• Archive of "2020" Category

    Requiem for the U.S. Department of State, Part I of II

    May 20, 2020 // 1 Comment »


     
    Saying “Mike Pompeo” out loud feels odd, like mouthing the name of an old girlfriend, or shouting out your GMail password. It just feels wrong in your mouth, because what’s Mike or the State Department done lately? As the Trump administration wraps up its first term focused on domestic issues, it occurs the United States has passed almost four years without a foreign policy, and without the need for a Secretary of State or a department of diplomats behind him.
     
    On his first anniversary in the job Pompeo told assembled diplomats “We needed everyone in their place, working on the mission, if we were going to achieve this mission on behalf of the president” but never actually said what that mission was. A Google query shows “Searches related to Mike Pompeo Achievements” include “mike pompeo weight – mike pompeo net worth.” One can easily imagine Pompeo, even pre-COVID, slipping out the side door at Foggy Bottom shouting “I’ll be working from home, check with my deputy if anything comes up” while his wife is waiting in the car for him, Ferris Bueller-style.

    We had high hopes for Mike. He and John Bolton (as National Security Advisor) were the Bad Boys who were supposed to start wars with Iran and North Korea, outdo Cheney and even challenge the legend himself, Henry “Bloody Hands” Kissinger. Pompeo watched as not much happened between the U.S. and North Korea. He watched as the ending of the Iran nuclear treaty caused not much to happen. John Bolton, who liberals expected to see on a throne in Tehran rolling a mullah’s bloody head around his lap, instead sits by the phone hoping a think tank will offer him an intern to listen to his stories, or maybe Dancing with the Stars will ring needing a last-minute. That show on Fox?

    Prior to Pompeo, the Secretary of State was Rex Tillerson. Tillerson couldn’t even come up with an elevator speech of his accomplishments when asked, listing as he left office North Korean sanctions which achieved nothing, alongside his own mea culpas for failing to make progress in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq, where with a straight face he noted there was “more to be done.” A bit hard to blame him, as Trump chose a policy of stasis, not wanting to withdraw the last trooper and forever be the man who lost Afghanistan. Imagine if the U.S. had followed similar political caution and still garrisoned Vietnam?

    Commentators wrote Tillerson would be remembered as the worst secretary of state in history. Wrong. He made no significant blunders, gave away nothing. He just didn’t do much at all. His actual only real accomplishment was a humiliating apology tour of Africa meeting with leaders on the periphery of U.S. foreign affairs grouchy over the president calling their nations sh*tholes.

     

    It would be easy to blame Trump, his open mic night style of making decisions, his decrees by Twitter, sucking all of the diplomatic air out of the room and suffocating up-and-coming diplomats like Mike and Rex before they even had a chance to try on their plumed hats. Unlike his predecessors, Trump never took advantage of his get-one-free foreign incursion along the lines of invading Grenada, occupying Lebanon, or an adventure in Somalia, never mind the big ticket items like Iraq Wars I-III. Sure, Trump did bomb Syria (who hasn’t?) and nipped at Iran, but the tumescence was over before the media could even declare the end of the world again.

    One can imagine meetings with friendly foreign nations in the Age of Trump: “Anything new from your side? No, you? Nah, something on Twitter from POTUS about armageddon, misspelled. Say, Crimea still giving you trouble? A little, whatever, you watching Tiger King? Pretty funny. Quite.”

     

    So turn the page backwards to John Kerry, Obama’s second term Secretary of State. Kerry imagined himself a Kennedy-esque man of action, Flashman at the ready, and had the State Department keep an online tally of how many miles he had traveled doing diplomatic stuff. The Nation called him “One of the Most Significant Secretaries of State in the Last 50 Years,” heady company when you realize the list includes Acheson, Dulles, Rusk, and Kissinger.

    OK, but… Kerry’s signature accomplishment, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, faded quickly. As negotiated the thing was only for ten years anyway, and would be about half over even if Trump had not walked away. And that’s giving Kerry full marks for getting an agreement where the National Security Council did much of the heavy lifting, and one which the Iranians wanted badly enough to help their economy they were willing to trade away a lot of Wonka tickets. Kerry’s work with the TPP and Paris Agreement also showed good effort. We’ll put them up on the fridge next to the one song Ringo got onto each Beatles album. Kerry’s muscular efforts came to little substance (albeit through little fault of his own) but the legacy business is harsh.

    After that, you have John Kerry helping muck up Syria. Kerry floundering in the Ukraine and Crimea. Kerry failing to move the ball forward in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Palestine, or blunting China as it assumed a pivotal role in Asia in every way except militarily (they’re working on it.)

    That Nation article praising Kerry also cites as achievements “the military retaking of Mosul, the sponsorship of an Oceans Conference, the strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council…” all of which mean what in 2020? Kerry did sing Happy Birthday to Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference in the midst of a U.S. government shutdown. Kerry’s most significant achievement was leaving many Democratic voters secretly wondering whether the country dodged a bullet in 2004 when George W. Bush beat Kerry to take on a dismal second term.

     

    But Hillary! Never mind “one of,” Google chair Eric Schmidt called her “the most significant Secretary of State since Dean Acheson” (suck it, Kerry.) Secretary of State was only the first half of the prize Hillary got for clearing the way for Obama in 2008 (Barack shooing Joe Biden aside for her in 2016 was the second) and Clinton made the most of it. For herself. Ignoring America’s real foreign policy needs (or was she being ignored?) she turned the State Department into an arm of her Foundation, projecting “soft power” on things like women’s issues and AIDS to match her eventual platform, all the while generating B-roll for the campaign like a chunky Angelina Jolie. She also had the Department obsessively document her constant travels, with formal photos of Secretary Clinton alongside world leaders as well as selfies of Hil letting her hair down among her own diplomats. “Texts from Hillary” predated Instagram. Not a pair of dry panties to be found over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    But in the tally of history, Hillary Clinton accomplished… not much. Time Magazine listed her key accomplishments as “the liberation of Libya, establishment of diplomatic ties with Burma and the assembly of a coalition against Iran.” In a summary piece, USA Today singled out “Clinton convinced Chinese leaders to free blind dissident Chen Guang Cheng,” who returned the favor by joining an American think tank opposing abortion and gay marriage.

    From the horse’s mouth, quoting Hillary Herself, key accomplishments were “hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.” Not resume items as momentous as forever changing the Cold War balance of power by opening China like Henry Kissinger or assembling the first Gulf War coalition like James Baker. Meanwhile, the world owes Hillary for her significant contributions to the failed state of Libya and the subsequent refugee flow, the human misery of Syria, the missed chances of the Arab Spring, and failing to end other wars she helped start or voted for.

    A generation before Hillary we have Colin Powell and Condi Rice, whose only accomplishments as Secretary were to march America into the desert and abandon her there (Colin) and march the State Department into the desert with the guaranteed-to-fail mission to create democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and abandon her there (Condi.)

     

    The good news is the U.S. is experiencing a peace of a sorts not by sweating out the sins of diplomacy, but just by not going around the world throwing matches into buckets of gasoline. Trump has made little use of his Secretaries of State and their Department. No recent president made much use of those diplomats either, so they are unlikely to be missed.

    The next Secretary, whether working for Trump or Biden, will find themself in charge of a Cabinet agency is search of a mission. They may very well end up somewhere between the traditional ceremonial role of the Vice President, attending conferences and funerals, or perhaps simply overseeing a network of embassies to serve as America’s concierge abroad, arranging official visits for fact-finding Members of Congress, and hosting senior Washington policy makers in town to do the heavy lifting of international relations.

    If the U.S. government had to downsize into a smaller capital, the State Department would likely end up on the curb, alongside those boxes of the kids’ elementary school drawings. Cute, sentimental, good times, but why did we keep them all these years?

    How did this happen? In Part II of this article, we’ll look at the factors internal to State and the United States, and those external, global changes, that left the Department adrift.

      

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    I Can’t Do It Again: Hypocrisy, Tara Reade, and Joe Biden

    May 10, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    Tara Reade says Joe Biden once grabbed her privates and demanded sex. Will it change the election in November?
     
    The Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings were a turning point, where the presumption of innocence was thrown out in favor of a new standard, “credible accusation.” Evidence was replaced by #BelieveAllWomen. Fierce justice then, but now it’s Biden’s turn. Imagine the same type of proceedings directed at him. Amy Klobuchar repeats her accusations Kavanaugh, er, Biden, is a drunk, with just about as little evidence now as then. Senator Dick Durbin demands Biden demand an FBI investigation into himself on live TV. Durbin fires at Biden as he did to Kavanaugh if he has nothing to hide he has nothing to fear, a line often attributed to Joseph Goebbels. Kamala Harris goes in as bad cop, righteously shouting down whatever is said to her by Biden. The truth? You can’t handle the truth.

    After that show, imagine a second one where Elizabeth Warren, long-shot Biden VP pick Florida Representative Val Demings, Kirsten Gillibrand, Stacey Abrams, and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer all show up to stand by Biden, not believe Reade, say Reade deserves to be heard before she is dismissed, and/or remain silent when asked. That TV show will be shorter.

    To flesh things out maybe on that short TV show women voters could call in to ask those women Democratic leaders how the very serious business of #MeToo got turned into just another political tool by the “party of women.” Alyssa Milano, famous for the #MeToo meme and whose take on the Kavanaugh hearings was she believed all women without the need for due process, could be brought out to explain how now “the notion that this should be disqualifying to Biden in a race against Trump is patently ridiculous. Anybody who claims otherwise is using sexual assault as a political football.”
     
    Well, yes, that is the point. Dems made sexual assault a political football. Problem is now they find themselves on defense for the first time (having ignored successfully Bill Clinton’s hands-on approach.) One article does what I just don’t have the breathe to bother with, pull up exact quotes of what was said about Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser then and compare it to what is being said about Biden and his now. It unveils the total hypocrisy of the #MeToo positions, and how self-righteous Dems are when these techniques were used by them, versus used against them. Watching people force themselves to support Biden under these conditions is what I imagine the Beach Boys look like backstage trying to mix up Viagra and meth so they can get through “Surfin’ USA” one more time.

    Meanwhile, more and more women are realizing Democratic hypocrisy is setting back women’s rights, making it clear women’s concerns are useful and valid only as political weapons, victims only of use to tee up a media storm. The impact on the election will be…

     

    Sorry. I just can’t do it again. It’s the same thing. Isn’t it obvious? Isn’t the false narrative plain? But isn’t it likely very few people care, again? The pattern is beyond the obvious, the addition of new player Joe Biden the only change. I can’t get away from it. People just believe what they want to agree with.

    I even started a story on Politico’s fully debunked claim Trump was beholden to the Bank of China because of some loan. That one fell apart faster then I could type it up. Too many believe when the Democrats and MSM tell us these things. They are all wrong. Why is anyone believing them now? I am tired of being lied to. I am tired of being manipulated in the most obvious ways. After Kavanaugh, the Democrats simply announcing “Biden didn’t do it, nothing to see here, folks” is beyond insulting. I am weary of talking people off the ledge, even more weary of living among people who are convinced they are going to die freedomless in the dark from a new cause each day. I am tired of this:
     
    Trump didn’t win the election.
    The Emoluments Clause will stop Trump from being inaugurated.
    The economy will descend into a depression after he was inaugurated.
    There is a pee tape.
    Trump is a Russian spy, an asset, Putin’s puppet.
    Michael Cohen met with the Russians in Prague.
    (Mohammed Atta met with the Iraqis in Prague.)
    Trump sold out the U.S. to build a hotel in Moscow.
    Trump wants to buy Greenland to build a hotel.
    Trump left the Saudis off the No Fly Muslim list because he had a hotel there.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
    Trump will start a war with Iran over the nuclear treaty.
    Trump will start a war with Iran to distract from COVID.
    The Kurds will all die in a genocide.
    We have to take out Assad (and earlier, Saddam, and Qaddafi,) or there will be a genocide.
    Trump’s trade war with China will bankrupt us.
    Trump will start a nuclear war with North Korea.
    Trump’s peace overtures with North Korea are dangerous.
    Kim Jong Un is dead.
    Trump will invade Venezuela.
    Trump will withdraw from NATO.
    (Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.)
    James Comey will change everything.
    Robert Mueller will change everything.
    SDNY will change everything.
    Michael Avenatti will run for president.
    Papadopoulos, Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, will flip and bring down Trump.
    Beto, Cory Booker, Mayor Pete, Kamala, AOC, Stacey Abrams are the new Obama.
    Diversity is the key to Democratic victory in 2020.
    The rule of law ended in America.
    Democracy died in America.
    It’s Weimar.
    It’s the fall of Rome.
    Impeachment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The 25th Amendment will end Trump’s time in office.
    The Whistleblower will end Trump’s time in office.
    Marie Yovanovitch will end Trump’s time in office with her testimony.
    John Bolton will end Trump’s time in office with his book.
    Ronan Farrow will end trump’s time in office with his book.
    The Parkland Kids will change everything.
    The Covington Kids are racists.
    Two million Americans will die of corona.
    Blocking visitors from China is racist and ineffectual.
    There are not enough ventilators.
    There is not enough PPE.
    There are not enough ICU beds.
    The Chinese supply chain will stop and no more iPhones.
    Trump is going to defund the Post Office to block mail-in ballots so he can steal the election.
    Trump is going to fire Mueller, Barr, Rosenstein, Mattis, Jared, Ivanka, Pence, Bolton, Fauci.
    Trump avoids the press and hasn’t held a briefing in a year, bring him out.
    Networks should not air Trump’s open mic night briefings.
    People will die if my neighbor doesn’t wear a paper mask but lukewarm delivery food is safe.
    People in NYC will die if Starbucks opens but it’s OK for the subway to run.
    The stock market’s historic rise doesn’t matter for Trump’s reelection because most Americans don’t own stock.
    The stock market’s historic decline will destroy Trump’s reelection chances.
    If we end the lockdown too soon everyone is going to die.
     
    Those who fetishize Trump’s lies want to stand on their record above without irony. Lies are truth, what is really true doesn’t matter if people (can be made to) believe it because truth is moral only when it supports the correct side. Hypocrisy just mens choosing the lesser of two evils. Maybe that’s the best we deserve in a world where “do your research” means Google something and accept the first headline you agree with.

    Accountability takes a seat to agenda. The end justifies the means over and over but never leads to good. “Oh, it’s OK, he beats me less than my previous spouse.” Trump’s hidden taxes are bad but Biden’s hidden Senate papers on Tara Reade are acceptable. Ivanka and China? Hold my Tsingtao beer, says Hunter. “You think I’ve got dementia? You should see the other guy!” Never mind Biden mare-nuzzling women’s hair on numerous occasions. Then there’s Anita Hill. Did being Obama’s VP baptize away those sins?

    Same thing in the end, just purposed toward what are sold as radically different ends, Gray Man instead of Orange Man. Choose Joe, he harasses women, gets health draft deferments, plagiarized in law school, cheats on his taxes, is corrupt with his kids’ money, but less. It doesn’t matter what happened to Tara Reade, anymore than it matters what happened with Russia. It wouldn’t matter if Biden sexually harassed someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue. As one editorial summarized, “He’s not perfect, but he’s not Donald Trump.”

    I once wrote in reference to the lies we told ourselves about success in the Iraq War if “b.s. was water we’d all have drowned.” Now it appears Democrats and the MSM have not only learned to adjust to a new environment like some prehistoric amphibian but are politically wallowing in it, at least prior to choking come November.

     
     

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    Time to Get Back to Work

    May 8, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    If America has a fast forward button on it someone should push it ahead to November. We won’t be done with the virus until we’ve done with the election. Between prudence and overreaction lies politics.

    We bleat about wanting decisions based on science. Then we do the same dumb red-blue thing, even counting the corona dead differently (nothing left certain but taxes now) to make the numbers seem better or worse depending on the shifty politics of better or worse. Something that should not be about Trump at all is All About Trump.

    There is no other country in the world so driven by politics so devoid of science. It’s killing us. Other countries have good leaders, some not so good. But look at us. Our nation is held hostage to protests and counter-protests, lockdowns and open bowling alleys. There is no other nation where so many are convinced their leader is actively trying to kill them with his virus response, even imagining he wants them to drink bleach.

     

    The MSM portrays protesters against government restrictions as dangerous, Trump death cultists who’d rather end up in an ICU that skip a haircut. It is an echo of the things that lost 2016 for the Democrats. The people don’t want haircuts. Such flippancy insults the righteous anger over lost livelihoods. They want to feed their families. They want thought-out targeted restrictions instead of politically driven over-reaction and fear mongering. It’s about deep emotional waters, sense of self, a whole lot more than just how the economy will help Trump win or lose. Many also are concerned that their lives, including the right to assemble, to worship, and to protest, are being controlled by leaders they don’t trust while a media they abandoned years ago mocks them. Beaches open in a red state are #FloridaMorons; in a blue state it’s #SurfsUp.

    But they see this time the Brooklyn elites are going a step further, beyond the deplorable label, to wishing them to catch the virus, figuring the infection will teach them a lesson before they vote wrong again. Wishing death on people you disagree with. It’s almost like cheering for a guy who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters.

     

    Elsewhere, medical professionals say the protestors have no right to put others’ lives at risk, and think it is just more than OK to physically stop the rallies. That’s called “the heckler’s veto” by the Supreme Court and is not allowed under the 1A, even if you’re a hero ER nurse or just an abortion protester blocking the door to a clinic. Stopping someone from protesting by shouting them down, driving a car into their crowd, or otherwise trying to stop them from exercising their rights (including the right to hold a dumb opinion or one you disagree with) is disdainfully unconstitutional.

    The medical professionals and their Muppet chorus of journalists sound like some soldiers who felt their sacrifice was made cheap by people who protested the war. Thank you for your service. It does not however allow you to choose which people can exercise their rights. When you choose to serve you serve those you define as worthy and those you don’t. It’s bigger than you, doc.

    Government is not supposed to be able to take away freedoms, even if it’s for “our own good.” Governments always invoke safety and security when they are taking away rights (see the Patriot Act.) The invoke the majority over the minority. It’s an old playbook, joined in this century by our 1A nannies on social media, who electronically block efforts to organize. If you’re screeching about how rights don’t matter when lives are at stake, the same old safety vs. liberty argument people always use, you’ve got company. The KKK used that argument to block blacks from marching, claiming it was a safety issue.

    Protesting against the government taking away your right to assemble is about as fundamental a civil right as you can get. The argument restrictions are needed to keep us safe (“we’ll get the virus!”) are about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Yet authorities in California will no longer issue permits for anti-lockdown protests at any state properties, including the Capitol.

    Agree? Just remember what you’re saying now about these redneck inbreeding gun nuts the next time someone claims a march permit can’t be issued in the interest of public safety to a group you support. Hint: It’s the same thing. Rights are rights. Because you know what else can spread rapidly if “left unchecked?” Tyranny. Justice Louis Brandeis held free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element of a democratic society. He ruled even speech likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” In braver times when Americans challenged the safety vs. liberty argument, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of free speech, reminding us democracy comes with risk. But that was another world ago, before we measured human worth in RTs.

     

    There is science which should be informing decisions. The irony is that while claiming a small rally in Denver will cost lives, or Florida will kill people by opening its beaches, the same voices remain silent as NYC keeps its subway running 24/7. The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate came as a new study detailed NYC’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection,” “seeding” the virus throughout the city. Without a superspreader like the subway it can be contained locally. It is tragic when the virus rips through a nursing home or meatpacking plant (it is a virus after all, it will go viral), but all of those together barely touch a week’s body count in New York. Shut down mass transport.

    We can put most people back to work with limited risk; the protesters are right. The virus kills a very specific patient. About half the dead are over age 65. Less than one percent of deaths were under age 44. Almost 94 percent of the dead in any age group had serious underlying medical issues (about half had hypertension and/or were obese, a third had lung problems.) The death toll in NYC under total lockdown: 22,000. Death toll in much more densely populated Tokyo with “smart” lockdown: 93.

    About 22 percent of New Yorkers already have the virus antibody and thus expected immunity. A logical conclusion — large numbers already have or had the virus, and that it is harmless to them — is simply ignored. Quarantine/social distancing is for those most vulnerable so we can stop wrecking all of society with cruder measures. Hospitals should separate patients by age. No need to keep kids from school, especially if that means isolating them inside a multigenerational household. Let them wear soggy paper masks to class, even tin foil on their heads, if it makes things easier. Online classes are lame and America doesn’t need a new generation dumber than the current one.

    The New York-New Jersey area, with roughly half the dead for the entire nation, practices full-on social distancing while Georgia was one of the last states to implement a weaker stay-at-home policy. Yet as Georgia re-opens, the NY/NJ death count is over 27,000. Georgia is 892. NY continues adding around 500 bodies to the pile every day, even with its bowling alleys closed.

    We judge risk versus gain for every other cause of death. We wear condoms. We watch our diets. Time to do the same for the virus. As for lockdowns, we may not even be judging them accurately. Some 22 states have had fewer than 100 deaths. Only 15 states had total deaths for the entire duration of the crisis higher than NYC’s current 500 a day. The original goal of lockdowns, to buy time for the health care system (and most resources were never needed due to over-estimates of the viral impact), has passed. If the new goal is Virus Zero it will never come. If the real goal is harm Trump we’ll have to put up with this without serious discussion until November.

    A Stanford doctor nails it: “Strictly protect the known vulnerable, self-isolate the mildly sick and open most workplaces with some prudent large-group precautions. This would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence, while saving lives, preventing overcrowding of hospitals, and limiting the enormous harms compounded by continued total isolation.”

    We are fretting and frittering away our national muscle watching TV about a bigamous tiger keeper. There are too many who want this isolation to continue indefinitely, a pathetic nation whose primary industries for its young people are camming and GoFundMe. We focus on the virus deaths, but the Reaper keeps a more accurate tally: deaths from despair, from hunger (two million new people became food insecure in NYC since the virus), financial losses (26 million Americans have filed for unemployment), mental health issues, and abuse (domestic murders during the viral months in NYC  outstripped the total from 2019.) In some ultimate irony, parents are postponing vaccinations for fear of bringing their kids to medical facilities.

    It is the reaction to the pandemic that exhausts us, not the pandemic itself. So when someone claims it is Money vs. Life they miss the answer: It’s both. It should not be taboo to discuss this. The debate needs to be about human life in full.

     
     

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    It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 1 Comment »

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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    What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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    Looking for Jim Jones Amid COVID-19

    March 30, 2020 // 12 Comments »


     
    I’m not worried about the guy coughing next to me. I’m worried about the ones who seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
     
    Jim Jones was the charismatic founder of the cult-like People’s Temple. Through fear-based control, Jones took his followers’ money and ran their lives. He isolated them in Guyana, where Jones convinced over 900 followers to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced grape Kool Aid. Frightened people can be made to do literally anything. They just need a Jim Jones.
     
    So it is more than a little scary Never Trumper and MSM zampolit Rick Wilson wrote Twitter to his 753k Twitter followers “People who sank into their fear of Trump, who defended every outrage, who put him before what they knew was right, and pretended this chaos and corruption was a glorious new age will pay a terrible price. They deserve it.” The Tweet was liked over 82,000 times.

    The NYT claims “the specter of death speeds across the globe, ‘Appointment in Samarra’-style, ever faster, culling the most vulnerable.” Others are claiming Trump will cancel the election to rule as a Jim Jones. “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity or Regan could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public,” opined the Washington Post, which suggested they should be placed on hiatus. And the rest of you, drink the damn Kool Aid and join in the panic enroute to Guyana.

    In the grocery store in Manhattan just after the announcement of the national state of emergency was pure panic buying. I saw a fight broke out in one aisle after an employee brought out a carton of paper towels to restock the shelf and someone grabbed the whole carton for themselves. The police were called. One cop had to stay behind to oversee the lines at the registers and maintain order. To their credit the NYPD were cool about it. I heard them talk down one of the fighters  saying “You wanna go to jail over Fruit Loops? Get a hold of yourself.” Outside New York, sales of weapons and ammunition spiked.

    Panic seems to be something we turn on and off, or moderate in different ways. Understanding that helps reveal what is really going on.

    No need for history. Right now, in real time, behind the backs of the coronavirus, is the every-year plain old influenza. Some 12,000 people have died, with over 13 million infected from influenza just between October 2019 and February 2020. The death toll is screamingly higher (as this is printed corona has killed just 69 Americans.) One does not hear much about that. Why?
     
    Bluntly: more people have already died of influenza in the U.S. than from coronavirus in China, Iran, and Italy combined. Double in fact. To be even more blunt, no one really cares even though a large number of people are already dead. Why?
     
    The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency seven months later, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months Obama had no HHS secretary or appointees in the department’s 19 key posts. No commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no surgeon general, no CDC director. The vacancy at the CDC was especially important because in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t allowed until later (sound familiar?) The politically-appointed DHS secretary, not a medical doctor, led the federal effort. Some 66 percent of Americans thought the president was protecting them. There was no panic. Why?

    Of course Trump isn’t Obama. But if you really think it is that black and white, that one man makes that much difference in the multi-leveled response of the vast federal government to a health crises you don’t know much about the federal bureaucracy. In fact, most of the people who handled the swine flu are now working the coronavirus, from rank and file at CDC, HHS, and DHS to headliners like Drs. Andrew Fauci (in government since 1968, worked Obama-ebola) and Deborah Brix (in government since 1985, prior to her current role with Trump-corona was an Obama-AIDS appointee.)

    Maybe the most salient example is the aftermath of 9/11. Those who lived through it remember it well, the color threat alerts, the sneaky Muslims lurking everywhere, the sense of learned/taught helplessness. The enemy could be anywhere, everywhere, and we had no way to fight back. We panicked like never before. But because the Dems and Repubs were saying basically the same thing, there was a camaraderie to it (lead by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg, where are they now?), not discord. But the panic was still very real. Why?
     
    Why? We panicked when people took steps to ensure we would. We were kept calm when there was nothing to gain by spurring us to panic (the swine flu struck in the midst of the housing crisis, there was enough to worry about and it could all be blamed on the previous administration.) The aftermath of 9/11 is especially clarifying. A fearful populus not only supported everything the government wanted to do, they demanded it. Nearly everyone cheered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and not believing the government meant you were on their side, either with “us” or against us. The Patriot Act, which did away with whole swaths of the Bill of Rights, was overwhelmingly supported. There was no debate over torture, offshore penal colonies, targeted assassinations, kidnappings, and all the other little horrors. The American people counted that as competent leadership and re-elected George W, Bush in the midst. Fear and panic were political currency.

    Jump to 2020. Need an example of how to manipulate panic? Following fears of a liquid bomb, for years after 9/11 TSA limited carry-on liquids to four ounce bottles. Can’t be too careful! Yet because of corona they just changed the limit for hand sanitizer only (which with its alcohol content is actually flammable, as opposed to say shampoo) to 12 ounces. Security theatre closed down alongside Broadway tonight.

    False metrics are also manipulative because they make fear seem scientific. We ignore the low death rate and focus on the number of tests done. But whatever we do will never be enough, never can be enough, the same way any post-disaster aid is never delivered quick enough because the testing is not (just) about discovering the extent of the virus. For those with naughty motives, it is about creating a race we can’t win, so testing becomes proof of failure. Think about the reality of “everyone who wants one should get a test.” The U.S. has 331 million people. Testing 10 percent of them in seven days means 4,714,285 individuals a day for seven consecutive days while the other 90 percent of the population holds their breath. Testing on demand is not realistic at this scale. Selective decision-based testing is what will work.

    South Korea, held up as the master of mass testing, conducted at its peak about 20,000 a day. Only four percent were positive, a lot of effort for a little reassurance. Tests are valuable to pinpoint the need for social distancing but blunt tools like mass social distancing (see China) also work. Tests do not cure the virus. You can hide the number of infections by not testing (or claim so to spur fear), but very sick people make themselves known at hospitals and actual dead bodies are hard to ignore. Tests get the press, but actual morbidity is the clearest data point.
     
    There will be time for after-action reviews and arguments over responsibility. That time is never in the midst of things, and one should question the motives of journalists who use rare access to the president to ask questions meant largely to undermine confidence. If they succeed, we will soon turn on each other. You voted for him, that’s why we’re here now. Vote for Bernie and Trump wins and we all literally die. You bought the last toilet paper. You can afford treatment I can’t. You’re safe working from home while I have to go out. Just wait until the long-standing concept of medical triage is repackaged by the media as “privilege” and hell breaks loose in the ERs. We could end up killing each other long even as the virus fades.

    At the very least we will have been conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement and assembly, whole city lock-downs, education, public information, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. More control by authorities over our lives? Yes, please! Gee, it’s almost as if someone is taking advantage of our fears for their own profits and self-interest. Teachers who just digitized their classes at no cost to their employers and created the online infrastructure to eliminate classrooms, don’t be surprised if less of you, and fewer actual classrooms, are needed in the virus-free future.
     
    There are many reasons to take prudent action and not downplay the virus. There are no good reasons for fear and panic. The fear being promoted has no rational basis compared to regular influenza and the swine flu of 2009. We have a terrifying example in 9/11 of how easily manipulated fearful people are. Remaining calm and helping others do so is a big part of what your contribution to the disaster relief is going to be. As John Kennedy said, “We cannot expect that everyone will talk sense to the American people. But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.”
     
    That’s one way to see this. Too many right now however seem to be looking for Jim Jones.
      

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    Biden My Time as Bernie Burns Out

    March 16, 2020 // 56 Comments »


     

    How did the Democrats end up with Joe Biden their presumptive nominee?
     

    After three years of preparatory media artillery fire about diversity and change, those stupid pink hats, and chumming the electorate with promises of free college alongside all the healthcare-they-care-to-eat, Democrats started with six women, a couple of black people, the gay one, a huge mix of experience and background, and progressive ideas ranging from the necessary to the kooky.

    Here’s the full list of players — Biden, Gabbard, Sanders, Warren, Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Steyer, Patrick, Yang, Bennet, Delaney, Booker, Williamson, Castro, Harris, Bullock, Sestak, Messam, O’Rourke!, Ryan, de Blasio, Gillibrand, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper, Swalwell, Walsh, Sanford, and some guy from West Virginia named Richard Ojeda.

    How many of their faces can you picture?
     

    The Democrat party ended up choosing the only candidate from 1958, 77-year-old Joe Biden. He’s old, he’s tired, he lost the race for president twice already (once for plagiarism and lying about his education), and he appears to be in some state of cognitive decline. Between the hair plugs and too-much botox he looks waxy, like grandpa putting himself out there for one last fling after grandma Obama passed away God rest her soul. That Biden is required to chose a woman as his VP as a sop to the last three years only serves to emphasize the tokenism of the moment — ironically it is the Democratic party which has demonstrated a woman, gay person, or POC can’t be elected president but here, see, we’ll put your photo on the refrigerator so everyone can see how hard you tried.

    The entire premise of the Democratic primary was false. It misunderstood Trump’s election as a fluke if not an outright scam, and that The People wanted a revolution. This was sustained by a relatively small group of disconnected people who through cancelation culture, peer pressure, and the need to fill a 24/7 media vacuum convinced each other they were right. So when a mediagenic Hispanic woman won a nothing race by a few votes against a sleepy incumbent in the Bronx, they told each other they were right and AOC is the proof. The echo chamber made it seem they were always right as they serially proclaimed new saviors, off-stage The Squad, on stage Beto! and Pete predominantly, though Booker, Harris, Klobuchar and others were granted mini-moments after a decent debate performance or some minor event. Some call it the “pundit fallacy,” a belief driven inside the echo chamber that Americans are at heart progressive people who haven’t yet been educated to vote the way they really should.

    The problem was as soon as the actual people were allowed a word it all fell apart. The primary narrowed very quickly. White voters didn’t like the black candidates. Novelty candidates like Yang and Steyer sucked up bandwidth and confused the electorate. Midwesterners were terrified of initiatives aimed at transgender, reparation, and illegal immigrant support blocks that existed only in the minds of candidates who read too much in the Atlantic and The Nation. Everyone wanted better healthcare but very few agreed a massive upheaval of our capitalist economic system was the way forward on that. The candidates went out of their way to ignore public opinion on these issues and alienate voters, especially purple voters. Maybe next time the party can find a progressive thinker who also likes to hunt deer.

    Now quick, name one of Biden’s signature policy initiatives.
     

    The second-to-last man standing, Bernie, was artificial. Unlike everyone else in the field, he started with a pre-built organization, fully-formed policies, and a cash load from 2016. He had a certain glow to him, having been treated so unfairly in 2016 but that did not help much when there was no anti-Hillary vote to glom. But while initial powerups allowed Bernie to survive, he never grew. The new voters he counted on never appeared, at least not for him. Voter turnout did increase on Super Tuesday compared with 2016 but most of those new voters went for Biden. Bernie was the rock band still touring behind its one smash hit; the audiences are the same people who loved them in the 70s, just older now, even as the size of the venues shrunk.

    The process of elimination reality drove forward was nudged by old-fashioned party power plays. Black voters were massed by local pols in South Carolina to come out for Biden. Someone behind the curtain (almost certainly Obama) made the calls to Buttigieg and Klobuchar and told them, as he likely did in 2016 with Biden to clear the way for Hillary, “kid, this ain’t your night.”

    You end up with Joe Biden.
     

    One writer called Biden’s success the product of the “politics of exhaustion,” seeing a Democratic electorate not anxious for change, but one that’s just tired, and tired of being tired. The unrelenting apocalyptic news cycles of the past few years depressed them and finally burned them out, and all they want is to tune out and put someone acceptable enough in charge. When Nancy Pelosi declared the morning of Super Tuesday “Civilization as we know it is at stake in the 2020 election” they had had it.

    Exhausted, you end up with Joe Biden, running on three things: 1) he’s not Trump; 2) maybe he’ll die in office and his VP will take over early in his term and 3) Joe’s cognitive decline appears slightly less than Trump’s in the race for Mr. Alzheimer 2020 but we’re not sure. Not exactly “Hope and Change.”

    Biden candidacy also means sweeping three years of Democratic messaging under the bed. The list of subjects Joe won’t be able to talk about is a long one. Russiagate imploded on its own. Impeachment centered Hunter Biden and ain’t nobody on the Democratic side gonna bring that up.

    President Bone Spurs? Biden received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War, same as Trump. In 1968 when his student status was wrapping up, Biden was medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma. Yet in his autobiography he described an active youth as a lifeguard and high school football player. He also lied about being on the University of Delaware football team.

    Trump’s naughty finances? After leaving the Obama White House Joe and his wife made more than $15 million, mostly via a sweetheart book deal. Biden and his wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 as they did in the previous 19 years combined. The University of Pennsylvania gave Joe $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to grant him indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching. Biden charged the Secret Service $2,200 a month rent for a cottage on his property so they could protect him. Since leaving office Biden made $2.4 million on speaking engagements, including $10,000 for travel expenses to the University of Buffalo. A speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses (for the rubes out there, travel expenses are not taxable income.)

    Taxes? After failing to close the loophole with Obama, Joe left office to create his own S Corporation, so he receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits. Joe’s S Corp also donated his own money back to his PAC. Legal laundering.

    Trump’s sexism and racism? Young people, Google “Anita Hill” now. You’ll be hearing a lot about her come the fall.

    Biden represents to many Democrat voters semi-living proof they will never see healthcare reform in their lifetime (Biden’s comeback drove a $48 billion gain for health insurance stock; they know.) Absent a timely cardiac event, they will not see a woman president for who knows how many years. Income inequality will remain the salient descriptor of our society. To win, Biden will have to break the record for oldest man to be sworn in as president (Trump holds the title now.)

    Biden’s worst enemy heading into November will be low voter turnout. His opponent for Democratic votes will be Mr. Just Stay Home. That’s why those polls which show broad dissatisfaction with Trump are useless. The Trade Joe Moms of Northern Virginia are never going to vote for Donald Trump. But they just might vote for no one. There are ominous signs; polls for several states Biden won on Super Tuesday, including Massachusetts, Texas and several southern states that helped catapult the former vice president into front-runner status found young voters did not show up at the rate they did in 2016. Same problem for disrespected Bernie supporters who just might sit November out.

    The black voters who saved Biden in South Carolina are notoriously fickle when it comes to turn out. Older Americans, who favor Trump, historically turn out at 30 to 40 percent higher rates than the youngest voters. The exaggeration of white privilege that became a cornerstone of the Democratic party — whites are racist, illiterate opioid-soaked gun nuts — is also one of the ways Democrats risk losing the 2020 presidential race, as it leads inexorably to the devaluation of voters needed to clinch the Electoral College.
     

    Biden’s presumptive status as nominee triggered the MSM hive mind to drop any talk of the issues which have dominated their agenda for three years in favor of droning about electability. It makes little sense. Why else vote for someone if not for what he represents and will do? You want electability, run a puppy. Biden represents the end state of a political thinking that literally anyone must be better than Trump. The backup plan seems to be rooting for the coronavirus to  trigger a massive recession.

    That’s betting the whole house on one thin straw. It’s what happens when you settle for Joe Biden.
     

     

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    Fearing Fear Itself, Now That’s Something to Be Afraid Of

    March 14, 2020 // 11 Comments »



     

    This is not about downplaying something serious. It is about preventing mistakes that will make things worse.

    Nothing is more viral than fear. Fear  — fight or flight — is a terrible way to make decisions that call for time, science, and rational thinking. Want to screw up a public health crisis? Let fear drive.
     

    Democrats, conditioned by years of faux-narratives to believe everything Trump does is “an existential threat to America,” are about twice as likely as Republicans to say the coronavirus poses an imminent danger. Our political party should not affect how we respond to an epidemic, but it does.

    “Our hyper-polarization is so strong that we don’t even assess a potential health crisis in the same way. And so it impedes our ability to address it,” said Jennifer McCoy, a Georgia State political science professor. “I am not scared of Covid-19,” a Canadian infectious disease expert wrote, “I am scared about the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic.” “COVID-19 is infecting our minds, not our lungs,” says Psychology Today. Trump Derangement Syndrome, and whatever its opposite is, might actually help kill us this time.
     

    Fear makes for poor public health decisions. Remember the 1980’s?

    In 1981 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported five cases of a strange pneumonia. The disease didn’t even have a name until the next year, and wasn’t isolated in the lab until 1984. By the end of the decade 27,408 people died from AIDS. It would go on to kill over 500,000 Americans. Yet while a horrible disease and a miserable way to die, in retrospect “the problem with AIDS was really two epidemics — the real health epidemic and the epidemic of the mind.” The New York Times concluded “in the 1980’s, fear spread faster than AIDS.” America paid a price in lives.

    The fear was countable. In the mid-80’s 60 percent of Americans wanted HIV+ people to carry a card noting their status; one in three said employers should fire employees who had AIDS. Some 21 percent of Americans said people with AIDS should be isolated from the rest of society in leper colonies. Even a professional medical journal wrote dramatically “A specter is haunting our streets — the specter of AIDS, a remorseless and incurable disease whose nature, transmission and effects still contain elements of mystery.”
     

    Those mysteries are always the most dangerous elements in shaping public health policy via fear, and with AIDS, centered on exaggerating the problem.

    Given that most early cases surfaced inside communities already viewed as modern day Sodoms, many sought to exaggerate the crisis from a quasi-religious point of view; God was smiting the gays. And some of those homosexuals were coming for your kids! Tragically, too many felt the more who died of AIDS the better, and played up the deaths as “Judgement.” The rest of us, God-fearing, were safe. Homophobia manifested as fear crushed human compassion. It’s almost like hoping the current economy goes into a deep recession, destroying the savings of millions of Americans, so Trump’s chances of reelection fall. Or one politician hoping the virus infects those at MAGA rallies.

    The Reagan administration, with its political debt to newly-empowered evangelical voters, was indifferent at best toward using Federal funds to study or prevent AIDS. Congress agreed; in 1987 it banned the use of federal funds for AIDS prevention and education campaigns that “promoted or encouraged, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” Years were lost as the virus spread, and who knows how many died because of the delay in funding.

    The rest of us were not innocent. In the mid-to-late 1980s “AIDS hysteria” was a familiar term in the media and public life, and popular comedians made crude jokes that today would never be sanctioned. A study found “health care trainees and professionals have demonstrated that their level of empathy and caring for HIV/AIDS is negatively affected by the knowledge that the person being treated is homosexual.” A 1985 Time magazine story, “The New Untouchables,” focused on an incident in New York where parents refused to send their children to a school after one student was identified as HIV+. “What about somebody sneezing in the classroom? What about the water fountain? What about kids who get in a fight with a bloody nose? They don’t know!” said one frightened parent.

    Gay activists also sought to drive public opinion through fear. You Mr. Whitebread can catch it too! The fear of a “heterosexual breakout” was employed to coax a Middle American audience toward political awareness. The gay community also sought to exaggerate the extent of the crisis as spur to action, primarily more government funding. In 1988, after New York revised its estimates of HIV+ citizens significantly downward, members of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (Act Up) were arrested at a sit-in at the Health Department. Hecklers trailed the Health Commissioner demanding he resign. His home was picketed and spray-painted. There were death threats against him. Yet statistical studies some 30 years later showed even his lower numbers from the 1980s overestimated the extent of the epidemic by some 50 percent. The Commissioner had been right to tamp down the threat.

    More radical methods also sought to fight the religious narrative. Act Up disrupted Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, where demonstrators desecrated the communion wafers and chained themselves to pews while 4,500 protested outside. A demonstration outside Boston’s Holy Cross Cathedral during an ordination ceremony had Act Up members, some in drag, tossing condoms at newly ordained priests.

    Activists justify their use of fear as the only way to have focused attention on the disease. But that ignores the tragic results of their actions. While funding did increase, much of the government’s early AIDS-prevention budget was used to raise awareness among hetero college students, women, and others who faced relatively low risk. Money was diverted away from the gay communities that needed it the most.

    Even today, AIDS and other fear-mongered diseases soak up a disproportionate share of research funds. Diseases that account for 84 percent of deaths in the U.S. receive less than half of NIH funding. Cancer and HIV/AIDS in particular receive a disproportionately large amount, while chronic diseases like diabetes and obesity receive less funding relative to the costs they impose on society. The squeaky wheel gets the grease irrespective of good public health policy, and the language of those squeaks is fear.
     

    The worry is always the unknown, and on Day One of any epidemic involving a new virus nearly everything is unknown, and near nothing known. Mistakes get made as protocols and procedures are created (in reality, field tested) on the fly. Japan, with an excellent universal health care system and a non-partisan public health bureaucracy, miserably mishandled a cruise ship quarantine, turning the boat into a virus incubator. But while mistakes will be made, protocols will improve. People once believed they should not shake hands with a gay person, or share a public toilet, for fear of catching the disease. As fear forms around the unknown, people, both well-meaning and not, fill the space as science races to catch up. Charlatans promote fake cures. Black marketers run up prices. There will be political hay to be made whether you are driving a pro- or anti- agenda. Things will be unknown until they are known, and no one knows when that is — another unknown.

    “AIDS is grim enough without exaggeration,” cited one prescient editorial of the day. “Why has the truth disappeared so far from view? Perhaps because the chief interpreters of the data want to reflect their own messages. Public health experts see a unique chance to reduce all sexually transmitted diseases. Medical researchers demand $1 billion in new Federal spending against AIDS, hoping to refurbish their laboratories. Government epidemiologists, seeking to protect homosexuals and drug addicts, fear the Reagan Administration may acquire the notion that these are the only people at risk. Moralists see a heaven-sent chance to preach fire, brimstone and restricted sex. Homosexuals have no desire to carry the stigma of AIDS alone.”

    While fear as a manipulative tool, especially as a political manipulative tool, is nothing new, the coronavirus panic appears at a new place in America. Social media lets too many people Joker-like pour fuel on fires, with no interest in putting them out. MSM, which once at least spoke of their job as information gathering, now pursues an unambiguous political agenda when it is not just peddling raw anxiety as a profit center. We are ever more diverse and ever more separated, life divided into subreddits. We live exhausted, on knife’s edge, lip deep in cynicism, decline, illegitimacy, and distrust. We never find time to exhale. It isn’t safe anymore for us to have common fears.

    The bottom line? Fear is a powerful motivator. But fear is a miserable alternative to science and rational thinking, and a terrible tool to employ when fighting an epidemic. Only when science replaced fear did AIDS subside to where today the disease is a manageable element of public health.
     

    So wash your hands. Use sanitizer. Ask questions. The virus is dangerous. But keep fear in check. Ask yourself why Dr. Oz is part of NBC News’ “Coronavirus Crisis Team.” As you encounter information that focuses on worst-case scenarios, seems to exaggerate or downplay unknowns, uses terms like surge, crash, skyrocket, tumble, leaves out conflicting information to create a unipolar stance, is more White House gossip than science, anything that starts with Report: ask yourself if the primary purpose seems to be peddling fear — to sell you a product, to get you to click (you’re the product being sold), to influence your vote (same.) If so, socially isolate yourself from that source.

    And stop reading political journalists to learn about a health issue. I write this from New York, under a declared state of emergency. Yet for all the headlines announcing this new state, one has to dig deep to find the primary motivation for the declaration was simply “a more expedited purchasing and testing protocol.” It’s more about a better bureaucracy now than something with sirens and flashing lights now.

    The numbers will go up until they start going down (it is a virus after all; new cases are declining in China and South Korea) but keep the numbers in perspective. There is nothing investors fear more than uncertainty. Right now, that is all there is and volatility in the markets will continue until uncertainty, and then fear, back off. Lack of testing can artificially hide infected cases but deaths are harder to hide. Before you blame someone or something, figure out how to blame away the virus in China, Italy, Iran, and elsewhere where they don’t have Trump, and do have universal healthcare, sick leave or whatever other partisan talking point is being pushed.Panic is easy, a measured response hard.

    Don’t let fear take from you what the virus is unlikely ever to even threaten.

     

    BONUS!

    Fear as a political tool is common in the modern ear. Never mind fact-checking, the most powerful political ads are built around emotion, with no facts to check. Two of the most well-known are the 1964 “Daisy” TV commercial, which with barely a word said drove voters terrified of nuclear weapons to vote for LBJ over Barry Goldwater.

    In 2008 Hillary Clinton employed a nearly-identical ad against Barack Obama, the famous “3am Phone Call.”


     
     

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    Propaganda and the Coronavirus

    March 9, 2020 // 30 Comments »


     
    “Um, is it Colonel Vindman in the Russian Tea room with the coronavirus?”

    “Very funny. Now everyone settle down. Welcome back to Propaganda and the Death of Media 101 in case you’re in the wrong class, and its, um, March 15, 2024. Now we were discussing the role of propaganda and the media in trying to influence the re-election of Donald Trump by tying his leadership to a global pandemic. Propaganda in these cases seeks to diminish people’s view of a leader’s competence. The ultimate goal is to get you to vote him out.

     

    For those of you in the back holding up those tattered Bernie signs, God rest his soul, let’s start with the question of whether the media engaged in propaganda at all. Contrast the sense of panic in 2020 whipped into place with how things played out in 2009 under Obama. The first cases of the swine flu, H1N1, appeared in April 2009. By the time Obama finally declared a national emergency that fall, the CDC reported 50 million Americans, one in six people, had been infected and 10,000 Americans had died. In the early months of the disease, Obama had no Secretary of Health and Human Services or appointees in any of the Department’s 19 key posts. No Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, no Surgeon General, no CDC Director. The gap at CDC was particularly important, as in the early days of the crisis only they could test for the virus; states weren’t enabled until later. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, not a medical doctor, lead the federal effort.

    The first real H1N1 cases appeared in Mexico. The border was not sealed, Mexicans were not forbidden to enter the U.S. Though CDC recommended against travel there, the primary danger cited was kidnapping for ransom. Yet 66 percent of Americans, supported by the media, thought the president was protecting them. Some 4,000 Americans were dead before a vaccine was first distributed.

    The emergency proclamation it took Obama seven months to declare was issued by Trump within 30 days of the current virus being found abroad. He announced a temporary suspension of entry into the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the coronavirus (CNN criticized “the travel ban could stigmatize countries and ethnicities.”) And yes, Trump encouraged everyone to wash their hands.

    Anybody here remember the media freaking out over Obama’s initial response, which was hand washing was pretty much what was needed? Anyone who did the reading find evidence of national panic throughout the crisis? No. Why did the media cover essentially the identical story so very differently for two presidents? The question is the answer.

     

    Look at the timing in 2020; the crisis came when the media decided it was time for a crisis. Though the virus dominated headlines in Asia since mid-January, American media first relegated the story to the business news. In late February the main “Trump” story was Russiagate II, the revelation (which quickly fell apart) the Russians were meddling again in the election. The Democratic debate at the end of February invoked Putin many times. The virus barely came up.

    Then the NYT sent up the Bat Signal for the new crisis on February 26, the day after the Democratic debate, with an article titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus” (subtlety is not required for propaganda.) An effort was born overnight to blame Trump personally for the virus, and essentially declare his chances of reelection done. The critical change was not anything to do with the virus itself, simply with the decision by the media to elevate the story from the business section to the front page. Even a week after that, with American sanity in a tailspin, only two Americans had died, and about half the known U.S. cases arrived with the evacuees from Japan. Of course the numbers quickly went up (that’s why we use the expression “going viral” for your Instagram blowups, kids) but imagine what a graph of actual cases would look like versus a graph measuring panic.

     

    You’ll see in your textbooks another example which shows how propaganda works, the reporting of initial problems with the CDC coronavirus test kits. One typical headline claimed “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as the stories were written; 15,000 testing kits were released within 48 hours of that story with plans to send out an additional 50,000. Each kit can test 700-800 patient samples.

    The follow-on stories screamed about Trump funding cuts to the CDC, most of which were actually only proposed. Then the stories were merged — Trump cut CDC funding and thus not enough kits were available. Not only were both pieces largely untrue individually (few cuts were made, kits were available), the merging of the two was grossly false. Instead of examining these things for lessons learned in the midst of an unfolding crisis, the media treated them as new bits to mock Trump with, like late night comedians trolling the news for material for their monologue.

    No room was left for people making errors in novel decisions under time pressure, just the jump to “Trump incompetence” instead of doing the real work of looking into the questions. The problem with the testing kits was a highly technical one involving chemical reagents and factory contamination. CDC is a massive institution. Who if anyone there made any “bungled” decisions? Would they have likely made a better decision with different funding? If so, then Congress can act and drop some money on that office. If not, move on, there is work to do. It is how the media acts when they seek to fix the blame, not the problem.

     

    The propaganda surrounding how the government initially handled the coronavirus was also obvious in the false “who is in charge” question the media asked. The vice president was given the role heading up the task force. This is the kind of thing VPs do, bring gravitas, make sure a whole of government approach has the bureaucratic firepower it needs, and so on. The propaganda instead hyper-focused on Mike Pence’s “disbelief in science,” itself more of a chanted mantra than anything established by fact. For “proof” the stories settled on Pence supposedly creating an HIV epidemic while governor of Indiana. The reality is much different. Pence took office opposed to needle exchanges. When dirty needles shared among opioid users in rural Scott County, Indiana were linked to 71 cases of HIV transmission, Pence responded to the new information (sad to see people die, but 71 deaths is all it was and many would have died from their drugs soon enough) by changing his policy and authorizing needle exchange in Scott and four other counties. The reality seems much closer to seeing an ideological stance changed by science than the opposite.


    Pence said at the time “I’m going to put the lives of the people of Indiana first. It’s a commitment to law and order, but it’s a commitment to compassion.”

    Meanwhile, the media largely ignored those Pence chose for the taskforce. One was Dr. Deborah Birx, a career medical professional nominated by Obama in 2014 as the U.S. global AIDS coordinator. She also served as head of the global HIV/AIDS division at CDC, was an immunology researcher at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and an Army colonel. You want to inspire confidence you profile Dr. Brix; you want to sow discord you misrepresent Mike Pence’s decisions years ago.

     

    There’s so many more examples, but our class time is short. Here are a few.

     

    You can report on the elimination of Obama’s pandemic czar but leave out that the position was just a coordination job on the National Security Council with no real power. It sounds scary (one outlet called it sabotage) to see that job go, but in fact the coordination duties within NSC were reassigned to others.

    You can focus on every coronavirus case as proof efforts are failing while ignoring providing perspective by reminding 12,000 people died, with over 13 million infected, from the regular influenza (the one with the vaccine) between October 2019 and February 2020.

    You can focus on time will take to develop a full-on vaccine and ignore the treatments already now in human testing trials.

    You can purposefully confuse accelerating public health measures already underway with America’s lack of universal individual health care. We have plenty of the former, not enough of the latter. But the pandemic is not a solid argument for the latter as it is a problem of public health policy. That’s why even countries with good, free care systems are suffering the virus. Medicare for All would not have changed anything in 2020.

    You can cover the virus as you did Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Everyone was gonna die there until they didn’t. You can follow the now-standard Trump propaganda template: say he won’t do enough, then say what he does isn’t being done fast enough, predict everything will collapse (with Katrina references) and then move on to a new crisis as the reality of the response takes hold.

    You can report on panic selling on Wall Street, or explain how global supply chain problems are not caused by the virus, but by traders’ reaction to the unknowns of the virus. China’s factories closed because the government enforced social isolation, not because the workers were dead. Soon enough Apple products flowed back into our greedy hands, and the stock market found its way back to a new normal.

    You can report store closings, but not their reopenings. By March 1 Starbucks had reopened 85 percent of its stores in China. Apple, over 50 percent. You can emphasize how many Chinese factories were closed in February, or report on their reopenings in March.

    You can misrepresent the use of words like hoax to make the president appear weak.

    You can ignore the drop off in cases inside China. Only a few days after the first cases appeared in the U.S., new ones inside China dropped to 200.

    You can avoid reporting how viruses follow a bell curve. Case counts first rise quickly, the virus claims the “easy” deaths among the elderly, and then environmental factors (viruses must live inside a host; they have limited life outside on surfaces`, typically less and less as temperatures climb. This is why you can’t catch HIV from a toilet seat) and public health measures kick in. Treatment emerges and the virus fades. You can explain to calm people where they are in what looks like a 10-12 week cycle to or you can ignore it to stoke fear of the unknown.

    The bell curve template is clearly illustrated by a look-back to how HIV/AIDS went from a massive public health crisis in America to a manageable problem. As the virus became known, panic took hold. False reporting outran reality. But the bell curve took over; the virus’ transmission became well understood, better testing protocols developed, excellent preventive medicines became available, and treatment regimes now exist which ensure long lives in remission. Knowns displace unknowns. None of this is to minimize the suffering enroute to the current state, but to show there is an established path even for a virus far more deadly than corona.

    Class concluded.

    “Hey professor, is all this gonna be on the test?”

    “No, but it may influence an election. And don’t forget to wash your hands before lunch, something is going around.”
      

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    Democratic Narrative: No Morning in America for You

    March 6, 2020 // 4 Comments »

     

    The chaos of the primaries, the lack of a clear party vision in the last debate — are Democrats a progressive party, a party of moderates, a plaything for billionaires or just people sniping each other for virtue points? It is time for concern.

    Politics is always about the biggest story you tell and how voters see themselves in that story. If the Democrats lose in November one of the main reasons — and the competition is strong — will be getting trapped inside a set of false narratives. Or, in the words of  James Carville, “Losing our damn minds.”

    Think how powerful the narratives of “Morning in America,” or “Hope and Change,” were, and contrast those with the Dems’ “things suck more than you realize, people” and you see where this is headed.

     



     

    At the top of the list is the economy. The Democratic narrative is the economy is bad, with a recession just around the corner (or maybe the corner after that, keep looking.) Yet outside the debate hall 59 percent of Americans feel they are better off than a year ago. The overall quality of life is satisfactory for a massive 84 percent. Unemployment is at historic lows. Wages are up a bit.

    The reality is bad enough for Dems. But the narrative problem is the Democrats are confusing a strong economy with economic inequality. The economy does benefit everyone, but it benefits a small percentage at the top much more. They have not gotten this message across to an electorate that is happy to have any job, content with some rise in wages, and for the half of Americans who own some stock, see some growth in their 401(k) to suggest maybe at least part of retirement won’t be dependent on canned soup being on sale. The Dems are running on a narrative that the economy failed; Americans believe if it failed, it failed less than before and that’s good enough.

    Holding Democrats back is their false narrative of all-you-can-eat white privilege. Economic inequality across America is not primarily racial, though it has a racial component. But Dems are still telling the old story, as if whites across the midwest still have the union factory jobs that raised them and blacks never did. The powerful message of “we’re all in this together” is being thrown away to capture black victimization narrative votes. Dems also insist on lumping blacks, Hispanics (30 percent of whom support Trump), Chinese, and everyone non-lily into “People of Color,” a classic case of one size fits none. It would be an award-winning SNL skit to watch Larry David’s Bernie try to convince a Chinese friend, a medical doctor with kids in the Ivies, that as a “POC” his personal concerns had significant crossover with what was happening to a guy uptown as played by guest host Samuel L. Jackson. It’s about money, stupid, not color.

     



     

    Dems seem to be working this narrative into the ground in an effort to alienate as many voters as possible. Poor whites, too meth-addled to see Trump making false promises, deserve to be replaced by driverless delivery trucks. Poor blacks, it’s not your fault, because racism. Everyone else not white, whatever, go with the black folk on this one, ‘kay? An issue that could unite 90 percent of Americans gets lost. And if you don’t agree racism is the root cause of everything, from “top to bottom” as Bernie says, well, you’re a racist! James Carville says for the Democratic Party to win it has to drive a narrative that “doesn’t give off vapors that we’re smarter than everyone or culturally arrogant.” Instead, the strategy seems to be Dems turning from criticizing ideas to criticizing voters.

    Much of the rest is a mighty credibility issue for the Dems. They have stuck with so many proven false narratives so long no one believes them if anyone is even still listening. Trump did not work with Putin to get elected, yet Maddow on MSDNC is still pushing something similar even today. Do we really need to talk about how few Americans cared so little about impeachment? Trump did not start WWIII. Roe v. Wade is still firmly the law.

    But the transpeople! Dems have clung to the narrative transrights are somehow a major issue among voters; Biden tweeted “Let’s be clear: Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.” While most voters want to see transpeople treated decently, there is no national election issue here. Same for all the other virtuous baggage Dems drag around the social media they take way too seriously — for example, rights and benefits for illegal immigrants. It makes them seem out of touch with mainstream America, a particular liability in an election likely to hinge on Purple voters in swing states.

    Dems also cling too hard to the narrative of Barack Obama. Maybe he deserves accolades for this or that, maybe not, but that the guy who seems to be the talk of the Democrat party isn’t one of the people on the ballot is not a strong thing. Barack and Michelle’s formal portraits are touring the nation, apparently so Democrats can worship them like artifacts from some lost cargo cult, a “communal experience of a particular moment in time,” according to the National Portrait Gallery. Five equally desperate candidates, with Biden in the lead Art Garfunkel role, are airing ads featuring St. Barack.

     



     

    Healthcare is a kitchen-table economic issue. A majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, rank cutting health care and drug costs as their top priority. That polled as far more important than passing a major health system overhaul like Medicare for All. Americans are not interested in converting the entire economy to some flavor of socialism just so they can see a doctor. The bigger the change Dems sell it as the more it frightens people away. Same for all the other free stuff Dems are using to troll for votes (college, loans, reparations.) Each good idea is wrapped in a grad school seminar paper requiring America to convert its economy from something people have grown to live with into something they aren’t sure they understand. It is a helluva narrative to sell at home, Democrats making an election against Trump into a sub-referendum on socialism lite at a time when Americans’ personal economic satisfaction is at a record high.

    Everybody’s great grandma was a wonderful immigrant, salt of the earth. But for much of the nation the narrative is no longer about whether immigration is a moral responsibility. Immigration for vast swaths of the nation is another kitchen-table economic issue. Dems are telling the wrong story — land of the free, huddled masses, yada yada — and seemingly ignoring pleas about opportunities lost. Their narrative cuts short the needed conversation about skills-based immigration policy as is standard in Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, and elsewhere for the 21st century instead of dragging forward a 19th century legal relic. People concerned about immigration as a pocketbook issue are thrown into the garbage dump by Dems as racists, as if Democrats instinctively cleave to the narrative that alienates the most voters.

    James Carville summed it up saying “We have candidates talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election… By framing, repeating, and delivering a coherent, meaningful message that is relevant to people’s lives and having the political skill not to be sucked into every rabbit hole that somebody puts in front of you.”

     



     

    WaPo wrote  “The 2020 election is no ordinary contest. It’s an emergency. If you’re being driven off a cliff, you don’t need to find your favorite Formula-1 driver. You just need someone to take the wheel and stop the impending carnage… Trump’s reelection would constitute an existential threat to our republic. He has already tried — repeatedly — to subvert our free and fair elections.” Among all the others, this is the fundamental flawed narrative which may get Trump re-elected. The Dem vision that we are either already in the abyss, or standing damn close to the edge. Many hard-core Dems feel this way because Trump, but I am far less sure that it is broadly felt outside the media/NYC/Hollywood world. Twitter is not real life. While few would go as far as “morning in America,” most are pretty sure it is not an emergency out there, and are pretty sure the majority of Americans will find it hard to support and trust a candidate who says it is.

    Where you once had hope and change, there’s instead the always exasperated Warren, the out-of-breath grumpy Bernie, that frozen Pete grin, Yang and Steyer once onstage giving their TED talks, all the lost governors remembered as well as the other guy from Wham!, Biden looking like the last surviving member of an 90’s rock band playing a Holiday Inn gig remembering when he and Barack once filled arenas, man. And now Mike Bloomberg, cosplaying a Democrat. Oh well, the Beto revival of 2024 isn’t that far away.

    If I were writing ad copy for the Republicans, I might try this: “Voters, do me a favor, look out the window. Do you see chaos? A Republic on the edge of collapse, Weimar, Rome, the U.S. in 1860? Is your life controlled by an authoritarian? That’s what Democrats say is out there. But you don’t see that, do you? You see more people with jobs. You have a little more. And more kids down the block are home from war then gearing up to fight in places like Libya and Syria none of us really care about, at least not enough to give up a son or daughter. So when you go to vote, think of whose story about what you see you believe. Your choice is pretty straightforward at that point. Have a good night, and a good day at work tomorrow.”

     
     

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    Overheard About Biden

    March 4, 2020 // 3 Comments »

     

    After three years of diversity-o-rama, year of the woman, BLM, blah blah the Democrats now dump on us the Battle of the Old White Men.

    And Trump will be the youngest contender on the ballot.

     
     

    “So what’s Biden’s strength?”

    “He’s not Trump. We’ll vote for anyone not Trump to beat Trump.”

    “Aren’t they all ‘Not Trump’?”

    “Yes, but Biden’s, um, the most Not Trump. And we can pretend Obama is president again. We’ll say he just slipped out of the White House for a pack of cigarettes* and we know he’ll be back one day.”

    *And Obama actually does smoke!

     

    “So, look at this. We have candidates with new ideas, candidates representing the demographic groups growing in the US, women, a gay guy, 2020 is going to be — ”

    “Sorry, we’re going with an old white party hack guy.”

    “No, really, Trump was the last of his kind, mutated yes, but the last of the dinosaurs…”

    “Sorry, we’re running the candidate from 1958. Pass the word.”

    “Seriously, we need to talk.”

    “Shut up and get back into the kitchen.”

     

    So is Warren still in the race because:

    a) she is there to sop up votes and weaken Bernie, she’s in on the whole rigged deal.

    b) she wants to go full medieval on Biden for awhile and at the next debate, she’s on Team Bernie.

    c) she is proving her independence after Obama or Hillary or whomever called her, Pete, and Amy and ordered them to quit.

    d) she’s still thinking VP.

    e) just didn’t get the memo, needs to check email more often.

     

    First they came for Tulsi, and I said nothing.

    Then they allowed not one, two but three super-wealthy men buy their way onto the debate stage to advocate for their views with little support from the people, and I said nothing.

    Then they changed the debate rules to kick Tulsi out, and let Bloomberg in, then again to kick Tulsi out a second time, and I said nothing.

    Then they engineered Bernie off center stage, and I said nothing.

    Then they said they hadn’t done all this before, in 2016, and crashed the election, and I said nothing.

    Then they demanded my vote and said otherwise *I’d* be the one responsible for re-electing Trump and I…

      

    Special thanks to the Democratic Party for convincingly answering, across three election cycles across 12 years, political scientists’ question about whether a woman can be elected president of the United States.

      

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    The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!

    March 3, 2020 // 4 Comments »


     

    The Russians are back, paired alongside the American intelligence agencies playing deep inside our elections again. Who should we worry more about? Hint: Not the Russians.
     

    On February 13 the election security czar in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee that the Russians were meddling again, and that they favored Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed the Sanders campaign the Russians were also meddling in the primaries, this time in his favor. Both briefings remained secret until this past week, when the former was leaked to the NYT in time to make smear Trump for replacing his DNI, and the latter leaked to the WaPo ahead of the Nevada caucuses to try and damage Sanders.

    Russiagate is back, baby. Russiagate II!
     

    You didn’t think after 2016 those bad boys of the intel “community” (which makes it sound like they all live together down in Florida somewhere) weren’t going to play again, and that they wouldn’t learn from their mistakes. Those mistakes were in retrospect amateurish. A salacious dossier built around a pee tape? Nefarious academics befriending minor Trump campaign staffers who would tell all to an Aussie ambassador trolling London’s pubs looking for young, fit Americans? Falsified FISA applications when it was all too obvious even Trumpkin greenhorns weren’t dumb enough to sleep with FBI honeypots? You’d think after influencing 85 elections across the globe since WWII the community would have be better at it, sure, but you also knew after failing to whomp a bumpkin like Trump once they would keep trying.

    Like any good intel op, you start with a tickle, make it seem like the targets are figuring it out for themselves. Get it out there Trump offered Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a pardon if he would state publicly Russia wasn’t involved in the 2016 DNC leaks. The story was all garbage, not the least of which was because Assange has been clear for years it wasn’t the Russians. And there was actually no offer of a pardon from the White House. And conveniently Assange is locked in a foreign prison and can’t comment. Whatever, time the Assange story to hit the day after Trump pardoned numerous high-profile scum bag white-collar criminals, so even the casual reader had Trump = Russians = Bad on their minds. You could just almost imagine a baritone announcer’s voice intoning “Previously, on Russiagate I…” as they whole thing unfolded.

    Then only a day after the Assange story (why be subtle?), let the sequel hit the theatres with the timed leaks to the NYT and WaPo. Then stand back and watch the MSM descend into free fall.

    CNN concluded “America’s Russia nightmare is back.” Maddow was ecstatic, bleating out “Here we go again” realizing her failed conspiracy theories could be recycled whole. Everybody quoted Have Adam Schiff firing off Trump was “again jeopardizing our efforts to stop foreign meddling.” Tying it all to the failed impeachment efforts, another writer said “’Let the Voters Decide’ doesn’t work if Trump fires his national security staff so Russia can help him again.” The NYT fretted “Trump is intensifying his efforts to undermine the nation’s intelligence agencies.” Former CIA Director John Brennan (after leaking for a while, most boils dry up and go away) said “we are now in a full-blown national security crisis.” The undead Hillary Clinton tweeted “Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself.” It is reportedly clear we’ll be hearing breaking and developing reports about this from sources believed to be close to those in the know through November. Intel community 1, Trump 0.

    Kind of a miss on Bernie. He did very well in Nevada despite the leaks. But the Great Game of Russiagate II has a long way to go. Bernie himself assured us of that. Instead of poo-pooing the idea the Russians would be working for him, he instead gave it cred, saying “Some of the ugly stuff on the internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.” Sanders handed Russiagate II legs, signaling he’ll use it as cover for the Bernie Bros online shenanigans called out at the last debates. That’s playing with fire; it’ll be too easy later on to invoke all this around Comrade Bernie memes in the already wary purple states.
     

    Summary to Date: Everyone is certain the Russians are working to influence the election… (adopts cartoon Russian accent which also sounds a bit like WWII movie Nazi) but who is the cat and who is the mouse?

    Is Putin helping Trump get re-elected to remain his asset in place? Or is Putin helping Bernie “I Honeymooned in the Soviet Union” Sanders to make him look like an asset to help Trump? Or are the Russkies really all-in because Bernie is a True Socialist sleeper agent at heart, the Emma Goldman of his time (Bernie’s old enough to have taken Emma to his high school prom)? Or is it not the Russians but the American intel community helping Bernie to make it look like Putin is helping Bernie to help Trump? Or is it the Deep State saying the Reds are helping Bernie to hurt Bernie to help their man Bloomberg? Are the Russian spies tripping over the American spies in caucus hallways trying to get to the front of the room? Who can tell what is really afoot?
     

    See, the devil is in the details, which is why we don’t have any.

    The world’s greatest intelligence team can’t seem to come up with anything more specific than words like “interfering” and “meddling,” as if pesky Aunt Vladimir is gossiping at the general store again. CBS reported House members pressed the ODNI for evidence, such as phone intercepts or other SIGINT to back up claims Russia is trying to help Trump, but briefers had none to offer. Even Jake Tapper, a Deep State loyalty card holder, raised some doubts. WaPo, who hosted one of the leaks, had to admit deep in its story “It is not clear what form that Russian assistance has taken.” Just take our word for it, it’s Russia.

    Yes, yes, have to protect sources and methods, but of course the quickest way to stop Russian influence is to expose it. Instead, the ODNI dropped the turd in the punchbowl and walked away. Why not tell the public what media is being bought, which outlets are working, willingly or not, with Putin? Will we be left hanging with the claim “it was something something social media” again? Did the Reds buy $100 of Facebook ads or implant a radio chip in Biden’s skull? If you’re going to scream Communist zombies with MAGA hats are inside the house you’re obligated to provide a little bit more information. Why is it when specifics are required the response is only something like “Well, the Russians are sowing distrust and turning Americans against themselves in a way that weakens national unity” as if we’re all not eating enough green vegetables. Why leave us exposed to Russian influence for even a second when it could all be shut down in an instant?

    Because the intel community learned its lesson in Russiagate I. Details can eventually be investigated.  That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. Michael Cohen never met the Russians in Prague. Oops. The a-ha discovery was that voters don’t read much anyway, so just make claims. You’ll never really prosecute or impeach anyone, so why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. After all, they managed to convince a large number of Americans Trump’s primary purpose in running for president was to fill vacant hotel rooms at his properties. Let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts.
     

    It will take a while to figure out who is playing who. Is the goal to help Trump, help Bernie, or defeat both of them to support Bloomberg? But don’t let the challenge of seeing the whole picture obscure the obvious: the American intelligence agencies are once again inside our election.

    The intel community crossed a line in 2016, albeit clumsily (what was all that with Comey and Hillary?), to play an overt role in the electoral process. When that didn’t work out as planned and Trump was elected, they pivoted and drove us to the brink of all hell breaking loose with Russiagate I. The media welcomed and supported them. The Dems welcomed and supported them. Far too many Americans welcomed and supported them in some elaborate version of the ends justifying the means.

    The good news from 2016 was the Deep State turned out to be less competent than we originally feared. But they have learned much from those mistakes, particularly how deft a tool a compliant MSM is. This election will be a historian’s marker for how a decent nation, fully warned in 2016, fooled itself in 2020 into self-harm. Forget about foreigners influencing our elections from outside; the zombies are already inside the house.

      

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    Navigating the Homeless and Mentally Ill

    February 24, 2020 // 12 Comments »

     

    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 »


     
    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 »

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

    January 29, 2020 // 34 Comments »


     

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

    January 13, 2020 // 6 Comments »


     

    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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    Horowitz Report Shows the FBI Tried to Influence the 2016 Election

    December 14, 2019 // 10 Comments »

     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 »


    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 »


    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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    Healthcare: Warren Has No Plan

    November 16, 2019 // 16 Comments »

    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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    Civil War and Impeachment

    October 20, 2019 // 7 Comments »

     

    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 »

    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 »


    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 »

    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 »


    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 »

    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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    Ukraine-O-Rama!

    October 3, 2019 // 14 Comments »

     
    Was it only a week ago we were going to investigate and impeach over the hotel in Scotland, corruption and emoluments? What was the one before that, Greenland or loans from Deutsche Bank? What about Stormy? Avenatti? Michael Cohen, the Consigliere, his accusations of tax fraud? Who was gonna flip, Flynn, Manafort, which one was Fredo in all this? Robert Mueller? I can’t remember, was there a Trump blackface scandal along the way? Or was he the one who made racist Asian jokes. Whatevers, now, on to the Ukraine.
     
    There are few hard facts. There are leaks, and the MSM to amplify them into the fetid stew as we have it today: a whistleblower (more on that later) in the intelligence community claims Trump made unspecified “promises” to the president of the Ukraine for help in investigating corrupt acts by the Biden family. This took place during a late July “populated” call between Trump and the Ukrainian president (“populated” calls are between world leaders with the understanding staffers will be listening in, as opposed to private 1:1 calls between leaders.) No one knows if the whistleblower was listening to the call, read a transcript or summary later, or heard about the call from another party. CNN says he did not have direct knowledge of what was said.

    Nonetheless the story blossomed like chlamydia at band camp. At last report, Trump withheld military aid from the Ukraine in a quid pro quo for the Ukrainians finding dirt on Biden usable in the 2020 election. That was then refined into a more tweetable “Trump is again inviting foreign influence into our democratic process.” From there it took the New York Times only 48 hours to question whether the “president can get away with weaponizing the federal government to punish political opponents.” Carl Bernstein ritually invoked Watergate. Special prosecutors were called for, impeachment demanded, and Twitter voted for the death penalty.

    Democrats also decided all sorts of procedural and legal stuff the public cannot understand and will not pay attention to has been violated because the whistleblower complaint has not been handed over to the clowns to parade around the midway, and this is again the end of the rule of law, a Constitutional crisis, the end of oversight, and so on. It’s all a kind of a set piece now. Like a dog hearing he’s going for a car ride, with that first leak the Dems and the MSM couldn’t wait to hang their heads out the window for another ride around the block.
     
    In the sideshow, Rudy “The Joker” Giuliani left a snail trail of slime across the teevee shows, throwing up smoke in the same role Trump used him for throughout Russiagate. It’s evidence of nothing, for far from the Colonel Jessup “Few Good Men” moment the media is portraying Giuliani’s screaming as, none of it was under oath and all of it has the legal lasting power of a soap bubble.

    To sum up: No one in Congress or the media has seen the whistleblower’s allegation or the transcript from Trump’s call that underlies it. Everything written and said has been based on a leak. We don’t know if the whistleblower directly heard Trump or learned about the call second or third hand. The little that seems to be known is Trump wanted Ukraine’s new president to continue a corruption investigation into Joe Biden. We have no specifics Trump promised anything after that request, or that if he did, that it was anything illegal. The Constitution gives near total unanimity to the president in foreign policy. So, a Hatch Act violation maybe?

    Meh. Facts are no longer needed; “Many elements are murky, but something clearly stinks” said the NYT, suggesting that’s good enough as a standard. The Dems and media are demanding impeachment based on that. Whether we like it or not, the Constitution does not include careless, abusive, cheaply corrupt, or even otherwise dishonorable conduct as grounds for impeachment.
     
    So what’s really going on?

    It takes a lot of guts at this point to claim impeachment is coming. Post-Russiagate, the American people are tired of constant accusations which turn out to be largely empty. The false sense of hope Dems are celebrating today is matched by a strong sense of “We’ve Got Him Now!” Episode 123. The big difference this time is here’s no holy grail pee tape to quest after for three years. A call between Trump and the Ukrainian president did take place and a transcript exists. That changes everything, right?

    That transcript could leak this afternoon, or a bureaucratic fight could keep it buried for a long time. So what did Trump say? The Ukrainian government version, which is as close as we have to an actual fact at present, has been online for two months and says “Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA. [sic]”

    OK, so maybe there is more than that in the real text. But for whatever was said to be a smoking gun, for it to fulfill the headlines stating Trump pressured the leader, or extorted him, or bribed him, or manipulated U.S. foreign policy to bring a foreign government into the 2020 election, the actual words matter. If this whole thing turns out to be an attempt to shoehorn another broad or flippant statement by the president about investigating corruption which may involve the Biden family into a quid pro quo accusation, it will fail more than spectacularly. The Dems and MSM better have something dead solid perfect this time or the game is really over well ahead of 2020, because no one will be listening to them any further.
     
    And yet while the actual words matter, it should not be lost that none of what Trump was supposed to have really done, withholding military aid, or getting dirt on Biden, happened. We’re talking about talking about maybe burning the Reichstag but not in so many words. The outcome that nothing in the end happened sharply echoes Russiagate’s lack of collusion and the sad fallback to failing to obstruct an investigation which cleared Trump.

    The military aid to the Ukraine was delayed but then paid out (and amusingly, some claimed at the time it was withheld as a favor to Putin whereas now that accusation has been deep-sixed to say it was withheld to extort the Ukrainians. And the idea military aid to the Ukranie, as delivered, is actually something bad Trump did against Putin is forgotten.) Dems and the media love the idea the aid might be wiggle-waggled into being a “bribe,” in that bribery is one of the specific crimes mentioned in the Constitution as impeachable. Trump though is apparently bad at bribing; even though he made the decision to temporarily withhold the aid, the Ukrainians were never even told about it until weeks after the “extortion” phone call, meaning nobody’s arm got twisted when it should have for impeachment fodder purposes.

    So no bribe was given, or to the Ukrainian’s knowledge, withheld. At the same time no one has claimed the Ukrainians investigated Biden or will be doing so at Trump’s demand. No new dirt has surfaced on Biden or his family dealings. As with all the things Trump was supposed to do to get his Moscow hotel and then there was no Moscow hotel, the Dems claim they see a smoking gun but there is no body on the ground under the muzzle. So will this devolve into another complicated thought crime, another “conspiracy” to commit without the committal? “No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” helpfully tweeted Adam Schiff. But there’s gotta be more, right? Because the collapse of Russiagate shifted any benefit of the doubt towards Trump; the gray areas fall to him. Three years ago “almost” might have worked but not anymore, we are far too burned out and cynical for that.
     
    Meanwhile, we are not discussing what really did go on between Biden and the Ukrainians. The Dems have been too quick to announce Biden did nothing wrong, creating a loop of hypocrisy saying no investigation is needed because no investigation has uncovered evidence of wrongdoing worth investigating. So don’t even imagine a President Biden held hostage to Ukrainian kompromat. We’ve heard something like that concerning a pee tape, haven’t we? “Oh, you oppose investigations into corruption by the guy potentially the next president? You want him in office knowing he could be blackmailed by Slavs?”

    What about Biden anyway? During the last year of the Obama administration Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine to convince the government in Kiev to fire its prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, claiming he was corrupt. Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in loans, and his threat worked: Shokin was removed. The funny part is just as he was fired prosecutor Shokin was in the middle of investigating a natural gas company, one of which’s board members was Hunter Biden. Hunter was collected $50,000 a month for that non-job. Golly, would Joe Biden have used the power of the United States to help his son keep that sweetheart job? Hunter had no previous experience in the Ukraine, and snagged the job there just after being thrown out of the Navy for using cocaine, so really, nothing to see. Biden still had the gaul to accuse Trump of using the power of the United States to extract “a political favor” from Ukraine.
     
    Now don’t be distracted by the way the words “credible” and “urgent” are being slung around by the media.

    “Urgent concern” is merely another bit of legal nomenclature turned into a breathless headline defined as: “A serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of the law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration, or operation of an intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information, but does not include differences of opinions concerning public policy matters.”

    But as for “urgency” itself, the phone call likely at the heart of all this was made July 25 (here’s a public Ukrainian government summary which refers to a “complete investigation of corruption cases”) The whistleblower complaint wasn’t filed until August 12. It was two weeks after that it reached the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who did nothing with it we know of. Congress requested a copy September 10, which was refused (that new obstruction thingie) and the whole thing leaked September 18, of course in the Washington Post.

    Like credibility, urgency in this specific usage refers to whether or not the complaint falls within the boundaries of the IC whisleblwoer laws, something in contention as the subject matter appears to have very little to do with the work of the IC or its employees and much more to do with the conduct of the president. As such, the matter may not be “urgent” as defined by law and the president correct to withhold information according.

    We are also not going to discuss foreign spying around the edges of the 2016 Trump campaign, the role “retired” MI6 British spy Christopher Steele played in Russiagate, or the as yet undiscovered contributions by the British version of NSA made surveilling Americans outside the legal reach of the United States. An Inspector General report from the Justice Department is due out very soon which may disclose the role those foreigners played.

    We are also not going to talk about whatever the State Department was doing to assist presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s contacts with Ukraine’s government. Giuliani’s contact with a close Ukrainian presidential advisor this summer was encouraged and facilitated by the U.S. State Department. Giuliani even didn’t initiate it. A senior U.S. diplomat did.

    Among other things we won’t be talking about his how the Trump administration’s withholding of the whistleblower complaint — that death to the rule of law thing — is consistent with the stance taken by both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and is far from new. In 1998, President Bill Clinton wrote, in a signing statement accompanying the original whistleblower protection act, that it “does not constrain my constitutional authority to review and, if appropriate, control certain classified information to Congress.” Obama restated this caveat in 2010. Trump is in fact the third president to assert that simply filing a whistleblower complaint does not grant the filer the right to force classified, privileged information into the public sphere. As in all other instances, that right rests with the president himself — Clinton, Obama, Trump, as well as the next one.
     
     

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    Will Congress Impeach Over the Ukraine?

    October 2, 2019 // 12 Comments »


     

    Like a dog hearing he’s going for a car ride, with that first leak the Dems couldn’t wait to hang their heads out the window for another ride around the block.
     

    There are few hard facts: a leak claims a whistleblower in the intelligence community believes during a July 25 phone call Trump made unspecified “promises” to the Ukrainian president in return for his investigating Biden family corruption. The whistleblower did not have direct knowledge of what was said, and may have read a transcript or summary. Trump knew the call was monitored by multiple people and said whatever he said anyway.

    Despite the lack of real information, the story blossomed like chlamydia at band camp to soon say Trump illegally withheld $391 million in military aid from the Ukraine in a direct quid pro quo for the Ukrainians finding dirt on Biden. Correlation was turned into causation and a narrative was created in mid-air. That was then crowd-refined into a tweetable “Trump is again inviting foreigners into our democratic process.” From there it took the New York Times only 48 hours to question whether the “president can get away with weaponizing the federal government to punish political opponents.” Impeachment was called for, and one nominal Trump challenger literally demanded on MSNBC execution be considered.

    Democrats also decided all sorts of procedural and legal stuff the public will not pay attention to has been trod upon because the whistleblower complaint has not been handed over to them. In sum, “many elements are murky, but something clearly stinks” said the NYT, suggesting that’s good enough as a standard for demanding regime change in the middle of an election.

    The big difference this time around is there’s no holy grail pee tape to quest after for three years. A transcript of the call between Trump and the Ukrainian president exists. What did Trump say? The Ukrainian government version, which is as close as we have to an actual fact at present, has been quietly online for two months now and reads “Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA. [sic]”

    For whatever Trump said to fulfill the headlines stating he pressured/extorted/bribed the Ukrainian leader, or manipulated U.S. foreign policy to (again?!?) bring a foreign government into the 2020 election, the actual words matter a lot. If this whole thing turns out to be shoehorning some broad or flippant statement by the president about investigating corruption which may involve the Biden family into a quid pro quo accusation, it will fail spectacularly with voters. If we all have to become whistleblower law experts the same way we all were obstruction experts just a few weeks ago for this to matter, it fails. The Dems might as well bring Congressman Wile E. Coyote onto the floor with his Acme Impeachment Kit.
     

    And yet while the actual words matter, it should not be lost that none of what Trump was supposed to have really done — using military aid to get dirt on Biden — happened. We’re talking about talking about maybe burning the Reichstag, just not in so many words.

    No one claims the Ukrainians investigated Biden at Trump’s demand (and Dems insist there was no wrongdoing anyway so an investigation would be for naught anyway.) It is thus a big problem in this narrative that the long-promised military aid to the Ukraine was only delayed and then paid out, as if the bribe was given for nothing in return, which hardly makes it a bribe. Trump is apparently bad at bribing; even though he made the decision to temporarily withhold the aid for some reason, the Ukrainians were never even told about it until weeks after the “extortion” phone call, meaning nobody’s arm got knowingly twisted. So no bribe was given, or to the Ukrainians’ knowledge, no money withheld.

    As with all the souls Trump supposedly sold to get his Moscow hotel but then there was no Moscow hotel, the Dems claim they see a smoking gun but there is no body on the ground under the muzzle. So will this devolve into another complicated thought crime, another “conspiracy” to commit without the committal? “No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” helpfully tweeted Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Three years ago “almost” might have worked but we are far too cynical now following the collapse of Russiagate. The gray areas will fall to Trump in the court of public opinion.
     

    Sigh. This will drag on for a while anyway. So the next step is for someone to see the actual whistleblower complaint, or, better, the transcript of the call itself. Because absolutely everything swirling around Washington otherwise today is just based on a leak.

    Prying things loose if Trump wants to keep them from Congress will not be easy. The law sets conditions for disclosure of the whistleblower compliant itself, based on the specific legal definitions of credible and urgent; the media is mangling this part of the story by using vernacular definitions. How to apply those criteria can be argued over to Kiev and back. For example, the complaint itself seems to have nothing to do with intelligence operations except that it was allegedly filed by an intelligence staffer. That could make it not an “urgent” matter in the definition of the law and thus not available to Congress.

    Trump’s withholding of the whistleblower complaint is also consistent with the stance taken by both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Bill Clinton, in a signing statement accompanying the original 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, wrote this “does not constrain my constitutional authority to review and, if appropriate, control certain classified information to Congress.”

    Obama also reserved the right to withhold information from Congress “in [undefined] exceptional circumstances” when the original Act was updated as Congress created the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General in 2010. Trump is thus the third president to assert a whistleblower complaint does not grant the filer the right to force classified, privileged information into the public sphere. That right rests with the president — Clinton, Obama, Trump, as well as the next one. Citing long precedent, the courts would likely agree if asked.

    While there is room to argue over the release of the complaint to Congress, there are nothing to compel the release of the presidential call transcript itself. What presidents say to other world leaders with the expectation of privacy is at the core of conducting foreign policy. No world leader is willing to interact frankly with the American president today wondering if the conversation will be on CNN tomorrow. That was one of the arguments used to assess the damage whistleblower Chelsea Manning did revealing State Department documents containing such conversations. So, never mind the Ukraine, no president would readily turn over a transcript without a fight, a fight he’ll likely win given the long standing unitary role of the executive in foreign policy.

    Law and precedent are thus on Trump’s side if he chooses to withhold the complaint and transcript from Congress. If no one can see those documents, there is no means to move any investigation decisively forward, though theatrical hearings are always possible. A full leak of those specific, highly classified materials would be unprecedented. It would then be a true Constitutional crisis if illegally obtained, leaked docs were used at the heart of an impeachment process.
     

    There’s more. As a whistleblower myself I know well the personal cost of telling the truth. It requires enormous courage to place yourself at odds with the full power of the government. You risk your job, your life as you knew it, and your freedom. Our democracy requires such people to come forward despite all that. So it is with some mixed feeling I record my skepticism here. At the core whistleblowers are different solely in motive; whistleblowers act because conscience tells them they must. They understand their allegiance is to The People, not a party (leakers) or self-interest (traitors.)

    If the whistleblower here is someone who wrapped themselves in hard-fought legal protections to score points snitching over a difference in partisan politics, it will contribute to ending what little faith the public has in the vital process of revealing the truth at whatever cost, and will cause someone with legitimate concerns now trying to decide what to do to sit down. I hope with all of my soul, and with respect for those like Ellsberg, Manning, and Snowden, that this whistleblower proves worthy to stand next to them. And God help his soul and our country if not. 

     

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