• Archive of "Biden" Category

    Why Trump Will Win

    January 31, 2024 // 21 Comments »

    Gloom consumes America. Some 73 percent of respondents say the United States is on the wrong track, the highest portion since 1989, when that polling question was first asked. In similar polls, there’s been a prolonged downward trend in Americans’ satisfaction with the direction of the country, from a peak of 71 percent in 1999 to just 22 percent today. Biden’s 39 percent approval is the lowest of any president running for a second term a year out from the election. Inflation hit 8.9 percent. The cost of rent and food rose two or three times as much as incomes.

    So who believes Joe Biden and his running dogs in the liberal media when they say things are actually OK? What tiny 28 percent of America are they talking to? A whole intellectual industry developed to support Joe, making excuses why the dumb Americans in the heartland don’t see how well Bidenomics has left things for them. The industry has come up with three explanations. See if they make sense.

    It’s the Media, Stupid. This is part of a bigger problem, presupposing most of the American interior is made of dummies who believe everything they hear on places like Fox, part of an outrage industry. Never mind kitchen table economics, it’s all in your head, idiot.

    Referral Syndrome. This hypothesis comes from the Wall Street Journal, which speculates Americans see so many mass shootings, so much immigration chaos, so many overdose deaths, and proxy wars they simply feel bad about everything (which, economy aside, does not bode well for the incumbent.) So when pollsters ask their views on the economy, they get a negative response, because people just feel overwhelmingly negative.

    Fatalism. Pretending the economy is just dandy wouldn’t be complete with some candy from Paul Krugman. The New York Times’ resident soothsayer claims all is well if only you could see things from the perspective of a rich, white, Nobel prize-winning New Yorker who writes gibberish for a living. Krugman also postulates Trump supporters who believe Biden stole the 2020 election are so apocalyptic that they skew the whole nation’s outlook.

    While the inflation rate may be declining somewhat, the cost of food, rent, and transportation is still higher than pre-COVID levels. Affordable housing kills in most areas. The problem for Joe is these are not problems of perception, they are disasters surrounding hard-core home economics. We’re left with the conclusion maybe the economy really is treating the bulk of non-coastal Americans poorly, the ones who could not sell burgers or clean hotel rooms via Zoom during the pandemic and the ones for whom high mortgage interest rates mean the difference between a home of their own and barely scraping by to pay the (rising) rent. It is these people who will vote Trump, or stay home, but are unlikely to vote for the Biden record on the economy. It is not perception, it is reality. People know when they can afford to feed the kids and pay the rent and when they cannot.

    In this environment, for the first time since President Grover Cleveland in 1892, voters face the choice of basically two incumbents, two candidates running on their recent performance in the White House. One was president during a time when wages rose faster than inflation, when the stock market was standardly strong, when home loan rates were accessible, and one wasn’t. But it is more than dollars and sense which will see Trump win in a fair election. It is his understanding of the America that he rode to victory in 2016, and came close to using to win in 2020.

    Think of Hillbilly Elegy if you want to take the shortcut. Or as another pundit put it, “Trump rode a wave of pessimism to the White House — pessimism his detractors did not share because he was speaking about, and to, an America they either didn’t see or understood only as a caricature. But just as with this year, when liberal elites insist that things are going well while overwhelming majorities of Americans say they are not, Trump’s unflattering view captured the mood of the country.” Trump’s thesis may be truer today than it was the first time he ran on it — polls show most young people never expect to earn what their parents do now, and deaths of despair continue to rise. People tend to notice when they are doing better in an economy, and when they are not.

    Immigration under Trump was simple, and matched a large number of Americans’ thoughts: we may have enough.  As Trump said, “A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We must have a wall. The rule of law matters!” Yet under Biden a pattern of curtailment, thought once labeled racism is now edging toward policy in sanctuary cities: we may have enough. Biden in a way should be thanked for drawing such a stark contrast between his immigration policy and Trump’s, and what the coastal elite minority hold true and what the majority of inner Americans likely believe and will express by voting for Trump.

    They understand that wall hyperbole aside, enforcing one’s borders is a requirement of nationhood. Check out the shelters and sidewalks of Manhattan and Chicago, where it is obvious Biden’s immigration policy is a failure. Trump’s message was crudely delivered but astonishingly accurate, at least to those willing to see through the former to the latter. Call him a bigot, or a racist, or a fascist, but he was right about controlling the border. In fact, every other country in the world does so for itself.

    In the broader picture, there are a lot of people who believe immigrants threaten jobs and security. They believe we should bring our troops home from places like Iraq and let other nations such as Ukraine fend for themselves. They believe Hunter and Joe Biden sold influence to Ukraine and China and they believe a deep state exists. They want education but don’t want college to be free to those who won’t repay their loans. They believe welfare encourages people to stay home, and social security won’t be there for them. They want to own guns. And though they are the base, they not alone. Trump’s backing from white, college-educated Republicans doubled to 60 percent over the course of last year.

    And outside the MSM no one is buying the “end of democracy” argument. The simplest counter argument is that if Trump does not believe in the system, why is he following its rules and campaigning? Wouldn’t a wanna-be dictator, you know, act more dictatorial? Same for J6. Wouldn’t a proper insurrection, as opposed to a protest march that morphed into a tantrum of sorts, have some path toward success? Yet the J6 “insurrectionists” simply walked back out of the Capitol building on their own, and their supposed leader, Trump, did the same with the White House two weeks later. If that was a potential ending of democracy event, it was a pretty lame one.

    If Trump wanted to be a dictator he had four fine years to implement that and he did not and anyone willing to think about it knows that. Rednecks amuck in the Capitol for an hour or two is not the same as tanks on the Ellipse and anyone willing to think about it knows that. If anything the use of lawfare to jail or drive an opponent off the ballot seems as undemocratic as anything else. Like supporting the blue line on J6 and decrying it over George Floyd, hypocrisy is an ugly thing to build an election strategy around.

    Trump’s voters look for America and see Brazil. Their detractors blame the Electoral College, or talk radio, or redneck ignorance, or Putin. Trump’s win in 2016 and likely win in 2024 inexplicable? Try again.

     

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    It’s the Economy Again, Stupid

    January 26, 2024 // 10 Comments »

    One of the most succinct campaign slogans of the modern era came out of the 1992 Clinton campaign: “It’s the Economy, Stupid” picking up on feeling Americans were less concerned with the incumbent’s apparent foreign policy success (remember Desert Storm?) than the nation’s changing economy. Clinton spun  his personal concern for voters’ well-being off this, with the catchphrase “I feel your pain.”

    Things seem headed for some sort of through-the-looking glass style repeat in 2024, as the incumbent is hoping to sell voters on the strength of the economy when they are more than skeptical. Bidenomics’ thrust seems to be “The Economy is OK Unless You’re Too Stupid to Notice.”

    Bidenomics, the word itself the meddling of two of the incumbent’s vulnerabilities: he is Joe Biden, age “the crypt keeper” and the economy is just fine if  you don’t look at it. Not much can be done with the first liability, but the second opens the door for Donald Trump to run on a populist version of the economy that could leave Biden looking uninformed and out of touch.

    The economic world of Joe Biden is best characterized by the New York Times, acting nearly as his spokesperson that things are bright if only you were not so stupid as to be looking at the wrong numbers. So Bidenomics calls out how in 2020 the average wage of workers who still had a job shot up, without talking about how those who laid off, disproportionately service workers. Growth in wages for everyone was then held down because those low-wage workers were being rehired. Biden fanboy Paul Krugman actually went as far as writing in the Times “Until recently I thought everyone — well, everyone following economic issues — knew this.” Stupid voters, not keeping up with the Times. “There are two big questions right now about the U.S. economy,” says Krugman. “One is why it’s doing so well. The other is why so many Americans insist that it’s terrible.”

    A dumb line of reasoning seems to attract progressives. One coined the term “vibe-cession” last year to describe the gap between the common perception and cherry-picked economic indicators. Others insist it’s poor perception and political polarization that are mostly to blame. Then there is good old social media and its whack misinformation, reinforcing the “bad economy belief.” A former Federal Reserve economist quoted by, of course, the Times, wrote that a “toxic brew” of human bias for negative information and the attention economy lead to consumer pessimism. If only those rednecks who don’t subscribe to the New York Times could see the view from up there.

    The problem down here is economic reality, off limits in Bidenomics. Start with inflation. Things cost more, with some of the highest jumps in inflation-driven prices in decades (excepting the pandemic, there hasn’t been a year with average annual inflation above four percent since 1991.) But even after years of the Fed raising interest rates (see mortgages, below) inflation coming down does not fix the everyday problems of Americans. “Inflation” as economists define the term is nearly meaningless to most voters, because it excludes food and energy prices, two significant parts of any household budget. To include those parts of most voters’ lives, you’re looking for the Consumer Price Index, which includes everything but which rarely appears in feel-good tales of the Biden economy. Even then watch the magician’s hands closely; prices at the pump are down more than 30 percent since their peak last year but still up considerably since Biden took office. Some 74 percent today say they’re at least somewhat worried that the cost of living will climb so high that they will be unable to remain in their community.

    Now about those mortgages. As the Fed raised interest rates to buffet inflation, loan costs rose in kind. Average monthly payments on a new home jumped to $3,322 in the third quarter of the year, data from real estate investment firm CBRE shows. It means it has risen 90 percent since the final quarter of 2020 — just before Biden took office in January 2021 — when it was $1,746. Home ownership is becoming a unattainable dream to many Americans as average monthly mortgage payments are now nearly double what they were when Biden took office. Interest rates above seven percent and soaring house prices mean buyers are facing one of the least affordable markets in recent memory.

    The low unemployment Biden touts does mean more Americans are working but says nothing about mediocre wages, underemployment, and those forced into two or more jobs to make ends meet. A  Blueprint/YouGov poll on the economy found just seven percent of respondents were principally concerned about the availability of jobs, while 64 percent were most worried about prices. Bidenomics, of course, famously focuses on jobs created. Even then the numbers are slippery; the vast majority of this touted job growth comes from restoring job losses from the pandemic. Check instead the broader unemployment rate that includes underemployed and discouraged workers, nearly twice as high at seven percent as Bidenomics claims. And watch claims of rising wages — most rises have been negated by inflation growing at an even faster pace.

    Perhaps most significantly among economic perceptions is voters’ view of the future. A poll from March found that just 21 percent of respondents felt confident life for their children’s generation will be better, matching the record low since this question was first asked. In 1990, 50 percent of those asked felt life would be better for their kids. The national debt, which was $5.7 trillion when Bill Clinton was in office, has reached $33 trillion. This constitutes a form of intergenerational theft; rising interest costs will eventually require higher taxes or cuts in federal programs or both.

    Food prices are up almost six percent under Bidenomics. Some 59 percent of parents will spend more than $18,000 per child on child care in 2023. The overall average manufacturer’s suggested retail price of  new vehicles in the 2023 is $34,876, 4.7 percent higher than last year. Average annual health insurance premiums increased seven percent in 2023. The average family premium has increased 22 percent since 2018.

    The Biden people have it just 180 degrees wrong; perception does matter and is not “wrong.” And it does not matter that some of the economic effects listed here are not Joe’s “fault.” Past experience shows the guy in the Oval Office takes credit or accepts fault for what happened on his watch, at least in most voters’ minds. This is because while a few economists are voters, very few voters are economists. What the economy feels like at the checkout, at the end of the month, at the pump, matters most and will drive voting choices. So a recent poll found just two percent of registered voters said economic conditions are “excellent,” with only 16 percent saying they were “good.”  A majority of voters already trust Trump more than Biden on the economy. You just can’t tell the voters they are wrong, all is actually well, when it is not. Bill Clinton called it in 1992, Donald Trump will surely emphasize it this year but Joe Biden hasn’t heard it yet in 2024 with the election only about ten months away: it’s the economy stupid.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Biden’s Foreign Policy; the Biden Doctrine

    January 22, 2024 // 4 Comments »

    Joe Biden ordered airstrikes on Iraq, against Iranian-backed militants, in retaliation for recent attacks by those militants that severely injured three American soldiers. Joe didn’t consult with Congress or anyone else before ordering the strikes, and no declaration of war exists of course. Yet no one believes the militias, following their spanking, will disappear or stop harming Americans.

    That sums up the Biden Foreign Policy, call it a doctrine if you’d like: a series of geopolitically unsuccessful, inconsequential, mostly reactive unilateral actions, with no end game. Underlying it all is the sense that no one is particularly frightened, respectful or wary of American power anymore. Let’s see how this worked on a global scale over the last three bloody years.

    The disastrous evacuation of Kabul in August 2021 should have warned all of us we were dealing with foreign policy amateurs. The rush for the last planes was an expected unexpected event. Yet the Biden administration did not quietly start the evacuation in February with high-value personnel, nor did it negotiate ahead of time for third country landing rights. Mistakes made as long ago as Vietnam evacuating locals who worked with us were clear, yet Biden did not kick start processing SIV visas for translators and others until literally the last flights were scheduled out. The entire evacuation appeared as an unplanned free fall, just “land some planes and see if that works.” No endgame really, simply a unilateral decision to cap the evacuation off at a certain point in time and declare it over no matter who was or was not saved.

    Ukraine is some yellowed vision of cold war. The Biden plan was based on a Wonka-like act of imagination, that U.S. arms wielded by amateur fighters backed up by intelligence, space-based targeting, and special forces infiltrated on the ground would hastily defeat a determined opponent (See Afghanistan, failure of the same strategy, 2001-2003.) When the miracle cure strategy failed, there was no Plan B except to continue to pour arms in to a war that had no clear end game, that was not winnable, only sustainable. Meanwhile, Biden restrictions on domestic mining mean the United States is the largest purchaser of Russian enriched uranium. If the Russians are scared of American power they hide that well.

    The results have not been better elsewhere. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine preceeded what one pundit described as “the 2023 brazen Chinese spy balloon’s uncontested trajectory over the United States, the recent Hamas invasion of Israel, the serial Iranian-fueled terrorist attacks on U.S. installations in Iraq and Syria, and the terrorist Houthis’ veritable absorption of the Red Sea. America’s enemies had become opportunistic, not deterred.” Biden took the bait at each open-ended opportunity, and now Joe is dangerously close to letting Gaza and Yemen spiral into a global conflict.

    And so another “coalition” fight, this time in Ukraine with NATO, ended up a U.S. primary struggle. It is NATO mostly walking away from the meat of the Ukraine struggle, and the baby NATO coalition elsewhere of France, Italy, and others that was supposed to control the Red Sea breaking down. It is a thin gruel of happy talk about caring for civilians backed up by unlimited arms to Israel, handled so poorly diplomatically that the U.S. has inherited pariah status globally. The modern version of American power was demonstrated when Egypt snubbed Joe Biden’s visit over the mess in Gaza. The question of Palestine, always simmering, is now another major issue to divide Red and Blue and further polarize society. In addition to receiving $6 billion in frozen oil funds from Biden as a ransom for five American hostages, Iran controls the playbook, attacking with impunity via its proxies across Iraq, Syria, and southern Lebanon; Iran’s partners carried out more than 100 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria and the Red Sea.  They decide if and when the 1:1 conflict with Israel goes regional, and the U.S. will be again forced to react. The Houthis, also Iran-backed, have dragged the U.S. into a broad promise to keep the Red Sea open to shipping, as the world rolls its eyes as Pax Americana once again looks like a punchline. Can anyone say we are still indispensable?

    Another Biden foreign policy disaster has come home, literally, in the immigration crisis. For reasons too vague to enunciate, the Biden administration did away with any semblance of immigration law and flung open the southern border to anyone interested in wandering in. Already more than eight million illegal entrants have come across, with another quarter-million entering each month. As in Ukraine and elsewhere, there is no endgame. When will the border close? How much will caring for the millions cost (New York City has processed more than 160,000 migrants; some 70,000 remain in the city’s care. In Denver, caring for the new migrants has consumed 10 percent of the city’s budget)? The United States has now exceeded, both in real numbers and in percentages, all past numbers of non-native born American residents. What impact on our greater society will such an influx have, especially given how it is targeted at a handful of cities? Will the Russians ever surrender? What about the immigrants?

    Three years ago, there was no war in Ukraine and certainly no U.S. military involvement in the Crimea and Donbas. Israel and Hamas existed in their tinder-like stasis condition, no brutal massacre of 1,600 Jews (30 of whom were Americans) and no invasion of Gaza. Campus protestors limited their protestations that they were not anti-Semitic in their hatred of Israel. Iran and the U.S. cooperated on fighting ISIS in Iraq, uneasy partners for certain but not shooting cousins as now. The Houthi struggle was confined within Yemen’s borders. On the positive side, efforts were being made to watch diplomacy bloom with North Korea, which instead is now test firing missiles aplomb once again. Biden has made no progress on China either to limit their opportunistic stance or reduce their hold over America economically. Biden has largely ignored most of Africa and South America as well as the world’s most populous democracy (and nuclear power) India. It is impossible to call it progress and all too easy to call it sadly the Biden Doctrine.

     

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Evening in America and It’s Raining Hard

    January 11, 2024 // 16 Comments »

    It’s evening in America. How might what we see affect the presidential election?

    Pessimism: There is pessimism about the future, as a majority of Americans now believe the next generation is likely to have a lower standard of living. A Wall Street Journal poll found just 21 percent of respondents felt confident life for their children will be better, matching the record low.

    Inflation: For more than two-thirds of voting age Americans, 2023 was by far the highest inflation of their adult lifetimes. Higher prices means less spending power. A recent poll on the economy found just seven percent of respondents were principally concerned about the availability of jobs, while 64 percent were most worried about prices. What’s the White House concerned about? Jobs, not prices, even to the point where one of its unofficial spokespersons, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, has created a genre for his column scolding Americans for not seeing how great the economy really is. Things are going well for some; the richest one percent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth, worth $42 trillion, created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the population. If the economy is expanding, fewer people are benefiting from it. Averages may look good, but the median numbers, not so much. Why, Bidenomics seems to ask, can things be bad when so many people now work two or even three jobs?

    Crime: Only 20 percent of registered voters feel that “things in the country these days are under control,” compared with 66 percent who feel that things are “out of control.” Out of control how? According to Gallup, 28 percent of households reported that they had been hit by crime, up from 20 percent in 2020. Some 63 percent of Americans describe the crime problem as “extremely” or “very” serious, the highest Gallup ever recorded, and 56 percent say there is more crime in their area than a year ago, also a record high.

    It has gotten to the point where several businesses near the location where George Floyd died are suing the city of Minneapolis for a lack of policing. The lawsuit accuses police of blocking off the area, called “George Floyd Square,” for over a year with concrete barriers, which turned the area into a hotspot for violent crime. Criminals know “the area lacks police protection,” the lawsuit alleges, and businesses are seeking $1.5 million in damages. As with many school resource officers, the cops left George Floyd Square in response to community complaints about over-policing. Downtowns are hollowing out again, as businesses close in response to unabated smash and grab and mass shoplifting campaigns carried out in front of prosecutors unwilling to act. Albeit in part Covid-related, more than two percent of New York City tax payers fled the state, mostly high net worth individuals/taxpayers.

    Drugs: Deaths from drug overdoses almost doubled from 52,404 in 2015 to 106,699 in 2021. Efforts to halt the flow from China of precursors used to make fentanyl have been limited, from blandly bellicose and provocative statements about Taiwan’s future, to asking Beijing very nicely to stop exporting.

    Deaths of Despair: Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row—a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically and are still rising. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who first sounded the alarm about deaths of despair, explain the overwhelming surge on the social and economic forces making life harder for the working class.

    Health: The U.S. now has a lower average life expectancy than Japan, driven by an increase in death rates in young and middle-aged adults 25 to 64. Besides Japan, life expectancy is also lower than Canada, the UK, Iceland, Hong Kong. Also Iran, China, Algeria, and Cuba, not the usual peers the U.S. claims. Guns account for about half of the suicides committed by young people and the majority of homicides. So while firearms play a large role, clearly there’s a mental health crisis fueling it. Mental-health-related visits among children, teenagers, and young adults surged between 2011 and 2020, from 4.8 million to 7.5 million.

    The bottom line is our young people are less likely to reach age 20 than most around the world, including Syria. Only 23 percent of American youth are eligible to serve in the military due to being overweight, using drugs, or having mental and physical health problems. The U.S. drags the global lower-middle, clustered in infant mortality statistics which place it as peers to Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, and well below Canada, Japan, and most European countries. Those numbers reflect broad averages from within the United States. When you look at America by race, black infant deaths are more than twice those of whites, about what most Central American countries suffer.

    Education: The educational harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been “devastating,” according to a recent survey of 26 million K-8 students by researchers at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, and Harvard. The researchers also found the pandemic “exacerbated economic and racial educational inequality.” The average “U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading.” In New York City there are 119,300 homeless students in the public school system who depend on school for three meals, a shower, medical care, and handout clothing in addition to reading and writing (math scores are also down.)

    Guns: Americans ages eighteen to twenty account for only four percent of the population but 17 percent of murders. 86 percent of the weapons came from the homes of friends, relatives, or parents. Some 70 percent of school shootings since 1999 were carried out by people under eighteen. The median age of school shooters is sixteen. There have been at least 554 school-shooting victims, with at least 311,000 children exposed to gun violence at school in the U.S. since the Columbine High School massacre, all spread across 376 schools. Black students make up 16.6 percent of the school population but experience school shootings at twice that rate. The frequency of shootings has increased, with a surge of forty-six incidents in 2022, the highest in any year since 1999. The safest year was 2020, when most schools were closed and parents needed only to worry — mostly pointlessly, it turned out — about Covid taking their kids.

    War and Defense: Overseas a period of relative calm has been replaced by an era of proxy-type wars that appear to many Americans to be as pointless as they are expensive. The fights in Ukraine and Gaza draw hundreds of billions of dollars in “aid,” leaving many Americans wondering if their taxes are too high given what appears to be the easy availability of such massive amounts of money. Politically the war-weary American population knows we are one bad decision away from entering both conflicts, unless you want to count Special Forces in Ukraine and naval action against Iranian-Houthi targets as us being “already in.” There is a feeling of unsettlement — are our sons and daughters going back to war so soon after the disastrous ending of twenty-some years in Afghanistan? At what point will the troops come home and the money come home to assist Americans in their struggles? At $877 billion in defense spending per year, the U.S. outspends the next ten nations on the list (China, UK, Japan, etc.) The U.S. has more bases abroad than any other country. Our post-9/11 wars caused 4.5 million deaths, and displaced up to 60 million people. What for?

    Immigration, healthcare costs, war talk with Iran, nuclear gamesmanship with the Russians, it’s a long story. But as they say economics (education, etc…) is only complicated when talking to an economist. About 70 percent of all voters do not want Biden to run, including 51 percent of Democrats polled. Against the likely Republican nominee, Biden already trails by four points or more in swing states.

    So, who are you voting for?

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Somebody is in Trouble Over Afghanistan

    January 3, 2024 // 8 Comments »

    Boy oh boy, if anyone looks seriously into the end game in Afghanistan is somebody gonna be in trouble. See, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) the collapse of the Afghan army and government was mostly our own fault. No dessert for you!

    You remember the war in Afghanistan, don’t you? Anyone? Bueller? See it was America’s longest war, stretching from 2001 until 2021, long enough that soldiers who deployed near the end had not even been born when it all started. Now that’s a war! The thing is, the war accomplished nothing in its 20 years. The situation on the ground — Taliban in charge, open territory for any terrorist needing an AirBnB — is pretty much status quo September 2001 except it is now 2024.

    And now it turns out that’s mostly our fault. SIGAR released its reportCollapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to Its Demise. It posits two major factors that lead to the demise: unclear U.S. war aims, and corruption and mismanagement on the part of the Afghan government created, advised, and funded by the U.S. (so that’s sorta on us, too.) General James Mattis, who served as Mad Dog,  head of Central Command from 2010 to 2013, and as Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2018, told SIGAR, “The lack of political clarity on ends, ways, and means meant we were always wondering if we were still going to be here next year. Were we going to be funded next year? We weren’t sure whether to attack, retreat or go sideways.”

    SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces’ (ANDSF) collapse in August 2021 was the decision by two U.S. presidents to withdraw U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan, while Afghan forces remained unable to sustain themselves. One former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told SIGAR, “We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the jenga pile and expected it to stay up.” The sad-great thing about those quotes is that they could have been applied at most any point in the 20 year war. Lack of political clarity? It was a couple of years into the war itself before anyone knew the reason for the war (it turned out to be “terrorism.”) An unstainable Afghan military? Maybe someone could point out where in say year 16 the army was sustainable. Boy, heads are gonna roll over that one! All we need to do is find out who was responsible for creating a sustainable army and political clarity and roast ’em.

    The other factor which contributed to the demise of the Afghan army was the last-minute wholesale restructuring of Afghanistan’s security institutions. In 2021, amid rapidly deteriorating security, President Ghani reshuffled most of his security officials, often replacing them with fellow ethnic Pashtuns. These leadership changes were part of a broader pattern of politicization and ethnicization (in favor of Pashtuns) of the security sector in the final years of the Ghani administration.

    One analyst told SIGAR, “Districts collapsed not because of the army, but because of that restructuring that happened and the fact that none of [the replacement police chiefs] had connections” at the district level. He claimed it was the police that did most of the fighting in the final 18 months, not the army. By undermining the morale and political legitimacy of the police, this restructuring directly contributed to the collapse in August 2021. Ethnic competition between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns was likely the single biggest source of dysfunction within the ANDSF. But some former Afghan officials described other types of friction. One former MOD official described competition between the younger and older generation of officers, between the jihadis and the professional officers, and between ethnicities. All these issues distracted from the fight, he said. Now, see, someone on the American side should have been watching for that!

    This strategic level mismanagement had a direct effect in the field. “Overnight, 98 percent of U.S. air strikes had ceased… the Doha agreement’s psychological implication was so great that the average Afghan soldier felt this idea of abandonment… U.S. soldiers were confused about what to engage and what to not. On an hourly basis, the U.S. military had to coordinate with the Doha office of Ambassador Khalilzad and others from the State Department to get clarification on what they could do,” said one former Afghan Army corps commander. “They [U.S. partners] said it was not right, but they have to follow orders. They would see the Taliban attacking our checkpoints. They would have videos of the Taliban doing it. But they would say we are not able to engage, because we have limitations. There was also so much concern about civilians, which gave the Taliban an advantage,” explained a former Afghan Army General.

    According to an senior Afghan official, it was not until President Biden’s April 2021, announcement of the final troop and contractor withdrawal date that Afghan President Ghani’s inner circle said they realized that the ANDSF had no supply and logistics capability. Although the Afghan government had operated in this way for nearly 20 years, their realization came only four months before its collapse.

    Then there was the lack of coordination between the U.S. and the Afghan governments as the Americans negotiating in Doha cut their own deals with the Taliban to enable a quick exit. One former Afghan government official told SIGAR that following the U.S.-Taliban agreement, President Ghani began to suspect that the United States wanted to remove him from power.  That official and a former Afghan general believed Ghani feared a military coup.  According to the general, Ghani became a “paranoid president… afraid of his own countrymen” and of U.S.-trained Afghan officers. According to a former Afghan general, in the week before Kabul fell, President Ghani replaced the new generation of young U.S.-trained Afghan officers with an old guard of Communist generals in almost all of the army corps. Ghani, that general said, was “changing commanders constantly [to] bring back some of the old-school Communist generals who [he] saw as loyal to him, instead of these American-trained young officers who he [mostly] feared.”

    Afghan officials, largely removed from the negotiations, struggled most of all to understand what the United States had agreed to with the Taliban. According to Afghan government officials, the U.S. military never clearly communicated the specifics of its policy changes to the Ghani administration. According to a former Afghan general, in a broad sense, the U.S. military took on the role of a referee and watched the Afghan government and Taliban fight, something the general referred to as “a sick game.” According to that general, Afghan troops had not only lost U.S. support for offensive operations, they no longer knew if or when U.S. forces would come to their defense. U.S. inaction fueled mistrust among the ANDSF toward the United States and their own government. The Taliban’s operations and tactics, however, suggested that they may have had a better understanding of new levels of support the United States was willing to provide to the ANDSF following the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement. For example, under the U.S.-Taliban agreement’s rules, U.S. aircraft could not target the Taliban groups that were waiting more than 500 meters away—the groups “beyond the contact” that would engage in the second, third, or fourth wave to defeat the last ANDSF units. A senior Afghan official said this was a loophole that the Taliban used in their targeting to their advantage.

    SIGAR’s sad conclusion to the report could have been written at any point, including in 1968. “The U.S. approach to reconstructing the ANDSF lacked the political will to dedicate the time and resources necessary to reconstruct an entire security sector in a war-torn and impoverished country. As a result, the U.S. created an ANDSF that could not operate independently, milestones for ANDSF capability development were unrealistic, and the eventual collapse of the ANDSF was predictable. After 20 years of training and development, the ANDSF never became a cohesive, substantive force capable of operating on its own. The U.S. and Afghan governments share in the blame. Neither side appeared to have the political commitment to doing what it would take to address the challenges, including devoting the time and resources necessary to develop a professional ANDSF, a multi-generational process. In essence, U.S. and Afghan efforts to cultivate an effective and sustainable security assistance sector were likely to fail from the beginning.”

    “Likely to fail from the beginning” is a helluva epitaph for U.S. policy in Afghanistan. If only SIGAR could find the guys responsible, we might avoid another round in Ukraine, where our policy depends on another U.S. patsy leader whose army is now totally dependent on U.S. funding, supplies, and advisement in a war that cannot be won, only sustained at great expense.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Trump’s Plan for the Deep State (Project 2025 and Schedule F)

    December 15, 2023 // 6 Comments »

    They just won’t stop. The same day we wrote about media exaggeration of Trump’s second term plans to “seize power,” the New York Times comes out with an end-of-days Trump Apocalypse story — “Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State.’” Their version of term 2.0 reads like an AI-generated text of Mein Kampf. But what might Trump really do his second term? Don’t worry, it’s all good unless you like the Deep State.

    To start, Trump will not repeat a mistake from term 1.0, and will quickly fill his political appointee positions with allies. This sounds like a shocker until a) you realize this is what every new president does and b) Trump was roundly criticized in term 1.0 for not filling the ranks fast enough and thus somehow endangering America. Very likely never expecting to win, and not being a lifetime pol, Trump took office without a bench team, without a folder of thousands of resumes from party loyalists and think tank exiles looking for work. In Biden’s case, he finished the task fast by basically picking up most of the under-employed Obama administration hacks and those still grouchy because their promised Hillary Administration jobs never materialized.

    Trump this time seems more prepared. Every president has some 4,000 appointed positions to fill. Every president fills these with loyalists, party hacks, or in the case of jobs like ambassadorships, wealthy donors as payback. In the case of term 2.0, in addition to the usual suspects, the Heritage Foundation has been compiling and vetting some 20,000 resumes. The chosen should come through that process enthusiastic to carry out the peoples’ will having elected Trump, and are unlikely to form the core of a Deep State “resistance” as during term 1.0. You can submit your resume online. To ensure all these appointees are ready to go to work on Day One, Heritage is also offering an online course to train them up for the task. You can also apply to enroll online. The thousands of jobs which need to be filled are listed in the Plum book, alongside the expected salary, everything from Secretary of State to Member of the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation. This initiative and most of the others comes from the Heritage Foundation’s2025 Presidential Transition Project 2025.

    Also in planning is the implementation of changes to Schedule F, which shields stay-in-place-forever Civil Servants from political influence. Unfortunately what was intended in good faith to create a merit system inside a government where civil servants’ allegiance was owed to the public and not the White House, ended up as a bubble of invincibility around many who do their work slowly and without interest. Though the Executive Order was written during the chaotic end of term 1.0, high on a Trump policy list for term 2.0 would be implementing these changes to Schedule F. The action would convert as many as 50,000 civil servant positions (still leaving about two million Federal civilian positions untouched) into political appointees, allowing deadwood to be cut away and jobs filled with people in line with the administration’s goals. Action, rather than nonaction, is the goal. If actually seen to fruition, this would be the most profound change to the civil service system since its creation in 1883. Impact might be greatest in institutions like the Department of Justice, which the liberal media fears will be weaponized by Trump to go after Biden and others in the same way the Mueller investigation, two impeachments, and multiple indictments have dogged Trump since leaving office.

    Aside from personnel changes, it is Trump’s policy plans that scare the liberal media the most, having worked themselves into a froth in term 1.0 by mislabeling everything from immigrant holding centers (“concentration camps”) to mob violence (“insurrection to overthrow the government of the United States at the People’s House” and all that.) Project 2025 has a long policy section, dealing with the issues department-by-department. Here’s a look at what they have in mind for the Department of State as an example. State under Obama/Hillary had morphed into the Department of Nice, working full time for women’s and LGBT rights, climate change and just about everything but making America great. It was a center of “the resistance,” grinding out dissent cables on matters outside its own purview, such as domestic immigration policy and war plans for Syria.

    According to Plan 2025, Trump should remake the Department into a tool of his foreign policy instead of the adversary it was during term 1.0 (see the scuttling of rapprochement with North Korea.) High on the list is to “focus on core diplomatic activities, and stop promoting policies birthed in the American culture wars. The United States should focus on core security, economic, and human rights engagement… and reject the promotion of divisive policies that hurt the deepening of shared goals.”

    More broadly, “there is a tug-of-war between Presidents and bureaucracies— and that resistance is much starker under conservative Presidents, due largely to the fact that large swaths of the State Department’s workforce are left-wing and predisposed to disagree with a conservative President’s policy agenda and vision. It should not and cannot be this way. A major source, if not the major source, of the State Department’s ineffectiveness lies in its institutional belief that it is an independent institution that knows what is best for the United States, sets its own foreign policy, and does not need direction from an elected President.”

    Other State-centric policy goals will be the freeze all in-process negotiations for review, conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of U.S. participation in all international organizations, and refocus policy on China, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. This will be done in conjunction with internal housekeeping, specifically to “develop a reorganization strategy. Despite periodic attempts by previous Administrations (including the Trump Administration) to make more than cosmetic changes to the State Department, its structure has remained largely unchanged since the 20th century. The State Department will better serve future Administrations, regardless of party, if it were to be meaningfully streamlined. The next Administration should develop a complete hypothetical reorganization of the department—one which would tighten accountability to political leadership, reduce overhead, eliminate redundancy, waste fewer taxpayer resources, and recommend additional personnel-related changes for improvement of function. Such reorganization could be creative, but also carefully review specific structure-related problems that have been documented over the years.” In other words, heads will roll in a staid, uncreative bureaucracy already on record as opposing most of Trump’s foreign policy goals and with an agenda of its own.

    The final set of clues as to what a Trump administration 2.0 policy might look like rests in Heritage’s 180-day Transition Playbook, which includes a comprehensive, concrete transition plan for each federal agency. The Playbook will provide the next President a road map for doing that. You can read it all in eye-numbing detail (they’re not kidding, even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau gets its own road map to Trumpism.)

    It is possible Trump and his advisors won’t pay a whit of attention to Project 2025 and its recommendations, and may discard most of the 20,000 resumes Heritage hopes to pass on during the transition period following the 2024 election. Still, if you are looking for clues as to what might follow in Trump 2.0, getting the policy wonk-level view from documents such as Project 2025 may be as good a place to start as any. But read it dispassionately; it is a serious to-do list for transitioning a liberal government structure to one flavor of a conservative one. There should be no fear democracy will disappear from these shores in the process.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Apocalypse Trump

    November 28, 2023 // 17 Comments »

    One of the fads in the liberal media is for Trump horror stories, Apocalypse Trump, should he be re-elected as president. Like political porn, there may be no real point to all this other than to titillate, although there could also be an underlying strategy try and con the proles into not voting Trump in 2024. Either way, it’s worth reading the horror tales just to laugh at what the writers’ imagine a second Trump term might be like.

    The Los Angeles Times gets you the inside baseball the action with an article headlined “Trump promises vengeance and power grabs if he wins in 2024. Here’s the plan.” Save yourself the trouble of looking; there are no named sources to almost all of these descriptions of Trump 2.0, though they are presented as certainties. The Times begins with Inauguration Day, stating as fact “anticipating widespread protests against his second term, Trump and allies reportedly are drafting plans to invoke the Insurrection Act in his first hours back in the White House — thereby confirming the expected protesters’ likely point: Trump is a danger to liberty and constitutional governance.” The author doesn’t seem to remember how the Insurrection Act, last used in 1992 to quell riots in L.A., did not end liberty and/or the Constitution. But it wasn’t Trump you see, so OK!

    And that’s just one of many MAGA plans in the works, as the Washington Post reported, all aimed at making good on what the writer feels is Trump’s central promise of the 2024 campaign: retribution. According to the Post, Trump allies are “mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents,” even naming individuals to be investigated and prosecuted. Ironic prose given Trump  is neck deep into five legal battles, two with the Federal government, since he left office, and that the FBI was used even while he was in office to spy on him in an effort to prove he was a Russian spy.

    It is also ironic Trump has all these plans to use the judicial system against his enemies. First of course because declaring himself something of a dictator you’d think Trump could bypass all that innocent until guilty stuff that bogs down trials and just kick in doors. More important, why would Dictator Trump bother with “justice” at all? After all, writes the Los Angeles Times, “His obnoxious outbursts this week in his New York civil trial over financial skulduggery [sic] were just the latest evidence of his disdain for the law and the judicial system. And we haven’t even gotten to his three criminal trials for seeking to overturn Biden’s election and making off with government documents. No one — not witnesses, prosecutors or judges — is immune from his attacks and the death threats that follow.” Jen Psaki separately warned MSNBC viewers if Trump regains office he would “unravel the rule of law as we know it.” Jamelle Bouie of the Times warns “it looks an awful lot like a set of plans meant to give the former president the power and unchecked authority of a strongman.”

    Ah, death threats. One cornerstone of Apocalypse Trump is he controls a zombie army of MAGA believers that he can direct against adversaries — “targeting” in the words of one judge. Another reason to question his “planned” use of the court system. Why not just release the hounds? After all, why not make good on his claim under the Constitution’s Article II, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” made when everyone was saying Trump was a Russkie spy. Nonetheless, the system it is. Trump has vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden and his family. The Washington Post reports Trump told advisers he wants the Justice Department to investigate his former chief of staff, John Kelly, and former attorney general Bill Barr, as well as his ex-attorney Ty Cobb, and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley. Trump also talked of prosecuting officials at the FBI/Justice Department.

    Here’s how it will work, using justice to commit unjust acts. The Post, to the rescue to the confused, says “To facilitate Trump’s ability to direct Justice Department actions, his associates have been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.” The Post quotes “It would resemble a banana republic if people came into office and started going after their opponents willy-nilly,” said Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional law professor at the University of Virginia who studies executive power. “It’s hardly something we should aspire to.”

    If irony was water we’d all have drowned by now.

    It wouldn’t be a party unless The New York Times weighed in. They succinctly state “Donald J. Trump and his allies are planning a sweeping expansion of presidential power over the machinery of government if voters return him to the White House in 2025, reshaping the structure of the executive branch to concentrate far greater authority directly in his hands. Mr. Trump intends to bring independent agencies under direct presidential control.” He’ll do this by “stripping employment protections from tens of thousands of career civil servants, making it easier to replace them if they are deemed obstacles to his agenda. And he plans to scour the intelligence agencies, the State Department and the defense bureaucracies to remove officials he has vilified as ‘the sick political class that hates our country.’” The New Republic wrote an article headlined “Inside Trump’s Fascist Plan to Control All Federal Agencies if He Wins.” Tom Nichols wrote in the Atlantic there are “plans for a dictatorship that should appall every American.”

    And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite Apocalypse Trump subject, immigration. There, according to the New York Times, Trump is conjuring up “sweeping raids, giant camps and mass deportations,” claiming “If he regains power, Donald Trump wants not only to revive some of the immigration policies criticized as draconian during his presidency, but expand and toughen them.” Trump supposedly plans to ban people from Muslim-majority nations and reimpose a Covid-era policy of refusing asylum claims based on his feeling migrants carry other infectious diseases like tuberculosis. He plans to deputize local police officers and the National Guard voluntarily contributed by Republican-run states to carry out sweeping raids. And to get around any refusal by Congress to appropriate funds, Trump would redirect money in the military budget.

    Are you not entertained? That may be the only purpose of the Apocalypse Trump genre, garnering clicks. It stands then to reason that to keep the snowball rolling the claims toward the Apocalypse, the tall tales, need to become increasingly dramatic, topping yesterday’s dopamine hit. Do a quick Google search using the phrase “Trump will seize control” to see the latest, as well as some greatest hits. These types of stories were popular during Trump 1.0, putting words into his mouth and distorting those that came out, assigning nefarious intent to even the simplest Executive Order. A favorite fretted over Trump seizing control of the FEMA emergency broadcast system and the whole Internet to disseminate propaganda and control his minions. NBC News helpfully uncovered the fact “Trump can’t use FEMA’s wireless alerts to send personal messages” a question which apparently had not come up previously in the 80-odd-years the original Cold War system has been in place.

    A second driver of all this “journalism” is a desperate attempt to convince on-the-fence voters to not vote for Trump. After all, the Los Angeles Times made their intent for this advocacy pretty clear: “Too many voters are disengaged, grumpy that their choice seems to be coming down to Trump vs. Biden. As if those choices were comparably distasteful when, in fact, one is vanilla and the other is nitroglycerin.” The idea here is to use the tools of the media to scare the proles into not voting for Trump for fear of bringing on the end of Constitutional government in the United States. You’d think people would be tired by now with these “sky is falling” pronouncements but apparently you’d be wrong given the sheer bulk of them, and the crazier-than-last-time feel most have.

    The possible effectiveness of this strategy assumes most Trump voters, for gosh sakes 50 percent of the entire country, are too dumb to see what is right in front of them, fascism itself. But since Trump has not been kind enough to write out a Mein Kampf-like manifesto of all the dastardliest deeds he intends to do, America’s liberal media is doing it for him. No mind Trump is the only recent president not to start or join a new war; he is a war monger. No mind Trump tried to restart relations with North Korea via old-fashioned diplomacy; we are on the verge of nuclear disaster. No matter the state of the economy or decisions on Covid which resonate well in hindsight, he is clownishly wrong. No mind Trump has participated according to the law in every legal action against him, he does not believe in the rule of law. Oh, and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is so scared about what will happen in Term 2.0 he is planning to leave the country, so there is an upside.

     

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    A Blank Check Again in the Middle East

    November 16, 2023 // 7 Comments »

    Did anyone ask you (or maybe Congress) if it was OK to go to war again in the Middle East? After literal decades of fighting in that troubled part of the world, it looks like the U.S. is without discussion, never mind vigorous debate, already at war in various sub-theatres of someone else’s conflict. See if anything that’s going on seems like war to you.

    — The U.S. is flying drones over Gaza. The Pentagon says the unmanned aerial vehicle flights began after Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and are being conducted “in support of hostage recovery efforts.” The drone missions are also providing “advice and assistance” to Israel. A total of seven different aircraft are flying across the region, four of them per day, passing information to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF.) The U.S. is also supplying precision-guided munitions, fighter aircraft, and air defense capabilities, such as interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome counter-drone systems, to the IDF.

    — U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are in Israel. Officials anonymously told the New York Times several dozen special operators are on the ground working with the FBI, the State Department, and other U.S. government hostage recovery specialists. A senior Pentagon official told the “Forever Wars” blog that SOF are preparing for “contingencies,” which may include the active retrieval of hostages from Hamas. The U.S. previously said it has sent military advisers to help Israel. Christopher Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, indicated other soldiers have also been deployed. “We’re actively helping the Israelis to do a number of things,” Maier said.

    — Two American veteran-run organizations, the Special Operations Association of America (SOAA) and Save Our Allies, sent roughly two dozen volunteers, all former special operators, into Israel and Egypt to support evacuations. Each volunteer was chosen based on having experience working with Egyptians or Israelis. They arrange for local nationals to provide food and medical supplies to trapped Americans, and they have interfaced with the Egyptian military personnel who ultimately have to approve Americans’ departure. The special operations volunteers also coordinate directly with the IDF to ensure Americans are not targeted. They call their work “sheparding” and forswear a kinetic role. SOAA staff are also in Tel Aviv helping to coordinate evacuations. The volunteers’ actions, particularly working with the Egyptian and Israeli forces, come very close to traditional governmental roles, though the groups deny that.

    — Meanwhile, the U.S. has roughly 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq at at least eight bases/facilities doing God-knows-what. An additional 300 troops will soon be dispatched to the Middle East. Thousands of Marines wait off shore.

    — the Pentagon awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to build U.S. troop facilities for a secret base it maintains deep within Israel’s Negev desert, just 20 miles from Gaza. Code-named Site 512, the base is also a radar facility that monitors missile attacks on Israel.

    — American service members stationed in the Middle East have endured at least 27 attacks by Iran-backed terror groups. There have been 16 attacks in Iraq and 11 in Syria.

    — American fighter jets launched two retaliatory airstrikes against locations in eastern Syria on October 26, which were followed by at least six additional small-scale re- retaliatory attacks in the region. A Pentagon spokesperson said the military would “do what we need to do to protect our troops.”

    — The USS Carney, a destroyer in the northern Red Sea, intercepted four land attack cruise missiles and 14 drones launched by pro-Iranian Houthi forces in Yemen. A Pentagon spokesperson said the U.S. is prepared to do whatever is needed “to protect our partners and our interests in this important region.” United States military personnel are deployed to Yemen to conduct operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS. The attack marked the first time ballistic missiles were launched at Israel since Saddam Hussein fired his Scuds in 1991. The action by the Carney represented the first shots by the U.S. military in the defense of Israel in this conflict.

    The ability of the president to make war is a contentious issue that has evolved over the course of American history. The Framers’ intent was to vest the primary power to declare war only in the hands of Congress. This was seen as a way to prevent the president from unilaterally committing the nation to military conflicts, reflecting concerns about an overly powerful executive. The idea didn’t last very long, only until President Thomas Jefferson used military force against the Barbary Pirates without a formal declaration of war. The first official declaration by Congress was not until The War of 1812. Over time, presidents began to assert more authority in matters of war, often without obtaining formal declarations from Congress. The ability to use military force became more flexible, and presidents argued that they had inherent powers as Commander in Chief. Congress approved its last formal declaration of war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    The Korean War, followed by the Vietnam War, marked a significant turning point in the balance of war powers between the president and Congress. The conflicts, as well as all the brushfire wars of the Cold War, were waged without a formal declaration. In response to growing concerns about presidential war-making authority, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973. This required the President to consult with Congress and seek authorization within 60 days of introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities or conflicts. It has been near-completely ignored or treated as a technicality, an afterthought. The 9/11 attacks led to the passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which granted the President broad authority to use military force against those responsible for the attacks. This AUMF was used to justify U.S. military actions in various regions, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and literally the whole rest of the world (apply as needed.)

    With all this as background, at what point of involvement in the Israeli conflict will we talk about it? The old “boots on the ground” standard, which was never applied to Syria, Yemen, or Iraq War III anyway? Or, as in Ukraine, will Joe Biden simply lead us into another endless war with nary a word of debate and a blank check from a cowardly Congress and media?

    Leaving aside one’s feelings for or against Israeli actions, either way it is clear America is again at some sort of war in the Mideast. The difference between what is happening now and “war” is more about semantics than it is about combat. The old definition, something about boots on the ground, no longer serves any function in a world where combat is carried out by remote control and gestures such as the deployment of small numbers of special forces are enough to fan a political flame into a literal one. It is long past time we talked about making war.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Talk to the American People about Ukraine, Joe

    October 20, 2023 // 18 Comments »

    America needs to hear from its own president, not Volodymyr Zelensky, about what is going on in Ukraine.

    America just can’t get enough of Endless War it seems; otherwise why would it keep getting into one of them? Leaving aside ancient historical examples like Korea (still ongoing) and Vietnam (result was a complete defeat of the U.S. after decades of conflict preceeded by years of U.S. nearly completely funding the failed French war effort there) we have the more modern examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. The former sputtered to defeat for the U.S. after decades of war (counting Gulf War I and the bombing campaigns which accomplished little permanently and Gulf War II which led to empowering Iran in Iraq via Gulf War 2.5) and the latter concluding decisively on the TV August 2021 with the symbolically cluster-futzed final evacuation (memories of Saigon.) Each war started with no real practical goal in mind (remember nation building? The War on Terror, i.e., a war against a tactic?)

    With that kind of track record you’d think America would take a breather from Endless War, you know, take a few years off to get its head together, maybe work the fentanyl problem, get the economy together so people other than Democratic commentators can see it growing. But no. Just a scant six months after hosing the last Afghan dust off our boots the U.S. finds itself mired in Ukraine. No clear, realistic goal? Check. Open-ended commitment of U.S. resources? Check. Potential to suck U.S. forces directly into the conflict? Check. Dubious one man celebrity leader? Check. Unclear as hell how Ukraine fits into our national interest, how much more time and money will be expected to achieve whatever our objectives are, and how much Europe plans to contribute to the war taking place in its backyard? Check.

    It is time for President Biden to explain some things to the American people.

    1) What is the endgame, Joe? Is it democracy in Ukraine? If so, you’re off to a rough start. Zelensky over the past two years conscripted his own citizens, kept young males from the freedom to travel, done away with opposition parties, canceled all future elections indefinitely, consolidated all TV platforms in Ukraine into one state broadcast, dealt harshly with dissidents, and assumed practically one-man rule over the nation, certainly its war. Plus there’s all that about units of the Ukrainian military being actual Nazis. So Joe, what is the plan to bring democracy to Ukraine? It seems only that things have gotten worse since the U.S. intervened to prevent the Russians from doing many of the things Zelensky has already done to his own country. FYI Joe, you’ll recall military imposition of democratic values historically has failed.

    2) Or Joe, is the point of the war to force Russia out of what Ukraine claims as its territory? Does that include the territory the U.S. gifted a few years ago to the Russians in the Crimea when under another president all this seemed much less dire? Or just to retake the land back which Russia gained after February 2022? That was the point of the Great 2023 Spring Counter-Offensive, right? Be up front with the propaganda-weary American people about how things are going; the Ukrainians in their offensive using most of the conventional ground-force arms in America’s arsenal, gained back only 143 square miles. The Russians, supposedly on the defensive, gained 331 square miles of land. With the Counter-Offensive now clearly a failure, what is the next step? Is there a plan? How do we define win? “As long as it takes” is not a viable option, it’s just a recipe for another Vietnam, another Afghanistan.

    3) What role if any will diplomacy with Russia play in achieving this end game, whatever it is? Have the Russians sought to meet and discuss the war? Has the U.S. offered to meet? If not, why not? Diplomacy can end wars. We know your secretary of state can pick a fight but can he stop one, the real test for his profession? Because it is complicated, we’ll give you a pass on how our own government helped create this situation in the first place, something the American people need to know more about at some point.

    4) Speaking of things the American public needs to know about, who blew up the Nordstrom pipeline between Russia and Germany? Is this the kind of war America is in that we would blow up the pipeline to press Germany to further join the fight? Or is it the kind of war where Ukraine would somehow muster the technical know-how to blow up the pipeline to force Germany to further join the fight? Why would the Russians blow up a pipeline that supplies their gas to Germany, a significant source of revenue? Is this war that dirty?

    5) The U.S. has appropriated $113 billion dollars to Ukraine, paying for everything from tanks to ambulance drivers’ regular salaries. And what else Joe? What systems are in place for accountability for this money? Could it be that more money simply deepens the quagmire and pushes us closer to direct conflict with Russia? You’ve spoken in the past how accountability lies with the Inspectors General at the Department of Defense, State, and USAID. They point to “a decade of shared experience gained from joint oversight of eight different overseas contingency operations, forgetting the spectacular failure of oversight of these overseas contingency operations,” and how the same agencies covered up waste, fraud, and mismanagement and deliberately mislead the American public on the progress made in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Joe, you need to address opposition to the more formal structure of establishing a Special Inspector General for Ukraine (SIGUR), such as SIGIR in Iraq and SIGAR in Afghanistan. “As much as it takes” is a blank check the American taxpayer needs to know more about. Senator Rand Paul in the spring placed a temporary hold on a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, demanding unsuccessfully Congress insert a provision into the aid package creating an inspector general to oversee the distribution of the aid. As SIGAR noted, “While Afghanistan and Ukraine are very different countries with a history of facing very different threats, many of the challenges U.S. agencies faced in Afghanistan—coordinating efforts, dealing with corruption, and effectively monitoring and evaluating projects and programs—will be the same as the ones they will face in Ukraine.” And speaking of corruption, your own State Department has singled out Ukraine for its corrupt practices, which as you know from Iraq and Afghanistan will seriously dilute any aid. Why resist additional oversight?

    6) We know there are American Special Forces on the ground in Ukraine, and America forces in command and control roles in the ongoing fight. Are there redlines, either promised to Zelensky or just for yourself, Joe, to trigger a larger U.S. direct role in Ukraine? What would it take to have more “advisers” on the ground, or American air power, or American leadership embedded with Ukrainian troops in the field? At what point in escalation would you agree Congress needs to formally weigh in? And no fair making it all OK by calling the deployments “NATO” instead of American. A Russia-NATO scuffle is a Russia-U.S. scuffle.

    No more malarkey, Joe. Time to talk to the American people about Ukraine.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    General Mark Milley – An Evil of the Trump Era

    October 12, 2023 // 10 Comments »

    One of the evils of the Trump era was that illegal, immoral, and at times unconstitutional acts were raised to high standards if they seemed to chip away at Trump somehow. So a fake dossier, which consumed several years and millions of dollars of American life, was brushed off with in the end a fine from the elections commission, not someone going to jail for lying to the FBI. So it is now with General Mark Milley, the Left’s newest bestest friend in violating the Constitution in order to save the Constitution from Trump.

    A slithering little piece of hagiography in The Atlantic about Milley (published while he was still technically Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position he goes to great pains to explain should be apolitical while being hella political) might have just been that, a chance to kick the dog one more time without consequence, except for the fact that Milley clearly has higher intentions in Washington (or at least to sell books) and most of all because Trump stands close to a second term. The article hashes over the usual, proclaiming Trump an existential threat to Mom and apple pie, never mind democracy, all without details or explanation. Readers of The Atlantic just know it is true and the author, Jeffrey Goldberg, sees no reason to expand on the idea. The real danger here is not poor journalism (we’re used to it) but the promotion of the idea that Trump is inherently dangerous and without men like General Milley willing to bend the rules and warp the Constitution we will all die in some Trumpian nuclear hissy fit.

    It is important to restate at this point that Trump finished his four years as president. He started no new wars. He did not launch nuclear attacks on Iran or North Korea, nor antagonize nuclear power Russia closer to the edge of one. He came as close as any modern president to some sort of rapprochement with North Korea. Trump never used the Insurrection Act to send the military against lawful protesters in the United States. It is worth remembering because Milley’s comments create the impression of something very different.

    A healthy portion of The Atlantic article details what Milley felt was Trump’s disrespect for the military (Trump’s deferments but not Biden’s are mentioned liberally.) The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg writes. “Milley’s family venerated the military, and Trump’s attitude toward the uniformed services seemed superficial, callous, and, at the deepest human level, repugnant.” Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Goldberg continued, “in addition to other former Trump administration officials, also argued the former president had such contempt for the military that it made it challenging to explain concepts of honor, sacrifice and duty. That sour view of the armed forces, alongside Trump being unfit to serve as president among other points of contention, made Milley’s first 16 months as chairman far more difficult than he anticipated.” “For more than 200 years, the assumption in this country was that we would have a stable person as president,” retired three-star general James Dubik, one of the general’s mentors.

    One wonders about that disrespect for the military, and how a candid Milley might characterize the actions of commanders Bush and Obama. Was invading Afghanistan when the 9/11 perpetrators came mostly from Saudi the act of a sane man? How about lying to create an excuse to invade Iraq? What about the bombing of Libyan infrastructure, the results of which were on display for the world recently as tens of thousands drowned in a broken-dam flood there? Over 7,000 U.S. service members, plus near millions of civilians, died in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Are those sane acts? Should Milley or one of his counterparts have acted unconstitutionally to stop them? See what happens when one man determines he’s smarter than the rest?

    Milley, while speaking out of one side of his mouth about the sanctity of the chain of command and the president’s role as commander-in-chief, goes on to call Trump a “nuclear monarch” and bemoan the fact that Trump alone could order the use of nuclear weapons as if that was something new. Milley then says without batting an eyelash that during the final days of the Trump administration he took the extraordinary step of having key military officers swear an oath to him promising to involve Milley in any decisions “weird or unusual.” Milley called together senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center on January 8 and “instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.” Milley says his fear (without evidence, of course) was that Trump would initiate a nuclear war with Iran after losing the 2020 presidential election. Milley was out to break the chain of command to stop it, which you see was A-O.K. because breaking all the rules if you possess the judgement of General Milley is itself A-OK.

    His other brush with insubordination was two phone calls to General Li Zuo cheng, leader of China’s People’s Liberation Army, in the days surrounding January 6, assuring the PLA that the U.S. had no plans to launch a first strike against China. Milley was not ordered to do this, he just did it because he felt on his own Trump might launch the nukes as a bizzaro-world way to stay in office after the “insurrection” of January 6 failed. Oh yeah, that insurrection — Milley, an alleged student of history — claims was America’s “Reichstag moment.” He called Trump’s statements “The gospel of the Führer.”

    Kori Schake, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the revelations Milley covertly acted to counter his commander-in-chief are “bad for the military as an institution… It encourages people to do what Americans are already doing, which is viewing the military as they view the Supreme Court: apolitical when they agree with them, partisan when they don’t,” she said.

    As if the prove the point, an anonymous (of course) senior military official said Milley “did what he had to do to fulfill his oath to the Constitution and to protect this country.” Yet Trump called it treason. Senator Marco Rubio demanded Milley resign, as did Christopher Miller, who served above Milley as acting defense secretary in the final months of Trump’s presidency. Milley ignored his boss’ admonition to quit. So much for the chain of command.

    Milley did not act to fulfill his oath; he acted like a coup planner at best, an idiot at worst because (checks notes) Trump did not launch a nuclear attack on China, and General Li must have wondered exactly what was going on in Washington to prompt Milley to call and foreswear a strike, a first of its own in U.S. history.

    None of this — what he said recently and what he did during the Trump administration — has hurt Milley’s standing in political Washington. Biden loves him. Milley was chosen to speak at the French ambassador’s residence, a journalist-heavy throng that officially was a celebration of the First Amendment. It was the sort of gathering where you’d “expect an address from a fight-the-power free-speech lawyer or a hell-raising investigative reporter, not a uniformed four-star general. But Milley’s lack of journalism credentials didn’t appear to bother many in the audience, who greeted him as a hero.” Politico says “Milley has become a cause celebre in Washington — and a presence around town.” WaPo calls him “Pattonesque.”

    In peacetime it is not normal for a senior general in the U.S. military to be famous. It is not normal for one to seek the spotlight as a domestic protector of our democracy. It is not normal for a general to claim to be apolitical while acting aggressively in the political sphere. Milley instead found a way to spread the gospel of a non-politicized military as itself a political act. Why you’d almost think Milley was up to something, setting himself up for some new role, maybe running for some office. Milley warns in his Atlantic interview he and others will likely be sent to jail if Trump is reelected. Be sure to vote accordingly.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Court Moves to End Govt Censorship by Proxy in Social Media

    September 30, 2023 // 9 Comments »

    If you think your social media is being edited and blocked to press a certain point of view, it is. If you think the government is trying to get you to think a certain way, it is. There’s no more hiding this behind dummy allegations of conspiracy theories.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled the Biden White House and the FBI violated the First Amendment by improperly driving social media companies’ decisions to remove or suppress posts on Covid and election topics. The ruling is a step toward bringing social media under the umbrella of the First Amendment and ending proxy censorship, and sets up a major Supreme Court battle over the censoring free speech as demanded by the Biden administration.

    Specifically, the appeals judges wrote the “White House, the CDC, the FBI, and a few other agencies urged the platforms to remove disfavored content and accounts from their sites. And, the platforms seemingly complied. They gave the officials access to an expedited reporting system, downgraded or removed flagged posts, and deplatformed users. The platforms also changed their internal policies to capture more flagged content and sent steady reports on their moderation activities to the officials. That went on through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 congressional election, and continues to this day.”

    The judges wrote the White House “coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences.” They also found the White House “significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making processes, all in violation of the First Amendment.” The decision found although the platforms stifled the speech, it was government officials who “coerced, threatened, and pressured social-media platforms to censor” through private communications and legal threats,” i.e., censorship by proxy.

    The appeals court decision includes emails from White House officials showing pressure on the social media companies to address “misinformation.” Things reached a boiling point in July 2021 when President Biden accused Facebook of “killing people.”

    In one email, a White House official told a platform to take a post down “ASAP,” and instructed it to “keep an eye out for tweets that fall in this same genre.” In another, an official told a platform to “remove [an] account immediately”—he could not “stress the degree to which this needs to be resolved immediately.” The decision notes “White House officials did not only flag content; they started monitoring the platforms’ moderation activities, too. In that vein, the officials asked for and received frequent updates from the platforms. Those updates revealed, however, that the platforms’ policies were not clear-cut and did not always lead to content being demoted. So, the White House pressed the platforms. For example, one official demanded more details on Facebook’s internal policies at least twelve times, including to ask what was being done to curtail ‘dubious’ or ‘sensational’ content, what ‘interventions’ were being taken, what ‘measurable impact’ the platforms’ moderation policies had, ‘how much content [was] being demoted,’ and what ‘misinformation’ was not being downgraded.”

    The platforms did not fight back. As the judges wrote, from the beginning, the platforms cooperated with the White House. One company made an employee “available on a regular basis,” and another gave the officials access to special tools like a “Partner Support Portal” to “ensure” their requests were “prioritized automatically.”

    Once White House officials began to demand more from the platforms, they stepped-up their efforts to appease officials instead of pushing back. When there was confusion, the platforms would call to “clear up” any “misunderstanding[s]” and provide data detailing their moderation activities. They met with officials, “partnered” with them, and assured them that they were actively trying to “remove the most harmful COVID-19 misleading information.” When Facebook did not take a [unnamed] prominent pundit’s “popular post” down, a White House official asked what good is the reporting system, and signed off with “last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection.”

    In another example, one official emailed Facebook a document recommending changes to the platform’s internal policies, including to its deplatforming and downgrading systems. In another example, one platform sent out a post-meeting list of “commitments” including a policy change “focused on reducing the virality” of anti-vaccine content even when it “does not contain actionable misinformation.” On another occasion, one platform listed “policy updates… regarding repeat misinformation” after meeting with the Surgeon General’s office and signed off “[w]e think there’s considerably more we can do in partnership with you and your teams to drive behavior.” The platforms obliged the censorship requests in every instance cited and were “keen to amplify any messaging you want us to project.” At times, the judges wrote, their responses “bordered on capitulation.”

    In an escalation, the platforms began taking down content and deplatforming users more broadly. For example, “Facebook started removing information posted by the ‘disinfo dozen’—a group of influencers identified as problematic by the White House, despite earlier representations that those users were not in violation of their policies. In general, the platforms had pushed back against deplatforming users in the past, but that changed. Facebook also made other pages that ‘had not yet met their removal thresholds more difficult to find on our platform,’ and promised to send updates and take more action. A month later, members of the disinfo dozen were deplatformed across several sites.” Specifically mentioned as a victim of these actions was Gateway Pundit.

    The judges also focused on the FBI interaction with social media platforms in the run-up to the 2020 elections, which included regular meetings with the tech companies. The judges wrote that the FBI’s activities were “not limited to purely foreign threats,” citing instances where the law enforcement agency targeted posts originating inside the United States. The judges said in their rulings the platforms changed their policies based on the FBI briefings, citing updates to their terms of service about handling of hacked materials, following warnings of state-sponsored “hack and dump” operations. The latter was used as justification initially by Twitter (now X) in blacklisting articles about the Hunter Biden laptop, suggesting its contents had been obtained via hacking and/or the contents were created as disinformation by the Russians. Neither was true but both were used, via the FBI, to step roughly on Americans’ First Amendment rights and influence the 2020 presidential election.

    The current appeals court decision follows a July injunction in response to a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri. They alleged government officials went too far in their efforts to demand social media companies address posts that they worried could contribute to vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic. The state attorneys general accused the Biden administration of enabling a “sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise’” to encourage tech giants to remove politically unfavorable viewpoints and speakers. In their filings, the attorneys general alleged the actions amount to “the most egregious violations of the First Amendment in the history of the United States of America.” The judge wrote the attorneys general “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.” The injunction starts by non-ironically citing the famous quote “I may disapprove of what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.”

    The answer to all this from the July injunction was to create a wall between social media and state. This affected a wide range of government departments and agencies, and imposed ten specific prohibitions on government officials. The more recent appeals court decision threw out nine of those and modified the 10th to rejoin the government from seeking to “coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech.” That will likely be tested before the Supreme Court.

    During times when unbiased information was badly needed — on vaccines, for example — the government of the United States egregiously violated the First Amendment to pressure social media companies to amplify certain points of view and do away with others. This censorship at the request of the White House targeted both broad ideas (“anti-vax”) and individual American citizens. It shows how the administration conducted an end run on the First Amendment, using the social media companies as proxies. It was done by the Biden administration to politically drive the American people toward its point of view. Its goal was nothing short of shutting down the marketplace of ideas so necessary in a democracy.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    The Political Assassination of Donald Trump: Shots Fired

    September 22, 2023 // 14 Comments »

    Democrats remain terrified of Donald Trump and will continue to do their worst to keep him from the ballot, where he has beaten them before. Political assassination attempts stretch from the near-comical to the deadly serious.

    The most current attempt harkens back to one of the earlier ones. A handful of lawyers discovered the 14th Amendment, hidden away in plain sight inside the Constitution, actually was designed to drive Trump from the ballot. The Amendment, Article 3, states government officials who supported insurrection against the United States were not eligible for future office. Now despite that this was written to address the question of what to do with Confederate officials following the Civil War, modern lawyers have decided: a) Trump made a speech on January 6 as part of an insurrection and so b) his name cannot appear on any state ballot. Left undiscussed is who the hell are “they” to determine J6 was an actual insurrection on scale with the Civil War and not some naughty MAGA cosplay with absolutely zero chance of altering the election results, and the fact that Article 1 of the same Amendment mentions due process, of which the current legal thinking includes none.

    This all reminds of the early Trump days citing of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, basically saying a president could not accept gifts from foreign countries (full disclosure: one of the worst Emoluments violators was eighth President Martin Van Buren, no relation.) The thinking way back in 2016 was the Founders had this scenario in mind: Trump owns some foreign hotels. Foreign people stay there. Some of the foreigners were government officials. Some tiny portion of each stay went into Donald’s pocket. Shazam! He was guilty of accepting official foreign gifts and violating the Emoluments Clause.

    But that was all small change; the real money on getting rid of Trump before he was even sworn in, or handicapping his administration if he took office, was Russiagate. It was all the rage in 2016 and beyond — Trump colluded with the Russians because they had a tape of him with prostitutes doing Golden Showers. Or because he wanted to build a hotel in Moscow, one or the other. There was proof everywhere and Robert Mueller’s corpse was shocked back to life to investigate it all ahead of an impeachment-lynching party. In the end the whole thing was made up. A multi-year effort involving the three-letter agencies FBI, CIA, CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS was based on tall tales from anonymous sources sifted into the zeitgeist by a former MI6 operative named Chris Steele. Oh, right, and Steele was paid entirely by the Clinton campaign.

    The next swing at the piñata came from some little scab of a Lieutenant Colonel on the National Security Council, and some punks at the State Department, known as Impeachment 1.0. Using a cutout “whistleblower,” the cabal alleged Trump temporarily withheld arms from the Ukraine (before it became our 51st state under Joe Biden) until Kiev investigated and turned over the dirt on the Biden family. It turned out Trump did indeed temporarily withhold arms from the Ukraine (before it became our 51st state under Joe Biden) hoping Kiev would investigate and turn over the dirt on the Biden family. This is known as “foreign policy” or an “investigation.” Somehow the impeachment hinged on one transcripted phone call by Trump, so the evidence was not even in question, just how stupid the interpretation could be. Nothing stuck and the process failed to remove Trump from office.

    After all that there was Impeachment 2.0 which had something to do with January 6, wasn’t finished until Trump had already left office, and did not matter because, significantly for the 14th Amendment crowd, Trump was not convicted of incitement or insurrection.

    The broader problem is short of simply shooting Trump in the head, the guy never seems to go down. Every effort, and there were many, failed to get him off the ballot in 2016, cripple his administration, or drive him from the White House. Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020 and that should have ended the matter. Trump should have taken his seat on The View and all these efforts to depose him should have faded into political history. The specific problem is that Trump never stopped running for president, and now must finally be stopped. The plan this time is to use the judiciary to achieve what it looks like the ballot box cannot, literally locking Trump in jail in hopes that from behind bars he cannot become president. There are five current efforts.

    First up is Stormy Daniels again. Somehow a partisan prosecutor in a fully Democratic district managed to squeeze 34 felony counts out of this, centered on falsifying business records, which Trump is accused of doing to cover up the hush money payments to Daniels. Now leaving aside there is nothing illegal per se about “hush money,” (people receive payments all the time as part of nondisclosure agreements) this attempt to throw Trump in jail will rely on witnesses as pristine as Stormy herself, followed by stand-up guys like Michael Cohen. If the jury is at least close to fair when seated, the case has little chance of jailing Trump.

    Second in line is a civil defamation case financial judgement. Four months after a jury found that Donald Trump defamed advice columnist Jean Carroll, a judge ruled still more of the ex-president’s comments about her were libelous. The decision means an upcoming second trial will concern only how much more he has to pay her. No possibility of jail time.

    Next is the so-called Mar-a-Lago documents case. This centers on the former president endangering national security by mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Additionally, the case looks at how Trump obstructed FBI efforts to take back the documents. It will delve into the minutia of the classification system, and likely invoke the Supreme Court to decide how much leeway a former president has in declassifying documents. It is no small matter, legal-issue wise, as it affects not only Trump but every president to come (Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton also unlawfully had classified documents in their possession outside of the office but we don’t seem to care much about these cases.) Classification cases cases which don’t involve major espionage or spillage are usually settled by fines, as may be this one, unless the government can make a big deal about the obstruction part. A lot depends on proving Trump knew he was doing something wrong, mens rea, a tough ask with a fella like Trump who talks pretty. The matter is unlikely to result in jail time.

    The Georgia election interference case, like Impeachment 1.0, seems to hinge on a single phone call, in this instance an ambiguous request by Trump to an election official to find him some more votes. Ambiguous in the sense that one reading is Trump requesting some sort of recount, while another is he is demanding the official create votes by some nefarious means. Another case of a partisan Democratic prosecutor in a fully Democratic district showing how her predecessors once rigged trials by choosing all-white juries. The new feature here is the prosecutor has come up with not only 13 felony counts against Trump himself stemming from a single incident, but also charged 18 associates, including Rudy Giuliani (once America’s mayor, how fast the looks fade) with various crimes. The implication is one of those people will turn evidence on Trump to save their own skin. The problem is that the Georgia case did not have any successful interfering; Trump still lost the state. That means the whole thing is going to bog down in conspiracy accusations — boring — and fail to capture public attention. Trump’s lawyers are also actively seeking a change of venue to get the case to more neutral jury selection territory. If they succeed, the chances of success against Trump seem slim. A guilty conclusion with some sort of fine seems likely.

    The prosecution which has the greatest potential of shaping the next part of the Trump story is also likely to be the first major case heard, in March 2024, regarding Trump’s role in the events of January 6. At stake is not only a good portion of Trump’s political future, but also very serious questions about the First Amendment. What can someone legally say and do after losing an election? Of all the charges, incitement is not on the list, though it looks in part as if Trump is being held responsible for the actions of the mob. The charges focus again on conspiracy, though this time the stakes are very high, conspiracy to defraud the United States and its voters, practically a hanging offense. The J6 mob (and Trump) had no chance of overturning the 2020 election, so in some ways conspiracy is a thin thread to suspend the whole affair from. On the other hand, it may be easy to prove, especially if Mike Pence or another senior official turned evidence in their depositions and testified against Trump. The seriousness of the matter points towards jail time, as has been the case with all the other J6 defendants. It may not be the future of our democracy at stake, but it is certainly a good shot at the future of Donald Trump if the prosecution can wrap things up before the election.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Trump and Kryptonite

    September 6, 2023 // 17 Comments »

    As of summer 2023 we have in America reached an amazing place politically: the Republican front-runner and very possibly the next re-president of the United States, Donald Trump, is campaigning while basically on bail in four different jurisdictions. And nobody in America cares much. Actually, Americans sort of care, but not in any way that makes more sense than not caring. In the words of another pundit, “cheer, scream, or shrug… and sip a banana republic daquiri.”

    Americans, depending on their beliefs, expect and would be satisfied if Trump was either in a jail cell or the Oval Office as of January 2025. Painting with a broad brush, for Republicans, they are convinced the charges against Trump are Third World-style political warfare waged by Democrats and mean little. Democrats see Trump as a Great Satan and view the charges as the last, best (after two impeachments and Mueller) hope for our democracy. Despite accomplishing fairly little as president (the Supreme Court appointments, though impactful, were basically luck, and no LBTQ concentration camps were opened or nuclear wars started) another four years of Trump will either save us or destroy us. Friends, there is little gray area out there, and even less appetite for the reality of the cases against Trump.

    So maybe it is not such a surprise that 38 percent of us feel “exhaustion” over the possibility of a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. Some 52 percent feel either sadness or fear, or both, over the prospect. There is one area where a significant share of each party finds common ground: the belief that the country is headed toward failure. Overall, 37 percent of registered voters say the problems are so bad that we are in danger of failing as a nation, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll. Some 56 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said we are in danger of such failure. Around 20 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they feel the same way.

    In the face of all this, the challenge for the judicial system to preserve faith in our democracy comes in several ways.

    For example, how clear and “obvious” are the charges in each instance? There is a ever-growing distrust in public institutions, whether the government in general for failing to respond to public demands for more or less abortion rights, or the electoral system as a whole, or in this specific case, whether the judicial system can respond to what some perceive as unfair charges against Donald Trump. And make no mistake, each side sees a kind of unfairness in play; Republicans by and large see the charges as attempts to drive Trump out of the election or cripple him as a candidate while Democrats see the charges as a whole as the best of bad options, charging defamation when the real crime is rape, charging conspiracy when the real crime is the attempted overthrow of our democratic system.

    Prosecutors must make the charges plain and of the “make sense” type, with no “ambitious charging.” Everything must be able to be explained and pass the sniff test to all but the most hardened opponents, whether they agree or not. This will be especially challenging for the thought crimes, the claimed conspiracies, whether Trump is somehow still guilty of something even though he not only did not overthrow the government and reverse the election, but that he had no realistic pathway to doing so. People will remember the impeachments beta, the Mueller Report, which came close to charging Trump with obstruction of an investigation which actually cleared him and found no predicate crime. The defense will try and muddle the waters and leave the public with a sense that Trump did nothing wrong really but the system was set up to get him somehow (not a hard case to make in several of the total of 90-some counts.) The more prosecutorial creativity (example, use of RICO in Georgia) and the more attempts to squeeze events into legal boxes they don’t quite fit in, the more challenge for the system to find a balance in explaining what is happening for the public to digest. Walking the public through the the minefield of ambiguity over classification in the Mar-a-Lago case is an example. Anything that is seen as partisan (conspiracy to do this, conspiracy to do that) fails the democracy in a mighty way.

    Can the judicial system keep the language neutral? The most obvious partisan tells come from the language used, calling January 6 an insurrection for example. The judicial system should stick itself to neutral language and press both sides to do the same, perhaps agreeing to some terminology. Falling into the media trap of weaponizing the language is a real danger. Trump must be prosecuted based on what he did, not who he is. Acts must be on-their-face criminal, or they will be seen as political, Trump convicted of something, anything, just because he’s Trump and we need to send him to jail because all the other kryptonite failed. It’s a big ask; already the judge in his J6 trial has called those events a “mob attack” on “the very foundation of our democracy” and branded Trump’s claim the 2020 election was stolen a conspiracy theory.

    Venue is important, and the system must show the flexibility to move cases to neutral venues when possible. Trying a case in a place like Manhattan or Fulton County, Georgia risks appearing to be the equivalent of an all-white jury in a 1950’s racial case. The jury pool in both states swings decidedly Democrat. Yet even then Salon decries the fact that a non-rigged jury might ruin the plan to convict Trump; “one MAGA juror can ruin it all,” they write. Both venues feature a local Democratic prosecutor (Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis) in a one-party jurisdiction. Would the indictments even have come down elsewhere?

    Lastly, can the judicial system be seen as “timely?” Most everyone agrees the judicial system is failing on timing. Prosecutors in one batch of charges stemming from the events of January 6 want the trial to start at the beginning of the new year, ridiculously early for a case that has already produced 11.5 million pages of discovery (“Even assuming we could begin reviewing the documents today, we would need to proceed at a pace of 99,762 pages per day to finish the government’s initial production by its proposed date for jury selection,” a Trump lawyer wrote. “That is the entirety of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, cover to cover, 78 times a day, every day, from now until jury selection.” Can it all be relevant?) Lawyers for Trump instead asked a judge to push back the proceeding until April 2026, nearly a year and a half after the 2024 election and some five years after the fact when Trump will either be immune one way or another as president, or a regular on Dancing with the Stars having failed at the polls. Both political sides walk away sure the game is rigged. The other cases against Trump face similar demands to begin very soon or for lengthy delays.

    They’re right in a way over at MSNBC, democracy is indeed on trial, but not in the way most people who say that mean. Instead, what is on trial is our judicial system as it struggles to answer the cornerstone question here: can the system rise above partisanship, even when partisanship is the intent of one side or both, and produce results which however reluctantly will be considered fair by the majority of Americans? A “no” answer risks further shattering of public trust in our institutions, and further polarization of our politics, if not violence. It may just be that it is not whether you win or lose in this battle, but how the game is played.

     

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Dissent Channel, Afghanistan and Confidentiality

    August 7, 2023 // 8 Comments »

    Something quite significant in U.S. diplomatic history is going to take place — a State Department Dissent Channel message, concerning the evacuation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, is going to be shared with Members of Congress.

    House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul announced his panel investigating the final days of American presence in Afghanistan will view the Dissent Channel cable. McCaul threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt if he did not provide him access to the diplomatic cable, which came from a confidential “dissent channel” that allowed State Department officials to discuss views which may be different from  administration policy.

    It is believed the July 2021 cable discussed concerns from the rank-and-file diplomatic staff not fully shared by senior embassy executives and management about the upcoming American pullout from the country, warning the U.S.-backed Afghan government could fall. The cable specifically advised an earlier withdrawal date than that ultimately chosen by the Biden Administration, and may have addressed the decision to conduct the entire evacuation from a single civilian airport in Kabul.

    So what is the Dissent Channel and why is this particular cable so important?

    The Dissent Channel was set up in 1971 during the Vietnam War era as a way for foreign service officers and civil servants at State (as well as United States Agency for International Development, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the former United States Information Agency) to raise concerns with senior management about the direction of U.S. foreign policy, without fear of retribution. The cables (formal, official State internal communications are still referred to as “cables” harking back to early diplomatic days when telegrams were used to communicate between Washington and embassies abroad) are sent to the State Department’s policy planning director, who distributes them to the secretary of state and other top officials, who must respond within 30 to 60 days. There are typically about five to ten each year. “Discouragement of, or penalties for use of, the Dissent Channel are impermissible,” according to the State Department internal regulations.

    Use of the Channel covers the scope of diplomatic mission. Historical messages include a dissent over the executive branch’s decision to “initiate no steps to discipline a military unit that took action at My Lai” in Vietnam and the “systematic use of electrical torture, beatings, and in some cases, murder, of men, women, and children by military units in Vietnam.” These actions by U.S. soldiers were “atrocities too similar to those of Nazis.” Another dissent was over the “hypocritical” U.S. support of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, bemoaning that the U.S. missed a “unique opportunity to intervene for once on the right repeat right side” of history. One older atypical dissent cable complained about having to arrange female companionship in Honduras for a visiting U.S. congressman. In the words of one now-declassified cable, “The Dissent Channel can be a mechanism for unclogging the Department’s constipated paper flow” related to employee dissent against current foreign policy actions.

    What the Channel does is one thing; who gets to see it is another. Until now, dissent messages have generally been regarded as something sacrosanct not to shown to outsiders and not to be leaked. “Release and public circulation of Dissent Channel messages,” State wrote to one inquirer,” would inhibit the willingness of Department personnel to avail themselves of the Dissent Channel to express their views freely.” The messages were first withheld from the rest of government (and the public) by State under the rules which created the system, and later under the Freedom of Information Act’s (FOIA) “predecisional” Exemption 5, until the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act amendments made it illegal for agencies to use this exemption after 25 years. So sharing the Afghan dissent cable with Members of Congress, especially so soon after the administration’s evacuation policy failed in Afghanistan, is a very big deal at the State Department.

    One publicized exception to how closely held dissent messages are took place in 2017 when nearly a thousand State Department Foreign Service Officers signed a five page dissent message opposing President Donald Trump’s executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which prohibited seven additional Muslim nationalities from entering the U.S., aka “The Muslim Ban.” As a result of an anti-Trump contingent inside generally liberal and mostly Democratic-leaning State, the message was leaked in its entirety. Even more against precedent, Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer issued an extraordinary public rebuke to the diplomats: “These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? They should either get with the program or they can go.”

    An almost-leak (a State Department official provided a draft, though the final version was not published, to The New York Times) took place in 2016 during the Trump-Clinton presidential election, after 51 Foreign Service Officers criticized the Obama administration via the Dissent Channel for failing to do enough to protect civilians in Syria in what was widely seen as an endorsement of Candidate Hillary’s pseudo-promise to put U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. Other Trump-era dissent cables not shared outside the Department called for consultations on Trump’s removal from office, and rebuked the secretary of state for not forcefully condemning the president over January 6.

    To fully understand what the Dissent Channel is requires a better understanding of the State Department culture, academic in nature but frighteningly risk adverse. The academic side reflects the Department’s modern origins as being made up of those who were “male, pale, and Yale” where the tradition of loyal opposition holds sway. But it is the risk adverse side of State that tells how important internally revealing the Afghan cable is. Dissent messages are signed, no anonymous ones allowed, and while Secretary Blinken has promised to not show the names of those who signed the Afghan cable to Congress, State senior management will know exactly who wrote what.

    In addition, Dissent Channel messages must still be cleared for transmission to the secretary of state in Washington at post, though there is no requirement everyone agree with the contents per se (authorization does not imply concurrence.) So one’s colleagues know who wrote what, potential dynamite in an organization where dissent is otherwise not encouraged and corridor reputation plays a deciding role in promotions and future assignments. It is a significant step to write or sign a dissent cable and despite the regulations’ admonishment that use of the Dissent Channel not be discouraged by supervisors, it is discouraged.

    Nobody in Embassy Kabul who signed that dissent message, basically telling their boss the ambassador and the Biden Administration they were wrong, expected to have their opinions shown to Congress; quite the opposite. Blinken, by sharing the cable with Congress, is breaking faith with his institution and with his front line workers in a uncollegial way only imagined by them during the Trump administration. Once upon a time something like that would have called for dissent.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Disinformation, 1984-2023

    August 5, 2023 // 6 Comments »

    Orwell, again. 1984 was prescient on so many concepts that it seems it was written for the Biden era. Underlying it all is the concept of disinformation, the root of propaganda and mind control. So it is in 2023. Just ask FBI Director Chris Wray. Or Facebook.

    George Orwell’s novel explores the concept of disinformation and its role in controlling and manipulating society. Orwell presents a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime, led by the Party and its figurehead Big Brother, exerts complete control over its citizens’ lives, including their thinking. The Party employs a variety of techniques to disseminate disinformation and maintain its power. One of the most prominent examples is the concept of “Newspeak,” a language designed to restrict and manipulate thought by reducing the range of expressible ideas. Newspeak aims to replace words and concepts that could challenge or criticize the Party’s ideology, effectively controlling the way people think and communicate (unhomed, misspoke, LGBQTIAXYZ+, nati0nalist, terrorist.)

    Orwell also introduces the concept of doublethink, which refers to the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accept them both as true. This psychological manipulation technique allows the Party to control the minds of its citizens and make them believe in false information or embrace contradictory ideas without questioning (masks which do not prevent disease transmission are still mandatory.) The Party in 1984 alters historical records and disseminates false information through the Ministry of Truth. This manipulation of historical events and facts aims to control the collective memory of the society in a post-truth era, ensuring that the Party’s version of reality remains unquestioned (war in Ukraine, Iraq, El Salvador, Vietnam, all to protect our freedom at home.)

    Through these portrayals, Orwell highlights the dangers of disinformation and its potential to distort truth, manipulate public opinion, and maintain oppressive systems of power. The novel serves as a warning about the importance of critical thinking, independent thought, and the preservation of objective truth in the face of disinformation and propaganda.

    Disinformation is bad. But replacing disinformation with censorship and/or replacement with other disinformation is worse. 1984 closed down the marketplace of ideas. So for 2023.

    In 2023 America the medium is social media and the Ministry of Truth is the Executive Branch, primarily the FBI. Topics the FBI at one point labeled disinformation and sought to censor in the name of protecting Americans from disinformation include but are not limited to the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, the Covid lab leak theory, the efficiency and value to society of masks, lockdowns, and vaccines, speech about election integrity and the 2020 presidential election, the security of voting by mail, even parody accounts mocking the president (about Finnegan Biden, Hunter Biden’s daughter.)

    When asked before Congress to define disinformation, FBI Director Christopher Wray could not do it, even though it is the basis for the FBI’s campaign to censor Americans. It’s a made up term with no fixed meaning. That gives it its power, like “terrorism” was used a decade or so earlier. Remember “domestic terrorism”? That stretched to cover everything from white power advocates to J6 marchers to BLM protestors to Moms for Liberty. It just can’t be all those things all the time but it can be all those things at different times, as needed. The term “hate speech” is another flexible tool of enforcement and is why efforts to codify banning hate speech under the First Amendment must be resisted so strongly. Same for QAnon. We’ve heard about QAnon for years now but still can’t figure out if it even exists. To read the MSM, you would think it is the most powerful and sinister thing one can imagine yet seems to be imaginary, another Cthulhu. Do they have an office, an email address, a lair somewhere?

    In simple words: the government is using social media companies as proxies to censor the contrary thoughts of Americans, all under the guise of correcting misinformation and in direct contrivance of the First Amendment.

    How bad does it get? As part of its 2023 investigation into the federal government’s role in censoring lawful speech on social media platforms, the House Committee on the Judiciary issued a subpoena to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and Alphabet, the parent of Google and YouTube. Documents obtained revealed the FBI, on behalf of a compromised Ukrainian intelligence service, requested and, in some cases, directed, the world’s largest social media platforms to censor Americans engaging in constitutionally protected speech online about the war in Ukraine.

    Another tool of thought control is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was supposed to be used to spy on foreigners but has been improperly used against thousands of Americans. Over 100,000 Americans were spied on in 2022, down from three million in 2021.

    Does it sound familiar? An amorphous threat is pounded into the heads of Americans (Communism and Red Scares, Covid, terrorism, disinformation) and in its name nearly anything is justified, including in the most recent battle for freedom, censorship. The wrapper is that it is all for our own protection (Biden himself accused social-media companies of “killing people,” the more modern version of the terrorism-era’s “blood on their hands”) with the government assuming the role of knowing what is right and correct for Americans to know. The target in name is always some Ruskie-type foreigner, but in reality morphs to be censorship of our citizens ourselves (stained as “pro-Putin.”) Yet Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted the government asked Facebook to suppress true information. He said during the Covid era the scientific establishment within the government asked “for a bunch of things to be censored that, in retrospect, ended up being more debatable or true.”

    Under President Joe Biden, the government has undertaken “the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.” That was the extraordinary conclusion reached by a federal judge in Missouri v. Biden. The case exposed the incredible lengths to which the Biden White House and its federal agencies have gone to bully social-media platforms into removing political views they dislike. The White House is appealing and attained a stay, hoping to retain this powerful tool of thought control right out of 1984. A victory for censorship of Americans and their thoughts could be the greatest threat to free speech in American history.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Some Leftover Questions for Hunter Biden

    July 10, 2023 // 8 Comments »

    About two years ago during a debate with Donald Trump, Joe Biden dismissed his son’s laptop emails as disinformation, maybe from Russia. After becoming president, Joe said his son Hunter was innocent, and most recently, even after Hunter pleaded guilty to tax evasion and weapons charges, said he was proud of his son. So in terms of leftover questions, let’s start with: which part are you proud of, Joe? The video evidence of his crack use? The video evidence of his cavorting with prostitutes? The tax evasion charges, or was it the weapons charge, where Hunter lied to obtain a handgun? Well, it is pride month after all…

    Joking aside, the easy-sleazy plea deal Hunter accepted (which has him do no jail time in lieu of probation) leaves begging several important questions about exactly what Hunter (and Joe, and Jim, Joe’s brother) were doing in return for millions of dollars in consulting fees. Tax evasion seems just the beginning, but let’s get very specific. For the most part, unless noted with a URL, incidents below are drawn from Hunter’s email and laptop documents (we published a dive into the laptop’s contents online in December 2020, and a deeper dive in our print edition.)

    The reason we have to ask all these sticky questions is because half of Americans — including a third of Democrats — think Hunter got favorable treatment from federal prosecutors after he agreed to a sweetheart plea deal.

    So Hunter, you joined the Burisma board at a salary of $83,000 a month with no obvious work duties. What was your actual job at Burisma? We ask because on April 16, 2014, while Papa Joe was vice president, he met with your business partner, Devon Archer, at the White House. Five days later, Joe travelled to Ukraine to lobby for increased fracking. Burisma was one of the few companies licensed to frack in Ukraine. Burisma made hundreds of millions of dollars from Ukraine’s new policy. Burisma paid more than $4,000,000 for your and Archer’s board memberships, including at least $1,450,000 wired directly to your accounts.

    While you and Archer were serving on Burisma’s board, Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was investigating Burisma and its owner. In his official position as vice president, Biden demanded Ukraine fire Shokin, and threatened to withdraw $1 billion in U.S. military aid if it did not do so. Shokin was fired.

    While serving on the Burisma board, you and Archer sought meetings with senior State Department officials, including then-Secretary of State John Kerry and then-Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. What did you guys chat about? The reason we ask is because whatever your job description read, your value to Burisma was your perceived access to the Executive Branch. Papa Joe was at least a passive participant in the scheme, maybe more than that.

    Your laptop shows you, through a number of front companies, accepted money from foreign firms and moved that money to the U.S. where it was parceled out to other entities, including Joe’s brother Jim. Some of it then went back to foreign hands. It all smells bad — multi-million dollar transfers to LLCs without employees, residences used as business addresses, legal tricks from Cyprus to the British Virgin Islands. Can you explain why your fees traveled such circuitous routes? What did you pay Brother Jim for, and why did he appear to kickback some of the money you paid him?

    What is this money al about, Hunter? in 2014, you received a $3.5 million wire transfer from Elena Baturina, the richest woman in Russia and the widow of Yury Luzhkov, the former mayor of Moscow. Baturina became Russia’s only female billionaire when her company received a series of Moscow municipal contracts while her husband was mayor.

    But let’s move on to China, Russia and Ukraine are so depressing. The majority of the contents of your laptop are a jumbled record of your international business ventures. Outstanding in the haystack are a large number of wire transfers to and from your clients (but no evidence of what “work” you performed for those clients. Hmm.) Those with traceable addresses appear to be mostly anonymous shell companies run out of lawyers’ offices, with no employees and fuzzy public paper trails. One typical one involved $259,845 traveling on April 2, 2018 from your Hudson West III in New York to a numbered bank account held by Cathay Bank in Asia. Hudson West was created by Hunter Biden’s own law firm, Owasco, with several Chinese nationals, including a Jianming Ye associate, Gong Wendong. Ye Jianming is chairman of CEFC China Energy, who reportedly had close ties to both the Chinese government and the PLA. He’s been arrested in China on corruption charges.

    Hunter, in August 2018 you also returned $100k back to CEFC in China via its own New York subsidiary LLC, Hudson West V, whose listed address was on Foxwood Road, in New York state. That address is not a business office but instead a single family home worth over $5 million. It looks like the place has new owners, but phone records suggest two people lived there when you were in business, including Gong Wendong. Money appeared to move from physical China to virtual Hunter back to virtual China in the U.S., starting and ending in accounts tied to Gong Wendong after touching base with Hunter, a potential indicator of laundering. Chinese money in China changed into Chinese money in America. Caution is needed; while what looks like American money laundering at first glance may indeed be so, or could be designed to hide the cash from the Chinese government while staying inside American law, a quasi-illegal service you possibly supplied. Is that what you were really up to, fee-for-service to the Chinese? Enquiring minds and all that, you know.

    The Foxwood address also appears on millions of dollars worth of bank transfers among Cathay Bank, CEFC, and multiple semi-anonymous LLCs and hedge funds. One single transfer alone to Hudson West III on August 8, 2017 represented the movement of $5 million from Northern Capital International, which appears to be a Chinese government-owned import-export front company. What was that all about?

    In addition, the house on Foxwood was the mailing address for a secured VISA card in the name of your company, Hudson West III. The card is funded by someone unnamed through Cathay Bank for $99,000 and guaranteed by someone’s checking account held by Cathay worth $450,000. Shared users of the card are you, Hunter, and Gong Wendong. The card was opened as CEFC secured a stake in a Russian state-owned energy company. Biden and others subsequently used the credit card to purchase extravagant items, including airline tickets and things at Apple stores, pharmacies, hotels, and restaurants. A Senate report characterized these transactions as “potential financial criminal activity.” Putting money on a secured VISA card in lieu of a direct wire transfer may be seen by some as an attempt to obscure the source of the money and thus allow you not to claim it as income but you didn’t do that, did you Hunter?

    Jim Biden, Joe’s brother, was also an authorized user of the credit card. Jim over the years has been a nightclub owner, insurance broker, political consultant, and investor. When he ran into financial trouble having triple mortgaged his home, he was bailed out via loans from Joe and you, Hunter, and by a series of Joe’s donors. Jim also received a loan of $500k from John Hynansky, a Ukrainian-American businessman and longtime donor to Joe Biden’s campaigns. This all was in 2015, at the same time the then-vice president oversaw U.S. policy toward the country. As a senator, Joe Biden made use of a private jet owned by Hynansky’s son.

    That will leave undigested the bigger tale of President Joe Biden, who ran in part on an anti-corruption platform following the Trump family escapades. While Joe Biden says he regrets meeting with the Burisma official, he did indeed take the meeting as VP. It’s always easier to apologize when caught than seek permission in advance in Joe’s world. Is that what your dad always says, Hunter?

    A 2017 email chain involving Hunter brokering an ultimately failed deal for a new venture with old friend CEFC, the Chinese energy company, described a 10 percent set-aside for the “big guy,” whom former Hunter Biden partner Tony Bobulinski publicly identified as Joe Biden. Joe also took Hunter to China with him in December 2013 on Air Force 2, and met with Chinese leaders while Hunter tried to make deals on his own. It was Joe’s donors and pals who bailed out brother Jim over the years with sweetheart loans.

    There is a lot more but you get the picture. A lot of appearance of improprietous malarkey from a senior statesman like your dad who should have known better. In places like China and the Ukraine, where corruption is endemic, it is assumed the sons of powerful men have access to their father. You traded on those assumptions for millions of dollars, and Papa Joe stood by understanding what was happening. Every father wants to help his son, and we can imagine you  went to his dad time after time, pleading for just one more little favor to get you past your sordid past.

    Joe Biden said of Hunter, “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” So Hunter, help us out. Explain.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Leave Trump Alone (Because It Does not Matter)

    June 23, 2023 // 10 Comments »

    The narrative is set. Everything between now and November 2024, absent an actual alien intervention, is filler material.

    Trump will ride his narrative to the polls, campaigning even if in hand cuffs and an ankle monitor. He is, he will make clear, the victim of a Democratic plot to weaponize “justice,” dating back to 2016 when Hillary was let off scot-free for her email shenanigans, followed by the FBI’s concocted Russiagate, two impeachments, and now a carousel of indictments. His opponent is Joe Biden, older than Yoda but presenting more like Jar Jar, crooked in cahoots with his scum bag son to hard suck bribe money out of eastern Europe. Sleepy Joe’s narrative is to count on the same FBI going after Trump with both barrels to shuffle its feet investigating him and Hunter through the election, with a final surge under the slogan “Oh who cares, I’m not Trump!” to wrap things up. It’s all a rich tapestry.

    The problem is it is compelling; there is a lot of truth underneath the showmanship. There was David Petraeus, Obama’s CIA Director, who leaked secret docs to his girlfriend, and Sandy Berger, Clinton’s NSA Director, who stole secret docs. But it was Hillary who did get away with it all, at the FBI’s discretion (so much for one law for everyone) what Trump has been accused of in Mar-a-Lago. Hillary Clinton maintained an unsecured private email server which processed classified material on a daily basis. Her server held at least 110 known messages containing classified information, including e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, the highest level of civilian classification. The FBI found classified intelligence improperly stored and transmitted on Clinton’s server “was compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.”

    Clinton and her team destroyed tens of thousands of emails, evidence, as well as physical phones and Blackberries which potentially held evidence — obstruction as clear as it comes. She operated the server out of her home kitchen despite the presence of the Secret Service on property who failed to report it. A server in a closet is not as dramatic a visual as boxes of classified stored in a shower room, but justice is supposed to be blind. More recently, what of Mike Pence and Joe Biden, both of whom have escaped indictment so far on similar charges of mishandling classified information. Trump voters know if the FBI is going to take a similar fact sets and ignore one while aggressively pursuing another, it is partial and political. No matter which candidate wins and loses, DOJ’s credibility is tanked.

    The Stormy Daniels case, and the guilty finding in the Jean Carroll defamation case, reek of politics. Neither case would have seen daylight outside of Democratic hive New York, and neither could have held up outside a partisan justice system that permits it to ignore Jeffrey Epstein’s death in custody or a city in a crime tornado (New York in the past year reduced 52 percent of all felony charges to misdemeanors, opposite of what was done to Trump) while aggressively allowing the system to pursue a decades-old rape case of dubious propriety.

    Witch hunt meet Hunter. New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg ran for office on the promise to prosecute Trump. He fulfilled a campaign promise and paid off his George Soros-connected backers. Bragg, in the words of law professor Jonathan Turley, had a “very public, almost Hamlet-like process where he debated whether he could do this bootstrapping theory [bumping misdemeanors up to felonies in the Stormy case.] He stopped it for a while and was pressured to go forward with it. All of that smacks more of politics than prosecutorial discretion.”

    Calling it all a witch hunt is just a starting point. The point here is not innocence; it is whether the justice system is going to take fact sets and ignore one while aggressively pursuing another, risking being seen as partial and political. No matter which candidate wins or loses, credibility is tanked.

    Still to come (at the least) are whatever judicial actions will emerge from the Special Prosecutor over Trump’s role in January 6, and legal action over the 2020 Georgia vote count (with another Democratic openly anti-Trump prosecutor.) Trump jokes in his stump speech nowadays every time he flies over a Blue State he gets another subpoena. He could easily head into the Republican convention to accept the nomination with multiple convictions and/or indictments on his shoulders. It won’t matter. The justice system is going to take fact sets and ignore some while aggressively pursuing others, partial and political plain as day. No matter which candidate wins, credibility is tanked. It grinds that most of the serious charges against Trump are under the hoary Espionage Act, seen by many as reviving the now-discredited trope Trump was a Russian agent.

    Mostly overlooked for now is how much of the apparent evidence against Trump at Mar-a-Lago came from his own attorneys. Attorney-client privilege is recognized as one of the cornerstones of fairness in our system. In the Trump case, the Justice Department used the one major exception to privilege, when the communication is intended to further a criminal or fraudulent act, to compel Trump’s lawyers to give evidence against their own client. Justice asserted Trump lied to his own team about having no more classified documents, and that this constituted a crime of fraud and maybe obstruction, and thus privilege is not available and Trump’s lawyer can be made to testify against his client. The crime or fraud exception to attorney-client privilege itself has a long history, dating back to English common law. In the United States, the crime or fraud exception was first recognized by the Supreme Court in the 1840 case of United States v. Privileged Communications. But Trump’s supporters are unlikely to read deeply into the case law; all they’ll see is what looks like strong-arm tactics by the Department of Justice. No matter which candidate wins and loses, DOJ’s credibility is tanked.

    The thing is no one has to work very hard to convince Trump supporters of the truth of what he is saying, that he is the victim. Trump support remained unmoved by the many investigations that plagued his presidency. Even during peak crises, views of him were static. Post-presidency polls continued the trend. Public opinion of Trump remains remarkably stable, despite his unprecedented legal challenges, and about half of Americans do not see his behavior as disqualifying, sharper if you divide along partisan lines. When asked if Trump’s legal troubles would impact their views of him, two-thirds of his supporters said it would not make a difference. That’s a committed bunch. Perhaps just as important, 57 percent of voters, including one-third of Democrats, said the indictment in New York earlier this year was politically motivated.

    No one can say who will win in November 2024, but one loser is certain, faith in the rule of law by a large number of Americans. They will leave the polls certain the system was bent to “get” Trump, either saddened by the fall of blind justice or saddened that it did not work and Trump remined a powerful figure with a large movement behind him, either in or out of the Oval Office.

     

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    A War Like No Other in Ukraine

    June 17, 2023 // 12 Comments »

    Joe Biden created for the U.S. a war like no other, one where others die and the U.S. simply sits back and pays the bills on a gargantuan scale. No attempts are made at diplomacy by the Americans, and the diplomatic efforts of others like the Chinese are dismissed as evil attempts to gain influence in the area (similar for Chinese diplomatic work in the Yemen war.) Biden is coming close to achieving 1984‘s goal of perpetual warfare while only putting a handful of American lives at risk. He has learned lessons from the Cold War, and already put them into play. Can we call it the Biden Doctrine yet?

    Biden’s strategy is clear enough now after well more than a year of conflict; what he has been sending to Ukraine jumped from helmets and uniforms to F-16s in only 15 months and shows no signs of stopping. The problem is U.S. weapons are never enough for victory and always “just enough” to allow the battle to go on until then next round. If the Ukrainians think they are playing the U.S. for suckers for free arms they best check who is really paying for everything, in blood.

    Putin is playing this game himself in a way, careful not to introduce anything too powerful, such as strategic bombers, and upset the balance and offer Biden the chance to intervene in the war directly (one can hear old man Biden on TV now, explaining American airstrikes are needed to prevent a genocide, the go-to excuse he learned at Obama’s knee.) That’s what the current escalation holds, airpower. Ukraine will find even with the promise of the F-16 it can’t acquire aircraft and train up pilots fast enough (minimum training time is 18-24 months), and next will be begging the U.S. to serve as its air force. As it is the planes are likely to be based out of Poland and Romania, suggesting NATO will pick up the high-skilled tasks of maintaining and repairing them. Left unclear is the NATO role in required aerial refueling to keep the planes over the battlefield. F-16s aside, a spin off bonus to all these weapons gifts is that the vast majority of transfers to date have been “presidential drawdowns.” This means the U.S. sends used or older weapons to Ukraine, after which the Pentagon can use the Congressionally-authorized funds to replenish their stocks by purchasing new arms. The irony that war machines once in Iraq are now on the ground in Ukraine can’t be missed.

    The U.S. strategy seems based on creating a ghastly tie of sorts, two sides lined up across a field shooting at each other until one side called it quits for the day. Same as in 1865, same as in 1914, but the new factor is today those armies face off across those fields with 21st-century HIMARS artillery, machine guns, and other tools of killing far more effective than a musket. It is unsustainable, literally chewing up men, albeit not Americans. The question meanwhile of how many more Ukrainians have to die is answered privately by Joe Biden as “potentially all of them.” Anything else requires you to cynically believe Biden thinks he can simply purchase victory,

    Up until now this has all been the Cold War playbook. Fighting to the last Afghan was a strategy perfected in Soviet-held Afghanistan in the 1980s. Yet what is different is the scale — since Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States sent over $37 billion worth of military aid to support Kiev’s war effort, the single largest arms transfer in U.S. history and one with no signs of stopping. A single F-16 costs up to $350 million a copy if bought with weapons, maintenance equipment, and spare parts kits.

    Yet despite the similarities to Cold War Strategy 101, some lessons have been learned over the intervening years. One of America’s fail-points throughout the Cold War and the War on Terror was the use of puppet governments largely imposed or direly supported by American money and muscle. Because these governments lacked the support of the people (see Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan) they were non-starters with the lifespan of fruit flies. Ukraine is different; the puppet government is the government, beholden to the U.S. for its very survival but more or less supported directly by the people for now.

    The other lesson learned has to do with nation building, or rebuilding or reconstruction, whatever the vast post-war expenditures will be called in this conflict. No more straight-up governmental efforts as in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. This time it will be all private enterprise. “It is obvious that American business can become the locomotive that will once again push forward global economic growth,” President Zelensky said, boasting that BlackRock, JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs, and others “have already become part of our Ukrainian way.”

    The NYT calls Ukraine “the world’s largest construction site” and predicts projects there in the multi-billions, as high in some estimates as $750 billion. It will be, says the Times, a “gold rush: the reconstruction of Ukraine once the war is over. Russia is stepping up its offensive heading into the second year of the war, but already the staggering rebuilding task is evident. Hundreds of thousands of homes, schools, hospitals and factories have been obliterated along with critical energy facilities and miles of roads, rail tracks and seaports. The profound human tragedy is unavoidably also a huge economic opportunity.” Earlier this year JP Morgan and Zelensky signed a memorandum of understanding stipulating Morgan would assist Ukraine in its reconstruction.

    And maybe those large American companies have learned the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the billions spent, much money was wasted on dead ends and much was siphoned off due to corruption. But success or failure, the contractors always got paid in our Wars of Terror. With that in mind, more than 300 companies from 22 countries signed up for a Rebuild Ukraine exhibition and conference in Warsaw. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a standing-room-only crowd packed Ukraine House to discuss investment opportunities.

    The eventual gold rush in rebuilding makes for an interesting addendum to the Biden strategy of fighting to the last Ukrainian. The more that is destroyed the more that needs to be rebuilt, and the potential for more money to pour into U.S. companies smart enough to wait by the trough for the killing to subside. But why wait? Drones operated by Danish companies have already mapped every bombed-out structure in the Mykolaiv Oblast region, with an eye toward using the data to help decide what reconstruction contracts should be issued.

    So let’s put some lipstick on this pig of a strategy and call it the Biden Doctrine. Part I is to limit direct U.S. combat involvement while fanning the flames for others. Part II is to provide massive amounts of arms to enable a fight to the last local person. Part III is to transform the home government into a puppet instead of creating an unpopular one afresh. Part IV is to turn the reconstruction process into a profit center for American companies. How long the war lasts and how many die are cynically not part of the strategy. The off ramp in Ukraine, a diplomatic outcome that resets the map to pre-invasion 2022 levels, is clear enough to Washington. The Biden administration seems content, shamefully, not to call forcefully for diplomatic efforts but instead to bleed out the Russians as if this was Afghanistan 1980, albeit in the heart of Europe.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Indictments over Classified. Not Biden, and Not Pence. So Why Trump?

    June 12, 2023 // 8 Comments »

    Donald Trump is the first president in history to be indicted for Federal crimes, in this case a series of eight charges each with multiple counts totaling 37 centering on his taking highly classified materials with him to Mar-a-Lago from the White House in January 2021. The charges also implicate Trump and a close aide, Waltine Nauta, in a conspiracy to hide the documents in whole or in part from the National Archives (NARA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and his own legal team, and making false statements along those same lines.

    Hundreds of documents are of concern, classified at the highest levels with origins at CIA, NSA, and elsewhere in the intelligence community. While leaks and speculation prior to the unsealing of the indictment suggested this was a routine Espionage Act case, i.e., you have possession of some classified documents and thus must be guilty, the indictment lays out a damming parallel set of evidence for obstruction, including a suggestion that Trump was prepared to have his lawyers shred some of the offending documents.

    Though Biden’s handling of classified remains an active investigation, Mike Pence was recently absolved of any criminal intent in his own mishandling of secret paper. Many people believe the same result will come of the Biden case. What makes Trump’s case so materially different that the Special Prosecutor is prepared to throw the book at him and his aide?

    The key seems to be the egregiousness of Trump’s actions coupled with his attempt to cover up his actions. Lawyers call it an “aggravating factor,” making clear the charged actions were not accidental. It looks like they may have it.

    The indictment shows in great detail efforts Trump made to conceal the documents both from NARA and the DOJ, and from members of his own legal team. Dozens of boxes containing mementos and paperwork from his administration were assembled by Trump over his four years in the White House. These included, all mixed together, everything from newspaper clippings to notes from Kim Jong Un to highly secretive war plans aimed at Iran. These boxes were transported to Mar-a-Lago by commercial means, itself a violation of numerous security regulations. Within Mar-a-Lago the documents were not always kept under lock and key, at one point being piled on the stage in one of the ballrooms (a photo of this is included with the indictment; another included photo shows boxes spilling classified documents onto the floor of a storage room, and a third showing the boxes in a shower room.) There is evidence to suggest Trump instructed his staff to better hide some of the documents from his own lawyers when they undertook a search in response to a NARA subpoena, and then again ahead of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. This may have led to Trump losing two lawyers just hours after being indicted, as Jim Trusty and John Rowley announced they’d resigned.

    Further under the heading of egregiousness, the indictment suggests a tape recording exists of one of at least two instances where Trump showed off the documents to people without security clearances. In the tape Trump admits the document at hand is classified, and in a schoolboy-like way says he should not be showing it to a writer, a publisher, and two Trump staffers. Trump acknowledging that he knew a document in his possession was still classified stands at odds with his public claims that he had declassified all the materials he took and likely removes this defense strategy from the upcoming trial.

    The indictment further claims Trump obstructed the investigation into his handling of classified materials in a number of ways, to include telling his attorneys to claim he did not have the documents subpoenaed, directing his aide Nauta to move boxes to conceal them from his own lawyers, and then from the FBI/DOJ and then from the grand jury, suggesting his lawyer destroy some of the documents, claiming he was cooperating fully when he was actively concealing documents from disclosure, and submitting a false certification that all requested document had been submitted. Nauta is listed as a co-conspirator on most of those allegations, with phone records and internal surveillance tapes connecting statements made and actions taken by the two men.

    Trump also appears to have used the boxes moving like a shell game to hide information from Christina Bobb, who was serving as the formal custodian of records. The indictment makes clear she did not know the statements in her attestation that everything had been turned over to the DOJ were false, and she has not been charged.

    The indictment also claims Trump helped to pack boxes at the White House, which rebuts a common defense in these sorts of cases, that the retention of documents was a clerical error by staff and not intentional.

    While understanding the contents of the indictment give only one side of the story and that Trump will defend himself when the case comes to trial likely in the spring, the evidence available seems significant. Trump clearly possessed classified documents outside proper storage areas, and “injury to the United States,” a requirement of the law, should be fairly easy to prove given the dramatic nature of some of the documents and the casual manner in which Trump handled them, to include showing off war plans to a writer and publisher. This part of the case follows standard lines in an Espionage Act prosecution. Trump’s actions appear to go well beyond anything Mike Pence did with his classified or anything that Biden has so far been accused of.

    However, it is the charges of obstruction which are most significant in this case. One of the key elements of obstruction is proving a state of guilty mind — mens rea — and that will be the crux of the actual prosecution based on the Mar-a-Lago documents. What was Trump thinking at the time, in other words, did he have specific intent to obstruct some investigation? A jury might find Trump’s actions alone speak to intent, his active attempts to hide physical boxes of documents from first his lawyers and then investigators, for example.

    But the joker in the deck is Waltine Nauta, Trump’s close aide who is charged alongside Trump on the obstruction and lying allegations. Nauta faces potentially decades in jail, serious time. It appears his being charged may be an attempt to get him to testify directly to Trump’s intent and state of mind, by recalling actual instructions and conversations. If Nauta accepts some sort of plea deal in return for such testimony, it is hard to see a jury letting Donald Trump off on these charges. But where things go after that, politics-wise, is anybody’s guess at this early stage.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    The Final Durham Report: Democracy’s Horror Show

    May 26, 2023 // 11 Comments »

    Hillary knew. She knew her campaign paid for Russian disinformation (including the alleged pee tape accusations) to be washed through a report by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. She knew the information was false but could potentially allow her to win the election. Hillary lied to the FBI about all this, and lied to the American public. Such was her appetite.

    The FBI knew. They knew none of the information in the Steele Report could be corroborated, and they knew most of it was false. They turned a blind eye, purposefully and with the intent to defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 election, to basic investigative and tradecraft rules to use the corrupt information to surveil the Trump campaign via the FISA court. When Trump won the election anyway, the FBI continued to use this information to assault the loyalty and viability of President Trump and ultimately tried to use the information via the Robert Mueller investigation to impeach or indict Trump.

    Only one person went to jail for all this, a minor player named Kevin Clinesmith for provided false info to the FISA court. No changes are planned for the FBI. No charges are to be brought against Hillary Clinton. The Deep State came within an eyelash of bringing down an unwanted president as surely as they are believed to have done in Dallas ’63. Words were the weapon this time, not bullets.

    These are the conclusions of the final Durham Report released last week.  The report was written by former Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was chosen in 2019 to examine the FBI probe known as “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”  Durham provides the only comprehensive review of what came to be called Russiagate, and shows how close to the edge our democracy came to falling into the abyss at the hands of the Deep State. It all sounds dramatic, as those terms have been bandied about so often and in so many contexts they may have lost some of their meaning. But make no mistake about it — the FBI tried to shape the 2016 election and failing, tried to run Trump out of office. If you thought the “Hunter Biden Letter,” the one signed by dozens of intelligence professionals calling the Biden Diaries potential Russian disinformation was just wrong, you should find the conclusions of the Durham report a horror show.

    There was nothing true in the Steele Report, for example, this key paragraph: “Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, whom President PUTIN apparently both hated and feared.”

    The FBI had no intelligence about Trump or others associated with the Trump campaign being in contact with Russian intelligence beyond Steele. Despite being unvetted and uncorroborated and coming from a single source with direct political ties to Trump’s opponent, the FBI used such accusations to justify a full-spectrum surveillance operation against the Trump campaign, the first known such operation in American history. The FBI omitted the fact from its FISA application that Carter Page was in fact not a Russian agent but a paid source for the CIA who had been vetted by the Agency as loyal and reliable. They just lied and even when the lie could not be ignored the FBI lied more times to keep the surveillance application alive before the FISA court.

    Durham found investigators “ignored exculpatory evidence, put too much stock in information provided by Trump’s political opponents, and carried out surveillance without genuinely believing there was probable cause to do so.” “Throughout the duration of Crossfire Hurricane, facts and circumstances that were inconsistent with the premise that Trump and/or persons associated with the Trump campaign were involved in a collusive or conspiratorial relationship with the Russian government were ignored or simply assessed away,” Durham wrote. The FBI acted “without appropriate objectivity or restraint in pursuing allegations of collusion or conspiracy between a U.S. political campaign and a foreign power.”

    It could not be more clear. The FBI knew what it was doing was wrong and did it anyway because the ends, defeating Trump, appeared to justify the means. No surprise, that has been the slogan behind every democratic election U.S. intelligence agencies have overthrown overseas, so why not follow the same logic when the tools of war came home to attempt to drive the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton.

    We now know that almost all of the disinformation in the Steele Report came from one man, Igor Danchenko (whom the FBI had until 2011 investigated as a Russian spy.) Danchenko also fed disinfo to a Clinton supporter and registered foreign agent for Russia, Charles Dolan (who was known to but never interviewed by the FBI) to pass on the Steele to further obscure its origin. But according to the Durham report “The failure to identify the primary sub-source [Danchenko] early in the investigation’s pursuit of FISA authority prevented the FBI from properly examining the possibility that some or much of the non-open source information contained in Steele’s reporting was Russian disinformation (that wittingly or unwittingly was passed along to Steele), or that the reporting was otherwise not credible.”

    Everyone knew. The Durham Report confirms on August 3, 2016, the Russiagate allegations were briefed to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and FBI Director James Comey by CIA Director John Brennan at an Oval Office meeting. None of the men briefed, and none of the agencies involved, did anything to intercede in the FBI’s efforts alongside the Clinton Campaign to manufacture collusion between Trump and Russia. Indeed, everyone allowed the falsehoods to linger into the Mueller Report and when that document concluded publicly there was no collusion between Trump and the Kremlin, pivot the same pile of falsehoods to claim Trump somehow obstructed an investigation which actually exonerated him, concluding without indictment as it did.

    As for the FBI, the Durham report brutally tells us “the FBI failed to uphold their important mission of strict fidelity to the law.” That they “displayed, at best, a cavalier attitude towards accuracy and completeness.” That the Bureau “disregarded significant exculpatory information that should have prompted investigative restraint and re-examination… there were clear opportunities to have avoided the mistakes and to have prevented the damage resulting from their embrace of seriously flawed information that they failed to analyze and assess properly.” And that “senior FBI personnel displayed a serious lack of analytical rigor towards the information that they received, especially information received from politically affiliated persons and entities.” That “important aspects of the Crossfire Hurricane matter were seriously deficient.” The Report concludes “although recognizing that in hindsight much is clearer, much of this also seems to have been clear at the time.” As for recommendations, the Report states “more training sessions would likely prove to be a fruitless exercise if the FBI’s guiding principles of Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity are not engrained in the hearts and minds of those sworn to meet the FBI’s mission of “Protect[ing]the American People and Uphold[ing] the Constitution of the United States.”

    Without the help of the FBI Russiagate would have been nothing but a flimsy Clinton campaign scam. Thus the Durham Report offers one over-arching implied conclusion: Be skeptical of the FBI and watch accusations of collusion and foreign interference closely around the 2024 election. Treason is indeed a twisty path.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    I’m Disgusted with the Trump Indictment

    April 20, 2023 // 1 Comment »

    The sheer pleasure ordinary Democrats, never mind MSM personnel, got from seeing Donald Trump in court was disgusting. The “Ah, jeez, why not?” reaction when it was announced he would not be paraded as a captured curiosity, a circus freak, through a perp walk. The t-shirts that wouldn’t be made out of his mug shot, all the disappointment leavened with the glee that years of investigations finally yielded Trump in court facing criminal charges, the fruition of #TheResistance. To hear MSNBC, you’d think we were days away from the Orange Man being thrown into a van with no windows for his last ride upstate, the Orange tan and orange jumpsuit, with Orange is the New Black jokes echoing behind him, the last things he hears before being violated in the prison showers while multitudes cheer.

    I’d seen all this before, in post-military dictatorship Korea where prosecuting one’s political enemies is a popular blood sport. Former President Roh Moo-hyun faced corruption allegations after leaving office in 2008, but he died by suicide before he could face trial. Former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office in 2017, and she was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were investigated for corruption after leaving office. Overall, whether a former South Korean president goes to jail after their term depends on various factors, occasionally such as the evidence against them, and more significantly, the political climate surrounding them. That’s no rule of law, it is revenge. That’s the new America you’re cheering for?

    And yet for all the schadenfreude turned up to 11, we’re left staring blankly at the TV and asking: is this all there is? After eight years of intense judicial and media scrutiny, after two impeachments, the January 6 coven of elders committee, Russiagate and even after the state of New York and the House finally did get his tax documents, this is it? The Teflon Don is going down over… falsification of business records? Never mind the 34 counts, that’s just stacking, an old DA trick to turn one “crime” into many and make things look more dramatic. It just seem impossible that after all this there is no debt to Putin, no tax scam, no KGB handler, just a bookkeeping error. And spare us the “Al Capone went to jail over tax returns.” Capone was a known mobster, a murderer, a man who left a long string of broken bodies alongside his wholly criminal business (and he only served eight years.) Trump may have committed a bookkeeping error. He’ll pay a fine at worst.

    When you blow away the smoke, Trump is charged with only one minor crime. That stems from the allegation that money Trump paid to his lawyer Michael Cohen (continuing the call him a “fixer” just prolongs the awful Godfather references and is sooooo 2021) to in turn legally buy silence from Stormy Daniels, and for Karen McDougal’s and other stories. Trump supposedly purposely mislabeled this legally spent money as “legal fees.” The indictment instead claims it a violation of business records law because the primary purpose was to influence an election. The supposition by the DA that that was true allowed him to upgrade a misdemeanor, false business records, into multiple felony accusations. Backing all this up is the word of disbarred felon Michael Cohen, and former National Inquirer honcho David Pecker (you just can’t make this stuff up, folks) both of whom are going to swear it is all true. That Pecker supposedly was granted immunity to testify and Cohen himself has multiple law suits and a huge chip on his shoulder pending against Trump has nothing to do with nuthin’.

    The problem is DA Alvin Bragg (who actually ran for his office on the promise of prosecuting Trump for… something… and is now paying off his promise to his backers) has to win the case, and that is going to be as legally tough as the case itself is legally soft.

    In short, the DA has to prove a crime not even charged (the unspecified campaign finance laws, or maybe something to do with taxes, the so-called “core crime”), show a misdemeanor for everyone else is actually a felony if you’re Trump, demonstrate Trump’s criminal state of mind when this all happened (intent to defraud… who? The Trump Organization?) and do all that based primarily on the testimony of Michael Cohen and a pseudo-journalist named Pecker. Otherwise, Trump is acquitted. And while the news is chock full of articles on the threat to our democracy if Trump is found guilty, no one has been saying much about how he will be empowered if he wins. It is said if you go after the king, you should not miss.
    There is nothing in this case which will stop Trump from running for president, even if somehow found guilty or even serving time. His affair with Stormy, which may be offensive to some voters, has sadly been part of the public conversation around Trump for years. If the standards being applied in New York hold, then while this is the first indictment of a former president it will not be the last. Every local prosecutor in the country will now feel that he has a green light to criminally investigate and prosecute presidents after they leave office (remember Jim Garrison and the JFK assassination.) Perhaps over the Hunter Biden case?
    Could things get to the point where the “rule of law” misinterpreted as a “rule of revenge” means a Republican candidate will need to stay out of blue states to avoid prosecution and vice-versa for Dems? Trump went to New York and surrendered himself voluntarily; imagine if he had stayed in Florida and fought any extradition attempt to force him to Manhattan. Democrats salivating over the charges against Trump will feel differently when a prominent Dem ends up on the receiving end of a similar effort by any of the thousands of prosecutors elected to local office, eager to make their bones by taking down a president of the other party. Now imagine an ageing Joe Biden a virtual prisoner of a Democratic safehouse in Delaware.
    It is easy to brush this off as exaggeration, but Trump’s opponents react to his provocations and grandstanding by escalating the erosion of legal norms (see the Mueller investigation, and the impeachments.) Ask Mitt Romney, who said “The prosecutor’s overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system.” And don’t forget Alvin Bragg’s predecessor had almost a year to bring this case after Trump left office, but did not do so, and the Department of Justice also declined. Historians will call this all the Bragg Rule.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Clarence Thomas Takes One for the Court

    April 17, 2023 // 3 Comments »

    Did Clarence Thomas do anything wrong in accepting gifts from a wealthy Republican, or is Thomas the victim of years of pent-up anger at the Supreme Court by Democrats? Yes.

    According to an investigation by ProPublica, for more than 20 years Justice Thomas received lavish and expensive gifts, including trips on a private yacht and a private jet, from Harlan Crow, a Texas billionaire and real estate developer with a long record of support for Republican politicians. Under the ethic regulations which guide Supreme Court justices, it is not clear that Thomas had to report any of this (Thomas says the guidance he received affirmed he did not need to report any of the gifts as his angel, Crow, had no business before the Court and the trips were “personal hospitality,” a gift from a friend.)

    ProPublica asserts that the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 required Thomas to report these gifts. This is most probably untrue. People do not report generally “personal hospitality,” such as Thomas’s vacations. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the Judicial Conference issued new guidelines saying free trips and air travel must now be reported. This was announced as a change in policy, meaning disclosure was not required in the past but would be in the future. It is as simple as that: The rules did not require reporting of trips in the past, but going forward they do.

    So it appears while Thomas did not break the letter of these regulations, he certainly skirted the edge of what we’ll call propriety, the appearance of being on Harlan Crow’s extended payroll. For a guy who has lived so long in Democratic crosshairs it seemed an unwise thing for Thomas to do, even if legal. One theme of government ethics classes is you don’t have to demonstrate actual impropriety, you must avoid even the possible appearance of impropriety. Accepting lavish travel perks? Operating you own email server? Just not what regular Feds do, whether legal or not.

    Thomas’ long war with the Left started with his confirmation hearings in 1991 after his nomination by President George H.W. Bush. Anita Hill, who worked for Thomas at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thomas sexually harassed her during that time. Her testimony ignited a national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace and the treatment of women in the legal profession. It introduced many Americans to the vocabulary of pornography long before Bill Clinton soiled the waters (small world: Senator Joe Biden was the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversaw the confirmation process. Biden has faced criticism for his sexist handling of Hill’s testimony and for not allowing three other female witnesses to testify during the hearings.)

    As a jurist criticism of Thomas has focused on three points. Many liberals disagree with Justice Thomas’s conservative judicial philosophy, which emphasizes originalism and strict interpretation of the Constitution. They argue that this approach leads to narrow interpretations of individual rights and protections, particularly for marginalized groups. Similarly, liberals criticize Justice Thomas for his opposition to affirmative action and other civil rights policies. They argue that his views on these issues are harmful to communities of color. Lastly, Thomas is known for being one of the least vocal members of the Supreme Court, rarely asking questions during oral arguments or engaging in public discourse about his opinions. Some liberals argue that this lack of engagement is problematic and makes it difficult to understand his reasoning on key issues. There are accusations he often has made up his mind along ideological lines before even hearing a case.

    Thomas has more recently become a lightening rod for everything Democrats have come to hate about the Supreme Court, as the Court shifted rightward and decisions like Roe v. Wade went against standard liberal thinking. They see Thomas’ “corruption” as emblematic of the Court’s outsize power due to lifetime appointments, isolation from traditional Constitutional checks and balances, and virtual immunity from public pressure, making it a magnet for corruption and influence-peddling. They see Harlan Crow as having purchased direct access to one of the most influential and powerful men in America and argue that while Crow may not have a specific issue in front of the Court, he holds a generic interest in right wing causes and thus has bought himself a sympathetic judge for his broader Conservative agenda.

    Things only got worse when it was discovered that Thomas’ spouse Ginni donated to Republican causes and sent texts cheering on the protests of January 6. A woman with political thoughts of her own! Nonetheless, Thomas is a man with a target on his back.

    The only real check and balance on Supreme Court justices is formal impeachment and removal from the bench, so it not surprising at the first sign of impropriety Democrats like AOC have immediately called for Thomas to be impeached. It won’t happen; the standards for impeachment are high, whether what Thomas did actually qualifies is far from clear, and a partisan Congress will never go along. Only one Supreme Court justice has ever been impeached, Samuel Chase, in 1804 for alleged political bias in his judicial conduct. The Senate held a trial, but ultimately acquitted Chase of all charges. No other Supreme Court justice has been impeached since then. Justice Abe Fortas did resign over 50 years ago over money issues, ahead of a likely try at impeachment.

    Some have already gone further than the expected calls for hearings and investigations. The New Republic writes “The Democrats need to destroy Clarence Thomas’s reputation. They’ll never successfully impeach him. But so what? Make him a metaphor for every insidious thing the far right has done to this country.” The magazine went on to call him the “single worst Supreme Court justice of all time. Clarence Thomas is an embarrassment to the Supreme Court and the country, and the worship of this man on the right is one of the greatest symbols of their contempt for standards, the law, precedent, and democracy.”

    The hyperbole gives it away — all of this is another tempest to fill in the dead space between Orange Man Bad stories. Thomas should not be proud of his actions, but nor should he face impeachment, never mind some sort of public drawing and quartering of his reputation, over what he did. Clarence Thomas is taking one for the Court.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Third World Politics: Details of the Trump Indictment

    April 8, 2023 // Comments Off on Third World Politics: Details of the Trump Indictment

    The rule of law, which seems so precious to holier-than-thou Democrats these days, depends above all on one thing: a belief among the majority of us that while no one is above the law, the law will also be applied fairly to all those it does affect. Whether you loathe Trump or love him, you know this: what is happening now in Manhattan is unfair and inconsistent with a nation that once prided itself on believing in the rule of law. Who is still a believer today?

    The previously sealed indictment shows Donald Trump was charged with 34 felony counts for falsification of business records, the only crime actually charged. The falsification of business records is normally prosecuted in New York as a misdemeanor. But Bragg’s office apparently bumped up all the charges to felonies on the grounds that the conduct was intended to conceal another underlying crime, violating election finance law (“with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof.”) There is more smoke than fire; no wonder the DA wanted to keep this mess sealed as long as possible and the judge won’t allow cameras in the courtroom. But specifically, how is this unfair?

    Overcharging and stacking charges. Two basic prosecutorial transgressions. If anything, Trump should have been charged with a simple misdemeanor, the so-called falsification of business records for his seemingly characterizing money legally paid to Stormy Daniels and others as part of a nondisclosure agreement as “legal expenses” as well as payments to the National Enquirer to “catch and kill” a story about Trump’s alleged affair with Karen McDougal and other stories.

    The overall case has no victim of Trump’s “crime,” and is basically a tempest over bookkeeping. Bumping all this up to felony charges based solely on Bragg’s supposition that the error was made with the intent to cheat on campaign finance laws is just overcharging, trying to make this all seem more important than it is.

    Stacking, the second basic prosecutorial transgression, refers to a DA’s attempt to break one “crime” into as many pieces as he can (34 counts, one for each check cut to lawyer Michael Cohen allegedly for Stormy, et al) to also exaggerate the importance of it all and justify the felony upgrade.

    Ignoring precedent cases to “get him.” Alvin Bragg ran for office on prosecuting Trump. He is fulfilling a campaign promise and paying off his backers. Bragg, in the words of law professor Jonathan Turley, had a “very public, almost Hamlet-like process where he debated whether he could do this bootstrapping theory [bumping misdemeanors up to felonies.] He stopped it for a while and was pressured to go forward with it. All of that smacks more of politics than prosecutorial discretion.” Indeed, if Bragg were to have looked fairly at precedent he would have run right into the John Edwards case. Edwards, a former United States Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was indicted in 2011 on charges of violating campaign finance laws during his 2008 presidential campaign. The charges stemmed from allegations Edwards used nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to conceal an extramarital affair during his campaign.

    The government alleged Edwards received money from two wealthy donors and used it to support his mistress and their child in return for their silence. The government claimed this constituted a violation of campaign finance laws, which limit the amount of money that individuals can contribute to a campaign and require that such contributions be disclosed. Edwards maintained the payments were gifts and not campaign contributions, and therefore not subject to campaign finance laws. A jury acquitted Edwards on one count of violating campaign finance laws and deadlocked on the remaining five counts. The government ultimately decided not to retry Edwards.

    Creating New Political Precedent. If this is all they found in years of obsession with destroying this man, he must be the cleanest person to ever hold office. As former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson observed decades ago about unfairness, “It is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it; it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books or putting investigators to work to pin some offense on him,” something that is inherently unfair.

    The law applied equally. For the nation’s sake any action against Trump must preserve what is left of faith in the rule of law applied without fear or favor, or risk civil disenfranchisement if not outright civil unrest. To do this, someone will have to address the case of Hillary Clinton, who maintained an unsecured private email server processing classified material. Clinton destroyed tens of thousands of emails, potential evidence, as well as physical phones and Blackberries. She operated the server out of her New York (!) kitchen. Her purpose in doing all this appeared to have been avoiding Freedom of Information Act requests (a crime with the intent to commit another crime) ahead of her 2016 presidential run. The Hillary campaign and the DNC also did something naughty in paying for the Steele dossier as “legal expenses” and not campaign expenditures, and got off with only an Election Commission fine for their bookkeeping “error.”

    In addition, those who claim Trump’s indictment is not unfair will also have to account for the fact that Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 were not found to have violated campaign finance laws and no charges were even levied. During the 2008 campaign donors were able to make contributions using fictitious names, such as “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck,” and the campaign was criticized for not doing enough to prevent fraudulent donations. Another controversy involved the Obama campaign’s use of untraceable prepaid credit cards, which raised concerns about the possibility of illegal foreign contributions. No charges were ever filed.

    Unequal prosecution. This concern extends past presidential politics. On Sunday, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy tweeted “DA Alvin Bragg is abusing his office to target President Trump while he’s reduced a majority of felonies [in NYC], including violent crimes, to misdemeanors. He has different rules for political opponents.” The DA’s tactics have led to a surge in crimes committed in Manhattan as prosecutions have fallen. Bragg claims equity demands he selectively prosecute; Bragg reduced 52 percent of all felony charges to misdemeanors, opposite of what he did to Trump.

    The Future. If the standards being applied in New York hold, then while this is the first indictment of a former president it will not be the last. Every local prosecutor in the country will now feel that he has a green light to criminally investigate and prosecute presidents after they leave office. Democrats salivating over the charges against Trump will feel differently when a prominent Dem ends up on the receiving end of a similar effort by any of the thousands of prosecutors elected to local office, eager to make their bones by taking down a president of the United States (remember Jim Garrison and the JFK assassination.) Perhaps over the Hunter Biden case? Could things get to the point where the rule of law means a Republican candidate will need to stay out of blue states to avoid prosecution and vice-versa? Trump went to New York and surrendered himself voluntarily; imagine if he had stayed in Florida and fought any extradition attempt to force him to Manhattan. Now imagine an ageing Joe Biden a virtual prisoner of a Democratic safehouse in Delaware. Historians would have to call it the Bragg Rule.

    If you’re curious about how that might work, just have a look at post-military dictatorship Korea where prosecuting one’s political enemies is a popular blood sport. Former President Roh Moo-hyun faced corruption allegations after leaving office in 2008, but he died by suicide before he could face trial. Former President Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed from office in 2017, and she was subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of bribery and abuse of power. Former Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam were investigated for corruption after leaving office, but they were not convicted. Overall, whether a former South Korean president goes to jail after their term depends on various factors, such as the evidence against them, and more significantly, the political climate. Is this America’s future? Ask Alvin Bragg.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Trump Indicted

    April 4, 2023 // 3 Comments »

    What would you have done if you were Alvin Bragg? Would you have indicted Donald Trump? Or would you have walked away, concerned about accusations you as a Democrat were playing politics, and more concerned the indictment would somehow help the man you are trying to take down? You don’t play with such fire around a guy like Trump casually.

    At Bragg’s insistence, Trump was indicted by a Manhattan Grand Jury on Thursday. The actual charges will not be announced until Trump is arraigned before a judge, likely in about a week. The charges will however be based around Stormy Daniels, who allegedly had sex with Trump in 2006, which he denies, and which she and Michael Cohen once also denied. She then took money in 2016 to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) to keep silent. She willfully violated the NDA to revive her career and profit selling her story to the National Enquirer. Meanwhile, when faced with jail time for all sorts of dirty deeds, Trump’s now disbarred former lawyer Michael Cohen, a felon himself, violated attorney-client privilege to claim on his word the NDA payoffs were actually complex technical violations of New York business records law (a misdemeanor) and Federal campaign finance law (potentially a felony.) If this all sounds complicated, it’s because it is. No wonder even the Washington Post labeled this a “zombie case.” It is also the weakest case in the universe of legal troubles around Trump.

    But there is a bigger question: if you were Bragg, can you win? Will voters object to a district attorney in New York trying to play kingmaker in the 2024 election, prosecuting a Federal case locally in Manhattan? Candidate Trump, surrounded by an aura of legal invincibility, is already earning partisan points claiming he is the victim of banana republic politics, and this indictment will allow him to claim he was right all along. Trump will fire both barrels, one aimed at Bragg, the other likely at Biden (who he will accuse of playing a role.) He was already the victim of partisan use of justice, as the FBI did try to influence both the 2016 election (with Russiagate) and the 2020 (by deep-sixing Hunter Biden’s laptop claiming falsely it was Russian misinformation) and now is taking a swing at 2024 with the Mar-a-Lago documents. If public opinion moves further to Trump’s side, Alvin Bragg through his indictment just reelected Trump to the White House as a sympathy candidate. CIA spooks, no strangers to manipulating elections abroad, call that blowback, and it is a real threat in this instance.

    For the nation’s sake any action against Trump must preserve what is left of faith in the rule of law applied without fear or favor, or risk civil disenfranchisement if not outright civil unrest. Bragg will have to address the case involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who maintained an unsecured private email server which processed classified material. Her server held e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level which included the names of CIA and NSA employees. Clinton and her team destroyed tens of thousands of emails, potential evidence, as well as physical phones and Blackberries. She operated the server out of her New York (!) home kitchen despite the presence of the Secret Service on property who failed to report it. Her purpose in doing all this appeared to have been avoiding Freedom of Information Act requests during her tenure as SecState ahead of her 2016 presidential run. The Hillary campaign and the DNC also did something naughty in paying for the Steele dossier as “legal expenses” and not campaign expenditures, and got off with only an Election Commission fine.

    In addition, those who claim Trump’s indictment is not political in nature will also have to account for the non-actions against the Obama campaign. Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 were not found to have violated campaign finance laws and no charges were even levied. During the 2008 campaign donors were able to make contributions using fictitious names, such as “Mickey Mouse” and “Donald Duck,” and the campaign was criticized for not doing enough to prevent fraudulent donations. Another controversy involved the Obama campaign’s use of untraceable prepaid credit cards, which raised concerns about the possibility of illegal foreign contributions. No charges were ever filed.

    There is also the case of John Edwards. Edwards, a former United States Senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was indicted in 2011, on charges of violating campaign finance laws during his 2008 presidential campaign. The charges stemmed from allegations Edwards used nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions to conceal an extramarital affair during his campaign. Sound familiar?

    Specifically, the government alleged Edwards received money from two wealthy donors and used it to support his mistress and their child in return for their silence. The government claimed this constituted a violation of campaign finance laws, which limit the amount of money that individuals can contribute to a campaign and require that such contributions be disclosed. Edwards maintained the payments were gifts and not campaign contributions, and therefore not subject to campaign finance laws. A jury acquitted Edwards on one count of violating campaign finance laws and deadlocked on the remaining five counts. The government ultimately decided not to retry Edwards.

    The other fear which should have held Bragg back is that business records mismanagement and even campaign finance violations are typically dealt with either via administrative penalties and fines (Trump will not go to jail for any of this.) Most of the laws Trump may have broken require some sort of intent to do wrong. In other words, Trump would have had to have taken the steps with Stormy not just for ego or his presidential library or as some crude souvenir of virility but with the specific intent to commit harm. Proving a state of guilty mind — mens rea — will be the crux of any actual prosecution. What was Trump thinking at the time. “It should be clear,” says the New York Law Journal, “Cohen’s plea, obtained under pressure and with the ultimate aim of developing a case against the president, cannot in and of itself establish whether Trump had the requisite mental state.” If DA Bragg has other key witnesses beyond Stormy and Cohen he has not signaled as such.

    The final questions are probably the most important: Bragg knows what the law says. If knowing the chances of a serious conviction are slight, why would he take the case to court? Then again, if knowing the chances for a serious conviction are slight, why would he have gone to the Grand Jury at all, his predecessor and the Department of Justice having passed on this case. No one is above the law, but that includes politics not trumping clean hands jurisprudence as well.

    If Bragg successfully navigates the politics, if he proves his case in court, then what? Trump’s “crimes” are minor. Could Bragg call Trump having to pay a fine or even do some sort of community service during the 2024 campaign a win? It seems petty, as even a conviction would not disqualify Trump’s bid for the White House (Eugene Debs ran for president while locked up.) Controversy is home turf for Trump; he is clearly again the center of attention and the dominant figure in his party. It sure seems Trump wins politically big-picture whether he wins or loses at court. If you were Alvin Bragg, how would you answer accusations of the weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda?

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Iran’s Foreign Policy: A Complex Landscape

    February 23, 2023 // 5 Comments »

    The Nation asked of President Joe Biden “Is America back?” If it is, what is its signature accomplishment, the marker that Pax Americana or something similar worthy of Latin, is back?

    Certainly nothing here at home. Gas flutters at record levels, as much as $5 a gallon in places with all the side effects of higher grocery prices and supply chain missteps. Employment-wise, jobs of some sort are there but lack in quality and salary such that many people find unemployment a better deal than underemployment.

    Abroad Biden stretched NATO to its threads by threatening Ukrainian membership in the alliance, and ignoring objections to the alliance’s expansion across Russia’s political spectrum, contributing to an invasion few thought would happen and no one in the West outside of Washington wanted. The result is increasingly divided “allies” and massive expenses in arms and lives without much of a defined endgame. This foreign policy disaster-in-progress stands next to Biden’s other signature foreign policy action, withdrawal from Afghanistan in a haphazard way such that it displayed America’s confusion and fugue state more than its power. The world outside the Beltway seems well aware the outcome of more than 20 years of war and occupation is to return the country to its pre-September 11 state of medieval feudalism even if we chose not to talk much about it here at home.

    That’s not much to run on for the second term Biden all but announced his candidacy for in his State of the Union address. Hopes to make better progress here at home are dependent mostly on factors outside America’s control, to include the price of oil (thanks to a Saudi Arabia who brushed back Biden) and any return of Covid. Biden needs and might just be able to find a way to make peace with Iran, however, and score a major foreign policy victory, the kind of typical second term action he could pack into the end of his first term. The world might just forgive some sins (the return of U.S.. forces to Somalia and the endless war in Yemen the U.S. supports, for example) if it sees somnolent American diplomacy dragged out of the closet after six years and put back to use. America’d be back.

    The obstacles to some sort of agreement with Iran are formidable. Iran’s own foreign policy goals are nearly as mixed up as America’s, with the country’s leaders pursuing a complex and often contradictory set of objectives. From supporting armed groups in the Middle East to engaging in negotiations with the West, Iran’s approach to foreign affairs has been shaped by a variety of factors, including its history, ideology, and geopolitical interests. To achieve any sort of agreement, Biden would have to navigate all of the above.

    One of the most notable aspects of Iran’s foreign policy is its support for armed groups in the region. Iran has long been accused of backing militant organizations, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, as part of its efforts to project power and influence beyond its borders. This has led to increased tensions with Iran’s neighbors, particularly Israel, and has fueled concerns about the country’s intentions in the region. Iran controls Iraq (another American foreign policy blunder, about half of which was under Biden’s vice-watch) and complicates Syria and Yemen. But the complexity of the problem just adds to the value to a solution if it can be found.

    Another key aspect of Iran’s foreign policy is its relationship with the West, a fork in the road Biden has the most influence on. The country has been under international sanctions for decades, with the United States and its allies seeking to pressure Iran to limit its nuclear program and curb its support for armed groups (how’s that sanctions regime been working out?) After negotiations with the West during the end state Obama administration, including the 2015 nuclear deal, lifted some of the sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, the deal went south, the United States reimposed most sanctions, and Iran has responded by resuming some of its nuclear activities, leading to fears of a wider conflict.

    Iran’s foreign policy is shaped by its self-understanding it is a major player in the Middle East, something the U.S. has been very slow to acknowledge. The country has long sought to be a regional power, and has used its military, economic, and political leverage to advance its interests in the region, most notably securing a client state in Iraq. This has led to increased tensions with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which view Iran as a major threat to their security. But wouldn’t it be a nice gesture to the Saudi’s, who raised oil prices and refuse to crank up production to match that lost in the Ukraine war, to see the U.S. sit down with one of its adversaries?

    So what would it take for Biden to make some sort of deal with Iran?

    Sanctions relief: Iran would likely seek relief from the economic sanctions that have been imposed on the country, while the U.S. would want to ensure that any sanctions relief is conditional and proportional to Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal. This is tricky business, but was more or less done in 2015 and is the actual stuff of diplomacy. The economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other countries have had a significant impact on Iran’s economy, reducing its ability to access the global financial system, sell oil, and purchase from other countries. This has led to a shortage of foreign currency, inflation, and a decline in living standards for many Iranians. Biden would have to make clear Iran can choose to be a threshold nuclear power and suffer indefinitely for it, or rejoin the global system and profit from it.

    Nuclear restrictions: Both sides would need to agree on the extent to which Iran’s nuclear program should be restricted and monitored, including limitations on uranium enrichment and the size of its nuclear stockpile. Again, mostly taken care of in 2015. Biden would need to fend off Israel entreaties to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities rather than trust Tehran to disarm them. Iran at the negotiation table would likely demand some sort of pullback of Israeli nukes from the Gulf.

    Timelines: A clear timeline for lifting sanctions and implementing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program is important to avoid stalling the agreement.

    Verification mechanisms: Both sides would need to agree on the mechanisms for verifying compliance with the terms of the deal, including regular inspections and monitoring.

    Regional involvement: As the situation in the Middle East is complex, regional actors, such as the Gulf countries, would need to be involved in the negotiations and have their concerns addressed. This is likely the most difficult part of the deal, bringing the regional actors into line, something a weakened America may not have the diplomatic cojones to make happen. Yemen however is a possible bargaining chip in several directions, and lessening the nuclear threat overall in the Gulf remains a goal worth pursuing.

    The outcome of any potential negotiations will depend on a number of factors, including Iran’s willingness to engage in constructive talks, the level of sanctions relief and other incentives the U.S. is willing to provide, and the international community’s support (particularly a reluctant Saudi Arabia and an even more reluctant Israel) for the negotiations.

    The U.S. and Iran have had a complicated relationship and there have been significant obstacles to reaching a nuclear agreement in the past. However, Biden has expressed a willingness to re-engage with Iran and revive the 2015 nuclear deal. He has also indicated that his administration is open to diplomatic efforts to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and other issues a la carte. For a president looking to take big issue success into the next election, it just might be worth a chance.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    A 2022 to Remember, Ukraine Edition

    January 29, 2023 // 2 Comments »

    Looking back at 2022, at what did and did not happen, really tells us what was important, hindsight and all that.

    Things that Did Not Happen in 2022

    Joe Biden did not explain why the U.S. is at war in Ukraine.

    Any nuclear war.

    Regime change in Russia.

    Ukraine winning the war.

    The Russians running out of missiles, men and tires.

    No American diplomacy has been tried to conclude the war in Ukraine.

    Things That Did Happen in 2022

    Inflation climbed at the fastest pace in 40 years across the economy, driven in large part by higher energy prices themselves driven in large part by Joe Biden’s energy policy toward Russia and inability to use obsequiousness get OPEC to pump more oil (while leasing less federal land for oil and gas drilling than any president since the end of World War II.) The last time inflation reached over nine percent was 1981 when Ronald Reagan took over from Jimmy Carter. Fueling the inflationary jump was the energy index, which rose 7.5 percent compared to a year ago and contributed nearly half of the overall increase in inflation. That index includes prices for fuel, oil, gasoline and electricity, and it’s up 41.6 percent for the year, the largest 12-month increase since April 1980 under President Jimmy Carter. The consumer price index was 9.1 percent higher earlier this summer than last. There are fears sources of strength in the economy — like the labor market and consumer spending — won’t be enough to fend off another recession. Yet the Fed may need to work more forcefully to slow the economy by raising interest rates, which the central bank has done multiple times this year already. Biden called on Americans to sacrifice, especially at the gas pump, to help win the war against Putin in Ukraine.

    Among the things causing the greatest pain are the highest gas prices ever recorded in the United States, topping $5 a gallon across the country at one point. Gas purchases on their own may make up only a relatively small portion of most families’ budgets, but the spike in gas, oil and diesel prices has left businesses with higher costs that will force them to raise prices on their customers and pull back on new investments. It risks a slowdown in consumer spending, as households cut back on other expenditures. Energy is so crucial to the functioning of the economy broadly that the price increases bring along higher prices in many other sectors, only adding to inflation. Meanwhile, U.S.-imposed energy sanctions have played to Russia’s favor economically as oil prices rose. Things may come to a head as winter sets in in Germany and that natural gas from Russia is missed. But that is a domestic German problem the U.S. is likely to simply poo-poo away (once economic powerhouse and U.S. competitor Germany showed its first negative foreign trade imbalance since 1991, a nice bonus for America.) Things got so loose that “someone” needed to blow up the Nordstrom 2 pipeline to make the point with Germany that it may have to do without Russian energy to maintain the fiction sanctions will bring an end to war.

    There can be no denying the greatest rise in food prices since May 1979, during the Carter administration. The biggest price rises were in the most basic of goods: egg prices soared 39.8 percent, flour 23.3 percent, milk rose 17 percent and the price of bread jumped 16.2 percent. Chicken prices jumped 16.6 percent, while meat rose over six percent. Fruits and vegetables together are up 9.4 percent. Overall, grocery prices jumped 13.5 percent. And don’t look for relief eating out; restaurant menu prices increased 7.7 percent. Eating at home is the answer, even though rent is up over seven percent. Why is everything so expensive? Food prices are affected by global events, such as the war in Ukraine, which affects the costs of wheat and other core commodities. Prices are biting above their weight because of the largest decline in real wages in four decades, since, you guessed it, the Carter days.

    Declines across the stock market have affected not only those who invest or passively hold stock in 401(k)s but the parent companies they work for and shop with. This time last year, January 3, the first day of market trading in 2022, looked like just another day in a stock rally that began when Barack Obama was still president. The S&P 500 hit a record high. Tesla rose 13.5 percent and came close to its own all-time peak. That day turned out to be the end of a market that for over a decade had gone mostly in one direction, the S&P 500 rising more than 600 percent since March 2009. The S&P 500 began the year’s final trading session of the year almost 20 percent below where it was at peak. The year overall was the worst annual performance since when the housing crisis in 2008 took down the market. Central banks drove markets this year because of inflation, which was also pushed by energy prices and massive spending in Ukraine.

    There’s some good news to add to the economic dullness and dismalness. NPR reports 70 percent of Americans polled support continuing a range of economic and military assistance to Ukraine. Those polled also supported the statement “that they might have to pay higher gas and food prices if we continue to assist Ukraine,” and said “we should stick with Ukraine for as long as it takes rather than urge them to cede some territory to create a cease-fire.” And the Blackrock investment firm has agreed to help rebuild Ukraine after peace breaks out. Blackrock already coordinates Ukrainian investment in the U.S.

    Oh, and there’s more that happened in 2022 to remember. Many large cities experienced their worst crime waves since the 1990s. Covid remains a part of life. The southern border is a mess. Diseases of despair, suicide, alcohol, and drug overdoses have driven a drop in our life expectancy. But we’re not gonna blame all that on Biden, too?

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    What is Title 42?

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    Title 42 is a clause of a 1944 Public Health Services Law which allows the U.S. government to prevent the entry into the country of individuals during certain public health emergencies, in this case asylum seekers who are sent to wait out their years of processing in Mexico, not in the United States, during Covid.

    But to really understand Title 42 you have to understand what is happening at the southern border and what has happened with asylum claims. At play are potentially millions of aliens flooding into the United States. America’s asylum laws, meant to help the most vulnerable, have instead become a clogged backdoor for routine economic migrants. Title 42 was a very small step by the Trump administration toward restoring asylum to its correct role in American immigration policy. Biden seeks to go back to the “everybody in” system with all the consequences.

    Asylum recognizes a person persecuted by his own country can be offered residence and protection by another country. The actual conditions vary considerably across the globe (the U.S. considers female genital mutilation grounds for asylum while in many nations it is a desired practice). But in most cases, asylum is offered to people who face a well-founded fear of persecution if sent home on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group. The definition of those five protected grounds have also varied greatly based on shifts in American domestic politics. Since 1994, for example, LGBT status has been, and remained under Trump, a possible claim to asylum. Domestic violence was granted consideration as grounds under the Obama administration, only to be rolled back under Trump.

    But the reality of 2022 is the asylum system evolved into a cheater’s backdoor, a pseudo-legal path to immigration not otherwise available to economic migrants. They lack either the skills for working visas or the ties to qualify for legal immigration under America’s family reunification system. So they walk to the border and ask for asylum, taking advantage of previous administrations’ look-the-other-way “solution” to their ever-growing numbers. Affirmative asylum claims, made at ports of entry, jumped 35 percent pre-Covid.

    It worked — for them. A Honduran on the border who says he simply came for a job is sent back almost immediately. However, should he make a claim to asylum, the U.S. is obligated to adjudicate his case. Since detaining asylum seekers and their families while the processes play out is expensive and politically distasteful (kids in cages!) until recently most asylum seekers were instead released into American society to wait out their cases. They then became eligible for work authorization when their cases extended past 150 days. The number of pending cases pre-Covid was 325,277, more than 50 times higher than in 2010.

    Eventual asylum approval rates for all nationalities over the past decade average only 28 percent. Yet even after they’re denied, applicants can either refile as defensive asylum claims or disappear into the vast underground of illegals. Simply making a claim to asylum is often enough to live and work in America. Trump tried to change that with Title 42. Basically due to the possibility of flooding the country with Covid-positive asylum seekers, the threat of disease was invoked as a reason/excuse to keep the asylum seekers out of the U.S. while their cases drag on and on. Some asylum seekers and their families were detained at the border as a deterrent rather than released into society. But public outcry over caged families and the massive costs in housing and feeding sent the Trump people looking for another way to implement Title 42.

    The change was for the Trump administration to negotiate for asylum seekers to wait out their processing times not in American society or an American detention facility, but in Mexico, through a program called the Migrant Protection Protocols. People at the border make their asylum claims, and are then nudged a step backward to wait for an answer in Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security also established an agreement with Mexico to accept all Venezuelan nationals who cross the border seeking U.S. asylum.

    Title 42 stopped some 2.4 million would-be immigrants. The Biden administration now seeks to return to the old pre-Trump system, whereas asylum seekers would generally be set free inside the U.S. to go somewhere and wait out their processing. Nascent implementations of this system fell flat; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) estimates they already “lost” 150,000 migrants due to Biden admin’s lack of processing. These people are simply at large and likely forever will be within American society. As David Frum wrote approvingly at the time, “if liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will.”

    Biden’s administration tried to end the Title 42 policy this past April in court, but a Louisiana judge ruled proper administrative protocol must be followed to formally lift the program. Lower courts then issued a stay on ending Title 42 until December 21, extended now by the Supreme Court, and traffic backed up at El Paso and other prominent crossing points. Meanwhile, for those who are crossing now, the expulsion of migrants has continued while the protracted legal battle plays out among the government, migrants represented by the ACLU, and now, a group of 19 GOP-led states seeking to intervene in the case.

    The states have argued that they will suffer “irreparable harm” if Title 42 ends and migrants stay in the U.S. for longer periods of time. Between 9,000 and 14,000 people are expected to cross the southern border each day after Title 42 ends (border crossings are now at around 7,000 a day.) The coalition of GOP attorneys general requested the court push back the Dec. 21 end date pending deliberations on an appeal. Migrants are waiting in Mexico, hoping Title 42 will be overturned and they can cross and stay in America. The final decision will likely lie with the Supreme Court.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Classified for You, Not Me

    January 21, 2023 // 1 Comment »

    Without double-standards would we have any standards for classified information left at all?

    President Biden said Tuesday he was “surprised” to learn in November his lawyers found classified documents in his former office at a Washington think tank. Biden’s lawyers discovered a cache of classified documents as they packed up his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. The tone of the MSM seems to be boys will be boys, and since Biden is being so cooperative with classification authorities after being caught red-handed and after being allowed to hide the story until post-midterms, maybe this has nothing in common with Trump’s cache of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Or Hillary’s cache on her private e-mail server. Could there be a double-standard?

    Biden had  some/several/a bunch of classified documents while Trump had thousands so that’s different. Yes, on Sesame Street four is bigger than three, but with classified documents it is not a meaningful difference. The law is clear each document is a violation, and there are no discounts for having under a certain number. One classified document is enough to seek indictment. But let’s not forget about Hillary, who was allowed not only to carry over 33,000 subpoenaed documents in the form of emails out of secure spaces on her server, but to delete them. Imagine if Biden reported he and his team simply deleted whatever they had found, never mind if Trump had had a bonfire.

    Biden’s documents were safe inside a locked closet. Classification law is extremely clear how documents must be stored, specifying for example, how many minutes a safe is expected to withstand against an attempt to cut it open. In the case of the Secure Compartmentalized Information (SCI) level docs Biden, Trump, and Hillary held, details are written into law and regulation as to what type of room, with what type of door, they are to be stored in. “Closet” does not find the definition whether it is at Biden’s place, Mar-a-Lago or Hillary’s home housing her email server.

    Nobody saw the documents. Maybe it wasn’t to standard, but they were kept under lock and key. No blood, no foul. Sez who? The reason all those laws and regs regarding classified exist are to safeguard the documents absolutely, so instead of arguing whether the cleaning crew would have had access to them or not, one can say “U.S. Marines guard these documents in the equivalent of a bank vault deep inside the White House 24/7, that’s who sez so. With Hillary, the question of illicit access begs for a starting point, because the end point, an unclassified, insecure out-of-the-box email server connected to the internet itself meant any hacker with moderate skills, including those assigned to attack her official trips to China and Russia, presumably had full access.

    Biden’s documents were just old briefing notes, nothing so important. If the documents were labeled Top Secret or SCI when created then that was their classification, no matter what we think of the contents today. The law is clear arguing the level of classification after getting caught is not a viable strategy, and retroactive classification is not an option. “The documents were not important even though they were classified” is simply not a defense after getting caught. It sounds a lot like the infamous “nuclear weapons” docs Trump had were briefing documents as well. News reports state the nuclear documents dealt with the capabilities of one specific country, and thus were likely part of Biden’s broader briefing package ahead of meeting that nation’s leader, or ahead of weighing in on what U.S. opinion might be on an issue concerning nuclear weapons proliferation.

    Biden cooperated with the Justice Department and National Archives and Trump Didn’t. It is almost always taken into account at sentencing whether the perp cooperated with law enforcement, and sometimes a reduced sentence is in order. But there is nothing in the law (any law) which says if you cooperate after getting caught whatever you did was not a crime. And again look at Hillary — her response to accusations was to electronically shred (Bleachbit) all the documents in her possession and then destroy the hardware they had been stored on. And no brownie points to a MSM who seem to be trying to present Biden’s cooperation as sign of responsibility — after the fact, of course.

    Maybe some of the documents were not clearly marked classified. This one is included for historical purposes because Hillary made such a claim; Biden and Trump have not. Documents are given a classification based on their content and the sources of that content. The marking itself (e.g., Secret) just sums up what there is to say about the content itself. If you remove the Secret moniker by retyping things (as appears the case with Hillary) or just tearing off that part of the document, it does not change the classification.

    A matter of trust. Apparently the Justice Department is just going to take Biden’s word that all is well, and all the classified has been found. Something along the same lines with Hillary. Trump of course saw his own home raided by the FBI, armed with automatic weapons, in a frantic search for more evidence, and the alleged documents splayed on the floor and photographed like TV drama crime scene evidence. In the Biden and Hillary cases, it appears the lust for evidence is not quite as strong. We’ll note the Biden documents were found the day before the midterm elections, when the story would have been political dynamite, and held until two months later when they were presented as a nothing burger. Why did the Biden Justice Department hold the news so long? Why did they wait until Republicans announced a possible Church-style investigation to show how cleanish everyone’s hands are, cooperating and all?

    Fun Fact. Presidents are allowed to declassify any document while in office, and Trump has issued a disputed claim that before leaving office he declassified all the documents the FBI found when it searched Mar-a-Lago in August. The same privilege of broad declassification does not apply universally to Vice Presidents (Biden’s classified documents are from his time as VP) or Secretaries of State.

    The next move lies with Attorney General Merrick Garland, who will decide what if anything is to be done about Joe Biden improperly storing highly classified documents at a think tank while holding no public office. Garland’s predecessor filed no charges against Hillary. Garland himself appointed a Special Prosecutor for the Trump case. Arguments the Biden and Trump cases are different ignore that those differences seem to have no meaning in the law itself and are superficial, appearing to be a big deal to those uninformed as to how classification works, a false unequivalency. Transparency? Timeliness? Garland seems oblivious to the concerns of the newly-elected Republican Congress that a full-on witch hunt is in play to defeat Candidate Trump prior to any election, using the criminal justice system to defeat Trump when the electoral system will not.

    Given the real, lawfully meaningful similarity among the three cases, where will the standards of justice fall this time? As a nation of laws, need we test so often who is above the law? The point is that if the FBI is going to take a similar fact sets and ignore one while aggressively pursuing another, it is partial and political. Any further action against Trump must address why Hillary was not searched and prosecuted herself, and if so, why not Biden as well. Fair is fair, after all.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Exposure: Why Mishandling Classified Material Matters

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    Hillary versus Trump versus Biden. All three kept classified information at their homes. Who wins the battle to have likely done the most damage to national security?

    In the end when dealing with the damage done by mishandling classified information it comes down to exposure; who saw it, what was it, when was it seen, and for how long?

    The “who” part is clear enough; a document left inadvertently on a desk top in an embassy guarded by Marines might not be seen by anyone. A document left on a park bench and seized by the local police risks direct exposure to the host country intelligence services if not sale to the highest bidder depending on the locale. But never underestimate cleaning staff; spies love ’em. In what other capacity are likely locals allowed to rummage through an embassy at night, picking through the trash, and moving things around on desks to um, dust?

    The “what” and how much of it is the real stuff of James Bond. At times “what” is in the eye of the beholder. The Secretary of State’s daily list of telephone calls to make is always highly classified. It might matter very little to a Russian spy that the Secretary is calling the leader of Cyprus on Wednesday but matter an awful lot to the leader of nearby Greece. That is why intelligence services often horsetrade, buying and selling info they pick up along the way about other countries for info they need about theirs.

    The “when” aspect is also important as many documents are correctly classified at one point in their history but lose value over time. One classic example is a convoy notification; it matters a lot who knows tomorrow at midnight the convoy will set forth. It matters a whole lot less a month later after everybody in town saw the convoy arrive. “How Long” can matter as well, as the longer a document is exposed the more chances someone unauthorized has to see it.

    So those are the ground rules, on to Hillary versus Trump versus Biden!

    “Who” between Trump and Biden seems a toss-up, given that as far as we know both kept classified in locked closets (we’ll turn to Hillary and her server below.) An investigator would want to know who had keys to that lock, and if possible, who used them when. What controls if any were in place to prevent duplicates from being made? What kind of lock was used? Was it pickable? Would cleaning staff or painters called in have had time alone to work the lock? Were there any video or access logs that might show the staff spent an inordinate amount of time near the closets? We know nothing about this regarding Trump’s and Biden’s closets. One might also want to get into who packed the boxes containing classified info, on whose orders, and how much exposure did they get en route to those naughty closets. Did the information sit in an unguarded truck stop overnight in 2010? Who would have known? “Who” is more than a name, it is a line of dominoes.

    We have a starting on “what” material may have been compromised, and it is not good. Hillary, Trump, and Biden mis-stored information at at least the SCI level (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information, above Top Secret.) SCI means not only is the document classified, even seeing it is restricted to a specific list of people such that merely holding a full Top Secret clearance is not enough. We can say the documents included some real secrets as of their drafting.

    Next of concern is the raw number of documents potentially exposed. In Trump’s case we have a decent tally, thanks to the Department of Justice. The initial batch of documents retrieved by the National Archives from Trump in January included more than 150 classified. With the raid, the government recovered over 300 classified documents from Trump. This worked out to over 700 pages of classified material and “special access program materials,” especially clandestine stuff that might include info on the source itself, the gold star of intelligence gathering. If you learn who the spy is inside your own organization you can shoot him, arrest him, find other spies in his ring, or turn him into a double agent to feed bogus information back to your adversary.

    Our contest is a bit unfair to Trump, as inventories of what was found at Mar-a-Lago are online for all to see while the Biden media has been very cagey on how many document have been found, using phrases like “several” and “a few dozen.” We’ll have to wait until Biden’s home is raided or the Special Counsel concludes his investigation to know for sure.

    In Hillary’s case just coming to a raw number is very hard, as she destroyed her server before it could be placed into evidence. Because her stash was email the secret files were also not all in their original paper cover folders boldly marked Top Secret with bright yellow borders, as in Trump’s case. Hillary also stripped the classification markings off many documents in the process of transferring them from the State Department’s classified network to her own homebrew server setup.

    Nonetheless, according to the FBI, from the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 contained classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information Top Secret at the time they were sent, with some labeled as “special access program materials.” Some 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the messages were sent, suggesting they were drafts in progress, in the process of being edited before a classification was ultimately assigned.

    The “what” is a toss-up for now. Little information exists on specifically what each document trove held, though the WaPo claims one of Trump’s docs detailed a foreign country’s nuclear capability (ironically, the leak from DOJ revealing the document’s contents suggests things were more secure at Mar-a-Lago than after the search) giving him a slight lead in this category. Clinton discussed Top Secret CIA drone info and approved drone strikes via Blackberry.

    We do have a winner in the “when” category, albeit via an odd path. Biden’s classified materials date back to his Vice Presidency, and we don’t know when they were moved out of secure storage, so the material goes possibly back to 2009. That’s potentially 14 years of the paper hanging around waiting for someone to discover and make nefarious use of it. In Trump’s case, he left the White House in January 2021 and the classified was pulled out of Mar-a-Lago no later than August 2022, only some 20 months of hiding for no more than four years of material.

    Investigations are ongoing in both cases but there is no evidence to date that anyone unauthorized saw the classified documents. We know that after classified was id’ed inside Mar-a-Lago by the National Archives, DOJ asked Trump to provide a better lock, which he did, and later to turn over surveillance tapes of the storage room, which he did. But the clearest evidence of non-exposure is the lack of urgency on the part of all concerned to bust up Trump’s place. Claims he retained classified documents from the White House began circulating even as he moved out in January 2021. The first public evidence of classified in Mar-a-Lago waited until January 2022 when the initial docs were seized, and the recent search warrant tailed that by eight months. If the FBI thought classified material was in imminent danger from one of America’s adversaries they might have acted with a bit more alacrity.

    The real money-maker in the classified world is exposure, and here we finally have a clear leader. Hillary wins in that her exposure of classified emails was done consistently over a period of years in real-time. Her server was connected to the internet, meaning for a moderately clever adversary there was literally a wire between her computer with its classified information and the Kremlin. Her server held at least 110 known messages containing classified information, including e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, the highest level of civilian classification, that included the names of CIA and NSA employees. The FBI found classified intelligence improperly stored and transmitted on Clinton’s server may have been “compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.” How could anyone have gained access to the credentials? Clinton’s security certificate was issued by GoDaddy.

    We have a winner. Whether anyone unauthorized got a look at Trump’s or Biden’s stash remains unclear, but we know for near-certain Hillary’s was compromised. And by compromised we mean every email the Secretary of State sent wide open and read, an intelligence officer’s dream. Hillary had no physical security on her server, her server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, Blackberry, and tablet, and she communicated with it on 19 trips abroad including to Russia and China. It would have taken the Russians zero seconds to see she was using an unclassified server, and half a tick or two to hack (hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact) into it. Extremely valuable to the adversary were the drafts, documents in progress, a literal chance to look over Clinton’s shoulder as she made policy concerning their country.

    No search warrant was exercised to seize the server and Hillary’s word was taken when she said there was no chance of compromise. So enjoy the bread and circuses around two old men with irresponsible staffs and or irresponsible ambitions who got caught with classified information improperly stored. The real damage had already been done years earlier by Hillary, who escaped any penalty, not even the embarrassment of a Special Prosecutor.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Goodbye 2022 (and beyond!)

    January 5, 2023 // 1 Comment »

    Nobody is going to miss 2022. With the won’t-die pandemic, inflation at home and economic troubles abroad, plus the war in Ukraine, it has not been a happy 12 months. Nevertheless, with the year 2022 behind us, it is time for some housecleaning. Here are four memes we really should bury and not have to hear about again.

    The internet changed everything/The internet promotes democracy globally. Nope, it turns out the internet was a big grift and we were allowed to play with its full potential only for a few years until the big guys wanted it back for their own. Though the grift of free speech and a marketplace of idea took place in full view of us all, it was fully bitter and disappointing to see Twitter was never what we thought of it. From early days Twitter was manipulated by a small group of people to favor one set of ideas and either discredit another or simply make them go away. Now it happened that that small group of people had green hair and eyebrow pierces unfavored more liberal ideas, but that is just a technicality, like saying the thugs who monitor the web in North Korea favor North Korean ideas. It means missing the real point, of censorship, of favoring one way of thinking.

    The internet available to people in more liberal countries and the internet available to people in more totalitarian places are rapidly converging, not in the specific ideas they display but in the one-sided way they display them. It matters less each day that a powerful group of people in the United States control what we see or that a powerful group of people in China control what folks there see. The point is control itself, not specific content. And double-plus good for those who imagine folks in China yearning to swap their government-controlled media for America’s corporate controlled media. Same chicken but some eggs have brown shells instead of white. Ain’t nobody being empowered or standing up without permission no matter what it looks like in small-scale from the outside to glib commentators.

    Countries with a McDonald’s don’t make war on one another. It was ever-so journalistic NYT columnist Tom Friedman who coined the phrase. He wrote the benefits of economic integration reduce the policy choices open to governments, making war—which disrupts that integration—so unattractive as to be practically unthinkable, part of all that end of history stuff that was once the vogue for the hive mind. The concept was built around everyone wanting to be more like us. Well, you can’t get fries with that idea in Kiev or Moscow or in Warsaw today, it is as dead as the broader idea it embodied, that war had become obsolete. In fact, reality suggests it all can work in the opposite as Europe’s dependence (e.g., vulnerability) on Russian energy gave Putin one more weapon to consider as he planned his invasion of the Ukraine.

    Same for what Richard Haass of the Council of Foreign Relations calls integration, which has driven decades of Western policy and basically controlled the State Department, with its many offices for education exchange, cultural stuff and women’s issues. This strategy, too, rested on the belief that economic ties – along with cultural, academic, and other exchanges – would drive political developments, rather than vice versa, leading to the emergence of a more open, market-oriented world automatically more moderate in its foreign policy. The idea didn’t win the Cold War with jazz, movie stars, and public speakers, and it did not do much for us in 2022. Educational exchange, the grand savior of U.S.-China relations also near-collapsed in 2022, a victim of lop-sidedness, as well Covid, and misuse by the intelligence agencies.

    And we might as well lump in sanctions here as a dead and done policy option. Sanctions do not create meaningful changes in policy behavior. Sanctions in the case of Russia have accomplished less than nothing, as the limited availability of energy out of Russia had actually driven up the prices and resulted in a net gain in income. Most of the world had no interest in isolating Russia diplomatically and economically. Multilateralism, another thing that was supposed to have been dead, remains alive and allows Russia to sell its energy to China and India, much of it for re-export to the countries in Europe (and Japan) where it was originally intended. It is almost embarrassing to have to include a 2022 version of sanctions here as an example, given how decades of sanctions have failed to effect the situation in pre-Ukraine Russia, never mind China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and elsewhere.

    You have to be at war to be at war. Not unique to 2022 but exemplified by it are the new forms of warfare-but-not-war the United States has pioneered. Is the U.S. at war in Ukraine, for example? Once upon a time that would have meant an act of Congress, a declaration of war, to answer the question in the affirmative. But who among us would say the U.S. is not just a little bit “at war” in Ukraine? The conflict continues to exist solely because of a growing in amount and complexity in the weapons available to Ukraine. American advisors in the form of Special Forces and CIA paramilitaries are on the ground, alongside American combat “volunteers.” No major decisions take place without Washington’s say so, and no form of conflict resolution will take place without Washington’s say so. But it’s not war, right?

    Same elsewhere, where U.S. weapons animate the conflicts with Yemen and Syria, and U.S. assistance runs like code in the background of the Israeli-Iran power struggle across the Gulf. Sure sounds like war.

    U.S. leadership is near dead. Anybody see any American leadership exercised globally (never mind internally) over Covid? Any international, coordinated responses? Nope. Instead every country made up its own rules, bought its vaccines from its own political partners and allowed/banned travel in line with its national economics. The recent gathering of world leaders in Egypt to address climate change accomplished as little as previous meetings other than to prolong John Kerry’s 15 minutes of fame past their due date with all the grace of milk spoiling. American whining to expand NATO eastward is met with sighs of fatigue. Lastly as far as leadership is concerned there is Ukraine, where each U.S. pronouncement and weapons dump is met with increasing silence out of France and Germany. The U.S. appears resigned to “lead” around little Poland to accomplish its aims. Best to just retire the phrase for now and hope things go better in 2023.

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

    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Trump