continued. “Trump and Republicans signal to them constantly. They’re more than ready to see this as the occasion.” And of course this all festers alongside the relentless prattle from doctors who have never been inside the same zip code as their patient declaring the president, custodian of the nuclear codes, mentally ill, a danger to himself and others.

    That’s a nation McRaven feels might need to call on its military to intervene. Don’t dismiss this Op-Ed too quickly. Consider it instead… timely.

     

    On  a more personal note, I’ve been fired, accused, hated on by friends and relatives, and deplatformed multiple times for “supporting Trump.” I do not. But I am willing to think past him. It’s the old warning about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; what we say and do now to get rid of Trump will survive him, and become part of the political lexicon forever. Impeach a president still widely supported by the American people three years into his term over a phone call? Sure, seems OK. Tolerate calls for violence, veiled threats of a coup in our largest newspaper? Constantly call the president dangerously mentally ill, a literal nutcase who should be institutionalized? That’s how to operate a democracy?

    And spare me the idea that Trump is not widely supported, with his low approval ratings. President Obama’s 11th quarter in office, October 2011 same now as Trump, was the worst of his administration, based on his quarterly average job approval ratings. His 41% approval average is down six percentage points from his 10th quarter in office, and is nearly four points below his previous low of 45% during his seventh quarter.

     

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  • It’s Not Funny: A Brief History of the Second Civil War

    October 9, 2019 // 29 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Impeachment

    Looking back, it’s almost funny. We didn’t see the Second Civil War coming.

    The “newspapers” (so called because they once contained news and were published on actual paper, for the elderly) columnists at the New York Times and Washington Post, now Ministry of Truth, tried hard enough. Their statues now line the National Mall, and school kids know their names: Krugman, Bruni, and Boot. All died in the White Guilt Plague of 2026, which also wiped out most of California before its origin was traced back to the Oberlin campus and measures were taken.

    The key event in the Second Civil War, the Great Confiscation of Guns, took place even before the struggle proper unfolded. A brave woman, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (after whom the aircraft carrier USS AOC, now in the process of being handed over to the new Native American nation and casino formed out of the former state of Texas, is named) offered to sacrifice herself, standing on a stage outside Fox headquarters wearing a pink knit cap. She challenged anyone with an automatic gun and one of those banana clips to take a free shot at her. After over 200,000,000 people showed up, waves of The Beto Brigade wearing Hannity masks descended on the crowd. As the armed men and women dropped their Vietnam guns with the handle to remove lingerie or to take selfies with flip phones that needed two hands to operate, their weapons were confiscated. Additionally, several thousand faux patriots were left unable to reproduce due to pistols-in-their belt related accidents.

    It was over before it began. At the time, however, no one knew how things would turn out. The Maddow Division (you know General Maddow; her face in relief, wearing a black beret over shaggy hair, adores a million t-shirts) left its home base in New York City on Citibikes striking south. The advance was delayed when the second wave’s Ubers did not arrive on time and the black helicopters never showed up, again, but the division’s clever use of weaponized sarcasm, backed up by relentless Twitter, caused Tr*mp supporters (while we acknowledge the name is banned, for historical clarity we use here the term Tr*mp rather than “The T word”) to quit the field in droves and return to their RVs. It also turned out wearing bright red MAGA hats made for relatively easy targeting after Apple released its “Kill Kinda Kaucasians” app. Still, many of Maddow’s troops perished after being deeply offended as the MAGA line displayed photos from old Hollywood movies of white actors playing Asian roles. That was the last (paper) straw.

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg discovered the secret Fox transmitter which had been broadcasting mind control instructions to MAGA forces not only to vote Republican, but also to purchase things at Cracker Barrel, that fishing store that has way too much stuff for just fishing, and via the Internet massive amounts of Flexi-Seal they didn’t need so it’s in the garage now behind the cooler. With the transmitter knocked out, the conservative economy collapsed. The images of conservative children forced to eat soy products when their regular processed food supplies ran out haunt even the toughest Resistance fighters to this day. Thoughts and prayers.

    But those images of children are nothing compared with the nightmare unleashed when Nancy Pelosi liberated the Kids ‘N Kages camps along what used to be America’s southern border (known today as “Newer New Mexico.”) After being fed only Taco Bell products in what was assumed to be a failed humanitarian gesture by the Venezuelan Red Cross, the migrant children were each was awarded American citizenship posthumously.

    Pelosi blamed herself, wandering the woods near her home, embarking on regular “book tours” to be among her faithful, and, high on Nyquil, calling in to the Maxine Waters late night comedy show to explain how after she impeached Trump, Pence, Barr, Kavanaugh, several junior Senators, and the House Sergeant at Arms she was briefly, as Speaker of the House, seated as America’s first woman president before her untimely death at the hands of a meth-addled Hillary Clinton.

    Conservatives’ last stand took place, appropriately, on the steps of the Supreme Court. Just before losing power, the final conservative government expanded the bench to 78 judges, all cloned from the last available saliva sample from Roy Cohen Tr*mp kept in a vial around his neck. No monument marks their final battle to prevent freedom, no plaque records their final words (“lower capital gains taxes”) and even their ashes were lost in the changeover from Obamacare to a healthcare plan which provides unlimited visits to a doctor but requires travel to Germany for appointments. Once a year, under the watchful eyes of the Chelsea Handler Youth Brigades, a few old men are allowed to observe a minute of silence in honor of their fallen comrades before being forced to convert to Islam. A small coven of Republicans is rumored to exist in the jungle. Occasional broadcasts have been monitored, typically scraps of argument between libertarians and conservatives over the value of military intervention.

    Events moved quickly once fighting ended. Reparations money was mostly squandered on timeshare condos and everyone is still angry. College and IKEA furniture was made free. The subsequent collapse of the National Bank of Venmo could not be prevented once it was revealed the app really did cheat the person who just had a salad when dividing up a check. The designation as hate speech of any utterance which did not include a hashtag or the phrase “you know what I’m sayin'” clogged the courts for months, even after all immigration laws were deleted. Ed Snowden was arrested, for making Obama look bad, while changing planes in Atlanta enroute from Moscow to his villa outside Vladivostok.

    Microsoft went bankrupt when Windows 87 proved so bulky it required the user to have a second computer. The creation of two Internets, one for porn and one no one uses, proved popular. Starbucks raised the price of a latte to $250. That did not stop Millennials from purchasing several each day until driving themselves into bankruptcy; their blaming it on the patriarchy saved the day. The end of elections saved the nation trillions; after 2016 presidents have simply serially been impeached and a new person sworn in who is immediately placed under investigation. Someone on Twitter declaring the chief executive deranged, bonkers, off the rails, meltdown, train wreck, gone 25th, or writing “but her emails” is now recognized as grounds for impeachment.

    Of course every American remembers where they were when Secretary of Why-Is-She-Still-Around Kathy Griffin announced the transition of 97 percent of Americans to becoming trans had really screwed up the NFL and there would be no more Super Bowl. The subsequent rise in attendance at WNBA games was not foreseen. The musical Biden, translated from the original Ukrainian, replaced Hamilton on Broadway despite the controversial Obama nude scene. America’s largest industry is still creating Patreon accounts as Etsy devolved largely into a market for the wealthy to purchase human organs. The U.S. government is currently looking for a new place for the capitol building, because after the move out of Washington to Brooklyn rents have really gone up.

    Most important decisions are still made by the heads of the intel agencies when they meet at Jeff Bezos’ house. And American troops are still in Afghanistan. Even after a second civil war some things don’t change.

     

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  • Impeach the MF?

    October 8, 2019 // 9 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2020, Impeachment, Trump


    Disregard all the dramatic accusations in and around the whistleblower’s complaint; they’re just guff.

    The whole thing hinges on Trump’s own words in the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president — is he demanding foreign interference in the 2020 election or is he asking an ally to run down unethical actions by a man who might become president (here’s a 2018 letter from the Dems asking Ukraine to help them investigate Trump to compare it to)? Or is it mostly just Trump running his mouth off in a rambling, often disconnected stream-of-consciousness phone call that means very little?

    Unlike the endlessly evolving Russiagate saga, we pretty much have all of the information in front of us in the MemCon from the July 25 call. What is referred to commonly as the “transcript” is a U.S. government memorandum of conversation. Over the course of my 24 years at the State Department I saw and wrote many of them as the official record of conversations. At the White House level, voice recognition software is used to help transcribe what is being said, even as one or more trained note takers are at work. Afterwards the people who listened to the call have to sign off on the accuracy and completeness of the document. It is the final word on what was said in that call.

    If you read Trump’s words as impeachable you are asking to impeach on something that was talked about but never happened. Ukraine never handed over dirt on Biden. Trump never even asked Attorney General Barr to contact Ukraine. Rudy Giuliani may or may not have had meetings with someone but no one is claiming anything of substance happened. There is no evidence military aid was withheld in return for anything. If nothing happened then nothing happened. You need a body on the ground for a smoking gun to matter.

    Meanwhile, the Department of Justice already adjudicated the whistleblower complaint before the thing was leaked to the Washington Post. The original complaint was passed from the Intelligence Community Inspector General to DOJ, who determined there was no crime and closed the case. Officials found the transcript did not show Trump violated campaign finance laws by soliciting a thing of value, such as the investigation, from a foreign national. Even as Democrats bleat DOJ is corrupt, at some point during any impeachment they will need to make clear what evidence they found to find crime where DOJ did not. No one is above the law, sure, but which law exactly are we talking about please?

    Trump is apparently not any better at cover-ups than he is at extortion. He got no dirt on Biden even as the Ukraine pocketed its aid money (Ukraine in fact knew nothing about the aid being frozen while Trump supposedly was shaking them down), and his so-called cover-up concluded with him releasing in unprecedented fashion both the complaint and the transcript. For a cover up to even begin you have to have something to cover, and a phone call that led nowhere doesn’t need to be covered up. In fact, it was not. It’s on the internet now.

    But the complaint says the transcript was moved from one secure computer server inside the White House to an even more secure server. That’s a cover-up! Not discussed is Congress had no more access to the first server than the second. Exactly who was blocked from seeing the transcript when it was on the more secure system who would have had access to it otherwise? It seems the main person who suddenly couldn’t grab the transcript was the whistleblower. To make this all work, Democrats have to argue for less cybersecurity, or impeach for over-classification. And of course the Obama administration also stored records of select presidential phone calls on the exact same server.

    The True Believers think witnesses will help as a million Watergate comparisons are launched. Rudy “The Joker” Giuliani will break out of his designated role of throwing smoke (he played it during Russiagate as well, always having a lot to say though little of it made any sense) and talk sense. Volker from State will tell! Pompeo will squeal to save himself! Manafort and Cohen will peer out of their jail cells and flip! That’s all as likely to happen as Robert Mueller testifying on TV again.

    Bottom line: Trump asked the Ukrainian president to take calls from Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani to talk about corruption, a bilateral issue since the Obama administration with or without Hunter Biden. There was no quid pro quo. Maybe a good scolding is deserved, but sloppy statesmanship is not high crimes and misdemeanors.

     

    Something else is wrong. The whistleblower is a member of the intel community (NYT says CIA), but the text does not read the way government people write. It sounds instead like an Op-Ed, or a mediocre journalist “connecting the dots,” a Maddow exclusive combining anonymous sources with dramatic conclusions. Sure, maybe the whistleblower had help writing it, that’s not the point. The point is the complaint was written for the media. It was written to be leaked. It wasn’t even about an intelligence matter. Maybe that’s why DOJ quickly rejected its accusations, and why at the same time both the NYT and HuffPo praised the writing, commenting on how much clearer the complaint was compared to Mueller’s legalese.

    And that’s a problem. A whistleblower complaint is meant to point out violations of law or regulation in the language of prosecutors. It is legalese. A complaint requires data and references; having written such a thing myself, the evidence I needed to explain waste in Iraq reconstruction ended up over 230 published pages. Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers originally ran into multiple volumes to prove the government lied about Vietnam. Ed Snowden needed terabytes of data to demonstrate NSA illegality.

    If the whistleblower really is an analyst he is not a very good one, mixing second hand sources with public ones to mimic a weary Dem narrative of foreign election help much like the Steele Dossier. The complainant witnessed nothing himself and produced no primary documents. The sourcing is as vague as “more than half a dozen officials have informed me of various facts.” No law is cited because none applied; the whistleblower simply recorded his interpretation into bullet points, like the punchlines from Russiagate no one laughed at.

    The whistleblower’s expected testimony will be played as high drama but actually is meaningless; he has an opinion but his accusations were made without hearing the call or reading the transcript. At least he’s in good company: Nancy Pelosi declared her support for impeachment before she had heard the call or seen the transcript.

    Something suspicious also underlies the complaint. Had the whistleblower filed a week earlier there would be no impeachment inquiry as we have it now. The intelligence community whistleblower rules under which all this is taking place were significantly amended only days before the Ukraine complaint to allow the second hand information the complaint was entirely based on. As of the date of the call itself such a complaint would have been rejected; see the old intake form which required first-hand information. Then, just days before the complaint was filed, the form and rules were changed to allow second hand information (here’s the new form) and thus give the writer whistleblower protections, including anonymity. The rules changed concurrent with this case to actually allow it to reach national prominence.

     

    Here’s where things stand. After three years of trying to keep Trump from assuming office, then cycling through ways to throw him out this plops onto the field. If an impeachment vote comes, it will literally be with Trump having only a few months left in his term. This is no longer about overturning 2016, it is about circumventing 2020, fear by the Democrats of what will happen if they let the deplorables vote again. Is the Dem slate that weak? They are acting as if they have nothing to lose by trying impeachment.

    Pity Nancy Pelosi, who tried to hold back her colleagues. Now instead of answering the needs of constituents, Democrats will instead exploit their majority in the House to hold hearings likely leading to a show vote that would have embarrassed Stalin. History will remember Pelosi as the mom who, after putting up with the kids’ tantrums for hours demanding ice cream, finally gives in only a few blocks from home. She’ll regret spoiling dinner later that night over a hefty glass of white wine but what could she do, they just wouldn’t shut up and her nerves were shot. Have you had to listen to AOC complain from the back seat for two hours in traffic?

    The last thing Joe Biden needed was more baggage; it’ll take awhile for him to realize it but he’s done, doomed by kompromat never actually found. Impeachment will so dominate the media no one will listen to whatever the other primary Dems have to say; Kamala Harris in the midst of all this was so desperate for attention she was still trying to drum up support for impeaching Brett Kavanaugh. Warren will emerge as the nominee. Goodbye then to all the minor Dems, see you in 2024, perhaps running against Mike Pence after Trump’s second term.

    This is not what the country wants to talk about. Polling shows only 37 percent favor impeachment versus 45 percent opposed. That 37 percent is down from 41 percent three weeks ago and down from 44 percent in May, after the Mueller report. Meanwhile, since the Ukraine story broke, Trump has raised over $13 million in new donations.
    The case is weak, though with their House majority the Dems may indeed impeach the president just months ahead of an election, based on a partisan interpretation of a few words to a minor world leader. Impeachment didn’t even come up in the last Democratic debate, yet heading into the early caucuses the faces of the party will be Adam Schiff and the agita-driven Hillary. Democrats are taking that road instead of talking about jobs, health care, immigration or any of the other issues voters do care about.

     

     

     

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  • I Miss Journalism

    October 5, 2019 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: 2020, Democracy, Trump

    stripper with money

    I miss journalism. I used to enjoy the news. People said things, events happened, and the “news” told me about that. Some were better at shrinking away human bias than others, but by sticking to a solid handful of outlets you could get a decent sense of what was happening.

    Now, columnist Max Boot in the Washington Post has finally put into writing what we have all known for some time: that sort of journalism is dead. The job has shifted to aspirational writing, using selected facts alongside made-up stuff to cause something to happen.

    What Boot made black and white is he does not commit journalism anymore to create Jefferson’s informed public. He writes to drive Trump from office and overturn the 2016 election, regime change, my bitches. Max: “Much of my journalism for the past four years has been devoted to critiquing President Trump and opposing the spread of Trumpism. But no matter how many columns or sound bites I produce, he remains in office… I am left to ask if all my work has made any difference.” While reasoned editorials and Op-Eds supporting and opposing policies have always been a part of journalism, what Boot spent the last few years doing was creating and supporting others who created narratives designed to drive Trump himself from office. They manufactured reasons for him to resign, to drive actual impeachment, or at last resort, influence voters too dumb to know what’s good for them.

    We more or less knew this was true even before senior staff at the New York Times had to remind reporters they were “not part of the f*cking resistance,” or before CNN advised the House “go for the jugular vein” and impeach Trump, but it is helpful to see it in daylight. After all, democracy dies in the darkness.

    The uber-created narrative was Russiagate. None of the core substance was true. Trump wasn’t the Manchurian Candidate set in place by Putin in a long con, nor was there a quid pro quo for Russian election help. Yet the media literally accused the president of treason by melding together otherwise unrelated droplets of truth — Trump wanted a hotel in Moscow, some ads were run on Facebook — that could be spun into a narrative which would bring Trump down, if not send him to SuperMax. What was true was of little consequence; what mattered was whether the media could create a narrative the rubes might believe.

    The critical flaw in Russiagate (other than it did not actually happen)) was the media creating an end-point they could not control, Robert Mueller. Mueller, an old school, Deep State man to his core, was made into an Avenger, the Last Honest Man, the Savior of Democracy as the narrative first unfolded and then fell apart like cardboard box in the rain. After Michael Cohen’s Mueller’s dismal testimony, promoted to a crescendo for three full years across the media, there was nowhere to go.

    A much better example which follows the same Bootian construct but which will play out without end is the mash-up story Trump is manipulating both the inner workings of government in the specific and American foreign policy on a global scale for personal gain via… hotel fees.

    At first glance it seems like a non-starter. Trump’s hotels are as much a part of him as the extra pounds he carries. He campaigned as a CEO and announced early on he was not going to leave any of that behind and divest.

    But even as the first cold slap of Trump’s election victory filtered past nascent attempts at unseating him, claiming he lost the popular vote (in baseball and the Electoral College, you win with the most runs, not the most hits, kids), or that votes were miscounted (they were not) or that the sleepy EC would rise from Hamilton’s grave and smite Trump (it did not), a narrative was being shaped: Trump could not become president because of his business conflicts of interest. Some went as far as to claim swearing him in would itself be an unconstitutional act.

    An early proponent was Harvard professor Lawrence Tribe, who dug around in the Constitution’s closet and found the Emoluments Clause, a handful of lines intended to bar office holders from accepting gifts from foreign sovereigns, kings and princes to prevent influence buying. Pre-Trump, the last time the issue was in actual contention was with President Martin Van Buren (no relation) over gifts from the Imam of Muscat.

    The media ran with it. They imagined out of whole cloth any foreign government official getting a room at any Trump hotel was such an emolument. Then they imagined whatever tiny percentage of that room profit actually went to Trump himself represented a bribe. Then they imagined despite the vast complexity of U.S. relations, Trump would alter course against America’s own interests because some guy rented a room. It was Joker-like in its diabolicalness, the presidency itself merely a prank to hide an international crime spree!

    Then they made it happen. The now-defunct leftist site Think Progress ran what might be Story Zero. It was based on an anonymous source claiming before Trump even took office, under political pressure, the Kuwaiti Ambassador canceled a major event at one hotel to switch to Trump’s own DC hotel. It all turned out to be untrue. “Do you think a reception of two hours in the Trump hotel is going to curry favors with the administration when we host thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait? When we have in the past and still do support American operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?” the Kuwait ambassador asked when some other outlet got around to his side of the story. But no matter.

    Though the Emoluments Clause is quite specific, the media then decided every time anyone stayed at a Trump property it was corruption. Even when Trump visited one of his own homes it was corruption because the Secret Service paid Trump for the privilege!

    Now none of that should have mattered. The Secret Service has always paid for the facilities they use for their work because the government cannot commandeer private property or demand/accept free stuff (which of course, ironically, could be seen as a bribe), not from Marriott and not from the Trump Organization. Joe Biden still charges the Secret Service rent on a cottage he owns, so that they can protect him when he visits home in Delaware. Taxpayers shelled out for eight years of Secret Service protection so his spouse, Jill, could hold a paid teaching job at a Northern Virginia community college.

    Never mind. When a business executive stayed at a Trump property, it was corruption. For example T-Mobile booked nine rooms at a Trump hotel, ostensibly to influence a $26 billion merger’s federal approval. Those rooms were worth about $2700. Of course the president, who can shift the stock market for millions with a tweet, prefers to make his illegal money off jacked up hotel bills. Think small has always been a Trump trademark.

    Reuters headlined how foreigners were buying New York condos from third party owners (i.e., not Trump or his company), but it was in a Trump-managed building after all and maybe the monthly maintenance fees would qualify as mini-emoluments? Every apartment sold to a Russian-sounding surnamed individual was corruption fodder. Trump was accused of “hiding” foreign government income at his hotels when servers at the bar failed to ask cash customers if they were potentates or princes (the headline: “Trump Organization Says It’s ‘Not Practical’ to Comply With the Emoluments Clause.”)

    And of course that Air Force crew staying at a Trump place in Scotland. That the hotel forged its relationship with a nearby airport long before Trump became president, and that the Air Force had been using the same airport and hotel hundreds of times long before Trump became president, didn’t stop the New York Times. Another piece speculated the $166 a night the Air Force pays for rooms was always part of Trump’s financial plan for the floundering multi-million golf course.

    Along the way all sorts of other co-joined narratives were tried and dropped: Stormy and Avenatti, the SDNY as Savior, Sharpiegate, something about security clearances, Trump outing a CIA asset inside the Kremlin, imminent war with ChinaIranVenezuelaNorthKorea, a recession that never seems to catch on, the Battle of Greenland, shady loans from Deutsche Bank that never materialize, taxes! taxes! taxes! and more. Some appear and disappear before a rebuttal can even be written. Others die out for awhile with the embers blown to life as needed, such as the idea diplomacy is “earned” by bad guys; that falsehood has impeded progress with North Korea and now on ending the war in Afghanistan (but was OK with Obama and Iran.)

    Places like CNN simultaneously claim Trump is a warmonger and incapable of diplomacy while mocking his efforts to practice it. They claim he has weakened the State Department and then are incredulous when he tries to use it. Forgotten is how around this point in the Bush admin we had started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was the abandonment of a great American city to Katrina. The Patriot Act stripped us of our privacy. Torture, kidnapping, and indefinite prison without trial became US government policies. With Obama we had around this point attacked Libya triggering a massive refugee crisis which killed so many and is still disrupting Europe, ignored the Arab Spring, laid the groundwork for civil war in Syria, drone murdered several American citizens, and spent trillions to dig out of the financial crisis Bush let happen.

    But to really see how weak the corruption narrative is, you have only to compare it to how the media chose to cover similar questions in the past.

    Outside of anti-war outlets, the Bush family’s long involvement in the oil industry in general and closeness to the Saudis in particular was never really tied to two generations of Bush presidents making war across the mideast. Vice President Dick Cheney’s job running Haliburton and accepting delayed compensation from them even while in office had nothing to do in the MSM with his encouraging no-bid contracts for his old company to run the backstage parts of Iraq War II. There were certainly no talks of impeachment.

    Imagine if the media treated every appearance by Obama as a book promotion? What if each speech was slandered across the channels as corruption, Obama just out there selling books? Should he have been impeached for commercializing the office of president? At the very least this issue should have been discussed by Max Boot on cable news shows.

    The Trump Organization pays to the Treasury all profits from foreign governments. In the 2018, $191,000. The year before the amount was $151,470. So Trump’s in-pocket money is zero.

    Meanwhile Obama’s profit was $15.6 million as an author during his time in office (he has made multiples more since leaving office, including a $65 million book advance.) In the two weeks before he was inaugurated as the 44th president, Obama reworked his book deals. He agreed not to publish another non-fiction book during his time in office to keep anticipation high, while signing a $500,000 advance for a young adult version of Dreams From My Father.

    Obama’s books were huge sellers in China, where publishing is largely government controlled, meaning Obama likely received laundered payments via his publisher of Chicom money (Emoluments Clause!) while in the Oval Office. Obama’s own State Department bought $79,000 worth of his books to distribute as gifts abroad.

    As with Trump, nothing Obama did was illegal. There are no laws per se against a president making money while in the White House. Yet no one bothered to raise the Emoluments/corruption question for Obama, and the State Department purchasing $79,000 worth of his books was forgotten fodder for FOX. No one ran stories Obama sought the presidency as a bully ATM machine. No one claimed his frequent messaging about his father was designed to move books. No one demanded hearings on his profits or inquiries into how taxpayer funds were used to buy up his books.

    Only Trump, and Max Boot has confessed why. The media has created a pitch-and-toss game with Democrats, running false, exaggerated or purposely shallowly-reported stories to generate calls for hearings, which in turn breath life into the corruption story for another round.

    “Undeterred by lackluster public support for impeachment,” the New York Times reports, “Democrats have sketched out a robust four month itinerary of hearings and court arguments that they hope will provide the evidence they need to credibly portray Mr. Trump as corrupt and abusing his power.”

    Like Russiagate, this is all an assemblage of droplets of truth which will not lead to criminal charges or impeachment. Unlike Russigate, however, there is no Robert Mueller buzz kill to come, only a vague narrative which can be refreshed as needed, with the only end in sight being Trump somehow driven from office before November 2020, or beaten in the election. Until then, Max Boot and his ilk still have journalism’s new job to do. Journalism is now all for resistance, for condemnation and arousal.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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