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Posts published in December 2019

Chasing the wild Ukrainian goose


President Trump’s obsession with a Ukraine conspiracy theory is almost as troubling as his request that the Ukrainian president investigate the Bidens. His theory is that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the President continues to pursue the non-existent Ukrainian connection to the great detriment of our national interests.

Although the theory continues to shift its shape, the general contention is that Ukraine was responsible for hacking the Democrats, that the FBI did not actually examine the server which was hacked, and that the server is now located somewhere in Ukraine. In fact, there were many servers, the FBI was provided digital copies of them, and one of them was put on display in Washington, D.C.

The consensus of the United States intelligence agencies, operating under Trump appointees, is that Russia hacked emails from the servers and released them through Wikileaks in 2016 to influence the presidential election. The Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that consensus.

On February 18, 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and 3 Russian companies for attacking our 2016 election. The indictment gave detailed information about Russia’s interference. If anyone would read Volume One of the Mueller Report, the Russian operation is laid out in detail. The President’s former Homeland Security Advisor, Thomas Bossert, said on September 29 that the conspiracy theory had been “completely debunked” and “has no validity.”

According to documents recently released from the Mueller investigation, the theory originated from Trump’s first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, who is now awaiting sentencing for lying to investigators. It was amplified by Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who is currently serving a prison sentence for a variety of charges, including fraud. The two were supported by Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian/Ukrainian with ties to Russian intelligence who is under federal indictment for witness tampering. Some have questioned the reliability and truthfulness of this trio.

The President has doggedly persisted in pushing this conspiracy theory. When he met with Russian President Putin in Helsinki in July 2018, he publicly asked, “Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, what is the server saying?”

In the transcript Trump provided of the phone call he had with Ukrainian President Zelensky on July 25, 2019, Trump raised the issue again. After Zelensky asked for more anti-tank missiles, our President responded, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” and he then asked that Zelensky “get to the bottom’ of the conspiracy theory. He suggested Zelensky work in coordination with Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr in that endeavor.

We know from Giuliani’s public pronouncements that he was relentlessly pursuing the conspiracy theory throughout the past year. Giuliani was being helped along by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both of whom are now under federal indictment, while Giuliani is being investigated by the feds.

What is mind boggling is that our Commander in Chief is doggedly pursuing a debunked conspiracy theory that does not even make sense. Why would any rational person hide a server or any other potentially incriminating evidence in a war-torn country where potential traitors abound?

Pursuit of the discredited conspiracy theory seriously harms Ukraine, a strategic partner, while giving aid and comfort to an enemy, the Russian Federation. The Russians have been vigorously peddling the conspiracy theory since 2016 and the President is going right along with them. It causes our allies to wonder about the sanity and reliability of their former partner, the United States, and to consider whether it is wise to continue sharing intelligence that could be critical in keeping this country safe.

(photo/Juan Antonio Segal)

Maybe, just maybe


Thanksgiving is not a day when you necessarily expect political enlightenment. Yet, here in 2019, it happened at our house.

Charlie Dent used to be in Congress representing a district in Pennsylvania. Slightly conservative but offers his political thoughts in a more moderate tone most of the time.

As I was digesting one of Barb’s better turkey dinner offerings, Dent was talking to the folks at CNN. He was asked why so many Republicans in Congress seem to solidly back Trump.

He started his answer with the statement that many of his former caucus mates are actually disgusted with Trump, tired of his lies, tired of appearing to support him when they know he’s guilty on a number of counts.

Then, he added this bon mot: “Because what they hear from constituents in their districts is to continue to support him against the impeachment proceedings.” That Trump’s “their guy.” That’s what they hear constantly.

The enlightenment didn’t start immediately. It took a few seconds.

It started with this. Given most Republicans in the House are of a conservative nature - some to the right of Ivan the Terrible - who would be writing, talking, emailing them and telling them to “stay the course” with Trump? Who are they hearing from?

“The people who voted for those members and Trump,” the words formed silently in my head. And this: “The same people who get their daily dose of rightwing “reality” from Faux Neus and Limbaugh and Hannity, etc..” They live in a “closed circuit” world.

Then, this: “What if they heard from folks - lots of folks - thousands of folks in the real world - with real facts - telling them facts they never get from Faux Neus? What if their inboxes, email and phone messages were filled by the barrelful with facts they don’t get in their usual travels?”

To put it bluntly, what if Democrats - yes, Democrats - started emailing, writing, calling those “conservative” members of Congress they only complain about? What if Democrats in those Republican districts took on the role of some of those “pray and pay” slickers on TV and started a little evangelizing?”

What if those Republican members, living in rightwing isolationism, got a huge dose of in-your-face truth/facts from voices they don’t encounter in their usual travels? Folks in the middle. Folks to the left of the middle. Voices they don’t regularly hear from and who aren’t parroting the latest nutcase B.S. they’re used to.

I know. I know. Maybe I’ve come a little late - possibly very late - to the party. But, I’m going to give it a try.

We live in a formerly “red” state which appears to be slowly turning “purple.” We’ve got a former astronaut Democrat named Kelly running against a 2018 GOP voter reject our GOP governor appointed to the U.S. Senate despite that rejection. That “reject” is already running ads saying “my constituents are nearly unanimous in their support of the President.” That’s because her “constituents” are all on the far right. That’s all she hears.

What if Democrats across the nation undertook a “communication campaign?” What if, instead of just complaining about the congressional Trump supporters, they deluged those Republicans with voices - and facts- they aren’t getting? What if, instead of bitching to each other, they turned that wasted energy to actively lobbying members they’ve never considered communicating with before?

Ah well, all this might just be blowing smoke in the wind. Maybe I’m overreacting to Charlie Dent’s comments.

But, then again, what have we got to lose? Why not give it a try? Maybe we can convert some shaky Republicans.

Wouldn’t you feel good?

Deep state


On January 2, 2018, Virginia Senator Mark Warner released a tweet saying, “Slandering the Department of Justice’s career law enforcement and intel professionals as the 'deep state' — whatever that actually means — is dangerous and unpresidential.”

It was only one of the more recent uses of the phrase, but one of the first to include the cautionary comment “whatever that actually means.”

As with "The Swamp", Warner’s implicit question here is sound and almost impossible to answer.

Warner’s tweet came a few hours after President Donald Trump, in one of his many tweets, referred to the “Deep State Justice Dept”. His former presidential campaign opponent Evan McMullin prompted tweeted that “Saying nothing of the fact that the 'Deep State Justice Department' is run by Trump’s own appointees, his effort to use its power to punish his political rivals and protect him from law enforcement is an abuse of power.”

So again, what is the Deep State?

The Deep State Twitter handle defines it as “typically influential members of government agencies or the military to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.” Meaning … the Trump Administration?
Radio talker Rush Limbaugh has called it “embeds in the deep state at the Pentagon, State Department, various intelligence agencies.” (That has an ominous ring, no doubt intentionally: These people are embeds reporting back and responsible to, who exactly? That’s left unsaid.)

Writing in Politico, Michael Crowley argued that “The Deep State is real,” noted that “Political scientists and foreign policy experts have used the term deep state for years to describe individuals and institutions who exercise power independent of—and sometimes over—civilian political leaders.” For decades the concept, if not the exact phrase, was more commonplace on the left than on the right.

In fact, he said, “Tufts University international law professor Michael J. Glennon’s 2014 book, National Security and Double Government. Glennon observed that Obama had campaigned against Bush-era surveillance and security policies in 2008 but acquiesced to many of them as president—suggesting a national-security apparatus that holds sway even over the elected leaders notionally in charge of it.”

There is something here: Institutions like individual people do tend to fight back when they’re assaulted, and that Trump Administration has seen a good deal of that dynamic. But remember that government, even the federal government and even its institutional agencies, aren’t monochrome, and the people in them might devil George W. Bush in one administration, Barack Obama in another and Donald Trump in a third. It’s part of the normal dynamic, not a matter of “embeds” or conspiracies.

Whether that’s right or wrong can depend on where you sit, ideologically. But there’s nothing “deep” about it.