• Fear and the Virus: We’re All Momo Now

    May 2, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     
    The COVID-19 virus turned us into a nation of Momo’s.
     

    Momo is my old rescue dog. She has BB-like pellets embedded under her skin. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She didn’t have to tell me that story but she did. She invents new fears all the time; like out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle, last week it was the the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything she has no fear of being run over, so you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living above those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of America.
     
    We have been practicing to be Momo. With 9/11 we took one terrible day and turned it into a terrible decade. There were real threats, we all saw the Twin Towers fall. But that was… it? We faced a collection of bumbling terrorists with underwear bombs that didn’t work and shoe bombs that didn’t work and dirty bombs that never existed, plus of course the handful of successful homegrowns closer to disgruntled and mentally ill than Islamic and jihadi. If things to be afraid of didn’t exist we’d be forced to invent them. That might help explain how fast all that terror stuff just kinda faded away when it wasn’t needed anymore. ISIS who?

    But before that we convinced ourselves of threats abroad that needed lashing out at (Momo has never snapped at anyone. It’s a flaw in this analogy.) That is handy, the lashing out justified by fear, because it means we don’t have any obligation toward self-examination for killing millions of civilians, torturing people to madness, upending nation after nation, yadda yadda. We were scared, you guys! Sure, maybe we’re a little embarrassed for jumping under the table mid-Iraq War when Mom dropped the plate in the kitchen but nobody is going to tell the U.S. of A. it wasn’t justified at the time.

    We entered the Age of Trump in the worst of circumstances. Not only were we Momo-ized by 15 years of color-coded smoking guns being a mushroom cloud (and kudos to the author of that Bush-era catch phrase for the retro invocation of the Cold War) but we had honed social media to allow Momo’s across the country to encourage each others’ fears – “Hey, you guys afraid of the smell of pencils? I’ll just leave that here.”

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. Throw in Americans’ seeming need to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. If you live every day certain you’ll die if they serve one gluten it is easy to get spooked about something actually real. And don’t forget how over-protected we want to be, wiping down the gym like prepping for surgery and reading trigger warnings and dressing like cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks — this fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality as much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Then we get this Trump guy as a Bond-level super villain who was going to end democracy, make us speak Soviet, send the economy into a tailspin, trigger wars with China, Iran, and North Korea when he wasn’t trying to make peace with them which was somehow just as dangerous. Anyone who wasn’t a Nazi was a Russian ‘bot. Clearly a guy like this is to blame for not stopping cold a global pandemic at our shores. Social media allowed us to micro-personalize fear. Trump was going to end my rights (LGBT, abortion, something about toilets, guns, religion, concentration camps, fill-in-the-blank based on what is hiding under your bed.) We could have signature fears.

    You can actually watch it happen in real time. Over on Twitter people noticed Trump retweeted something about liberating Michigan, and using their online law degrees, determined that was the commission of an actual crime of “inciting violence.” A dozen others then tattled to Twitternannyman @jack saying Trump should be banned to save us all. That brought out the historians who decided Trump was trying to start a civil war, which was the trigger for the Constitutional experts to demand the 25th Amendment be used to remove Trump from office that afternoon before the war began. From a retweet to the apocalypse in under three minutes. UPDATE: Nothing happened. All the fears were pointless.
     
    But anyway Nothing Would Ever Be the Same Again and that was just for mostly made up stuff. Now we have enough of a real thing. Will we recruit Rosie the Riveter to beat the Nazis? No, we’ll just quarantine until our skin will become translucent for lack of sunlight. The face of this is Karen telling someone self-righteously they need to wear a yellow HAZMAT suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. People always find a new way to fear not enough — not enough tests, not enough ventilators, not enough beds, not enough food, whatever’s next. It doesn’t matter the fatal shortages did not materialize yet. The virus could mutate! There’s a second wave coming! Best to stay tense, dog, you will never get back to normal.

    C’mon, just between us, forget about Trump for a minute. Does a virus falling well behind super killers like car crashes and cancer really really really demand upending literally everything in our life? Shutting down schools? Throwing 22 million people out of work? Stopping down our most basic rights? And if anyone says yes, explain why we didn’t do it for past pandemics like H1N1. Imagine George W. Bush deciding post-9/11 no one could go to work or school for “national security reasons,” that we could not protect all those locations from the terrorists or something. It seems silly in retrospect but we’re doing it today. We’re so afraid we no longer can distinguish between prudence and over-reaction. It just seems easier to stay at home than to see if the woods really have bears in them.

    We are somewhat lucky. The most powerful people in our nation just want money. Jeff Bezos has no inherent desire to harm us directly. We still have some value to him, as temporary workers until the robots come and of course to order things. A mild uptick in the market saw Jeff’s net worth leap $24 billion dollars in one day. Fear is currency, and profiting off the pandemic the new status symbol.

    Politically, more luck. The next president has limited ambitions. Trump seems content thinking he’s in charge and busting chops, and Joe Biden’s ambition is to um, something. They’re not the kind of people who would really run with this fear thing. They seem content with the status quo of fear, enough to make people compliant, but not so much that they end up chasing each other with pitchforks. But imagine a bad boy in charge like Dick Cheney, Richard Nixon or John Brennan, a strong man to protect us, an evil man who understands the power of fear.
     
    I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a number of different countries. They have problems, sometimes serious ones similar to ours. But they don’t seem to have Momo-ized, where they can no longer tell the real dangers from the shadows, or judge the right amount of caution from the panic that shuts down the point of living.

    Maybe this is because less is uncertain for them. Most have health care, social nets, pensions, day care, stuff like that. Their people start the day worrying less in general than most Americans. Maybe that has something to do with this. For now, it’s hard to feel excited living in a nation of paranoid agoraphobics passing their remaining time slathered in Purell scolding their neighbor for forgetting his mask when out walking Momo. It’s not a healthy way to live.

      

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    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas, Trump

    It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 1 Comment »

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

      

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    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas, Trump

    Biden My Time as Bernie Burns Out

    March 16, 2020 // 56 Comments »


     

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

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

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

    How many of their faces can you picture?
     

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

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

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

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

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

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

    You end up with Joe Biden.
     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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    Posted in Economy, Other Ideas, Trump

    Overheard About Biden

    March 4, 2020 // 3 Comments »

     

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

    And Trump will be the youngest contender on the ballot.

     
     

    “So what’s Biden’s strength?”

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

    “Aren’t they all ‘Not Trump’?”

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

    *And Obama actually does smoke!

     

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

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

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

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

    “Seriously, we need to talk.”

    “Shut up and get back into the kitchen.”

     

    So is Warren still in the race because:

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

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

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

    d) she’s still thinking VP.

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

     

    First they came for Tulsi, and I said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

      

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

      

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    What Republicans Must Ask the Whistleblower

    November 19, 2019 // 5 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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    Ukraine-O-Rama!

    October 3, 2019 // 14 Comments »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Will Congress Impeach Over the Ukraine?

    October 2, 2019 // 12 Comments »


     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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    Thinking Ukraine: Is the dam about to break?

    September 24, 2019 // 40 Comments »


     
    Is the dam about to break? Nope.
     
    Look at what is actually fact: a whistleblower based on a transcript or summary says Trump made some unspecified “promise” in return for an investigation into Biden corruption. No details, no corroboration. Meanwhile, no one has claimed any investigation actually took place. The aid money was paid out weeks ago. Nothing actually happened in real terms. There was no Trump hotel built in Moscow.

    Everything else at this point is supposition, including the idea that the aid money is in any way connected to this. The media simply jumped on the claim “promises” were made and attached that to what may be a separate event, the temporary delay of the aid. Correlation is not causation.

    And if you like leaks, The Wall Street Journal reported Trump repeatedly asked Zelensky in a July phone call to open an investigation into Hunter Biden but cited the same source claiming Trump did not offer a quid pro quo in the conversation.

    I’ve got a whole column in editing now with details but trust me for now that it will be very hard for Congress to force Trump to release the whistleblower complaint or the call transcript. No documents, no impeachment.

    Alternately, if the transcript/complaint actually exonerates Trump, he can dangle the Dems for a little longer and then release it, pretty much ending this.

    Nothing Giuliani or Conway or even Trump says in TV really means anything. Under oath or GTFO. They’re clowns. Trump used them very effectively during Russiagate to throw up smokey chem trails for the media to chase, and that worked well for him.

    To do anything other than impeachment theatre (remember poor Robert Mueller?) Dems would have to convince the American people (the real jury as the Senate is unlikely to vote to convict anything) whatever Trump said is so far outside the boundaries of foreign policy he needs to be impeached in the literal middle of an ongoing election. Regime change three years into his term.

    Repubs will counter with everything naughty about Biden in 2015 Ukraine, quid pro quo with Clinton Foundation, and all the flops of Russiagate, etc. They have a lot to work with and the Dems have a three year track record of… a lot of noise.

    Which side does your money go down on, never mind what you “want” to happen. Hope is not a strategy.

     
     

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    Five Questions for Joe Biden

    September 19, 2019 // 15 Comments »


     
    I was inadvertently left off the list of pundits encouraged to submit questions for the last Democratic debate; meh, my questions were all for Tulsi Gabbard anyway. But in the spirit of open inquiry, I put together some queries directed at the front runner, Joe Biden, anyway.

    Q: Joe, how’s the asthma?

    Reason why I’m asking is you received five student draft deferments during the Vietnam War draft, the same number as Donald Trump and Dick Cheney, and in 1968, when your student status was wrapping up, you were medically reclassified as “not available” due to asthma as a teenager. In your autobiography, you described your active youth, you being a lifeguard and playing high school football and all. You also lied (note Biden lies are usually called gaffes) about being on the University of Delaware football team. Was all that hard with asthma? Were you diagnosed for asthma in 1968 by a podiatrist? Your vice presidential physicals mention multiple aneurysms. Asthma, no.

    Let me read you a quote, Joe. “You have somebody who thinks it’s alright to have somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country.” Pete Buttigieg said that about President Bonespurs. Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was wounded in Iraq, called Trump a “coward” over the draft. Do you agree with those quotes?

    Q: Joe, can you explain your recent financial success?

    In 2008 you earned $165,200 salary as a senator, supplemented with $20,500 as an adjunct professor at Widener University Law School. You got an advance of $112,500 for your book Promises to Keep. Your wife Jill taught at a community college while you were Vice President. You two reported a combined income of $396,000 in 2016, your last year in the Obama administration.

    Then you and Jill made more than $15 million since leaving the Obama administration, mostly via a new book deal. In fact, you and your wife made nearly twice as much in 2017 than in the previous 19 years combined.

    Now we know about inflation and everything, but you were given $10 million for your 2017 memoir, Promise Me, Dad, roughly ten times what your first book pulled in. Jill was paid more than $3 million for her book, Where the Light Enters in 2018, same publisher as you, Joe.

    We all know how publishing works: The publisher, Flatiron, pays you, the author, an advance. Profits from book sales are subtracted from that advance. For a publisher to be successful, they need to sell more than they paid out for the advance, and because of this successful publishers like Flatiron get pretty good at estimating those numbers. Forbes reports your new book sold 300,000 copies against that $10 million, meaning you, Joe, took home about $33 per copy on a book Amazon is selling for only $13.99. Of course it is more complicated , but off the cuff do you feel you pocketing $33 on a $13.99 sale is a good deal for you?

    And speaking of which, a friend passes along her respect. Hillary Clinton only earned around $5 million from her campaign book.

    Your teaching pay went up nicely as well. You got $20,500 for teaching when you entered the White House. After you left the office, the University of Pennsylvania gave you $775,000 to teach, and then was nice enough to offer you indefinite leave of absence from actually teaching anything while you campaign. And you got signed for that gig only a month after leaving the White House. Side question: did you post your resume on Monster or Indeed.com?

    What role do you think your being the likely nominee played in how much you were paid? It’s almost as if people are giving you free money to be your friend. Is there a definition of corruption which might encompass that?

    Another friend sends his respect, too, Joe. He’s jealous almost no one talks about how you charge the Secret Service $2200 a month rent for a cottage on your property so they can protect you! He wants to ask if you jokingly call the cottage “Biden Tower.”

    Q: The cost of higher education is a major 2020 campaign issue. How much have you contributed to raising the price? No, no, sorry, that’s not fair. Joe, can you name a speaker you think is worth $180,000?

    The reason I ask is because Education Next calls you the “Higher Education Millionaire” based on the fees you and your wife collected from various schools. Those include Drew University $190,000, Lake Michigan College $182,679, Vanderbilt University $180,000, University of Buffalo $179,489, Southern Connecticut State University $124,515, Long Island University $100,000, Brown University $92,642, and Jill at Foothill-De Anza Community College District $66,400, Stanford University $37,853 and Loyola University of Chicago $36,000. Jill had some more speaking engagements and other gigs as well, for a total income of $560,000. There’s a full accounting here.

    And hey, Joe, did you know your 30 minute speech at the University of Buffalo was partially funded by “voluntary” student government ticket purchases? Anyway, at a total cost to the school of $230,000, that works out to about $7,600 a minute for your time in Buffalo. By comparison, a high-class escort there runs, albeit at a one hour minimum, about $400 (link NSFW.)

    Overall you are quite a talker, Joe. Since leaving office you made $1.8 million on book tour events and $2.4 million over 19 speaking engagements.

    Actually you were paid a lot more for your speaking than those disclosed fees would have us believe. Your gassing at the University of Buffalo, for example, included $10,000 for travel expenses. Your speech at Southwestern Michigan in October 2018 included $50,000 in travel expenses. Do you order a lot of room service, or are you padding your speaking fees with exaggerated travel expenses that you do not have to claim as income for tax purposes?

    Now we all remember Old Man Bernie chastising Candidate Clinton in 2016 for the large sums of money she received for private speaking engagements, what some called “Pay to Play” as powerful organizations, donors, and lobbyists paid jumbo fees to a candidate for a speech in lieu of simply bribing them directly by handing cash over in a paper bag. Can you explain how what you and Jill are doing is different?

    Q: Joe, do you remember the tax loophole you and Obama tried to close, S Corporations? Since leaving office you and your wife laundered money through S Corps to save millions in taxes ordinary Americans have to pay. Why the change of heart, Joe?

    In 2012 you said paying higher taxes on higher incomes was patriotic. You told us “We’re not supposed to have a system with one set of rules for the wealthy and one set of rules for everyone else.” Along those lines, you and Obama sought to end a well-known dodge, the use of S Corporations to avoid paying Social Security and Medicare taxes.

    You remember, Joe: By creating a paper S Corporation, an individual receives money for things like book advances and speaking fees not directly, which would cause him to have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes as with salaries, but laundered as divestitures from a corporation he owns. As corporate money, nasty personal taxes are fully avoided, and the corporation can claim nearly unlimited “business expenses” to be deducted against those profits, as well as benefit from other tax rules which favor companies over individual earners.

    So Joe, it seems after trying to close that S-Corp loophole while in the White House you and Jill are now fans. In fact, your lucrative deals are funneled to you through two S-Corps, CelticCapri for Joe and Giacoppa for Jill. Your S-Corp is registered at 1201 North Orange in Wilmington, Delaware. That’s a popular block; right nearby is 1209 North Orange, the legal address of 285,000 separate businesses. Delaware, in fact, is ground zero for corporate tax shell companies; Michael Cohen had his there for Trump’s use as well.

    Delaware has more (paper) corporate entities than people. Joe, you of course were one of Delaware’s senators for decades. So you knew how things worked when you established your his-and-her S-Corps only days after leaving the White House. As a corporate entity, S-Corps can also make political contributions. Joe, your own S-Corp did so, neatly donating money to your own political PAC, American Possibilities.

    So Joe, the question is: is everything regarding your taxes a load of malarkey?

     

    Q: Final question, because I know you’re getting tired. How do you intend to debate Trump when corruption, tax fudging, and skipping out on military service come up?

    Are you just going to rely on the MSM not to ask about those things? Or are you going to go with Trump’s sleaze is worse than yours and you’re the lesser of two evils candidate because that worked out so well as a strategy in 2016?

     
     
    Bonus Sixth Question! Joe, name a couple of substantive accomplishments for your eight years as Vice President.

    Cat got your tongue? The Obama White House official archives include some of these as your accomplishments, Joe. Ring any bells?

    You led the Administration’s Skills Initiative to improve effectiveness of federal workforce training. Big one. You chaired the Middle-Class Task Force, which was “a guiding force in the Administration’s efforts to improve the livelihoods of middle-class families.” How’d that work out? You “unveiled” It’s On Us, a campaign to engage students and bystanders in preventing sexual assault. You also lead a national “Cancer Moonshot” to dramatically accelerate efforts to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. Any luck with that? You “engaged the leadership in both Japan and the Republic of Korea to improve relations among two of the United States’ closest allies.” That’s going well, right? Do you plan to feature any of these accomplishments in your debate presentation?

      

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    On Tucker Carlson’s Show

    September 13, 2019 // 4 Comments »

    I was on Tucker Carlson’s show last night, talking about my latest article from The American Conservative, all about Joe Biden.

     

      

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    2020: 100 Points for Slytherin!

    July 23, 2019 // 5 Comments »


     

    Under Plan A Democrats imagined their way into believing they would never have to run against Trump in 2020, or that he would limp to the finish line so battered, with the country in such shambles, that it would be no contest.
     

    We saw the near-final act of Plan A when Robert Mueller’s testimony, scheduled for July 17, was postponed for some unknown reason. That it’ll be close to four months since the report came out when Mueller testifies (he’s already said he will say nothing not already in his report anyway) tells the story of how massive a failure the Dems’ attempt to oust, derail, or impeach Trump has been.

    Yeah, there’s still time on the clock, but even the loyal fans are leaving their seats early. They remember similar collapses of the story line for Stormy Daniels (the case is now “dormant”), the emoluments clause (Trump just won a major case), but-his-taxes, Puerto Rico, the National Enquirer, Kavanaugh, security clearances, Putin’s secret agent stuff, all the president’s flipping men, the end of NATO, etc. Democratic strategists are left hoping a convicted pedophile saves them with dirt on Trump, or maybe Mueller breaks out in Tourette’s Syndrome at his someday hearing and demands impeachment. You can only announce the world is ending 7 or 8 or 27 times before people start to have doubts.

    The incessant hyperbole has left the electorate numb. It reached its anti-peak (for now) on July 4, when a garbled speech by the president was whipped into “Tanks on the Mall” and a rehearsal for “Triumph of the Will II: More Triumphant.” Detainee facilities became concentration camps, with America pitched as the new Wiemar to Millennials still searching for Wiemar, misspelled, in Wikipedia.

    Instead, the economy is strong. Wages are up. Job reports are robust. Stocks are at all-time highs. Trump is polling the best in his tenure, and matches Obama at this same point in his presidency. And here are 12 economic models showing incumbents under similar economies won. The Dems in response are stuttering to claim Obama fixed the economy via time travel, or hoping America falls into recession putting millions out on the streets to own Trump.

    Of the many other disasters the Democrats hoped for — race war, civil war, war with China/Iran/North Korea/Venezuela, all the end-of-democracy stuff – Trump didn’t start the fire. There has been no Washington-led regime change in Libya triggering massive refugee flows and resetting EU political balances. Trump is likely to be the first president since WWII not to start a new conflict while in office.
     

    The Democrats need a Plan B. That appears to be Joe Biden, essentially a test crash dummy with “Not Trump” written on its face in Sharpie, a candidate with all the energy of one of those animatronic presidents from Disneyland. No voter will fall in love with Joe, be impassioned by him or whatever message he gets around to. Biden is someone to settle for. That makes turnout a problem. Remember the Gore, and then Kerry, juggernauts which failed to defeat an empty George W. Bush?

    All in a way a shame, because the current primary is the one the Dems should have had in 2015. Had the DNC not put in the fix for Hillary, it is more than possible Biden (or Bernie) would have beaten Trump. In 2016 neither carried the progressive baggage and purple state fears to the degree they do now. Plus they would have run against the theoretical Trump, the really scary one who was going to start all those wars, implement Handmaiden’s Tale, and wreck the economy, instead of the noisy but in the end mediocre Trump of record.

    So on to Plan C, “Operation Fresh Faces.” That gets off to a slow start with Bernie. In 2015 he was full of transformational ideas, now diluted into the mainstream so you can support the gist of Bernie and not have to explain to your friends why you’re voting for a Seinfeld outtake.

    The rest seem to be devoted to alienating as many mainstream voters as possible. Kamala Harris (along with Warren, Sanders, and others) wants to eliminate employer-based health insurance, something over 70% of Americans who have such insurance are satisfied with. Only 13% of Americans prefer a system with no private plans. Are the Dems going forward with a 13% policy idea? Or will they try (again) to sell a flawed Obama-era insurance program as the gold standard?

    All the Dem candidates are also sure the economy is a mess. Yet a poll shows 71% of Americans say the economy is very or somewhat good. At the debates, several candidates advocated for gun confiscation. All promoted restriction-free abortions when the majority of Americans see the issue as more nuanced. Harris made 1970s discussions of school busing a centerpiece while the other candidates happily promoted open borders and free healthcare for illegal immigrants, apparently in the misguided notion illegal immigrants are the largest Democratic voting block left. And that was on the smart night: the earlier debate featured talk about publicly-funded abortions for pregnant trans men. The answers on most other topics sounded like they’d been run past HR first.

    Cory Booker is now campaigning to be your best black friend if you’ll choose him as VP. His latest move as Mayor of Crazytown was a stunt where he led deported migrants, Moses-like, back into the U.S.

    Kamala Harris imagines herself a contender, unaware she will likely lose the chance even at VP when the party asserts itself for Biden or maybe Warren. She seems to be sticking in the race too long with low numbers and saying too many naughty things to have a shot at VP herself. Warren is a woman of free-dom – free college, free medical care, a magic wand to do away with $1.5 trillion in student loans, maybe a pony for the kids. And everyone loves reparations. Who’ll pay for all this? Um, “the wealthy.”

    Mayor Pete? He hoped to run as a warrior, smiting LGBT hate at every step when most non-media people just tuned him out. He confessed to failing to fix the police force in South Bend, a wane admission when you’re asking to run the whole country. Buttigieg has his own give away, the (Frederick) Douglass Plan, which includes $10 billion for black entrepreneurs, $25 billion for black colleges, and a goal to reduce the prison population by half. He stresses this is in addition to the reparations he also supports.

    Beto, Robin to Pete’s Batman, is murmured to now be an intern on the Hickenlooper campaign; you gotta get some experience somewhere. The Pelosi-AOC sideshow (AOC daily sounds like a whiny undergraduate sure she knows more than the professor) alongside all this inspires little confidence in how a Democratic government would get anything done post-2020.
     
    Who is going to vote for these people? Harris in particular made an aggressive move to alienate purple voters, putting Americans on trial for views they held in the past on things like busing. Joe Biden stood in for everyone who may have felt one way then, and another way now, but realizes in 2019 they are being teed up as the enemy. There’s no answer possible in 2019 when you’re called a racist; it ends every discussion. A purple voter may legitimately wonder how they might be treated under a Harris administration. Is it payback time? It seems a very short-sighted strategy for a candidate, an even worse one for a leader.
     
    A lot can change in the 15 months until the election, but will it? Trump is Trump is Trump. Anyone studying his first years in office unemotionally knows outside the daily faux-atrocities the media credits him with via “sources” and “reports” he is mostly tweets. He is very good at sounding like a Red State warrior while actually doing little. Expect more of the same; after all, it has worked so far.

    That leaves Plan D. No matter what the media will say, Texas and Georgia are not in play for a national election. Neither are California and New York. The election rests with purple voters in a handful of states. Yet the Democratic party seems to think it can win without any of the 35% of Americans who call themselves moderates. It drifts in a belief Twitter is real life, “likes” are votes, and Dems should all be running for president of social media. That’ll just end up with as many surprised by the results in 2020 as were in 2016.

    The party’s last hope is to hope there are enough Trump Haters who will vote for whomever the Dems shovel up, to overcome the purple voters who either stay home, or are so frightened of what progressives have in store they will treat Trump as the devil they know.

    Trump as the safe candidate, think about how that came to be. For those keeping score, it is 100 points for Slytherin at this point.
     
    BONUS:

    In case all that does not terrify purple voters enough, the media meanwhile is presenting AOC, elected with an 11% turnout against an opponent who did not campaign, as the new, new face of the party. Elect a Democrat in 2020 and see who is waiting in the wings!

    Ocasio-Cortez daily sounds more like an undergraduate so sure she knows more than the professor, shouting Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are racists (did Barack know?) even as Congressional Black Caucus members are accusing a progressive group aligned with Ocasio-Cortez of trying to oust African American lawmakers.

    Nancy Pelosi seems to be the first in her party to understand AOC and her ilk are not leaders, though too many pretend they are. They mirror their contemporaries whining on social media. Government isn’t a job or a duty, it’s just a platform from which to “raise awareness,” a Millenial phrase meaning to be deeply offended about the most recent shiny object online, and then doing nothing about it.

    These progressive voices dominate because in 2019, who in the Democratic body politic is allowed to disagree with bleating about oppression? Progressives have become rhetorical bullies, demanding other ideas be shouted down. It sounds good on Twitter, but imagine how poorly it echoes across kitchen tables in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
      

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    Here’s Where 2020 Stands If You’re a Democratic Strategist

    July 11, 2019 // 18 Comments »


     

    So to sum up at this point if you’re a Democratic strategist:
     

    — The economy is strong. Wages are up for the first time in a long time, job reports strong, stocks at record highs. Your move: Obama did it via time travel! Backup plan: hope the economy collapses and America falls into a major recession putting millions on the streets to own Trump.

    — All your efforts to defame/oust Trump have failed: Russiagate, Stormy Daniels, pee tape, obstruction, emoluments, get the taxes, SDNY, etc. You are down to hoping a convicted pedophile saves you with dirt on Trump.

    — New Hope: Robert Mueller breaks out in Tourette’s Syndrome at his hearing next week and demands impeachment.

    — Strategy of last three years to promote new hysterical end-of-democracy meme each week appears not to be working.

    — The media is presenting AOC as the new face of your party, shouting that Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden are racists (Did Barack know?!?) She daily sounds more like an undergraduate who is so sure she knows more than the professor based on a long talk over a joint with her boyfriend about Marxism.

    — A large number of Americans have concerns about immigration but your platform is to ignore them and demand open borders, abolish ICE, and free medical care for illegals.

    — Trump keeps refusing to start a new war (China, Venezuela, Iran, NKorea…)

    — Your candidates imagine a statistically tiny number of people on Twitter represent public opinion, semi-anonymously “liking” some bumper-sticker statement. The results in 2020 will thus surprise them, as the results of 2016 did, and the Russians will be much harder to blame the second time.

    — Bernie Sanders is campaigning from a park bench while feeding pigeons, Cory Booker is running for vice president of Crazytown while Twitter debates Kamala Harris’ blackness and school busing from the 1970s. Biden is polling slightly behind a crash test dummy with “Not Trump” written on it in Sharpie. Still ahead of the Other Guy from Wham!

    — Most Dem strategists still not sure if they should delete Hillary’s number.

    — The women’s soccer team vote is locked up, so some good news.

     

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    Will Reparations Change the Future?

    July 9, 2019 // 13 Comments »

    Though the idea of slavery reparations was first proposed in 1865, Congress held a hearing this month on the topic. There’s a campaign against Donald Trump after all.

    The hearing featured intellectuals like Ta-Nehisi Coates and second tier celebs like Danny Glover laying out a long history of horrible actions by the government and dark elements of our society. What was missing was what has been missing since 19th century efforts to pay freed slaves directly failed: how handing out money now fixes anything. It will not change the past and no one has made clear how it will positively affect the future.
    Reparations in their earliest form were proposed after the Civil War, when the federal government sought to give 40 acres of land and a mule to each freed slave. That idea died with Lincoln, as his successor canceled the program.  The concept never really went away (old age pensions were considered for former slaves in the 1880s), but took on new life when, in every Congress from 1989 until his retirement in 2017, John Conyers introduced a bill, HR 40, concerning reparations. The fanciful numerical designation itself was a reference to the original failed attempt with those 40 acres.
    Now nearly every 2020 Democratic candidate (but not Joe Biden) supports some version of the bill’s basic goal, a commission to hold hearings to study the idea of reparations. Any actual payments are a long time coming. But in a campaign all about Not Trump, spotlighting divisive racial issues no one will have to actually act on is a key strategy. Expect the issue of reparations to be wielded in the Democratic primaries and then disappear under the cloak of electability in the general election.
    At the most recent hearings, Ta-Nehisi Coates was the key witness, framing the need for reparations around the moral imperative of the continued impact of slavery: “Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy.” Coates became famous writing “The Case for Reparations” in 2014. It is cited by candidates as a foundational text, and as such formed the core of his recent testimony. Upon examination today it seems more intent on prioritizing moral purity and ideology via indignity above making any “case.” It conflates historic lynchings with modern notes of “land taken from black families has become a country club” where the reader is left to assume blacks are not welcome. Generalizations and stretches to irrelevance always makes a weak argument.
    Coates believes most of all in our current day “black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth” and says “whites” (everyone from an alcoholic homeless guy to Bill Gates) are doing better. He dismisses any personal responsibility on the part of blacks as  “cultural pathology” and mocks statements like those from African-American Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia, scolding black men: “Too many men making too many babies they don’t want to take care of” as “trenchant racism.”
    Coates and others in this debate find an awful lot of racism in a country that just a few years ago elected a black man twice to the presidency.  But to explain away Obama, whose existence upsets an otherwise continuous recalibration of suffering from plantation days to the “virtual lynching” of Colin Kaepernick, Coates claims without example “In the contest of upward mobility, Barack and Michelle Obama won by being twice as good and enduring twice as much.” No details about Barack enduring “twice as much” while growing up in the suburbs, attending Hawaii’s most expensive private prep school, then Columbia, then Harvard, then the Senate. Somebody is going to have to pick up that ball for Kamala Harris, who with a Jamaican dad and Indian subcontinental mom, both with Phd’s from Stanford, and who lived her teen years in Canada, and married to a white Jewish attorney, will need to rewrite her own middle class suburban experience into something much more tragic.
    We get it. Coates’ America is and has always been based on black and white, even as he and others sometimes strain to connect the horrors of the Middle Passage with whatever struggles they imagine guys like Obama went through at Harvard. But Coates’ essay is “The Case for Reparations.” You would expect it to make such a case beyond the simplistic “our relatives suffered a lot, we still suffer in ways connected to all that, so white people give us something.”
    But Coates stops there, angry as hell, as do others who argue for reparations today. Coates’ attempts to move from the emotional and ideological to something concrete — exactly what would paying reparation accomplish — dead-end.  Anyone can have thoughts, many content themselves with strong feelings, but what matters is thinking critically. At one point Coates claims reparations would close the wealth gap between blacks and whites, a naive statement in a nation where since 1980 incomes of the very rich (the .1%) grew faster than the economy, about a 400% increase, while the other 90% (of all races) fell behind. Whether your housing is subsidized via a mortgage tax deduction or Section 8, you’re still depending on the people in charge to allow you a place to live.
    Coates has also tried the abstract, to redefine reparations as “the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences.” Another proponent mused about the “liberating power that can be unleashed by this kind of introspection.”  A Ken Burns-Spike Lee Netflix series could fulfill those reparations with no government involvement, but no one is demanding that.

    If reparations are really some sort of delayed moral rebalancing, the idea is cheapened when it comes with an Amazon gift card (others have suggested things like zero-interest loans for black home buyers, free college tuition, money to black-owned businesses, elimination of cash bail, etc.) The amateurs are also at play through a website where blacks make financial requests for whites to fulfill as “a way to counteract their privilege.” Organizers of a “Reparations Happy Hour” invited POC to a bar and handed them cash donated by white people who were asked not to attend. The aim was to make attendees “feel as if their pain were valued and understood.” Georgetown University today giving preferential admissions treatment and scholarships to African-American kids, funded by an increase in tuition, all to make up for the school once owning slaves seems aimed more at making Georgetown feel less guilty (and silencing the critics) than any righting of historical wrongs.

    The idea is further cheapened when people argue against anything due anyone else, how this must be a black thing or nothing. Somebody has to be The American Victim in the hierarchy of victims, with the power that commands in what’s become a nation of church ladies, so leave out the others who sleep on a mountain of bones: Chinese held as effective captives in the western desert and worked to death building the railroads, Irish laborers killed by malaria in the New Orleans swamps, Jews denied asylum and sent back to the Holocaust, Italian child laborers in the textile mills, Appalachians poisoned in the coal mines, generations of underpaid women denied the vote, Hispanics relegated to inner city slums, and Asians chased away by Ivy League schools. If you prick them Ta-Nehisi, do they not bleed?

    Crudely expressed as “My ancestors didn’t own slaves and your’s didn’t pick cotton,” the reality is the horrors of slavery were committed by a limited number of whites. Only about 5% of the slaves taken from Africa ended up in America. Less than one-quarter of white Southerners held slaves, with half of those holding fewer than five in bondage. The vast majority of Americans had nothing to do with slavery, and many American trace their lineage to people who arrived after any of the discriminatory acts Coates testified on.

    The modern-day rebuttal, everyone is in on it because slavery was the prime mover to discrimination of blacks and whites have profited from that is betrayed by reality. While today percentage-wise more blacks live in poverty than whites, that means little in terms of actual lives when the mouths to feed are counted: twice as many whites are impoverished in America, some 14 million, than blacks. It is hard to claim “white privilege” is spread broadly across our unequal economy. “But some are more unequal than others” is an awkward cornerstone of the reparation argument which holds all whites profited.

    Yet all that aside, we are always still left with the core question: what is the value of paying reparations, to one group or all of them? The self-referential truth is reparations something something heal us. History is far less clear.
    Following World War II Congress created the Indian Claims Commission to pay reparations for seized land. Any good intentions were lost among the lack of accurate records showing who owned what when, and in the end the Commission produced 43 volumes of decisions which showed they paid out less than $1,000 for each Native American. But double, triple, x10 the amount, the unfair part. Could you argue those reparations would have changed much about the state of Native Americans? Percentage-wise more Native Americans today live in poverty than blacks. The suicide rate for Native Americans was more than 3.5 times higher than for others, due to high rates of poverty, substance abuse, and unemployment. What did reparations fix?
    There was the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948, which paid for property lost when the owners were forced into internment camps, and a second piece of legislation passed in 1988 which paid out $20,000 with a formal apology to each Japanese-American survivor. The money went to anyone who spent any time in an internment camp but not to the relatives of internees who died before the legislation was passed. What good was done by this moral gesture years after the offenses remains open to discussion; it certainly has not stopped actor George Takei from making a post-Star Trek career out of being a victim.
    (Though more complex, Holocaust reparations from Germany are largely limited to direct survivors. Though I lost relatives in the Holocaust and can share family stories of suffering passed down, I have no standing to make a reparations claim against the present German government.)
    There’s nothing wrong with moral gestures per se, but when you’re talking about opening the public purse, a little practicality is in order. If you’re going assign a dollar value to righteousness, it’s reasonable to ask what the money buys. Does racism end in America? Do angry whites quit hating blacks? Do people who relish their victimhood trying to barter it into entitlement? If we accept black leaders‘ judgement there is an ongoing de jure and de facto impact of slavery today do those also go away? Or when it is all said and done, do we just drift back into “conversations” about race, and the outrage machine shifts to promoting something else as a ideological purity test? Does anything really change in return for a sociological, financial, and political event on the scale of reparations?
    No. The political reality is reparations for slavery in 2019 are a medigenic feel-good solution driven by progressive vote pandering seasoned with whytepiople guilt, money in search of a problem it won’t solve. Reparations are an easy way to silence critics — see, we did something, leave us alone (looking at you, Georgetown.) Yet the cynicism which accompanies such conclusions is only part of the problem.

    Talk about reparations that have no chance of coming to be is an excuse to avoid the much harder work of enforcing our anti-discrimination laws in employment and housing, the much harder work of making sure schools are not separate and unequal, the much harder work of rehabilitating young men coming out of prison every year, and the much harder work of lifting millions Americans of all races out of poverty. Those challenges will not go away with reparations. Focus on the issues that will directly address those problems. Alongside that, it is hard to find a model in which you can practically administer and sustain political support for reparations. America is complicated, as this is not just a black/white society, less so every year. So politically how do Latinos feel if there’s a big investment just in the African American community, and they’re looking around and saying, “We’re poor as well. What kind of help are we getting?”

    Does that make me a racist? Before you answer, the last paragraph isn’t my words. It’s what Barack Obama had to say about reparations. He wasn’t invited to the latest hearings and his thoughts are very much missing from the dialogue today.

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    North Korea: Call it Diplomacy 101, Not a Photo Op

    July 1, 2019 // 1 Comment »


     

    You have to negotiate with your enemies. Fact of life, whether they are autocrats or segregationist Senators. They “have” what you want, the power to stop you from achieving your goals. And of course you have to give something up, nobody surrenders power or nukes for free. This is nothing new. Call it Diplomacy 101.
     
    Yet in 2019 stupidity has been weaponized, so people who deplore the lack of progress in Congress now discover they hate Biden because he worked with certain Senators decades ago. And people who criticize Trump for gutting the State Department argue against diplomacy, trying to dismiss small steps with North Korea, or China, as photo ops, playing at being naive that diplomacy happens in small steps.

    The latest is the attack on Trump because he might “allow” North Korea to keep some nuclear capability even after some U.S. sanctions are rolled back. Well, North Korea has had nukes since 2006, so that means Bush, Obama, and now Trump have “allowed them.” Once a nation goes nuclear, they largely get to decide what they are allowed to do. Ask Israel.
     
    One might also look at the Iran nuclear deal Obama made for perspective. It was a good thing, reduced tensions in the Middle East, and would have helped set the stage for more complex relations with the United States had Trump not canceled it, or had Obama had the political oomph to have created a formal treaty and not an “agreement.” Iran reduced its nuclear threshold state, but was never required to go to zero.

    The news today shows how easy it was for Iran to ramp up from Obama-negotiated levels. So the idea Trump might seek a reduction in North Korean nuclear capability is in line with Obama’s deal with Iran, though of course any reduction of actual weapons in Korea is a bigger step forward than just a step back on capability in Iran. And even that took 20 months for Obama to pull off. In the end, if North Korea reneges on any agreement, sanctions removed can be reimposed.

    People demanding Trump bull into a room and say “Nukes, number one and we’re done” want the process to fail. Wipe clean the cartoon image of Kim as a madman. North Korea currently has nuclear weapons as the guarantor of its survival; that is a starting point, not a debatable one. If the United States and South Korea want the North to give up those weapons, something has to replace them as that assurance of survival. The ask here is extraordinary—only one nation in history that self-developed nuclear weapons, South Africa, has ever given them up, and that was because their purpose, the survival of the white apartheid regime, disappeared into history.

    A new magic word dominates the MSM, “legitimacy.” Despite their near-universal hatred of Trump, when convenient he is apparently important enough somewhere to be able to bestow Legitimacy” on foreigners, which can be a bad thing vis-a-vis North Korea. The Etruscans, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Eritreans, and Everyone Else from A to Z have been conducting diplomacy with adversaries of all flavors, titles, and moral standards since before the word was even invented by the French. A leader whose family has been the sole ruler of his nation for seven-some decades, who controls nuclear weapons, whose country has a seat at the United Nations and embassies in multiple countries around the world, already meets any practical test of “legitimacy.” Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons exist whether or not he meets a sitting American president, or ex-presidents Clinton and Carter. The only chance those weapons might someday be gone rests on such meetings.

    There is also a fear fanned by the MSM Trump will somehow give something important away, as if he might sign over the deed to Oregon to Kim late one boozy night. Negotiations are of course rarely an even exchange. But how long will you sit at the table if someone else seems to win every hand? Everyone has to at least feel they can win, so they don’t have a reason to cheat and thus stay in the game. Even when stakes are high, the good news is that it’s hard to give away “the store.” The store, whatever form it takes, usually isn’t something that can be irrevocably stopped, boxed up for shipment, or destroyed forever. Never mind the checks, balances, and bureaucratic brakes built into something as complex as the United States government, or even what may appear to be mostly a one-man-rule system. Diplomacy 101 encourages a thoughtful approach to score keeping, knowing the score only really matters at the end anyway.

    Diplomacy is almost always a process, rarely a singular event. The media trying to trick us into imaging one or two or ten meetings which do not resolve a problem is failure willfully overlooks the history of the Cold War, with its many steps forward and backward, but which more or less held the peace. That latter point — the absence of war — is the standard of measure, not what one thinks of Trump.

    History provides another example, Richard Nixon’s summit with Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung. That 1972 meeting ended over two decades of isolation between two nuclear-armed countries, and is universally hailed as brilliant diplomacy. But looking back, the main takeaway, the Shanghai Communique, is full of vague phrases promising to meet again and somehow make “progress toward the normalization of relations” and “reduce the danger of international military conflict.” The status of Taiwan, which had almost brought the Americans and Chinese to war, was dealt with in almost poetic terms, able to be read with multiple meanings.

    There was no timeline for anything, no specific next steps listed, nothing about China’s horrendous human rights situation. It took seven more years before full diplomatic relations were restored, yet scholars see the visit as one of the most impactful ever by an American president, to the point that the term “Nixon to China” is now shorthand for a breakthrough leaders’ meeting.

    The China agreement (and the one in Iran) was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. People in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of “you’re either with us or against us,” is called compromise. It’s an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even get even for Otto Warmbier. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised.

    Also now take a moment to think this through from the North Korean side (know your enemy.) It would take a blind man in the dark not to notice one obvious fact about the Greater Middle East: regimes the U.S. opposes tend to find themselves blasted into chaos once they lose their nuclear programs. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s, from the air. Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya went down the drain thanks to American/NATO-inspired regime change after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions. The Israelis and the U.S. took a serious shot at Iranian nuclear capability with the STUXNET virus. No one could miss how North Korea’s membership in the regime-change club wasn’t renewed once that country went nuclear. Consider that a pretty good reason to develop a robust nuclear weapons program — and not give it up entirely. Let’s also note the world has lived with North Korea as a nuclear state for some 13 years, through three U.S. administrations and a change of leadership in Pyongyang.

    Any nascent agreement reached does not make North Korea and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two countries to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than seven decades of hostility, that would be no small accomplishment.

    Future Trump-Kim-Moon tripartite negotiations (and please don’t underplay the role of South Korea’s Moon in all this) may lead to a better peace, it may set the stage for a next generation of leaders, or it may be just an asterisk in the history books alongside the sit-downs in Singapore and Vietnam when judged years from now. But to mock it for partisan political reasons this week is to prove one’s own ignorance of how these things work.

      

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    Biden Who? Luckily Kamala Was So There.

    June 28, 2019 // 5 Comments »


     
    For those keeping score in the Dem debates, it is 100 points for Slytherin at this point.
     
    Biden, who knew? Biden, hiding in open sight for eight years inside the Obama White House, turns out to be some evil bastard segregationist out to make black people feel bad today about stuff from 40 years ago. Barack must have facepalmed last night learning this was going on right under his nose. I bet Michelle was shouting “Told you so!” from the kitchen. Poor Joe, never even saw the pitch that hit him in 2019. It ain’t yer time, kid.

    Luckily Kamala was there. She explained growing up in suburban California, then moving to Canada for high school, with a Jamaican dad and an Indian subcontinental mom, both with PhD’s from Stanford, and later herself marrying a white Jewish entertainment lawyer after she graduated from the University of California law school, was basically the equivalent of the Middle Passage.

    Here in the People’s Republic of New York City, Harris’ self-pity was met with huzzahs to rename Central Park after her. I’m sure the same in most of California.

    Kamala Harris (along with Warren, Sanders, and others) want to eliminate employer-based health insurance, something over 70% of Americans who have such insurance are satisfied with. Only 13% of Americans prefer a system with no private plans. Are the Dems going forward with a 13% policy idea?

    All Dem candidates are also dang sure the economy is a mess and Trump is the cause. Yet a CNN poll shows 71% of Americans say that the economy is very or somewhat good. And that was on the smart night. The earlier Democratic debate featured talk about publically-funded abortions for pregnant trans men, which makes very little sense even if you support, serially, trans people, abortion, public funding for medical care, and hell, pregnancy. Each question about race or gender was answered as if the whole thing was being run past HR first. Meanwhile, as Harris made 1970s discussions of school busing the centerpiece of her campaign the other candidates happily promoted open borders and free healthcare for illegal immigrants, apparently in the misguided notion illegal immigrants are the largest Democratic voting block left. About all that was left was for each candidate to virtually award AOC a year of their lives so she’d be old enough to run unopposed for the presidency.

    All great moves if you are running for President of Twitter. But as someone in the Dem party must be vaguely aware, swing voters in a handful of states are likely to decide the 2020 election. If such a person exists in the party, they really need to ask which part of the assassination of Biden, and Harris exaggerating her personal suffering to proclaim herself America’s Official POC, will get them any of those votes so, so necessary to beat Trump.

    One other thing which stood out is the contrast between Obama and his wanna-be successors. Obama always at least spoke inclusively; he never threw away any voters by criticizing them, making them feel wrong, or guilting them. He wanted all of America, or at least its votes if you want to be fully cynical.

    Hillary started reversing that, most notably with her infamous comment Trump supporters were deplorables. She would see them in hell, unemployed and choking on the smoke from their coal fires. The current crop of Dems is all in with that. To a person they projected the idea that supporting Trump meant you were a white supremacist misogynist racist nazi who they would seek to throw aside in the name of progressivism. You’re all on the wrong side of history because you live in a red state, own a gun, or voted Republican. The fuck you extends to an attempt to defranchise many with feints toward ending the Electoral College. Who needs South Dakota after that? Better to reroute the tax dollars to progressive enclaves anyway.

    What’s different is the attack on the people themselves, who they are. It is the very nature of politics to spar over ideas and positions. But what Dems have devolved into is attacking people because they hold certain beliefs. You may support a Republican tax policy and that doesn’t just make you wrong on economics, it makes you a racist white supremacist. The ultimate expression of this comes with support for the Second Amendment; you don’t just disagree on how to regulate arms, you have blood on your hands over Parkland, you child killing bastard. It is a good way to organize a mob, and a terrible way to treat fellow Americans, and really poor way to expand your voting base.

    Harris in particular made many white Americans feel on trial for views they held in the past on things like busing (and her autobio version of events was far from true.) Joe Biden stood in for every purple voter who may have felt one way then, and another way now, but realizes in 2019 they are being teed up as the enemy. Offering redemption and acknowledging growth is not on the menu for these Democratic candidates. A purple voter may legitimately wonder how they might be treated under a Harris administration. Is it payback time? It seems a very short-sighted strategy for a candidate, an even worse one for a leader.

    Also, Bernie and Beto who? Jeez, that was easy.
     
     

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    We Could Have Had Biden

    February 20, 2017 // 67 Comments »




    Joe Biden would have beaten him.


    Think about why Trump won. He was by sheer accident the more or less least worst choice. Despite his behavior, he kept failing upward, right into the White House.


    A large portion of this election was about income disparity, cultural and economic displacement, a sense that the country had abandoned too much of its center. I don’t know how many of those people voted for Trump per se, but some percentage voted against for Hillary Clinton (spare me the popular vote bit, we’re dealing with the reality of the system which was here in 2016 and will be here in 2020.)

    Biden has always been able to speak to many of those who voted for Trump. His roots are in Pennsylvania, his background blue collar. His son served in uniform. He has dealt with personal tragedy and understands it in others. He talks and displays real empathy in a way Hillary could never do, and embarrassed herself when she tried. Biden in the Midwest would have exposed Trump as a fake populist because Biden would have come across as a real one.

    A significant number of voters “like” or dislike a candidate; some of an election is a popularity contest, and everyone likes and trusts Biden. Clinton could never get past herself on that. She was the kid on the debate team; Joe was class clown.

    Think Comey hurt Hillary somehow? Think the Democratic National Committee emails showing Clinton’s dirty tricks against Bernie hurt her? Think the Clinton Foundation, quid pro quo, pay-to-play, the server and coverup, Bill’s sexcapades, Huma, Weiner, health questions, maybe even Benghazi, think any of that cost her votes (it did)? Well, none of that would have touched Biden. Most of America still wouldn’t know who Comey is. Putin could have leaked all the emails in the world and… nothing. Trump could not have played off hiding his tax returns with Clinton hiding her Goldman-Sachs speeches.

    Trump would have had to talk policy and issues. Nothing for Congress to investigate, no scandals. Nothing for the right wing media to feed on. Nothing for the left wing media to have to keep defending.

    Meanwhile, the strengths Clinton had — experience in government, claimed foreign policy skills, whatever good will could be inherited from Obama — would all be there for Biden. Without any baggage. Biden was in the room when bin Laden was killed, too, for whatever that is worth.

    It’s likely Biden would have run a more respectful campaign against Bernie than Clinton did, as he would have been driven, but without being obsessed by fear of failure. He might have run a positive general election campaign, not one that was a continuous flow of hit pieces on Trump that left voters unsure what Hillary had to offer herself.

    That might have brought more Bernie voters out who chose instead to stay home on election day. Biden would have been able to choose a vice president such as Elizabeth Warren that would not have been seen inside the party as a threat to Clinton. Biden, himself a once forever Senator, might even have chosen Bernie as his VP. Imagine a VP choice that inspired, instead of a cynical move like disposable drone Tim Kaine selected just to (barely) grab Virginia’s electoral votes.

    There was much talk abut why Biden didn’t run, centering around the death of his son Beau. It was a major factor. However, sources are clear that pressure was applied to Biden the old-time party man to stand aside, that this was Hillary’s turn, arrangements had been made, deals done. Biden could have whatever else he wanted (other than VP…), choice of cabinet jobs, an emeritus position as ambassador somewhere, appointment to a presidential commission created for him, just name it, Joe.

    Biden said post-election “The family was broken, and I was more broken than I thought I was. How broken? I don’t know what I’d do if I was in a debate and someone said, ‘You’re doing this because of your son,’ I might have walked over and kicked his ass.”

    And in that moment the election would have been over.

    Many Americans outside the coastal media were unconcerned about an old tape of Trump being crude, and did not see his statements as “sexual assault.” They were skeptical about decades old allegations of sexual harassment that seemed to appear on cue just before a debate. But you don’t mess with someone’s dead son, a veteran at that, and had Trump insulted Beau and Joe Biden slugged Trump live on TV, every American who supported Trump would have understood what a bully was and every one of them knows what to do about bullies.

    In the end, you win this way:

    — Pull votes away from the other guy (blue collar Biden)

    — Secure your base (experienced, Obama-Dem Biden) and

    — Don’t lose voters (baggage-free Biden.)

    Clinton failed on all three counts, and it is now President Trump.



    The point here is not just a thought experiment, a political argument to hash out over beers. There’ll be another election in 2020, and Trump will run against another Democrat. If the Democrats can’t understand what election they are running in, and can’t objectively weigh out their candidates’ strengths and weaknesses instead of assuming succession based on internal party logic, they will lose again to Trump.



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    Why the U.S. Plan for Iraq is Doomed to Fail

    December 19, 2014 // 20 Comments »

    Free Iraqi Child


    If the United States was looking for the surest way to lose Iraq War 3.0, it might start by retraining the failed Iraqi Army to send — alongside ruthless Shi’ite militias — into Sunni-majority territory and hope that the Sunnis will welcome them with open arms, throwing out the evil Islamic State.

    Maybe it’s time for a better plan. The way to find one is by understanding how we lost Iraq War 2.0. We need a plan to create a stable, tri-state solution to the Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd divide, or the current war will fail as surely as the previous one.


    ISIS

    A critical first step is, of course, to remove Islamic State from the equation, but not how the Obama administration envisions. The way to drive Islamic State out of Iraq is to remove the reason Islamic State has been able to remain in Iraq: as a protector of the Sunnis. In Iraq War 2.0, the Iraqi Sunnis never melded politically with al Qaeda; they allied out of expediency, against the Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite central government. The same situation applies to Islamic State, the new al Qaeda in Iraq.

    The United States is acting nearly 180 degrees counter to this strategy, enabling Shi’ite militia and Iranian forces’ entry into Anbar and other Sunni-majority areas to fight Islamic State. The more Shi’ite influence, the more Sunnis feel they need Islamic State muscle. More Iranian fighters also solidify Iran’s grip on the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, and weakens America’s. The presence of additional Sunni players, like the Gulf States, will simply grow the violence indecisively, with the various local factions manipulated as armed proxies.


    The Awakening

    Iraq in 2007 was, on the surface, a struggle between insurgents and the United States. However, the real fight was happening in parallel, as the minority Sunnis sought a place in the new Shi’ite-dominated Iraq. The solution was supposedly the Anbar Awakening. Indigenous Iraqi Sunnis would be pried lose from al Qaeda under American protection (that word again), along with the brokered promise that the Shi’ites would grant them a substantive role in governance. The Shi’ites balked almost from day one, and the deal fell apart even before America’s 2011 withdrawal — I was in Iraq with the Department of State and saw it myself. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory thrown away by the Iraqis — a favorite among 2.0 apologists — is very dangerous. It suggests repeating the strategy will result in something other than repeating the results.

    The Sunnis are Who fans; they won’t be fooled again.


    Political Progress?

    Progress otherwise in Iraq? The new prime minister has accomplished little toward unity, selecting a Badr militia politician to head the Interior Ministry, for example. The Badr group has been a key player in sectarian violence.

    Islamic State still controls 80 percent of Anbar Province, the key city of Mosul and is attacking in Ramadi. U.S. air strikes cannot seize ground. The Iraqi Army will never rise to the fullness of the challenge. One can only imagine the thoughts of the American trainers, retraining some of the same Iraqi troops from War 2.0.

    Military vehicles of the Kurdish security forces are seen during an intensive security deployment in Diyala province north of Baghdad. Elsewhere, the Kurds are already a de facto separate state. Their ownership of Arbil, the new agreement to allow the overt export of some of their own oil, and the spread of the peshmerga to link up with Kurdish forces in Syria, are genies that won’t go back into the bottle. America need only restrain Kurdish ambitions to ensure stability.


    Tri-State Conclusion

    Present Iraq strategy delays, at great cost — in every definition of that word — the necessary long-term tri-state solution. It is time to hasten it. The United States must use its influence with the Shi’ites to have their forces, along with the Iranians, withdraw to Baghdad. America would create a buffer zone, encompassing the strategically critical international airport as a “peacekeeping base.” Using air power, America would seal the Iraq-Syria border in western Anbar, at least against any medium-to-large scale Islamic State resupply effort. Arm the Sunni tribes if they will push Islamic State out of their towns. Support goes to those tribes who hold territory, a measurable, ground-truth based policy, not an ideological one. Implementing the plan in northwest Iraq can also succeed, but will be complicated by Kurd ambitions, greater ethnic diversity among the Iraqis and a stronger Islamic State tactical hold on cities like Mosul.

    There’ll be another tough challenge, the sharing of oil revenues between the new Sunni and Shi’ite states, so this plan is by no means a slam-dunk.

    The broad outline is not new; in 2006 then-Senator Joe Biden proposed a federal partition of Iraq along the Bosnian model. Bush-era zeal kept the idea from getting a full review. But much has transpired since 2006.

    If the tri-state plan works, it will deny Islamic State sanctuary where it is now most powerful, and a strategy for northwest Iraq may emerge. America will realize its long-sought enduring bases in Iraq as a check on Iranian ambitions and an assurance of security for the embassy. The president can decouple Syrian policy from Iraq. An indefinite American presence in Iraq will not be fully welcomed, though one hastens to add it basically is evolving anyway.


    I Hate Myself

    For advocates of disengagement like myself, this is bitter medicine. But we are where we are in Iraq, and wishful thinking, on my part or the White House’s, is no longer practical. A divided Iraq, maintained by an American presence, is the only hope for long-term stability. Otherwise, stay tuned for Iraq War 4.0.



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    Now with More Victory Added: Hashimi to Die, Iran Supplying Syria via Iraq

    September 10, 2012 // 1 Comment »




    I was interviewed last night by BBC Radio regarding the sad news that an Iraqi court sentenced fugitive former Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi to death for his involvement in the killing of two people.

    The news is sad not because Hashimi is likely innocent; almost all of the Iraqi leaders have blood on their hands (anybody think Sadr hasn’t whacked a couple of guys in his time?) The sad side is that this move represent a clear marker point for when historians will acknowledge the unambiguous and utter failure of the US to establish the rule of law in Iraq despite nine years of playing at it. Prime Minister Maliki began consolidating his power literally within hours of the last US troops leaving Iraq and has never slowed down. Announcing his government’s intent to “legally” kill off his Sunni opponent is simply another step beyond hope for a peaceful solution in Iraq. Oh, and some 92 people were killed across the country this same day by various suicide bombers and what have you. As best anyone knows, Hashimi is hiding out in Turkey waiting for the Apocalypse.

    And just to make sure it remains a valid player in the rough and tumble world of Iraqi politics, on the day of Hashimi’s death sentence, and following the killings of 92 Iraqis, the US Embassy in Baghdad released this Tweet:


    The other news from Iraq involves Syria.

    The New York Times dutifully tells us that Iran is shipping military equipment to Syria over Iraqi airspace in a new effort to bolster the embattled government of President Assad of Syria. The Obama administration is pressing Iraq to shut down the air corridor, raising the issue with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. This has all been going on for some time now, with the US making its pleas quietly (“soft power”) but Obama, by going public, imagines he is turning up the heat.

    Why, this is so important that Joe Biden is in charge. Uncle Joe discussed the Syrian crisis in a phone call with Maliki in mid-August. The White House has declined to disclose details, but an American official who would not speak on the record told the NYT that Biden had “registered his concerns” over the flights.

    Ooooooooh you’re in trouble now. We’ve “registered our concerns.” Watch out, next we’ll “view you with increasing concern.”

    That yawning sound you hear is from Baghdad. The Iraqis in general and PM Malaki in particular could care less what America thinks. Might have something to do with those nine years of failed occupation and reconstruction that turned his country into a crappy version of a used car junk yard, but what do I know.

    So yes, yes, another round in the US-Iran proxy war. I wrote about this w-a-y back in November 2011.

    The US is only now starting to publicly admit one of the many costs of losing the Iraq war, an empowered Iran bordered by at best a passive Iraq, more likely an allied Iraq. Never one to consider secondary or tertiary effects of failed empire, the US now cannot back away. Whatever forms of quiet persuasion the US thought would be effective in separating Maliki from his Iranian support have clearly failed, hence the (first?) public denunciations. What’s left to lose?

    Once again the US kicked over another MidEast ant hill (Syria) without any clear idea what the end game would be. Sorry Syrian peoples! Iran has pushed into the gap, its efforts made easier with Iraq allowing transshipment of arms. Of course the US is only publicly talking about overflights, but there is an awful lot of Iranian truck traffic into Iraq and the Iraq-Syrian border is wholly porous.

    I think we are seeing the first public admittance of failure in Iraq, albeit with an anti-Iran twist. But as I wrote in November 2011, this is nothing new. It just stinks more now for the extra time out in the sunlight.



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    Biden to Iraq, MEK to Burger King

    December 27, 2011 // Comments Off on Biden to Iraq, MEK to Burger King

    Iraqiya bloc MP Mudhir al-Janabi told Aswat al-Iraq that Joe Biden will soon visit Iraq to try and bring the warring political parties to the table. It will be a tough sell, as Maliki has pretty much blown Biden off in recent days.

    Biden is the latest in a parade of “best hits of the Iraq War” celebs to go to Iraq, following Odierno and Petraeus. It is also rumored that the World’s Largest Embassy (c) still exists and thus must be playing some role in all this negotiating.

    Thanks to the UN (also not the State Department), residents of the anti-Tehran Mujahedin E-Khalq (MEK) Organization Asrah Camp in northeast Iraq shall move to what used to be Camp Liberty in Baghdad, in response to a Memo of Understanding, signed between Iraq and the United Nations. Once there, the UN will begin processing the MEKs for resettlement outside Iraq. Liberty was known during the American Occupation has having the largest PX in Iraq, a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a KFC, plus a large “mall” with over seventy Iraqi national vendors. Perhaps the MEK people will inherit the franchise rights to tide them over while waiting to be processed out as refugees?

    Oh wait, here’s something State can do: “US Embassy officials in Baghdad shall carry out organized and repeated visits to the new MEK location, whilst we support the Iraqi government’s readiness to postpone the final closure of Ashraf Camp, in order to give enough time to implement this plan,” SecState Clinton said. At least she did not say “robust.” Seems reasonable in that the World’s Largest Embassy (c) comes with the World’s Largest price tag, some $3.8 billion (about $2.5 billion of that is for security) a year in operating costs, about a fourth of all State’s yearly costs.

    The idea of US diplomats visiting MEK completes the circle: the US Dips will be surrounded by massive security to protect them from the Iraqis the US liberated while at the same time using their own presence to protect the MEKs from the liberated Iraqis. It all adds up to freedom somehow.

    And as usual, Musings on Iraq has the final word on political events in Mesopotamia:

    Whether the confessions were true or not, they point to Iraq’s dysfunctional government. Since Hashemi and the Iraqi Islamic Party have been implicated in using violence in the past, the arrest warrant could be based upon fact. That would just be the latest indictment against the country’s major parties almost all of which have relied upon militias at one time or another. At the same time, the prime minister could be manipulating the security forces and justice system to carry out his latest vendetta against his rivals. He has done similar things before, using the state apparatus to further his own political agenda. The truth of this story is likely never to be revealed, but it shows why Baghdad doesn’t work.




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    A Biden Gaffe in Iraq?

    December 4, 2011 // Comments Off on A Biden Gaffe in Iraq?

    Joe Biden, limping through his victory lap in Iraq, is always known as a whacky guy, one who might at any moment commit what the press loves to call a “gaffe.” Here’s what Joe said at Camp Victory outside Baghdad:

    The Iraqi people will not, have not, and will not again yield to any external domination, and they would never abide another nation violating their sovereignty by funding and directing militias that use Iraqi terrain for proxy battles that kill innocent Iraqi civilians.

    Let’s look at this from a gaffe perspective:

    1) The location is called Camp Victory. Not Joe’s gaffe, but hilarious nonetheless.

    2) Joe said “will not, have not, and will not again” which does not even make any rhetorical sense. If they didn’t “will not” once they certainly can’t “will not again.”

    3) When Joe says “will not again yield to any external domination” he is apparently referring to how it was good that Iraq yielded to external domination by the US, but how it would be bad if they did it again with anyone else. They’re our bitch, bitches! Joe seems to say.

    4) Joe is threatening the Iranians, warning them against violating the sovereignty of Iraq, a country the US invaded and occupied in clear violation of sovereignty.

    5) Also, over 100,000 Iraqis died during America’s occupation.

    So is it a gaffe? Sorry Joe, not this time. Stupid, ignorant, head-up-the-ass jingoistic imperial conceit logic, but no gaffe. Try again!



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    Calling BS on Biden in Iraq

    December 1, 2011 // Comments Off on Calling BS on Biden in Iraq

    Biden’s trip to Iraq had several components to it, all worth examining for their overflowing levels of bullshit.

    Victory Lap

    This is perhaps the slimiest part of the trip, as Biden sought to assign credit for the US military withdrawal from Iraq to his boss. Obama famously campaigned saying he would end the war in Iraq, and Biden said he did, carefully ignoring that the White House begged and pleaded Iraq to allow our troops to stay, and that the withdrawal took place only after talks over immunity broke down. The military got asked to leave more than anything. In addition, Biden’s claim that Obama kept his promise ignores the 16,000 person State Department occupation team which will replace the military. No victory lap, Joe, sorry.

    We Won/Accomplished Something

    Biden soft-played this, as well he should have. The US won not much, accomplished not much and even any meager gains that a meth-crazed neocon can come up with have to be weighed against the loss of lives and tremendous costs. Seeing vets without legs wheeling around Walmart having to use food stamps for Hamburger Helper does not represent any victory. Like all other VIPs, Biden had to sneak into Iraq unannounced and at night to avoid being killed. And, to drive home the irony, two separate attacks in northeastern Iraq killed 17 people on Thursday, the third day of Biden’s visit.

    US Defense Contractors Made Out

    Joe’s only sincere moments came when he pimped for US defense contractors to make even more money.

    US Ambassador Jeffrey in Baghdad said that “We have about $8 billion, give or take some, of active (foreign military sales) cases with Iraq. That’s not counting the new one that just came out for the F-16s. That will send it up by a number of additional billions of dollars. This is one of the biggest programmes in the world.”

    Biden talked military sales to Iraq, and some 200 uniformed military will remain in Iraq to oversee the sales and training.

    Honoring the Iraq Army

    Biden’s final point in Iraq is the most awkward stretch of reality to fit the US meme.

    He and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki addressed about 120 U.S. service members and 100 Iraqi troops gathered at al-Faw Palace, Saddam’s old crib. Biden thanked the troops and recognized their “achievements” over the past eight+ years. “This palace, a grotesque monument to a dictator’s greed, is today filled with American and Iraqi warriors, bound together by shared sacrifice in service to their countries. Here in Iraq you became partners… and friends… and now, undeniably, you are brothers-in-arms.”

    Few American troops see things that way, and even fewer Iraqis do. The US invaded Iraq in 2003, heartily killing Iraqi soldiers who picked no fight with America. We then kicked off a civil war that included mucho Iraqi-on-US violence. Now that we’re bored with Iraq as a battleground, we are leaving that mess for the Iraqis to clean up, mislabeling some coerced cooperation and staged joint ops into being brothers-in-arms.

    Nobody but maybe Joe Biden believes that. Ask any American soldier if s/he would ever turn his back on an armed Iraqi, or walk into an Iraqi military compound unarmed voluntarily. Nobody did that when I was in Iraq and nobody would do that now. Even as Joe warbled at the palace, at joint training facilities like the former FOB Hammer/Besmiyah range, US personnel live on their own compound surrounded by their own security.

    Hey, but if Joe Biden really believes what he says, let’s have him fly into Iraq on an announced visit, in the daytime, and spend a day without American security with some Iraqi soldiers.

    Yeah, I didn’t think so. I call bullshit Joe.



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