Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

A Constitutional crisis in the making

September 26, 2020

I think this prediction by economist Jack Rasmus is all too possible.

CNN poll shows 66% of Trump supporters will vote in person on Nov. 3 but only 22% of Biden supporters vote in person. (53% Biden supports to vote by mail). Trump will appear to win on Nov. 3 based on direct in person voting. He’ll declare victory and then move quickly to have Barr and the Justice Dept. stop the counting of mail in ballots in key swing states.

His lawyers are already fanning out and filing motions for injunctions against mail in voting. They will flood swing-blue states mail in ballot vote counting to delay the counting still further. States where Republican governors (and State secretaries of state who manage those states’ vote counting) will meanwhile throw out millions of mail in ballots based on technicalities like signatures failing to dot i’s or cross t’s to ensure Trump ‘red’ states turn in pro-Trump decisions.

Examples of US post office chaos & claims of lost vote ballots, etc. will be used by Trump lawyers to make legal argument that mail in ballots cannot be used to determine the final vote count. Injunctions will be filed to require states to disregard mail ballots. Further delays in mail in ballot counting will occur.

Disputes and legal action by Dems in response will be quickly sent up by Trump federal district judges (appointed by hundreds under McConnell since 2013) to the Supreme Court, now 6-3 in Trump’s pocket. Trump’s Supreme Court will repeat its Florida 2000 decision stopping the vote count––this time counting original votes not a recount. Only swing and blue states will be targeted, not red states already pro-Trump.

Street protests will erupt after Nov. 3 protesting the legal coup d’etat in progress. Trump has already called protestors “insurrectionists” and identified all protests as ‘antifa’ or ‘communist’. His attorney general, Barr, has also already pre-labeled protestors as “treasonous” and traitors who should be forcibly repressed and jailed

The US executive branch since 2002 now has its own executive police force called the Dept. Homeland Security (DHS), with de facto military swat teams who’ve been doing ‘dry runs’ in Seattle, Chicago, Portland and elsewhere. They will be used to suppress protests, aided by pro-Trump local police departments (e.g. New York City, etc.) and perhaps even welcoming right wing radical supporters as provocateurs to attack protestors and thus allow DHS-Police to declare protests riots and directly quash protests.

Source: Jack Rasmus

When Donald Trump was elected, I scoffed at those who called him a potential dictator.  I thought he was too erratic and ignorant to be a dictator.  I thought his significance was as a kind of proof-of-concept of how someone more intelligent and purposeful might become dictator.  Maybe I underestimated him.

This potential crisis is not Trump’s doing alone.  The Republicans–and it is mainly the Republicans–have been chipping away at the integrity of the voting system for 20 years.  In 2000, the election did not go to George W. Bush merely because the Florida recount was halted.  It was because thousands of black voters were disqualified based on false claims they had been  convicted of felonies in other states.

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How real is the danger of a Trump coup?

September 25, 2020

How real is the danger that Republican state governments could set aside the results of the Presidential vote and simply appoint Trump electors?

The President is chosen by members of the Electoral College, and although the Electors are chosen by the voters in all states, this is not a Constitutional requirement.  The Constitution states  that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature shall direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress……”

Theoretically, any state could change its election law between now and Nov. 3 so as to allow the state legislature to name the electors.  Such a law would have to be passed by both houses of a state legislature and signed by the governor.

Of the states in which the outcome is in doubt, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have Democratic governors and Republican legislatures.  The governor would be sure to veto any bill changing the election law.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Texas have Republican governors and legislatures both.  But how likely is it that the governor and legislators, who all have to stand for re-election, would openly thwart the expressed will of a majority of the voters?

Anything is possible, I guess.  You never know what people are capable of.

But I’d be more worried about the Postal Service not delivering all the mailed ballots on time, a declaration of a winner before all the ballots are counted, throwing ballots out for arbitrary and trivial reasons, etc., than this particular scenario.

LINKS

Could Republicans ignore the popular vote and choose their own pro-Trump electors? by Sam Levine for The Guardian.

Sanders issues stark warning on Trump and calls for election commission by David Smith for The Guatdian.

The Election That Could Break America by Jason Kottke for kottke.org. [Added Later]

Poorly Protected Postal Workers Are Catching COVID-19 by the Thousands.  It’s One More Threat to Voting by Mail by Maryam Jameel and Ryan McCarthy for ProPublica. [Added Later]

How Trump could win by cheating

September 24, 2020

A lot is being written about what happens if Trump refuses to concede defeat.  This is a bogus question.  He wins or loses when the Electoral College meets.  Whether or not he admits defeat is neither here nor there.

The big question is what happens between Nov, 3, which is Election Day, and Jan. 6, when the Electoral College announces the results.

My previous post was about what happens if Trump wins fair and square, more or less, and whether Democrats could live with it.. This post is about how Trump could cheat.

I don’t have direct access to The Atlantic, but Eric Lutz of  Vanity Fair summed up the high points:

The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman reports that the Trump campaign has been discussing “contingency plans to bypass the election results and appoint local electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority.” Citing the president’s baseless claims of fraud, Team Trump could ask GOP-controlled state governments to choose electors, completely ignoring an unfavorable or uncertain popular vote, state and national Republican sources told Gellman.

“The state legislatures will say, ‘All right, we’ve been given this constitutional power,’” a Trump campaign legal adviser explained to the Atlantic. “‘We don’t think the results of our own state are accurate, so here’s our slate of electors that we think properly reflect the results of our state.’”

Does completely ignoring the will of the voters seem anti-democratic? Unconstitutional? Impossible? One would think. But as Gellman points out, however authoritarian this kind of end-around may seem, the Constitution doesn’t forbid such a move, and it’s something the Trump campaign could pull off. Indeed, state Republican leaders have already casually indicated that they’d be all too happy to enable this kind of power grab.

“I’ve mentioned it to them, and I hope they’re thinking about it too,” Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania, one of the swing states on which the 2020 race could hinge, told Gellman. “It is one of the available legal options set forth in the constitution.”

Disturbing as the prospect of bypassing the popular vote in GOP-controlled battlegrounds may be, it’s but one of several vulnerabilities in the electoral system Trump and his flunkies are trying to exploit this fall, ranging from complex legal fights to declaring absentee ballots fraudulent before they’ve even been processed to the possibility — likelihood? — that the president will simply pronounce himself the winner before all votes are tallied.

While Joe Biden …… retains a strong lead over his counterpart nationally, polls suggest the two are locked in tight races in several key states like Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and Arizona. The idea that typically deep-red states like Texas and Georgia are in play for Biden would seem to reflect the president’s challenging reelection prospects—but those states all are controlled by Republican-majority legislatures, creating just the opening Trump needs to call the votes bogus and appoint electors that will decide in his favor.

Source: Vanity Fair

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Suppose Trump wins. What then?

September 24, 2020

Biden ahead, but Trump within reach. Source: 270towin.com

A lot is being written about what happens if President Trump loses the election and refuses to concede defeat.  But there is an equal and opposite problem outcome.

What if Trump wins by fair means or foul?  Can the Democrats accept the legitimacy of a second Trump term?

I can’t predict the outcome of the election, but here’s one outcome that’s highly possible.  Joe Biden, like Hillary Clinton, wins the popular vote, but Donald Trump wins the electoral vote, based on narrow margins in key states.

Very likely there will be disputes as to which ballots shall be counted–for example, if large numbers of mail-in ballots arrive after election day or not all the ballots are counted when thr Electoral College meets.

Disputes would be resolved by a vote in thr House of Representatives, on a one-state, one-vote basis, or by the Supreme Court.  Republicans have a majority in 28 state delegations, versus 22 for Democrats.  Republican appointees also are in a majority on the Supreme Court, and it favored the Republicans in Bush v. Gore.

Many Democrats refused to accept the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 win.  They influenced electors to violate their pledges and then mounted failed two impeachment campaigns.

If Trump wins again, the opposition will not be limited to political maneuvering.  It will take place in the streets.  And this will be during a time of massive unemployment, bankruptcies  and already-existing civil unrest.

Back in June, a group of former government officials, campaign leaders and other notables conducted a role-playing political war game under different scenarios.

They pointed out that (1) the winner probably won’t be known on Election Night, (2) there will be plenty of opportunities for both sides to dispute the results and (3) the transition process will like be disrupted.

They played out four scenarios–an ambiguous result, a clear Biden victory, a clear Trump win and a narrow Biden win.  The most interesting part to me is the lengths to which these experienced campaigners and officials thought the Democrats would go to prevent Trump from takibg office even if he has a clear win.

In the war game, Team Biden asks for a recount in key states.  By a roll of the dice, this results in Democratic governors in two states certifying a different slate of electors than those certified by the state legislators.

Then we get to the wild stuff.  The governments of California, Oregon and Washington threaten to secede from the Union unless Congress agrees to give statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., subdivide California into five states with their own Senators, require Supreme Court justices to retire at age 70 and abolish the Electoral College.  I don’t know whether the game-players were aware that the last two would require Constitutional amendments.

It’s hard to believe such things could actually happen.  But it is striking that so many top-level people entertain these possibilities.

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Trump’s weak record is hurting him

September 15, 2020

‘I Keep My Promises,’ Trump said – Let’s Check by Nicholas Kristof for the New York Times.

Keeping Score – Trump’s Broken Promises by Hedrick Smith for Reclaim the American Dream [Added 9/16/2020]

How Trump Is Losing His Base by Stanley B. Greenberg for The American Prospect.

Majority of voters don’t see either Trump or Biden as mentally fit to be president by Tal Axelrod for The Hill.

Obama’s legacy is normalization of war

September 15, 2020

The Obama foreign policy was a continuation of the Bush foreign policy by other means.  

It is a mistake to think of Obama’s election as a change of direction, as I and others hoped and expected at the time.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ex-General Wesley Clark, former commander of NATO, visited old friends in the Pentagon.  

One of them showed Clark a copy of the long-range strategy.  After a supposidly easy victory in Iraq, U.S. forces would go on to invade Syria, Libya, Somalia and other countries including Iran.

The American public, thinking this had something to do with fighting terrorism, went along with this for a while, but after a while became sick of seeing their sons and brothers coming home in flag-draped coffins for no apparent reason.

Barack Obama, running in 2008, said, “I’m not opposed to wars.  I’m opposed to stupid wars.”  He instead waged “intelligent” wars based on flying killer robots, teams of trained assassins and subsidies to local armed factions who supposedly would serve U.S. purposes.

He did not end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instigated new wars in Libya and Syria.  Yes, there were pro-democratic protests in those countries that provided an excuse for intervention, but the purpose of U.S. intervention had nothing to do with those purposes.

The war in Syria would long ago have died down if not for U.S. forces there, U.S. bombing and U.S. and Saudi subsidies to rebels, many of whom are Al Qaeda rebranded.

The U.S. meanwhile has special forces carrying on war in more countries in Africa, Asia and Latin American than any member of the public and probably any member of Congress knows.  

I don’t know to what degree Obama’s policies represented his sincere conviction and how much he simply acquiesced in what he thought he had to do to protect his political career.  I do give him credit for trying to establish normal diplomatic relations with Iran and Cuba.

On the other hand, his administration instigated a new proxy war in Ukraine.  It engineered the overthrow of an unpopular and corrupt but legitimate government before the incumbent could be removed by means of an election.  This set off a conflict that continues to this day.

I think one purpose of the Russiagate investigations, now largely discredited, was to cancel the possibility that Donald Trump might make peace with Russia.

Donald Trump from time to time talks about winding down wars, but then backs down.  He has stepped up drone warfare and war by economic sanctions, and increased the danger of nuclear war with Russia by canceling important arms control treaties. 

There is no reason to think Joe Biden will be any better.  Normalization of the forever wars is the continuing Obama legacy.

LINKS

Let’s Be Real: President Biden Would Probably Be More Hawkish Than Trump by Caitlin Johnstone.

On Foreign Policy, Biden Is Worse Than Trump by Ted Rall.

Expect More ‘Liberal Interventionism’ Under a Joe Biden Presidency by Derek Davidson and Alex Thurston for Jacobin.

The pre-pandemic Trump economy in charts

September 11, 2020

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

For good and ill, the Trump economy was a continuation of the Obama administration.  The only thing Donald Trump did, pre-pandemic, that had an immediate effect on the economy was to push legislation to cut upper-bracket taxes.

I thought there would be a recession, not specifically because of any specific thing President Trump would do, but because I thought that all the conditions that brought about the 2008 recession still existed, and that Trump would not try to change them.

I was surprised that the boom continued as long as it did.  I did not and could not have predicted the pandemic, which changed everything.  I don’t think Trump has handled the pandemic crisis well, but it would  have been an economic catastrophe regardless of who was in the White House.

None of this is an excuse for Trump’s failures.  Presidents are not graded on the curve; they are graded on a pass/fail system.

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A constructive future for the GOP

August 26, 2020

When Donald Trump was campaigning in 2016, the most powerful thing he said was, ‘We don’t make things in this country anymore.’

He campaigned in the Rustbelt and promised to rebuild American manufacturing.  He said the leaders of China, Mexico and other countries are laughing at us for allowing our industrial base to decline.

He promised to repeal and reject pro-corporate trade treaties.  He promised to stop illegal immigration.  He promised a trillion-dollar infrastructure program. He promise to ‘drain the swamp’ of special interests.

He promised to repeal and replace Obamacare with something better.  He promised to wind down the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and improve relations with Russia.

Nobody else was talking about these issues except Bernie Sanders.  Npbody, including Sanders, talked about them in this year’s election campaign.

Trump did do some things to carry out his promises.  He rejected the pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  He canceled NAFTA and replaced it with a new agreement that was less bad.

He imposed new tariffs on Chinese imports in a willy-nilly way.  He did not propose a systematic industrial policy to rebuild American industry.

On the other hand, he worsened Obamacare instead of improving it.  He did not end the wars.  His administration stepped up the Cold War with Russia.  He did not clean house of special interests; just the reverse.  But it is not as if his Democratic opposition was proposing something better.

Trump benefited from the economic recovery that began under the Obama administration.  If not for the COVID-19 pandemic and his failed response, he would have an excellent chance of winning a fair election.

If I were a Republican strategist, I would be content to see the Democrats win the 2020 election, have them take the blame for the impending economic crash and pick up the pieces in 2024.

There is an emerging school of thought in the Republican Party called National Conservatism.  It consists of an industrial policy to rebuild industry and infrastructure, cancellation of free trade agreements, a non-interventionist foreign policy and social conservatism.

With such a policy, and with a candidate who did not make a fool of himself on a daily basis, like Trump., the GOP could win and deserve to win.

I don’t think a hypothetical national conservative administration would do everything I think needful.  I can’t imagine Republicans supporting a Green New Deal or strong labor unions.  But if such an administration was serious about ending the wars and reversing de-industrialization, it would be an improvement over what we’ve got now.

A certain amount of economic nationalism is needed because all international economic institutions are controlled by global corporations and banks.  At this point in history, the nation-state is the highest level subject to democratic control.

I am not predicting the Republicans will actually choose this path.  I am speculating on the best path open to them.

LINKS

The New Populist Right Imagines a Post-Pandemic America on BIG by Matt Stoller [Added 8/28/2020]

National Conservatism Conference Draws Big Names by Emma Green for The Atlantic.

National Conservatism Conference: ‘Intellectual Trumpist’ Movement Takes Shape by Jimmy Quinn for National Review.

Getting Behind Enlightened Nationalism by Patrick J. Buchanan from his new book.

Joe Biden is already planning a failed presidency by Ryan Cooper for The Week.

Sabotage of Postal Service can risk lives

August 21, 2020

A number of people on my neighborhood association list-serve report problems with their mail delivery, including not getting medications and pension checks in a timely way.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recently took a lot of mail-sorting machines out of service and stopped overtime work, which he admits will slow down mail deliveries.  Delays in delivering medications can risk lives.

Some e-mails blame our local post office staff, but this is something that only happened in the past month or two and I don’t know of anything that has changed there at that time.

One of the under-reported aspects of the Trump administration is how he and his crew have undermined the normal workings of government.  We see this in Trump’s undermining of efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.  Now we see it again in his support for DeJoy’s policy.

LINKS

USPS slowdown delays delivery of life-saving meds by Christina Farr for CNBC.

Postal changes delay mail-order medicine for vets by Hope Yen for the Associated Press.

It’s Very Hard to Rebuild a Bridge Once It’s Torn Down by Jason Kottke for kottke.org.

Why I Love the Post Office (And You Should, Too) by Mindy Isser for Current Affairs.

How Trump could win: (2) by election rigging

July 31, 2020

The stability of a democracy rests on losers of an election accepting the fact that they lost fair and square and that they will have another chance to win next time.  But what if that isn’t true?  What if the system is rigged?

Greg Palast, an outstanding investigative reporter, thinks the system is rigged.  He has been devoting himself exclusively to this topic for years.

He reported his latest findings in his new book, HOW TRUMP STOLE 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished Voters by Greg Palast with comics by Ted Rall. The book is highly readable, but if you don’t have time to read the whole book, Ted Rall’s cartoons sum up the story.  If you can’t get the book, check out Palast’s home page.

Palast found that, in the 2016 presidential election, 5.87 million votes were cast and never counted.  These included 3.03 mail-in ballots rejected or lost.  In addition, 1.98 million voters were blocked from casting votes.

This did not happen at random.  The 7.85 million Americans who lost their vote were disproportionately African-American, other people of color and younger citizens—all Democratic constituencies.  This probably gave Donald Trump his margin of victory over Hillary Clinton.

In Michigan, for example, 75,355 votes were not counted because ballot scanners in Detroit broke down, even though they could have been counted by hand.  Trump won Michigan by just 10,700 votes.  There are similar stories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Since 2016, 16.7 million American voter registrations have been canceled, and they are disproportionately minorities.  The Democratic politicians are not the victims here.  The victims are American citizens who have a right to expect fair elections.

Voter suppression and election rigging at this moment in American history is done mainly by Republicans.  That’s not to say that Democrats are angels.  But, according to Palast, what election rigging they do is mainly in primaries.

In the past, ballot-stuffing by Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine in Chicago may have give President John F. Kennedy his margin of victory.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Elbridge Gerry, a 19th century Democratic governor of Massachusetts.

Present-day Democrats are strangely indifferent to this issue, as is much of the press.  One exception is Stacey Abrams, a Georgia state legislator who fought against voter suppression even before she ran for governor in 2018.

Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. Photo: CNN

Her opponent was Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, who purged 500,000 voter registrations on the grounds that they supposedly had left the state.  One of them was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92-year-old cousin, who was turned away when she tried to vote.

Palast put together a team that checked out every name.  They found that 340,134 of the purged voters had never moved.

Kemp also refused to accept registrations of some 40,000 new minority voters and threatened to arrest Korean-American voter registration volunteers.  His margin of victory over Abrams was just under 55,000 votes.

This is something that has been building up for a long time.

In 2000, George W. Bush’s margin of victory over Al Gore in Florida was 537 votes.  Florida’s vote gave Bush a majority in the Electoral College.

Palast discovered that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris canceled 94,000 voter registrations, mostly of black voters, on the grounds that they’d committed felonies in other states.    Palast got the list and found that exactly zero were illegal voters.

This was just the beginning.  Just in the past two years, 16.7 million voters have had their registrations canceled.  Among those who’ve turned up on purge lists are Sequanna Taylor, a Milwaukee County supervisor, who, coincidentally or not, is African-American

Palast said his investigators found that, in certain states, one in seven African-American votes and one in eight Hispanic and Asian-American voters were purged.

I refer you to Greg Palast’s book and web site for details about the Crosscheck system, voter caging, voter ID laws, removal of voting machines from key districts, voting machines with verification and anti-hacking features turned off.

Instead I’ll concentrate on the main threat to the integrity of the 2020 elections, which is problems with mail-in ballots and rejection of mail-in ballots.

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How Trump could win: (1) with political strategy

July 27, 2020

The Electoral Map as some pollsters see it. Source: Naked Capitalism

I don’t expect Donald Trump to be re-elected.  I expect him to self-destruct.  But that’s what I expected in 2016.  The election campaign isn’t over until it’s over and, even then, it may not be over.

The thing to remember about Trump’s strategy, and the strategy of Republicans in general, is that it is not to win over voters from the opposing party.  It is to hold onto core supporters and to try to reduce the Democratic vote by fair means and foul.

This is done by two means.  One is by manipulating the election process.  This includes gerrymandering, eliminating likely Democrats from voter registration lists, making voting difficult in predominantly Democratic districts and, possibly, tampering with electronic voting machines.

The great investigative reporter, Greg Palast, has been working on this issue for years, and he summed up his findings in his new book, HOW TRUMP STOLE 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished VotersI’ll review his book in a follow-up post.

The other is by persuading core Democratic constituencies that it isn’t worthwhile to vote.  This was the strategy of Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager.  He used social media to target African-Americans, women and college students and convince them that it wasn’t worthwhile to vote for Hillary Clinton.

In 2016, Trump received a slightly smaller percentage of votes than Mitt Romney in 2012.  What brought him within reach of victory was a long-term decline in the Democratic vote, which began after the 2008 election.  The big question is whether this decline can be reversed.

Harper’s magazine earlier this year sent a reporter to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a formerly prosperous manufacturing town with strong labor unions, that has been emptied of its industry.

The reporter expected to find people full of despair and anger.  Instead he found that most had come to accept industrial decline as a fact of life, and were trying to make the best of things as they were.

Some were indignant about workers in local Amazon workhouses being put at risk of coronavirus infection.  Nobody outside knew what the health risks were because Amazon simply refused to allow the county government to make inspections.

Most of them took it for granted that both political parties and the national government were under control of elites who cared nothing for people like them.  The administrations of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump himself had killed any audacity of hope.

Joe Biden is not someone to reawaken hope.  The two main themes of his political history are support for the financial industry and support for the police.  He told his big-money financial backers that nothing is going to change and he’s not going to propose any legislation that will harm their interests.

He supported NAFTA and other pro-corporate trade treaties.  He is even more of a war hawk than Donald Trump; he has accused Trump of appeasing China.

All these things are politically significant because they dampen enthusiasm for Biden, and as possible points for targeted social media by the Trump campaign, the same as in 2016.

But Biden has one big advantage.  He is not Donald Trump.  In 2020, this is no small thing.

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The passing scene: links & comments 7/24/2020

July 24, 2020

Who Is the Most Dangerous Fascist? by Glen Ford, editor of the Black Agenda Report.  The best perspective on Donald Trump and fascism I’ve read yet.

Biden Just Made a Big Promise to His Wall Street Donors by David Sirota on Too Much Information

Cold War Escapades in the Pacific by Patrick Lawrence for Consortiumnews.  The danger of war with China.

Russian coronavirus doctors are mysteriously falling out of windows by Alex Ward for Vox.

Chevron vs. human rights – big consequences for the man who fought big oil on We Don’t Have Time.  A lawyer is literally under house arrest and faces criminal charges in the USA for having won an environmental lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador.

A Conversation With Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed Jr. for The Bellows.  Benn Michaels and Reed are the best-known critics of “race reductionism.”

What You Need to Know About the Battle of Portland by Robert Evans for bellingcat.

Democracy, the military and the para-military

July 21, 2020

The U.S. Army has been used many times in American history to intervene in strikes, disperse protestors and even enforce court orders to desegregate schools.

So it’s interesting that the top military brass was leery of supporting President Trump’s plan to intervene in the Black Lives Matter protests.

I can understand why they might not have wanted to be identified with one of American history’s most divisive figures.  But there is another possible reason why they hesitated.

Roughly 21 percent of American soldiers are African-American, compared to just under 14 percent of the total population.

If I were an Army general, I would not want to test whether black American troops, and their white and Hispanic barrack-mates, would be willing to put down a movement whose goal is to end police abuse of black people.

But, as it turned out, Donald Trump didn’t need the career military.  The federal government has 132,000 personnel with military-grade weapons.

Since they lack rigorous military discipline, codes of conduct or a tradition of staying out of partisan politics, they serve his purposes better than the career military would.

In Portland, Oregon, unidentified men are grabbing people off the streets, throwing them into unmarked cars and taking them off to unknown locations.

They are not protecting government property or private property.  They are not restoring order.  They are putting down a rebellion.

Presumably we in the United States are not at the point where we can expect people in unmarked cars to dump bullet-riddled bodies into the street and speed away, as in the Dirty Wars in Argentina and  other Latin American countries.  I wish I could say I was confident that we would never get to this point in the USA.

Portland is just the beginning.  The Department of Homeland Security reportedly plans to send its para-militaries into Chicago and other U.S. cities.

The likely result will be to broaden and intensify the conflict.  Revolutionaries and fascists have a common objective—to widen conflicts so that everyone will have to choose one side or the other.

LINKS

Who Are These Guys? by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s police state attack in Portland, Oregon by Patrick Martin for the World Socialist Web Site.

President Trump sending federal police agents into major American cities by Kevin Reed for the World Socialist Web Site.

Border Patrol’s Dream of Becoming a National Police Force Is Becoming a Reality by Jenn Budd for Southern Border Communities Coalition.  [Added 7/22/2020]

TRUMP’S SECRET POLICE: A HISTORY LESSON by Peter Daou [Added 7/22/2020]  Trump is building on precedents set by Bush and Obama.

Trump’s guidelines benefit him no matter what

April 20, 2020

Doug Muder, on his The Weekly Sift  blog, pointed out that President Trump’s Opening Up America Again guidelines are different from what he says they are.  His handling of the guidelines enables him to say he was right no matter what happens.  Here’s some of what Muder wrote—

Thursday, the White House released the long-awaited guidelines Opening Up America Again.  It was rolled out in a quintessentially Trumpian way, one that will allow him to claim credit for any successes and blame someone else for any failures.  

This sleight-of-hand is achieved by a simple trick: What the document says is very different from what Trump says about it.

He says it’s a plan by which parts of the country can start relaxing stay-at-home orders almost immediately — even before his previously stated goal of May 1.  

But if you read the document (and how many MAGA-hatters will bother?) it lists a set of criteria not much different from those put forward by public-health experts all over the world — or by Joe Biden a week ago: a downward trend in cases, a rebuilt stockpile of medical equipment, extensive testing even of those with no symptoms, and exhaustive contact-tracing of those who test positive.

Since no state is anywhere near achieving those criteria, none can use these guidelines to justify opening up anytime in the near future.

You might expect all this open-up/stay-closed confusion to hinder both the economy and the fight against the virus — and you’d be right — but jobs and lives are not the point. The primary goal is to allow Trump to claim vindication no matter what happens.

  • If a state reopens its economy soon and everything works fine, then Trump takes credit for all the jobs gained, because he told them to reopen.  Even better, he overruled both Democrats and scientists, who were wrong when he was right.  The stable genius wins again!
  • If a state relaxes its lockdown rules, sees a spike in infections and deaths, and has to lock down again, it’s not Trump’s fault that the governor misapplied what was clearly written down in the guidelines.  Blame that loser, even if he’s been a loyal Trumpist like Ron DeSantis or Greg Abbott.
  • If a state doesn’t reopen soon, then any economic or psychological distress caused by the continued lockdown is also the governor’s fault, and Trump is the champion of the suffering people trapped in their homes.  Liberate Michigan!

It’s a neat trick.

LINKS

Trump’s Guidelines Aren’t What He Says They Are by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Read the whole thing to get the highlights of the Opening Up America Again plan..

“It’ll all be over by Christmas” by Charles Stross for Charlie’s Diary.  A Scottish science fiction writer on the hard facts.

The coronavirus and the Trump administration

February 27, 2020

The failure of the Trump administration to prepare for an epidemic is greater than I thought, as indicated by this Jan. 31 article by Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy magazine.

The epidemic control efforts unfolding today in China—including placing some 100 million citizens on lockdown, shutting down a national holiday, building enormous quarantine hospitals in days’ time, and ramping up 24-hour manufacturing of medical equipment—are indeed gargantuan.

It’s impossible to watch them without wondering, “What would we do? How would my government respond if this virus spread across my country?”

For the United States, the answers are especially worrying because the government has intentionally rendered itself incapable.

In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure.

In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S. government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed confusion.

If the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it is—not just for the public but for the government itself, which largely finds itself in the dark.  [snip]

In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later.  

But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.  

In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency.  

The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team.  Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced.

The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10.  [snip]

And though Congress has so far managed to block Trump administration plans to cut the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent, the disease-fighting cadres have steadily eroded as retiring officers go unreplaced.  [snip]

… State-level health leaders told me that they have been sharing information with one another and deciding how best to prepare their medical and public health workers without waiting for instructions from federal leadership. 

The most important federal program for  local medical worker and hospital epidemic training, however, will run out of money in May, as Congress has failed to vote on its funding.

The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is the bulwark between hospitals and health departments versus pandemic threats; last year HHS requested $2.58 billion, but Congress did not act.

Source: Foreign Policy.

The failure isn’t just Trump’s.  Congress has responsibility for oversight of the federal government.  The Democrats with their new majority in the House of Representatives could have prioritized investigating the functioning of governmental departments instead of impeachment.

For that matter, Republicans in the Senate and House could have exercised their oversight functions.  The Washington press corps could have investigated.  But if they had, would we the people have paid attention?  Or would we have found President Trump’s tweets more interesting?

But the main question now is not: Who is to blame?  It is: What do we—we Americans as a nation—do next?

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Book note: The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

February 26, 2020

When Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, he and his team declined to be briefed on the work of the government they were now in charge of.  This was unprecedented.

His appointees were also contemptuous and willfully ignorant of the work they supposedly supervised.

Michael Lewis, a well-known non-fiction author, took it on himself to get the briefings that Trump declined.  The result is his 2018 book, THE FIFTH RISK.

He showed the harm that Trump administration is doing.  We Americans are at risk of a hollowing out of governmental capability equivalent to the past few decades of hollowing out of manufacturing capability.

But the real interest in the book is his report of work and accomplishments of American public servants.  He shows what we are in danger of losing.  It is a shame, but not unusual, to not value what you have until you are in danger of losing it.

Lewis wrote chapters about the Departments of Energy, Agriculture and Commerce, all of which have priorities different from what I thought.

§§§

The Department of Energy, for example, is not devoted to energy in general.  It devotes about half of its $30 billion annual budget goes to maintaining the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.  About $2 billion of that goes to tracking down the world’s missing weapons-grade uranium and plutonium before it falls into the wrong hands.

Another one-fourth of the DoE budget goes to cleaning up nuclear sites, including $3 billion a year for the ongoing mess at Hanford, Washington, where the plutonium bomb was developed during World War Two.  The DoE runs 17 national physics research laboratories, such as Brookhaven, Fermi and Oak Ridge and also sponsors research on renewable energy.

Lewis asked John MacWillaims, the former “chief risk officer” for the DoE, to list the five top risks he worried about  The top risk was an accident with nuclear weapons.  Other risks involved North Korean nuclear weapons, the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons and accidents to the electrical grid.

The fifth risk, MacWilliams said, is what he called “program management”—or what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would have called “unknown unknowns.”  These are the risks you don’t know about because you never bothered to find out.

Donald Trump’s first budget eliminated the Department of Energy’s research program on renewable energy, and the largely successful $70 billion loan program for renewable energy startup companies.  It eliminated research on climate change.  It cut funding to national research laboratories so much that they had to lay off thousands of people.  It halved funding on work to protect the national electrical grid from sabotage or natural disaster.

“If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost,” Lewis wrote. “There is an upside to ignorance and a downside to knowledge.  Knowledge makes life messier.”

(more…)

Trump escalates U.S.-Russia nuclear arms race

February 23, 2020

Source: The Gray Zone.

Far from being an appeaser of Russia, President Trump is ramping up a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race and greatly increasing a real danger of nuclear war.

What the impeachment report really said

February 3, 2020

U.S. Senate holds impeachment trial

Michael Tracey of Real Clear Politics is probably one of the few people who read the House Judiciary Committee’s 658-page impeachment report.

The basis of the report is not just that President Trump abused the power of his office to harm his political rival, Joe Biden.  It is that his pause of military aid to Ukraine was actually a “betrayal of the nation” because it helped Russia.

The rhetoric reminds me of Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s and his “twenty years of treason.”  McCarthy said U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union was not only wrong, but a conscious betrayal by Communist sympathizers, up to and included General George C. Marshall.

The impeachment report contains the same rhetoric.  According to Tracey, the report uses the phrase “impeachable treason” and states, “At the very heart of ‘Treason’ is deliberate betrayal of the nation and its security.”

“Such betrayal would not only be unforgivable,” the report’s explication of treason reads, “but would also confirm that the President remains a threat if allowed to remain in office. A President who has knowingly betrayed national security is a President who will do so again. He endangers our lives and those of our allies.”

This language is then imported into the impeachment articles almost verbatim: “Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.”

The report mostly uses the word “betrayal” rather than “treason” because treason has a specific Constitutional definition.  Treason consists of fighting for an enemy in time of war or giving “aid and comfort” to the enemy in time of war.  Conviction of treason requires confession by the accused or testimony of two independent witnesses of the treasonous act.

Although the Constitution gives the President the authority to determine foreign policy, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate on treaties and major appointments, the report does not recognize that authority.

 It accuses Trump of going against the official “national security policy” of the United States, which supposedly is determined by the national security bureaucracy and not by the President.

This is consistent, it says, with Trump requesting help from Russians in the 2016 election.  So the Russiagate accusations are folded into the new accusations.

Democrats who voted for these impeachment articles voted not simply to punish Trump for soliciting an investigation of Biden.  Rather, they also voted to impeach him for committing treason at the behest of Russia.

And in turn, they ratified a number of extremely fraught New Cold War assumptions that have now been embedded into the fabric of U.S. governance, regardless of what the Senate concludes.

It’s crucial to emphasize that this is the first impeachment in American history where foreign policy has played a central role.

As such, we now have codified by way of these impeachment articles a host of impossibly dangerous precedents, namely:

1) The U.S. is in a state of war with Russia, a nuclear armed power;

2) the sitting president committed treason on behalf of this country with which the U.S. is in a state of war;

3) the president lacks a democratic mandate to conduct foreign policy over the objections of unelected national security state bureaucrats.

So the articles of impeachment are not just an indictment of President Trump.  They are an attempt to define objection to U.S. war policy as treasonous and not subject to debate.

(more…)

Impeachment and the undeclared war with Russia

January 28, 2020

Historian Stephen F. Cohen pointed out in an interview how Rep. Adam Schiff frames the Trump impeachment in terms of the undeclared war with Russia in Ukraine.

President Trump is accused of pausing military aid to Ukraine for personal, political reasons.  Schiff said that undermines the necessary war against Russia “over there” so “we won’t have to fight them over here.”

In fact, what’s going on in Ukraine is a civil war.  An anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist government, with Nazis in the governing coalition, came to power in a U.S.-backed coup.

Vladimir Putin seized control of Crimea, location of Russia’s main naval base in the region.  Russian-speaking areas in western Ukraine attempted to secede, provoking a civil war.  Putin has helped his fellow Russians defend themselves, but not march on Kiev.

The best solution would be some sort of compromise that would allow residents of the Donblass and Luhansk regions the minimum amount of autonomy and security they need to feel safe.

The best contribution the U.S. government could make is to join with Germany and France to help mediate between Russia and Ukraine.  But I know of no Republican or Democratic leader who supports this.

Of all possible criticisms of Donald Trump, the idea that he is insufficiently warlike makes the least sense.

Trump has canceled an important nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and seems ready to cancel the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (StART) when it come up for renewal in 2021.  This increases the danger of a possible nuclear war with Russia, a much more real possibility than “having to fight them over here.”

The main differences between the Democratic and Republican leaderships is that the one prioritizes military confrontation with Russia and the other prioritizes military confrontation with Iran.

I recommend watching the interview of Prof. Cohen by Aaron Maté on the video above.

The search for a national conservatism

January 20, 2020

I’ve long said that the Republican Party rests on three pillars—the neocons, who believe there is a military solution to every problem; the theo-cons, who believe there is a Biblical solution to every problem; and the libertarians, who believe there is a free-market solution to every problem.

This is an exaggeration, but an exaggeration of reality that’s only a little bit unfair. Many conservatives recognize their problem, and that was the theme of the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., last July.

A German journalist named Thomas Meaney, reported on the conference for Harper’s magazine.  He said His report shows the unifying theme of the new conservatism is patriotism and national unity.  Instead of globalization, the new conservatives want an industrial policy to rebuild American manufacturing strength.

Meaney was moved to ask—

What if Trump had dialed down the white nationalism after taking the White House and, instead of betraying nearly every word of his campaign rhetoric of economic populism, had ruthlessly enacted populist policies, passing gargantuan infrastructure bills, shredding NAFTA instead of remodeling it, giving a tax cut to the lower middle class instead of the rich, and conspiring to raise the wages of American workers?

It doesn’t take much to imagine how that would play against a Democratic challenger with McKinsey or Harvard Law School imprinted on his or her forehead.

There seemed to be two futures for Trumpism as a distinctive strain of populism: one in which the last reserves of white identity politics were mined until the cave collapsed and one in which the coalition was expanded to include working Americans, enlisting blacks and Hispanics and Asians in the cause of conquering the condescending citadels of Wokistan.

Was it predestined that Trump would choose the former?

Source: Harper’s Magazine

My answer is, yes, it was predestined that Trump make the choices he did.  Character is destiny, and Trump has the character of a showman and confidence man.  His business record shows this.

He is smart enough to give the common people the appearance of respect, while serving the interests of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.

There is nothing in his record to indicate that he has either the interest or sense of purpose to do anything more than that.

(more…)

The normalization of assassination

January 10, 2020

Most of President Trump’s critics, at home and abroad, saw nothing morally wrong with  the killing of Iranian General Qasim Soleimani.  They criticized the murder on pragmatic and procedural grounds.

They said that while Soleimani was a bad person who deserved to die, killing him at this particular time until these particular circumstances without proper consultation would have dire consequences.

I don’t claim to know what happens next, but right now it looks as if the consequences might not be all that dire.  If so, the critics seem like a bunch of nervous nellies—provided you see nothing wrong with assassination in and of itself.

President Trump

Iranians fired missiles with pinpoint accuracy at two U.S. military bases, causing damage but not casualties.  Their action was a demonstration of American vulnerability and Iranian restraint.

It’s worth remembering that the United States simulated an invasion of Iran in the Millennial Challenge 2002 war games, and lost badly.  An all-out shooting war is not in the interest of either side.

Iranian and Hezbollah leaders said they will take revenge in the form of stepped-up attacks on U.S. troops.  They said they will spare American civilians.

I think Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper regard increased American military casualties as an acceptable loss.  If they cared about the lives of American troops, they would have wound down the futile Afghanistan campaign years ago.

One danger is that Trump, Pompeo and Esper will regard Iranian restraint as weakness.  Pompeo has said he hopes increased economic pressure will make the current Iranian government fall.

That’s entirely possible, but the replacement Iranian government would be more fiercely anti-American and less restrained than the current one.

For now, both sides have stepped back from the brink.  What many feared did not happen.  Trump’s procedural sins do not seem all that bad.

But a precedent has been set – that the assassination of foreign leaders is one more foreign policy option that has to be considered.  Killing leaders of foreign governments may be expedient or inexpedient, but we think about it on a case by case basis.

Here are some of that bad consequences that can flow from the new ethical normal.

  1. Our government, having decided that it is all right to commit criminal acts against foreigners, would decide it is all right to commit criminal acts against citizens.
  2. Democratic foreign governments would decide the United States is a rogue state and unite to stop it.  This would more likely come in the form of economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions rather than a military alliance..
  3. Authoritarian foreign governments would take the United States as a role model.  Assassinations would become commonplace, and some of them would be of American leaders..

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Will Trump restart the nuclear arms race?

November 22, 2019

Click to enlarge.

President Donald Trump has threatened to allow the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to lapse when it comes up for renewal in 2021.

Renewal of the treaty would mean a drastic reduction in nuclear weapons.  Failure to renew would mean a resumption of the nuclear arms race and, sooner or later, a virtual certainty of nuclear war.

The Federation of American Scientists reports that number of nuclear warheads has been reduced from a peak of about 70,300 warheads in 1986 to 13,890 early this year.  That’s good progress, but no reason to stop now.

The USA and Russia still have enough nuclear weapons to obliterate each other and much of the rest of the human race in the process.

We the human race have been lucky so far.  The world has come close to the brink of war, but avoided it.  We can’t count on being lucky forever.

If you don’t count nuclear warheads retired, but not yet dismantled, the USA has 3,800 and Russia has 4,490.  The new START, if renewed, would reduce the number to 1,550 each.

President Trump has said he will not renew the treaty unless it covers China as well.  China has an estimated 290 warheads, which is not trivial.

Pakistan only has an estimated 160 nuclear warheads and India has 140.  Analysts say that if those two countries found a nuclear war, just the dust and soot from the nuclear explosions (never mind the radioactive fallout) would darken the skies and bring about nuclear winter.

It would be desirable for all the smaller nuclear powers, including France, the UK, Israel and North Korea, to accept an upper limit on their numbers of nuclear weapons.  But it is unlikely they would cut back so long as the USA and Russia have thousands of weapons.

So what is Trump’s motive?  My guess is that either he or the national security establishment thinks that, by restarting the nuclear arms race, the USA can force Russia to spend itself into bankruptcy or accept U.S. global military supremacy.

Click to enlarge

(more…)

Why risk war with Russia over Ukraine?

November 15, 2019

The impeachment hearings are about allegations of President Donald Trump’s interference with the criminal justice system in Ukraine..

How and why did the United States become so deeply involved in Ukraine in the first place?  The video above of an interview of Prof. Stephen F. Cohen, a historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, gives a good background of this.

The conflict in Ukraine stems from a U.S. effort to draw Ukraine into an anti-Russian alliance, and from a military coup in 2014 that brought an anti-Russian government to power in Ukraine.

The Russia of Vladimir Putin is not a country I would want to live in.  There are too many unsolved murders of investigative journalists and opposition leaders, too much wealth in the hands of corrupt oligarchs, too much power in the hands of secret intelligence agencies.

But Putin is not paranoid to see a threat to Russia in an American-dominated Ukraine.  Look at a map of the greatest advance of the Nazi armies during World War Two, and then look at a map of a NATO including Ukraine and Georgia and you’ll see why.

President Zelensky of Ukraine is a political unknown who was elected by an overwhelming majority on a promise to seek peace with Russia.  He is hemmed in by his dependence on U.S. aid, and by the anti-Russian faction, including neo-Nazis, in the Ukrainian government.

President Trump wants to be a peacemaker and he also wants to dominate.  But he lacks the knowledge, skill or constancy of purpose to pursue either peace or power effectively.

His foreign policy is incoherent.  He is like a drunkard staggering along a sidewalk, sometimes to in the direction of peace, sometimes in the direction of war.

But when he staggers in the direction of peace, he bumps up against a wall—the war hawks in the Pentagon and CIA and in Congress.  So the likelihood is that he will wind up in the gutter and blunder into war.

The USA and Russia are the main nuclear powers.  Each has the power to totally destroy the other.  I don’t think that President Trump or President Putin desire to go to war, but the present confrontation along Russia’s borderlands creates a danger that it could happen anyway.

LINKS

Ukraine for Dummies by Ray McGovern for Consortium News.  A timeline of recent Ukrainian history.

Why Are We in Ukraine? by Stephen F. Cohen for The Nation.

We’re More at Risk of Nuclear War With Russia Than We Think by George Beebe for POLITICO.

Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Ukraine corruption

November 15, 2019

Presidents Zelensky and Trump

I think there is a case to be made that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office.

He did threaten to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainian government announced an investigation of the Burisma oil and gas company and Hunter Biden’s involvement in it.

The problem with this is that Joe Biden, when he was vice president, did the exact same thing.

He threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine unless it fired the prosecutor who was investigating Burisma.

Biden’s claim is that the prosecutor was lax in investigating corruption.  But the evidence indicates otherwise, that the prosecutor was closing in on Burisma at the time he was forced out.

Hunter Biden knew nothing of Ukraine or the oil and gas business.  His only value to Burisma is that he was the vice-president’s son and therefore provided Burisma with a certain immunity from prosecution.

It hasn’t been proved that Hunter Biden did anything wrong beyond this, but then his role hasn’t been investigated.

This is not a justification of wrong-doing by President Trump.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Ukraine is a vast swamp of corruption, and Hunter Biden is not the only politically-connected American who has sought to make money there.

Donald Trump and Attorney-General William Barr oppose the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which make it a crime for an American to bribe a foreign government official.  They want to make bribery once again simply a cost of doing business.

Barr also opposes the False Claims Act, which gives any American standing to sue a person or company that defrauds the U.S. government.  In other words, both Trump and Barr want protect corruption and fraud.

It would be very interesting to know how many Americans are on the boards of Ukrainian companies, or political consultants or public relations consultants to Ukrainian oligarchs or politicians.  I’m sure their numbers would include both Democrats and Republicans.

I think Democrats in the House of Representatives would help themselves politically by investigating corruption and mismanagement in the Trump administration across the board, rather than limiting themselves to this one ambiguous issue.

True, they might uncover things that are embarrassing to their own donors.

I feel sorry for the long-suffering people of Ukraine.  Neither the U.S. government, the European Union, the Russian Federation or their own plutocrats and autocrats care anything for their welfare.

LINKS

Corruption in Ukraine Wikipedia article.

Hunter Biden’s Ukraine gas firm pressed Obama administration to end corruption allegations by John Solomon on his blog.

A Timeline of Joe Biden’s Intervention Against the Prosecutor General of Ukraine by the Moon of Alabama blog.

Is Trump the Most Corrupt President in American History? an interview of Bill Black, an expert on financial fraud, on the Real News Network.  Black’s answer: Yes.

This Is What a Legitimate Anti-Corruption Effort in Ukraine Would Look Like by Samantha Winograd for POLITICO.

Trump, the Kurds and the forever wars

October 9, 2019

Kurds protest Trump troop withdrawal plan (Getty Images)

Getting into is easier than getting out of.

(Old saying)

If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

 (Stein’s Law)

We can endure neither our disorders nor the cures for them.

(Livy, History of Rome)

One of the promises made by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign was to wind down U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Every time he tries to keep this promise, he gets so much resistance from war hawks in Congress and inside his administration that he backs down.

Not that President Trump is a lover of peace.  His preferred method of waging war is to try to starve other nations into submission through economic sanctions, as with Venezuela and Iran.  Economic war is real war, and produces real suffering, and creates its own type of danger of blowback.

Nor is troop withdrawal without adverse consequences.  Pulling American troops out of Syria will leave U.S. allies in Kurdistan open to attacks by Turks and by the Assad government, not to mention a possibly revived Islamic State (ISIS).

Donald Trump, in his usual thoughtless way, forgot about the Kurds when he announced the Syrian troop withdrawal and tweeted a lot of silly things when he was reminded of them.  I have no idea what happens next.

I try to free myself of the habit of seeing foreign conflicts as a fight between good guys and bad guys.  But I can’t help rooting for the Kurds.  They practice religious tolerance.  They don’t massacre civilians.  The Kurdish community in Rojava is attempting a radical experiment in democracy.  If somebody smarter than me has a plan for guaranteeing safety for the Kurds, I would be all for it.

I think it was Daniel Ellsberg who said that the American goal in Vietnam after 1965 was to postpone defeat until after the next election.  I don’t see any purpose in keeping troops in the Middle East or Afghanistan other than postponing admission of defeat until after the next election.

As in Vietnam, withdrawal will result in death and misery for many, especially for those who supported U.S. forces.  But withdrawal at some point is inevitable.  The only question is how to minimize the harm.  It would take a wiser and braver statesman than Donald Trump to answer that question.

Update.  It appears that President Trump doesn’t intend to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria—only to move them out of the way of the Turkish forces moving into the Kurdish-held areas.

LINKS

Damned if we do.

Eight Times the U.S. Has Betrayed the Kurds by Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.

In which I try to make some sense of Donald Trump’s Middle East policy by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Not Just Ethnicity: Turkey v. Kurds and the Great Divide Over Political Islam and the Secular Left by Juan Cole for Informed Comment [Added 10/10/2019]

The Annihilation of Rojava by Djene Bajalan and Michael Brooks for Jacobin.  [Added 10/10/2019]

Damned if we don’t.

Is Trump At Last Ending Our Endless Wars? by Patrick J. Buchanan.

Trump Pulling U.S. Forces Out of Syria? by Kit Knightly for Off-Guardian.

America Doesn’t Belong in Syria by Doug Bandow for The American Conservative.  [Added 10/10/2019]

Why the Syrian Kurds Aren’t Necessarily Out Friends by Scott Ritter for The American Conservative.  [Added 10/13/2019]