Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Republicans Strike Back... they hope.

Republicans are fighting against the Ukraine scandal and subsequent impeachment inquiry with all they have. They continue to push the theory that the FBI, CIA, and other departments were/are full of corrupt Dem-sympathetic officials who have illegally targeted Trump. The Horowitz Inspector General (IG) report was supposed to blow it out of the water. That didn't happen. Now the investigation by US attorney John Durham is supposed to unmask this deep state conspiracy. 

I doubt it will happen. As we saw with the Mueller investigation and IG report, almost all of the big pieces leaked well before the reports were published. So Durham will probably not have anything beyound the known bits on Comey, Strzok and Page, McCabe, Bruce Ohr in the State Department, and how the FBI used the Steele dossier. I doubt there will be any smoking gun showing that the Trump campaign was set up by the FBI or CIA, with a phony approach by Mifsud that they orchestrated. I predict that will turn out to be true as reported, that Mifsud offered info on Hillary Clinton, and the campaign was interested. That Papadopoulos drunkenly mentioned it to an Australian diplomat, who eventually reported it through channels to the FBI. 

Their grand hopes of indictments and perp walks of these heinous Dem-leaning traitors isn't going to happen. But we shall all see.


Extra. This column points out how the GOPers are using slander as a counterattack. Lt. Col. Vindman who was injured in Iraq--has a grudge against Trump and is lying. Also, he's a never-Trumper, meaning he isn't loyal. Not loyal  to Trump--to me, it sounds like Trump thinks he's running a banana republic. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ukraine saga continues

I don't know how many threads I'll have on this Ukraine saga. I feel vindicated for focusing on the prosecutors and ambassadors, but perhaps I deserve credit only for reading the transcript of the phone call and the whistleblower's letter.

The House Democrats started private, closed-door testimony from some of those involved or with knowledge of the situation. The Republicans have been yelling foul on whatever grounds they can think of. They claimed the testimony was wrong because there was no formal vote, so the Dems held a formal vote, which passed. The Republicans said the closed-door testimony was wrong, and even tried to stage a sit-in. Starting today, the Dems have are releasing transcripts of the testimony taken so far. It's fairly damning. Trump claims that the Dems are going to change the words, but he looks like a fool on that account.

So far, a fair number of people, mostly connected to the State Department, have talked about Giuliani running his own Ukraine policy that was focused on getting dirt on the Biden family. Some of the people testifying have been:
This list will probably grown. I keep hearing that what Giuliani has done and what Trump has let him do are without precedent for modern times in the State Department. I certainly don't remember dealings like this, though there were occasionally rumors of secret underhanded dealings like Bush Sr. doing something-something. What we have here is much more than rumor. 

Republicans are fighting back with all they have. They continue to push the theory that the FBI, CIA, and other departments were/are full of corrupt Dem-sympathetic officials who have illegally targeted Trump. But that's the subject of my next post.

Vindman going to testify. Traitor or patriot?

Update 11/5/19. The House released transcripts of two ambassadors (Volker and Sondland). Sondland had a mysterious change in his memory, and now says that he told the Ukrainians that they'd have to announce the investigations for aid to be freed. Sondland still provided a bit of a figleaf for Trump, saying it was his 'presumption' that the aid was tied because he heard it hadn't been released. Sondland confirmed that Giuliani was the key person on Ukraine, and Trump didn't want to deal with it, but directed the ambassadors to Giuliani.

Also this quote from a federal prosecutor:
Now they've got this whole other crazy defense about there's no corrupt intent, but these guys haven't done their legal researching and corrupt intent under the law means improper purpose. And when you're using the levers of government and monies appropriated by Congress to further your own re-election effort and use it to try and bribe and extort a foreign government, I mean, what more improper purpose can you get?  - 
Update 11/7/19. Two more articles about the released transcripts. Both give an inside view of what the testimony was like. Taylor--resolutely sticking to the facts, supported by his meticulous notes. Sondland--buffeted, not knowing what to say, having trouble remembering. 

October links

(And a few left over from September. Oops, it's November already.)

Hating on climate change. It's no surprise to me that nasty conservative trolls would hate on teenager Greta Thunberg for her message that the people currently in charge of the world aren't doing enough. I've written elsewhere that models for climate change haven't been strong, but there is also enough solid data to be very worried.

Intolerance on campus. I hear screeching about it, but here is a solid court case about bullying of Christian groups by campus officials.

The fear among the conservatives. They fear being overwhelmed by the left and forced to give up their religious beliefs. Considering the disrespect for religious beliefs on the left, I have to say it seems like a rational fear.

Why Trudeau almost lost. Canada is in good shape, which allows lesser issues to create more fractures than before.

Iran and Russia interfere. ... in the US via Facebook.

Tough politics in Texas. The Texas House speaker is out after being stabbed in the back while conspirimg to stab other Republican reps in the back. Do I like anyone in this mess?


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Turkey, Syria, the Kurds, and Trump

In the midst of the whistleblower scandal, Trump announced a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria. I haven't followed the whole Syria conflict closely--it's complex, far from here, so the news is likely to be fairly low quality. It would be hard for me to sort the spin from reality.

However, Trump's withdrawal announcement was clearly very abrupt. It looks like Turkey's dictator  Erdogan had been threatening to invade Kurdish-held areas for months, and he finally flipped the switch. Trump didn't know what to do, so he claims that he's withdrawing the troops, not due to pressure (which would make him look weak) but because the US doesn't need to be involved in endless wars.

Hew and cry because it looks like the US is abandoning our Kurdish allies to be slaughtered by the Turks (not their friends). Also, the Kurds are holding thousands of Isis fighter and their families in camps, and may release them under the onslaught. Cue Trump to say stupid, insensitive things like where were the Kurds on D-Day?

Two days later, Trump sends VP Pence to try to negotiate. Oh, there was a childish letter in the mix somewhere too. Pence gets an agreement from Erdogan about some limits on the invasion. The stated goal for Turkey is to secure a 20 mile wide strip along the border so the Kurds in Syria can't aid the Kurds in Turkey. When I heard that, it didn't seem too bad to me as long as the Turks weren't killing civilians or Kurdish fighters not involved in Turkey. I have my doubts about Turkey's claims about Kurdish fighters, knowing that Turkey has a long history of oppressing the Kurds. But it's possible that their goal is only to set up a secure zone.

This is a big sudden shift in the military situation, and it's accompanied by new alliances. Turkey has been cozying up to Russia in trade and military equipment for a while, but this is the clearest rapprochement so far. Syria isn't happy about the deal due to the loss of territory to Turkey, and they responded with their own surprising alliance with the Kurds. The US and Iran seem to be left out of the deal-making--we don't think they'll do a deal with each other as the only ones left at the dance.

After a messy war and a messy stand-off, this might bring a more stable peace. We'll have to see. One late change is that Trump was convinced to leave some US troops in Syria to control oil fields. He needed the issue dumbed down to that point since fair treatment and loyalty to our allies mean nohting to him.

The whole Syrian war has defied early expectations. At first it looked like an Arab spring uprising, but then everyone and their brother got involved with providing arms and pursuing agendas. The Islamic butchers known as Isis became the horrid common enemy that appeared even worse than the pre-war status quo. Perhaps they saved Assad even more than Russia did. Very strange indeed.

It's hard for me to guess what the ramifications of the US move will be on the future of the Middle East and US policies there. It seems bad policy to flush longterm alliances away, and even worse ethics if it leads to massacres. I can only hope the price isn't too high for both us and the Kurds.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

September links


Truth-telling about guns. Wapo

No Charlottesville in Boston. In my home state, some twerps tried to have a Straight Pride Rally. Poor turn-out. Related. An article from the end of 2015 predicting the rise of white nationalism in the US.

Unscrutinized law. So much of law is about examination, scrutiny, testing in cases that are written down and reviewed. So it's a surprise the some law isn't subject to this when it's DOJ policy.

Clear-headed assessment of mass shootings. How big is the risk? That's a very fair question to ask.

More mass killings being twarted. More people are taking threats seriously and intervening. This time a teenage girl was stopped after buying a semi-auto rifle.

Late-breaking story about Russia. Most of the news about Russia interfering in the US election, and the responses to it, are well-known at this point. Here are two reports about a highly-placed spy in the Kremlin who was spirited away to safety at the beginning of the Trump presidency because Trump might have been careless and leaked info exposing him. Also a large section of the report on Russian interference was released by the Senate committee that is striving miraculously to be non-partisan.

How Trump treats advisers. Disrespectfully, we know. With the firing of John Bolton, we have a few more stories with insights. Trump hires 'brands' and Bolton was a well-known brand. The four categories of official Trump advisers, from 'shiny new toy' to 'fired via tweet' and other pithy observations.

Very few swing voters. Less than 5.5% are both undecided and moderate.

Big story on the Supreme Court? WaPo reports that getting a justice onto the Supreme Court is now so important that the ethics are shunted to the side.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

The start of the stupid Watergate

I've been tracking the developing story about a whistleblower report out of the intelligence services. That was the first bit of info. Next was that Trump made an improper promise to a foreign leader. Next was that it was the leader of Ukraine. (What????? Not Russia????) That was only a week ago.

Now a lot more is known. It's been like a fast moving wildfire, and definitely not contained. Congress wants the whistleblower report, the Inspector General says it should be given to Congress, but the administration overruled that. With those kind of details, it's going to be hard to prevent the release of the report, but the Trump administration is still trying to.

To placate the public, or as a figleaf, the administration released the official transcript of the call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. It's not much of a figleaf, and it won't help. The IG report will have to come out. This is yet another case of:

What you want to hide won't stay hidden.

Well, that's great. My kids will get to experience their own version of Watergate, but with a dumber president. So dumb that he doesn't realize you can't ask the president of Ukraine during an official phone call to investigate the Biden family when Joe Biden happens to be 1) well known, 2) your political opponent, and 3) running for president.

No, Donald Trump, you can't ask for that openly because this isn't a banana republic. The president of the US doesn't get to create goon squads, and he pays price if he does it and it's found out. Doing it offshore and leaning on a vulnerable country makes it even more unethical. We have rules here.

So many links I'll just list them:

Letters to, from, about the Inspector General

Oh, that idiot Rudy Giuliani was pushing the new prez of Ukraine about Biden. Does Giuliani know how to do anything secretly?

The apologists at National Review think it's not a big deal because the president has lots of leeway in running foreign affairs. Hey, they seem to miss that this isn't just a legalistic question.

The conservatives at Washington Examiner get the issues much more clearly. Did Trump try to force Ukraine to do dirty work against one of his political opponents

Seven Dem representatives, all with military and/or intelligence backgrounds (not flaming antifa types) think this behavior from Trump is impeachment-worthy.

How Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until it started getting hot. No one in Congress knew why, and people started asking questions.

The figleaf - Trump releases the transcript of a conversation with the president of Ukraine. Commentators at WaPo annotate the conversation. Not the most insightful, but worth reading.

The top intelligence official threatened to resign. He will be testifying before Congress, and maybe won't be stonewalling (as the weasly Attorney General usually does). We'll find out soon.

Republican senators enact a scene from The Emperor's New Clothes as they ignore the elephant in the room but worry about the precedent of releasing the transcript.

In a huge irony, the president of Ukraine was visiting Washington today, and had to play along with the charade. That's is just one of the laugh lines.

Related: McConnell finally stopped delaying legislation/money to bolster election security. He earned the name Moscow Mitch for delaying this money for so long. Why now, we must wonder?


A bunch of short, helpful articles.

The White House accidentally sent their talking points to some Dems along with the GOP congress critters. Oops. Some other GOP excuses deconstructed.

The Dems should be inspired by Ulysses S. Grant. He was surrounded by commanders who were paralyzed by fear of Robert E. Lee, but he managed to get them to calm down, take command, and take action. Likewise, Trump will be belligerent, loud, nasty, and unrelenting. The Dems must make sure this doesn't send them into paralysis.


Update 10/9/19. The original memo that the whistleblower wrote (to himself?) one day after the infamous call. Here's the most pointed part:
The official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the President had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own reelection bid in 2020.
Other updates. The Trump administration wanted contracts from Ukraine the most, until Trump wanted political dirt. Some of the GOP senators know that some of the spin (lies) about Biden is wrong. Two GOP senators signed a letter back in 2016 about the level of corruption. Sen. Johnson appears to have forgotten or sold his soul, or both.

Update 10/10/19. Intelligent analysis, mostly of public opinion and the straits GOP politicians are in. Only 17% of Americans think Trump spoke appropriately in the phone call.

Update 11/1/19. The Republicans in the closed door impeachment hearings are trying to unmask the whistleblower and tie anyone who isn't a loyal Trumper to Cjristopher Steele or other boogeymen. Polling shows Americans continue to doubt the actions of Trump, more GOPers being critical.

Ukraine: Ambassadors and prosecutors

Poor Ukraine. It's not good to be Russia's neighbor. They steal elections, get ousted, then steal large amounts of territory. And you're a football between Russian and the US.

But I'll be focusing on how the US has manipulated Ukraine. Starting in 2016, it seems like the Hillary campaign went to the EU/US aligned government (the successor to the ousted Russian-aligned government) and got information that was harmful to Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman for Trump. They also helped with the Mueller investigation.

That's two strikes, especially if you're as vindictive as Trump is. However, Ukraine has lots of backers in Congress, and some in executive branch, but it seems like Trump was not going to be at all sympathetic. Trump did have the problem of looking too pro-Russian, and he figured a way to counter that. He'd give weapons to Ukraine, which is something Obama was very cautious about due to the unintended consequences of wars spreading and weapons being used in unforeseen ways.

So Trump gave Ukraine weapons, and got himself some talking points. He also got some things he didn't talk about. Ukraine stopped working with the Mueller team, shutting down all cooperation. This was back in April 2018.

The Poroshenko government starts playing nice with the Trump administration. But there's trouble in Ukraine, where corruption is rampant and unpopular. Poroshenko is voted out in April 2019, and a new government by a comedian is in. The Trump administration doesn't know if the new government will play ball the way the Poroshenko government learned to do,

Leaning on the New Government

So money stops flowing from the US to Ukraine as Trump waits to see how cooperative the new government will be. One thing Trump has on his wishlist is dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Giuliani will be the go-between and enforcer, making sure the dirty deed is getting done.

With this background, it's not hard to understand the phone call. Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, is kissing up as hard as he can, It starts with Zelensky saying how Trump's surprise electoral win inspired his own win, and a mention of draining the swamp. Major sucking sounds from Zelensky, but what choice was he have? Zelensky is very eager to conduct whatever investigation Trump asks for, and even asks for additional information from the US that won't be helpful. Is that a coded way to ask Trump what he wants them to say?

On the other hand, he makes no promises about who his new chief prosecutor would be, even after Trump says that the last one was very good and very fair. When you read below about the chief prosecutors, you have to wonder if anyone fits that description.

The Prosecutors

The two prosecutor to be aware of are Shokin and Lutsenko. Shokin was the corrupt prosecutor in 2016 whom Biden, the EU, and the IMF forced out. Supposedly he was investigating Hunter Biden at Burisma, a gas company, but most reports say that the investigation was not ongoing.

Lutsenko was a real piece of work. He was the chief prosecutor under Poroshenko, and he lost his job when Poroshenko lost reelection. (Hmmmm, lost reelection... that sounds good.) Lutsenko accused the US ambassador of giving him a list of people and companies who couldn't be investigated or charged. But it was all a lie. That gives a sense of the ethics of this guy. It seems possible to me that both Giuliani and Trump were pushing Zelensky to re-instate him. It's no wonder since he was probably playing ball with the Trump administration, taking their direction to stop cooperating with the Mueller investigation and who knows what else. He seems to have been a good toady (to Trump) who lost his job due to Ukrainian public dissatisfaction and 'voting the crooks out.'

The Ambassadors

The most important ambassador is Marie Yovanovitch. She is the one Trump mentioned disrespectfully. Lutsenko accused her of interfering and ordering him not to investigate people, and she was removed by Trump for not playing ball. She's a career diplomat, well versed in Slavic countries, and well respected by her colleagues according to reports. Perhaps she's too professional, especially when the prez wants his personal lawyer to tell a country that they should investigate his personal political rival. Basically, she was stabbed by Trump and his dog pack.

Other ambassadors. Volker    Volker resigned.
Sondland. More serious than Trump's usual backers.

What will the Ukrainian government do now that the pressure is no longer covert? It seems to me that the Ukrainians can make their own choices. They have enough supprt from Americans and in Congress that Trump can't put the screws on them again. Relations between the US and Ukraine will be closely scrutinized. Giuliani's travel will be closely scrutinized. Trump and Giuliani's plans - simply screwed. Such poetic justice in that.

Funny bits: President Zelensky has won a not-so-nice nickname in Ukraine: Monica Zelensky. Oooh, burn. But he's also helped shine a light on the cockroach named Trump.

Giuliani is spinning like mad. He's trying to indicate that he had State Department backing, but that doesn't help the State Department look good. It just shows how many people didn't feel they could push back from Trump's vendetta. However, Giuliani may have his own vendetta against Biden. For one thing, Biden landed a punch against Guiliani during Giuliani's campaign for president. 'Every sentence he says has a noun, a verb, and 9/11.' It was quite a takedown.

Recap: A who's who from CNN. A bunch of lies from an opinion writer at Fox, including the statement (as though it's fact) that Joe Biden received over $1 billion in bribes from China.

Five amigos

Update 10/3/19. Texts among State Departnment personnel and others show that Ukraine was being squeezed, though they were careful not to put the most damning info into texts.

Update 10/23/19. Lots of state department folks are testifying in the House. The replacement for the ousted ambassador was particularly searing. Trump called the guy a 'never-Trumper' and doesn't want to hire anymore like him. Maybe he wants clear loyalty (echoes of what Comey reported). In another (unraveling) angle, Giuliani was working with some rather unsavory characters, and probably even more still to be uncovered and possibly indicted.

Update 10/24/19. More details. Trump wanted the Ukrainians to publicly announce investigations as a sign of their strong commitment. Plus this tidbit: two dozen House GOPers tried to storm a closed hearing, and complain about it being secret. But Trey Gowdy, a former House GOPer and future lawyer to Trump, is on video saying how open hearings are useless, while private hearings are effective.

Update 11/7/19. More about the feud between Giuliani and Biden. When it might have started--from a journalist who isn't exactly a friend of Giuliani. Giuliani insulting Biden in 2012. Biden's quips about Giuliani are lost, but there is a bit of context to help the imagination.