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    What Mayor Pete Won’t Tell You: The Role of Military Service in the 2020 Election

    June 8, 2019 // 4 Comments »

    What is the role of military service in the 2020 election?

    As another Memorial Day passed, Mayor Pete Buttigieg criticized Trump for reportedly considering pardons for several service members accused of war crimes, calling the idea “slander against veterans that could only come from somebody who never served” (those pardons never happened; fake news?) The 37-year-old Democrat mocked the president, saying “I don’t have a problem standing up to somebody who was working on Celebrity Apprentice when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan.” Mayor Pete defended NFL national anthem protests noting “Trump would get it if he had served.” He claims he “put his life on the line” for those rights.

    He gets away unchallenged with these shots because critical thought on military service is the third rail of journalism. But context matters. Pete Buttigieg did all of six months in 2014 as a reservist deep inside Bagram air base, mostly as a personal driver for his boss, locked and loaded inside a Toyota Land Cruiser. It is unlikely he ever ate a cold meal in Afghanistan.

    On the campaign trail, Pete refers to himself “as the first veteran president since George H.W. Bush.” Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Seth Moulton was a platoon commander in the initial company of Marines to enter Baghdad in 2003, returning for a total of four combat deployments. Tulsi Gabbard did two full tours in the Middle East, one inside Iraq. She volunteered to become the first state official to step down from public office to serve in a war zone, 10 years before Pete. So if you wanna measure for size, bro, the line forms behind Seth and Tulsi.

    Everyone at war has different experiences, and unless you’re the dude who held bin Laden’s still-beating heart in his hand (and then took a bite out of it), someone had it tougher than you. But Mayor Pete is milking it for all it is worth politically, stretching a short tour into civics lessons he suggests one just can’t get any other way.

    But if Mayor Pete is going to make much of his service as part of his public biography, and especially if he wants to invite comparisons among himself, other candidates, and other presidents, then his short military tenure cannot be treated as bullet-proof. As one vet put it, “If he’s going to use his combat time as a discriminator, then it gets to be evaluated.”

    Veteran (Bosnia, Iraq 2004-6, 2008-11, Afghanistan 2011-12) and now podcaster Pete Turner writes “I give Mayor Pete all the credit in the world for deploying. However, there is a difference in the quality and severity of the types of combat veterans. Mayor Pete is more of a combat tourist than a warrior. People with one short combat tour, with access to that delicious fresh baked bread they made daily at the Bagram Air Force base, need to ease up on their warrior status.”

    “He went to war, that’s commendable and honorable. But that’s where it stops. People with his pedigree of deployment acknowledge that they spent a short tour and barely got away from their desk. They certainly don’t lean on that service as a credential for presidential candidacy.”

    Mayor Pete, however, might be the first to suggest even a little service produces a better man than none at all, clearly his opinion of the man dubbed “President Bone Spurs.” Buttigieg, alongside the New York Times (who interviewed the aging daughters of the now-dead doctor who diagnosed Trump), has called that medical diagnosis a fraud and “an assault on the honor of this country.”

    Maybe so. But for those who like comparisons, current front-runner Joe Biden received five student draft deferments, the same number as Dick Cheney, and in 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, was medically reclassified as “not available” due to having had asthma as a teen. In his autobiography Biden describes his active childhood, being a lifeguard, and playing high school football. His Vice Presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no. There’s no record of the New York Times tracking down Biden’s dead doctor’s daughters to investigate medical draft fraud.

    If military service is important and Vietnam-era medical deferments open to question, maybe Mayor Pete should also be talking about Biden alongside Trump. And if you are learning about Biden’s multiple deferments for the first time, ask yourself why.

    Left out of all of this is context. American men of a certain age all had to make a choice about Vietnam. They made those choices not in the jingoistic context of 2019 when we all Support Our Troops and wave away concerns about righteousness with slogans like “Love the Warrior, Hate the War.” Instead, 60% of men in the Vietnam generation took active measures to qualify for a deferment, while up to 90% National Guard enlistments (domestic service instead of Vietnam) were draft-motivated. Trump’s (Clinton’s, Cheney’s, Biden’s, Sanders’, Bush’s, et al) story is “surprisingly typical of his generation,” wrote one historian.

    The Vietnam-era military was not a widely loved institution. Many veterans, at least when they spoke about it back then, were more ashamed than proud, and actively encouraged young men to avoid serving. Families were weary of sending sons to Vietnam, from where over 58,000 Americans never came home (compared to under 7,000 dead in the 18 years of the War on Terror and its sequels.) The military was wounded by failure in Southeast Asia, drugs, and racism. Vietnam was the era of fragging, soldiers killing their own officers, in numbers far lower than movies would have you believe, but which left officers living under threats far greater than any Lieutenant Buttigieg could conceive of in Afghanistan.

    Down one path or another more than 15 million men of Trump and Biden’s generation sought to avoid military service in Vietnam. So in that context Buttigieg should also mention Bernie Sanders, who applied for conscientious objector status until he aged out of the draft. Mitt Romney received both student and religious deferments to avoid Vietnam.

    When Bill Clinton’s student deferments ran out, he sought help to faux register with a local reserve unit, and then to hide his draft paperwork until he left for England. Clinton as president refused to discuss in detail his various maneuvers to avoid service, which allegedly included an attempt at renouncing his citizenship at the American Embassy in London. Clinton wrote to one man who purposefully delayed his case to thank him for “saving me from the draft.”

    Context matters. As the New York Times said when he was running for president, “Bill Clinton worked to avoid the draft, at times cleverly, but in ways that accorded with accepted common practice among others of his generation. Against that history, this Vietnam echo looks like an irrelevance that ought not distract New Hampshire voters from judging Bill Clinton on his merits… to single him out as some sort of devious draft-dodger does him, and the anguish of Vietnam, an injustice.”

    The Times’ 1992 point is more valid when talking about Trump than the hit pieces they write in 2019. During the Vietnam War-draft era, most who could afford college or to pay the right doctor could get a deferment. Others took a middle road, the George W. Bush‘s and Dan Quayle‘s who joined National Guard units and got credit for some form of service without the stain of Vietnam on their nice clothing.

    For those without money, failing their physical by gaining or losing substantial amounts of weight, or claiming to be gay, worked. Bruce Springsteen made his own success outwitting Army doctors a reflective centerpiece of his Broadway show. One hundred thousand Americans left for Canada, breaking the law to avoid service (President Jimmy Carter issued a blanket pardon to them.) Some 3,250 refused to cooperate with the draft and went to prison.

    In the end only 2.2 million men were drafted during the Vietnam War period out of an eligible pool of 27 million, meaning some 9 out of 10 found an alternative. And in the end no Vietnam vet (see John McCain and John Kerry) has ever been elected president, and two who dodged the draft were.

    Like hauling out old yearbook photos to sanctimoniously judge them in the Pure Light of 2019, Pete Buttigieg is wrong to compare his service to anyone but his peers, because the real questions didn’t end when the draft did in 1973. It would be more important for Pete not to use Vietnam-era actions as a hypocritical political cudgel, but to tell us why he volunteered to serve and why Obama, and now Booker, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, and the rest did not. Though a draft didn’t force them to decide, they decided. Though they did not face the legal issues of an earlier generation, the more important existential ones – what do you owe your country, what is the value of service, who goes in your place when you stay home to focus on college and career – get sharper as they get even easier to dodge.

    The post-Vietnam candidates now seeking the presidency followed much the same path of privilege as the one Buttigieg selectively despises, but have done so without their choices being questioned. Maybe it’s time to do that.

    Peter Van Buren, a 24 year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Afghanistan, Trump

    Mueller’s Public Statement: I Am Done With This

    May 29, 2019 // 8 Comments »

    I just watched Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s first and apparently only press conference on his two year investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump administration. The story is there is no story. Mueller basically said “read my Report if you want to know what I think.”
     
    Mueller was explicit he neither found Trump did not commit a crime nor did he find Trump committed a crime. Both sides of the debate will choose the half of that sentence that supports their position, but Mueller made clear he purposefully did not take a position. He simply reported what he learned in his investigation. In cop-talk, just the facts, ma’am. Mueller said “we concluded that we would not reach a determination — one way or the other — about whether the president committed a crime… We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the attorney general.”
     
    Actual indictment of the president was never even actively considered under existing Department of Justice guidelines. The action was not considered because legally it could never be taken (Mueller categorized indicting a sitting president as unconstitutional) so the Report is basically on purpose a conclusion-less summary of two years of investigation. He could have but did not say he would have indicted had the law allowed that.
    Mueller made clear he could have indicted others (“co-conspirators”) besides the president under the law. He did not. We can stop talking about Don Jr., et al, and the Trump Tower June meeting, now.
    That new Michael Wolfe book claiming Mueller once prepared an actual indictment against Trump but discarded it is thus clearly and totally false. The Guardian newspaper claiming it saw the actual indictment text is fake news. Mueller’s office issued a separate statement making that clear as well.
     
    Mueller hands his information to the world without comment. Today he made crystalline he did not say, suggest, or imply it was a road map, intended as the rough draft of impeachment, or anything else, though he could have. It just is the results of his investigation. Full stop. Anyone from this point forward who insists they see further intent hidden in the Report is falsely putting words into Mueller’s mouth and ignoring what he said today. That goes especially for 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren who said “Mueller’s statement makes clear what those who have read his report know: It is an impeachment referral, and it’s up to Congress to act.”
     
    Mueller said he would not add any additional info or comment if he were to testify. He said he plans no further public statements which would add to or comment on the report itself. He made clear he had no outstanding feud with Attorney General Bill Barr.
     
    Mueller is Done. Out. Gone. History.
     
    This will spin forever, but it seems very hard for Democrats to drag this steaming pile of ambiguity into actual impeachment hearings, though they will talk about that and hold sub-hearings of some kind through 2020. 

    Much is already being made of Mueller’s not finding Trump innocent. The option to indict we know was never on the table. Legally the option to say Mueller found no crime did exist. But Mueller did not conclude either way. “Not declared innocent” is not the same as “Found guilty.” Mueller is a smart guy, a plain speaker. He has had lots of time to say what he wants to say, in clear terms, both across a 448 page report and his carefully prepared remarks today. He is under no pressure to speak in riddles so we should not slip riddles into his words. Sometimes just what he said is all he said. Cherry-picking words, or worse, implying meanings inside of those cherry-picked words, is poor scholarship when Mueller has said in so many ways “I am presenting facts, not conclusions either way.”

    Mueller’s public statement did remind me of every exasperated professor I have had who, midway through his lecture and after a dumb question, sighed and said to the students “you didn’t do the reading, did you? This was all in the book already.” Justin Amash stated “The ball is in our court, Congress.” But he ignores that it always has been. If the House wants to impeach, they have had all the information they are ever going to have in front of them, in whole or in part, for two months now. Fish or cut bait.

    Mueller will not be their star witness. Mueller will not be their human smoking gun.

     

    Here’s how it looks if you’re a Dem strategist:
     
    — Two years of claiming Trump worked with Russia proved empty. Zero. Your move is to hope everyone just forgets you ever mentioned it.
     
    — Mueller found no smoking gun, indicted nobody with his Report. He said today he would not be your star witness, your human smoking gun. He isn’t going to help you. Your move is to hope everyone just forgets all that “Mueller Time” stuff.
     
    — Everything you can try and impeach on you have more or less had in your hands for two months/two years already and done nothing with. You don’t have a move.
     
    — You’ve been whipping your base into impeachment fever, and you will lose in the Senate if things ever even get that far. Your move is to hope Twitter goes away soon.
     
    — You can hold investigations, hoping Maxine Waters can uncover what Mueller, the FBI and the NSA missed. Your move is to hope she has a stroke on live TV and gather some sympathy votes.
     
    — The election is in 17 months and all you got is Joe Biden who leads in the polls based apparently and solely on name recognition. Nobody is motivated by Joe Biden. Your move is to run a crash test dummy with “Not Trump” written in Sharpie on the face. Other options include running The Other Guy from Wham!, the third dude to play Shemp in the Three Stooges, whoever registered Joe.Biden@gmail.com first, the Borat guy dressed as Joe Biden or any black woman willing to change her name legally to Joe Biden.
     
    — Meanwhile, 12 economic models predict Trump will win anyway. Your move is to hope people don’t notice the economy is doing well.
    — Your strongest player right now is Justin Amash. You should run him against Maxine Waters.

    I’ve read the full Mueller Report. It is not hard to understand in its whole, though passages read in isolation can be ambiguous. If you isolate say one footnote to the exclusion of the other 448 pages you can perhaps convince yourself the conclusions are unclear. But it takes that kind of effort in self-delusion.

    The problem is many Americans don’t want to believe what it says, and so claim there must be more to it all, some hidden meanings. They had been convinced by the media there must have been some huge Russian-Trump conspiracy (“the Manchurian Candidate”) made up of a dozen Grassy Knolls like the June 6 Trump Tower meet, Cohen in Prague, the Alfa server, the pee tape, etc. Those are all false, irrelevant, or not crimes.

    To be told by Mueller there is nothing he found to indict Trump on simply triggers so much cognitive dissonance that people cannot believe what they read in the Report. The same dissonance prevents them from not trusting Mueller, who was elevated to superhero status by the media. So if Mueller must be right and the Report doesn’t scream Impeach! then the conclusion is there just has to be somehow more.

    Sort of like how many of those same Americans refused to accept Trump won the election now coming on three years ago. He could not have, they believed, so they started down this tunnel to find an answer that did not require them to accept the truth.

    By the way, this is all a bad thing for a country.

     

    To try and get Dems to understand how wrong what is going on is, let’s try this: think back to Comey and his statements reopening the Clinton investigation in summer 2016. Then look at Comey and Mueller vs. Trump. What you are seeing is the Deep State inserting itself into our political process.

    With Clinton, it was a powerplay. She was going to win, they believed, and the reopening of the email investigation was a way to remind her that her entire time in the White House was owed to the Deep State allowing her to get away with her email server. A brush-back pitch in baseball terms.

    With Trump, it was a coup, a bureaucratic assassination attempt. He wasn’t supposed to win and the Deep State was thrown onto defense.

    They didn’t always succeed in their various efforts, and made missteps with unintended consequences, but focus on what they tried to do — change the course of events and control the president, whomever she or he ended up being. Watch out, because the same actors will be smarter, smoother, and better at it the next round.

     

    So I called the local prosecutors’ office and asked how many certificates of exoneration they’ve issued this year, or any year. Seems they don’t do that.
     
    I asked if they do not find sufficient evidence to prosecute a case, then what happens? Turns out absence of evidence to prosecute, they don’t prosecute. They just end the case. There can be all sorts of reasons sufficient evidence does not exist that you might think are good or bad or mean whatever you think they mean, but in the end it all adds up the same way. Case closed, everybody goes home. There is no system where the prosecutor goes to court anyway and says to the judge “No evidence to move forward on your honor, but I’d like to speak in riddles and code about what we really mean.”
     
    Amazing system. Turns out it is all based on this idea of “innocent until proven guilty.” I checked; they don’t have another system.

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Afghanistan, Trump

    Happy Hypocritical Memorial Day from Mayor Pete

    May 27, 2019 // 5 Comments »


    “In his interview on ABC, Buttigieg criticized Trump for reportedly considering pardons for several U.S. service members accused of war crimes, calling the idea ‘slander against veterans that could only come from somebody who never served.'” (NOTE: These Memorial Day pardons of “war criminals” the media has been talking about for weeks have not actually happened. Check your fake news folder…)

    The 37-year-old Democrat then ratcheted up his attacks on Trump, mocking the president’s past role on the reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice in a another interview. “I don’t have a problem standing up to somebody who was working on Season 7 of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ when I was packing my bags for Afghanistan,” Buttigieg said. He called Trump’s medical deferment for foot bone spurs during the Vietnam War “an assault on the honor of this country.”

    Pete has also defended those ancient history kneeling NFL national anthem protests, saying “Trump would get it if he had served,” explaining that military service is all about defending the Bill of Rights on a personal level. In his autobiography, Pete makes much of having spent time in “an imminent danger pay area,” basically the current official pay status classification for most of the mideast. On the campaign trail, Mayor Pete pitches himself “as the first veteran president since George H.W. Bush.”

    Hurrah!

    Mayor Pete Buttigieg did all of six months in 2014 as a reservist deep inside Bagram air base, mostly as a driver for his boss, all high speed, locked and loaded inside a civvie Toyota Land Cruiser. It is highly unlikely he ever ate a cold meal.

    Everyone who spent time in war had different challenges and experiences, and unless you’re the dude who held bin Laden’s still-beating heart in your hand (and then took a bite out of it), someone certainly had it tougher and rougher than you.  But Mayor Pete sure is milking it for all its worth politically, stretching a short tour as close to not being in the military at all into leadership and civics lessons he suggests one just can’t get any other way. He has stated he has “more military experience than anybody to walk into that office on day one since George H.W. Bush.” His service, to him, makes him uniquely qualified among all current candidates of both parties, and if you question it then well, maybe that’s un-American.

    The thing is if Mayor Pete is going to make much of his service as part of his public biography, and especially if he wants to invite comparisons between himself, other candidates, and other presidents, to draw lessons on leadership and courage from his experience, then his short military tenure cannot be treated as bullet-proof. He wants us to look. We’ll look. As one veteran put it, “If he’s going to use his combat time as a discriminator, then it gets to be evaluated.”

    Veteran (Joint Endeavor Bosnia, Iraqi Freedom 2004-6, 2008-10, New Dawn Iraq 2010-11 and Enduring Freedom Afghanistan 2011-12) and now podcaster Pete Turner writes “I give Mayor Pete all the credit in the world for deploying. However, there is a difference in the quality and severity of the types of combat veterans. Mayor Pete is more of a combat tourist than a warrior. People with one short combat tour, which meant minding a desk, with access to that delicious fresh baked bread they made daily at the Bagram Air Force base DFAC cafeteria, need to ease up on their warrior status. He’s clearly a combat vet, but discussing it, as he does, is cheapening his experience.”

    “Here’s the truth. If he was to go outside the wire, he’d be a liability to any patrol. I don’t mean to be unfair or unkind but, whatever ‘contribution’ he delivered would at best be forgotten the moment he stepped forward off the battlefield. He went to war, that’s commendable and honorable. But that’s where it stops. People with his pedigree of deployment acknowledge that they spent a short tour and barely got away from their desk. They certainly don’t lean on that service as a credential for presidential candidacy.”

    Mayor Pete might be the first to suggest even a little service produces a better man than none at all, clearly his opinion of the current president who the media has dubbed “President Bone Spurs.” Buttigieg, alongside the New York Times (who interviewed the aging daughters of the doctor who diagnosed Trump for its story), has called that medical diagnosis a fraud.

    Maybe so. But for those who like comparisons to Trump, current Democratic front-runner Joe Biden received five student draft deferments at the peak of the Vietnam War, same number as Dick Cheney, and in 1968, he was reclassified by the Selective Service as “not available” due to having had asthma as a teen. In his autobiography, Promises to Keep, Biden talks alot about his active childhood, his work as a lifeguard, and his high school football career. Asthma, no. His Vice Presidential physicals mention is multiple aneurysms, but are silent on asthma.

    If military service is important and Vietnam-era medical deferments open to question, maybe Mayor Pete should also be talking about Biden alongside Trump. And if you are hearing about Biden’s multiple deferments for the first time here, ask yourself why. Better yet, ask your favorite MSM person why not, perhaps after they’ve done their most recent “Candidate Bone Spurs” punch piece.

    Left out of the shallow jibes Buttigieg tosses at Trump (but withholds against Biden, against whom he is actually currently running) is context. American men of a certain age all had to decide what they were going to do about Vietnam. They did it likely unaware of how a young man’s decisions might affect an old man’s life. They also made their choice not in the post-9/11 jingoistic context of 2019 when we all Support Our Troops and wave away concerns about propriety and righteousness with slogans like “Love the Warrior, Hate the War.”

    The Vietnam-era and especially the post-Vietnam military was not a widely loved institution, and was actually despised by a wide swath of the country. Families were weary of sending sons to die in Vietnam, from where over 58,000 Americans never came home, compared to under 7,000 in the 18 years of the War on Terror and its sequels. Even those who served in the military of that era characterize it as a broken institution wounded by failure in Southeast Asia, drugs, and racism. Vietnam was the era of fragging, soldiers killing their own officers, in numbers far lower than movies would have you believe, but which left officers living under threats far greater than any Lieutenant Buttigieg could conceive of in Afghanistan. The draft which Trump and Biden avoided ended in 1973 and the U.S. military slowly clawed its way to again becoming a professional military under an all-volunteer system.

    But before that Bernie Sanders, also seeking the Commander-in-Chief job, did not go to Vietnam. He applied for conscientious objector status until he aged out of the draft.

    Bill Clinton received multiple draft deferments to stay out of Vietnam. When his student deferments ran out after changes in the law, Clinton sought help from powerful relatives first to falsely join a local reserve unit, and then to hide his draft paperwork until he left for study in England. Clinton as president refused to discuss in detail his various maneuvers to avoid service, which allegedly included an attempt at renouncing his American citizenship at the American Embassy in London.

    As the New York Times generously wrote of Clinton when he was running for president, “Bill Clinton worked to avoid the draft, at times cleverly, but in ways that accorded with accepted common practice among others of his generation. Against that history, this Vietnam echo looks like an irrelevance that ought not distract New Hampshire voters from judging Bill Clinton on his merits… to single him out as some sort of devious draft-dodger does him, and the anguish of Vietnam, an injustice.”

    The Times’ 1992 point is more valid when talking about Trump than the hit pieces they write in 2019 about him “dodging the draft.” During the Vietnam War-draft era, anyone who could afford college or to pay the right doctor could avoid the military with student and medical deferments, and many — including Trump, Biden, Cheney, and Clinton — did. Others took a middle road, the George W. Bush’s and Dan Quayle’s (George H.W. Bush’s vice president) who joined domestic National Guard units and got credit for some form of service without the stain of Vietnam on their nice clothing. A handful followed inner warrior-poet drives, and ended up drawing long from that experience — think Oliver Stone and John Kerry.

    But most significantly, about one hundred thousand of Americans left for Canada, breaking the law to avoid service. President Jimmy Carter issued an unconditional blanket pardon to all of those men on his first day in office as a controversial part of healing the divides in America following the Vietnam war. Alongside those hundred thousand men working today as gas station attendants and corporate CEOs, Trump, Biden, Cheney, and Clinton take their places. Indeed, in the end no Vietnam vet (with John McCain and John Kerry at the top of the list) has ever been elected president, and one who dodged the draft was. That’s what context looks like.

    Like hauling forward old yearbook photos from one era past to judge them in the New Light of 2019, Pete Buttigieg is very wrong to compare his service to anyone but his own peers. In that sense, let us remember Obama, Pence, Booker, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, and the rest chose not to volunteer.

    Meanwhile, 2020 Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard did two full tours in the Middle East, one inside Iraq. In 2004, Tulsi volunteered to become the first state official to voluntarily step down from public office to serve in a war zone. One might better compare Tulsi, and Buttigieg, who had the option and chose to serve to others of their own post-Vietnam world like Obama, Booker, Harris, et al, who did not.

    And FWIW, I spent a full year in Iraq, stationed at two Forward Operating Bases.

    So if you wanna measure for size, Pete, the line forms right behind Tulsi…

     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Afghanistan, Trump

    Amash is Wrong, Pelosi (So Far…) is Right on Articles of Impeachment

    May 26, 2019 // 1 Comment »


    Even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tries to put impeachment talk on the back burner within her own party, Justin Amash became the first Republican Congressman to call for it. This weekend on Twitter, as the Founders intended, Amash wrote “Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.”

    Amash goes on to say impeachment simply requires “an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.”

    Of course tweets are not Articles of Impeachment to be voted on, Mueller’s Report specifically does not indict Trump for obstruction, the Report does not state the reason for not indicting Trump is because he is president, and the Constitution does not include “careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct” as grounds for impeachment.

    People may not like any of that, but those are the starting and ending points on impeachment and simply repeating an alternate version cannot change things. So this all may be little more than grandstanding by Amash.
    But alongside Amash’s tweets are dozens of similar bleats from politicians and blasts from the media demanding Trump be impeached. Cheerleaders gloat impeachment isn’t a judicial process but a “political” one, their main takeaway being less rigorous standards apply (Amash stated there is no obligation to show even probable cause a crime was committed to impeach, you can just accuse willy-nilly) and somehow that’s a good thing. Many express near-joy the constitutional requirement for impeachment, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” isn’t defined in the law so it can be anything a partisan House wants it to be heading into an election. Somehow that’s also a good thing for a democracy they otherwise see under threat.

    What the calls for impeachment show in amplitude they lack in detail, the specifics Trump must be impeached for. You know, like when a case goes to court instead of when one is trying to make headlines? The so-called best versions, as with Amash, simply refer back to Mueller’s own didn’t-reach-indictment non-conclusions and leave it there, as if the Report says something clearly it does not even say obliquely. The worst ramble about the end of democracy, damage to the Constitution, corruption, and cite the libretto from Hamilton as their snappy summation. What they all do, from Amash to Trevor Noah, is rely on assumed agreement with their audience Trump is guilty. Of something.

    The only specific pseudo-justification comes from a sub-group who kinda admits the Mueller “road map” is a bit fuzzy on actual guilt, but who sees impeachment proceedings as some sort of super-investigative process that would take another shot at finding chargeable crimes.

    This strategy becomes clearer when one looks at the real road map: Democrats and the media have been trying to remove Trump from office even before he took office. The Electoral College was going to not vote him in, or the Emoluments Clause or the 25th Amendment would shove him aside. The path forward jelled in early January 2017, even before the inauguration, as strategic leaks from the intelligence community pushed Russiagate to the fore. Trump was a Russian agent, the Manchurian Candidate. The nice folks in the Deep State would investigate, and their Report would segue smoothly into impeachment proceedings just in time for the 2020 election season.

    After the Report showed there was no collusion or conspiracy with the Russkies, the Democrats and media pivoted as one, literally overnight, claiming (failed) obstruction of a Report which cleared Trump of treason, that was the real crime all along. The only problem was the Report did not support obstruction as grounds for impeachment either. So in a wink of an eye, the new plan was for the House to subpoena documents, call witnesses, and conduct a re-investigation into whatever it was Mueller failed to uncover.

    This belief in the investigative magic of the House ignores the vast powers already brought to bear, including the surveillance which proceeded Mueller’s work and provided the fodder for those early perjury traps against Flynn, Papadopoulos, et al. Mueller used the threat of jail time to pressure people into cooperating, in the end producing little actionable material. The House thinking it will find the smoking gun Mueller missed also ignores the entrapment ops the FBI ran against the Trump campaign, which also produced little beyond excuses for more surveillance.

    The Democratic/media actions post-Report — making up their own versions of what Mueller meant to say — beg the question of why not just ask Bob Mueller? The White House is not blocking his testimony, and the House has not subpoenaed him. Still, no testimony is scheduled while “negotiations” take place between Mueller and the Committees. For a nation supposedly in crisis there doesn’t seem to be too much of a rush. The Report has been out for close to two months.

    Or maybe Democrats are not in a hurry to call Mueller because they don’t want to hear him answer why he did not indict anyone new. Maybe Dems don’t want to have Mueller say how early he realized the Steele Dossier was garbage but still kept silent? Maybe Dems don’t want Mueller talking about the origins of the Russia investigation? Maybe the Dems really don’t want Mueller to testify at all. Leave him off-stage, where they can put words into his mouth. Those are sharp questions when the simple answer, just ask Mueller, is replaced by a complex set of subpoenas and judicial challenges under the shadow of impeachment proceedings.
    And with that it is time to take a deep breath and consider what impeachment is really about.

    Impeachment allows Congress to overturn an election. And that is a very, very big deal. The Constitution vests ultimate power in The People. Throwing their choice out via impeachment is in a way the ultimate undemocratic act.

    What impeachment also is not is a midterm check of “fitness.” It is not a constitutional pause for a referendum on how the president is doing. It is not a way to resolve differences of opinion, policy or propriety. The Founders were well aware how parliamentary systems could easily expel leaders with votes of no confidence in such situations, and chose something very different for America. They gave great sanctity to having a president serve his full term. And in our entire history no president has been forced from office.

    Impeachment is also not a way to bypass other investigative tools to allow a partisan House to poke around inside a president’s decisions, pre-election business deals, and personal life, or to amass info short of actual impeachable evidence as campaign dirt on the public dollar.

    This final conception of impeachment, an expedient to get around Trump refusing to comply with various subpoenas, is particularly odious. The claim we are in a constitutional crisis because the White House is contesting document requests, what Nancy Pelosi calls Trump’s “self impeachment,” is nonsense. Contesting subpoenas thought to be too broad or irrelevant is an inherent part of due process and is nothing new or unique to the Trump administration. What would be unique is to open impeachment hearings as a work around to having the courts rule, as they anyways have, on the muscle-tussle between executive and legislative branches.

    The closest the United States ever came to forcing a president out of office was with Richard Nixon in 1974, and much is being made in 2019 that one of the charges against him was obstruction of justice. But the two are very different.

    Nixon’s obstruction had clear underlying crimes behind it, as Republican operatives broke into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate building, and made a similar break in to Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. The latter, often left out of “Watergate” history, was to gather blackmail material or discrediting information to use against the Pentagon Papers’ leaker.

    Amash is playing you with a straw man argument; anyone who went to law school, read the Mueller Report which explains this or Googled obstruction knows an underlying crime is not required. Underlying crimes are not necessary to charge obstruction per se, but their presence indicates the seriousness and depth of what obstruction sought to hide. In the absence of underlying crimes, i.e., in Trump’s case no collusion with Russia, you’re left to wonder what the president would have sought to obstruct the investigation for. Unlike in Nixon’s case, there was nothing for it to find. That raises the question of evil intent, the “why” which is necessary to charge obstruction. If there was no underlying crime why obstruct? The lack of underlying crime also raises the political stakes. The House really thinks it will be supported in trying to impeach the president over a… process crime?

    Nixon’s obstruction took the form of paying cash from a slush fund to the operatives to buy their silence or to have them commit perjury. Nixon sought information from the CIA to use against his enemies. He personally and unambiguously ordered a cover-up. His own White House counsel testified against him. Watergate burglar James McCord stated in writing his testimony, some of which was perjured, was compelled by pressure from the Attorney General. Audio tapes of Nixon actually committing these acts existed. Nixon defied a Supreme Court order to release the tapes, erased some especially discriminated audio “accidentally,” considered destroying the tapes entirely, fired the Special Prosecutor who drove that process, and attempted to seize control of the investigation via a new prosecutor in what has come to be called the Saturday Night Massacre. Now that is what real obstruction, and the evidence to prove it, looks like.

    All of the above preceded actual Articles of Impeachment. By the time the case was moving to the Senate for a decision, there was no need for pundits to speculate on road maps, no need for explainer articles, no dots left to connect, and Nixon was pressed to resign by a bipartisan group. It makes the current situation — a Report which does not charge obstruction, with no underlying crime, serving as the basis for the House to re-investigate those same non-events via a scattershot of subpoenas and testimony — seem silly.

    Nancy Pelosi is right to put the brakes on impeachment. Not because of some political calculation, but because turning the Constitution’s provision for over-turning an election into a hunt for dirt, or as a way around the check and balances of the courts, chips away at the foundation of democracy.

     

    BONUS

    I admire Amash for his principles. So I would very much welcome him laying out reasons for his opinion Trump committed an impeachable offense in obstructing justice, a conclusion Mueller, Barr, and Rosenstein did not reach. All Amash did was send out a couple of tweets. I, too, have read the whole Report, as have many others, and do not see chargeable crimes. So Amash needs to do more than tweet a conclusion because the clarity he sees in the Report text is not shared widely enough to allow him to just say trust me on this.

    Amash in his tweets also criticizing the Attorney General for writing a misleading summary of the Report. This is weak. We now have the Report, and so Barr’s summary two months ago is old, old news. The portions of the Report dealing with obstruction have few substantive retractions, and are apparently clear enough Amash himself has read them and concluded Trump is guilty. So explain why, Justin, and stop distracting with criticism of water passed under the bridge.

    Showing how far down the rabbit hole Derangement Syndrome can take someone, here an author is suggesting Congress arrest Attorney General William Barr for failing to hand over the full Mueller Report, or fine him. And if he doesn’t pay the fine, she suggests Treasury withhold his paycheck. Like someone with that illness that makes you involuntarily shout and curse at people, I really don’t think the people who write these articles understand how silly they look, and how the voters who struggle with healthcare, earning a living, and all that, hold them in contempt for being so out of touch.

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    Dear Nancy Pelosi:

    May 23, 2019 // 4 Comments »


     
    This could all be over in an afternoon.

    Nancy Pelosi, subpoena Mueller. Ask him one question: “Why didn’t you indict Trump for obstruction?”
     

    If Mueller says “the evidence was not there,” this is over. Shut up and have the 2020 election.

    If Mueller says “I intended Congress to weigh the evidence via impeachment hearings,” open the hearings that same hour.

     
    For the rest of us, ask yourselves why the Dems ignore the simple resolution above in favor of endless name calling, contempt motions, legal challenges, and a likely Supreme Court fight. Are they afraid of Mueller’s answer?
     
     

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    A Short History of Impeachment, 2016-2019

    May 22, 2019 // 3 Comments »

     

    After Mueller failed to deliver a smoking gun on Russia, the media and progressives pivoted to a whole new arena, obstruction. Forget the last two years of Russia-baiting, our bad!

    When Mueller failed to charge Trump with obstruction, they made up a string of explanations: road map, hidden duty call to Congress, he would have except president, etc., none of which Mueller actually made explicit when he could have.

    The Report has been out for two months. Nothing has come of it. Reality stands as no charges filed. About the most noise has come from various Dems announcing this is a constitutional crisis as they try to restock the warehouse of broken impeachment dreams.

    Reminder: It’s been almost three months since Michael Cohen‘s public testimony about Stormy Daniels, much longer since his behind-closed-doors version to Congress. Nothing has come of it. The big flip was a flop.

    Mueller doesn’t want to testify. Maybe he has no interest in people trying to put words into his mouth for partisan purposes under the guise of information gathering. He might just point to the Report as his final word.

    Anyway, no matter, impeachment is the only answer. Delete Trump’s account to save the United States! Trump is Hitler, etc., etc.

    The new meme is the House will need to re-investigate obstruction, delve into taxes and pre-election business, and with Putin gone, dig around looking for something Mueller missed to impeach on. Maybe a perjury trap for Don Jr? Disbar Sekulow? Cohen said Trump under-valued some real estate in the 1980s! Deutsche Bank, that sounds nasty. Fine Bill Barr, no arrest him. Gotta be something.

    That’s called Going Back to Square One.
     
    OK, OK, the taxes. Let Twitter see Trump’s taxes and they’ll find all the crimes the IRS audits have missed. We swear there’s something in the taxes, please let us have just a peak.

    Nancy Pelosi calls this all a cover-up, without any specifics of exactly what the president is covering up. Something. The Mueller Report took two years, is based on FISA surveillance, FBI undercover work, 500 witnesses, more than 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 230 orders for communications records, and 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence. Pretty bad cover-up. Taxes? What crime or action are you accusing Trump of hiding? Pelosi doesn’t know. She’s claiming a cover-up of something she believes must be hidden there, without any evidence anything is there, and without acknowledging the IRS has had the taxes forever and charged nothing. The FBI can get a warrant for the taxes today, if they can show probably cause. Which Pelosi apparently cannot.

    When Trump invokes due process to block that overly-broad process, they claim that is a new form of obstruction and maybe they can impeach on obstruction of investigation into the investigation of obstruction.

    So, a process crime as the basis for overturning the 2016 election three years into Trump’s term. Even impeaching over a blow job seems to make more sense.

    While fretting over the end of the rule of law, Dems signal they might open impeachment hearings as an expedient way of going around the courts’ ruling on the validity of their scattershot subpoenas. The justification is the Supreme Court justices are now partisan hacks who can’t be fair. Blocking Merrick Garland’s appointment was unfair. Also the Senate are partisan hacks who won’t vote against Trump no matter what and that’s not fair. Trump didn’t even win the popular vote. None of this is fair to Dems.
     
    Meanwhile, per a Reuters poll, 57% of Americans think impeachment is preventing the government from addressing other issues of concern, the kitchen table stuff that drives elections.

    The mania over an impeachment process which will end in a political whimper will drive a deep sense of failure within Dem voters. The 24/7 urgency will be paid off with… nothing much. Discouraged voters are not motivated voters, especially if Biden is the best they are offered.

    Someone at the DNC might also ask how this unabashed desire to see blood drawn from someone surnamed Trump will play out with potential 2020 purple voters. It is entirely possible that the electorate is weary and would like to see somebody actually address immigration, health care, and economic inequality now that we’ve settled the Russian question.

      

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    Social Media is Not Real Life: A Tale of 2020

    May 16, 2019 // 6 Comments »


     
    (I fully support a woman’s right to abortion. The following is about how power works.)
     
    Repubs: We installed two Supreme Court judges, and Ginsberg won’t live forever. We have 2-6 more years to get a third on the court.

    Dems: We cosplay Handmaiden Tale costumes. You can buy them on Amazon. And the rat in the Arthur cartoon is gay, major victory for LGBT rights, yes.

    Repubs: During the Obama terms, we won back 1,000 state seats (including governorships) that have allowed for abortion bans to be enacted in multiple states. At the beginning of Obama’s term, you Dems controlled 59% of state legislatures, while now it’s only 31%, the lowest percentage for the party since the turn of the 20th century. Same for governorships: when Obama took office Dems held 29 governor’s offices and now have only 16, the party’s lowest number since 1920.

    Dems: Obama was the first black president you know.

    Repubs: We passed legislation in Alabama and other states in line with our goals.

    Dems: Didn’t you see Left Twitter erupted over that? Late night tore Alabama apart. Did you see Sam Bee’s fierce rejoinder?

    Repubs: We won important races in Georgia and Florida.

    Dems: We protested on social media how that was unfair.

    Repubs: We held the line on gun control for our base.

    Dems: The Parkland Kids were on the cover of Time magazine in the dentist’s office.

    Repubs: You guys are all about checking boxes — first black this, first openly gay that, and calling those achievements. OK, they are, in a way, but they are often empty in the long run if they don’t produce actual legislative change alongside symbolic change. Obama, in one example, did too much by executive action and altering the ways rules are interpreted inside the bureaucracy. As with DACA, it was all too easily unwound as soon as he left office. Power works in certain ways, under certain systems. In the U.S., getting laws passed means understanding where action resides to get something changed, and securing that seat or office. Dems have for too long relied on the deus ex machina of the Supreme Court to impose from above what is often opposed, or at least not broadly supported, from below. This creates a reverse wave of anxiety, which will find its outlet in events like the election of a guy like Trump.

    Dems: We made same-sex marriage the law of the land whether you pigs like it or not. We’re gonna force open borders, too.

    Repubs: People are anxious over immigration. They worry about jobs, and they worry about societal change being forced on them. They worry the government has no policy on all this, and these things are just left to happen to them.

    Dems: Abolish ICE. Anyone who doesn’t support open borders is a racist fascist hater. We don’t need them in our party.

    Repubs: Trump’s gonna run on his record you know, strong economic growth —

    Dems: Obama did that.

    Repubs: — got the wall, lots of things his supporters like. You’re scaring more voters away than influencing them by prioritizing legislated social change too fast over kitchen table economic issues —

    Dems: Trans rights are human rights, you pig.

    Repubs: — You’re alienating members within your own party with crazy ideological and race hate memes. You’re telling white people they are unwanted. You’re throwing away too many potential voters in swing states.

    Dems: We’re not done fighting over 2016 yet so don’t talk about swing states. Trump is now obstructing the investigation into the last time he obstructed! We’re going to arrest Bill Barr! Just ask AOC!

    Repubs: You let the media choose the face of your party, and so you end up with people who talk and look “right” but accomplish little — Linda Sansour, AOC, Beto, Mayor Pete. There’s a new one all the time. It’s hard to take you seriously.

    Dems: Um, Biden.

      

    BONUS ADVICE

    Dems must create — quickly — a broadly supported, positive agenda, something people can vote for, get excited about, rally around. A negative agenda, essentially destroy Trump or elect whichever old white guy they throw up as the nominee who is not Trump, divides the party and is uninspiring to voters. The certainty Trump is guilty of something (obstruction, tax things, whatever) is not shared across the country, and the clarity of evil the media sees in the Mueller report does not exist for many purple state voters. The Obama lesson (lost on Hillary) was inspire or retire.

    Biden, running on nothing but he’s not Trump, does not inspire. Bernie is Bernie, looking kind of goofy and sounding repetitive when in 2016 he looked fresh and inspiring. The rest are flashes in the pan, media-made K-Pop wanna be’s, or at best immature and reaching too high too soon and should be running for Senate seats.

    The Dems seem to be betting the house on impeachment even as the number of Americans who say Trump should be impeached is at 45%. Some 42% said Trump should not be impeached.

    But at the same time, 57% said multiple congressional probes of Trump interfered with important government business, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. That 57% included about half of all Democrats and three-quarters of all Republicans.

    Do Dems really want to bet those odds against the economy? There have been more job openings than job seekers for 13 straight months. Workers without college degrees have seen significant gains in their wages. Productivity growth is up, unusual at this point in an almost decade-long expansion. There are no obvious bubbles in tech, real estate or other industries, and the stock market has mostly recovered from last year, and last week.

    The reality is captured in a NYT headline The Economy That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen. Unemployment is 3.6%, a 50-year low. Average hourly earnings are up 3.2% over last year. Inflation is a low 1.6%.

    The standard drone of the media/Dems Trump would crash the economy, or that any positives only the few, or that gains would not last, or that all credit is due to Obama have proven weak. About as weak as claiming, still, post-Mueller, Trump won because of Russia and still needs to be impeached for, well, something, just wait, we’ll find it.

    But don’t leave out the ultimate Dem kamikaze ticket, where Hillary is called in from the cheap seats at the convention when no vote can chose a winner. Biden slides right into his traditional VP slot beside her. They’ll make a nice couple at Trump’s third and fourth inauguration.

      

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