Manafort Destiny 2.

A curious article appeared in the New York Times today.[1]  It seems a little disorganized as would be the case with important, but late-breaking news.  Still, it contains interesting points that whet the appetite for more information.

Robert Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the American presidential election of November 2016.  Mueller’s team of prosecutors charged Paul Manafort, President Trump’s transient campaign manager, with various forms of fraud related to his work as a consultant to pro-Russian candidates in Ukraine through 2014.  Manafort worked out a plea deal with Mueller.  That deal required his full co-operation with the prosecutors.  Now, prosecutors want to break the deal.  They argue that Manafort has lied on multiple occasions.   They want to dump a ton of bricks on him.

To justify throwing the book at Manafort, the prosecutors could have to provide some evidence of exactly how and in what regard he did lie to them.  Failing that, the defense could claim that Manafort did provide truthful information.  Normally, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution.  Hence, the sentencing memorandum may reveal important information from Mueller’s investigation.  This might run beyond Paul Manafort’s actions as far as the president.

First, although he had a plea deal with the prosecutors, Manafort’s lawyers secretly consulted with President Trump’s lawyers about the lines of investigation being pursued by Mueller.  Although such discussions “violated no laws,” Mueller and his team are exercised nonetheless.   Did they have an agreement with Mr. Manafort that he would not consult with the President’s lawyers?  If they did, and if Manafort repeatedly stated that he had held no such talks even as his lawyers met with White House lawyers, then this would be grounds for breaking the plea deal.

Second, Mr. Mueller’s team “accused Mr. Manafort of holding out on them” despite his pledge to assist them in any matter they deemed relevant.  “Holding out” usually means withholding facts.  So far, the statements in the NYT are ambiguous.  According to Rudolph Giuliani, himself a former Federal prosecutor and now a special counsel to President Trump, “He [Robert Mueller] wants Manafort to incriminate Trump.”  Did Manafort deny any collusion?

Third, in one paragraph, the NYT states that President Trump’s “tweets” tried to imply that “he had some inside information.”  As evidence, the NYT story quotes Trump as saying that “the Mueller investigation are a total mess.  They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts.  They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.”   Does the president have evidence to this effect?  If he does, then what does that say about the state of the Mueller investigation?

Finally, dumping Manafort back in the glue suggests that the federal prosecutors have no use for the testimony he has provided so far with regard to President Trump.  That is, Manafort may have denied any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russkies.  If this is the area in which he lied, then Mueller must have a bunch of solid evidence from other sources with which to prove that Manafort lied.  What is that source?  What is that evidence?

In any event, when will Robert Mueller report?

[1] Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon Lafraniere, and Maggie Haberman, “Manafort Lawyer Briefs Trump Team on Inquiry,” NYT, 28 November 2018.

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The 2018 off term elections.

Some of this is now out-dated, owing to continuing counts of ballots and recounts.

“Analyzing 417 House races that featured at least two candidates on the ballot, the AP determined that Democrats earned more than 51.4 million votes in competitive House races nationwide, or 52 percent, compared to 47.2 million votes cast, or 48 percent, for Republicans.”[1]

NB: Of 98.6 million votes cast, Republicans won about 47.8 percent of the 2016 vote.  Democrats won about 52 percent of the vote.

NB: The Democrats margin of victory was 4.2 million votes.  In the “American presidential election held on November 8, 2016,… Republican Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes.[2]  NB: So two years of Trump government energized Democrats more than did Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  No surprise.

NB: Will this be enough to win the White House in 2020?  Basically (back of the envelope), it looks like Republicans pulled 74.6 percent of their 2016 turnout, while Democrats pulled 78 percent of their 2016 turnout.  Motivated by the Kavanaugh shenanigans, Republicans turned out much more than one might have expected.  Motivated by Trump-vulsion, Democrats turned out as one might have expected.

“According to the latest data, Democrats won the House popular vote by about seven percentage points in Tuesday night’s midterms.”  [NB: that works out to be something like 53 percent to 46 percent.]  Furthermore, “They picked up 29 Republican-held seats in the House, while losing two of their own incumbents, resulting in a net gain of 27 seats.”[3]

From 1918 to 2016, the president’s party lost an average of 29 seats in midterm elections. In the 20 percent of elections where the president lost the most seats—which Ballotpedia defined as wave elections—his party lost at least 48 seats.”[4]  “In the 2010 midterms, by contrast, Republicans stormed into control of the House with a haul of 63 seats.”

“Each of America’s 50 states elects two senators, regardless of population, and only a third of the country’s Senate seats are voted on each election cycle.”  According to David Golove, a professor at the New York University School of Law, “That’s a radically undemocratic principle, and it gives rise to what we see, which is that the minority populations are going to have a disproportionate impact in the United States. That tends to mean conservatives have a disproportionate influence over the Senate.”

NB: OK, but his argument is with James Madison, not me.  Wear a cup.

The country is divided 52-48 percent.  A purely normal (see above) “blue wave” should not disguise this reality.

Still, if the Democrats have a good candidate[5] and can sustain their “get out the vote” effort, they have a fair chance of re-capturing the White House in 2020.

Of course, we’ll have to take what comes with getting Trump out of the White House.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/09/heres-how-your-state-turned-out-to-vote-in-the-midterm-election.html

[2] Donald Trump: 62,984,828; Hillary Clinton: 65,853,514.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/08/democrats-republicans-senate-majority-minority-rule

[4] https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Congress_elections,_2018

[5] Aye, there’s the rub.  Could Corey Booker or Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden mount a credible candidacy?  More likely, JMO, Hillary Clinton will “offer to serve” when the midgets flame out.

Sessions Timed Out.

Much attention now focuses on the fate of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.  Many people fear that the acting Attorney General will seek to close down or hamstring the current investigation.  However, there is another possibility.  Rather than restricting the current investigation, the acting AG could instruct Mueller to expand his investigation to include the so-called “Steele dossier” and any links to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Civil War in Yemen.

The Prophet Muhammad preached a Muslim world undivided by politics.  This meant that there would be a single “caliphate that governed all Believers, and that politics and religion would be inseparable.  Despite the compelling power of his beliefs, he did not get what he wanted.  After Muhammad’s death (632 AD), Sunni contested with Shi’ites, and the “umma” fractured into rival states.  This unhappy condition continued from the 8th Century to the 21st.

After the Second World War, Muslim states gained true independence, but as separate nations.  The rivalries between them continued.  In particular, dictatorial republics contended with authoritarian monarchies.  From 1952 to 1970, Egypt’s populist dictator Gamal Nasser tilted with Saudi Arabia.  Nasser inspired unrest where he could; conservative monarchies fought back as best they could.  The larger struggle came to be called “The Arab Cold War.”[1]

Yemen provided one spot where this “Cold War” turned hot.[2]  In 1962, followers—or agents—of Nasser overthrew the hallowed-by-time imamate in North Yemen.  Supporters of the traditional monarchy fought back.  The ensuing civil war ran until 1970.  Roughly, tribesmen in the north supported the monarchy, while people in the slightly-more-urban south supported the Nasserites/republican rebels.  Nasser’s Egypt sent forces—especially bombers—to support the rebels forces, although 70,000 Egyptians ended up serving in Yemen at the height of the Egyptian intervention.   The Egyptian forces proved no more effective at counter-insurgency warfare would Western troops in Afghanistan or Vietnam.[3]  Britain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran joined in the war—albeit clandestinely—against the Nasserites.  All had their motives.  Britain. For example, was obsessed with Nasser’s defiance of Britain in the 1956 Suez Crisis, and hoped to reduce Egyptian influence in the Middle East.  Israel, for its part, saw getting Egypt bogged down in southern Arabia as a good means of reducing Egypt’s support for cross-border raids in the Sinai and elsewhere.  At the same time, the Israelis were alarmed by Egypt’s development of a “weapon of mass destruction”—poison gas—and this may have contributed to the decision to attack the surrounding Arab vulture states in 1967.

As a result, the war dragged on—inhumanely, but little noticed in the West–for eight years.  In the meantime, international humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the International committee of the Red Cross and the Southern Baptist Convention in the United States involved themselves in humanitarian aid.  The need was great.  Wars fought in less developed countries tend to wreck the feeble infrastructure and medical support.

In the end, backed by Egypt, the republican Yemenis won the civil war.  They constructed the façade of a “modern” nation.  However, many of the tribesmen in northern Yemen remained unreconciled to that new state.  They bided their time in preparation for a new round of conflict.  This week-end, the New York Times ran a story on famine in Yemen, where a new civil war has provided a proxy for the on-going Saudi Arabian-Iranian struggle for power.[4]

[1] See: Malcolm Kerr, The Arab Cold War: Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir and His Rivals, 1958-1970 (1971).  It is a brief, but well-informed journalistic account.  It was new when I was in grad school.

[2] Asher Orkaby, Beyond the Arab Cold War: the International History of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-1968 (2017).

[3] It was asserted that Egyptian troops used poison gas against their foes.

[4] The story itself was excellent, but the headline elided the reality that “it takes two to tango.” As in Syria, the wars and suffering would end if the “good guys” (in Western eyes) stopped fighting wars they cannot win.

My Weekly Reader 25 October 2018.

When the Second World War broke out, Americans—isolationists or not—expected a re-run of the First World War: a long pounding match.  Then the German army smashed into France in Spring and Summer 1940.  France surrendered and replaced the decrepit Third Republic with the collaborationist Vichy regime.  The French Empire in West Africa–nominally under the control of France, but vulnerable to German seizure–stretched westward into the Atlantic.  Brazil lay within flying distance of Dakar. Suddenly, Latin American affairs seemed of more than the usual importance in Washington.[1]

North Americans viewed South America as more than just a potential beach head for German invaders.  The continent held vast natural resources that might feed the Nazi war-machine.[2]  On its Caribbean shore, the continent abutted the shipping routes to the Panama Canal.  Moreover, the colonial heritage from Spain and Portugal–rather than American imperialism–made South America a politically tumultuous place.  Elites continually struggled with populists for control of the governments, and the armies of the continent did not always favor the “forces of order.”  To make matters worse, in the view of Washington, the region had received hordes of German and Italian emigres in the previous hundred years.  In the age of the “Fifth Column” suspicions ran hot.

As a result, South America became a battleground between the Axis and the Anglo-American Allies.  For their part, Germany and Italy hoped to restrict the flow of natural resources toward the United States and to enhance the influence of their emigrant brothers.  For their part, the Americans sought to build a Trans-Atlantic air ferry route to fly bombers and transports from Miami through Brazil to West Africa; they sought to monopolize purchases of raw materials, whose price spiked during the war and continued into the post-war reconstruction period; and they sought to squelch pro-Axis sentiment.[3]  Propaganda played a large role for both sides, although—like most propaganda—the effort availed them but little.

The Latin American countries were eager to profit from all this interest, yet they were not eager to be drawn into the war itself.[4]  Nevertheless, the turning of the tide led some Latin American countries to join the fight.  Brazil sent 25,000 soldiers to fight in Italy and Mexico allowed a small number of its air force pilots to serve against Japan.  In contrast, Juan Peron’s Argentina refused to engage in the war against the Axis until the very last moment.  Peron’s regime illustrates a number of the key themes.  He had served as military attache in Mussolini’s Italy; Argentina had received many German and Italian immigrants; and Argentina profited enormously from the spike in raw materials prices during and after the war.  Perhaps as a result, Argentina became the favored rat-hole for Nazi war criminals on the run, including Eichmann.

[1] Mary Jo McConahay, The Tango War: The Struggle for Hearts, Minds, and Riches In Latin America During World War II (2018).

[2] Henry Ford had established a rubber plantation in Brazil to insure the raw material for car tires.  He wanted to be free of dependence on the British Empire’s Malayan rubber during an era of bitter Anglo-American economic competition that was strategically forgotten during the Second World War.  On this fascinating episode, see Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (2009).

[3] This could go to what now look like shameful lengths.  Amends have scarcely been made to the Americans of Japanese ancestry who were evacuated from the West Coast, but who now remembers the Peruvian-Japanese?

[4] Rather like Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Turkey.

My Weekly Reader 21 October 2018.

There is a long-lasting illusion that Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union (“The Big Three”) had all emerged victorious from the Second World War.  A further myth holds that the war forged a “special relationship” between Britain and the United States.  Neither of these myths is true.  First, Britain was defeated—heroically—in the Second World War: it was bankrupt, exhausted, and dominated by popular aspirations for a better life and dreams of lost grandeur.  Second, the British imagined that they could maintain international influence by mentoring the “immature” Americans in the ways of the world.  In reality, American leaders do not value Britain much except as a lever with which to move other parts of the world.

The decade following the Second World War should have made these realities clear to British leaders.  Britain abandoned the key parts of its Empire (the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East, its advantageous position in China) because it lacked either the will or the power to hold them against rising nationalism; Britain received much American economic aid, while refusing to join the construction of “Europe.”  The United States dominated the conflict with Communism, both in Europe and in Asia.

Yet the British resisted recognizing reality.  They bristled when Dean Acheson said that Britain “had lost an empire, but not yet found a role.”  Britain held fast to one key claim to continued great power status: nuclear weapons.  Yet the independent nuclear deterrent formed another myth.  Britain could scarcely afford to develop weapons or delivery systems that could penetrate Soviet air-defenses, let alone in sufficient numbers to create an effective deterrent.  The coldly logical response would have been to unilaterally disarm in this one area, plow the money saved into conventional weapons that would have increased Britain’s real power, and merge Britain’s destiny with the movement toward European unity.  This they would not do.

C.P. Snow, a novelist with both experience in academic science and government, and a hard-headed approach to the world, played a role in this debate.  In Corridors of Power[1] he looked back at the critical mid-Fifties.

Snow tells the story of Roger Quaife, a youngish Conservative politician who seeks power both to be something and to do something.  The something he wants to be is a cabinet minister at an early age.  The something he wants to do is to end the British pursuit of an independent nuclear deterrent and to ease Cold War tensions.  The botched Suez Expedition (1956) provides a particularly sensitive context.  Britain colluded with France and Israel to fake-up a war that “threatened” the Suez Canal in order to justify an intervention in Egypt.  The Americans then dragged on the reins.  In the aftermath, British politics became bitterly divided, “more even than after Munich.”  Quaife first maneuvers for a key ministerial position.  This makes him enemies among those who resent his rapid rise and methods.  His private life—he is married to a beautiful member of the aristocracy, but has a mistress—renders him especially vulnerable to his enemies.  His campaign against the British nuclear program seems to be shoving Britain yet further down-hill.  In the end, he is forced out of office and out of the public eye.  His former wife remarks that “It must be awful to have a brilliant future behind you.”  She might be speaking of Britain itself.  Not all war books are about wars that actually got fought.

[1] C.P. Snow, Corridors of Power (1964).

My Weekly Reader 18 October 2018.

Being born-out-of-wedlock was a major social disgrace for many centuries.  It is not so today[1] and it was not so in 11th Century Europe.  Duke Robert “the Devil,” duke of Normandy fathered a child with the presumably winsome Herleve, a tanner’s daughter.[2]

Their son, William “the Bastard,” claimed the title of Duke of Normandy after his father’s death during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  He made good that claim by a combination of favorable circumstances and his own remarkable abilities.  Chief among them were ability as an organizer and as a soldier, and a practical ruthlessness.  These qualities struck fear among those who opposed him or who might think about opposing him.  The latter group included his own vassals.  William also possessed a sincere Christian faith, marked by his generous donations to the foundation of churches and abbeys in his territory.[3]  This won him the support of the Church.

Early success at one difficult task encouraged him to raise his sights.  England lost the last of the ruling dynasty of kings (1066).  William set out to seize the crown for himself.  His chief rival for the crown, Harold Godwinson, faced multiple enemies.  Harald “Hardrada,” a Norwegian challenger, had added Godwinson’s own brother, Tostig, to his allies.  Godwinson had won the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, but Stigand was under a cloud with Rome.  As a result, William’s army fought under a papal banner as well as that of Duke William.  William descended up the shores of southern England just after Harold Godwinson had defeated the Norwegian invaders in the north of England.  William’s army defeated and killed Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066.

William’s victory began the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England.  It took another twenty years before William had an unchallenged grip on the monarchy.  The English were not easily subdued in spite of the death of their own king at Hastings.  William’s followers[4] replaced most to the old aristocracy (called “thegns”).  William distributed revenue-producing lands seized from the English aristocrats to these followers.  However, he extracted a price: his version of feudalism gave the kings of England a tight grip on his vassals.  His unusually centralized form of government made both England and Normandy the best-governed territories in Europe.

Then his power as King of England increased his power as Duke of Normandy.  Later his successors would increase their power within France to the point where they could try to seize the crown of France as William had seized the crown of England.

William the Conqueror’s victories in England ended what is called the Anglo-Saxon period of English history.  It opened the period called Anglo-Norman.  It also began the long process by which England rose from a soggy little place of no consequence on the edge of Europe to be one of the five “Great Powers” that guided the destiny of Europe—and then of the world—from the 18th Century to the 20th Century.

[1] See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-17/almost-half-of-u-s-births-happen-outside-marriage-signaling-cultural-shift

[2] See the classic book by David C. Douglas, William the Conqueror: The Norman Impact Upon England (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1964).

[3] Admittedly, he also plundered other such institutions, but this appears to have happened when those institutions supported one of his rivals.  As a result, church leaders were prone to give him the benefit of the doubt.

[4] He had recruited additional warriors from all over northwestern Europe to bulk-up his own Norman forces.