Dangerous start to 2020

(Note: Originally wrote this in the early hours of 3 January, but it’s never good to write and then post when your brain is calling for sleep. It might seem to go back and forth between 2 January and 3 January.)

My extended family met for dinner tonight (now last night) in Phoenix at Aunt Chilada’s. I’d never been. The place is huge. My parents and I arrived early. We sat in the bar area with a few of the other early arrivers. We had a large group, so the restaurant kindly opened up a room to accommodate us.

As we were moving to the table, I saw a notification on my phone about the killing of Soleimani. I did a double take. Seriously, no exaggeration. I looked at the phone, looked away, and thought, wait, did that say Soleimani. Sure enough. I read a little more and saw that the notification indicated he was killed in a rocket attack. I was relieved. I associate rocket attacks with militias. I assumed the United States wasn’t involved, and that it might have been a Sunni group. I read more later and saw that the Pentagon claimed responsibility. This is a frightening development or escalation.

The news dumbs things down. To our detriment, the hastily written articles I saw were already rolling out the clichés and simplified language. It’s like reading the sports page, but that’s unfair to the sports writers. The President sent a signal. The President means business. The ball’s in Iran’s court now. The world is safer with this enemy of America removed. So forth and so on. Here’s the main page at Fox News online:

I wish people would stop watching Fox, MSNBC, and CNN. That won’t happen, though, so I’ll stop mentioning it.

I’m not an expert on Soleimani, the IRGC, the Quds Force’s role in the IRGC, or the strength of the evidence tying Soleimani to the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. I did spend some time in Iraq with the USG, though, and it’s safe to say that the USG’s assessment is that Iran and Soleimani were linked to attacks on U.S. soldiers and U.S. facilities.

I agree with that conclusion. Even without any evidence, it’s the logical presumption. Let’s go back to say 2007-2008. The world’s strongest superpower is waging wars in countries bordering Iran. The neocons are salivating at the prospect of invading Iran. Iran remembers what it was like to fight a long, costly, bloody war with Iraq under a despotic Sunni leader. Iran remembers that the United States overthrew the democratically elected leader of Iran in 1953 to install the Shah.

It makes sense that Iran would try to shape developments in Iraq to suit its interests. Now, if you like your news as sports clichés, this is where you’ll grab your cozy heated blanket and curl up to thoughts of blames America first, apologist. Still here? There’s a difference between championing or defending actions and seeking to understand actions. Iranian covert support for military actions in Iraq against the U.S. presence makes logical sense to me. I was on the receiving end of rocket and mortar attacks in Baghdad; I’m not defending those attacks.

Maybe you disagree with all of the above. But it’s important that we strive for some precision here. You might disagree with the conclusion that Iran was behind or supporting attacks against U.S personnel in Iraq. But we should be able to agree that was the USG’s prevailing conclusion or assessment. It’s important context for thinking about the situation in Iraq today and our conflict with Iran.

During and after dinner I got into some text discussions with friends about the likely implications. One of my friends suggested that it would be a huge blow to Iran. Iran will feel the loss, but like us, Iran has people who can step into the role. My friend equated it to the famous and never-ending rotation of al-Qaeda #3 guys. I disagreed. Iran’s military isn’t a network of informally trained terrorists adept at enduring hardship and austere conditions. Iran will replace Soleimani with a trained, senior officer. I was trying to think of a good analogy. The best one I could think of was if someone had killed Stan McChrystal in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s not a perfect analogy. The point is that a competent, trained leader would have been able to take over immediately. A quote often attributed to DeGaulle also works.

The world’s cemeteries are filled with indispensable men.

I can’t imagine a scenario in which Iran doesn’t respond with violence. The Pentagon’s press release mentioned that one of the attack’s goals was to deter future attacks. Again, I just don’t see how that’s possible. This guarantees future attacks. There’s zero possibility that Iran will conclude that our attack was a justifiable response to an attack last week by Kataib Hezbollah that killed a U.S. contractor and injured four U.S. soldiers. (I couldn’t remember the numbers, so I looked it up. My wording is similar enough to Libby Nelson’s Vox article that I should link to it.)

The neocons and anyone else who views Iran as our mortal enemy are probably celebrating tonight. They’re a step closer to getting their long sought after conflict with Iran. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

I don’t have any easy suggestions for sorting out our Iraq mess. We’ve been in Iraq for close to 17 years. 17 years of repeated claims about progress being made. There aren’t any easy solutions, especially at 0245. I gave up long ago on withdrawing - the political will just isn’t there, and it’s an after thought for most Americans. If you think there’s a cohesive plan, one that doesn’t rely on vague goals, I’d love to hear it. I’d go into it thinking you’re delusional, but I’d listen. Explain to me how this is somehow different than the Afghanistan Papers.

Consuming Journalism: Why does Fox News do this?

(It's garbage)

(Note: Updated this a little bit because I stupidly tried to write it while my brain was telling me to shut down for the night. Not my best post, but I’m leaving it up - Fox News should be embarrassed of what it puts out.)

Fox News is powerful. They are watched by millions. A former colleague of mine taught me the lesson of “assume good intentions”. So I’ll assume that Fox employees went into their careers hoping to report fact-based, meaningful, relevant information that helps people make better, informed decisions about what’s going on in the world around them. Somewhere along the way they strayed from the path. I don’t know how they go home at night proud of their work.

Fox has rightly raised questions about Steele’s dossier and FBI methods. Good for Fox. There’s a lot to question there. But Fox is doing the same thing that it has criticized MSNBC for. Sorry, that’s a bad sentence, it’s late. Ending that sentence with “for” would have provoked the wrath of Ms. Cummings, my English Composition teacher. Sorry Ms. C.

Wild allegations from a PI firm in Florida, a firm you acknowledge - at the VERY end of a long (by internet standards) article - has a history of wild allegations.

There is so much wrong in this article, and it’s late. I’m not sure I have it in me right now to continue. Fox News is one of the most powerful media/journalism entities in the country, and they are putting articles on their front page that would get cut by a 6th grade editor. That 6th grade editor would then fire the author - Gregg Re.

Before I continue, I should note that Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine while his father was VP was bad, really bad. So bad that I’ve put it in bold. It reflects so poorly on Joe Biden’s judgment (and Obama’s if he knew) that he should not be running. But the article and the motivations behind it are terrible, too.

The article reveals everything that is wrong with reporting today. Fox put out the article in the same chickenshit way that MSNBC reported on the Carter Page material - umm, we’re just reporting on what’s being said, you know? It’s not on us to actually think about or question the claims.

It’s not journalism. It reads a lot like the weird Facebook articles your angry uncle sends around. I hope Fox and the other media companies stop doing this. It hurts all of us. Instead, do the work. Is there any merit to the PI firm’s claims? Has the PI firm produced any evidence? Is there any legitimacy to their claims? Should we give credence to the PI firm’s claims? If the answers are no, or even uncertain, hold the salacious reporting.

I know I’m repeating myself, but Fox News doesn’t do any actual journalism here. Instead, Fox does the equivalent of recapping a Twitter thread. There is zero added value. I hope most readers can see the problems with this type of reporting, but I worry that many of the people who read it will line up at the water cooler at work and say, “Did you hear about Hunter Biden? He’s being investigated for a $156 million money laundering scheme.” They’ll be basing that statement on a private investigator’s unverified claim in a paternity lawsuit. We all deserve better journalism.

Please retire Joe

Last comments on Biden

The New Yorker’s Adam Entous wrote a fascinating, comprehensive article about Hunter Biden. After reading it, I have more empathy for Hunter and Joe. Life is complicated, messy, and sometimes tragic. I also believe more than ever that Joe Biden is a terrible candidate for president. This passage sums it up for me.

“And yet, to many voters, the controversy over Hunter’s business dealings will appear to have been avoidable, a product of Biden’s resistance to having difficult conversations, particularly those involving his family. Hunter said that, in his talks with his father, “I’m saying sorry to him, and he says, ‘I’m the one who’s sorry,’ and we have an ongoing debate about who should be more sorry. And we both realize that the only true antidote to any of this is winning. He says, ‘Look, it’s going to go away.’ There is truly a higher purpose here, and this will go away. So can you survive the assault?”

Everyone sees the controversy as avoidable. Everyone. I’ve read a few articles now claiming that staff members were afraid to be too candid or vocal about the optics. Joe’s apparently a yeller or a screamer. Jesus, were his staff members 15? Oh gosh, screaming and yelling. Nobody likes getting yelled at. But if you’ve made it that far in political DC, you’ve been yelled at before. And if your boss refuses to see what’s right in front of him and what will come back to bite him in the ass, you risk the yelling and screaming.

I think Joe Biden is an honest, hard-working politician. But he’s been doing it too long, and he’s made way too many bad calls. In this instance, he’s playing the exceptionalism card. I can imagine Joe saying - Hunter and I probably should have handled things differently, but it was because of our commitment to honesty - not discussing work with one another - and our mutual respect that we couldn’t see the bad optics. That’d be sweet. It’s also ridiculous.

Bad week for the Bureau(cracy)

Some silver linings

I forgot to pick up more instant coffee at the store yesterday. I think I can get one more cup out of this jar, but it’ll be weak.

I’ve written a few posts about the Horowitz IG report and The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers. Both should make all of us, especially the media, ask tougher questions. That’s an understatement. Maybe the weak coffee has me a bit subdued.

Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, and The Hill’s Rising are taking the media to task. Rightfully so. Actually, in Greenwald’s latest article at The Intercept, he goes after the whole system.

The Inspector General’s Report on 2016 FBI Spying Reveals a Scandal of Historic Magnitude: Not Only for the FBI but Also the U.S. Media

“Before evaluating the media component of this scandal, the FBI’s gross abuse of its power – its serial deceit – is so grave and manifest that it requires little effort to demonstrate it. In sum, the IG Report documents multiple instances in which the FBI – in order to convince a FISA court to allow it spy on former Trump campaign operative Carter Page during the 2016 election – manipulated documents, concealed crucial exonerating evidence, and touted what it knew were unreliable if not outright false claims.”

I agree. The USG gives the FBI incredible power, resources, and trust. The FBI has to get it right, and when it doesn’t, it needs to own up to its mistakes. The mistakes the FBI made with respect to Page are serious. Some of my friends have dismissed the mistakes, suggesting that they haven’t got much sympathy for Page. That entirely misses the point.

I believe James Comey and Andrew McCabe were honest, principled, hard-working public servants. But they were at the helm, and they made and/or allowed too many mistakes and exercised poor judgment. I can simultaneously be suspicious of Trump’s motives for firing Comey and be relieved that Comey is not the FBI Director.

Greenwald goes on to explain that abuses of power, lies, and mistakes are inherent in “security state agencies”.

But none of this is aberrational: the FBI still has its headquarters in a building named after J. Edgar Hoover – who constantly blackmailed elected officials with dossiers and tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into killing himself – because that’s what these security state agencies are. They are out-of-control, virtually unlimited police state factions that lie, abuse their spying and law enforcement powers, and subvert democracy and civic and political freedoms as a matter of course.

I agree about Hoover. The FBI should scrap that. I disagree with the rest. Sort of…for the most part…it’s complicated. First the disclosures so you can assess my biases. I was in the Army ages and ages ago, and the USG paid my salary for 10 years. I worked with incredible, smart, honest people. I also worked with people I thought were dishonest and lacked good judgment. Some of my colleagues thought I was good at my job; others thought I was an idiot. (If you were in the latter group, I’ve pre-emptively disabled the comments section for you. No need to test it, just trust me.)

Greenwald always makes interesting points, and I’m grateful there are entities like his that challenge the major media corporations. But Greenwald, like so many writers and commentators, is always black and white. He hasn’t got time for nuance. The “security state agencies…are out-of-control, virtually unlimited police state factions that lie, abuse their spying and law enforcement powers, and subvert democracy and civic and political freedoms as a matter of course.”

I don’t know what his personal beliefs and objectives are. I don’t think they’re nefarious, and I don’t think he’s owned by a foreign power (I’m doing my part to avoid giving the Great Red Scare any signal boosts). I also don’t need to make this about him, but instead the trend of the far left and far right to convey extreme distrust of what they see as a faceless, monolithic, corrupt system.

The far left and the far right paint a shadowy world of federal workers who will do whatever it takes to advance the interests of the deep state / security state. It’s not the case. This will sound cheesy, but federal workers are your next door neighbors. They signed up to serve, earn a paycheck, and in many cases, try to make the country a little safer. Ok, that really does sound cheesy. But I worry about the costs of forgetting that and instead vilifying federal workers across the board and fomenting complete distrust in the government.

I think I’ve veered off into a Pollyanna-ish segue. I’m not minimizing the recent examples of government behaving badly. I learned valuable lessons when Bush, his cabinet, the military-industrial complex, and the media marched the country gleefully into the Iraq War. People like Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are right in pointing out the abuses and deceptions, especially the dangerous marriage between cable news and retired generals and intel folks. But the far left and the far right seem hell bent on burning it all to the ground by constantly sowing the seeds of universal distrust. I don’t think that’s going to do any of us any good.

I mentioned silver linings in the subtitle. On the last few sips of this watered down but deliciously inexpensive instant coffee, so I’ll make it silver lining. Reports like the Horowitz IG report are an invaluable and underappreciated component of our democracy. Horowitz had the authority and responsibility to investigate the most powerful law enforcement entity in America. I don’t go in for American exceptionalism, but there are probably a lot of people around the world who would be shocked by that.

Scary prospect: Trump calmly addressing the investigations

Trump is savvy. He knows that his base is not bothered by the impeachment hearings or Russiagate. He likes his chances in 2020. Sadly, I think he has good reason to think he’ll get re-elected. I say sadly because I think he’s a terrible president who has no real interest in governing, leading, or addressing our most pressing concerns. I also think he has a dangerous affinity for authoritarian leaders and countries. No, I don’t think he’s a Russian asset, despite repeatedly giving people grounds for suspicion.

Trump’s consistent in one area - constantly railing against the deep state and the media. Fox News, the GOP, and his base love it. The government is bad and it can’t be trusted…except for the military (most of the time) and the departments/agencies dealing with border patrol and immigration.

He’s got some legitimate ammunition. Everything about that 2016 election looks bad (including Trump’s actions). Have you read the Horowitz IG report? I haven’t read the actual report, but I have tried to read a lot of different analyses from different angles. The Carter Page FISA application is ugly. Steele Fusion GPS is ugly. The many FBI errors and missteps are ugly.

If I were Trump, I know what I’d do on 2 January 2020. Address the country…calmly. I think it’d improve his election chances. I’m not worried, though, he’s incapable of doing it. Oh, and importantly, it would involve him lying about the Ukraine call, but alternate realities have to obey some norms.

Alternate Reality (vs. Reality TV)

“I ran on the promise to reveal and fix some of the problems that tend to take root over decades in politics and government. These problems creep up on us over time, and sometimes you need someone like me, a political outsider, to clean house.

The House of Representatives is about to impeach me. I strongly disagree with their investigation and their conclusions. I don’t question their patriotism or love of country. I do fault them for 3+ years of what I see as not accepting the results of the 2016 election.

They believe I abused my powers in my dealings with Ukraine. I didn’t, and I disagree with their conclusion. But appearances matter. I acknowledge that I could have pressed Ukraine to address corruption concerns in a better way. I’m a businessman from New York City. I’m rough around the edges. I’ll get better at this DC stuff, but I don’t want to get too good. That’s when the rot sets in.

The House will vote to impeach. I’m confident that the Senate, with its long tradition of steady deliberation, will bring it to a sound conclusion. I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to be seen as trying to influence the outcome. After that, we can move on and get back to the business of governing.

I’ve criticized the entrenched bureaucracy and the media. I don’t apologize for that. I was right to do so. The Horowitz IG report backs me up on this. I don’t care where you stand politically, we should all be concerned that missteps and errors at the highest levels turned the surveillance powers of the USG on a private citizen. Many of the law enforcement and intelligence officials who were involved in that process and in the process of launching an investigation into my campaign then became contributors and talking heads on cable news. For 3 years they claimed daily that the walls were closing in on me, and that any day Mueller was going to reveal that I was in the pocket of a foreign leader. I’ve been pretty successful in life. One nice thing about that success is that I’m not beholden to anyone. Besides, if I thought someone could harm me, I’d have stayed in New York doing what I love.

That all too cozy relationship between intel officials and senior law enforcement officials should also worry everyone. It’s not healthy. Look at all of the journalists who claimed that the FISA application on the private citizen I mentioned earlier was based on solid, robust, credible information, and that it had to be rock solid to get through the rigorous FISA process. A case that they knew would be endlessly scrutinized, and they still made glaring mistakes. Who do you think the journalists were talking to? I hope the media companies engage in some much needed reflection.

It’s a new year. I’ve done what I set out to do in my first term. I’ve exposed the rot and the decay. That’s what we do in the construction business. Before we build on something, we do a structural survey. Is it safe to work with the existing structure, or do we need to start over?

I want to assure you that it’s safe to work with what we have. 95% of federal employees go to work everyday to make the government work better for you and to protect us from threats here and abroad. That definitely includes the FBI. But we’ve identified some significant cracks in the system, and now it’s time to fix them. That’s what we’re going to do in the next four years, and I look forward to working closely with Republicans and Democrats to get it done.”

Me again, no more fake speeches that would never happen. I hope in 2020 we get some leaders who can right this ship. And by that I don’t mean a return to pre-Trump. I need to start seriously thinking about the issues I’m most worried about and identify the candidates who have the best ideas for those issues.

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