• Trump (and Georgia) On My Mind

    May 14, 2022 // 1 Comment »

    One of my kids is studying law, and I’ve read a bit over her shoulder as she prepped for exams. Two critical things stand out: unlike in literature, words in the law have very specific meanings (lie, fraud, possess, assault), and intent matters quite a bit. The latter is very important, because people say things all the time they do not mean, such as “If Joe in Sales misses that deadline I’m gonna kill someone.” No one’s life is actually in danger, we all understand. Same for all those neighbors who were going to but never did move to Costa Rica if Trump was elected.

    Misunderstanding words as moving from the general to the very specific when you pull them out of a conversation and try to bring them to court, and determining intent based on what you “believe,” are really at the root of the ever-growing string of failed legal actions against Trump (there are some 19 still pending.) We have, and this is just hitting the highlights, all of Russiagate, the Mueller Report, Impeachment I, Impeachment II, Stormy Daniels, failed accusations of real estate valuation fraud in New York and most recently, a grand jury seated to look into election fraud in Georgia.

    For example, in Impeachment I, the Ukraine caper, the entire brouhaha hinged on Donald Trump’s own words in the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian president. But did they mean Trump was demanding foreign interference in the 2020 election? Or was he asking an ally to run down unethical actions by Joe Biden as a public service before he might become president? What was Trump’s intention when he said “A lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great.” Later in the call Trump suggested some aid to Ukraine might be withheld, though not in specific reference to any investigation into Biden.

    The people who brought the impeachment proceedings decided all that constituted an illegal solicitation of a foreign in-kind contribution to Trump’s re-election campaign, maybe even extortion. The allegation was referred to the Justice Department, which declined charges. Many Democrats though that unfair, failing to see the lack of anything coming of it (i.e., no investigation by Ukraine), the lack of anything withheld (the aid was eventually delivered) and overall the lack of intent to commit a crime by Trump. The legal definition tests for words like solicit and extort were not met and Justice correctly dumped the case and there was no conviction in the Senate.

    Same story in New York, where the facts seemed to support Trump valued real estate at a lower price for tax purposes and a higher price when used as loan collateral. It’s called valuation and is legally done all the time. But some decided saying one thing to one person and another to another person to gain something was “fraud,” and everyone pursuing the case forgot that they also had to prove intent, that Trump lied with the intention to commit a crime and gain by ill begotten methods. The case rightfully collapsed.

    Yep, same with the Stormy Daniels saga, where the facts seemed to be Trump, via Michael Cohen, paid money to Stormy to keep quiet about their affair. Sleazy enough, but paying someone as part of a non-disclosure agreement is not illegal. It would be a crime if the money was paid by Trump with the intent of influencing an election, which he suggested was not true, the cash-for-silence was maybe to protect his marriage. Campaign finance laws require proof a person was willfully violating the law. Prosecutors would have to demonstrate that willingness by Trump alongside showing his principal goal was to influence the election. If this kind of case would have ever reached court, Trump would have simply denied intent.

    Another example can be found in the incitement allegations surrounding the speech Trump made just before his supporters entered the Capitol building January 6. A democracy can’t lock up everyone who stirs up a crowd. Speech which inspires, motivates, or warms the blood cannot be illegal as it is the very stuff of democracy. Trump thought the election was unfair and had a right to say so. Brandenburg v. Ohio refined the modern standard to 1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encourages the use of violence or lawless action; 2) the speaker intends their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and 3) imminent violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech. Brandenburg is the Supreme Court’s gold standard on what government may do about speech that seeks to incite others to lawlessness.

    The key is always intent. You have to prove, not just speculate, the speaker wanted to cause violence. Listeners’ reaction to speech is not alone a basis for taking action against a speaker. You’d need to prove Trump wanted the crowd to attack the Capitol and set out to find the words to make that happen. It ain’t gonna fly for the January 6 Committee.

    Which brings us to Georgia, where the NYT asks “Will Trump Face a Legal Reckoning in Georgia?”  On January 2, 2020, facing an election loss, Trump called Georgia’s Secretary of State to demand he “find 11,780 votes,”  one more than Joe Biden’s tally. Did Trump encourage the secretary to commit election fraud? That prosecution will fail, as did all of the ones above, for the same two reasons: words are not solely what they seem, and intent is hard to prove.

    For example, to the Democratic lay person “find” means commit election fraud to come up with votes. But well before anything goes to court, it will be made clear that “find” in this context can also mean, in just one example, recount all legal ballots to see if a mistake can be found which legitimately sends more votes to Trump. The other issue is again intent; to prove solicitation of election fraud, Georgia law requires a person intentionally “solicits, requests, commands, importunes or otherwise attempts to cause” another person to engage in election fraud. Trump and his associates need only to maintain they meant “find” as in recount, not as in cheat. Case closed.

    In seeing the same mistakes made over and over, you’d start to think maybe the Democrats need some better lawyers. But don’t worry. Democratic lawyers know just as well as Republican lawyers none of these cases ever had a chance in a real court. Their purpose was purely political, to manufacture some headlines, to influence voters, to create the impression Trump has to be guilty of something if only he could be stopped from wriggling away. The goal is to convince voters to ignore the rule of law and take matters into their own hands in 2024 to stop Trump.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Deterrence Failed in Ukraine: Is Strategic Ambiguity Over Taiwan Better than a Treaty?

    April 30, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    The answer is one failed in Ukraine, one has kept the peace. The question, going forward, is the model the strategic clarity of NATO’s Article 5 or the strategic ambiguity of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act?

    The principle of collective defense is at the very heart of NATO, created by a 1949 Treaty. Its history is embedded in WWII, when the Nazis gained a massive advantage in the earliest days of the war by playing the various European nations against each other, picking off territory while London and Paris bickered over what to do. NATO was be the solution. Article 5 of the NATO treaty says “An armed attack against one or more of the [signers] shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them… will assist the Party or Parties so attacked.” The critical points are that the treaty is inclusionary — all NATO members, large or small — and exclusionary in that it only applies to NATO members. An attack on NATO member Poland triggers Article 5. An attack on Ukraine or Taiwan, not NATO members, does not.

    The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA; also the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique) grew out of Mainland China dictator Mao’s threat to “liberate” Taiwan and Nationalist dictator Chiang Kai-shek’s demand for U.S. support to reclaim the Mainland. With the Korean War sopping up American blood, Washington had no desire to join what would have been a land war to rival WWII. Instead, it established diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and signed a mutual defense treaty in 1954. That lasted until 1979, when the U.S. switched its diplomatic recognition from the people of Taiwan to the people of the Mainland (China; but note the diplomatic wording) and Congress enacted the Taiwan Relations Act. The TRA listed two obligations to Taiwan: to sell it arms and to maintain the U.S.’ capacity “to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion” against Taiwan.

    The actual wording in the TRA is instructive: “Peace and stability in the area are matters of international concern… any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes is considered a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.” This represents diplomatic brilliance, and came to be known as “strategic ambiguity,” a policy understood to mean the U.S. doesn’t have to defend Taiwan, but it can. The circumstances and means of defense are left unspoken. China matched this with a policy of “strategic patience.”

    The most important thing about the TRA is it works. The Mainland has not invaded Taiwan. Despite changes in leadership as dramatic as Mao (albeit in 1976) to Deng to Xi the Mainland has not invaded. Despite Taiwan changing from military dictatorship to democracy, the Mainland has not invaded. Despite global changes including the Korean and Vietnam wars where China and the U.S. fought each other directly, development of nuclear weapons by China, fall of the Soviet Union, the Mainland has not invaded. The Chinese military has gone from peasants with rifles to a blue water navy and the Mainland has not invaded. China has gone from agrarian isolation to an essential part of the industrialized global economy, and the Mainland has not invaded. Ukraine happened, and the Mainland has not invaded.

    The irony is deterrence worked in Ukraine, at least from Putin’s point of view. It prevented the U.S. from getting involved in the shooting war between Russia and Ukraine. The NATO treaty was written to compel its signatories to act once someone moved against them (the treaty was obviously written with the Soviet Union in mind though Article 5 has only been invoked once, following 9/11, and then mostly for show.) As Putin readied to invade Ukraine, Biden threw away any trace elements of strategic ambiguity by declaring early and often NATO would not intervene and the U.S. would not unilaterally enter the fighting. It was as green a light as could be for Putin. ‘Round the other side of the world, Sino-Asia sleeps at peace knowing everything is on the table should the Mainland invade but nothing is at risk should it not. What better example of deterrence working?

    The concern now is moves in both hemispheres to formalize redlines. Much talk will be devoted post-invasion as to whether Ukraine should join NATO, feign at joining NATO, or promise never to join NATO. Joining or something akin will be the wrong answer. It was in fact the rigidity of NATO’s promise that saw it fail, again, in Ukraine as in Crimea. Putin understands this and uses it — judo master that he is — against his adversary. NATO prescribes war whether the broader circumstances (of say energy dependence on Russian gas) make that seem wise. It is an exploitable flaw. The good news is Europe is again at a stasis point for the time being, Ukraine seemingly headed toward a resolution that provides Russia its buffer zone no matter what it is all spun as in the western media.

    The risk lies in Asia, where bullish elements are tempted to disturb an equally functional power status quo, and jeez, it’s Joe “Regime Change” Biden and his gaffes again. At a CNN town hall in October 2021, the host asked Biden if the U.S. would defend Taiwan. He said “Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” another gaffe-erino which the White House quickly walked back into the realm of strategic ambiguity. But post-Ukraine, some hawks want that clarity and are pushing for a formal, Article 5-like declaration. In their perfect world, that Asian Article 5 would include not only Taiwan and the U.S., but also Japan, Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and maybe others (the U.S. has various types of self-defense treaties already with many Asian nations.)

    The justifications for such moves often make no sense in the face of the current TRA strategy’s multi-decade success. Some say because Beijing ramped up its rhetoric and shipbuilding (a test of resolve!) we need to do something to match that. But wouldn’t a guarantee to go to war for Taiwan make those on Taiwan who want to declare independence that much more reckless? There are those in Congress who want a more formal agreement (if you think the Israel lobby is powerful, check how Taiwan’s punches above its weight.) The ever-pugilistic Council on Foreign Relations wants strategic unambiguity as a show of force.

    Joe Biden will come under some pressure to “do something” (the scariest words in Washington) following the clusterflutz in Ukraine. This would be a very, very risky move. Remember, for deterrence to be credible, it does not need to depend on a willingness to commit anything like suicide in the face of a challenge, but rather must carry the risk that the deterrer is likely to do something that is “fraught with the danger of war.” Strategic ambiguity is enough. Article 5 and anything like it to come in the Pacific purposefully ties its signatories’ hands. The Taiwan Relations Act purposefully leaves all options open to deal with the complex realities of the Sino-Pacific. History shows which one works and which one does not. A more aggressive posture does not resolve the root issues across the Taiwan Strait, it only risks exacerbating them.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Write Your Own Ukraine Article (MSM Version)

    April 29, 2022 // 2 Comments »

    Are you the kind of guy (or gal!) who likes to do things for yourself? You know, like not leave the fighting to soldiers but doing your part for Ukraine by paying higher gas prices? You and your president are already working hand-in-hand, making empty gestures that do nothing to affect things in real life. Why not step it up and give America’s war-weary journalists a break, too? Not all of us can travel to the Ukraine to be photographed in front of a burning tank (Russia Losses Grow) or children playing with matches (Young Ukrainians Make Molotovs for Freedom.) So why not write your own Ukrainian news article? We will show you how.

    Rule One is truth is irrelevant. You’re taking a side. And don’t worry if the Ukraine story has jumped the shark by the time you read this. The basics of modern journalism — false basis, exhausting duration, and an inscrutable villian, anything from one man (Putin) to a thing (the virus) to an idea (terrorism) — never change. Teach a man to fish, amiright?

    You start with what our “journo” community calls a lede. It is just an opening paragraph, the more dramatic the better. Try “Democracy is at stake, but Ukrainians have its back.” You can go the other way, something in the generic Russia is bad category like “Pure evil Russian conscripts destroy puppies for fun.” If you’re a history buff, try “New fascist Nazis roll across eastern Europe.” It does not matter that it was the Russians rolling west in 1945 that actually destroyed fascism, it just has to evoke all the feels. Ledes used to summarize the story. Now, they just deliver a shock and food pellet. Think of it as Insta in b&w words.

    Next, you have your Putin paragraph. Americans are pretty stupid, and certainly cannot understand that as with their own country, other nations have strategic objectives. Americans like to either believe wars are fought for moral reasons (the ones we start) or are the result of some evil madman (the ones they start.) This is called storyfication. So don’t write boring things about NATO expansion or buffer zones — yawn much? Instead, reduce the geo-political calculations of the world’s largest country to the egotistic whims of one man. For the most part you can just call him by the one name, like Bono, Madonna or Elvis.

    The important thing is to describe Putin as insane, unpredictable, bonkers, out of control, psychopathic, sociopathic, an enigma, a madman or unhinged. If you run out of ideas, Google old articles about Saddam, Assad, Qaddafi, any Iranian mullah or Kim Jung Un for ideas. Say no one understands him or his motives then go on to psychoanalyze him as if you do as a friendless, desperate loner intent on cosplaying the former Soviet Czarist glory empire. Make death threats, and go for it invoking Qaddafi’s still-celebrated, pointed demise. You can also make homophobic jokes to your heart’s content, the kind of stuff woke culture places off limits everywhere. If you have the stomach for it, Google “trump putin porn” to get started. Tell your shocked IT guy it is for work, thank you. If he say he has to report you to HR, scream “1A, witch!”

    Next, do exactly the same thing but in the opposite way for the Ukrainian president. Picture him shirtless astride an aroused unicorn. Use pseudo-Shakespearean words like honor, bravery, and generosity. In the same way you could go full homophobe on Putin, you must suggest everyone in America wants to make warm love with Zelensky, maybe astride a unicorn. But do not for the love of all things holy Google “Zelensky porn” for inspiration. Even the 1A can’t save you there.

    Include a line saying Donald Trump started the war. Check your contract; most editors require this, but even if not, it is a best practice to include it. You should at this point have four or five solid paragraphs of emotion-eliciting journalism, all without any context or actual information on what is going on in Ukraine. If you’re writing for television or VICE, you’re done. Good work. However, if you are writing long form you’ll need some more.

    You can branch off in two ways. One is a dramatic ode to democracy. The other is where you take all those analytic skills you developed as an on-line virologist these past two years and apply them to being an on-line military expert.

    The first branch is the easiest, because no one believes in talking dramatically about democracy more than Americans. Tall about redlines, say this is a 1939 moment, invoke the Founders to characterize Zelensky, call everything a turning point or existential threat or a test of resolve, it doesn’t matter. It can get hard to tell from photos who is who as both sides use the same rusty Soviet hardware, so apply this guide: if the tank is moving it is Russian enroute to shell an orphanage; if the tank is stopped it is Russian bogged down due to lack of fuel, Chinese tires, incompetent leadership, or conscript moral. Remember Russians showing photos of captured Ukrainians is a Geneva Convention war crime while Ukrainians kneecapping bound Russian prisoners is a morale booster, albeit unconfirmed. Be sure to use alternative spellings like Kyiv not Kiev to virtue signal. Every little step counts towards victory!

    A few miscellaneous points: Russians earning more than minimum wage are oligarchs. People who disagree with you are Putin lovers and you should ask them online if they’re paid in rubles (never gets old.) Every article must mention social media but don’t bother with sentences, just write social media social media social media. Underage Ukrainians holding rifles bigger than themselves are not child soldiers. A movie star with a political opinion on Twitter is just as quotable as an expert as anyone else on Twitter.

    The same cosplaying rednecks in camo body armor you called white supremacists at a MAGA rally are now heroes if they say they’re headed to Ukraine. Putin censors, YouTube removes misinformation. The EU not joining the US in oil sanctions is a “united front.” Your not being able to log on to Facebook is a Russian cyberattack. The official name for the Russian currency is “yacht.” And remember cluster bombing civilians is not always bad — can’t you tell the difference between ousting an evil dictator and invading a neighbor?

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Lessons Learned: Dead Bodies in Ukraine

    April 22, 2022 // 2 Comments »

     

    It is hard escape the images from the Ukraine but easy not to think about them.

    The bodies themselves are the only truth; for there but for the grace of them goes us. Were they Russian separatists, Ukrainian heroes, people on the way home from work, people far from home or abandoned by even loved ones in their own backyards, strangers in the north to blue water, patriots or fish mongers in the south? How little it matters when they are placed next to each other on the ground but politics, politics always makes for stranger bedfellows now and forever.

    As we make some deal over their deaths, war crimes accusations levied by a nation (it is America) who quit the International Criminal Court in 2002 ahead of the Iraq War and as CYA for Israel being charged for war crimes in the ‘Strip, what say the shadows, the 460,000 dead in that Iraq, never freed, or those 1,353,000 in Vietnam (say that one again, Vietnam, because yes it echoes behind each muddy footprint, down the halls of State and Defense, Vietnam, where the most senior generals learned their craft.) There is truth to the phrase “never again” but it is this truth not that one: we will never (admit to) lose another war which is why more are gonna have to die, because Putin’s win could be seen as again our loss.

    But… but… these in Ukraine are not American deaths, not really dead because of America, so we can point and declare right from wrong, right? Same as we decry those who judge us we shall judge trespasses against them. I saw a little of war, my year in Iraq, a civilian witness, saw more than a lot, saw a lot less than some, but even a little is enough. Because after the first one you can remember bodies become repetitive until all that matters is how many of them their are. The GOAT is six million, anything else something… less, made to matter by evoking the six million, or the 500 from My Lai, or 35,000 from Dresden, or the 800,000 from Stalingrad. Stalingrad taught us to think of “civilians and soldiers” was a joke left from the 19th century when armies walked to a nearby field, war a ritual, that “he who sheds his blood today with me shall be my brother” bullshit that has killed people forever.

    Karl Doenitz, the head of Germany’s U-Boat fleet during World War II stood trial at Nuremberg for war crimes, specifically unrestricted warfare against civilian shipping. Doenitz, in his defense, raised the fact that the Allies practiced much the same style of was at sea, and even sought testimony from U.S. naval personnel. Doenitz raised broad, almost philosophical questions about commerce warfare, including belligerent conduct by armed merchant ships, contraband hidden aboard “civilian” ships, war at sea as a required evil for a nation under blockade, war zones, commerce control, and unneutral service.

    But it was the non-rescue policy for enemy survivors which brought Doenitz to Nuremberg. Doenitz in 1940 issued Standing Order 154 to his U-boats, “Do not pick up survivors and take them with you… The enemy began the war in order to destroy us, so nothing else matters.” and at his trial raised the question of why it was allowable to seek to kill people literally one moment, before their ship sank, but not one moment afterwards. He pointed out weapons were designed not to win wars per se but to destroy people efficiently, as we now know with modern cluster bombs and so-called hyperbaric vacuum bombs in Ukraine. Doenitz was found guilty but his testimony resonated with other combatants. Over 100 senior Allied officers sent letters conveying their disappointment over the verdict. They understood killing was killing and that rules were for the victors to use, later, as politics required, and never wanted to find themselves so entrapped..

    We look at those horrible photos again from Ukraine. Who are the dead? Some are collaborators shot by Ukrainians, some are innocents shot by Russians, some are civilian combatants who nonetheless took up arms for one side or another. Some may even be ethnically cleansed people, or just fake images, or old photos. None of that matters. The media is telling us to react. All that’s left is for someone to find a way to have our computers deliver a little food pellet along with the ultraviolence. It’s just about stim, little jolts to the brain, isn’t it? None of us have any idea who the dead bodies are in Ukraine, and who shot them, and why. We just enjoy the thrill, and the flexibility of creating our own righteous story. But we don’t grieve, we politicize.

    The truth is much more restrained than reality as we understand it at this point in the war. Human Rights Watch documented Russian military forces committing law-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include one case of rape, and two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man. There were other non-specific instances of unlawful violence and threats against civilians. Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood.

    Yes, that’s the sum of it. One rape, seven executed. No death is to be celebrated or dismissed but a handful of war crimes does not equal a holocaust, a genocide, or what Zelensky is claiming today. Over-stating the actual situation will only serve to make the public numb. The Ukrainians are approaching the jump the shark moment, and since we’re talking about propaganda here not deaths, the phrase is appropriate. Oh my God, HRW says the Russians looted firewood! What horrors will follow?!?

    But in the end there is always the small story, and the big story, often so big it runs over the edges of our monitors so because of its size we don’t see it. We talk about peace, but the only place we all seem to live in some sort of harmony is in the land described by the Panama Papers, countries and statelets that pimp out their economies and legal systems to the global rich (oligarchs and entrepreneurs, it’s just the difference in word choice and how many feet of waterline their yachts have) so that sanctions become  a poor man’s punishment.

    The cover story never really changed. Our parents were told the raison d’etre since at least WWII was to destroy Communism. We were promised once we achieved nuclear parity with the Russians it would all be over, then told once we won the next proxy war (Cuba, Greece, Laos, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Haiti, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Syria, Yemen…) things would be right. The bodies, you see, don’t matter. They never really matter in the biggest picture.

       

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    What the Hell is Joe Biden Doing in Ukraine?

    April 8, 2022 // 4 Comments »

    Does anyone know what the hell Joe Biden is doing in Ukraine? Americans must feel like a high school substitute teacher. America turns its back for five minutes after having won the Cold War, and Joe Biden has restarted it in the back row. No address to the nation, no white papers, just “Putin attacked Ukraine and it is an existential threat we must respond to.” Didn’t we used to vote on this kind of thing?

    Engagement is a given. But what is the end point for Joe, the moment we announce we won? In Ukraine, no one knows. By starting this intervention with the promise not to send NATO into actual combat, Biden sent a clear signal to Putin — if you are willing with your overwhelming military advantage over Ukraine to spend the blood and treasure, you win. Putin’s goal is the creation of some sort of buffer state between him and NATO, so Putin can win whether Kiev physically stands or tumbles. A “win” for the US side requires Putin to retreat in shame. Breaking things is always easier than getting someone to admit they were wrong.

    Biden has two weapons to deploy: guns and sanctions. Can either create a win?

    While Ukraine has antitank weapons and rifles, Putin has hypersonic missiles and lots of tanks. If a win for him includes a scenario where Kiev is reduced to looking like Detroit, how will any of the weapons the US sends matter? Infantry-based proxy ground warfare can delay a mechanized army but not defeat it, forestall a Ukrainian defeat but not prevent it, when its only goal is greater destruction. Notice when Zelensky showcases photos of kids with guns and old women making Molotovs and then the Russians target “civilians” an apartment complex at a time?

    Those are poor odds in a war of attrition. Ukraine boasts it destroyed 509 Russian tanks, almost all using shoulder fired missiles. Maybe; one of the techniques of modern propaganda is to throw out some outrageous number, challenge people to disprove it, and then shout “you can’t disprove it so I’m right.” So no proof. But history suggests 509 man-on-tank kills is ridiculous. During Gulf War 1.0, one of the largest tank battles of modern times at 73 Easting saw Coalition forces destroy only 160 Iraqi tanks, and that was using the M-1 tank with its sophisticated aiming tech and night vision. Even at the famed Battle of the Bulge only 700 tanks from both sides were destroyed.

    There are similar reasons to be skeptical of Ukrainian claims of 15,000 dead Russians in three weeks. That would be double the number killed on Iwo Jima in five weeks of fighting, or at Gettysburg on both sides in the whole battle. It is about four times the total US losses in Iraq over 17 years. Ukraine also claims to have killed five Russian generals, five more general officers that have been killed in all the wars the United States have fought since WW II. Same for the claims Russia is running out of food, gas, and tires. Same for the social media war; how many divisions does Facebook control?

     

    The theory of sanctions is that they will place such as squeeze on Russian oligarchs Putin will be forced to withdraw from Ukraine. Putin, otherwise portrayed as a dictator who answers to no one, will supposedly listen to these men complain someone seized their yacht and cause Putin to reverse a foreign policy that he otherwise believes benefits Russia in the long run. The US has been piling sanctions on these same oligarchs for decades, with a new, tougher, round each time Putin made his moves against Georgia, Grozny, and Crimea. None of those sanctions compelled a withdrawal and none have stopped Putin from making his subsequent move against Ukraine. Effective, no, but points for creativity: there’s a plan to strip Putin’s “Eva Braun” (you can’t make this up) of her old Olympic medals in hopes she’ll withhold nooky Lysistrata-like until Putin, sorry, withdraws.

    Another problem with sanctions is they are nowhere near strong enough to actually hurt. Goofy yacht warfare aside, Biden’s ban on Russian petroproducts accounts for only some one percent of Russia’s output. NATO allies are not able to participate fully without crippling their own economies. But loopholes amid half-measures are only part of the problem. Having grown used to slapping sanctions casually against lesser countries like Cuba and North Korea, Biden has limited understanding of their effects against a globally-connected economy. Such sanctions have the potential to cause grave fallout because unlike say Cuba, Russia can fight back.

    Though the goal of sanctions is to punish very specific Russians, known by name, in a position to influence Putin, concern on world markets drove up prices of crude oil, natural gas, wheat, copper, nickel, aluminum, fertilizers, and gold. A grain and metals shortage now looms, even in early days of this spillover effect. While the cost to oligarchs is unknown, the affect on economies the US should be courting, not hurting, is clear. Central Asia’s economies are now caught up in the sanctions shock. These former Soviet states are strongly connected to the Russian economy through trade and outward labor migration. They will be as likely to blame the US as Russia for their problems, converting potential US allies into adversaries. We have also yet to see what counter-moves Russia will make toward the West, to include nationalization of Western capital. Russian fertilizer export restrictions are putting pressure on global food production. Russia could also restrict exports of nickel, palladium, and industrial sapphires, the building blocks for batteries, catalytic converters, and microchips. Unlike supposedly targeted sanctions, these would spank global markets broadly.

    Biden is in the process of discovering sanctions are a blunt instrument. It will be a diplomatic challenge he is not likely up to to keep economic fallout from spilling over into political dissention across a Europe already not sure where it stands on “tough” sanctions.

    Bad as all that sounds, some of the worst blowback from Biden’s Ukraine policy is happening with China. During the only Cold War years Biden remembers, China was mostly a sideshow and certainly not vying to be the world’s largest economy. Without seemingly understanding the world is no longer bipolar, the West versus the Soviet bloc, Joe Biden actually may do even more harm than he understands right now.

    Russia is a big country that has committed only a small portion of its military to Ukraine. It absolutely does not need Chinese help to prosecute the war, as Biden claims. Biden is unnecessarily antagonizing China, who should be more or less neutral in this but instead now is being positioned by Biden as an enemy of the United States and an ally of Russia. China buys oil from Russia but that does not translate into some sort of across-the-board support for Russian foreign policy a la 1975. Biden, by threatening China with sanctions of its own, by likening Ukraine to Taiwan, and by essentially demanding of Beijing that they are with us or against us threatens to turn China just the wrong way. Economic spillover from Russia is one thing; disturbing one of the world’s largest trading relationships is another.

    As the Wall Street Journal points out, China’s basic approach of not endorsing Moscow’s aggression but resisting Western efforts to punish Russia has garnered global support. The South African president blames the war on NATO. Brazil’s president refused to condemn Russia. India and Vietnam, essential partners for any China strategy, are closer to China than the US in their approach to the war. Biden seems oblivious to the opportunities this gap creates for China.

    In my own years as a diplomat I heard often from smaller countries’ representatives about the “America Tax,” the idea America’s foreign policy dalliances end up costing everyone something. Whether it is a small military contribution to the Iraq War effort, or a disruption in shipping, nobody gets away free when America is on a crusade. This cost is built in to those smaller nations’ foreign policy. But when the Big Dog starts in on sanctions which will impact globally against a target like Russia, the calculus changes from a knowing sigh (“The Americans are at it again…”) to real fear. Many nations the US needs as part of its alliances don’t trust its ability to manage economic consequences to protect them, even if America is even aware of those consequences. US moves against Russia’s central bank become a weapon they fear could one day be directed against them as America seeks to weaponize the global economic system. Russia can weather a nasty storm; a smaller economy cannot. Chinese propaganda about the need for alternative economic arrangements that limit Western power are significantly more influential now than a month ago.

    So in the end were left with the question of what fundamental US interest is being served by Biden‘s intervention in Ukraine at what cost. There’s always the sort of silliness that fuels Washington, things like “send a message” or “stand up for what’s right,” ambiguous goals that tend to get people killed without accomplishing anything — strategic hubris. Biden has fallen deep into the Cold War trap, and cannot accept there is little that can be done, and back away from the Ukraine to spare further bloodshed. Every world problem is not America’s to resolve and every world problem cannot be resolved by America.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Has Joe Biden Gone Loco Over Ukraine?

    April 6, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    Has Joe Biden gone loco over Ukraine? In a speech in Warsaw, Biden proclaimed of Russian President Vladimir Putin “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Biden also called Putin a butcher.

    Then in a meeting with the Polish president, Biden said the U.S. regards NATO’s Article 5 as a “sacred commitment.” Biden called Warsaw a “sacred place” in the history of Europe and in “humankind’s unending search for freedom.” Biden went on to describe the conflict in Ukraine as “a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.” Biden’s choice of historical antidotes was a bit disingenuous, as he cited the Nazi siege of Leningrad as equivalent to the evil in Ukraine but left out the equally brutal Soviet siege of Berlin. He also slipped in a sophomoric ruble and rubble joke which was less Churchillian then churlish. Biden’s talk about unity begged the question of why he was standing alone on that podium. Where were the French, British, and German leaders? And who promotes democracy by calling for a coup anyway?

    That the White House later downplayed Biden’s remarks about regime change only underlined how out of touch Joe really is. Biden also made a multiple-part gaffe when addressing U.S. troops on the Ukrainian border, saying “And you’re going to see when you’re there, I don’t know if you’ve been there, you’re going to see women, young people, standing in the middle of the damn tank.”

    For all his rhetoric in Warsaw, pretty much since Russia invaded Ukraine Biden has not said more than a word about inflation, the economy, unemployment, gas prices other than they are a price for all Americans to pay for a free Ukraine, Covid people, transpeople, black lives people, Hunter’s laptop, Ketanji Brown Jackson and her nomination hearings, Afghanistan, China except in the Ukrainian context, the Iran nuclear negotiations, unfulfilled promises about canceling student loans, January 6, or much of anything else.

    The dog was been wagged. Again. From a cold start a month ago when few American spent a moment on “whither Ukraine” we as a nation are buying into the notion that nothing more important could exist. Invoking the term “sacred” twice in one speech, more than the Pope on a typical day, and claiming this all is a battle “between liberty and repression,” Biden is rallying Americans to a new Crusade. And once again, as it was in failures strewn across the Middle East, the goal is “regime change.” In other speeches Biden, with the Kennedy School chorus behind him, has threatened retaliation if Russia uses nuclear or chemical weapons, even in non-NATO Ukraine.

    Our new bestest friend in this Crusade is being transformed into one of the goodest, a “sacred place” in “humankind’s unending search for freedom.” The real Poland does not exactly have a spotless record searching for freedom. Many Poles enthusiastically supported the Holocaust. Poland is currently ruled by a right-wing government people were calling Trumpian just a few weeks ago. Poland is buddies with Hungary, which opposes further sanctions and boasts a proudly illiberal prime minister hated by progressives. The European Court of Justice recently cleared the way to cut billions in aid to Poland on the grounds it failed to uphold the rule of law. Only a month before the invasion, Poland attended a Defend Europe conference seeking to shift attention from Putin to the pan-European issues of immigration and demographic decline. Poland maintains what it calls “LGBT-Free Zones.” So sacred space or not, Poland is no angel. What it is is the latest in a long line of paid vassals for American foreign policy, the new Pakistan, all faults over-looked, the recipient of billions, and depot for the new war.

    Biden is claiming the benefits of a war-time president without most of the war, saber-rattling in a very dangerous way, as if no lessons had been learned over the last two decades. He is promoting once again regime change at America’s whim. But this time not with some scabby little state in the Middle East, but with the world’s largest nation, one armed with nuclear weapons, a still powerful economy, a massive conventional army, and diplomatic power from the UN to India to China to Iran to wield.

    In laying out the evidence Biden has truly lost his mind, let’s examine the case for regime change in Russia. Certainly a month ago no one spoke of this, a clue Russia’s fundamentals are solid enough. Whatever happens in Ukraine is far below the threshold of overturning an otherwise stable government. Putin has been in power for 22 years, ironically installed in a coup that threw out the more or less pro-western Boris Yeltsin. Putin has had plenty of time to stock the ranks of the architects of any overthrow, the military and intelligence services, with plenty of loyalists. Reports of arrests in the army or in the intel services come exclusively from non-credible sources, anti-Soviet think tanks and propagandists. As for the oligarchs, how many divisions do they control?

    Further to the madness there is also the threat of nuclear war. Biden just drew a new red line, not just at NATO’s border but by claiming he will retaliate if Russia uses nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine. It seems almost nostalgic to remember when we feared imminent nuclear war just because Trump sent a Tweet about Rocket Man. Had Trump demanded regime change in Russia they’d be talking 25th Amendment on Late Night with some justification.

    The clearest evidence Biden has absolutely no idea what he is doing is how certain he is to fail. If regime change is the new U.S. foreign policy goal, and it does not happen, then Biden is the loser. Why would a sane man take the short term gain of looking like a wartime president with the certainty by the November midterms he will look like a failed president? Dude is loco.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    What Did We Learn from Iraq War 2.0?

    March 25, 2022 // 9 Comments »

    March 19 passed without a mention of its ghosts. The day was the 19th anniversary of Iraq War 2.0, the one about Saddam Hussein’s weapons’ of mass destruction. What have we learned over the almost two decades since?

    While the actual Gotterdammerung for the new order took place just six months ago in Afghanistan, as the last American troops clambered aboard their transports, abandoning American citizens and a multi-million dollar embassy to the same fate as Saigon, Iraq is so much more the better example. The Afghan War did not begin under false pretenses as much as it began under no pretenses. Americans in 2001 would have supported carpet bombing Santa’s Workshop. Never mind we had been attacked by mostly Saudi operators, the blood letting would start in rural Afghanistan and the goal was some gumbo of revenge, stress relief, hunting down bin Laden in the wrong country, and maybe nation building, it didn’t matter.

    But if Afghanistan was a pubescent teenager’s coming to the scene too quickly, Iraq was a seduction. There was no reason to invade it, so one had to be created. The Bush administration tried the generic “Saddam is pure evil” approach, a fixture of every recent American conflict. He gasses his own people (also tried later in Syria with Assad.) Saddam is looking to move on NATO ally Turkey (substitute Poland in 2022.) But none of these stuck with the American public, so a narrative was cut from whole cloth: Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, WMDs, chemical and biological, soon enough nuclear. He was a madman who Had. To. Be. Stopped.

    That this was completely untrue mattered not at all. The American MSM took up the story with great energy, first as stenographers for the Bush Administration fed by public statements, and then as amplifiers of the message fed by leaks from senior officials. At the same time, dissenting voices were stifled, including a number of whistleblowers who had been working inside Iraq and knew the weapons claims were a hoax. In an age before social media, the clampdown on other ideas was near total. When their true editor-in-chief George W. Bush stood up, a mix of Ben Bradley and Lou Grant, to proclaim “you were either with us or with the terrorists,” the media stifled dissent in its ranks nearly completely.

    It became obvious from the initial days of the invasion there were no WMDs, but that mattered little. The WMDs were only the excuse to start the war. Once underway, the justification changed to regime change, democratization, nation building, and then as America’s own actions spawned an indigenous terrorist movement, fighting the indigenous terrorist movement. When all that devolved into open Sunni-Shia civil was in Iraq, the justification switched to stopping the civil war we had started. It was all a farce, with the media fanning the flames, rewriting its “takes” and creating new heroes (Petraeus) to replace the old heroes they had created who had failed (all the general before Petraeus.) The NYT issued a quiet mea culpa along the way and then like a couple caught having affairs who decided to stay married anyway, vowed never to speak of this again.

    That mea culpa is worth a second look in light of Ukraine 2022. The Times wrote its reporting “depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on regime change in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate.” In other words, sources with a goal of their own are not reliable. The Times noted that information from all sources was “insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged — or failed to emerge.” In other words, stenography is not good journalism. A reporter should ask questions, challenge veracity, and especially should do so as new information comes to light. The NYT also said “Articles based on dire claims tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.” The memory hole.

    Those are of course Journalism 101-level errors admitted to by arguably the most prestigious newspaper in the world. It would be easier to be more generous to the NYT (and of course they are just a placeholder for all MSM who committed the same sins) if they had not gone on to purposefully repeat many of the same crimes reporting on Libya and Syria, Russiagate, the Covid crisis (“two weeks to flatten the curve”) and now, the war in Ukraine.

    The big change is that while in its previous abetting of propaganda the Times, et al, took the side of the US government in supporting war, in Ukraine they are working for the Ukrainian government. Almost all of the video and imagery out of Ukraine comes from the government and those anonymous sources of 2003 have been replaced by no real sourcing at all, simply scary pictures and nameless English-speaking peasants somehow conversant in Zelensky’s own talking points.

    Here’s eight seconds of a tank blowing up. Where was it shot? When? Was the explosion caused by a mine, a missile, or something internal to the tank? In most cases the media has no idea of the answers. Even if they tumble on to the basic who-what-where, the exploding tank video is devoid of context. Was that the lead tank hit, blunting the Russian advance toward a village? Or was it a Russian tank that lingered in an open field and got picked off in a lucky shot, strategically without much consequence? It is just a little jolt for the viewer. Such videos were immensely popular among terrorists in Iraq; nearly every one captured had inspirational video on his phone of a US vehicle being blown apart by a roadside IED. Now the same thing is on MSNBC for us.

    Remember that stalled Russian convoy? The media stumbled on online photos of a Russian convoy some 40 miles long. Within hours those images became a story — the Russians had run out of gas just miles from Kiev, stalling their offensive. That soon led to think pieces claiming this was evidence of Russian military incompetency, corruption, and proof Ukraine would soon win. It all fit with the narrative of plucky, brave Ukrainians standing up to Putin the madman, the deranged psychopath threatening NATO and indeed democracy itself. If only the U.S. would step in an help! The whole of the American media has laid itself available to funnel the Zelensky message westward — go to war with Russia. We’re shown a photo of a destroyed building, maybe from 2016 maybe from yesterday. It soon becomes a hospital bombing by the Russians. A photo of a stationary vehicle is narrativized as the Ukrainians are capturing Russian gear. The media is once again taking whole information provided by sources with an agenda, drawing the US into this war, and reporting it uncritically and unchallenged.

    Any information from the Russian side is instantly misinformation, and the pseudo-media of Twitter and Facebook not only call it fake, they make efforts to block it entirely so Americans cannot even view it long enough to make up their own minds. Pro-war journalists in America demand dissenters be investigated as foreign agents. You can’t see Facebook in Moscow and you can’t see RT in America. That’s not the equivalency a democracy should ascribe to.

    As with Iraq, the goal is to present a one-sided, coordinated narrative of a complex event with the goal of dragging America into a new war. Will it work again this time?

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Understanding Things: That Stalled Russian Convoy in Ukraine

    March 24, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    The amount of disinformation coming out of the Ukraine war is unsurpassed in modern history. Unlike the glory days when outlets like CNN sent knowledgeable reporters into combat zones looking for actual information, today most MSM coverage is based on borrowed social media video, or just. made. up.

    The problem with the former, video from social media, is it lacks context. Here’s eight seconds of a tank blowing up. Where was it shot? When? Was the explosion caused by a mine, a missile, or something internal to the tank? Is the tank Russian or Ukrainian? In most cases the media outlet has no real idea of the answers to those questions, never mind who shot the video towards what end. Even if they tumble on to the basic who-what-where, the exploding tank video is devoid of context. Was that the lead tank hit, stopping the Russian advance toward a village? Or was it a Russian tank that lingered in an open field and got picked off in a lucky shot, strategically without much consequence. At that point it is just war porn, a little jolt for the viewer. Such videos were immensely popular among the terrorists in Iraq; nearly every one captured had some random video on his phone of a US vehicle being blown apart by a roadside IED. Now the same thing is on MSNBC.

    The bigger problem is the media’s willingness to make things up, and then reinforce each other’s “reporting” by agreeing on what they have made up. Let’s disassemble one such episode.

    The media found online photos of a Russian convoy some 40 miles long. Within hours those images had become a story — the Russians had run out of gas just miles from Kiev, stalling their offensive. That soon led to think pieces claiming this was evidence of Russian military incompetency, corruption, and proof Ukraine would soon win. Soon enough Reuters was agreeing with CNN who agreed with NYT: stalled, no gas.

    Leaving aside the idea that perhaps no one on earth absent some Russian generals actually knew why the convoy was not moving, the media created a reason and confirmed each other. If you follow the right people on Twitter you can sometimes watch them form these consensuses on issues, journalist all thousands of miles away from the scene with no information on hand nudging one another into the narrative. It’s kind of like watching a time-lapse film of water freezing into ice. So are the Russians out of gas?

    Consider the lack of supporting evidence. Fuel travels through the same logistics chain that beans and  bullets do, and the Russians do not seem to lack for ammunition. Artillery shells are big heavy things, and there seem to be plenty of those making it to the troops on the ground. The Russians have over a million men in the field and absent one blurry TikTok purportedly showing some shoplifting, seem to be feeding them. If a million men needed to shoplift three meals a day it would not be hard to discover. We have also seen no evidence Russians are looting fuel dumps as they make their way across Ukraine. Russians are flying some 200 air sorties a day, many of which are helicopter flights from inside Ukraine. Each can use hundreds of gallons of fuel a day, never mind ammunition and spare parts, all of which must be hauled in. And look past that single stalled convoy; Russian armored thrusts are moving across vast swaths of land to the south without any concern for fuel. The empirical evidence suggests if anything there is plenty of gas. If not, that “stalled” convoy on the outskirts of Kiev is only about 100 miles from the Belarus border, a very short transit for fuel trucks on paved roads Russia controls.

    On the other side, if the Ukrainian forces had any information the Russians were low on gas their strategy would look different. You might see a full-on effort to attack fuel dumps, using Ukrainian air or drone forces, or even ground troops. You’d see Ukrainians blowing up gas stations and fuel handling facilities as they retreated. Instead of the exciting video of Javelins hitting tanks, you’d see everything from hand grenades to Molotovs blowing up fuel trucks. A tank without gas is already dead, what they military calls a soft kill, at much lower expense than destroying a modern tank. You might also see the Ukrainians trying for a much more mobile defense, ceding territory and making the Russians chase them until they run out of gas. There have been no signs of any of this, mostly the opposite actually as the Ukrainians set up static defensive lines on the outskirts of cities. There is literally nothing to support the MSM’s contention that the convoy ran out of gas.

    There were also MSM reports the Ukrainians had made significant attacks against the parked vehicles. While no doubt some skirmishes must have taken place along the 40 mile stretch, the fact that the convoy remained bunched up nose-to-bumper and not dispersed suggests no one was very worried about being attacked. The soldiers openly slept on the ground, it is not clear from the photos that air defenses were aggressively deployed, and overall it looks more like soldiers killing time than soldiers preparing to repel attackers. Though the MSM was in no position to know anything about the soldiers’ morale, they commented on it endlessly.

    Of course the convoy did start to move, and in a very predictable way. The textbook approach to using armor against an urban area is to surround it, besiege it, cut off food, water, power, and communications, and then if the defenders will not surrender, use artillery to either force them out or destroy them. Such an attack has to be coordinated 360 degrees so if some troops arrive early they must wait for the others to show up. This is what is happening now in the city of Mariupol. What is not done is to drive straight into town, where the narrow streets grant cover to defenders. The “stalled” convoy appears to have waited until Russian forces advancing from the south had made sufficient progress toward Kiev before spreading out west of the city and beginning bombardment.

    One convoy and one falsely reported story matter little in the middle of a vast war. But they serve as a clear example of how far the media has fallen, to the point where outlets like the BBC have become little more than propaganda mouthpieces, creating a fake narrative out of whole cloth and peddling it to an increasingly non-critical western media consumer.

     

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Hunter Biden’s Laptop Stole the Last Election

    March 23, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    With the November midterms coming, the media will soon pivot to who will be trying to steal the next election. Democrats are obsessed with the idea that when they lose elections it must be because of outside forces, usually some sort of Russian lifeform at work. But what we know now is that if anyone has been manipulating our once dear democracy, it has been the Democrats.

    The latest findings by the Durham investigation make it clear the 2016 Clinton campaign paid for and implemented a massive disinformation strategy to falsely link Trump to Russia, and then worked the intelligence services of the United States and the MSM to shove that narrative deep into the American psyche. When Trump won, Democrats immediately used that same strategy to try and drive him from office. That that too failed is not the point; the playbook was being worked out for manipulating an election within the boundaries of the American system. The Dems/Intel services/MSM proved to be fast learners; when it came to 2020, the basic plan did work, deep sixing the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop to glide Joe into the White House.

    I can say with great conviction had the laptop been front paged it would have affected the election, perhaps seeing Trump reelected. How can I say that? Unlike almost everyone else in America, I read the contents of the laptop in 2020. Here is why you didn’t.

     

    On October 14, 2020, three weeks before the Trump-Biden election, the nation’s oldest newspaper, founded by Alexander Hamilton himself, The New York Post, published reports about the business dealings of Hunter Biden in Ukraine and China. Hunter took large sums of money from businesses in Ukraine that were part of his father’s official portfolio as vice president, and took large sums of money from Chinese shell companies with ties to the Chinese oligarchy. Hunter performed no work in return for the money. In the case of China, he appeared to launder money, taking in six figures, skimming off a percentage, then handing the remainder over to a US corporate entity of the Chinese organization. That got around Chinese government currency export regulations.

    The funds sent to Hunter were obscured in a number of ways. They passed through paper companies Hunter set up. They traversed numbered Cypriot bank accounts, came in the form of prepaid VISA cards, and as gifts including diamonds and Apple products. Some money was routed through Joe Biden’s brother’s law office, Hunter’s uncle. Hunter illegally did not report much of the income, and recently paid one million dollars in back taxes (fraud charges may be pending.)

    In return for all this money, Hunter introduced a Ukrainian energy businessman to his daddy, the VP, and promised other global characters similar access. He met with oligarchs in Beijing alongside his father’s official meetings, having flown to China aboard the same Air Force plane. In correspondence with his clients, Hunter regularly referenced his access to the “Big Man,” Papa Joe.

    Aside all this financial filth on the laptop was evidence of Hunter’s own filthy life, actions simply screaming to a foreign intelligence service “Blackmail me!” Hunter’s laptop was chocked with video showing him smoking crack. Hunter spent money on escorts, some $21,000 on cam sites, big plays on all sorts of depravities.  Correspondence referencing Hunter’s affair with his dead brother Beau’s widow for goodness sakes. The blackmail fodder is so clear Chinese intelligence would probably assign the case to an intern to run.

     

    But the public never saw any of this, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the American intelligence services and the MSM working, for the Democratic Party.

    Soon after the New York Post broke the laptop story, the disinformation campaign began with a Politico piece headlined “Hunter Biden story is Russian disinfo, dozens of former intel officials say.” Lacking proof, they wrote “our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case. [It] has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” And that was good enough for the MSM to take the handoff.

    The emails were a “hoax” said fact-check site NewsGuard, discredited by “many, many red flags” according to NPR. Twitter locked The New York Post‘s  account after the Post refused to obey Twitter’s orders to delete its own reporting. Twitter also blocked all references to the laptop story by all users, even banning links to the story in DMs. Facebook announced it would suppress discussion of the reporting pending a “fact check” which never came. Compare this Orwellian treatment of the laptop story with the way the same organizations handled the Russiagate dossier, slathering it across the media. The irony is any fact checking would have proved the laptop story true, and the dossier completely false. The ultimate irony is while you can read the full dossier online, the laptop emails are still not available to the general public.

    So how do we know now the laptop story was always true?  Hunter’s former business partner Tony Bobulinski confirmed his emails were legitimate months ago. Last week the New York Times agreed, reporting on an ongoing FBI criminal investigation into Hunter’s business and tax activities based in part on the contents of the laptop. The FBI’s use of the laptop finally forced the Times so send out its own reporters so it could claim this year what it said was bunk last year, that the emails “were authenticated by people familiar with them and with the investigation.” Politico now, too, admits the emails are real, not Russian disinformation, based on a book by one of its own writers. The President of the United States for his part claims to have known nothing about his own son’s and brother’s business dealing and name dropping, and is sticking, loosely, to the Russian disinformation version of things. Biden’s defense has always been sweeping: “My son did nothing wrong.” The most charitable reading of that is Joe Biden, one of the most powerful men in the world, is an idiot.

    Surveys suggest the information could have swung the election if voters had known about it. One showed enough people in battleground states would have changed their votes to give Trump the electoral votes needed for reelection. Russiagate. Alfa Bank. The laptop. All coordinated disinformation campaigns run by the Democrats involving the MSM and intelligence communities, all aimed at defeating Donald Trump. You see how it works now. Watch for the same pattern as we approach the midterms, and in 2024.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Tell Me How This Ends in Ukraine

    March 21, 2022 // 5 Comments »

    In the opening days of Iraq War 2.0, a wiser but not yet-General David Petraeus famously asked “Tell me how this ends.” Petraeus understood how wars end is more important than why they started or how they were carried out. So how does the current war in Ukraine end?

    Petraeus, for his part, said with a straight face “Russia doesn’t have the numbers and beyond that everyone in the entire country hates them and most of the adults are willing to take action against them, whether it’s to take up weapons or to be human shields.” While accurately describing the roots of his own failure in Iraq, Petraeus misses the point. America’s goal was to create a neocon version of democracy in the Middle East. Putin seeks something much simpler: a classic buffer territory between him and NATO. He does not care about hearts and minds. He only has to break things.

    The early days of the Ukraine war have been dominated by propaganda riven with sympathy for the plucky defenders. This purposefully created a false sense Russian setbacks and a misunderstanding of Russian strategy. The Russians are executing a standard mechanized warfare maneuver in line with their goals, attacking south from Belarus to link up with forces attacking northward from Crimea. When they link up south of Kiev, Ukraine will be split into two. Kiev may be bypassed, or it may be destroyed, but that is secondary to the larger strategic maneuver. Another Russian thrust from east to west seeks to cut the nation into quarters so Ukrainian forces cannot reinforce one another. Forget all the silliness about the Russians running out of gas; their supply lines are short (many Russian forces are within 70 miles of their own border), protected, and over decent roads. This is what is happening on the ground and Ukrainian forces are in no position to do anything but delay it. Watching war through a smartphone from a peaceful country may help you believe the Russian assault is going poorly but that is at odds with the facts. So here’s how that all ends.

    The Best Case for Everyone is the Russians, perhaps under the guise of some humanitarian gesture, withdraw to the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine and some strategic points, things like bridges and airports. Ukraine is essentially divided into two semi-states, the western half nominally under NATO control and the eastern half a Russian buffer zone with a new Iron Curtain in place. Putin settles back into his easy chair. His brush back pitch to Ukraine dealt out a serious spanking, he holds some new territory as a prize, he can announce victory at home, and his troops are better positioned if he needs to push west ever again. NATO meanwhile can also claim some measure of victory, validating all the propaganda about the valiant Ukrainian people. The status quo of Europe resets and after a decent interval the oil and gas restart flowing westward.

    Putin made this strategy clear in his asks for a cease fire, that Ukraine accept demilitarization, declare itself neutral, and drop its bid to join NATO. He does not really want the cities, and he does not want to occupy a hostile population. That is why he agreed to safe corridors westward for refugees and why he has held back sustained shelling and rocketing of Kiev, for now. Depopulation aids Putin in neutering eastern Ukraine, and avoids later ethnic conflict between Ukrainian nationalists and the local Russian population.

    The Next Best Case is NATO makes a secret agreement to keep Ukraine out of the alliance in return for Putin withdrawing in whole or in part (see above.) This is very tricky diplomacy, as it cannot appear NATO appeased Putin and it cannot seem in the eyes of the world that Putin “lost.” The Russians would be very tempted to leak the secret agreement to show they had achieved their goal, and the resulting denials from NATO and the US would seem shallow. The rest of eastern Europe would take note on who they could trust. This scenario is also unlikely, as it requires Russia to trade land for a promise from the West. Putin knows nothing short of a NATO strike can dislodge him from eastern Ukraine and thus has no incentive to leave.

    A Very Bad Case would be a decision by Putin to occupy or destroy Ukraine, install a puppet government, and roll his army right to the Polish border as if it was 1975 all over again. Putin certainly is holding this out as a threat if Zelensky ignores western pleas to cut a deal. Russian troops are positioning to assault the cities. Ask people of Aleppo and Grozny if they think Putin would turn them loose.

    The idea may prove tempting to Putin. He can claim full victory, be done forever with the Ukrainian problem, leave NATO looking emasculated, strike fear into the other former satellites, and leave Joe Biden out of a job in his self-proclaimed role as leader of the free world. Biden has overplayed his hand, not recognizing there is almost nothing he can do to affect the situation on the ground. Sanctions did not stop Putin from invading (Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine…) and sanctions will not cause Putin to retreat. Biden, like Putin, knows most Russian oil and gas exports are untouchable if he wants to keep the Europeans on the team.

    But the biggest problem for Biden is history (and voters) remembering him as the president who watched the Iron Curtain rebuilt. Unlike Obama’s cool reaction to Putin invading Crimea in 2014, Biden has vowed to “save” Ukraine as if he was fighting Corn Pop again. By claiming in his State of the Union address that Putin had “shaken the very foundations of the free world,” Biden has created the impression he is going to put a stop to something of that scale. Such predictions carry an incredible political risk, especially for a commander in chief who also promised a weary America it is not going to war. As NBC’s Chuck Todd put it “I fear this is going to feel like a speech that didn’t age well.” Following the sad, embarrassing finale in Afghanistan, any ending in Ukraine that looks like a Putin win after all this saber rattling pretty much ends the effective portion of the Biden presidency.

    That leaves only to consider The Horrible Case, where someone in NATO tries for a no-fly zone, or sets up a refugee protected zone, as was done in the former Yugoslavia. Ukrainian propaganda is aimed at making this happen; Zelensky knows partisans with rifles are only going to get him so far. He needs direct Western military intervention to survive. And a non-partisan 74 percent of Americans say NATO should impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine.

    Consider the tinder in place. If you believe the CIA and US special forces are not on the ground already in Ukraine, parsing intel and advising, well… We know US spy planes and drones are overhead. Imagine an incident where an American is taken prisoner by the Russians. Imagine the US providing a weapons system that requires “trainers,” in the way Russian trainers manned ground-to-air facilities in past Cold War wars in South East Asia and the Middle East. Or maybe a border incident, real or imagined, with NATO member Poland to try and force NATO into the fight. Or a UN demand for some peacekeeping force stop Putin’s war crimes. Maybe a “one time surgical strike” for humanitarian reasons on a Russian column threatening a hospital?

    Not on a menu is another Afghanistan (US or Soviet version) or some sort of open-ended Ukrainian insurgency. What Putin is doing is an old school war to grab territory, not changing allegiance among the Taliban. His supply routes are short, his troops fighting the modern battle they trained for, albeit outside Kiev and not in the Fulda Gap. Unlike Afghanistan, Ukraine has cities dependent on modern infrastructure, and cities are easily encircled, besieged and starved out, or just leveled.

    Equally not going to happen is some sort of regime change inside Russia. Putin has been in charge for 22 years and controls the media, the military, and the intelligence services. Those were the people who brought Putin to power in Russia’s last coup. There is no means to the end the West wishes for, and no clear evidence the people of Russia want such as outcome in the first place. After all, a million pink hats in Washington accomplished… very little. A few protests scattered across the vastness of Russia are exaggerated for a Western audience. Western sanctions will not drive ordinary Russians to demand change. Remember how well US sanctions to bring about regime change have gone in Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea? Decades of sanctions have not changed Putin, and the new ones have no beef on them to change that. And as for the West’s dream of a coup, what could make life more interesting than the world’s second largest stockpile of nuclear weapons having no one firmly in charge?

    Anything can happen, but Putin “losing” in Ukraine seems among the most unlikely of scenarios.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Deterrence Works, Propaganda Fails in Ukraine (So Far)

    March 18, 2022 // 7 Comments »

    Deterrence works. Russia’s nukes are the only thing keeping the US from full-out war in Ukraine only six months after retreating from Afghanistan. So far, the unprecedented propaganda effort by the Ukraine and its helpers in the American mass media to drag the US and NATO directly into the fight has failed. But this struggle — for your mind space — is not over.
    To understand what follows, you have to wipe away a lot of bullshit being slung your way. Putin is not insane, not a madman. He is carrying out a rational political-military strategy in Ukraine, seizing Russian-speaking territory such as Donbas, demilitarizing by force the eastern Ukraine, and most of all creating a physical buffer zone between himself and NATO. That zone may end at the Dnieper River with a loop around Odessa, or it may end at the Polish border, depending on how smoothly things go on the ground and on what level of “stay away” message Putin wishes to send to NATO. Putin is not making the first moves toward some greater conquest. All the bad takes saying “if we don’t stop Putin now, he’ll invade Moldova/Estonia/Poland/all Europe just like Hitler” ignores the part about the German military in WWII having some 18 million men under arms. The Russian army today has 1.3 million, the best of which are going to be in Ukraine for awhile.
    Every war has its “is the juice worth the squeeze” question. In other words, is what you can realistically hope to achieve worth the cost of getting it? For Putin, that means solving his border problem at the cost of maybe a few thousand men killed and wounded and another dollop of weak sanctions. He understood the needs of Europe meant sanctions would never harm sales of the fossil fuels which make up most Russian exports. But no Paypal for you, comrade! Putin could also look to history and see how decades of sanctions have not changed much in Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
    Putin most importantly also knew US/NATO would not fight him on the ground for fear of starting a nuclear war. That is exactly what nukes are for, and is the history of the Cold War in a sentence. I have nukes and that allows me to do certain things any way I want because they stay below the threshold of risking atomic war. This is why the US could destroy Quaddafi and Saddam (no nukes to deter) and why the US will never attack North Korea (nukes.) Being a nuclear superpower makes things easier; the US can fight all over Central America and the Middle East, and Russia in the ‘Stans, and none of that is important enough to consider using nukes to stop.
    Putin knows that. Biden knows that, as does NATO. Ukraine, however, is still thinking it can change the game.
    Ukraine knew on Day One no one was coming to its rescue, and its leaders know they don’t have enough men or weapons to defeat the Russians on their own. Their only hope to remain a unified nation (it is easy to imagine a divided Ukraine, Western Zone and Eastern (Russian) Zone as the end game) is outside help. A no-fly zone, some air strikes to blunt Russian advances. Something, anything.
    That’s why every knucklehead in America right now is being blitzed with Ukrainian propaganda, and your brother-in-law is ready to head to Europe with his never-cleaned hunting rifle. The goal is to change public opinion such that a weak guy like Joe Biden starts to doubt himself. Ukrainian lobbyists from K Street take influential Senators to lunch, knowing they’ll return to their offices to find thousands of constituent emails demanding the US “do something.” The goal of Ukrainian propaganda is get Biden to take that Pentagon meeting laying out options for some limited bombing, or to listen to those analysts saying the US could set up a small no-fly zone on Ukraine’s western edge to show the Russians we mean business. Drop in some Special Forces. Something, anything. The goal of the propaganda is to get Biden to sign off on something (hopefully) small enough that it falls below the threshold of provoking a nuclear response. Is it necessary to say that is a very risky and delicate tasking?
    The bad news is Ukrainian propaganda is working. A non-partisan 74 percent of Americans say NATO should impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine. And we are just getting started. We’ve had the hero phase with the non-existent Ghost of Kiev and the not surrendering but they surrendered brave Ukrainians, alongside the grandmas and supermodels with guns. We’ve had the Russians are going to kill us all phase, with the faux threat of invasion to the west and the faux scare the Russians were going to create a Chernobyl-like nuclear accident by shelling a power plant. We are currently moving into the not verifiable atrocities phase, where “reports” will claim the Russians are killing children, or using rape as a weapon, or targeting hospitals. Alongside it all is beef cake talk about Zelensky, the likes we haven’t seen since before the cancelations of Andrew Cuomo and Michael Avenatti. The fact-checking mania of Covid is history as America media removes all the filters on pro-Ukrainian content.
    The quality of the propaganda is not important (any pile of scrap metal on snowy ground is breaking news of another Russian helo shot down, even if the metal has “Acme Junk Pile” written on it.) The quantity is important, the attempt to overwhelm American mindspace to the point where logic is shoved into the back corner. There is a growing cottage industry of “experts” explaining how to can go to war without going to THAT kind of war. Dissenting voices are few, and are often labeled as “Putin lovers,” with progressives and Late Night hurling homophobic slurs at them like high school kids.
    It is not like America does not know how to step away from a fight which isn’t ours when we want to. Crimea, Chechnya, Rwanda, Hungary ’56, Czechoslovakia ’68, Afghanistan ’79, even to a certain extent in Syria 2016.
    There are two battles now playing out over Ukraine. The one on the ground, and the one on your social media seeking to drag America into the mud. Only six months after the sad ending in Afghanistan, it is stunning to watch America again contemplate going to war for some abstract purpose far removed from our own core interests. And this time, with the risk of a nuclear exchange to remind us of our mistake, not just an inglorious departure from Kabul.

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Leading to War in Ukraine?

    March 11, 2022 // 19 Comments »

    The whole idea of boycotting Russian vodka reminds too much of “freedom fries” from Gulf War II. It seems stupid and silly until you realize we are stupid and silly and this is how we are led to war.

    The tsunami of pro-Ukrainian propaganda is only matched by its transparency. The Ghost of Kiev was crafted out of an aircraft computer game. The Ukrainians on that island who would rather die than surrender surrendered. The supermodels joining the army are holding toy rifles. Zelensky is Where’s Waldo, popping up in undated video with unidentifiable backgrounds, dressed in military cosplay reminiscent of George W. Bush in his flight suit. The simplistic narrative is the same simplistic narrative: plucky freedom fighters against some evil dictator. It’s the same story of the resistance fighters in Syria against Assad, the Kurds against ISIS, the Northern Resistance, the Sunnis who joined our side, the Taliban who Ronald Reagan called the equivalent of our Founding Fathers for their fight against the Red Army.

    Putin now is the most evil man on earth, unhinged, mentally unwell. Saddam once was, Assad used to be, and Quaddafi was to the point where America cheered as he was sodomized with a knife on TV.  Putin is so unstable we don’t know what he’ll do. Familiar voices are raised: The Brookings Institution’s Ben Wittes demands: “Regime change: Russia.” The Council on Foreign Relations’ Richard Haass roared that “the conversation has shifted to include the possibility of desired regime change in Russia.” One headline wishfully notes “knocking Putin’s teams off the sports stage leaves him exposed to his own people.” No one seems to recall, however, our last attempt at regime change in Russia is what put Putin into power in the first place.

    Putin’s goals have gone in a matter of days from sorting out Cold War borders to “the restoration of a triumphalist, imperialistic Russian identity, or another bloodstained nationalistic surge to cover for the criminality of his regime, or whether he just has come egotistically unmoored.” One former Iraqi War cheerleader tells us Ukraine, the “front line between democracy and autocracy, is a core interest of the United States… Ukraine is where the battle for democracy’s survival is most urgent. ”

    Others are more direct. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Senator Roger Wicker, and Zelensky demand a no-fly zone. They have friends; a poll as the invasion began found “52 percent of Americans see the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as a critical threat to US vital interests” with almost no partisan division. No polling on what those vital interests might be. Rep. Eric Swalwell and Rep. Ruben Gallego want all Russians deported from the US. As if preparing for war, the U.S. has already closed its embassies in Ukraine and Belarus, and placed Embassy Moscow on “Authorized Departure” status for non-emergency staff and family members. On the other end of the government, the CIA is training Ukrainians for an insurgency. You know, like with the mujahedeen in Afghanistan years ago. Lawmakers at a congressional hearing discussed having American intelligence provide more direct assistance to Ukraine, including ground operatives.

    No dissent is allowed. You are either “with us or against us.” The homogeneity of our social and MSM is terrifying. Censorship is in full fury; the fact checkers are hands off even the most outrageous claims (the Ukrainians have trained cats to spot Russian laser sights) and Twitter calls out Russian sources but not pro-Ukrainian ones. Facebook and YouTube post Ukrainian propaganda made in violation of the Geneva Convention. Google News will not include anything from Russian state media. The NYT is running anonymously-sourced tales claiming the Russians are deserting or sabotaging their own vehicles. Rolling Stone is naming “the American right-wingers covering for Putin as Russia invades Ukraine,” currently Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, J.D. Vance, and Tulsi Gabbard. The worst of all of course is Trump, whom Liz Cheney claims “aids our enemies” and whose “interests don’t seem to align with the interests of the United States.” When he proposed Congress vote on military escalations by the US in Ukraine, Senator Mike Lee was quickly called “Moscow Mike.”

    If all that isn’t laying the ground work for a fight, it has been an awful lot of work for nothing.

    We’ve been here before when everything was the same but not the same. Following Putin’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, and feints toward Ukraine, then-President Barack Obama said Ukraine is a core Russian interest but not an American one, so Russia will always be able to maintain escalatory dominance there. “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.” Obama showed the same realism in 2013 when in the face of war-mongering over Assad “gassing his own people in Syria” he backed away from widening the war (if only Obama had been equally pragmatic over Libya.)

    But Biden is not Obama. Biden, due to age and background, is not a strong man. Unlike Obama, he does not see himself awash in the stream of history, but more as a caretaker until the Democratic Party can regroup, the Gerald Ford of his era. Biden is a weak man who will come under increasing pressure to “do something” as it becomes apparent the newest layer of sanctions against Russia accomplishes as little as the last layer of sanctions. The previous sanctions, among other things, did not stop Putin from invading Ukraine.

    But more than anything else, Joe Biden is a Cold Warrior, burdened fully with a world view Obama was not. That world view says the role of the United States is to create a global system and enforce its rules. We can invade nations that did not attack us and demand regime change but you cannot. We decide which nations have nuclear weapons and which can not. We can walk our NATO-alliance right to your border but you cannot do the same with yours. We decide what systems control international commerce and who can participate in them. It is right and just for us to talk about crippling an economy, but not you. It was all best expressed by Condoleezza Rice, who commented with a straight face on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine “When you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime.”

    This world view says the United States can empower former Soviet satellites and grow American influence by expanding NATO eastward (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania formally joined the alliance, East Germany by default) and to do this while taking the nuclear weapons away from those states so that none of them would become a threat or rival in Europe. It was American policy to have weak but not too weak states between Russia and the “good” part of Europe, dependent on America for defense.

    As the Soviet Union collapsed, borders were redrawn to match the West’s needs (the same mistake was made earlier by the British post-WWI in the Middle East.) The reality of 2022 is Putin is seeking to redraw borders. Ukraine as a possible NATO member is a threat to Putin and he is now taking care of that. Americans live in a country that has no border threats and fails to understand the mindset time after time; imagine Mexico joining the Warsaw Pact in 1970.

    We were warned. After the Senate ratified NATO expansion in 1998 despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ambassador George Kennan stated “I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely. I think it is a tragic mistake. No one was threatening anybody else. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.”

    That’s the circa-1998 trap Joe Biden is being lured back into. Only months after the America collapse and retreat from Afghanistan, Biden learned nothing. Our defeat did not teach us humility and restraint. It did not school us that America can no longer dictate global rules, sitting as judge while an ally invades a neighbor and then turning to hurl lightening bolts when an enemy invades one. It did not budge us a hair away from the destructive moral certainty that fuels our foreign policy. All that’s missing now is for someone to claim Russia and China are a new Axis of Evil.

    Putin invaded Ukraine because, unlike Biden, he understands the new, new world order has different rules. Joe Biden, not always a quick study, has two choices. He can give in to the voices for war and try and prop up the myth of World’s Policemen for another round, or he can understand the consistent failures of American crusades and the global Pax Americana since WWII, especially those in the Middle East of the past two decades, plus the rise of multipolar economic powers to include China, have changed the rules. Negotiation is no longer appeasement. We aren’t in control anymore, and despite Iraq and Afghanistan, Biden may seek another bloody confirmation of that. Or he can understand America’s core interests are not in Ukraine and keep the peace.

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Ukraine and Propaganda

    // 1 Comment »

    I hate going back, again, to Orwell, but since the world is intent on using his epic novel 1984 as an instructional guide, I have no choice. So proles, take note: this week’s Two Minutes of Hate will be split among Tucker Carlson, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump. They may in fact be the same person, and we are certainly told they share the same goal: destruction of American democracy via the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

    Something very sinister happened in the American mind space over the last few days. Ukraine, a country of little importance to the United States, suddenly became the sole focus of most media-consuming Americans. Constructed to appear organic, it is impossible to not imagine guiding hands behind the shift of every media outlet to a single story told in a single way. Leap frogging over one another, social media and traditional media competed for the most extreme Ukraine stories, all slanted towards unbelievability. One of the first was the Ghost Pilot of Kiev, who improbably shot down six Russian aircraft. No matter the video was undated and could have been taken anywhere anytime, and no matter when the whole story proved false and the images shown to have been created by home aircraft game sim software. This was followed by a tale of Ukrainian soldiers on some island who died valiantly rather than surrender, which also was not true because we learned days later they did indeed surrender.

    America was flooded with images of gorgeous Ukrainian girls with AirSoft toy rifles volunteering for the front. Ukrainian cats are supposedly being trained to spot Russian laser sights. Pictures appeared of plucky people making Molotov cocktails to fight the Russians in the streets. FYI, those cocktails would a) have either evaporated their inflammant through the rag before use, you can’t make ’em days in advance or b) set fire to the thrower. Unless the rag is very, very tightly in the bottle, the inflammant will run down the thrower’s arm and set him afire. Propaganda has no time apparently for WikiHow. But the most intense propaganda has been reserved for the Ukrainian president, who has been labeled by the MSM as both a George Washington and a Winston Churchill. Combat reports of him patrolling the streets in cammies are now a standard feature.

    The tell on all this is how unspecific the propaganda is. Yep, that’s Zelensky alright, but exactly where is he? When was the footage shot? We haven’t seen this much veneration of a foreign leader since the election of savior-o-the-day Iraqi Prime Ministers a decade or so ago. Same for all those images of tanks (are they Russian? Tonka?) rolling across snowy fields, or planes firing rockets into wooded areas. The Ukraine coverage is nearly fact-free. It’s all about narratives, hot girls with guns, little clips of tanks. But nothing about what is going on. Is one side winning? It’s all just emotion to stim you into equally meaningless acts on social media.

    But it has worked. Shallow Americans are “standing with” Ukraine, throwing Russian alcohol off the shelves, lining up to eat at Ukrainian diners in New York, and of course posting their support across social media. Overnight we as a nation have become experts on the SWIFT system, and patriots ready to pay more at the gas pumps for freedom. My neighbor made a show of pouring out some old vodka but was unaware our state generates most of its electricity off Russian crude oil. Whatever, he’s doing what the teevee says to do. And yes, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider “absolutely” approves Ukrainians using “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as their anthem amid Russia’s invasion.

    Alongside all this false and misleading information is the overnight disappearance of those fact checkers that plagued thoughtful journalism through the Covid era. The same people who would jump on an article for misquoting a protein statistic, or cancel an account for not following the party line on masking, are dead silent in the face of a tsunami of propaganda purposely painting an incomplete if not completely inaccurate picture of the war in Ukraine. So no surprise the former Ukrainian president lauded CNN as an “objective source of information as a contradiction against Russian information.” Twitter will label all tweets linking to Russian state media while allowing Ukrainian sources free reign. Everybody’s working the same angle here.

    If any of this seems familiar, rewind to the 2016 presidential campaign, and then get back to the future.

    The propaganda, having done its job of whipping Americans into a blood orgy demanding Putin’s death, has now begun its morphosis into tying Trump into all this. In doing so, the campaign builds on the remnants of 2016, when the Clinton machine falsely claimed the Russians elected Trump as their agent in place. USA Today writes “Trump’s bromance with Putin was very much on display… as the former president saw it, there was nothing to condemn [in Ukraine] but much to admire.” The NYT says “The American political right… has shifted toward fawning praise for autocrats, even those leading America’s traditional adversaries. Where once Russia and other autocracies were seen as anti-democratic, they have now become symbols of US conservatism — a mirror for the right-wing worldview.  Supporting Mr. Putin, as well as other authoritarian leaders, is yet another way in which the political right is weaponizing culture wars to further divide Americans.”

    Salon explains “How Trump’s coup attempt [January 6] encouraged Putin’s Ukraine invasion” and says “Donald Trump and his regime consistently acted as vassals for Vladimir Putin’s regime and Russia’s strategic interests.” WaPo noted “the implications of President Vladimir Putin’s actions against the United States in 2016 will finally sink in, especially for Republicans in Congress. The Vladimir Putin who planned, staged and launched a large-scale war on Ukraine is the same Vladimir Putin who ordered an aggressive, multifaceted, clandestine campaign to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The Atlantic hauls out none other than Hillary Clinton to thunder “It’s a five-alarm national-security crisis. The hard truth is that if Republicans won’t stand up to Trump, they can’t stand up to Putin or Xi.” Has-been with a platform Al Franken predicts Trump will win in 2024 and it will be the last democratic election. It’ll be a dictatorship.”

    There are two things to worry about here. The first is the amazing speed with which a massive narrative can be forced across America in a coordinated fashion by traditional media, government, and social media. Overnight no other version of the story could be found. Ukrainian propaganda sucked all of the oxygen from the room so quickly it should scare us. The second thing to fear is how quickly American partisan political forces were able to hijack the initial anti-Russian narrative and repurpose it into a slightly revised version of 2016’s “Trump is a Russian asset.” No matter that that itself has been debunked as Clinton-made propaganda, the story line is somehow — meh, the details don’t matter — Trump and Putin are working together to destroy Ukraine on their way to ending American democracy.

    Trump has nothing to do with Putin, or the Ukraine, and the latter two have nothing to do with American democracy. As in Orwell’s world, our thoughts are no longer are own. We are told how to think and increasingly, groomed how to vote.

     

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Taiwan is Not Ukraine is Not Taiwan

    March 5, 2022 // 6 Comments »

    I have a medal for winning the Cold War. It was issuable to any member of the military, or civilian employee of the federal government, who served during the Cold War. That included me, at the tail end, with the State Department. Ironically my so-called Cold War service was on Taiwan. I probably should return the thing; the Cold War is far from over.

    Part of the Cold War’s real conclusion is playing out in Ukraine in real time. Is Taiwan, another hanging chad from the Cold War, next? Is President Xi watching a weakened America giving in to the Russians and seeing his chance to seize Taiwan?

    Nope. Taiwan is not Ukraine is not Taiwan. The two states only exist next to each other in articles like this because both are the results of American policy. Each exists alongside its nemesis only because the rules the U.S. created after WWII are not subscribed to anymore by most of the world, if they ever really were. But that does not mean Taiwan is in imminent danger.

    While Putin‘s instant invasion timing may or may not have had something to do with Joe Biden (if Trump were really his puppet that would have seemed an easier time to do this) the reality is what is unfolding in the Ukraine reaches back much further than Biden or Trump, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was then the policy of the United States to empower the former Soviet satellite states and grow American influence by expanding NATO eastward (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania formally joined the alliance, East Germany as well by default) and to do this while taking the nuclear weapons away from those states so that none of them would become a threat or rival in Europe. We took their people, too. As a young State Department officer in London in the early 1990s I was told to issue visa after visa to former nuclear scientists from the Ukraine, as well as all sorts of rogues headed to the United States to get them out of the ‘Stans. We created a brain drain to ensure none of the new nation states could rise above the nuclear threshold the United States established unilaterally for them. It was American policy to have weak but not too weak border states between Russia and the “good” part of Europe.

    Understanding why an adversary does something is not the same as supporting him. As the Soviet Union collapsed, borders were redrawn with more attention to the West’s needs than any natural flow of those borders (the same mistake was made earlier by the British post-WWI in the Middle East.) Historically at some point in time all those borders were just glaciers, so it is always possible to argue some slip of history means somewhere used to be owned by someone going all the way back to mastodons. The reality of 2022 is Putin is seeking to redraw borders created by his adversaries, something now possible as Russia has been allowed by the West to re-grow its fangs. Ukraine as a possible NATO member was a threat to Putin and he this week is taking care of that. Americans live in a country that essentially has no border threats and fail to understand this time after time. We believe when we invade countries (Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan) it’s part of international law.

    Geopolitically, it was easy. A pro-Russian faction exists inside Ukraine, and Ukraine exists outside the NATO umbrella. Putin’s proof-of-concept, his 2014 takeover of Crimea, assured him NATO would not militarily intervene. About the only real obstacle he faced was the likely pleas of President Xi to hold off a couple of weeks and not spoil the Olympics.

    Taiwan is another Cold War relic. The U.S. propped up Taiwan’s very undemocratic military government for decades as an ironic bulkhead against communism. Taiwan grew into an economic powerhouse and in that lies the fundamental difference between the relationships of Russia and Ukraine, and China and Taiwan.

    China and Taiwan are economic partners. Between 1991 and March 2020 Taiwan’s investment in China totaled $188.5 billion, more than China’s investment in the United States. In 2019, the value of cross-strait trade was $149.2 billion. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner. China and Taiwan are ethnically the same people, enjoying an enormous amount of cross strait commerce, culture, student exchanges, visits among relatives, and other ties that indicate a growing, positive relationship not an adversarial one. What incentive would China have to drop bombs on one of its best customers?

    There’s also the U.S. to consider, as any cross-strait violence would affect US-China relations; Ukraine has little effect on the already poor state of US-Russia relations. The total Chinese investment in the U.S. economy is over $145 billion. U.S. investment in China passed $1 trillion. China is the second largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt. If something interfered with all that commerce, China would have to find a way to use unfinished iPhones as food.

    One of the problems with the sanctions Biden is claiming he’s going to use to punish Russia is how unintegrated Russia is in the world economy after so many years of sanctions. Really, what’s left that will sting? Biden promises “economic consequences like none [Putin]’s ever seen.” But the Panama Papers already showed much of the so-called oligarch money, including Putin’s, is not in the U.S. or its allies’ banking systems anyway. Germany is temporarily halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but no one is talking about tearing it down. if U.S. sanction drive up gas prices without affecting the situation on the ground in Ukraine, who is sanctioning whom?

    China on the other hand is deeply integrated into the global economy and vulnerable to sanctions and disruptions of commerce following an attack on Taiwan. The risk in calculatable dollars is beyond any gain owning Taiwan would bring; imagine the impact of closing U.S. ports to Chinese cargo vessels.

    On the military side, Russia was able to literally drive into Ukraine, something the mighty Red Army has been perfecting since 1945. Taiwan famously is an island, and a Chinese amphibious invasion would represent something larger than the Normandy D-Day landings. Whereas the Ukrainians have limited ability to respond to a blitzkrieg land invasion, Taiwan fields Harpoon missiles with the range to put Chinese forces under fire almost as they leave port. Militarily there is no comparison between the flat plains of the Ukraine and the rocky coast of Taiwan. Nobody undertakes an invasion they are very likely to lose.

    An invasion of Taiwan would leave China politically isolated, economically damaged, and reputationally crippled. Not so for Russia and Ukraine where the benefits to Russia outweigh the risk. Taiwan is not Ukraine is not Taiwan.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    The Guilty Conscience of Hunter Biden’s Laptop

    January 5, 2021 // 4 Comments »

    I read the files on Hunter Biden’s laptop. They paint a sleazy picture of multi-million dollar wire transfers, potential money laundering, and tax evasion. They raise serious questions about the judgment and propriety of Jim Biden, the president elect’s brother, and Joe himself. Call it smoke not fire, but smoke that should not be ignored. The files were supplied to TAC by a known source previously established to have access.

    Joe Biden is lucky a coordinated media effort kept Hunter out of the campaign. In the final weeks of the campaign, Hunter’s laptop fell into Republican hands. The FBI had had it since 2019, when they subpoenaed the files in connection with a money-laundering investigation. The story went public in the New York Post, revealing Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President, to a top executive at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company. The meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, sent Hunter Biden about a year after Hunter himself joined the Burisma board at a salary of $83,000 a month with no obvious work duties past making such introductions.

    Nice work if you can get it, and to get it your dad better be vice president. If all that alone does not meet the test of impropriety, we need a new test. Hunter Biden’s value to clients was his perceived access to the White House. His father Joe was at least a passive participant in the scheme, maybe more than that.

    The problem was many Americans never heard this story. Twitter led a social media charge to not allow the information online. After years of salivating on every bit of Trump family gossip, MSM claimed the Biden story did not matter, or was Russian disinfo. Surveys suggest the information could have swung the election. One showed enough voters in battleground states would have not voted for Joe Biden that Trump would have scored 311 electoral votes and re-election.

    No mind really. As soon as it became clear Joe Biden was going to win, the media on all sides lost interest in the laptop. The story became about the story. It devolved into think pieces about the Orwellian role of social media and some online giggling about the Hunter Biden sex tapes on the laptop. But our short attention spans have consequences. The laptop still has a lot to tell us.

    Hunter’s laptop was chock-a-block with video that appears to show Hunter smoking crack while engaged in a sex act with a woman, as well as numerous other sexually explicit images. There’s evidence there Hunter spent money on escorts, some $21k on cam sites, big plays on all sorts of depravities. There is also Joe’s car insurance information, Hunter’s SSN, pages of call logs, and lots of email addresses, bank account numbers, and personal information of prominent people. None of the material is encrypted, just dumped on a standard MacBook Pro using the password “Hunter02.” The machine was regularly connected to the Internet and might as well have had an electronic sign on it saying “My dad is important, here’s what you’ll need to blackmail me and others to get to him.”

    But there is more. The laptop shows Hunter, through a number of front companies, accepted money from Chinese and Ukrainian entities and moved that money to the U.S. where it was parceled out to other entities, including Joe Biden’s brother. Some of it then went back to Chinese hands. There is no way a simple read-through can tell if the money was legal consulting fees or illegal money laundering and tax fraud. But it all smells bad — multi-million dollar transfers to LLCs without employees, residences used as multiple business addresses, legal tricks from Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands, and even a minor CIA connection. Ask yourself if this demands more investigation. Ask yourself if we’re in part judging a man’s character in choosing a president, if voters might not have benefited from knowing more about Joe Biden’s side of all this.

    The majority of the contents of the laptop are a jumbled record of Hunter’s international business ventures and financial records. Outstanding in the haystack are a large number of wire transfers. Those with traceable addresses appear to be mostly anonymous shell companies run out of lawyers’ offices, with no employees and fuzzy public paper trails. One off the top involved $259,845 traveling on April 2, 2018 from the Hudson West III in New York to a numbered bank account held by Cathay Bank. Hudson West was created by Hunter Biden’s own law firm, Owasco, with several Chinese nationals, including a Jianming Ye associate, Gong Wendong. Ye Jianming is chairman of CEFC China Energy, who reportedly had close ties to both the Chinese government and the PLA. He’s been arrested in China on corruption charges and has conveniently disappeared.

    Biden in August 2018 also returned $100k back to CEFC in China via its own New York subsidiary LLC, Hudson West V, whose listed address is 12 Foxwood Road, Great Neck, NY 11024. That address is not a business office but instead a single family home worth over $6 million. Phone records suggest two people live there, including Gong Wendong. Money appears to move from physical China to virtual Hunter back to virtual China in the U.S., starting and ending in accounts tied to Gong Wendong after touching base with Hunter, a potential indicator of laundering. Chinese money in China changed into Chinese money in America. Caution is needed; while what looks like money laundering at first glance may indeed be so, but designed to hide the cash from the Chinese government while staying inside American law, a quasi-illegal service Hunter possibly supplied.

    That 12 Foxwood address shows up again on Biden’s laptop as the mailing address for another Gong Wendong venture, ColdHarbour Capital, which sent and received money to Biden. It is also listed as the residence of Shan Gao, who appears to control accounts in Beijing tied to Hudson, CEFC, and 12 Foxwood.

    But the most significant appearance of 12 Foxwood was as the mailing address for a secured VISA card in the name of Biden’s company, Hudson West III. The card is funded by someone unnamed through Cathay Bank for $99,000 and guaranteed by someone’s checking account held by Cathay worth $450,000. Shared users of the card are Hunter and Gong Wendong. The card was opened as CEFC secured a stake in a Russian state-owned energy company. Biden and others subsequently used the credit card to purchase $101,291.46 worth of extravagant items, including airline tickets and multiple items at Apple stores, pharmacies, hotels, and restaurants. A Senate report characterized these transactions as “potential financial criminal activity.” Putting money on a secured VISA card in lieu of a direct wire transfer to Biden may be seen by some as an attempt to hide the source of the money and thus allow Biden not to claim it as income.

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

    The 12 Foxwood address also appears on millions of dollars worth of bank transfers among Cathay Bank, CEFC, and multiple semi-anonymous LLCs and hedge funds. One single transfer alone to Hudson West III on August 8, 2017 represented the movement of $5 million from Northern Capital International, which appears to be a Chinese government-owned import-export front company.

    Switch over to the CDB Bank folder and you see a wire transfer from Burisma for $36,000 Euros, run through a bank in Cyprus, to Biden’s own account on that island. Burisma is the one company from the laptop which made the news. Biden’s role, however, what he actually did besides introduce his father to other people, is unclear.

    Burisma must be an interesting place. Hunter’s laptop partially exposes a complex web of sub-companies in Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands such that figuring out who owns who is near impossible, speculates on using a Lithuanian bank to receive the Ukrainian money, and notes that Joseph Cofer Black, former Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, also sits on its board. Black previously served as Vice Chairman at mercenary provider Blackwater Worldwide (now Academi.)

    All just business, right? Not everyone saw this that way. An email from Wells Fargo’s corporate compliance team (Wells Fargo handled many of the international wire transfers) asks on September 20, 2018 what the actual business of Hudson West is, who its owners are, and where it is located. Also asked is what the purpose of all the incoming wires is. It notes some business accounts appear to be for personal expenses. It also questions numerous outgoing wires to the Lion Hall Group (for example, on September 28, 2018, Hunter ordered $95,000 transferred without explanation), a “business” run by Jim Biden out of a residential address. Jim regularly invoiced Hunter for office expenses and employee costs, as well as a monthly retainer cost of some $68k, plus other fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.

    There is no record of these questions being answered. It is possible to see the disbursal of funds via credit card to Jim Biden as a way to diffuse the amounts away from Hunter, and via Jim’s invoices, a way to convert income from China into deductible business expenses for Hunter in America, reducing his tax burden. The involvement of Lion Hall and Jim Biden also spreads the money around, lowering its profile. If the invoices were shown to be fraudulent (i.e., Jim did not actually consult for Hunter) the potential of tax fraud exists.

    Besides Wells Fargo, others also had questions. Hunter’s own CPA preparing to file 2018 Federal taxes wrote to Hunter asking “As far as Owasco [Hunter’s law firm] is concerned there were some receipts we classified as loans. Owasco received approximately $550,000 from Burisma and paid about one half this amount to, I believe, someone named ‘Devon.’ I am not sure of the payee… The one half payment to ‘Devon’ was not recorded as income.”

    Devon is likely Devon Archer, co-founder and managing partner of Rosemont Capital alongside Hunter. Who else was part of Rosemont? Christopher Heinz, John Kerry’s son. And small world — Devon Archer sat on the board of Burisma alongside Hunter Biden. The CPA’s concern is the IRS is sensitive to the fact that some try to conceal income as loans to be written off as expenses later, especially if the amounts are large. This can trigger an audit. If the loans are “forgiven,” then they are income. If not declared, that is potential fraud.

    The same note from the CPA indicates Hunter owes $600,000 in personal taxes and another $204,000 for Owasco and urges him to file a return even if he is not going to pay the taxes. Besides taxes, things did not always go well for Hunter. On March 6, 2019 he sent an email to a friend saying “Buddy do you have a cash app to send me $100 until wire goes. I have no money for gas and I’m literally stuck at a rest stop on 95.” He earlier had sought a $35k advance from his regular “draw” out of Owasco. And keep an eye on Hunter’s health — he pays close to $9,000 a quarter for life insurance.

    Joe Biden is one lucky SOB. When the powers that be decided Barack Obama needed someone, you know, a little more, um, establishment, as his VP to calm voters, there was Joe, plucked into the White House which had otherwise alluded him. Joe, as whitebread as the state he represented. His only controversial points came from supporting the status quo for so many years it had changed underneath him. Are we tough on crime or do black lives matter? It didn’t matter to Joe, just point him in the right direction so he knows what to agree with. And so in 2020 when the Democrats realized exactly what kind of man they needed to wipe away the sins of two dishonest and chaotic primaries, well, there was Joe.

    Joe got lucky again when the MSM memory-holed Hunter’s story, and conservative media lost focus looking for a tweetable smoking gun when the truth was a bit too complicated to parse out in a sentence or two. But there is still a story here.

    The short version is there is a lot to suggest money laundering and tax fraud on Hunter’s part. The purpose of the money in/out was always unclear, with invoices for vague expenses and lots and lots of “consulting.” One could invent a legal explanation for everything. One could imagine many illegal explanations. There is no way anyone could know the difference without seeing Hunter’s taxes, asking him questions, and doing some serious forensic accounting. It is unlikely any of that will happen now that the election is over. Even to Guiliani, et al, it really doesn’t matter any more. They took one shot, missed, and walked away.

    That will leave undigested the bigger tale of president-elect Biden, who ran in part on an anti-corruption platform following the Trump family escapades. While Joe Biden no doubt regrets what appears to have been a one-off meeting with the Burisma official, he did indeed take the meeting as VP. It’s always easier to apologize when caught than seek permission in advance in Joe’s world.

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

    A lot of appearance of improprietous malarkey from a senior statesman who knows better. In places like China and the Ukraine, where corruption is endemic, it is assumed the sons of rich and powerful men have access to their father, and that access is for sale. Hunter Biden traded on those assumptions for millions of dollars, and Joe stood by understanding what was happening. Every father wants to help his son, and Hunter one can imagine went to his dad time after time, pleading for just one more little favor to get him past his sordid past. Joe, a decent but weak man at heart, likely nodded. So a meeting. A handshake, an office visit, a posed photo, whatever would help but was still plausibly deniable. Until the next time. Sorry Hunter, once an addict always an addict and sure, sure, not like last time, I’ll really quit after Just. One. More. Dad. Please?

    Joe’s larger role in all things Hunter needs to be questioned. Joe (as well as the Obama State Department) knew about Hunter’s antics. Joe pretended Hunter’s financial windfalls had nothing to do with their relationship and were simply a constant series of coincidental lucky breaks for a never-do-well drunk divorced drug using son who happened to fail upward just while his dad was VP. Joe says he and his son never talked about business, so we guess Joe just assumed Hunter’s Porsche (his car payments are on the laptop) was just a lucky find.

    While of course Hunter is an adult with his own mind, his father was one of the most powerful men in the world and yet apparently did nothing to stop what was going on among himself, Hunter, his brother Jim, the Chinese, the Ukrainians — at minimum, the gross appearance of impropriety — over a period of years. Biden’s defense has always been sweeping: “My son did nothing wrong.” That alone raises questions of judgment on the part of Joe Biden, not the least of which is because in a few weeks he becomes President of the United States. And if the president does it it’s not illegal, right?

     

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

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

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

    January 29, 2020 // 34 Comments »


     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

      

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    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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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    The Case for Impeachment Is…

    November 5, 2019 // 10 Comments »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    That’s it for substance.

     

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    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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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

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

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    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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    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Listening in on Putin: Biden and the Ukraine

    April 24, 2014 // 5 Comments »

    NSA Intercept X19/Alpha Bravo, 26APR2014, 23:12ZULU
    COMSEC NOFORN
    DO NOT/NOT RELEASE TO EDWARD SNOWDEN
    NOTE: IF A GUY CALLS AND SAYS HE’S “BILL” SNOWDEN, IT’S EDWARD AND DO NOT/NOT RELEASE
    Access Code: pa$$word


    (NSA sends excerpt intercept below, between Russian Vladimir Putin and unnamed aide)



    PUTIN: I’m devastated. What should we do?

    AIDE: Sire?

    PUTIN: Joe Biden is in the Ukraine and he said “Russia must stop talking and start acting to defuse the Ukraine crisis.” To be truthful, I’m frightened.

    AIDE: I may have the solution. We aren’t actually trying to defuse the situation, so by just talking we’re technically in compliance with Biden’s statement.

    PUTIN: It’s still scary when he talks tough like that. Who knows what will happen next? Biden also said “further provocative behavior would lead to greater isolation.”

    AIDE: Woa. I hadn’t heard that. You’re right, that is scary.

    PUTIN: Look at this transcript. Biden also stressed the need for the Ukrainian authorities to tackle corruption, simultaneously adding the U.S. would be giving those same authorities $50 million for political and economic reforms in Ukraine.

    AIDE: Talking about anti-corruption while handing over bribe money?

    PUTIN: Yes, exactly. They have figured out one of our own strategies and are now using it against us. I may have underestimated these Americans.

    AIDE: Sire, you saw that they are sending troops eastward. Media reports show that Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will get 150 American troops each.

    PUTIN: Good Non-God! Are we prepared to handle 150 soldiers per country? Do we need to respond with a chess analogy? Have you checked that the nuclear launch codes are still valid?

    AIDE: Well, we did have that problem with the codes after we had to include a vowel, a number and a punctuation mark in each to befuddle the NSA, but I think we’ve got it worked out.

    PUTIN: Tell me some good news. My head aches.

    AIDE: The good news is that we have no immediate plans to invade Poland. The last time we tried that it did not work out well in the long run. Our new plan is to only invade places that most Americans can’t find on a map.

    PUTIN: That should be easy enough. Let’s start with one of their own states. I make joke. You understand.

    AIDE: More vodka?

    PUTIN: Yes, please, another pitcher. I want to get really drunk and then let’s prank call Obama again and pretend to make concessions. It’s after midnight there, yes?



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    Posted in Democracy, Trump