Monday, December 9, 2019

The Afghanistan Papers are a reverb from Vietnam - destroying the truth to save it

The theme of The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war detailed by the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock, is “At War With The Truth.” U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.

This is a very long read documenting numerous interviews with those military and diplomatic personnel with direct experience on the ground in Afghanistan. Here I will provide just a few excerpts.

Remember how in the Vietnam War we had to destroy a village in order to save it? Read on.

A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary.

“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the senior NSC official told government interviewers in 2016. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Even when casualty counts and other figures looked bad, the senior NSC official said, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to the point of absurdity. Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation, that the insurgents were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, a rise in U.S. troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy.

“It was their explanations,” the senior NSC official said. “For example, attacks are getting worse? ‘That’s because there are more targets for them to fire at, so more attacks are a false indicator of instability.’ Then, three months later, attacks are still getting worse? ‘It’s because the Taliban are getting desperate, so it’s actually an indicator that we’re winning.’ ”

“And this went on and on for two reasons,” the senior NSC official said, “to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like the troops and resources were having the kind of effect where removing them would cause the country to deteriorate.”

In other field reports sent up the chain of command, military officers and diplomats took the same line. Regardless of conditions on the ground, they claimed they were making progress.

“From the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job,” Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?”

Please understand this: this double-speak has been going on for three administrations under three presidents - George W. Bush, Barrack Obama, and now Donald Trump.

So what are the prospects for “victory”? On one count, not good. We are trying to remake this most ancient country into a western democracy. Good luck with that.

On another count, we’ve spent close to a trillion dollars on a military adventure that has taken over 150,000 lives. “Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people have been killed in the war in Afghanistan.”

And on yet another, much of what we have spent there has fueled raging corruption.

Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.

“I like to use a cancer analogy,” Kolenda told government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”

When will SoS Pompeo be loved - Linda Ronstadt answers with a smack down

At Daily Kos, “First Amendment” reports that Pompeo asks when he’ll be ‘loved.’ Music legend responds: when he stops ’enabling Trump’ (h/t Mrs. Scriber)

This little gem from Twitter is making major rounds.

According to Sam Greisman, a movie writer and the youngest son of Sally Field, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was having a major sad at the State Department dinner for Kennedy Center honorees.

Pompeo reportedly asked when he would be “loved.” That’s when Linda Ronstadt replied to his question and she pulled no punches.

sam greisman
At the State Dept. dinner for the Kennedy Center honorees Mike Pompeo wondered aloud when he would be “loved”. Then Linda Ronstadt got up to get laurels, looked the fucker right in the eye and said “maybe when you stop enabling Donald Trump”.

Variety also covered the exchange, though relayed it a bit differently. “Ronstadt rose to the microphone a feet away from the host’s table and looked straight ahead,” the magazine reported. “‘I’d like to say to Mr Pompeo, who wonders when he’ll be loved, it’s when he stops enabling Donald Trump.’ Then she sat down.”

That’s some serious shade right there. Ronstadt has been battling Parkinson’s disease since 2013, but nothing was going to stop her from exposing one of Trump’s main stooges.

The gutless GOP weaklings who’ve betrayed their country to defend Trump could learn something from Ms. Ronstadt, but I seriously doubt they will—because they’re far too busy defending him over our Constitution.

Here’s a cover of “When Will I Be Loved”… that was one her many smash hits.

I’ll be listening to her music today. …

When it comes to articles of impeachment there is a strong case for letting it all hang out

I completely understand the position of making the articles of impeachment narrow, focused, and thus understandable by the public. But doing so would effectively sweep much of Trump’s misbehavior under the political rug. For example, arguing against including his obstruction of justice (evidenced in the Mueller report) would not do justice to Trump’s numerous documented violations of his oath of office and his abuse of power.

In favor of a broader set of charges, Michelle Goldberg, a NY Times opinion columnist, pleads Please, Democrats, Don’t Make the Impeachment Articles Too Narrow. From Russia to Ukraine, the House needs to show the president’s pattern of corruption.

… to make clear the full gravity of what Trump tried to do in Ukraine, Democrats need to demonstrate that it was part of a pattern.

As the Mueller report showed, the Trump campaign welcomed Russian interference in 2016, expecting that “it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” Then Trump repeatedly tried to obstruct the federal government’s investigation into what Russia had done. It was only the day after Mueller’s congressional testimony that Trump made his demand of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Part of that demand was that Ukraine help Trump obscure Russia’s role in his election by falsely implicating itself. Once the scheme became public, Trump obstructed Congress’s investigation into his solicitation of foreign election assistance.

Either Mueller’s findings or the Ukraine “drug deal,” as Bolton reportedly called it, would merit impeachment on its own. But the urgency of Democrats’ impeachment process — the subject of much bad-faith caterwauling on the right — is best justified by Trump’s recidivism. Impeachment isn’t just about holding Trump accountable for a discrete scandal. It’s about trying, against the odds, to stop an ongoing campaign to subvert the 2020 election, one that is building on tactics from 2016.

Given America’s political polarization, public opinion on impeachment is unlikely to move much no matter what Democrats do. Nevertheless, they’d be mad to let centrist trepidation stop them from making the strongest possible case for Trump’s removal. Doing that requires a willingness to put Trump’s Ukraine corruption in context.

Democrats have only one chance to impeach the most corrupt and disloyal president in American history. They say they’re rushing through it because it can’t wait. They have a duty to explain not just why Trump betrayed America when he sought to extort election help from Ukraine, but how we know that he’ll nearly certainly try the same thing again.

So what would a broader set of articles of impeachment look like?

David Leonhardt, NY Times columnist, enumerates The Eight Counts of Impeachment That Trump Deserves. The lessons from Nixon and Clinton.

During Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee considered five articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon — and voted down two of them. During the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the House voted on four articles — and rejected two.

That history serves as a reminder that impeachment is not a neat process. It’s a chance for Congress and voters to hear the evidence against a president and decide which rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

My own instincts have leaned toward a targeted, easily understandable case against President Trump, focused on Ukraine. And that may still be the right call. But the House shouldn’t default to it without considering a larger airing of Trump’s crimes against the Constitution. A longer process, with more attention on his misdeeds, seems unlikely to help Trump’s approval rating.

So last week I posed a question to legal experts: If the House were going to forget about political tactics and impeach Trump strictly on the merits, how many articles of impeachment would there be?

I think the answer is eight — eight thematic areas, most of which include more than one violation.

In making the list, I erred on the side of conservatism. I excluded gray areas from the Mueller report, like the Trump campaign’s flirtation with Russian operatives. I also excluded all areas of policy, even the forcible separation of children from their parents, and odious personal behavior, like Trump’s racism, that doesn’t violate the Constitution.

Yet the list is still extensive, which underscores Trump’s thorough unfitness for the presidency. He rejects the basic ideals of American government, and he is damaging the national interest, at home and abroad. Here’s the list:

  1. Obstruction of justice.
  2. Contempt of Congress.
  3. Abuse of power.
  4. Impairing the administration of justice.
  5. Acceptance of emoluments.
  6. Corruption of elections.
  7. Abuse of pardons.
  8. Conduct grossly incompatible with the presidency.

I’ve just listed the titles of each article. See Leonhardt’s excellent opinion piece for details.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

If Trump can't spell NATO, how can he handle longer concepts like LITERACY and NUMERACY

One has to wonder whether Trump skipped elementary school. He has more than one literacy challenge.

New Yorker Satirist Andy Borowitz reports that NATO Leaders Challenge Trump to Spell NATO

LONDON (The Borowitz Report) — This year’s summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began on a discordant note, on Tuesday, after the other twenty-eight nato leaders challenged Donald Trump to spell nato.

At a preliminary gathering of the leaders, Trump demanded that the other member nations increase their cash contributions to the alliance, prompting Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, to issue the unexpected and unwelcome spelling challenge.

“We’ll be happy to give more to nato, Mr. President, if you can spell nato,” she said, drawing raucous applause from the other leaders.

Handing Trump a pencil and a yellow legal pad, Merkel watched as he struggled to spell the word correctly, crumpling page after page in the effort.

After several failed attempts, Trump finally offered up a drawing of several stick figures standing in a row and asked for “partial credit.”

When the other nato leaders rejected his request by a 28–0 voice vote, Trump stormed out of the room, vowing never to return.

In a joint communiqué, the nato leaders said that they were looking forward to spending the rest of the summit watching the impeachment hearings.

Trump is also numerically challenged, reports Scribers’ Usually Unreliable Sources. When pushed to make clear his claim about something quantitative, he resorts to qualitative descriptors like “the biggest number”. Multiple examples are in this YouTube video.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Daily Star LTE - Trump supporters are the real problem

Letters to the Editor in this morning’s Daily Star includes Trump supporters greatly concern me by Steven E. Templin. Here is his final paragraph.

The current holder of the office of the president does not exhibit the character traits that I can personally accept. I find him to be shallow, mean, vindictive, crude, and dishonest. He accuses others of actions he performs. I am most distressed by those choosing to follow this individual.

The last two points are important. Charging persons with spreading fake news is an example of psychological projection as Trump mounts a disinformation campaign that would be cherished in the Kremlin.

“I am most distressed by those choosing to follow this individual.” Indeed - as am I. I’ve been saying in this blog for years that the real story of 2016, and now beyond, is not Trump. He’s a figurehead. The real story is those who follow him. They are willing to accept a leader who is “shallow, mean, vindictive, crude, and dishonest” – and more – and who “accuses others of actions he performs.” Depending on the day and the pundit and the polls, about 40% of American citizenry are guilty of accepting all of Donald Trump’s horrible traits. Looking just at the Republicans in the U. S. Senate, the percentage is even higher. Message to those Always Trumpers: his characteristics are your characteristics. If you don’t like that charge, then get to it and Dump Trump.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Why Wednesday's panel of constitutional scholars gets 3.5 out of 4 stars

I’m going to award Wednesday’s panel of constitutional scholars 3.5 stars. I would have given it 4.0 but for the dissent from Jonathon Turley whose presence was requested by the GOP members of the Judiciary Committee. But I didn’t give it a 3.0 (which would have credited Turley with a full-on dissent) because his weak dissent played partly into the case for impeachment. Here are highlights from three accounts of the scholar’s testimonies.

Kim Wehle at The Bulwark views what the Constitutional Scholars Explain: This Is Just Why We Have Impeachment Today’s Judiciary Committee hearing highlighted the constitutional stakes in the Trump impeachment process.

Today’s impeachment hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was a landslide win for the U.S. Constitution. Three constitutional scholars and law professors—Noah Feldman of Harvard, Pamela Karlan of Stanford, and Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina (who is also an author of a leading book on impeachment)—passionately and unequivocally made the case for impeaching President Trump. For a president to ask for election interference from a foreign power is, in Professor Gerhardt’s words, “plainly an abuse of power. It’s a rather horrifying abuse of power.”

Speaking at the invitation of the committee’s Republican minority was Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University (and my colleague at CBS News). The thrust of his argument against impeachment was as follows: The process has been sorely truncated, lots of witnesses and facts have not been revealed, the courts have not definitively weighed in on the White House’s stonewalling of subpoenas, and a case of criminal statutory bribery as construed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 has not been proven.

On the last point, Turley suggested that more direct evidence of the president’s corrupt intent is required to warrant impeachment …

More on Turley’s weak dissent follows below.

Wehle makes several points: “The trio of constitutional scholars who concluded that impeachment is warranted underscored why the possibility of removing Trump in the 2020 election is no answer to his wrongdoing in office …” “The Framers were very worried about foreign interference in elections, which is one factor that distinguishes Trump’s actions from those of the three prior presidents who were subject to impeachment proceedings …” “The impeachment question today is tied directly to the right to vote, which is at the heart of American democracy …” “Trump’s obstruction of Congress is no sideshow. The Framers decided to create not a monarchy but a presidency subject to checks and balances from two other branches of government, … But if a coordinate branch refuses to comply with requests for information needed to execute the impeachment power, that power becomes meaningless. And the presidency becomes a monarchy—or worse, a dictatorship.” “The three experts called by the committee Democrats today all concurred that there are three separate issues that justify the impeachment of President Trump as a constitutional matter …”

Wehle, who herself is a Professor of Law, winds up this way.

The impeachment process now underway is not a one-note complaint, an “impulse buy” on the Democrats’ part (as Turley described it), or (as Turley also put it) a “wafer-thin” factual record being used to unseat a president who was merely exercising his lawful powers to conduct foreign policy. To be sure, the president has vast powers at his disposal. But impeachment exists in the Constitution to address when those powers are abused. The Framers understood the potential for abuse to be part and parcel of human nature and political reality—and they created the remedy of impeachment for situations like the one we now find ourselves in.

Also at The Bulwark, Turley’s Weak Critique takes a hit from Benjamin Parker writing how The legal scholar’s case against impeaching Trump doesn’t hold water.

The Judiciary Committee Republicans were able at times to give an almost colorable defense of the president today. Led by Republican counsel Paul Taylor, Turley offered a reasonable-sounding critique of the impeachment process now underway, with three main points:

1) Because the Democrats have gone too fast, the factual record is incomplete—and inadequate for as momentous an act as removing a democratically elected president.

2) Some of the impeachable offenses that President Trump is being accused of committing—namely, bribery and obstruction of justice—don’t match the way those crimes are defined by law.

3) The impeachment hearings so far have only featured the case against the president, not the case for him.

There were gaping holes in each of Turley’s arguments. Let’s take them in turn:

1) In making the case that the factual record is incomplete, Turley suggested that the Democrats should issue more subpoenas. That would be a more helpful suggestion if the White House weren’t currently blocking key figures in the Ukraine scandal—including former National Security Advisor John Bolton, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and others—from complying with congressional subpoenas. Turley also never made clear what kind or amount of additional information would bridge the gap between what he considers unsubstantiated assertions and what he conceded would be an impeachable offense.

2) Regarding the offenses President Trump is accused of: Back when President Clinton was facing impeachment, Turley argued that an act didn’t have to meet the definition of a crime to be impeachable, as Paul Rosenzweig pointed out to The Bulwark today. Rosenzweig, a former lawyer on Ken Starr’s Whitewater investigation staff, noted by email: “Twenty years ago, Professor Turley wrote that a crime did not have to be committed for an action of the President to be an impeachable offense.” Today, though, Turley insists that for an action to count as bribery under the impeachment clause, it must satisfy the legal definition of the criminal offense of bribery—“an opinion,” Rosenzweig says, “that is manifestly wrong, if only because the impeachment clause was written before we created federal criminal law.” So, Rosenzweig asks of Turley, “What changed? One suspects that the only relevant change was the party affiliation of the President. Situational ethics are … situational.”

3) Even if Turley were correct in his contention that the impeachment hearings have so far not allowed the president’s supporters to make their case, the president’s lawyers could have defended him in the hearings today, if only President Trump hadn’t declined the opportunity to let them do so.

New Yorker author Amy Davidson Sorkin ties it all together in her comment on What the Law Professors Brought to the Trump Impeachment Hearings.

… Turley made a reasonable point about how much more might still be learned. The Democrats had a reasonable reply in ascribing that state of incompletion to the White House’s stonewalling; but there is a whole raft of lawsuits underway on that issue which are beginning to yield defeats for the President.

As much as the Democrats might see the benefit in getting the whole business quickly through the House and on to the Senate, doing so would mean, in a sense, abandoning the goal of achieving anything more than an impeachment with all the Democrats on one side and all the Republicans on the other. That may not be their fault—where Trump is concerned, the Republican Party has taken leave of its senses—but it’s their battle to fight. Will they give it more of a try, with one more Karlan-like jump into the fray? On Thursday morning, Nancy Pelosi said that it was time to draft articles of impeachment.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

House Speaker Pelosi addresses the American people about articles of impeachment and the reasons for them

Breaking (as of Thursday morning). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi addresses the nation about articles of impeachment (and much more). CNN reports “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) tells the American people that she is requesting that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee draft formal articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.” But her lead-in is a succinct, stinging indictment of Trump. Watch it or read it using the links below.

At CNN, Watch full video of Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment statement

At the Times, Read Nancy Pelosi’s Remarks on Articles of Impeachment