Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Greatest show on earth: Impeachment Circus

Finally, the impeachment has started. No big surprises so far, which means that I've been well informed, the news media has been on top on information, and the politicos have generally stuck to the positions they had already signaled.

'If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts...'

I listened in a bits and pieces of the House managers case, which was laid out over 3 days. They hit the evidence very hard. Lots of video, lots of evidence discussed. I didn't hear any histrionics, which also makes sense because histrionics and hyperbole would damage a case based on fact.

They do have a strong case. The testimony and other evidence all points to Trump putting a hold on aid to Ukraine while trying to extract a favor--the announcement of an investigation into the Biden family's role in Ukraine corruption. This looks like extortion, coercion, election chicanery, strong-arm tactics--otherwise known as abuse of power.

And now, the defense...

I haven't seen any good explanation refuting this interpretation of the evidence. The laughable arguments against the charge of abuse of power have been that it's hearsay (not once the phone call was released), that the president has the right to make these choices, that blocking the president's choices is treason or usurpation, that it's not extortion or coercion because the Ukrainian president denies feeling pressured, and that the money was released, so no harm and no foul, everything is OK.

The best defense was attempted by Mick Mulvaney, who said there were three conditions for releasing the aid: progress on corruption, Ukraine persuading other countries to provide aid, and cooperation with the Justice Department investigation of 2016 election interference. 

If any of the that had indeed been the reason aid was withheld, then the abuse of power charge would have been severely weakened. However, the 'three conditions' seem to have been a whitewash. There isn't evidence that they were ever the conditions. Oh dear. Someone should have been on the ball with the cover story back during the summer. But no one was, perhaps because Trump is not only corrupt but he is also inept, as are his toadies.

'If you have neither the facts nor the law, pound the table'

So what will Trump's team offer as a defense? So far it seems like a mishmash. The largest point seems to be that the charges are false and are a fabrication by angry officials who want to oust the president. This isn't so much an argument about specific pieces of evidence as a denunciation of everything to do with the impeachment.

However, not being able to refute the evidence is a problem. One can claim that the charges are totally bogus, but usually you'd get into the particulars. "No, Your Honor, I couldn't have robbed the bank because I was at work that entire morning as twenty co-workers will testify."

So Trump supporters are trying to say the charges are bogus without being able to refute any of the details. They can make the point that many Dems have been trying to stymie Trump since he was elected. That is true. But it doesn't quash all those particulars related to Ukraine--the aid, the phone calls, the directions to work with Giuliani, etc.

Unfortunately, virtually no one from the GOP camp has been honest about this situation with the evidence. Justin Amash was, but that was months ago, and Amash was a renegade who was easily dismissed. No one of stature in the GOP has stood up and pointed out the evidence and said that it's a pretty huge, heaping pile of evidence that doesn't seem to be crumbling.

So the Republicans have ended up looking like yes men. Yet, when Schiff pointed this out, and referred to a newstory that the GOP senators were threatened (head on a pike if they didn't toe the line), those GOP senators were outraged!!! Sorry, folks, but that's what it looks like. You guys are too cowed to look at the evidence and call it as it plainly looks.

The lonely honest defense

Only National Review has made a reasonable argument: that Trump's actions were wrong, but the electorate can and will have the final say in just a few months, so let them do that. No one else seems to be interested in doing so. I guess the Republicans as a whole will stick with ignoring the evidence and mouthing talking points. They have to hope that most people are such partisans that no one will notice. There's an excellent chance of that. So, really, do the arguments even matter?

Should I have sympathy for the GOP senators? They have to listen to the evidence and then pretend it doesn't add up to anything. They're reenacting a version of the Emperor's New Clothes, which is a painful situation. However, if they are just going to be mice, maybe they don't deserve the respect generally given to senators.

Image: cartoonistgroup.com

Extras. Direct quotes from a large cross-section of senators. Now that the defense presentation is done, here is a summary along with notes as largely shooting huge holes in it. Lots of embarrassed reactions from senators here. Humor here, as senators claim to be blindsided. More humor, as lawyers like Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz reverse their earlier positions. Pay no attention to all that Giuliani talk--a version of there's nothing to see, so don't even look? The same with Bolton--no need for him to testify. On the other hand, Biden really is an issue.

Update 12/31/20. News that Giuliani lobbied for a Ukrainian connection to the same Zelensky adviser who was receiving directions on how to placate Trump. There had been a question on who was paying for Giuliani's travel during the question portion of the impeachment trial. Now we have a clue.

Update Februaryish. This whole Ukraine scandal has been a parade of lies and lame excuses from the Trump administration and their GOP/conservative supporters. Somehow these public servants want to know more about the whistleblower than the actions he blew the whistle on. Hell, there's hardly any interest in that. A few GOP senators are agreeing that Trump did something wrong. How the GOP smears: Stories about the whistleblower.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

I'm against impeachment... partly

The biggest point I want to make is that what Trump did was wrong and was an abuse of power, and not a minor one either. He deserves to be investigated and his actions revealed and reviled. But should he be impeached? Should he be removed from office?

If previous presidents were asking for personal favors before releasing aid, then they were also abusing their office and should be unmasked. The policy of the US is not for personal gain or personal political advantage. It's supposed to be for the benefit of the country, not for benefit of a corrupt leader.

However I think the House should have continued to hold hearings, followed up on subpoenas, and released as much evidence as possible. Though Trump abused his power, I don't think he should be removed from office for one infraction. If it was a pattern, definitely he would deserve to be removed, but not for one incident, even though it does fit the definition of high crime and misdemeanor and does meet the constitutional requirement for impeachment.

I'd like to see the bar on impeachment be higher still. Either a single very grievous act or a pattern of abuse of power. Trump is a vile person and very unpresidential, but he can't be impeached for those characteristics.

Unfortunately, the GOP moved the goalposts on what is impeachable with their stupid partisan action against Bill Clinton. The Dems have been happy to go along with that change when it hurts a Republican, so now we have a lower standard (along with a lot of lower standards now).

Some Democrats were looking for any excuse to impeach Trump, and have been since he was elected. But that is the minority of Democrats. The majority of Democrats in Congress were realistic that there had to be legitimate grounds. The pressure therefore became irresistible as soon as there were grounds, which happened with the Ukraine scandal. So conservative critics are partially correct when they say that Dems have wanted to impeach Trump forever. But they ignore that Trump gave legitimate grounds for impeachment. The claim that impeaching is groundless and illegitimate is bogus.

What I support about impeachment

I support holding the president accountable, gathering evidence, hearing extensive witness testimony, and basically taking the situation seriously. I'd like a real inquiry without a foregone conclusion, but one where the evidence was respected above everything else.

Impeachment is a very serious undertaking, and the Dems are taking it seriously. I can't say the same for the Republicans, but that's a topic for a different post.

Image: wormsworld.us

Monday, January 20, 2020

January links

Energy sector revolution. A long article summarizing important changes in the energy sector in the last decade. A must-read when I have time.

India riots. An anti-Muslim immigration law was a slap at a religious minority in India. How far will the Indian government go in its authoritarian policies? It seems that India might erupt, considering the much worse than typical fighting, even at universities.

Friction with South Korea. Short, focused summary of our strategy with South Korea and why tough love is a mistake there.

A critique of Trump Mideastern policy. This is written in stark terms without hyperbole or catastrophizing. Pretty refreshing, really. No, the world isn't going to end, but could we please have a bit of coherence? Actually, though, foreign policy tends to be incoherent, maybe because there are truths that you can't say out loud.

A prediction about Iran. I like it when someone makes a definite prediction because you get to test whether it comes true or not. Here's a prediction that Russia will end up mediating between Iran and the US. Ummmm, I don't think so. If we were all angels, that might happen, but we aren't even close, so no deal.

Boeing behaved badly. And they put it into emails! They're thrilled they got to avoid costly training. Too bad about the deaths lack of training caused. Come on, folks, be realistic and care about safety more than the bottom line because lack of safety is going to kill your profits.

Media whitewashes Trump. Not completely, but they often don't show how batshit crazy, angry, or insulting he is. People ought to know this before they vote again.

Epic story of Trump's temper. Top military and civilian officials tried to school Trump on international relations and learned instead that his opinions are fixed, and anyone who disagrees with him is stupid.

Martin Luther King. For his holiday, lots of anecdotes about how King listened to the ideas of others, often leading to his finest moments.

Image : abcnews.go.com

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

To kill the bad guys or not

The US military/administration found a top Iranian military leader in a vulnerable position and they blew his two-car convoy to kingdom come. As a bonus they got a top Iraqi militia leader, who maybe was conferring with Iranian on new year's resolutions or maybe the next moves in Iraq's current riots.

When I was young, I was taught always to doubt the actions of the US government, as though they were thoroughly untrustworthy, though not as evil as, say, the Nazis. At some point I wised up and I started to look at reality instead of propaganda, and the US didn't look so bad.

Unfortunately, that liberal middle-class distrust of anything military still exists as unchanging lumps in the heads of many a liberal or progressive, including my mother and some siblings. I also see it every single time the US military does something. Some silly, mindless liberal or progressive denouncing the action reflexively, with no knowledge and seemingly no effort to understand the situation. Liberals are supposed to understand context, but not in these situations. Thank God I'm not like anymore, and haven't been for decades.

There is hand-wringing about the US escalated conflict, as though that US must never respond to attacks. Well, that's obviously stupid, but I wonder what responses would bring out hand-wringers. Of course it brought out the idiotic liberal celebrities, who aren't much different in their mindlessness but are considerably more photogenic than your average liberal.

Iraq has been awash in rioting, and I've got to wonder if that has something to do with this targeted military action. Lo and behold, the US embassy in Baghdad was attacked six days ago on 12/31/19.

Other countries have their idiots too, and the Iraqi parliament has voted to ask the Americans to leave. Yes, the Americans who helped save Iraq when it was overrun by ISIS. Did Iraq turn to Iran for help then, or to people who could definitely help?

The hand-wringing and American-damning forces aren't overwhelming, though. The world is largely being attentive, but not overly worried. Well, maybe not the whole world, but the oil traders. I like to be reassured by the markets, though they aren't infallible. However, Iran hasn't been able to do anything spectacular yet. The biggest victory was hacking the webpage for a US federal library program. If that's the best they can do when they've probably pulled out all the stops, I'm not going to get into a sweat. Yes, there may be repercussions, but I don't think this will be a killing I'm going to regret. The Iranian military aren't good guys, and killing a top guy is probably a favor to the world, not a frightening miscalculation.

Image: freep.com

Update 1/7/20. Someone in the Pentagon mistakenly sent out a letter saying that the US and Iraq had better nail down this withdrawal. Oops, folks, that letter went out by mistake. The Iraqi prime minister is demanding an explanation of the mistake, but didn't his country just vote to throw 'em out? This is funnier than the Keystone Kops.

Update 1/9/20. The Iranians responded by shooting a bunch of missiles at bases in Iraq. However, they unofficially put the word out and all personnel were able to hunker down in fortified places. So a bit of damage was down and no one was hurt... in Iraq that is. It's possible that Iran accidentally hit a commercial flight, killing almost 200 people. Oh, the stupidity and waste. Maybe hand-wringers will blame it on the US somehow.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Impeachment follies - the slow beginning

I expect bigger impeachment fireworks in the future, but the recent developments deserve note. The House voted largely on party lines to impeach Trump for extorting Ukraine and contempt of Congress for mostly stonewalling their investigation.

I support the investigation, and I support the impeachment (see revised opinion here). I personally wouldn't vote to remove him from office for these infractions unless there was a repeat of the kind of behavior as happened to Ukraine. Make no mistake, though. This was a serious infraction, and deserves a full investigation and a huge load of criticism. It's much worse than Bill Clinton lying during a deposition about his sexual activities.

Even though the House voted to impeach, Nancy Pelosi isn't moving ahead to the Senate trial because it looks like Mitch McConnell intends to run a joke of a trial there. It's not clear that the House advocates (officially called 'managers') will be allowed to call witnesses to testify at the Senate. It would be like a trial with no rights allowed for the prosecutor to make a case. So basically a sham, and not in accordance with the historical practice.

Pelosi is not wrong to hold up the impeachment and shine a light on this attempt to suborn the process. In the meantime, the GOP is running its propaganda machine and trying as hard as possible to avoid the process. They don't seem to care what precedents they break, but McConnell was like that when it came time to replace a dead Supreme Court justice with a live one. Precedents only matter when they help you, not when they might prevent you from maximizing your party's power.

Letter from Trump to Pelosi

The letter was authored by Trump and some advisers who provided phrases that sounded more intelligent than 'you stink.' It's not at all a legal opinion, but a kitchen sink overflowing with lame talking points and complaints. Trump is obviously not planning to fight the impeachment as a legal question, but more like a political campaign--where you praise yourself and blast your opponent and the niceties of accuracy are shoved aside. It's also clear that Mitch McConnell isn't going to enforce decorum or a fair process.

The letter was grist for a critique on logic--one of my favorite topics. I could go on much longer than the critique does, but it's still a rare, and therefore valuable instance of actually examining some arguments that are made.

Backlash against a Christian ethical viewpoint

The editor of a moderately popular Christian newsletter bit the bullet and argued that Trump is unfit for office and should be removed. Cue an amazing amount of outrage, as though the editor hadn't pointed out the obvious. In fact, the editorial didn't criticize Trump until its fifth paragraph--that's how much of a preamble they felt they needed before biting that bullet and saying clearly that Trump abused his power and therefore is unfit.

Most of the counterarguments don't dispute the facts, but make the expedient argument that Christianity will suffer without all the support Trump has given. Trump-- a bad man, maybe, but OUR bad man.

I'm under the impression that Christian ethics are supposed to be more ethical than that. Christianity Today was trying to make the argument that character matters. Most of Trump's Christian supporters have to deny that or delude themselves and adopt an ends-justify-the-means mindset. Not what Jesus preached.

The follow-up to the editorial moderated quite a bit. There was some aspects about the Trump administration to be celebrated, but also much that was unethical, like his race-baiting, cruelty to immigrants, and greed. The follow-up doesn't mention that Trump is unfit by his actions and his character, but seems to focus more on Trump being bad PR for American evangelicals. Ummm, is this expedience creeping in? I had much more respect when Christianity Today was willing to give witness to the specific acts were wrong, and that Trump was "morally unable to lead." Maybe it's hard to be as blunt when your fellow Christians have leveled a barrage of stones at your head.

Image: pinterest.com

Update 1/9/20. There have been a series of developments all concerning how the impeachment trial in the Senate will be run. McConnell indicated that he wasn't going to do a standard trial with witnesses being called and testifying about the charges. There were suggestions that McConnell wouldn't allow any witnesses called, and maybe have speeches by senators followed by a pre-ordained acquittal or dismissal of charges. Pelosi and those in the House want much more of a show than that, so Pelosi still hasn't handed the impeachment charges to the Senate.

Pelosi may have to fold eventually. She doesn't seem to have the power or the public support to force the Senate GOP to call witnesses. The country seems complacent about it, and it's hard to blame them. It is a foregone conclusion that Trump will be acquitted. So what is the point now? It seems to be to show how partisan the Senate GOP is. No surprise there. They've been hyper-partisan for over two decades, and it's only gotten worse. So a sham impeachment trial - NO SURPRISE THERE!!!! Remember, these are the folks who wouldn't replace a dead Supreme Court justice with a live one, so they'll certainly have a sham impeachment trial.

The defense of the president has varied:

  1. He didn't do any real harm because the money was released.
  2. It's not a crime on the lawbooks, folks! 
  3. Biden definitely needs to be investigated.
  4. No quid pro quo! (maybe that's a variant of not a crime, folks!).
  5. The Dems never quit with the complaints and plans to impeach Trump. 
  6. The economy is great, so leave the prez alone!
  7. It's just bunch of State Department whiners who are angry that Trump bypassed them.
  8. No, there wasn't any personal advantage to Trump. None at all.
I imagine all of these defenses, and maybe a few others, will be floated at the trial. McConnell is hinting that it will happen soon even if he has to break a couple more precedents. Well, I shouldn't be surprised by that. 

Extras. The Defense Department tried to figure out what to do as the funds were on hold and it wasn't clear why. Disgraced Rod Blagojevich claims (from prison) that the current Dems are such scum that they'd even impeach Lincoln. What is sickening kiss-up, but then he is in prison.

Update 1/15/20. The House released new information. Not surprisingly, it centers on human hand grenade Giuliani. Yes, he seems even scummier, but not by much.

Update 1/19/20. More new information. Giuliani associate Parnas was also working closely with an aide to Nunes (that incredibly honest fellow). The impeachment articles were passed to the Senate on 1/16/20. The trial will start on 1/21/20. Trump added four more attorneys to his team including Ken Starr (probably still an attack dog) and Alan Dershowitz who has just become legal and publicity whore of epic proportions. Dershowitz won't vote for him, but will go on TV for him and spin incredible legal fairytales. I'll have to watch for the fireworks. Here is a surprisingly sober and not at all boring analysis of Trump's strategy. Basically he'll energize his base, and it's working.

Analysis by the Wall Street Journal, by way of Politico: "The stark tribalism [in the GOP] has led those who want long-term futures in the party to get in line behind the president and those who have had enough to retire quietly without risking a noisy and disruptive exit. Twenty-six House Republicans have announced they are leaving the House since the 2018 midterm elections, when the party’s moderate wing took major casualties as Democrats won the majority. Not one of those retirees, including several moderates, voted against the party line on impeachment."

Update 1/20/20. Another article about Parnas trying to set up meetings and influence. This guy is quite the headache for Trump and Giuliani because their deniability is nil. He definitely seems to have been working with Giuliani in Ukraine.